This is a funny book. It may be a cliche to say that anyone who has had children will recognise elements of this book, but it certainly brings back memories. Not limited to the teenage years, this book’s reminiscences extent into childhood and in one case the early twenties, as two children (and briefly those of friends) overturn the theories and rise above expectations. This book either deliberately or inadvertently reveals more about the writer than the children, her background and her relationship with her own parents. This is not a book of advice, rather an expression of solidarity with all those who find themselves perplexed or bewildered by their offspring or even their partner. Calman is brutally honest in this book, but these are not so much confessions as admissions that she frequently struggled to understand or predict what her children would do, perhaps expecting the worse. This is a book which possibly exaggerated or lightly fictionalised certain events, but essentially this is the truth in all its confusing, funny and messy glory. Family life is often complex, and the contrast between Peter, her partner and her own attitude to child care is always frustrating and funny, as he wants to be the cool parent. Cliche or not, this is a book which will chime with the memories of many who have had the care and control of children. I was very glad to have the opportunity to read and review this book which celebrates family life.
The book opens with a difficult shopping trip as Calman tries to get a suitable dress for her seven year old daughter, Lydia, who refuses to even try on the most appropriate choice. She realises that her daughter has already developed a mind of her own, something that she had assumed would not happen for a few more years. Not that Lawrence, her slightly older son, is proving any easier to handle. As a family holiday trip triggers the signs of food deprivation, she signals that like many mothers, she occasionally has to fall back on sweets and blatant bribery for the sake of armed truce. Peter takes Lawrence on an expedition which frightens the parent more than the child, who is desperately unkeen on the whole project, whereas the younger Lydia flourishes on a similar challenge. It emerges that Lydia soon carves her own path, developing advanced craft skills as well as being utterly fearless, while Lawrence expresses his independence and later cooking ability via some minor rudeness. As is common, Calman has to apply to her children for technical help with her mobile phone and much else, while her subtle help and ambitions for them are achieved in unexpected ways. The most tender episode concerns the illness of Calman’s mother, as teenagers rise to situations in the most mature ways. Here is much about parties and comparisons with friends who have experienced teenager led situations, which ring true in so many ways.
This is a delightful book in many senses, as the honest revelations of feelings, some fears and many frustrations emerge from a writer who carefully balances farce with reality. I found it funny and realistic, and flows well from episode to explosion and explanation. I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would, and found it very readable. I would certainly read other books by Calman, as this is a balanced and essentially lighthearted read.