I thought that this book was about juggling the work/life/mommyhood balance. I was wrong.
Dani Klein Modisett: Mika Brzezinski's memoir, All Things at Once, and the description inside the cover calling her book "an unflinching account of her struggles as a working mother," are nothing less than misleading. Sure, she gave birth to two children, and certainly she works. Very hard. At securing and keeping more work. At motherhood? Not so much.
I am always looking for some insight on how to choreograph the work/mommy dance better, so when a classmate of mine from college gave this book to me, I was interested in Brzezinski's take on it. It opens with her childhood, and as the daughter of Carter's national security adviser, there's some cool name-dropping there, but the story really gets juicy when Mika nearly paralyzes her infant daughter taking an exhausted tumble down a flight of stairs while holding her in her arms. The great epiphany of this accident was Mika's discovery that "I could hold my children, I could love them, I could kiss them, but I could not be trusted to care for them for long periods of time while working ..." She and her husband hired round-the-clock help, and Brzezinski returned to her job at CBS News.
I thought this was going to be a book about a working mother's struggle? It's not struggle if you abandon the mothering part, Mika.
In All Things at Once, caring for Mika's two daughters takes a deliberate and calculated backseat to massaging her image and rise to fame as a TV personality. As I turned the pages of this slim volume with increasing rage, I had to ask myself two questions: Why am I still reading this, and what am I so mad about?
The first answer came easily. Her audacity to put her frightening ideas about motherhood in print was fascinating, like watching a maternal train wreck. The fact that the story is set in the world of TV news also makes it compelling, and her painstaking detail about the competitive and quixotic nature of TV news is interesting. Turns out Faye Dunaway's character in Paddy Chayefsky's "Network" was not such a caricature. The answer to my second question is not as simple. I am certainly angry for her girls, who she blindly believes are just fine with her choices; she goes so far as to send out a family holiday card "humorously" inscribed, "If you see Mommy, please wish her a Merry Christmas." She cites their academic achievements and athletic prowess as evidence of how well she has raised them -- because we all know that nothing says joy and peace like overachieving. So there's that.
But if I am being completely honest, as someone who greatly curtailed her career ambitions after having children, what really made my espresso-rich blood boil is the nagging question: "What if she's right?" What if "honoring yourself" and continuing to live your life exactly as you did before you had children is the best lesson you can give your offspring? That honoring "the truth" of who you are, even if that is a woman completely devoid of maternal instincts, is the most important lesson to teach your children by example? What if it doesn't matter who cares for your children, as long as they are cared for? If so, I guess I'm just a sucker who bought all that crap about "mommy being there" having real value. But lucky for me, I still wouldn't want to miss the tedious, not-glamorous days I spend with my children.
|Dani Klein Modisett is the mother of 2-year-old Gideon (pictured) and 6-year-old Gabriel. She is comedy writer/creator/producer of the show "Afterbirth...stories you won't read in Parents magazine." An anthology of stories from this show, published by St. Martin's Press, is now in stores everywhere.|