Monday, May 08, 2006


Blog Book Tour: It's A Girl - Women Writers on Raising Daughters

It’s bloggy book tour day again! This time, it’s my great pleasure to host the tour for It’s A Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters, edited by Andi Buchanan, the same brilliant editor behind the Literary Mama anthology and the companion book to this one, It’s A Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons.

What’s that, you say? I know not whereof I speak, in the reviewing of essays by women about raising daughters, because I have no daughter of my own?

In fact, that’s why I found these essays so interesting. While you know I love my two boys, I’ve made no secret of coveting a daughter of my own, and maybe with a little luck this summer, frostie will turn out to be a baby of the internal plumbing variety.

So it was with a mixture of curiosity and covetness that I devoured the essays in It’s A Girl. I wanted the real scoop on raising girls - the princesses, the pink, the whole deal. Turns out, raising daughters is just like raising boys, except when it’s different.

On the whole, I found these essays wonderfully insightful, mostly charming and candidly honest. As with any anthology, some of the pieces are stronger than others, and some spoke to me with surprising directness. One essay in particular, "Ladylike" by Gabrielle Smith-Dluha, caught my attention, partly because of it’s opening paragraph, which describes her five-year-old daughter reciting rap lyrics that would make your mother blanche, and partly because her family situation so closely reflects the one I hope to create: two older brothers, followed by a daughter. It also contains the priceless scene of a mother trying to mitigate her daughter's insistence on being one of the boys: "It's even gone so far that when she admires and envies certain male body parts, I find myself saying, "Well, I love my vagina," trying to toss off that phrase as comfortably and casually as I can." I laughed out loud as I read that, drawing curious glances from the nearby patrons in the food-court as I lingered and read over lunch one day.

So even though I don't yet have a daughter, I could relate to the many essays that considered the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. In particular, Ann Douglas' "The Food Rules" and Joyce Maynards "The World's Most Beautiful Baby - Take Two" do an excellent job of examining the shifting point of where a mother's life ends and a daughter's life begins, but from two very different perspectives.

The one thing that struck me as odd and ultimately unfortunate was that, especially in the first section of the book, author after author seems to take great pains to distance themselves from girliness - it would have been nice to see more celebration of the feminine, rather than resignation to it. After all, I'm dying to rush out and stock a closet with pink bonnets and ruffled bloomers, and I'm far from a girly-girl. But it's a small complaint, all in all, spoken from someone who is wistful for feminine companionship after reading descriptions of daughters who love pink poodle cakes and play relationship games and have tea parties with Barbie.

And yet, for all my talk of coveting a girl, I read something like Catherine Newman's "Baby Fat" and I have to admit there are landmines I probably will avoid, should I mother only boys in this world. She writes, of her chubby baby daughter,
...this person is going to have to grow up into a girl, and then into a woman, who feels good about herself. And that good feeling is going to have to come from us, from herself... Instead, there will be the nasty flotsam of impossible standards, the greasy black tides of contemptuous appraisal, and a disparaging undertow. She will be too fat or too thin, too bosomy or boardlike, too gangly-tall or stumpy. Whatever her anatomical coordinates, they will never be quite right.
I had this book sitting on my desk at work for a few days as I was reading it, and of all the books I've had in my cubicle, I think this is the one that generated the most attention. Almost all the women who noticed it picked it up and asked about it, because even those of us who aren't mothers to daughters are daughters to mothers. It's that kind of book - it has a little something for everyone, even mothers who spend more time with Thomas the Tank Engine than Barbie, and more time playing Giant Earth Crushing Monster With Green Boogers Is Eating New York than having tea parties with the stuffies.

I enjoyed the essays in It's A Girl so much that now I'm off to find me a copy of It's A Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons. Because that's something I know a little bit about.