I almost stopped reading this book about 50 pages in. I was enjoying Dederer’s writing, with all of its pithy GenX-ness, but I found her perspective very critical. She seemed to have concluded, since she felt pressured by her peer group to practice attachment parenting and it didn’t work for her, that anyone who practiced attachment parenting was doing it because of social pressure. Attachment parenting devotees were some kind of Stepford Wives, blindly following the dictates of the masses. She ignored the idea that maybe attachment parenting works for some people and it didn’t work for her. And she described What to Expect When You’re Expecting as a left-wing book. I don’t know many of my peers who would describe any book that doesn’t list non-reclining positions for pushing as a left-wing book. We all hated that book. We gravitated towards Ina May Gaskin and Sheila Kitzinger and Penny Simkin and Henci Goer. Had we been less ecologically and free-speech inclined, we would have burned What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Basically, I took Dederer’s judgements personally, which is kind of ridiculous. I mean, she doesn’t know me. We gave birth to our first children five years and nearly 1000 miles from one another. We’re part of the same generation, but just barely.
Knowing this, I soldiered on through the rest of the book, and I’m glad I did because this book is all about personal growth. I felt a kinship to Dederer as she moved from being guarded and judgmental to being more open and accepting of other ways of raising children and even other ways of living. Although I was on the other side of the fence (e.g., my first child refused a binky so I became militantly opposed to them by my second child), I recognized her journey from traumatic birth experience through anxious early motherhood through gradual comfort with her chosen path separate from what her peers were doing.
Although Dederer places a lot of value on staying in one’s hometown, this is a particular downside to staying put, at least from my perspective. I have never had a hometown. I moved every three years as a child. As a grown-up, the longest I’ve lived in any one place is six years. Until I joined Facebook, I didn’t even know what my elementary school friends thought of different parenting practices, much less what they thought of me for being a weirdo mommy. It is in some ways liberating to be a nomad, to lose touch with my past and trick myself into believing that because it’s not underfoot, it’s not always with me.
But by the end of the book I found myself jealous of Dederer. She finds the secret for her, which is to move away for a couple of years and then come “home”. I like this idea, but without a “home,” this is simply not an option for me. My whole life has been “away.” Even if I moved to where my dad is or where my mom is, I wouldn’t have a network of lifelong friends to tap into because the friends of my childhood are scattered across the country. I’m equally at home everywhere, and I’m equally a stranger everywhere. Dederer’s voluntary exodus from and then voluntary return to her home just highlighted for me how much I don’t have a home. It kind of pissed me off. I wanted a place to go home to, goshdarnit!
Even as it pissed me off, though, I delighted in watching Dederer’s journey. I could relate to the growth-through-yoga that she experienced. Many of her fears and realizations seemed very familiar to me. I especially appreciated her chapter about handstand. I first attempted handstand in yoga teacher training. There an Iyengar teacher described me as “beyond clumsy” in handstand. It was a caution to another student about me in front of me: “Be careful,” he said, “she’s beyond clumsy.” Meaning, “Watch it because she’s likely to fall on you while you’re trying to assist her.” I know it’s silly, but this teacher’s words have echoed in my mind at practically every yoga practice I’ve done since. I’ve gradually allowed it to become background noise rather than letting it take center stage, but I sure as heck haven’t tried handstand since then. (Well, once during a workshop, but I embarrassingly dissolved into tears, and I haven’t tried since then.)
As a clumsy, non-svelt yoga practitioner whose limited flexibility has been hard-won, I liked reading about yoga from the perspective of someone who isn’t a former gymnast or ballet dancer. Someone who doesn’t “float” from uttanasana into chaturanga. Someone with hips.
Some reviewers have complained that the links between Dederer’s personal reflections and the poses for each chapter are rather tenuous. I agree to a point. Some chapters did seem to be “yoga pose” + “everything else,” most notably the child’s pose chapters in which she recalled episodes from her childhood. But the chapters with the more forced connection between pose and narrative were the minority. For the most part, I found the link between yoga and her stories to be pretty close.
The part I loved best was watching Dederer accept her reality in a less judgmental way. Rather than comparing herself to everyone else and/or throwing out what she’d built and trying to start over again as her mother had, Dederer took what she had and made it something that worked better for her. I find this inspirational. Even if it does involve having a hometown and a greater skill at making friends than I have.