Review: Ten Year Nap by Meg Woltzer

wolitzerbook_200Meg Wolitzer’s Ten Year Nap attempts to get at the universality of being a stay-at-home mom, with the title referring to the ten years that one of the main characters, Amy Lamb, a New York lawyer before she became a mom, has been at home with her son.   

Caution to those who are so far intrigued… this is no light-hearted chick lit.  It is a dense, slow read, with all the appropriate angst and immoderation of stereotypical New Yorkers.   That is the frustrating part of the novel.   But, (and this is a BIG BUT), if you can handle the complex writing and the whiney New York women, then you are in for some amazing and deeply felt insight into the human mommy heart (full disclosure:  I am a stay at home mom, with a former career, so the novel spoke personally to me on that level ).   

In reading this book, I have to imagine that Wolitzer’s words will somehow speak to almost every mom out there.  There are amazingly poignant passages:  a mom’s attachment to a newborn baby and how she couldn’t put her infant in day care, another mom’s flashback to her helpless preemie twins and her protectiveness even as they are older and healthy, the identity crisis of not knowing how to answer what it is that “you do.”   There are happy and unhappy marriages, and moms who are content to stay at home and those who are antsy and unsatisfied.   One of the friends has moved to the suburbs, some have a tough time making ends meet in the city, and one is very wealthy.  One of the four moms, who had some fertility problems and adopted a baby from Russia, struggles with her choices and seems to ignore her daughter’s signs of special needs.   Interwoven into the larger story are smaller chapters, flashbacks into the lives of other moms in past and present generations.   

Perhaps my only real negative with this book is that despite the fact that I, as the reader, was inside these characters’ heads, I still didn’t connect with them.  I knew their names, their former occupations, how they felt about their kids and spouses, how they grew up, etc.  But, somehow, (and I am not sure why) I walked away not feeling intimate with these women.   Maybe it was because I didn’t like most of these moms, and some I actually hated.  Maybe the darkish tone of the novel only gave me insight into their angst, and not their joys. 

But, what the novel does well is gives you a heaping spoonful of mommy-hood.  My guess is that many will find it slow and whiney.  For someone like me, who often misses my career life, I found such truth in some of the passage that I have to be glad I spent the extra time and energy to read this novel.   

This book was reviewed by my book club buddy, Elaine.  Thanks, Elaine! 

Reviewer Bio:  Elaine Legere is a stay-at-home mommy and part-time marketing consultant, after years of working for Disney, Palm (aka Palm Pilot), Los Angeles Times, and Details Magazine.  She received her BA at UCLA in English Literature and an MBA from University of Colorado. She is an avid reader, loves movies, and all things outdoors.

Guest Post: A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

Marisa sitting oneThe lovely Marisa de los Santos, author of the New York Times Bestseller Love Walked In and Belong to Me (review and giveaway HERE), is guest posting today about balancing work and family.  Thanks, Marisa, for this wonderful essay!

A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

I get the question a lot, usually from women and often during book group meetings:  “How do you balance writing and family?”         

The easy answer is that I write my books while my children are at school.  Technically, this is true.  Any writing I do happens somewhere between drop-off and pick-up.  Weekends and evenings, I get a little time at my desk, but mostly these parts of the week are given over to homework, ballet classes, piano lessons, swim practices, meets and games, family dancing in the living room, family singing in the car, family bike-rides, movie-watching of the G/PG variety, and general hanging out.  When the kids go to sleep at a reasonable hour, which doesn’t consistently happen, weeknights belong to my husband and, sometimes, a glass of wine.  Saturday nights are ours, too.  So I balance work and family by writing my books Monday through Friday, while the kids are at school. 

imagesBut this answer is really too easy.  In fact, I stopped giving it for the same reason that I am deeply attached to it:  it makes my life sound tidy, when my life is anything but tidy.  Plus, I didn’t usually get away with it.  Most of the time, before the answer was completely out of my mouth, people jumped in with:  What about groceries?  What about laundry?  What about reading and exercise and volunteer work and meetings and friendships and email and shopping and dealing with the plumber?

While I have some help with some of these tasks and obligations, both from my husband, a true partner, fellow writer, and prince among men, and from a highly capable and much-loved young woman who helps with the kids a handful of hours a week and does errands for me on Thursday afternoons, I end up attending to many of them myself, usually during the hours between drop-off and pick-up.  When I explain all of this to people, I’m sure they wonder how my books get written at all.  I wonder myself.

lovewalkedpaperbackBut the truth is that I do all of the things I do not only because I have to, but because I want to.  I want to sit in the choking heat of the indoor pool or in the lobby of the ballet school and watch my kids do what they love.  I am co-president of Home and School (our school’s version of PTA) because I want to be part of the place where my kids spend so much of their time.  I want to be the one who thumps the melons and picks the piece of salmon my family will eat.  I need exercise, friendships, and family dancing to keep me sane.  Still, sometimes I resent how little time I have to write.  On bad writing days, I beat myself up over the squandered hours.  I envy the lives I imagine other writers are leading.  I long for the peace and time and big trees of writers’ colonies, despite the fact that I have never been to one and, in my heart, don’t really want to go. 

