|You’ve gotta love a book whose funniest sections deal with vasectomies and poop. That’s Amanda Lamb’s hilarious Smotherhood, her comic celebration of the things that drive all working mothers mad. A self-described type A obsessive/compulsive crime reporter for a Raleigh/Durham TV station who, like most working mothers, also serves as the family executive, Lamb describes in excruciatingly zany detail the challenges that constitute her daily life and, by extension, our own. A collection of short pieces through which we come to know Lamb, her two little girls, and her husband, Grif, the book is organized around themes that shape the lives of working mothers, among them, sleep (or the lack of it), potty training, playdates, domestic chaos, sex (or the lack of it) and, of course, working mothers’ all-time favorite, guilt.|||
Smotherhood opens with Lamb sitting in the back of a courtroom waiting for the jury’s verdict in a murder trial. Nothing wrong with this picture, except as she waits, she’s hunched over her cell phone discussing tiny size 4 leotards with a sales clerk. Her daughter’s ballet teacher has irrationally decreed that only white leotards will do this year, but before she can complete the search the jury returns. The woman who predicted on the pages of her middle school yearbook that she’d be Wonder Woman when she grew up now wonders, “Does Wonder Woman change diapers? Does she grocery shop at 10:00 at night with a button missing from her jacket and a coffee stain on her skirt after eating a candy bar for dinner? Does she screech to a stop at a red light when her daughter screams ‘You forgot my show-and-tell!’ from the backseat?” Lamb doesn’t think so. “Wonder Woman has magic powers. She doesn’t need to do any of this tedious stuff to be cool.” Lamb takes great pains to show how seriously she’s lost her cool-ness since acquiring two small girls along with her demanding job. Her formerly spotless house is now “a cesspool of dirt and disorganization,” by which she means not that it’s messy (she still makes the beds), but that it’s “dirty as hell.” It’s the details throughout the book that elicit our hoots of recognition: the smooshed raisins in the cream colored carpets, the pee and milk-stains on sofa cushions, the doodle-decorated walls in the hallway where her toddler has been “making art, Mommy,” with multi-colored Magic Markers.
What the book most vividly displays is that a working mother’s life is not bifurcated; it’s not work and then home neatly divided. And it’s the constant bleeding of one into the other that makes us crazy. No time to kick off the high heels and take off the suit before struggling to get something to eat (not to be dignified by the term “dinner”) on the table; no good strategy for talking to your editor about a body found in a dumpster at the same time you try to keep your child from running into the street; no earthly way to get to work on time when you wait for a school bus that never arrives. Lamb is very smart and very frank about this. “If your job is more important to you than your kids, there’s something very wrong with you …Yet, if you are honest about your priority list to your employer – family first, job second – you won’t go far in your career.” So she’s learned “never, never to bring up kids” when confronted with a manager’s demand. “It’s preferable to use any other excuse that you can think of [to get out of an assignment that will screw up your family life] just to avoid bringing your ovaries into the conversation.” What she dubs “The Kid Clause” only activates every boss’s secret fear that mothers of young children are unreliable because of their responsibilities at home.
With a life almost overwhelmed by distractions that any working mother can understand, she makes us laugh at her attempts to wrestle them down. She manages, the same way all working mothers manage. She sings “You Are My Sunshine” to her toddler over the phone while standing in the midst of a post-Katrina disaster zone. She finds that white size 4 leotard and gets her story on the air on time. She pushes a grocery cart inhabited by a screaming toddler while talking to the attorney general’s office on the ever-present cell phone. Unable to sew and despite a deadline, she nonetheless chases around town to find the stuff to concoct a costume for her 6 year old who has, for some unfathomable kid-reason, decided to be a cow for Halloween. And still she posts her stories on time. She also takes the time to notice how profound an influence – desirable or not - we have over our kids. Characteristically, this comes home to her in a comic image: her three year old coming into the room with her underpants tucked into the crack in her bottom. When asked why, she proudly proclaims, “I want to be like you, Mommy.” Horrified, Lamb dryly comments, “Luckily, no one makes thongs for toddlers.” But they do make scrotum holders, of all things. Did you know there was such a thing? Neither did Lamb, who spends a side -splitting chapter detailing her search for one after her husband reluctantly undergoes a vasectomy. Despite a book filled with images meant to convince us otherwise, Lamb keeps her head on straight. She knows that her work, like her motherhood, helps define who she is and that she couldn’t live without it. To those mothers who would guilt trip her and who think they’re perfect, she offers this advice: “Let loose, go ahead, try it, you might like it. Throw the kids some chicken nuggets, let them stay up until ten, watch a PG movie with them, let them wear cowboy boots to church. I promise they’ll survive and so will you.” When we finish Smotherhood, we have a vivid picture of Amanda Lamb’s frenzied life and the way it mirrors our own. The only question is how she found the time to write this book.