Monthly Archives: March 2007

Alternadad

It’s hard to promote a memoir about parenting in 2007 without someone bringing up Alternadad. That’s not the fault of Neal Pollack, who has written this excellent account of his own child-driven odyssey to grown-uphood. Today I finally finished reading Alternadad, not because it’s long (though that is my main criticism of it: It could use some trims), but because like all multi-tasking parents, I kept getting distracted.

I’ve been a fan of Neal’s writing ever since I was asked to introduce him and Augusten Burroughs to an audience at the Miami Book Fair a few years ago and therefore read Nevermind the Pollacks. Dude’s hilarious. His satire of rock criticism, particularly the Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus schools, was spot-on. I also liked him in person (Burroughs, however, was uptight and aloof). One of my biggest new-parent regrets is that I didn’t accept Neal’s invite to go out carousing in South Beach with him and Dan Savage. That would have been a night to remember …

Neal recently wrote a mostly positive review of Mamarama for The Miami Herald, which you can read elsewhere on my website. All of which is to say I’m not the most unbiased reader of Alternadad.

Which I heartily recommend. I laughed, I cried. Neal has a deft knack for deadpan dialogue and a wonderfully irreverent eye, ear, and nose for the grossness of small children. He’s a twisted comic genius. I kept seeing Jack Black playing him in the film version of Alternadad.

Some idiot at Time magazine called Alternadad the Howl of alt-parenting memoirs. It’s irritating that as soon as a male enters a genre, they’re anointed the leaders of the canon. Hey Time idiot (whose name I won’t grace with brain cells), women have been writing this stuff for years. Operating Instructions by Ann Lamott is the genre’s Howl; Ayun Halliday’s The Big Rumpus is our On the Road; Ariel Gore is our Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Pollack is, I don’t know, Ken Kesey (someone else tell me who I am. Or better yet, don’t).

Again, it’s not Pollack’s fault he gets to benefit from male privilege (though he could have been a little bit nicer to sister me in his review — but I digress). And I’m really glad a male’s throwing his hat into the ring — I guess we can’t call them  momoirs anymore. There can be no new approach to parenting without the sperm-providers involved. When people ask me about Alternadad, I like to call it and Mamarama his and hers companion volumes.

Pollack criticized Mamarama for my tendency to wax epochal about culture. I, conversely, think sometimes he could use a little telescoping of his own life. From a cushy upbringing to the family’s righteous organic-food obsession to his stint as a neighborhood organizer, Pollack is thoroughly caught up in upper-middle-class privileges that he sometimes seems oblivous of, or tries to ironically distance himself from via beer and punk.

But that classism does make his family’s eventual plunge into near-bankruptcy poignant. Pollack also misses the mark early in the book when he chastises himself for spending so much time thinking about something as domestic and therefore banal as parenting, whereas his male literary heroes wrote about big topics like war or their penises, or whatver. Wrong, dude: That willingness to take on a Brave New World is precisely what makes Alternadad not just funny, but important.

Alternadad is mostly about the guffaws. But it also provides profundity. Pollack beautifully summarizes the new consciousness that drives us alt-parents to navel-gaze, on page 282: “I felt a new emotion, at least for me. It wasn’t happiness, or sadness, exactly. Maybe it was a kind of all-knowingness, an understanding that life presents you with limitations and that you have to learn to deal with those limitations and be happy anyway. While I recognized the irony of having this life-changing epiphany while buying my son a plastic toy at a chain store that allowed its pharmacists to deny people birth-control medicine based on religious principles, I cried anyway. I wished I could give Elijah more, could be more for him. I just wanted the best for my family, and I felt ashamed that I couldn’t give it to them.”

The pressure to be a provider should be a great literary theme, if it isn’t already. Pollack tackles it with humility, grace, and judicious use of marijuana. We memoirists get a lot of ribbing for our egotism, Pollack especially. But in fact it’s his self-abasing humor that makes Alternadad such a joy.

 

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She’s a femme fatale

Last week the family was out having a rare meal together at a Greek restaurant. I complimented Karlie on her T-shirt, which read, “I would only end up hurting you.”

“Do you know what a femme fatale is?” I asked her and her sister.

“No,” they said.

 “It’s a French phrase that means, literally, deadly woman. It’s a phrase for a woman who’s beautiful, but trouble.”

The girls’ eyes lit up. “Cool!” Kenda said. “I’m putting that on my MySpace page.”

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More Mamarama in the media

Belated posts on these: Rachel Fudge did an incredible interview with me in the current issue of Bitch. The article’s not online, but the link will tell you how to get this worthy publication. And you can hear Doug Henwood’s WBAI interview with me here. Deborah Harper just did a great, long interview with me that you can listen to as a podcast at a few of her sites and which I will post here as soon as I figure out how.

