Joy … and Strain. Like Sun-shine… and Rain

Monday, February 10, 2014

There are moments when I look at my son, him sitting at the kitchen table dutifully crunching up cereal while staring at a picture of a sea turtle, and I feel this surge of warmth and joy and love. It’s overwhelming, and I often clutch my chest because my heart feels like it may just expand beyond what it made to bear or cave in on itself. And sometimes, acting on that swirl of pride and adoration, I reach out for his little, caramel face, and I kiss him over and over and smell the crook of his neck and nibble his cheeks and rub his nose with mine until he bursts out in a fit of giggles.

I love this child with everything that I am, everything that I have, and then some more.

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Then, when he randomly looks my way, me helping him unzip a stubborn coat zip, slicing his tuna sandwich in fours or just minding my own biz reading a magazine sitting next to him, and he says, “Mom, I love you. I love how you were made,” that everything-love takes over again. It’s sweet and beautiful and something I hope every human is fortunate enough to feel.

I thought about that everything-love while reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest book, The Lowland. There’s a chapter where a daughter is talking to her father. They are lying in her bed at night just before she’s to go to sleep, when she holds her father’s face in her small hands. She asks her dad, “Do you love me?” He, of course, tells her yes. She responds:

“I love you more.”

“More than what?” the dad says.

“I love you more than anybody loves anybody.”

Here Lahiri writes: He wondered how such powerful emotions, such superlative devotion, could exist in such a small child.

I read the section twice, because I often wonder the same thing — but both ways. How could such powerful emotions exist in this little kid, and also in me? I guess the simple answer is, That’s just how love works. And all of it could fit under the Joy of Parenthood category.

But then there’s the flip side to this golden coin: those moments when my son is not being sweet. Instead, he’s being crabby, whiny, stubborn like that coat’s zipper. Obviously, I still love him in those moments, but I’m definitely not feeling pangs of joy. I’m annoyed. I’m frustrated. I’m rolling my eyes. I’m frowning. I’m repeating myself for the 40th time (fine! Nagging. I’m nagging!)

I’m not joyful. I’m parenting.

This paradox — the joy and strain — is what Jennifer Senior’s new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, talks about. Senior, a journalist and mother of a young son, drills deep into what it means to be a parent today. Through impressive research and honest interviews with a group of middle-class parents, Senior delivers an engrossing snapshot of the hard, “high cost, high reward,” overwhelming job of raising children.

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I’ve read nearly all of the reviews of this book (there have been many; all glowing) and I’ve also listened to several interviews with Senior, and the consensus from these early readers is clear : This book will make you think differently about parenthood and parenting.

I’m. all. in. You had me at Jennifer Senior, frankly. I’ve long been a fan of her work for New York Magazine, where she is a contributing editor. In fact, MMM just featured her last cover story for NYMag all about the stress that is raising teenagers.

I haven’t been this excited to get my hands on a parenting book since Madeline Levine’s Teach Your Children Well  two years ago. Looking forward to my copy coming this way soon.

Actually, maybe you should get a little excited too, because … GIVEAWAY TIME! That’s right, one of you good people will win your own copy of All Joy and No Fun.  And here’s how you can enter this All Joy, All Fun giveaway …

Do one or all of the follow:

  1. Leave a comment below about the paradox
  2. Like Ms. Mary Mack’s Facebook page* (This one is mandatory.)
  3.  Tweet about the giveaway (limit: once a day)

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Good luck! Maybe we can read it together.

4 Comments
  • 1
    Anna Katherine Clay says:

    First, nicole, I love your blog! I was in the ESPN Mag offices a few weeks ago and told Scott how much I enjoy following it. Second, to the matter at hand. While my son is only 11 months old, I’ve already felt the emotions you described above. When I watch him discovering a new toy or ‘reading’ a board book, my heart feels like it’s going to explode out of my chest. Since this is my first child, and he’s not yet a year, I haven’t gotten to a lot of the emotions that come with the toddler stage–and beyond. I heard about Senior’s book on NPR and I, too, am dying to read it. I’d love a preview of what may be to come! :) Hope I can win a copy; either way, looking forward to reading your thoughts! Thanks!

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Anna Katherine! So glad to hear that you’re reading the blog. Thanks for the kind words and the support. Oh, man. I remember 11 months old. My son started walking then and the game was never the same after that. Ha! Enjoy your little one. It really does fly by.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • 2

    I love being a parent. But there are moments and even days where it feels like I’m floundering, failing, and losing my mind. If life is ever evolving with each new change, parenting is just the same, but on speed. It’s amazing, it’s maddening, it’s rewarding, it’s frustrating, it’s confusing, it will challenge every single thing you thought you knew about life. You spend your days trying to mold and shape this extension of yourself as the process of doing so molds and shapes you anew. It’s just as incredible as it is consuming. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, yet I enjoy getting a break and having my own space to breathe and be every now and then.

    I’ve read reviews about this book and am looking forward to reading it whether I win a copy or end up buying it myself :)

  • 3
    Gee says:

    I’m intrigued! My interest is partly due to the fact that the author has a son which probably informs her work.