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July 28, 2014
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Hip Moms Read

Ah, back to school! The lunch packing! Note reading! Conferences, practices, tae kwon do, baby ballet, chauffeuring! Yes, mummydom is a draining job, with no post-work happy hour, no promotion and no year-end bonus. So you, Hip Mom, need to be very kind to yourself these first few weeks of school, so you don’t have your own meltdown when something goes awry. Perhaps you have an hour to yourself before the after-school onslaught, or during the lunch hour at work, or perhaps you can steal a bit of time while your little ones nap.

What am I suggesting? Well, something a bit odd in this age of iStuff: I’m talking about reading. Yes, reading! I am going to go out on a limb and say it’s so retro and unhip that it’s cool. And here’s the mummy angle: while nagging your kids to do their reading minutes is fine and all, you could use that energy to read yourself. How can you yell at your first grader to read when you are playing Angry Birds on your iPhone? Suggest to your kiddies that they read, but then read yourself. See what happens.

Now, none of these books I’m suggesting is intense reading. Even I, a mum of many, can slurp these up at the end of the day when my hellions are in bed. There was a time in my life when I devoured Middlemarch and went mad for Milton – and perhaps there will be a season for such concentration again – someday. But not now. 

The books I’m suggesting are fun and easy to read, but are still elegantly written and instructive for where you are in your life right now. They aren’t parenting manuals either; no one is going to lecture you about sneaking your kids a Happy Meal here and there. I don’t know about you, but when the kids are finally in bed at night, I don’t want to read about what I’ve done wrong all day. I can’t even stomach too much kid stuff in general; Siblings Without Rivalry continues to languish unread on my nightstand, while my boys slug it out over the last Popsicle. I’ll get to it – someday! So here you are -- my highly non-prescriptive, unscientific list of uplifting mommy reading:

1. Happy Housewives, by Darla Shine. Darla Shine is a New York girl who had a great career in TV before she had her first child. She was able to stay home with her son, had a daughter, and then found she felt bitter, bored and resentful, staying home all day while her husband continued along his sparkling career trajectory. Until a breast cancer scare gave her an epiphany: Life with her kids was awesome! She gives 10 easy steps – among them, “Please Stop Whining,” “Be Proud, Make Your Marriage Work,” “Get Back in the Kitchen,” and “Don’t Take it All So Seriously.” Does this sound like Cheez Whiz from the cover of Glamour Magazine, or something similarly trite? In Darla’s hands, it’s not. Her no-nonsense New York straight talk really inspires. Whenever I am suffering from a mom funk, feeling like nothing I am doing with my kids, my house, my life, is working, I go to Darla for a swift kick in the pants. It works every time.

2. The Yummy Mummy Manifesto, by Anna Johnson. This Brit’s humor and wisdom got me through my two months of postpartum whackness after I had my daughter.   This “Manifesto” is a sensual book, with lush, vibrant illustrations; don’t download this one on your Kindle or other device. Here is Anna’s definition of “Yummy Mummy:” “[she] hints at delight and suggests desire and a touch of mayhem. Being yummy does not mean being ridiculously posh. I am definitely not referring to the $300 blow-out mamas who lunch on wilted arugula with a squad of nannies in the wings…When I say yummy, I mean joyous, naughty, delicious, creative, intrepid, and sensually alive.” There! Doesn’t that definition make you want to sign up for the club? Her list of “Twenty Selfish Pleasures” is worth the price of the book alone. One pleasure: “A monthly crush that brings color to your cheeks: The Saturday morning barista who foams the milk on your son’s baby-cino is perfect fodder. But be sure to rotate regularly. Infatuation is enlivening, but obsession is maddening. And dangerous.” Also have “an extra emergency Chanel lipstick kept in the cutlery drawer. Small ammunition to fend off the banality of existence.” Isn’t that perfect? I think all of us have had to fight the banality of existence at 2:12 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon with a bored kid or three.

3. All You Need to Be Impossibly French, by Helena Frith Powell. Another Brit book – this one by a Londoner living in Paris. Now, a disclaimer: I’ll admit I have a touch of Francophilia – I am half French (OK, French Canadian!), took French in high school, and love me some escargot and frog’s legs. But even FrancoPHOBES will love the tips in this book: “If you shop a lot, you walk for miles and stay thin.” There is a whole chapter devoted to French women’s obsession with lingerie: “Lingerie is fundamental to the way a woman feels. If your underwear isn’t right, nothing else works.” And did you know French women hate to breastfeed? Yes, breasts are for husbands only. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with this point of view; I have breastfed my brains out for the past eight years. But it is refreshing to read how the Frenchies do things, and to remember that there are other ways to raise children besides the kid-centric, earnest, all-kids-all-the-time American way. Perhaps this tome will inspire you to skip soccer practice, get a sitter, and surprise your husband with a happy hour rendezvous. The whole world won’t collapse, I promise!

4. Eccentric Glamour, by Simon Doonan. Simon Doonan is the fantabulous window dresser for Barney’s New York. If you have ever seen his windows, particularly during the holidays, you will be stunned: even native New Yorkers slow down to ogle Simon’s displays. Simon is the super gay best guy friend most of us won’t ever have; he is incredibly perceptive, smart, and adores women. He doesn’t want us girls to succumb to the uniform look of “fake hair extensions, fake nails, fake spray tan, fake collagen lips, and fake boobs.” 

Don’t prance around like a Stepford blow-up doll, instructs Doonan: “In my experience you gals are highly idiosyncratic creatures whose true essence is riddled with subtlety and nuance.” In other words, don’t conform – say NO to Ho! Don’t be a trophy wife “whose idea of sizzling conversation is to say things like, ‘You simply cannot get a bad meal in Italy.’” Oy! Don’t we all know faux-sophisticates like this? 

His chapter on beauty products will really help you save money on questionable anti-aging potions: “It is utterly yawn-making to read the endless labels and try to figure out what a particular product is supposed to do to your skin…rubbing creams under your eyes in order to ‘reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles’ is neither rewarding, amusing, nor aesthetically exciting. You would have much more fun and get much more immediate results learning how to glue on showgirl lashes on or apply a beauty mark.” How liberating! Do you know – I’m sure you do – how much money I could save on eye cream and glycolic-infused night serums? After reading this gem of a book, I’m inspired to switch to some cheapish Walgreen’s night cream, wear my boa more often, and devote more brain space to having FUN.

5. Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, by Tania Kindersley and Sarah Vine. I found this book at our new Anthropologie (if any of you can deconstruct why I am seduced every time by Anthropologie’s faux-haute-bohemian-yuppie vibe, please tell!). Each chapter is devoted to some facet of female-dom, among them: Love, Beauty, Sex, Health, Men, Motherhood and Family. With humor, wit and wisdom, the authors dispense their practical advice, ranging from keeping your blood sugar levels even, to dating an alpha male, to some refreshing mommy advice: “The only real duty you have is to stay as sane and as healthy as possible so that you can be there, with a clear head and a calm(ish) disposition, when your baby needs you. And if that means giving up breastfeeding, or having the baby in the bed with you, or using disposable diapers instead of the eco-friendly washable ones, then so be it. Whatever gets you through.”

Amen to that. So there you go, dear friends. Go READ. I’ll be doing the same. Well, until next month: I finally get to dispose of my old man flip phone with the numeric keypad and procure my own iPhone like the rest of you hip moms. Maybe I’ll be able to compose a text message in less than 14 minutes. I can’t wait!

 

 

 

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