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Happy 6th Birthday, SPR!

As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive

I picked up Stephanie Land's Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive at BookExpo last year as it was touted at the Adult Book Buzz panel as one of the hottest releases of the year

Stephanie is like many in America, but in ways that you might be uncomfortable speaking about. She grew up in poverty, and in early adulthood, she was working service jobs when she meets Jamie, who will become the father of her child. They agreed that their romance would be a fling — Stephanie had dreams of college in Missoula. When she becomes pregnant, she wants to give Jamie the chance to be a father, but instead she finds herself in a domestic violence situation with nowhere to turn. When she finally gets away, she finds herself dependent upon government assistance for everything from rent and electric to childcare — this while working long hours doing manual labor. Even while keeping her head up and trying to stay afloat, she deals with people remarking, “You’re welcome,” to her while she checks out in the grocery store with her EBT card. Her story is one that is repeated all across America — an entire swath of our population lives on less than $2 a day. 

Land is a profound writer who hits the shapest notes of strength and pride while still baring her soul for her readers. This book is no pity party; rather, it’s the story of a woman of tremendous strength who wants her reader to understand that when you live in poverty, there is never any getting ahead. The moment you do, you find yourself knocked down again — something as simple as a car not starting wreaks havoc for months on the loves of those living on an hourly minimum wage. Savings is a pipe dream. Land weaved her tale for us in a tight knit that made me empathize with her plight and angry at her circumstances. While you may feel there’s not much you can do, this is inaccurate. 

You can’t hate social programs and then say we can’t, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, gauantee a living minimum wage for workers in every sector. Welfare is dead, and it has been for years. If you are paying attention, you know this to be true. Land goes into tedious detail explaining what life is like when you are on assistance — it’s almost a full-time job just to get what you need to be able to work. It’s a different application for everything (occasionally you get lucky and some applications double up), and each visit to each office takes hours on end. This is assuming that you never get sick and don’t need to take off work to go to a doctor. These minor inconveniences to people with salaried jobs are major catastrophies for people — mostly women, mostly single mothers — who fear losing what difficult-to-find work they had in the first place. 

That’s if you are lucky enough to have a regular work schedule, which Land finds when she begins working for a cleaning company. My heart broke for her when she entered into a relationship destined to fail — when it finally ended I was hopeful that she could make it on her own. I was angry when the doctors called her a bad mother for her living conditions — we are all trying to do our best with the circumstances we have. I  rode for her when her car went out of commission, the circumstances of which you will need to read for yourself. Land is an outstanding writer, and she brings us along on the journey that starts when her daughter takes her first steps in a homeless shelter. 

I’m always amazed when I listen to how some people speak of those on government assistance, and the coded language they use to describe those they feel are below them. Little do they know that the summer I lost my job, I sought out SNAP to help ease my financial burden. I qualified, but the process of obtaining them was so time consuming that I wouldn’t have been able to work what jobs I could find babysitting. It was an eye-opening moment for me, as was my visit to the unemployment office for a mandated job-training course. We were all treated like absolute morons. It was sobering to be sure. 

This isn’t a plea for empathy so much as it is a call to give Land’s book an open-minded read. Live in her world for a few hours, and imagine yourself in her shoes. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting

You know I love a good parenting book, so when I read the blurb about Jennifer Traig's Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting I was completely sold. 

One peice of advice you get as a new parent — and arguably one of the most well-intentioned yet completely useless — is to trust your instincts. After all, parenting is natural. Everyone knows how to do it! Except...

You should be a little more familiar with history. It turns out, there is nothing even remotely natural about parenting. Humans have spent centuries making absolutely stupid decisions about their children. There is a reason people have been horrible forever — it’s because they are products of their environment and child-rearing. As I like to tell everyone, when we know better, we do better. However, it’s also fair to point out that since the late ‘70’s, the Western world has taken the very new concept of “parenting” and run with it. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and humans still generally suck. 

But don’t worry! Just trust your instincts. It’s natural

I loved this book as a cultural history of parenting. I’ve railed in previous posts about how parenting has become a verb and it’s done some damage to adults’ self-worth and beliefs about themselves. Here, Traig has selected a few big topics and has given us a concise yet very full history of parenting advice from as far back as it was written. Some of it is horrifying, some of it is funny, and some of it is absurd. Occasionally you will find advice that is on-point. She takes  us through birth to feeding and toddlerhood to adolescence. You would be surprised at some of the recommendations that you should maybe still think about today. 

However, humans have been offering unsolicited and stupid advice for generations upon generations. Traig pulls it out in this book and presents it to you as-is with a side of self-depricating humor. She’s not interested in giving you parenting advice; she’s just telling you about the absurdity that lies in the history of men telling women how to parent. Because if we are really going to get down to brass tacks, that’s the history of child-reading advice. (The best is when the men either didn’t have children of their own or gave them away to be raised somewhere else.)

It took me a hot second to adjust to Traig’s asides in her writing, but once I did I thoroughly appreciated her jabs at history and her willingness to own her parenting choices. This is not a holier-than-thou retelling, and she’s strait forward in making sure you know that she’s just trying to get by. However, she knows that you are too even if you present yourself as a perfect family on social media. (I’m also calling out you all who like to throw in a “what a crazy day!” post every once in a while. We know you. We see you. We know you are full of shit.) It turns out parenting has been hard across history for different reasons, and at the end of the day, this book just celebrates us all getting by in whatever way we can.