ESP: The Novel
Marc posted recently about a review by Jennie Bristow on Spiked of new novel, The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs. Ms. Bristow's review focused, sadly, on the plight of women burdened with the bulk of the household management and husbands who don't lift a finger to 'help.' And on the idea that equally sharing this burden means that neither partner gets a fulfilling career (which Marc points out is emphatically not true!). Not a pretty picture from the point of view of either gender, and complaining in this manner is not a good recipe for affecting lasting change. Even if just in a juicy, chick-lit novel.
So I was braced to dislike The Pile of Stuff - from the awkward title to the promotional text that describes it like this: "The mother of two young boys, Mary knows how to get them to behave the way she wants. Now she's designing the spousal equivalent of a star chart and every little thing her husband does wrong will go on it." Yes, the bulk of the novel is about a mother complaining about her clueless, no good, lazy spouse and how awful her life is as a result of partnering with him. In the name of research, I pressed 'Add to Cart' on the Amazon e-book version and started reading...my very first foray into electronic novel reading, by the way.
It started out as all that I had expected. Complain, complain, complain. Funny stories, well written prose - light beach reading designed, it seems, to give angry women something to relate to as they go about their angry lives. As the story progressed, the author threw in some poignant moments, as her protagonist mom-of-two, Mary, reminisced about the couple's early dating days and all that she loved about her husband in the beginning and all the good that others still see in him. Still, the appreciation was spiked with venom as the list of her husband's "sins" (read: things he didn't do to her expectations) grew into a longer and longer file on her laptop.
Here comes the spoiler alert...if you think you'd like to read The Pile yourself, it is best you click over to another website at this point.
I'll meet you back here in my next post.
Or, if you really don't mind knowing the ending, keeping reading....
Fast forward to months and months of misery between these two parents, involving near infidelity for each and the discovery of Mary's laptop file of anger by her husband (who then starts to mess with her mind by committing the same sin over and over a la the movie Groundhog Day just to see what she'll write about it). They separate. But just as Mary is tallying her results to determine if she should request a divorce, and her husband is at his lowest point of feeling unloved, they finally begin talking. Aided by a good friend who truly sees their problem for what it is, they begin to put together the pieces that got them to this tough place. And then, they actually begin to come up with a solution.
This is where the story of two fictional parents got personal for me...I began to well up as I read what they came up with as a way out. Equally shared parenting. They scrap Mary's list and start a new one - not a list but a pledge for a new beginning. The new pledge includes things like "Neither of us will make jokes about male household incompetence, either as denigration or as an excuse.""Two laundry baskets. Colors and whites." (be still my heart!) "Mary to not use the phrase "It's not fair."" "On days that both of us are working or both not working, responsibility for children to be absolutely equal in terms of picking up from childcare, cooking boring food, getting up for breakfast." (well, I'm not sure we really need the word 'absolutely' but I'll go with it for now) "Both parents to be allowed equal amounts of time for a chosen hobby, e.g., the "band," going to the gym, shopping."
Their mutual friend helps them think of their lives in three buckets - earning, childcare and housework (sound familiar? add in 'time for self' and we've got the 4 domains of ESP) - and the need to treat each bucket equally for a balanced life. They dig into the exact tasks that go into each category so both have an appreciation for the big picture and the details. They rework Mary's career from a dead-end job she doesn't enjoy to a plan for her to pursue her career dream as a film producer. They develop family standards for their hot-button chores, with results that work for both of them.
They add a fourth bucket: their relationship together (which we consider a part of 'time for self'). They start to feel the energy of supporting each other's dreams rather than focusing on getting their own fulfilled despite each other.
And their friend/therapist names their new pledge their 'affidavit of equal parenting.'
If you have the fondness for ESP that I obviously have, you will enjoy The Pile. Even after I've spoiled the ending, it's a great journey to read.
I'm sending loud blog applause to its author, Christina Hopkinton. And I'm adding our very first novel to our Resources page.