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Mika Brzezinski's 'All Things at Once': A Review

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I thought that this book was about juggling the work/life/mommyhood balance. I was wrong.

Mika Brzezinski's 'One Thing At Once'

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.

next: Cute! Meet Stella Luna, Ellen Pompeo's Baby
4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Wendi February 3, 2010, 1:58 PM

I have been a single working mom, a working mother with step kids and new hubby and now Im a stay at home mom. I can tell you that being here for the kids is the best thing in the world for them. There is no way that I would trust someone else to essentially raise my kids only so I can work and pay them the money I earn while I have to be away from my kids. I totally respect women that choose to work or that need to. I have been there, I get it. But to say that you are honoring yourself by keeping the same lifestyle that you had before kids, is just wrong. Things change, you grow up and have kids. Once you have kids, nothing is the same. It is your responsibility as a parent to put them first along with their needs. Their needs do not include mom gone all the time. This woman is giving working woman a bad name. I know plenty that work and still are there for their kids.

LPT February 3, 2010, 7:27 PM

I don’t think that you have to greatly curtail your career ambitions or live your life exactly as you did before you had children.

I know I’m personally blessed and cursed with a flexible work environment that makes this possible - blessed because I can duck out of the office to volunteer at the school and cursed because I’m on a conference call at bedtime tonight (or is that a blessing, too, since hubby is currently fighting the fight to get hair washed, teeth brushed, etc?).

A career woman doesn’t have to be devoid of maternal instincts and that sort of generalization is what draws battle lines between mothers who give up careers and those who don’t. It’s not good for either of us - or the children we have and want only the best of everything for in their future.

If we force mothers to apologize for focus on their careers, we’re telling our own daughters that they have limited choices in life and I prefer mine to grow up believing the world is her oyster.

blw February 4, 2010, 5:21 AM

First of all, even the notion that you can have everything at once, as the title emplies, is a lie. everything comes with a price, and if she can’t see the price she’s paying yet, she will. Second, everyone makes choices. It irks me to no end to hear people either excusing themselves or their behavior as if they had no choice, or to hear people say that they choose something that is really selfserving in the name of charity for/towards someone else. If You want to be a major powerhouse career woman, than be it. But don’t tell me you’re doing it for someone else other than your own ego, or that you had to get a nanny in the best interest of your children. Bull crap. And how about, rather than setting the example of selfishness for your child, in the name of “being true to yourself”, you set the example of true charity, womanhood, feminism and grace by putting the needs of your children and family/husband before yourself and teaching your daughter that she may have limited choices for a time, but that all things come in their proper time—you can have it all, just not at once—and that while your options may be limited for a time, you are always free to choose how you feel about them. Our daughters will never learn to be true to themselves when they are following an example of being loyal to a lie and true to selfish desires.

Anonymous February 5, 2010, 7:46 AM

Absolutely you need to remain true to yourself, but you have to also make room for the children you bring into the world. In my world my husband and my relationship come first and we as a team care for our children. We BOTH make career sacrifices. What makes me crazy is that the only reason people are upset by this book is that a woman wrote it - if it were a man people would expect him to continue and excel in his career and no one would question his parenting or manhood.

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