April showers mean lots of reading

This month began with a quick escape… Mr. B and I went to Cabo for 4 days and truly relaxed and connected.  It was heavenly and VERY hard to come back to reality.

We finished the pool, built a pergola and completed landscaping the backyard, made SG’s summer schedule (the number of days left of school is in the teens!), and hosted a big Passover seder.  I’ve been busy (shocking) finishing up various volunteer commitments… and putting together more puzzles.

The Bookshop on the Corner: A Novel by Jenny Colgan

Nina is a young librarian who has only always wanted to match the right book to the right person. Since losing her library job, the next best thing, to her, is opening a mobile bookshop.  Not too much substance here, but a good story about romance, changing your life for the better, and starting over.

There was a universe inside every human being every bit as big as the universe outside them. Books were the best way Nina knew—apart from, sometimes, music—to breach the barrier, to connect the internal universe with the external, the words acting merely as a conduit between the two worlds.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

I could write a post about this book alone! It is part memoir, part social science, and 100% true-to-life funny.  I read this on our weekend couples escape and Mr. B and I were laughing out loud at the observations and truth behind Dunn’s words.  Whereas before kids, the Dunn couple shared household tasks equally, they quickly slid into traditional gender roles after their baby arrived.  And the resentment started to build.  

I feel like he’s a guest at the hotel I’m running. I’m constantly taking a silent feminist stand to see if he’ll step up and lend a hand. The scorekeeping never ends… And so I fume, and then unleash the beast at the slightest provocation. A typical scenario: I am in the kitchen, simultaneously cooking dinner, checking our daughter’s homework, and emptying both her school lunch bag and the dishwasher. Tom heads into the kitchen and I brighten—Oh, good, some help!—but no, he is only wending through the typhoon in order to reach the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of wine.”

First, Dunn reviews the statistics: that though men are doing much more of their share of the household tasks, it is still far from equal.  Next, they visits many specialists to try to resolve her resentment and anger and to help her husband see the need to contribute more at home.  In the end, after consulting psychologists, sociologists, time management consultants, and other researchers, they come to some solutions.    They change how they see their roles (“Home life is a functioning business, albeit a weird twenty-four-hour diner/daycare/hospital type of business,” how they can specifically deal with conflict, how they help each other, and how they negotiate and make continued effort to function better.

The book is full of anecdotes like this one:

“Comedian Dena Blizzard, a New Jersey mom, says she would bristle when her husband would return home from work, look around at the chaos wrought by their three children, and ask her, “What happened here? Who pulled all this stuff out?” “Every day, he would say it,” she tells me. “I’m like, ‘Oh, this? Yeah, I pulled all this shit out. I was really bored today, so I thought I’d throw everything on the floor.’” Then he would follow with the question dreaded by stay-at-home mothers worldwide: What did you do all day? “I did a hundred things, but none of them added up to anything,” Blizzard says. “I vacuumed, I called Poison Control because my son ate a plant, and I think I took a shower. I’d tell him, ‘We have three kids. This is as far as we got.’ He would always be surprised. It was hard not to want to punch him in the face.”

We know that women do countless invisible tasks… One is “kin work,” which Smock defines to me as “giving emotional support to relatives, buying presents and sending cards, handling holiday celebrations, things like that…” Then there’s “emotion work,” the constant checking on the wellbeing of everyone in the household: Is your tween still feeling excluded in the school cafeteria? The dog seems under the weather—is it time to get his kidney medication refilled? Did your husband hash out that issue with his boss? Yet another kind of invisible work is called “consumption labor”—buying the kids’ underwear and school supplies, researching the car seat and the high chair. “This often falls to the woman,” says Smock, “unless you’re talking about big-ticket items like a large-screen TV and the refrigerator.” Let us not forget the schlepping: a study in the journal Transportation found that women shoulder most of the load in the drearily named “average daily household support travel time” category (the school run, grocery shopping, hauling kids to piano lessons). Women do this an average of eleven minutes more per day than men—even when both spouses are breadwinners. Perhaps the least visible but most pervasive job is that of household manager. “That one is constant,” Smock says. “It’s the person who remembers everything: that Joey needs to have a dentist appointment, what foods each child likes, that a babysitter needs to be hired for the weekend. If a mother is handing her husband a grocery list, he is given credit for going shopping, but she has done the work of constructing the list. Giving direction to the husband is labor. It’s in every area in terms of childcare, and it’s always going on in your brain, even if you’re not aware of it.” And mothers resent it, says New York psychotherapist Jean Fitzpatrick. 

