Monday, September 8, 2008

A Life's Work

It is really hard for me to describe how I felt and what I thought about this parenting memoir by Rachel Cusk. Part of me hated it because she can come off as incredibly self-absorbed and also seems completely naive as to what babies are like and what parents do. Part of me appreciated the lovely flow of the author's writing style. And another part of me recognized the more simple truths of parenting beneath the winding rants.

Wow. That wasn't quite as hard as I thought.

Anyway. Here's an example. On page 131, she says "night feeding is certainly kept well under wraps." Um...I think what she means is that NO ONE NOTICES that you have to feed your children at night for quite some time. It's definitely not hidden--you can find millions of desperate, sleep-deprived new parents online, for one thing. So I don't like what she's implying about parenting being kept from us, because I really believe the problem is Lack of Exposure.

She continues that leaving a newborn alone with its parents is "like a social experiment, something a scientist would do..." and continues with a description of what happened next in her little family--which is (obviously to me) NOT the same as it might be for another couple. The description also includes this sentence: "They are given no breaks and no assistance from the outside world is permitted." And guess what? This is the single biggest problem new parents in our society today have, because that's NOT NATURAL! Again, I can strongly relate to this problem, as quite frequently I curse the fact that I don't live in a huntero-gatherer group full of built-in babysitters so I can catch some sleep. But unfortunately, the author does not see things from my perspective, but rather, feels that at times she hates the baby and so on.

She also discusses her initial lack of mothering instinct unflinchingly, which I think is brave of her, but which leads to some scenes that are painful for me personally, where I wish I could've run in and grabbed that baby up! This is not a judgment against her at all: I know many women feel this way, likely because of the Lack of Exposure issue I mentioned already, but I was lucky enough to never have that problem and so I cannot inhabit it.

For example. On page 164 the author says, "Her development was...a slow and frustrating business...Her body was tormented by some invisible force that made her get up and fall over again and again...My head ache with the tension of her efforts." Seriously? I can't follow this. It's such a dark and depressing view of parenting, and also shows a very Type A pressure to succeed on the author's part, I think. Parenting has NEVER been like that for me, although of COURSE I've had my share of difficult moments. So, again, I feel sort of like it's good she put this out here, that she was so honest about everything she went through, but it's uncomfortable for me because I don't want others to get the idea that the parenting experiences presented in this book are what they can....look forward to?

That being said, I'll share one more passage, which I loved. It's true that sleeplessness is the greatest shock of parenting, as far as I'm concerned, and especially because I often had NO HELP. On page 178-9, the author discusses the strange things that happen to a person during this prolonged period of sleeplessness: "Gradually the distinction between day and night dissolved entirely, and I became prey to daydreams and hallucinations, remembering conversations that had not occurred...The resrevoir of sleep I had accumulated through my life had run dry. I was living off air and adrenalin. Mercury ran through my veins. I wondered if this parched and dogged wraithe long since severed from its human past was in fact that dark stranger who walks the world of childhood wreathed in mystery: a parent."

I loved this precisely because I could relate to it, because I am still more sleep-deprived than I ever thought possible, because I get mad at people who voluntarily skip sleeping opportunities, because a full night's sleep is a distant memory. Literally: I haven't had an entire, uninterrupted full night's sleep in over two years.

Thus, I cautiously recommend this book to SOME women. If you felt that you could set aside all those things in the text that don't match up with your experience and/or that scare you about your future, while at the same time enjoying the common ground you find and feeling glad that you're not alone, then read it. But be prepared for it to be painful.

No comments: