Amy Chua, also known as The Tiger Mother, received a high six-figure advance for her 2011 memoir. In this book, she recounts in great detail the ways in which she uses traditional Chinese parenting methods to drive her daughters towards perfection in the arts. This is old news, of course. But now there's Dara-Lynn Weiss, aka the Diet Mom. In the April issue of Vogue magazine, Dara writes honestly and openly about the strict parenting methods she employed to help her overweight seven-year-old daughter slim down. Within a few weeks, she too had a book deal.
What do these women have in common? The publishing world would say that Chua and Weiss are both exemplars of the new "damned if you do/damned if you don't" parenting genre. If you push your kid too hard, you get called out. If you act too lax, you are scrutinized for not demanding more. Either way, if you are willing to throw your daughters under the bus, there's always something to write about.
It's not so much about the children in these scenarios as it is about the mother. The secret to securing a book deal these days is to expose one's inner bitch to the world.
Which creates a conundrum for me. Because if we're going to apply labels, such as Tiger Mom and Diet Mom, that leaves me with... Funny Mom. And funny mom doesn't really have an inner bitch. Okay, fine, she does. But she masks it with humor and distracts you with tales of shopping! She is honest and real and true about her life and her children and her parenting skills, but, I'm sorry to say, she's just not all that mean. She moves you to tears... by cracking you up.
Since last July, I have been waiting to hear back from an editor who, according to my agent, just loves my novel. But the problem is, she hasn't actually offered to buy my novel. It's a comic tale about a mother/wife/teacher who pulls a Ferris Bueller and cuts school, lying to everyone around her in order to figure out who she really is and what she really wants in life. "The comic novel is such a hard sell," my agent tells me, as we wait and wait and wait for funny fiction to trump real cruelty.
So, in the spirit of the "damned if you do/damned if you don't" memoir, I am determined to find my inner bitch and expose her to the world. Below, I have proposed several possible topics for my tell-all. You, my reading public, can vote in the comments section and decide which one is the most salacious and damaging to the family, and, therefore, the best-est.
Other ideas welcome. Bring on the book deal!
1. I won't let my 10-year-old son, Andrew, play with guns. He's been begging for a Nerf gun for about six years, but my husband and I are loath to indulge his need for weaponry. However, I just threw Andrew an outdoor laser tag party for his birthday in which 10 boys shot each other in front of our house for an hour. It was super fun! But I still won't give him a Nerf gun. Clearly, I have deep-seeded issues and need to explore my contradictory feelings about violence.
2. My six-year-old daughter, Zoe, and I went shopping one afternoon. My husband, Brett, had asked me not to buy anything because money is tight right now. Naturally, I didn't listen and bought a pair of shoes that I needed for an upcoming bat mitzvah. (Needed! Otherwise, I would have had to wear black pumps, which were all wrong for the outfit, and that would have made my feet so sad.) I told Zoe not to mention this purchase to Daddy. So, as soon as we walked in the house, she goes, "Daddy, Mommy just bought shoes, but she left the bag in the car so you wouldn't know!" I wasn't mad or anything; I just kind of laughed it off. Maybe I should have slapped her? Maybe I shouldn't have hidden the packages, since, as soon as I put the new shoes on my feet and/or the Amex bill arrives, Brett will know anyway, so who am I kidding? Wow, deep stuff. That's at least 30 pages right there.
3. I hated sleep away camp as a child, and yet, I'm sending Andrew to camp for seven weeks this summer. Am I some kind of monster??????
4. Zoe has a brave, bold, and usually bizarre sense of fashion. I let her dress however she wants, as long as it's weather-appropriate. Should she be in therapy?????
5. One time I threw a plastic cup from Pottery Barn Kids across the kitchen when I was PMSing and no one liked the dinner I had made. The cup was empty and didn't break or anything. Maybe my kids would have been more traumatized if I had filled it with apple juice first? Or broken a crystal vase? What if I had pricked my finger with a toothpick, squeezed the blood into the plastic cup, and growled at them while holding the cup aloft, saying, "See how you make Mommy feel?" That seems low six-figures worthy.
6. I once told my kids that there were no cookies left from our favorite bakery, but I lied. I stashed a few behind my computer and ate them in bliss after the kids got on the bus to go to school. Is it bad that I like the quiet of my own house? And that I enjoy cookies, even at 8:36 in the morning? (Oh, wait... you mean, the issue with that example is that I lied to my children? Really? Huh. That hadn't even crossed my mind.)
7. Remember how I said in example No. 2 that money was tight in our home? That's because my husband hasn't worked for almost a year. He took a planned sabbatical, but this still translates into low cash flow. Despite our cutting back, my children have been given basically everything they have needed or wanted in the past 12 months, except for a puppy and a trip to Hawaii. "But, mommy, you promised us a puppy this spring!" my kids whine. Do they know how much a pure-bred, Shih-Tzu puppy costs, especially once you factor in the doctor's bills, special food, personal dog trainer, groomer and an electric fence? "Do you want to give Daddy a heart attack?" I whine back. "No dog!" Then I throw a stick and have the kids chase after it. (Actually, that one's kind of dark. Maybe I really could pen a memoir!)
8. A mean girl from my childhood is moving back to town and I kind of want to write about her for my local paper and/or leave on her doorstep a bouquet of specific flowers that, according to Victorian beliefs, will bring her bad luck and a life of misery. (Note that this topic doesn't have to do with parenting, unless I have Zoe and Andrew egg her car or something.) What do you think? I'm sure the woman is nice now and everything, but if I ignore her in town and spread all this gossip about her, I could re-create the high school cafeteria effect and give her a taste of her own medicine. Pathological? Infantile? Or brilliantly bitchy in the literary style of the day? You decide.