When Ayun Halliday emailed me to ask if I might be interested in reading and reviewing the U.K. release of The Big Rumpus, renamed Mama Lama Ding Dong, I—like the gigantic dork that I am—mailed back “Ayun? Ayun Halliday? *pinching self*”
Despite this auspicious beginning to our correspondence, I was booked for the blog tour. (And even if you aren’t interested in the book, go to the end for some bonus material from Ayun.)
My shiny copy of Mama Lama Ding Dong arrived and I plowed through it, aware both of my preexisting admiration for Ayun’s writing and also of some random past comment that had stuck with me; something about how Ayun’s work is fine if you’re “of the bohemian persuasion” or somesuch. (Credible source? No. Just pointing out that this comment was lodged in a distant nook of my brain.) Being not terribly Bohemian, myself, I was curious to see if that mattered.
Guess what? It didn’t matter. I am neither Bohemian nor have I ever lived in New York City (or, indeed, any big city). Like Ayun, I had a girl child first and a boy child second… but there is where our similarities end. And yet, her tales of her first few years of motherhood are familiar, bittersweet, and absurd—just like the first few years were for me (and, I suspect, most mothers). We don’t have to have had the exact same experiences for that rueful honesty to strike a chord. She had me at the prologue, when talking about starting up The East Village Inky, her zine:
I wrote about how Inky had been pulling my hair so badly I went to cut it all off in one of the three chi-chi parlors on our street. One stylist had cried when I entered, “Phew! What stinks like Lysol?!” I did. It was me. There was a time when I would have tried to suppress that information, but motherhood had killed off discretion about my body. Before my appointment I had dabbed myself with lemongrass oil, thinking that it would help me resemble somebody used to blowing sixty-five dollars on her hair. Instead, I smelled like the stuff housekeepers more conscientious than I used to disinfect toilets. [...] In the rubber-banded zine, I came clean, announcing that more than once I had mistaken the fancy pomade the stylist sold me for my deodorant stick, ending up with beautifully sculpted armpit hair and a relatively inoffensive head. Hell, nobody wants to read about a perfect mother.
So, no, I am not a city-dweller like Ayun, I am not, as she is, a self-proclaimed “hippie-dippie,” but perhaps even more than misery loves company, incompetence adores solidarity. I am years out from those early days of confused mothering—that time warp where you find yourself stuck between what you pictured and what is actually taking place—and Ayun’s words took me right back there. Only this time? I was able to laugh about it. Over and over.
Best. Description. Ever:
Staying at home to raise my children is like getting off the graveyard shift at Burger King with fifteen minutes to make it to my second job in the coal mines. Of course, once a week I am summoned from the mine shaft to accept the Nobel Prize, but goddamnit, I earn those.
From the tales of adjusting to life with her first baby to figuring out how to juggle two children, the undercurrent is always one of “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been through it.” Ayun can laugh at herself even as she marvels at the things that maybe didn’t work the way she’d planned. She celebrates the highs and doesn’t sugar-coat the lows. Throughout, the story is as much entertainment as it is permission to be a real person, with real foibles, and know that this is what parenting is.
Lest you think Ayun’s making light means less of an attachment to her children, she slips one of those “we all think it but never say it out loud” nuggets in when you least expect it:
When Inky was born, I used to say I would kill myself if anything happened to her. [...] When it was just Inky, I was all set to kill myself, and then I had Milo. And now I think, “Please don’t let one of them die so I have to stay alive for the other one.” Please don’t let either of my children die.
It’s like that. It’s like that and it’s also like the hundreds of boxes of macaroni and cheese and all of the other trappings of early childhood chronicled in the book. It’s like all of that. And it’s a very entertaining read, and I don’t want to ruin it for you any farther than I may have already done.
So! Instead! I present you with extra! special! bonus! Ayun material!
Along with the invitation to join the book tour was a call for any sort of interview questions or whatever we’d like to ask, to share on our blogs. Because I am me, I had only two burning questions to pose for the esteemed author.
Q. How the hell do you pronounce Ayun, anyway??
A. oh, it sounds like ray gun, like “ray gun” after a couple of glasses of champagne, or if you’re on cough medicine or something.
most folks side step the issue by calling me annie.
Well. That’s one important issue out of the way. For my second question, I decided to pose the question on everyone’s minds. Who better than Ayun Halliday, mid-book-tour and modern model of whatever-works parenting, to tell us all how to entertain our children on airplanes now that you cannot board with anything more than a driver’s license and a couple of breath mints?
Ayun was not only a good sport, she didn’t fail to deliver:
Flying with toddlers and babies is always a crap shoot, but now those of us with school age children are again experiencing an increased risk of whining and melt-downs. With portable DVD players, favorite snacks, and even reading materials being pulled from carry-on baggage, what’s a traveling parent to do, but pack light and think big.
Barf Bag Players
I assume that air sickness bags are still available to all passengers. Ask those seated nearby if they would give you their barf bags, in return for which you will not only keep your child amused and therefore, reasonably quiet for the next couple of hours, but also present a lively puppet show for the enjoyment of the entire plane! Come to the airport with your pockets pre-stuffed with stickers, crayons, and self-adhesive google eyes to turn these featurelesss barf bags into the Bill Goats Gruff, Red Riding Hood and company, or characters that you and your child make up using your imaginations! The skies the limit! Just don’t make the mistake of stashing extra craft supplies in your shoes. You’ll be asked to step out of line and put on an international no-fly list, if not the next plane to Guantanamo Baby. If security confiscates your decorative puppet fixins before boarding, you can always have a barfing contest.
Use the donated air sickness bags to compete with your child in the following fake-barf categories:
- Most theatrical
- Most realistic
- Most disgusting
- Most canine
Award extra points every time one of your impressions causes a fellow passenger to actually lose his or her lunch. If the flight attendant shuts you down, you can always play Peanut Football.
When I flew to North Carolina last May, I was surprised to learn that peanuts are apparently welcome again in the friendly skies. This is great news for travelers with children, because pretzels tend to break apart upon impact. Lower your tray tables. The passenger nearest the window places a peanut on his or her tray table, then uses his or her thumb and middle finger to flick, or “kick” this tasty miniature “football” through the cocktail straw “goal post” held by the passenger seated on the aisle. If safety regulations do not allow for in-flight straw use, a tri-folded air sickness bag makes an acceptable goal post. If play must be suspended due to injury, you can always sing 99,000 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.
I feel more prepared already, both from reading Ayun’s book and because of her wealth of imagination about barf bags.