Posts in Category: Parents

See Jane Read. See Jane Jump.


I identified myself as a reader at the same time I understood I was a self. I was at day camp which seemed quite far away from my home in the city,  though of course it was not. Underneath a dense triangle of pine trees, I remember holding a book open before me as I walked the  path.  Suddenly the words made sense. I saw pictures where I had seen dark code. 

My own daughter struggles when she reads. She is not the first with her hand up in class, eager to share her thoughts about the characters or images inside her. After years of waiting for her quick mind to catch fire, I realize that reading is “not her thing.” Not that she can’t, or won’t read. But not at any moment, any pause. The sheer delight of dipping into a a book does not beckon her. The libraries that were my home away from home do not call her. Annabelle generously commands the playground, the snowball fight and the dance studio where she shepherds younger girls with subtle grace. They flock around her asking for their hair to be brushed into buns, smooth as glass.

I watch the laborious unnatural training of her mind to read and it strikes me as surprising. She observes my inability to get a package back in its wrapping and laughs at me. I find myself rethinking my lifelong companion, my addiction, the pure peaceful pleasure of reading.

My daughter does not always want me to read to her though I want to open the world of my childhood. I want to introduce her to the families I knew. The words unfurl as I read to her, stored in the place age has not decayed. I cannot remember most of this morning but I can remember what comes next in the Rush’s first Saturday or how the All of A Kind Family slept in chocolate cracker crumbs traded in the dark.  The Brown family that harbored Paddington and his marmalade sandwich wait to entertain her.

The hunger to read has been, for me, like other people describe the hunger to practice medicine or be in nature. Only in the books of childhood was I free from the romance tale. Girls are thinking and talking and feeling; they are using all their senses to become known in the world and explore history, cities, fields, mysteries. Books have the power to stop the passage of time,

Before ‘happily ever after’ arrived, before the princess and prince eclipsed my stories, I ran free. Childrens’ books remind me of a time when my deepest being was absorbed in an enterprise of pure imagination. As I read I was an orphan in India,  sister with a rare phoenix bird, a British child entering a wardrobe with rustling furs that led to Narnia.

When I wait online at her school, Annabelle bursts out of the line with excitement. When I ask her about her day, she shakes with excitement. I wonder how long it will be before she peppers her definite needs with the word  ‘like’, before she asks friends if she looks ‘fat’ in her clothes, before she finds her anger terrifying?  Books which guide girls quickly turn into a romance plot- each one ending with love like The Holy Grail.

If there were one thing I wish she could grasp- It is that she is already complete. Everything which comes next is misunderstanding. Books may deepen and enrich us.  They can mirror and extend our understanding of ourselves. But books also distort glaze over our goals and change our sense of an ending. Curiously, like my own mother, Annabelle favors detective stories: the mastery of right over wrong. The sense of justice, The role of the detective.  She reads in an investigative manner, methodically and for purpose. Perhaps her body and dextrous hands will give her more pleasure than my imaginings did.

Perhaps she will be freer than I was. I could not imagine having a book and choosing to ride a bike or play outside instead. Her own extroverted nature may force her away from the distortions of introspection. She has so many friends she does not hide behind a book. Perhaps her joy in investigating will serve her well as she pushes off from the land of childhood, waving.  This week she was still confident she could be a french teacher, a orthopedic surgeon or choreograph the dance of a shooting star .

5 Books Every Mother Should Read

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Quizzes abound: What Disney princess are you? Which Downton Abbey character are you? These questionnaires are found everywhere. This new fad of quizzes tells me that we yearn for rules and definition the more we feel unclear. Books on mothering and motherhood are everywhere. As an academic (lapsed) and a haunter of libraries, there’s no better way to master a situation, I thought, than research. So, when I realized I was going to be a mother, I started reading.