Over time, I have developed a theory.  If people hear it and dismiss it as rationalization, well, I don’t blame them.  It probably started out as rationalization, my putting a positive spin on my frenetic days and limited writing time.  But no matter why I came up with the theory, I’ve come to believe in it.  Not just believe in it.  I’ve come to see that it’s more than just a theory.  It’s big and holistic, ill-defined and not terribly original, but I recognize it as one of the deep truths of my life.

It goes something like this:  everything feeds everything else.  Writing time and family time are false distinctions.  Sweating it out at swim practice, watching my son’s arms arc and arc and arc; choosing one tomato over another; helping set up for the school book fair; listening to my daughter read an Ivy and Bean book aloud, her downward-cast eyes and chirping voice; watching Law and Order reruns with my husband; my obligations to the people I am honored to have in my life, the hours I spend with them:  all of these things make me–I almost wrote “a better writer,” but better than what?  Better than who?  All of these things make me a writer.  They impact directly the words I write in palpable and invisible ways.  Just as the hard-won hours I spend with language, story, and characters make me the friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother that I am.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I Hate You, Mom

I love my children.  I want them to be happy.  I want them to get good grades, have friends, be active, be successful.  I want them to be kind and respectful and responsible.  I give them lots of attention, love, and support.  I’ve read the parenting books.  I’m involved.  I’m concerned.  I want them to have a good life.

I also want them to get up, take a shower, put on clothes, brush their own hair, make their own beds, pack their own lunches, eat their breakfasts, put their homework in their backpacks, and be ready to walk out the door by 7:50 am Monday through Friday.  Is that too much to ask?  Apparently it is.

I understand a little grumpiness in the morning.  We can’t all be morning people.  But what do you do with a 9 year old girl who, when you tell her to stop dragging her feet, goes even slower than before?  Who, when sent to her room to get dressed after her shower, hangs out in a damp towel for 20 minutes?  Who takes 15 minutes to simply put on her shoes?  Who can’t be bothered to put a bite of food into her mouth until it’s time to walk out the door, then complains she didn’t have time to eat?  Who, when you tell her that you’ll have to rethink the playdate she was looking forward to if she can’t pick up the pace, turns and yells, “I hate you, Mom!”?  

What, parents, do you do about that?  If you’re not a parent, please reserve judgment- no offense, but until you’ve been there, it’s not possible to know what it feels like.  And I’m quite sure your future little darling will never do this to you because you will be an amazing parent, right?  Yeah, I remember thinking that too, pre-kids.  

The playdate is history, and she’s lost tv privileges for the rest of the week.  She apologized after I asked her to (it bugged me that I had to ask!), but my feelings are hurt.  I know, I need to suck it up and not take it personally, but still..  

Where did my sweet baby go?  And the teen years are coming (I’m terrified).  Help.

Guest Post and Hachette Giveaway: Live a Little by Kim Green

Live a Little by Kim Green is a new book coming out on August 15th. Hachette Book Group is offering 3 copies to my readers at Books on the Brain!  

It’s about an under-appreciated woman, with two bratty kids and a distracted husband, who is diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer.  Suddenly she’s treated like a queen by her family and friends.  But just as suddenly she finds out that there’s been a mistake and she is, in fact, perfectly healthy.  However, she’s not ready to relinquish the spotlight.  Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?  I haven’t read the book but you can read an excerpt HERE.  

I asked Kim to tell us a little bit about how she came up with the idea for Live a Little, and here’s what she wrote:

Live a Little, or rather, Raquel Rose, the book’s fortysomething, frustrated heroine, emerged out of my own experience as a harried mom of two. Sometime around the thousand-odd days of parenthood mark, I started to realize that not only is parenting not about your (the grown-up’s) fulfillment, it’s actually about the complete abnegation of self. Kid needs a toy while you’re in the first shower you’ve had in six days? No problem; hygiene is overrated. Sleep deprivation got you feeling paranoid or homicidal? Read an attachment parenting book; it’ll explain that you’re just being selfish.

What, I thought one day as I stuffed my writhing offspring into my raisin-littered sedan while yet another writing deadline came and went unmet, would a terminally unappreciated mother do to feel good again? How far would she go?

That’s where Live a Little came from. Now, maybe I’m a cynic, but I tend to think most of us are liars in one way or another. Maybe we just string together small fibs, or perhaps we’re more inclined toward the occasional whopper or self-aggrandizing feint. I think it is very possible for an otherwise ethical, normal person to spin a web of lies she can’t extricate herself from easily. This precept was the baseline for Raquel’s misadventure, and I demanded a lot from it (and, probably, my readers). I wanted to see how far I could take this idea and still make Raquel relatable (according to Publisher’s Weekly, not as far as I thought). What? Demanding a lot from a mom?  Good thing I’m writing fiction, no one would ever believe that….

Kim Green is the author of several romantic comic novels, including Is That a Moose in Your Pocket?,  Paging Aphrodite and Live a Little. Her writing has appeared in Los Angeles Magazine, Mother Jones, and the San Francisco Business Times, among other publications. Her requisite stint in dotcom included editing and managing projects for Women.com and other Silicon Valley companies. Kim earned an MA in International Relations from the University of Amsterdam, which qualifies her to create exotic settings for her books and little else. She lives in San Francisco with her family.

Leave a comment here by August 22nd for a chance to win a copy of Live a Little by Kim Green!