WASHINGTON, May 24, 2011— Christina Hopkinson’s The Pile Of Stuff At The Bottom Of The Stairs (Hodder & Stoughton, 9781444710397) is a wife’s weary lament. Mary and Joel are working parents. Mary, who carries the brunt of the household work, hopes for a more beautiful and better-organized life. Her attempts to achieve this are humorous if short lived.
Super mom became a tag line in the 1980’s. It was a working mother who took care of the house and children as well. Tiring? Yes, and frustrating. So, dads took up some slack: cooking weekend breakfasts, sharing day care drop offs, and maybe vacuuming.
Today there are the few stay-at-home dads who seem to have it all under control, and cheerily, though many may allow their working wives to come home to cook dinner and clean, after dad kept the children alive all day.
Then there is the evolution of housekeeping - beautification and simplification, active words in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Think of Martha Stewart, shelter magazines, the lovely Real Simple, and imagine the home as a proof of family success. The new success is a showcase. It is a beautiful house, simply done. Included, of course, are the requisite well-brought-up children.
However, since children are somewhat unreliable about exhibiting their well-brought-up natures, it falls to the house to carry the weight of public persona.
So the triumvate in this version of a fulfilling life: Husband, Children, Work. Then there is the House, which can make or break the visibility of successful life management. Money plays into this vision in a big way. The more money one has, the more help one can hire, and the better everything looks.
While householders are thinking of the beautiful photo spreads and trying to keep up with the neighbors, remember to appreciate those we love, even if they seem to be leaving a trail of dirty dishes and laundry.
It is hard to appreciate someone who makes more work when everyone is striving to keep up. The homework, childcare, laundry, dishes, cooking, and scheduling is enough. Add in the work one does for money, and a partner in life that behaves as one of the children, and anyone would have room for complaint.
Unfortunately, when not looking at the bright side, walking on the sunny side, thinking positive thoughts, and counting our blessings, then the difficulties become more difficult. Hopkinson’s Mary, a 35 year old, part time TV producer, and mother of two is married to the laid back, easy going Joel. She is struggling, both emotionally and financially, and trying to keep up by organizing. Her husband is not helping.
She decides then to give him a limited amount of time in which she will calculate his negative and positive contributions to the household, and if one outweighs the other, and then she will present him with the evidence of their necessary divorce.
Hopkinson’s writing is bright and accessible and her characters are very real. However, Mary is not likeable. She is a very sympathetic character—readers will empathize, but she is not the best in us. She is the shortsighted self that cannot look past the moments of fear and fury to the joys of motherhood and partnership. The upshot is that she would like to have reasonable proof for leaving her spouse. The better scenario would be communications counseling, and maybe a life simplification coach. Fortunately, Mary is able to see the light before it is too late.
Enjoy the whine, celebrate the happy ending, and hope for the best!
Christina Hopkinson is a television producer and writer who currently lives in London with her husband and three children.
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