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Laurie Berkner (and other kids’ rock)

Cole and I went to see Laurie Berkner with a group of dear friends yesterday. It was my first kids’ rock outing, the first time I’ve taken Cole to a show that wasn’t a festival. It was a beautiful day. In fact, without a drummer and enough amplification, Berkner couldn’t compete with the weather, the fun of playing with his friend Eli, and the joys of chasing bubbles. Cole sat with me for maybe two songs. Then I don’t know if he heard a word Laurie sang after that.

Berkner is a smart songwriter: not genius, but melodic and, as Cole would say, engaging. She’s definitely the most accessible of a slew of newish acts that are re-creating children’s music. I was on a panel about this at South by Southwest; I also wrote a story on it for the Herald in December. A couple of parents have been asking me if there’s good kids music out there. Here’s a list of CDs I recommended with that story. I would add to it both albums by Uncle Rock and the Sippycups’ CD (Uncle Rock, aka Robert Burke Warren, and Sippycup Paul were both on the panel).

KIDS’ CDS
* New Orleans Playground (Putumayo Kids): Includes such classic bayou tunes as Ya Ya and Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, for the young at heart.

* They Might Be Giants, Here Come the ABCs (Disney Sound): Educational can be weird.

* Wee Hairy Beasties, Animal Crackers (Bloodshot): Clever, fun, folksy, but not cutesy.

* We Are . . . the Laurie Berkner Band (Razor & Tie): Noggin-watchers’ favorite lady of song.

* Elizabeth Mitchell, You Are My Little Bird (Smithsonian Folkway): Folk, rock and reggae songs by Neil Young, Francosie Hardy, etc., gently and smartly reinterpreted.

* Jack Johnson and Friends, Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George (brushfire): For the little jamsters.

* Dan Zanes and Friends, All Around the Kitchen (festival five): The former Boston rocker (Del Fuegos) pioneered the current wave of kid rock; his several CDs mix classics and originals.

* All Together Now: Beatles Stuff for Kids of All Ages (Little Monster/V2): Tasteful, modern renditions of Yellow Submarine, Birthday, etc., packaged with a book of poems and trivia.

* The Backyardigans, Groove to the Music (Nick Records): Some of the best musicians in New York play on these songs. Just beware of the munchkin singers.

* Lil Jams, Vol. 1 (GMG): Hip-hop hits sung by kids in not too cloying a fashion.

* Jack’s Big Music Show, Season One (Nick Records): A decent sampling of Nick Jr.’s favorites, including Berkner, Milkshake, and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

 

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Bad mom day

You’ve heard of bad hair days: Yesterday I had a bad mom day. First, when I picked Cole up from school, his teacher told me he had pulled his pants down in class, again, and kissed a girl, again. My son is a toddler letch. As Cole and I were riding away on my bike, perhaps because I was distracted by this news, I lost my balance and fell off the curb, with my son in the child seat. It was a very scary feeling knowing I was going down and poor helpless horny Cole was going with me.

Fortunately I managed to mostly break our fall with my hands (ouch) and we escaped with minor scrapes and a heap of embarrassment. But I felt like such a loser. It’s one thing to hurt myself with my clutziness, another to bruise my child.

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Has Rebecca Walker lost her mind?

On the surface, Rebecca Walker’s new book, Baby Love, would seem to be her version of Mamarama:Bisexual, activist and author finds middle-years fulfillment as a mother. But given the noted third-wave feminist’s  recent comments to The New York Times, I like to think of Mamarama as the anti-Baby Love. Walker said, and apparently writes in her book (for which I refuse to shell out money), that blood is thicker than water, that she feels an attachment to her biological child that she could never feel for her stepchild, an attachment that adoptive parents wouldn’t understand. As a mom and stepmom, and best friend of an adoptive parent, I can say that’s crazy talk.

Yes, my feelings for my son are different from those for my stepdaughters, but they’re no less deep and true. They are complicated by the fact I didn’t know them their first years on earth, and by the fact they also have a biological mom. But in some ways we have gone through more things and had to work harder at our love than Cole and I have had to; there are extra strands in the rope of this bond.

Walker makes this absurd statement about how she would kill for her child but not her stepchild. I can’t even fathom how hurtful that statement must be to her stepchild. Besides, it’s not about dying; it’s about living. I take care of my daughters every day in a way that the woman who shares their genes does not. I’m sure we both would say that we’d die for them, whatever that means. And yes, sometimes I feel like killing them. That’s part of love too.

I also can’t imagine bashing your own mom in public once you’ve become a mother too. I appreciate Mom more than I ever did. Okay, I don’t know what Alice Walker put Rebecca through. But the daughter sounds not like an abused child, but like a spoiled brat out to get attention, by demeaning moms and feminists alike. If you like Mamarama, do not buy Baby Love.

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Lily Allen: Believe the Hype

She killed it last night at the Culture Room! Here’s my Herald review and preview.

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