Book Review - Let the Baby Drive by Lu Hanessian (MMMM)

Title: Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood

Lu Hanessian

St. Martin's Press (May 1, 2004)

Intended Audience:
New parents. Mamas.

One sentence
that summarizes the author's take on babies/parenting: "Mommy's here. Mommy's always here."

What I loved
: It made me feel like I wasn't alone. The stories of her son's development -- the devil's in the details and kids say the darnedest things.

What made me want to cry into my burpee cloth
: It's hard to say -- individually, each chapter is funny, poignant, memorable. But together they tend towards melodrama and repetition. Kind of like motherhood itself.

How many M's?
: MMMM (4 out of 5)

Let The Baby Drive
is a poetic, sometimes rambling account of new motherhood and the ways it stretches, mushes, and ossifies you like a can of play-doh left at the Lost and Found. At times silly, at times salty, Lu Hanessian's book is part compelling memoir, part not-so-compelling musings about parenting in the modern age. Hanessian is smart and perky, the host of Make Room For Baby, a show I probably would never watch. It's just too... perfect-parenty.

We don't have a crib for our baby. Or a changing table. Or a set of matching play-pen (sorry, 'play-yard') sheets to go with the curtains. We're just not those parents. And we don't have a TV, anyway.

But I digress. Let The Baby Drive mixes poignant stories of Hanessian's personal failings as a mother (the time she unwittingly told her 3 year-old she wouldn't be his mommy anymore once he was grown up) with moments of raw emotional vulnerability: "From here on in our hearts are bound to break again and again...", adding a dash of laugh-out-loud hilarity -- like the time her toddler had a terrible nightmare about "ba-ca-ba" (...broccoli) -- for good measure.

It's a readable book. I consumed it over a weekend. But therein lies it's downfall: in such concentrated doses the simple narrative style turns from quirky and conversational to pseudo-philosophical and downright annoying. How else could you describe the appearance of no less than thirty-eight questions in 18 pages? And through the flogging of a particularly tired set of metaphors? Like the following?

I sense that Nicholas is feeling divided as well. He is shifting gears, trying, I assume, to decipher the new geometry. Triangle to square. Does he now feel like a round peg?

Irritations aside, I found her descriptions of early motherhood (when her first son was less than a year old) the most appealing. Her words ring true as she describes the voices in her [my] head, which are the ideas from the outside world, other parents, our own parents; and the deeper, calmer voice from within, the one so easy to drown out in the baby's early months.

This is the voice that tells you he's hungry when everyone else says that's impossible. The voice that tells you to pick him up when no one else seems to have noticed that he's crossed that faint line between laughter and hysteria. But for Hanessian, these voices duel most ferociously in the arena of sleep:

He wakes one morning at 2:30 a.m., flapping his arms before takeoff. At 2:31 a.m., we have a sort of baby-parent summit meeting.

“Nicholas, when it’s dark out, people sleep, and they don’t wake up until it’s light out.”

He puckers his lips and blows me a kiss. He can’t understand the problem. he has just logged eight dreamy hours, and wants to announce it to every piece of living-room furniture. At 2:32 a.m., I explain to him that I am in need of rest in order to have the energy to take care of him. This fool’s logic is met with a strange hissing that sounds like he has let the air out of a party balloon.

She characterizes the conflict as 'Camp Pick Me Up' vs. 'Camp Cry It Out'. And although her descriptions of her son's sleeping patterns (or lack thereof) made me laugh, I was saddened to read about her shame and fear surrounding her son's night wakings. She describes it as, "A very touchy subject for parents...up there with whether to spank, whether mothers should work full-time outside the house. It's as divisive a topic as gun control, abortion or nuclear disarmament."

Say what?

Maybe I'm lucky -- OK, I'm really lucky -- but the fact of a toddler waking up at night is no big deal in my circle. Sweet Baby James sleeps with us, so his night wakings are mercifully short and goal oriented (whine -- roll -- suck -- sleep, repeat); my co-blogger, Sarah, is also an 'Attachment Parent', and Dr. Sears has a whole section in his AP book about why high-needs kids like Hanessian's need less sleep. I'm pretty sure the rest of my friends wouldn't dream of judging me (they will once they have babies, but they don't have babies, yet) and one of my favourite childhood memories is of the time my dad took me to the park to go on the swings -- at 4 am.

So I feel comfortable about my position on sleep, and it wears a little thin when Hanessian and her friends literally lose sleep over theirs. Perhaps it's the things we personally feel least confident about that seem most contentious to us. We seek out judgment because we're not convinced ourselves, and then we feel defensive when another's opinion doesn't match our own...

And yet we need it. We might not always like it, but we need other mothers' help and opinions. Hanessian writes,

I realize how necessary it is to find support. Being a happily married woman, I never expected to feel so alone as a new mother. This, I can see, has little to do with my husband. Somehow, sharing your struggles, confessions, and irrational fears with other mothers can be a kind of a lifeline. There is nothing quite like a little old-fashioned validation from another mother who can listen without judgment, shining a light in otherwise shadowed corners.
And I agree with her -- even with my preternatural nocturnal confidence, I'm the first to tell you that I personally need more mama-friends; and the Sunday Brunch section of this blog is some attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to advice from the maternal set.

To that point, Hanessian is a great parent. She demonstrates a real concern for her kids' needs, and not just from her own perspective. She really tries to get into their heads, to see the world from their point of view. I loved her story about going into her son's preschool class and simply observing the way he was slowly being turned into a social pariah. What's more, she got him out of there and she makes no bones about the school's failings.

I wonder, however, about the appropriateness of categorizing Let the Baby Drive as an Attachment Parenting work. Hanessian's big in the API (Attachment Parenting International) network, acting as a (volunteer? paid?) host for their conferences, and the like. I love API and I support anyone who wants to learn more about Attachment Parenting. I just don't see much of the traditional Attachment in her Parenting book.

What's so AP about forcing the stroller issue when your baby clearly hates it? And what's with the crib? And if she's a dyed in the wool babywearer, why isn't it (aside from a description of a back-ache) a larger factor in her story? It is, after all, one of the most visibly obvious signs of an Attachment Parent -- and it doesn't go unnoticed in public and amongst family and friends. Perhaps Hanessian came to the philosophy of Attachment Parenting after she'd written most of Let The Baby Drive. Or maybe she's just found a good selling point.

In any case, I recommend this book to any new parent who wants someone to make fun of them, without someone actually making fun of them; to people who want to loosen up a little and laugh at themselves while they play with their children. You should pick up this book if you're a new, questioning mother who's looking for a female friend who's ready to spill the beans, even if it's down the front of her shirt.

And then you should give me a call.

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