“I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids”
By Jen Kirkman
c. 2013, Simon & Schuster
This week, two of your friends broke the news: They’re pregnant. One’s due in October, the other in November. Heavy sigh.
It’s not exactly that you’re anti-kid. No, you like kids as long as they’re not yours, and you’re pretty firm on that. And in the new book, “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” by Jen Kirkman, you’ll find a kindred spirit.
If there’s a chance to fly somewhere for the weekend, Jen Kirkman is on it. That’s one of the perks of being child-free, she says. She can choose the lifestyle she wants, without “dragging a kid around” or forcing a child to adapt. She can go anywhere for her comedy career because, after all, “improv and child rearing are not so different.”
But many people are not okay with her decision to remain child-free, though she doesn’t know why such a personal choice should matter to them. It might be that “people who want kids and people who have kids have secret meetings where they come up with talking points.” The arguments they give her are varied but similar.
People say she’s young and she’ll change her mind, but Kirkman is steadfast. The only child she wants to indulge is her inner one. They say she’s “selfish,” but she wonders how it’s selfish to avoid giving birth to an unwanted baby. They say she’d be a “really good mom,” which may be true but she doesn’t want to test that theory. They warn that if she doesn’t procreate, she won’t have anybody to care for her when she’s old. She says there are nursing home attendants for that.
Even when she got married, Kirkman was clear about her decision, “making certain” that her husband absolutely didn’t want children. He didn’t, and their parents were supportive. Which is good, says Kirkman, because when parents start asking for grandkids, everyone knows what they’re really saying and who wants to think about that?
“It’s time for the bullying to stop,” says Kirkman. Having kids is a choice. Shouldn’t not having them be a choice, too?
You love your nieces, nephews, and friends’ kids. You really do, but if you don’t know what to say to people who try pushing you into parenthood, then “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” is the book for you.
Author Jen Kirkman is a little grumpy and quite defensive about her position here for good reason but she’s not militant about it. Instead of getting livid, Kirkman puts her comedic talent to use by snarking to her readers about the ridiculousness of baby culture, overly-enthusiastic parents, and total strangers who feel it necessary to publicly pry. And since it’s a good bet that those readers feel the same way, this book may very well strike a funnybone.
While parents or parents-to-be might laugh at this book, I think it’ll be better-appreciated by anyone who’s made a negative decision on the “Baby, maybe” question. If that’s you, then you’ll love “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself.” No kid-ding.
“The Astor Orphan: A Memoir”
By Alexandra Aldrich
c. 2013, Ecco/HarperCollins
You always felt that you should live in a castle. It would be a big castle with a shiny grand entrance and lots of elegant rooms. Imagine it: your feet would sink into plush carpets in the bedrooms, you’d sit on silk-upholstered chairs in the drawing room, and you’d sleep with thick, fluffy blankets in the bedrooms.
Oh, and turrets. There’d be lots of turrets and secret passageways.
And if you couldn’t have a castle, well, a mansion would do but in the new book “The Astor Orphan: A Memoir” by Alexandra Aldrich, you’ll see that a big house is no big benefit.
Once upon a time, Rokeby was the finest estate that money could buy. Built in 1815 by a government official on land that his wife inherited, it was 43 rooms of splendor. It sported a music room, a library, extra kitchens, servants’ quarters, and a drawing room surrounded by 450 acres of prime New York land. Rokeby was regal and when the owner’s daughter married an Astor, the union brought “great wealth” to the family and to the estate.
As a descendant, Alexandra Aldrich’s father was entitled to live at Rokeby with his family. But by time Aldrich was born, the mansion had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair, as had her father’s relationship with his mother and siblings. Consequently, Teddy Aldrich, his wife, and daughter were relegated to the shabby servants’ quarters of the falling-apart mansion.
But Teddy didn’t mind. Since he was a boy, he’d been a bit of a troublemaker. That carried through to adulthood, from his unconventional marriage to a Polish bride, his unwillingness to bathe, and his collection of misfit friends, to his determination to remain oppositional in everything his mother suggested.
As an only child, Aldrich played with her better-off cousins who lived downstairs in the mansion. She aspired to perfection, felt protective of her parents, but found peace and warmth at the next-door home of her alcoholic grandmother.
Even with the chaos of a large, eccentric family, Aldrich remembers occasionally idyllic moments of childhood amid poverty. Mostly, though, she remembers wanting three things: To become a violin virtuoso. To have a regular, orderly life.
And to escape Rokeby as soon as possible.
I liked “The Astor Orphan,” but I can’t say I’d rave about it.
Mostly, as I was reading this memoir, I felt profoundly uncomfortable. Author Alexandra Aldrich writes at great length about growing up in genteel squalor and complete chaos while longing dearly for order, I kept waiting for that order to arrive, and it never does which made me squirm more, the further I got into this book. I also felt very sad, partly because, well, let’s just say I’m an animal lover and we’ll leave it at that.
And yet, this is not a bad book. It’s well-written, but unsettling. And messy.
Overall, I think this memoir is worth a read just know what you’re in for, is all. Try “The Astor Orphan” this weekend but only if your bookshelf has room.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.