Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"You're Not the Boss of Me"

Erika Schickel is the author of You're Not the Boss of Me, to which she applied the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
Page 69 in my book, You're Not the Boss of Me, is a good representation of the book as a whole. It falls in the middle of the essay "Tossing the Cookies" in which I attempt to bake some Christmas cookies for teacher gifts with my friend Rae. The idea was to bake a variety of traditional Christmas cookies and present them in little white boxes hand-decorated by our children. It's a half-baked plan both literally and figuratively - completely exceeding Rae's and my limited domestic skill set. (I am going to cheat a little and start the excerpt which begins on the bottom of page 68, where I pull a pan of "Dream Bars" out of the oven):

I looked down into the pan and was confronted by what looked like a 9" x 12" slab of joke vomit. Pieces of coconut floated in a shining, flesh-colored stew. It was clearly too wet to ever be a bar. "Well, maybe we need to cook it a little more?"

"Yeah?" My friend, usually so confident, so sure of herself, was clearly at a loss.

"Sure, let's put it back in the over and crank it," I said, faking authority.

Okay, that right there - bogus authority? Motherhood is built on that. You act like you know what you're doing, but really, you have no clue.

We finished the sugar-cookie batter, molded it into logs, and wrapped them in plastic. It felt good putting the wrapped dough in the fridge to harden, like putting money in the bank.

"Damn, we're good!" I proclaimed. That's when we smelled smoke.

"The Dream Bars!" Rae yelped. We yanked them out of the oven to find they had darkened to the color of old scabs. The coconut flakes were singed and smoking.

"They're done," I declared.

"Gee, you think? deadpanned Rae.

Here's another key point: you must have funny friends, or this job will kill you.

Rae is a recurring character in my book because she is everywhere in my life. She just gets it and will never for a moment bullshit me about anything. She is Ethel to my Lucy (though of course she would say I'm Ethel to her Lucy).

I think it was then we began to realize we were out of our depth. Our training was in liberal arts, not the womanly arts. But we were in too deep to quit, so we trudged on to the grim business of mixing up the Fudgy Nuttty Drop Cookies.

Okay, here is an issue that totally rubs my guff: the loss of the Home Economics class. I never had one because they were seen as archaic and sexist by the 1970's and were phased out of the school curriculum. But in trying to liberate us girls, they hobbled us. Because let's face it, motherhood is a domestic job. As long as girls continue to grow up to have babies, they are going need a little cooking and sewing game.

When a recipe says, "Prep time: 20 minutes, "that is assuming you know what you're doing. It also assumes you have bought sweet butter, not salted, and don't have to make yet another trip to the grocery store. The checkout girl [who we met on the first grocery run on page 68] greeted me like an old friend.

"Still baking?" she asked sympathetically.

"Yep," was my terse reply.

You imagine your life with kids as a seamless symphony of teachable moments, tender caresses, a beautiful, spontaneous exercise in creativity - when really it's about going to the supermarket over and over and over again.

I return to find my home in chaos. The kids had lost interest in the gift boxes and Rae was surveying the crafting wreckage strewn out on the dining room table. The kids hadn't exactly drawn designs with the glitter glue. Rather they had simply squeezed great glops of glue on to the tops of the boxes and smeared the puddles with their fingers. Little, shining stars floated in a thick mucus that dripped down the sides.

Okay, I cheated again and let the 'graph end on p.70 - but you get the picture. It's a big, ugly mess, and there is just so much that situation that is funny to me. The story ends with us just completely breaking down in helpless, hysterical laughter.

I love the mess and the mishaps of motherhood (and personhood) and I really believe our humanity is found in our flaws. So I try to describe my own so that other people can recognize themselves and we can all take a deep breath and relax. It's okay! We're all a bunch of fuckups! And we're raising kids! So I write to let myself and everyone else like me off the hook. That, and I like to write. I really loved writing this book. It was a survival tactic to get me through early motherhood and it worked.
Visit Erika Schickel's website and read an adapted excerpt from You're Not the Boss of Me.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue