I am so excited about today’s book review in that it’s published in sync with my friend and book blogger Jennifer Puryear’s review of the very same book on Bacon on the Bookshelf. Neither of us knows what the other has written, and I can’t wait to read hers. I hope that you will read both.
As I’m typing this blog post, it is the end of August. I’m sitting in my air-conditioned house wearing shorts and t-shirt, the crickets are blaring outside, and Christmas is the very farthest thing from my mind. I’m a procrastinator at heart, and although a tiny voice inside of me pipes up every year right around this time as soon as the June-July-August birthday circuit has concluded in our house that NOW would be the perfect moment to get the Christmas letter started, I never actually act on it. It always takes a few not-so-subtle prods from my husband to the tune of “have you still not started our Christmas letter?” coupled with the horror of discovering it’s suddenly December 15th to get me going.
But this year something has caught my attention. Yesterday I was finishing up the absolutely hilarious The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh when I came upon the final chapter titled “Menopause Tips” (yes, menopause – you may hold your sniggers until later), and there it was, in bullet number four:
Cut All Corners Possible, and Don’t Apologize
I would say, unless you love it, let the Christmas-card thing go. Who really wants them anymore? Particularly not in June. It’s absolutely all right that you didn’t send them out on time, and you don’t need to send an extra note apologizing. For God’s sake. Give yourself a friggin’ break. Cut some corners already.
I feel like she’s speaking to me directly. I have been sending out Christmas cards religiously for 15 years, ever since the kids were little. I have the most incredible self-imposed stress every December, because of course in my perfectionist little world, half-assed Christmas cards won’t do. The kind where you upload a picture to Shutterfly and order 100 cards from a stock design. Oh no siree, in MY book they have to be quirky and funny and personalized, and because that of course doesn’t tell the entire story, I add a 2-page (at least) letter to go with them. And then hand-sign those. I spend days and two bags worth of Halloween candy to bribe and coax the kids toward the perfect family photo, or I draw and paint a cartoon, or – on two occasions at least – I have felt compelled to put it all into verse, rhyming of course, penned between midnight and 3 am. Often it is all of the above. I research local printers for the best price, spend another three days finding square envelopes (which I will have you know, should you harbor any ideas of custom-building your own Christmas card, are an absolute bitch to find), go and buy a bazillion stamps, and then almost kill myself a la George’s fiancee in Seinfeld licking as many envelopes.
All by itself, this might not even be such a terrible project. But of course this always comes on top of buying Christmas presents for three hundred people, shipping a good third of those overseas, decorating the stupid tree which year after year I wish out of the house the instant it has been brought in, going to fifteen elementary school classroom parties complete with homemade goodie bags full of cookies for the teachers, and finally (and like everything else on this list entirely self-imposed) the 96 or so individually-bought and wrapped St. Nicholas Day presents. You’ll have to read about St. Nicholas Day here to understand that folly.
You just have to wonder: why do all that? To prove to yourself that you can be Wonderwoman? To prove it to other mothers in some crazy contest of one-upmanship, nowadays so easily documented on Facebook and Pinterest? Out of some masochistic streak only young mothers can conjure up and then don’t know how to get out of in later years lest they inevitably fail vis-a-vis their own perfect younger version? To quiet our husbands’ occasional utterances of “You used to have it all so together, but now…” and make them believe that we do, in fact, still have it all together?
The thing is, as the years go by this charade becomes harder and harder to sustain. Here is how Loh – divorced from her first husband, whom she calls “Mr. X” and now living with “Mr. Y” as well as her two children – describes it:
I feel I’m being strangled by it, by all these people’s stuff – mine, Mr. Y’s, and my children’s. All the nests. I can no longer stand to be near any of it. It saps my chi. I don’t want to be near any stuff I might remotely be considered to be responsible for. I don’t want to be near that structure where everyone cants their chins up to the ceiling and says, “Where is -?” waiting for the food and the ketchup and the toilet paper to rain down magically. I don’t want to be where socks go missing and smoke-alarm batteries need replacing and where my girls will say things to me like, “Mommy? According to this health unit we’re studying, you need to buy pesticide-free vegetables,” or “Mommy? I think you need to compost,” to which I’m increasingly inclined to say: “Actually no, you have mistaken me for the sort of mommy who cares. Do it yourself. Or take your tiny almost-nonexistent college fund and hire someone to compost.”
She seems to be living right inside my mind. But is somehow able to utter things I wouldn’t dare utter that do in fact churn around inside me and increasingly fill me with dread. Sleepover birthday parties I no longer want to be bothered with. Family dinners. Remembering anniversaries. Toothpaste gunk. Recycling. Math word problems. Most conversation, to be honest. Field trip forms. And, by God, back-to-school shopping.
At some point during my reading of this book, I despaired. It was funny, to be sure, but also scary – was this what lay in store for me down the road? I was glad that it offered some form of redemption, at the end, a revelation of sorts, which instantly made sense to me: It is not the menopausal woman, “fifty-year-old Aunt Carol, throwing that leg of lamb right out the window” who has gone off her rocker. She is merely returning to her truer self last seen as a tween girl who is “just as self-centered and brash and annoying and farty as the next person, babbling on about their own crap, much like anyone else.” The truly crazy woman is the one emerging once girls start their periods “and we lose them for a while to the cloud of fertility hormones, which makes them want to help people and serve people and cut up their sandwiches into ever-tinier squares.” It is not leg-of-lamb-throwing Aunt Carol who’s acting weird at age 50, but her younger self, says Loh:
It was only fertility’s amped-up reproductive hormones that helped Aunt Carol thirty years ago to begin her mysterious automatic weekly ritual of roasting lamb just so and laying out twelve settings of silverware with an OCD-like attention to detail while cheerfully washing and folding and ironing the family laundry. No normal person would do that – look at the rest of the family: They are reading the paper and lazing about like rational, sensible people. And now that Aunt Carol’s hormonal cloud is finally wearing off, it’s not a tragedy, or an abnormality, or her going crazy – it just means she can rejoin the rest of the human race: She can be the same selfish, nonnurturing, nonbonding type of person everyone else is… FERTILITY is the change.
Whew! Who knew, right? It’s so comforting to know that you are absolutely normal. And that it’s okay if from now on, in your immediate orbit, “get-well casseroles won’t get baked, PTAs will collapse, and in-laws will go for decades without being sent a single greeting card.” This, my friends, might just be what the first step on the path to true wisdom looks like.
Even if it might turn you into a jerk.
And now read what Jennifer has to say about Madwoman: http://www.bacononthebookshelf.com/