Early in July, Ayun Halliday wrote to me, yes me, asking would I host her tour for her forthcoming book Mama Lama Ding Dong on this blog for a day in August. I looked her up on the internet (do you think I’m stupid? Oh please don’t answer that). She was a real author with lots of books that shipped in 24 hours (I understand from the publishing exec that shipping in 2-3 weeks is death by a thousand cuts). I said yes like a shot and not just because I wanted a free book but also because she promised to show me around New York, if I’m ever there. As the parent of three small children, I am keen to take her up on this and test her tolerance to its limits.
I was optimistic about Mama Lama Ding Dong especially since I got an entertaining sample extract to read. In fact, it inspired some thoughts for this post but I was stymied by my husband who said “you are not to write about the penises of any member of this family on the internet”. As the Princess would say, “the big meanie”.
Late July and the book arrived along with chicken pox for all three children (I’d like to be clear here, separate mailings). And with one thing and another, I didn’t have as much time to read the book and put in yellow stickies as I would have liked. I read it at odd times (can you please turn off the light and stop sniggering, it’s three in the morning) and in odd places (I can see you hiding behind the nappy bin, get in here, it’s time to give the children another oatmeal bath and stop sniggering). And instead of writing this entry as I went along, I kept putting it off, I couldn’t do anything until I had finished the book. And no, I wasn’t going to take the opportunity to ask Ayun some questions now, how could I ask her questions when I hadn’t even finished her book?
August 7, I finished the book. What can I say? It’s great. No really, believe me, if it weren’t I would never have finished it under current circumstances. The author is a New York based actress who believes in natural childbirth. I am a Brussels based office drone who believes that the epidural is a gift from God. Who would have thought that for almost everything she wrote I would find myself nodding in fierce agreement (yes, yes, celery sticks, babies’ arms are like celery sticks, utterly useless for anything)? I wish that I had thought to put in post it notes so that I could ruin the book for you by quoting all the best bits. The cover of the book says “Mothers buy this!” (it doesn’t actually say that, but it might as well) which is a pity because it’s a great book for the non-parents of this world. I have never read anything that is so spot on about parenting (and I have tried “A life’s work” and Anne Enright’s book). If you want to know what it’s really like, this is it.
Which is not to say that the book is not a good read for parents too. Let me give you an example. Ayun talks a lot about breastfeeding, in fact, she says “If I ever had the misfortune to be flung into the path of an oncoming train, I could instruct the gaping herd to bring me my baby. ‘I want to feed her one last time’.” That’s keen, I think you’ll agree. It also makes me wish I’d used the opportunity this exercise offered to ask Ayun whether she too had planned her own funeral service and decided who would get to do the readings. I had great difficulties with the breastfeeding thing initially and I think a book like Ayun’s where she is keen, but also non-judgemental would have been comforting around then. As she says “Ooh, it’s tempting to mouth off when these guys come around seeking breastfeeding advice for their wives and girlfriends. I rarely stick at anything long enough to master it. There’s a reason people don’t ask me to play tennis or translate something into French for them. What an easy way to pump up the old ego after a long Sisyphean day of rolling diapers and spilled crayons uphill! I could help some poor remedial breastfeeeder to do it right like me! Who doesn’t love an easy chance at gratification? But thus far I have demurred when an anxious father invites me to hold forth. Such restraint is atypical. I just have a hunch that the biggest insult to women whose babies won’t latch on properly is that every other idiot leaking milk through her bra gets to think it’s a cinch.” I like that.
I’m also going to quote one of the stories in the book that made me laugh aloud. If you like this, I suggest that this is the book for you.
“..we took the subway to the Cloisters, an hour uptown. I was in denial about her need to hit the biological bottle before we reached our destination. Our closest neighbor was a bald man in his fifties, a working-class José who remained where he was despite my fervent wish for him to move. Inky’s nickering was on the verge of becoming nutting out. With no choice, as discreetly as I could, I unsheathed myself […] Inky clamped on grunting in relief. I could feel my neighbor’s eyes upon me. ‘Breasfeeding’ he shouted. I [..] offer[ed] only the faintest murmur of assent. ‘Breastfeeding,’ my seatmate thundered again. ‘It’s the best thing! My mother, she’s in heaven now, god rest her soul, she breastfed all of us, and she had eleven kids.’
I turned to face him. He was grinning from ear to ear. He pointed at the little gobbling head. His voice resounded like a gong. ‘Look at her. It’s a girl, right? Oh god bless her. Que linda. Look at how much she loves it. I’m telling you, you can’t do better than breastfeeding! Good for you Mami! God bless you!’
‘It’s the best thing, breastfeeding!’
‘That’s what they say.’
‘Yeah, and it’s the best thing for the baby too. She knows it right? [..]Good for you, Mami! God bless you!’
[..] ‘Look at this baby breastfeeding’ my neighbor called to a couple of women seated across the aisle. [..] ‘It’s the best thing!’ my friend trumpeted, as if any of our fellow riders might harbor doubts. [..]My mami breastfed me. I’m fifty-seven years old and strong as a bull! I’m telling you. Breastfeeding’s where it’s at.’”
In conclusion, I am going to hold a little competition based on an idea given to me by Open Brackets. Regular readers will recall that I am a subscriber to the London Review of Books. Every time you renew your subscription, they give you two new subscriptions free. One of these I have pledged to my mother-in-law, the other, dear reader can be yours. The only condition is that you have not previously subscribed, that you are willing to give me a name and address and that you put hereunder the opening paragraph of a review of Ayun’s book as it would have been written by an LRB reviewer. If nobody enters my competition, I will be sad and bitter. Mr. Waffle says that nobody will as a) many of you have not had a chance to read the book because it’s only just been published in the UK and b) it relies on you knowing the style of an LRB review – if this latter is a difficulty may I refer you to my post on Wal-Mart? If at all possible, I would like him to be wrong in this regard.