Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ayun Halliday's MamaLamaDingDong tour stops here

First off, coming soon this week, play to win installment #2. Hint preview: will have something to do with learning how to do smart talk and hold an opinion with other women.

Second, and to the point of today's entry, this is Playground Revolution's stop on the blog tour for Ayun Halliday's MamaLamaDingDong, which is the batty title given to her book "The Big Rumpus" by its British publisher. I'm lucky enough to be on a secretive and mysterious writer's listserv with Ayun. That means every once in a while an email stretched full of her sixty mile an hour no holds barred prose appears on my screen, a happy treat for the day. And even though I'm about four days behind my work life right now (and that's a very generous assessment that anyone who's been emailing me with no successful returns will vehemently disagree with, for sure), let me slide into the wee hours of my day to blog about her book and spread the word.

I remember back when I was a new mom for the first time, as opposed to now, when I'm a new mom for the second time, in the olden days of 1998, and there was almost nothing to read from mothers about new motherhood. There was Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions. There was the lyrical Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich. If you were brainy and resourceful you could find Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre. That was about it. I know everyone thinks we're inundated now by mothers whispering out loud the tedium and love that rests in the details of ordinary life with kids, but a mere double handful of years back, very little of this was around. Mothers' memoirs hadn't been shortened into the chick lit diminuitive "momoirs." And the mom blogosphere didn't exist. Someone can remind me when blogs were invented, but I know we didn't have them in 1998.

All that's changed, and we have writers like Ayun Halliday (along with other fave writer pals Faulkner Fox and Andi Buchanan) to thank for that. MamaLama aka the Big Rumpus is jam-packed full of all the identity shifts of new motherhood, from the "oh, I can't take the baby to the actors' workshop, and stay up till 2 am painting the stage" moment of confusion, to the poignancies of figuring out how the hell to celebrate holidays with kids, surly cat, and multiple religious and non-religious traditions surfing through her home. We're told, you know, that we are tired of mother memoirs. Well call me old fashioned but I'm here sitting on the white couch, barely holding my eyes open, reading with gratititude Ayun's memories of Inky and Milo, of scary days at the NICU, weaning (and Inky's funny joke, see page 193), and whether to circumcize their son (hint: who knows more about the why's of circumcision, the 3d generation atheist Jew or the ex-Episcopalian who went to lots of bar mitsvahs?) The big picture: we need these stories, and though mothers' stories are everywhere on the internet these days, it is a big and needed treat to read them from those who know so intituitively how to craft gorgeously energetic sentences from the randomess of words.

Because I'm four days behind, I'm going to crib from some other bloggers' interviews with Ayun, in hopes that she gets back to me before I go to press, excerpts in which Ayun recommends tea time for mothers (who doesn't need a four o'clock snack and five minutes to read a magazine?) and in which, too, she suggests that writing is more fun, more rewarding, and more soulfully nurturing than housework. Thanks to these other bloggers who managed to get questions to Ayun ahead of time. I like knowing that someone is two days ahead of the game.

Excerpts from Martha Brockenbough's The Mommy Chronicles.
Martha; : What do you think moms who want to relax and have more fun and less stress should do? How do we let go of all the cultural expectations of motherhood? I figure anyone who'd let her kid keep the spare thumb has some pretty good methodology here.

Ayun: It seems to me the answer to the first question lies within the second. Mothers have more fun and experience less stress when they shake off the insanely high expectations with which Western society has burdened the office. The second the kid emerges from between your thighs, the pressure to measure up is immense, because you know you’ll be judged harshly if you don’t get straight A's in every single subject associated with child rearing. Well, who’s doing the judging? That’s what I want to know. Mothers-in-law aside, I’d say it’s primarily magazine editors, p.r. firms, and large corporations who stand to profit substantially from reinforcing the idea that we’re doing a shitty job. Other mothers can play a particularly pernicious supporting role, but my data shows that they’ll stop judging you if you refrain from overtly judging them.

A close friend recently had her first baby. She was a great help and comfort to me when I had my first baby nine years ago, but despite her ringside seat for that circus, the physical rigors and emotional rollercoaster of new parenthood still knocked her for her own loop. She’d seen that it was hard. She’d witnessed the limits, the fatigue, the frequent feelings of powerlessness, but that couldn’t prepare her for living through it her ownself. Motherhood is wicked-hard, particularly those first couple of years. New mothers need to seek out anything that acknowledges this, because it’s very easy to sink into the slough of despond, to feel that you’re the only one who’s feeling lonely, sad, unfulfilled, crazy, whatever…

... For mothers of older children, I recommend tea time. (I recommend it for mothers of all stations, but it’s particularly important for those old enough – or depending on how far down the road you are, young enough – to sass and demand and wear out your last nerve just by virtue of their existence. You know how kids get whiny and obstreperous when they’re hungry or tired? Yeah, well, mothers do too. Particularly Bitchmother, who is who I morph into at around 4pm, unless I take a little break to eat something, maybe read a magazine article, sit the fuck down…

MamaLama's being published in Britain, so my next excerpt is from an actual British blogger, Babymother:

BabyMother: First of all – how did you get to be a full-time mother AND write a book or three? (And HOW could you bring yourself to stay awake in your child’s naptime when you were pregnant in order to write? Yes, this is all a bit close to the bone)

Ayun: I am a very lax housekeeper, and have pretty much everything I need within a couple of blocks’ walk. Also, I was an unathletic only child, who spent many a sunny day, sitting in a tree, reading library books and drawing pictures of elaborate kitty cat weddings. Writing remains fun for me, a way to play with mental paper dolls. I’d rather do that than go shopping or hang gliding or some other activity that another might engage in to relax and reclaim some semblance of their pre-maternal identity. As for staying awake while pregnant, the second time around, when Milo was in the oven and Inky was two years old, I felt like I’d been embalmed! It’s the one time in our fifteen years together that Greg had no choice but to cook. We ate a lot of spaghetti and it’s indicative of just how embalmed I felt that I forked it up without complaint. Nap times were my cue to tap into some secret reserve of energy, a stash for my personal use. The minute Inky woke up, refreshed, I felt embalmed again.

BabyMother: No, please tell me you actually had a full-time nanny, cook, and wet nurse.

Ayun: Oh, absolutely! Also an in-house stylist and a personal secretary. They’re all thanked in the acknowledgments.

And here, as we round third and head home (can you tell I've been watching lots of Mets games lately?), Ayun, in with my last-minute question to her, to the self-proclaimed Queen of Heinie ,

Playground Revolution: Ayun, why do kids love bathroom talk so much?

Ayun: Bathroom talk? i guess b/c it brings us down to their level of helplessness and connection to bodily function. plus - f-u-n-n-y. What interests me is what various households interpret as "bathroom words". Like some close hip friends, who instructed their kids to call our beloved "Uncle Monkeybutt" "Uncle Monkey" b/c "butt is a bathroom word." I'm like, it is? Butt? They must have a chronic 5 year old user of the word "butt" to get that one stricken from the lex.

Enjoy the book.


EmmaK said...

I just read Mamalamadingdong, it really is unputdownable. By the way, I am not Ayun Halliday's mom, or indeed Ayun herself. I just love the book. Very, very funny and astute.

karrie said...

What's not to love about a well-travelled, say anything, job hoppping mother who recalls the 70s in hilarious detail? I was disappointed when I learned that "Mama Lama" was foreign release title, and not a new book.