Tag Archives: motherhood

Tips For Adulthood: Why ‘To The End Of The Land’ Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Every so often on this blog, I point you towards books or movies that I think constitute essential reads/views for grown ups. I did it most recently with Muriel Barbery’s fabulous The Elegance Of The Hedgehog which was – to my mind, at least – all about adulthood.

This week I’m going to do it again with David Grossman’s beautifully raw novel, To The End Of The Land. This is, quite possibly, the saddest book I’ve ever read.

It recounts one woman’s walk across Israel while her 18 year-old son is called up for a 28-day military exercise. She sets off on this walk – which runs the span of the entire novel – because she doesn’t want to be home if and when the authorities try to find her should her son die in combat.

On the jacket cover, the novelist Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) writes: “Very rarely you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same.”

Krauss nails it, in my opinion, and I can’t recommend this book enough, especially for those of you who – like me –  share a fondness for sad books.

Here are five reasons I think everyone should read this book:

a. It’s About Motherhood. This is first and foremost a book about being a parent – and perhaps even more specifically – being a mother.  In the wake of the recent Oscars ceremony, much has been made of Natalie Portman’s famous throwaway line in which she thanked her fiance for giving her the “most important role” of her life — motherhood. Some writers, like Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, worried aloud that Portman was doing women a disservice by trumpeting babies over career.  Others – notably my Politics Daily colleague Joanne Bamberger – endorsed Portman’s take on the dual roles many women confront. As Joanne writes, “On some level being a mother is the greatest role of my life — not superior to others, just the greatest in terms of challenges and rewards.” If you’re feeling caught between these two feminist reads of the Portman moment, then read Grossman’s book. It reveals the fierce, all-consuming, painful and even ambivalent nature of a mother’s love in perhaps the most honest way I’ve ever seen.

b. It’s about parenting a teen. I wrote recently about the challenges of parenting teen-agers in light of new data we have about them. Boy, does this book drive that home. Grossman renders beautifully the delicate mixture of vulnerability and independence that characterizes teen-agers (in this case, boys) in a way that will resonate and, again, cut you to the quick.

c. It’s about what might have been. I once wrote a post about the “road not taken” in which I examined wistfulness as a leit motif of adulthood. My basic point was that whether it’s who you marry or what career you choose or where you live, part of being a grown up is being plagued by what might have been. Because To The End of the Land centers around a relationship between two ex lovers who’ve gone their separate ways (as a result of war) and then reunite in a literal journey of self-discovery, it plays out the whole “road not taken” concept in real time. Wow.

d. It’s about patriotism. I’m not a terribly patriotic individual. It’s not that I have a great deal of antipathy for the mother ship, I’m just not all that inclined to wave a flag or jump on a Fourth of July parade float. But if you live in Israel, you have no choice but to be patriotic. Patriotism is woven into the very fiber of the country, even for those (like the protagonist in this book) who are ambivalent about where they want their country headed. Grappling with one’s patriotism isn’t something you deal with as a child. But it is something which – explicitly or implicitly – everyone must come to terms with as a grown up.

e. It’s about Israel. This is also a book about Israel and the unbelievably complicated feelings it arouses in its citizens. One of the things I liked most about the book is that no one emerges as a winner in the seemingly eternal and intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has dominated (until quite recently) our coverage of the Middle East: not the Israelis, not the Arabs, not foreign powers like the U.S. who figure largely there. However you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, there is no question that resolving it is central to a lasting peace in the Middle East, even with all of the other things going on in the region right now. That is an enduring reality of our collective adulthood.

Image; Israel – The Negev by Stella’s Mom via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Can I Groom You?: The Importance of Female Friendships in Adulthood

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately.

It started when Double X announced a new advice column called Friend or Foe by Lucinda Rosenfeld focusing on female friendship. At first, this struck me as a rather “girlie” topic for this particular women’s magazine. And then I thought, why not? Rosenfeld is absolutely right that most women spend far more time talking about other women than they do about their boyfriends/husbands/partners.

Then I saw The Duchess, a period drama in which the bond between two women is so strong that it survives one of them becoming the mistress of the other’s husband…even sharing a house!

Finally, I read about this new study out of UCLA arguing that baboons whose mothers have stronger female ties are much more likely to survive into adulthood. Interestingly, it’s not about the number of social ties – but their intensity – that seems to matter for the reproductive success of their offspring.

As someone who’s been likened to a rhesus monkey on more than one occasion, perhaps I was unduly drawn to this particular line of research.

But I also think it’s true. I’m not sure if close female friendships make me (or anyone) a better mother, but I am convinced that they are an essential part of a happy adulthood.

I regularly exchange emails with two friends of mine from Chicago, even though I haven’t seen either of them in three years and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever live in the same place again. But we met when we were all new mothers. And the intensity of that bond has kept us emailing about politics…parenting…literature – you name it – on a regular basis to this very day.

Ditto for my older friends from college and graduate school.

I have one historian friend who felt so close to another colleague that they decided to write a novel together. They each took one of the two main characters and then lobbed the plot back and forth to one another over email like a tennis game. She told me that it was an absolute blast and I’m sure it was also one of the most gratifying things she’s done professionally.

I wish I had better insight into what makes adult female friendships so essential. There’s the obvious bond of motherhood and all the agony and ecstasy that giving birth and raising a kid implies. But I find that these bonds are just as important for my friends who don’t have children.

One clue may come from the baboon study, which says that there’s something about the grooming process between females which lowers the release of hormones that induce stress.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to carry a hairbrush with me to my next ladies night out…

*****

Further to Monday’s post about freelancing during a recession, I came across this humorous and thoughtful blog – pink slip – about the travails of being a freelancer.

Image: Baboon Concentrating by patries71 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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