From her Newsday columns—here assembled, modified, and supplemented—Cheever offers a snack tray of platitudes about raising children.
Cheever presents—like so many hors d’oeuvres—26 tasty but insubstantial essays (with two prefaces and an epilogue), beginning with the birth of her daughter (in 1982, when Cheever was 38), an event that released in the new mother an unexpectedly exhilarating rush of emotion and maternal instinct: “In the moment of my daughter’s birth I found everything I had been searching for in all those ways over all those years.” The author describes many of her experiences as a mother—the good as well as the bad and the ugly. She says she has slapped her daughter (she favors sensible corporal punishment); she writes about her three divorces (her two children have different fathers), her struggle with alcohol, and her obsession with weight (she eventually threw away her bathroom scale). She talks about her children’s therapists (her daughter began at four), sitters, tutors, teachers, and preachers. (It takes a city to raise a child?) She describes her daughter’s search for religion—beginning with witchcraft, moving to Mormonism, then Judaism, and finally settling down somewhere in Christendom. Cheever comments on tantrums, television, Harry Potter, potty-training, pets, fashion, and creamed spinach (her son loves it, so she doesn’t make him eat broccoli). She should have trusted the power of her narratives, for they are more than capable of carrying the weight of these ideas. Instead, she fills our plates with banalities, with hopes we’ll think they’re caviar. “Parenting is about power,” she opines; “I see that each of my children’s tantrums happened after a wish of theirs was ignored by me”; “when children are involved in a divorce, they become its innocent victims.” And on and on. Ultimately, this is a religious narrative as well: Cheever believes there must be a God because her children are miracles.
Little protein, much pabulum.