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 Iâ€™m stupid? Oh please donâ€™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 Iâ€™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 â€œyou are not to write about the penises of any member of this family on the internetâ€. As the Princess would say, â€œthe big meanieâ€.
Late July and the book arrived along with chicken pox for all three children (Iâ€™d like to be clear here, separate mailings). And with one thing and another, I didnâ€™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, itâ€™s three in the morning) and in odd places (I can see you hiding behind the nappy bin, get in here, itâ€™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 couldnâ€™t do anything until I had finished the book. And no, I wasnâ€™t going to take the opportunity to ask Ayun some questions now, how could I ask her questions when I hadnâ€™t even finished her book?
August 7, I finished the book. What can I say? Itâ€™s great. No really, believe me, if it werenâ€™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, babiesâ€™ 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 â€œMothers buy this!â€ (it doesnâ€™t actually say that, but it might as well) which is a pity because itâ€™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 itâ€™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 â€œIf 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. â€˜I want to feed her one last timeâ€™.â€ Thatâ€™s keen, I think youâ€™ll agree. It also makes me wish Iâ€™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 Ayunâ€™s where she is keen, but also non-judgemental would have been comforting around then. As she says â€œOoh, itâ€™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. Thereâ€™s a reason people donâ€™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 doesnâ€™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 wonâ€™t latch on properly is that every other idiot leaking milk through her bra gets to think itâ€™s a cinch.â€ I like that.
Iâ€™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.
â€œ..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 JosÃ© who remained where he was despite my fervent wish for him to move. Inkyâ€™s nickering was on the verge of becoming nutting out. With no choice, as discreetly as I could, I unsheathed myself [â€¦] Inky clamped on grunting in relief. I could feel my neighborâ€™s eyes upon me. â€˜Breasfeedingâ€™ he shouted. I [..] offer[ed] only the faintest murmur of assent. â€˜Breastfeeding,â€™ my seatmate thundered again. â€˜Itâ€™s the best thing! My mother, sheâ€™s in heaven now, god rest her soul, she breastfed all of us, and she had eleven kids.â€™
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. â€˜Look at her. Itâ€™s a girl, right? Oh god bless her. Que linda. Look at how much she loves it. Iâ€™m telling you, you canâ€™t do better than breastfeeding! Good for you Mami! God bless you!â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s the best thing, breastfeeding!â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s what they say.â€™
â€˜Yeah, and itâ€™s the best thing for the baby too. She knows it right? [..]Good for you, Mami! God bless you!â€™
[..] â€˜Look at this baby breastfeedingâ€™ my neighbor called to a couple of women seated across the aisle. [..] â€˜Itâ€™s the best thing!â€™ my friend trumpeted, as if any of our fellow riders might harbor doubts. [..]My mami breastfed me. Iâ€™m fifty-seven years old and strong as a bull! Iâ€™m telling you. Breastfeedingâ€™s where itâ€™s at.â€™â€
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 Ayunâ€™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 itâ€™s only just been published in the UK and b) it relies on you knowing the style of an LRB review â€“ 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.