“In study after study, research indicates that—surprise!—when men take on their fair share of household responsibilities, their partners are happier and less prone to depression, disputes are fewer, and divorce rates are lower. The day-to-day labor of keeping a household running is a remarkably significant issue for couples: a Pew Research Center survey found that sharing household chores ranked third in importance on a list of nine items associated with successful marriages. This put it ahead of pretty vital basics like good housing, common interests, and “adequate income” (which ranks at number four). This rather amazing finding surprised even the Pew researchers, who said that in seventeen years of polling, no item on the list has risen in importance nearly as much. In other words, this issue is about more than laundry: it’s a direct depiction of the sense of fairness, or unfairness, that exists within a relationship. It touches on so many significant, and interrelated, issues: gender roles, money, respect, values, intimacy, tradition.”

So from this book, I learned how to better tell Mr. B what I need and how he could help, how to get Sweet Girl’s help much more often around the house, and to try to let some things go.  Highly recommend to parents but also people thinking of having kids… try to work some things out in advance and save yourself the struggles! (Well, at least these ones.)

The Bridal Chair: A Novel by Gloria Goldreich  

This is one of those easy ways to learn about the life of a painter… here we learn about Marc Chagall and the Paris art world before WWII through the eyes of his daughter, Ida. First she struggles for independence but ends up as the strong one on whom her family depends in Nazi-occupied Paris and the south of France.  And that is where I left them… I read about 1/3 of this book and honestly felt it should wrap itself up.  With there being so many books I want to read, I couldn’t justify “persevering” through this one.

However… I decided to skip a bunch of chapters and picked up again at chapter 44.  It was like reading about familiar people who I liked and knew, but in a completely different environment with new characters as well.  I finished it and was glad I read more.

She did not sleep well. Once again, frenetic dreams caused her to toss and turn, to awaken gasping for breath, her body awash in the sweat of nocturnal terror. In that nether world, she was racing, as always, but she was no longer a child clinging to her parents’ hands. It was her adult self, grown to a monstrous size, who propelled her much-diminished parents forward, their slow and belabored pace hampering her own progress. She lurched forward, hobbled by the burden of her father’s rolled canvases and the small awkwardly shaped bundles of her mother’s sorrows strapped to her back. Now and again, she tried to run, stooped though she was beneath her burdens, fearful of her pursuers who grew closer and closer. The hooves of their horses pounded as they gained ground.

But of course, who would not be intrigued by her father, that elfin narcissistic genius whose imagination soared and whose faith in his own power and prestige was indomitable? After all, she herself had revered him as an artist, marveling at the enormity and eclecticism of his talent. It had taken her years to confront his flaws, to recognize his foibles and frailties. She loved him still, but she saw him with a disturbing clarity.

The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb

A postwar love triangle between an American rabbi, his wife, and a German-Jewish refugee that spans about 70 years.  This one I also had to stop reading after several hours, finding myself only 25% of the way through the book and tired of the characters.  I had trouble reading a book about a marriage founded on deceit.

Rosalie makes a pact with herself and decides that she will always stay home on Kol Nidre, close enough to hear the words, yet distant enough to let the prayer resonate in her bones. If every Jew is standing to face a Torah scroll on the first hour of the Yom Kippur fast, Rosalie will face a yard, a tree, a night sky. Closer to Walter. Closer to remembering how she felt when they climbed the stairs from the lower geniza, how her skin was a fibrous membrane that could hold memory and music, and if she listened well enough, the symphony of her own body would teach her everything she would need to know.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel by Nancy Horan

I really liked Horan’s Loving Frank, and I also love historical fiction as a way to learn more.  This is a story about the backgrounds and relationship between Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny.  Despite family expectations and obligations and real struggle, both manage to have some happy years together.

He longed to say, If you want to find out who you really are, then go travel. To move is the thing. He wanted to say, Something important has begun. Every chance encounter, every change of landscape in the journey, offered itself up to his pen. He could see a way now to go out and have adventures, to pour all that he witnessed through his soul and onto paper, a way he could make a living doing what he loved, in spite of his father’s plans for him. At the end of the journey, after he had maneuvered the Arethusa to a dock in Pontoise, it was raining. He hated wet weather. Yet he had put his face up to the drizzle and thanked it for falling on him.

Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner

Marriage, renewal, writing about words, and very human… sign me up!

Maybe we write in order to try to feel things we know we should feel in life but don’t. Maybe we write—and read—because we don’t pay enough attention.

Often, I’m less prone to having an actual experience than I am to relating what I’m experiencing to something, anything, I’ve read. It’s as if I don’t quite exist in real time. I have a friend, a yoga teacher, who says I don’t live in the present, and I say, who wants to live in the present? I looked at this lone chimney rising out of the dust and I didn’t pause a moment to think, as I should have, of the generations of women who might once have cooked meals in this very spot. Instead, I thought of a Welty story called “The Burning.” It was as if I needed Welty to see what I was seeing. Do you know what I mean? I needed her eyes.

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