Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You're not the Boss of Me

Rarely do I read a book that not only makes me laugh out loud, but also makes me scream, "Oh, I know!" because the author is evidentally living a parallel life to mine, poor thing. Erika Schickel, author of "you're not the boss of me", has written an extraordinary book of 25 essays that go from the hysterially funny to the bitingly sarcastic to the touching honesty
of someone working through life changes. In Erika's case, this up and coming actress finds she's pregnant and watches her life spin in an entirely new direction as her body changes and her mind reels with the challanges of motherhood.

This is not your normal "momoir". From the cover to the content, this is a book about womanhood, motherhood, and life altering changes that occur as one matures. The book doesn't cover one style of parenting, in fact it talks in one favorite chapter about the difficulty Erika felt fitting into either traditional parenting or what she terms "alterna-parenting". Because this is such a hot topic right now in the blogosphere with the traditional parent pitted against the new urban "hipster parent" this particular chapter resonated deeply with me. Schickel writes, "Becoming an Alterna-mom was a lot of work. It meant grinding up baby-food and washing mud-stained clothes in scentless, non-sudsing, environmentally friendly soap..." At some point she realized that she didn't fit in with the Traditional Moms or the Alternative Moms.

"I just felt lost, unmoored, alone in my lack of convictions. I was just a Slacker Mom with a guilty conscience. After coming to this realization it wasn't long before I found myself rebelling against the rebels. I brought sugar cookies to a sugar-free school bake sale (where they sold like hotcakes!). I got busted by a teacher for putting GoGurts into my kid's lunch boxes...

Maybe it's because being an Alterna-Mom is such a lifestyle choice, and that's finally where I always fall off the beam. "Life-Stylers" rankle me. People lacking in imagination about themselves sign up for lifestyles. Whether the theme is Urban Cowboy, Church Lady, Sex-Positive Swinger, Harley Dude: these lifestyles seem to come with wardrobe ideology, and upholstery swatches so you don't have to make any difficult choices. All these Alterna-Moms would claim to be square pegs, misfits, rebels, and yet there's a feeling of mindless conformity here. Twenty-first-century rebellion today comes with a uniform: tattoos and vintage dresses, chunky shoes, hair dyed blue/black and shorn into blunted bangs and bobs. Nose rings and vibrators as accessories. What was the difference between that and a Brooks Brothers suit, or gang colors, or any of the other accountrements that we use to identify ourselves? After six years of living among the alternative hiperati, I saw that these cookies had all been cut with the same shape. It depressed me. It made me feel bitchy."
But Schickel isn't all about the different styles of parenting. Once she becomes a more secure parent after her second daughter was born, she goes on to write hilarious essays about the day to day survival of life with children. The Christmas gifts she decides to bake with a friend or teacher gifts come out so badly that her daughter pronounces "Mommy, they look like poops." The Honda minivan she chooses to make her life easier that barely fits into her garage and ends up making her totally miserable. The sick daughter who unceremoniously barfs all over the cooktop at a Benihana birthday. Yum, fried barf! Erika's short addiction to Grand Theft Auto. Her visit to a strip club to get a lap dance. The deep love of cereal her family feels every morning.

All isn't fun, however. There is a frightening essay about a choking child that will send chills up your spine. There's a long piece about Erika's decision to stop smoking pot after years of running out in the back yard to light up a chubby. An operation on her foot that leaves her helpless and in pain as her foot refuses to heal. A daughter that gets temporarily lost at the Zoo.

The chapter that most resonated with me is called "That Fucking Cat". As any regular reader knows, I own one of those kinds of cats, the Worthless Pet. Buster, Erika's rescued cat, is a royal pain in the patoot. He refuses to use the cat door, demanding to be let in and out a hundred times a day. He's a serious nag that constantly demands more food. He asks to be petted and then bites the hand that soothes him. He demands constant lap time when Erika is trying to work. And then he started pooping in her office. Buster was an unhappy cat in a household with two active children. The more the family tried to soothe him, the more he bit and scratched. He peed on a sofa and destroyed it. A decision had to be made, and Buster was sadly returned to the shelter. Erika talks about how difficult this was for her older daughter, who loved Buster despite his terrible faults. But she also talks about how Buster brought out her dark side, the murderous rage she felt for the cat that was disturbing the peace in her family. For a pet lover, this was a heart-wrenching read and although I certainly understood the motivations in rehoming Buster, I honestly felt terrible guilt reading this essay, knowing that I feel similarly at times with the Worthless Pet.

Schickel moves from the mundane to the hilarious with the ease of a writer comfortable with who she is. This book is almost her permission to give herself and all mothers a break. I very much enjoyed reading the book, and liked how the essays roamed all over the map of parenthood without being a book about parenting at all. Some of the more off-beat stories had me in hysterics, the more heartfelt and serious stories had me drawing my breath in pain.

In essence, Schickel has defined the ultimate mommy experience, from joy to pain and beyond. This is a great read, folks. Go and get your own copy today!

Stop by MotherTalk to see what other people have said about "you're not the boss of me".

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