With agreeable emotional disorder, Web columnist Newman (“Bringing Up Ben and Birdy” on babycentre.com) describes the everyday terror of stewarding young children.
In the world of the new parent, all seems unknowable, every sign loaded with meaning and impossible to decipher. Newman already has a cherished son, Ben, when one of those acts of fate—forgetting to use the diaphragm—brings another offspring into her future. She is as ready as any mother who expects every twinge in her child to be a sign of cystic fibrosis. But she realizes that her anxieties are part of the process and, imagining herself on an ocean, says, “I sleep in a little rowboat. In a thunderstorm, during a war, with cannons going off all night long. And also sharks.” Like most parents, she happily thinks her son Ben is a marvel (“When did I do a good job at the typewriter?” he asks her at two years of age, and, later, when motherhood á deux looms, “Why are those tears drip-dripping from your eyes?”). But then Birdy comes and the world goes atumble. Ben no longer gets all he deserves, and Birdy doesn’t show any measure of appreciation for everything her parents are doing for her. What sustains the reader is the steady humor displayed in Newman’s benignly wacko voice, crisp and always ready to deflate: “Ben averages an epiphany a minute . . . ‘Hey Mama! Water comes out of a hose!’ or ‘Daddy is a person!’ . . . Which isn’t to say that Ben’s learning process isn’t fascinating . . . [but] just that it can be fascinating in this kind of dull way.” Newman produces parenthood real and up-close, even remembering the smell of “Gorgonzola crossed with pond water” nestled in the folds of a baby’s neck.
Laughing through the fears of motherhood, even when the fearer is driving and the laughs are in the back seat.