|The Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood|
When I received Michelle Herman's latest book "In the Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood" … I got a little nervous. I had read and reviewed another of Herman's books, "Dog", and really loved it. But not having any kids, what do I know about being a mother and what could I identify with here? On top of that, I am one of those lucky kids who had the "awesome" parents growing up. I had the easy going, understanding parents that had a hands-off attitude and let me be absolutely weird and be myself without seeming to even flinch. Other kids came to my house to relax and be themselves, hiding from their own parents. So I don't have any real thoughts on motherhood other than, would I be able to do what mine did?
To my relief, and also to my shock, this book is about so much more than just being a mom, having kids… a few relationship sound bites thrown in, that sort of thing. I have seen the enormous (and ridiculous) sections in bookstores set aside for books about parenting and kids. Every book I've flipped through (and I have looked at a few, since my sister has a toddler), seemed to say the same obvious things. But where I thought I'd be bored or thinking 'guess I'll take your word for it!' I was nodding my head and saying 'holy sh*t of course!'. More than a book about being a mom, this is a book about being someone's daughter, and then having one (and all the things that happen in between). About being a woman and trying to connect with other people, and having friends and how they affect us when they fade into our lives, and sometimes fade back out. It's a look down the road behind Herman and what got her to the point of motherhood, and what affected her way of mothering. From puppy-dog love and true love to friendships that burn out, through menopause and being a rebellious teenager, it outlines, with brutal honesty what has made Herman the mom she is.
What's really beautiful about this book is that, the honesty. These are confessions that could make people flinch just thinking them to themselves. You'll rarely find a person willing to admit these feelings and how they place themselves in front of the gun when things go wrong, never mind write a book about it. But don't get confused, this isn't a dirty-laundry list, it's a bold self-reflection. And let's get something straight before anyone really gets confused: when a woman self-reflects too much, people call her selfish. So Herman does two-fold here, and what very few women would be willing to do: she tells her truth about what she's done and what her life has been like as a woman, a wife, a writer, an artist… a mom, all those things AND she takes the time to write this book about herself and her life, and I'm sure she did this knowing full well that there would be critics out there asking her what right she has to talk so much about herself and her daughter's psychological problems.
There will be critics that will say this book is self-serving and self-absorbed, that it is too much about Michelle Herman and too little about motherhood. But those people are missing a very important point: that every woman that becomes a mother has a life, maybe not exactly like this, but they have one… full of all the doubts and silliness, the huge mistakes and the strange longings, and they all add up to what makes a woman a human being and then, a mother if they decide to be one. And that is a much more necessary diagram about motherhood than someone telling me a story-book method of giving my future children high self-esteem or whatever.
Anyway, that hardly matters because whatever critics do exist will not find themselves many friends because Herman has a way of disarming readers with the playful way she recounts and reflects on her various doings. There isn't any expounding on psychoanalytic reasons for the way things turned out, but rather a charming story of a woman's insecurities and amazing achievements.
Herman looks at her daughter's "nervous breakdown" not as a sign that she's a failure, but as a call to look back at herself and see what happened. It takes such an amazing amount of courage to do something like that, instead of stepping back and putting your hands up in resignation. Not many people can truthfully review their own agendas when it comes to even the most surface of relationships, to see what they might have done to compromise the stability. To do that with your own child takes guts I'm not sure I would have in the same situation.
So that's what this is: a funny, charming, sometimes devastation and shocking story about how Michelle Herman became a mom, and what that travel has also meant for her friendships and her relationships with other people. Because she has such a way with relating small incidences and making them indicative of a much larger explanation, it's difficult to call this a book about one thing like motherhood, or best-friendship. The best way I can explain Herman's honesty, not the same as a frank list of confessions and definitely not a pity party, is to use a quote from the early part of the book that flows through the entire things like a thread holding the pieces along a line of thinking:
"Here's what I believe about romantic love.
I believe it makes you a better person.
I believe that every time you fall in love, you become a little better than you were before.
I know how naïve this sounds. I know I should be embarrassed to admit to such beliefs. But it so happens that I am not embarrassed easily."
This is a real person's story about loving things throughout your life. Loving your parents, your grandparents, loving lovers, and sometimes overloving, even your children.
- Amanda Spadaccini | 2006-08-24