I started out with What to Expect When You’re Expecting. In about 10 weeks, that book was obsolete. I was on bed rest and nothing went as “expected.” My reading also went far off the beaten path. I roamed about in fiction, poetry and mass market self-help. I have emerged 11 years now, with 5 books that are my guides. I turn to them and recommend them to others with the eagerness of a zealot or a convert:

1. Perfect Madness, by Judith Warner

2. I Don’t know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson

3. Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott

4. The Bitch In The House, by Cathi Hanauer

5. Mothers Who Think, by Camille Peri

None of them, in fact, are self-help books. These are decidedly anti-selfhelp books. I prefer books which repeat passionately that predictable rules just won’t help in this sort of situation. These authors are the women who “get it,” get me, get the whole “wow I’ve really got this thing down … whoops, I have no idea what I’m doing” feeling, and shore me up. Thank goodness that women who write and reflect are as baffled as I was by the strange careerist role of being a mother in this time.

A Talk At Lesley Ellis School

A friend recently confessed to me that she sent a child to school without socks and that she has occasionally offered her children pop-tarts for breakfast. “Am I a bad mother?” she asked. She feels guilty that she hasn’t signed her child up for the Young Scientist program at a local museum.

Perfect children need perfect parents—good enough won’t do. The trouble is, though, none of us is perfect.

I’m excited to be speaking on the topic of perfectionism and parenting at Lesley Ellis School in Arlington, MA on Wednesday, January 13th at 7:00 pm. The event is  part of the school’s ongoing series of Parent Education talks. These talks are free and open to the public. Please call or email the school for more information.

Lesley Ellis School
41 Foster Street
Arlington, MA 02474

Almost Perfect!

In our culture, social forces push children and teens to look, speak, and compose themselves perfectly—achieve the perfect grades, the BMI of 20.85, the prom queen’s tiara, the undefeated season. We weigh, rank, test, measure and chart them every which way from Apgar scores to SATs. In order that our kids can achieve perfection, parenting has become a profession.

But no one can be the perfect parent or, of course, the perfect child. The pendulum swings back and forth.  As a reaction to the impossible work of ‘perfect’ parenting, parents grow demoralized and become permissive and laissez-faire. If our children aren’t perfecting themselves, we can’t figure them out. What do they want? What does he need? Why can’t she behave? Focused on gymnastics practice or math homework, we don’t help them to learn simple social graces, connect to their community, or help out around the house. They don’t feel needed or appreciated. They may never understand how to pick up after themselves, write a sincere thank you note or support a sad friend because these parts of childhood don’t lend themselves to perfecting.


The culture of perfection is as deeply embedded as the American Dream. Our children still learn the mantra: “You can have everything you want—if your work for it.” Just do it. Go for it. You’ll get it all— looks, friends, honors and college admission.

Sensible adults know that this is not true. The world is not a meritocracy and luck plays an enormous role in our lives. Work hard all your life—and still you might not get what you want. We’re afraid of telling that truth. But we must. We need to focus on helping our children build resilience and problem-solving skills. A securely attached confident child has a better chance in life than one who has been pushed and over-praised, and panics without a parent’s tight rein for guidance and reinforcement.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” This is a better mantra. It should be carved into the bricks at the top of every school entrance. The quest for perfection breeds envy, jealousy, and loss of connection.  Love and work are what make us happy—and neither require perfection.

Photo credit: Tracy Shaun

Slummy Mummy, Yummy Mummy, Or None of the Above?



Talking about being a mother has become mandatory—questioning and criticizing what counts as mothering, has as well.

Judith Warner, in Perfect Madness, captured the horror of this microscopic focus well.  A journalist, she began by raising her children in France. Occasionally she wondered if she should feed them fewer crackers, or how polluted the public swimming pool was with waste. But, in general, she did her job of writing news and raised her kids without much fuss

When she returned to the States, she was amazed. “What’s up with all the over-parenting?” she asked. A few years later, after Sept 11th, she found herself wondering about the future of the world while also fretting that her child wouldn’t have the proper amount of “Dora the Explorer” partyware. Suddenly she realized she had been caught in the same cage she’d noticed when she stamped her passport.

I wonder if mothers are so anxious because we really want an objective rating. Maybe our children have become the grown equivalent of our weight or our grades. And, let’s not forget, materialism thrives on anxiety. We are good if we buy things for our children, especially educational things. As the main character in Shopaholic and Baby says, (and I paraphrase) “This is not shopping. This is providing for my unborn child.”

At least she bought matching sheets, 400 count, and a duvet cover for herself and her husband.

Photo credit: buttha