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If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother

by Julia Sweeney

Hardcover, 246 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $26 |


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If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother
Julia Sweeney

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Book Summary

The Broadway actress and early-1990s cast member of Saturday Night Live shares parenting misadventures, from her poignant decision to adopt as a single woman to her efforts to explain the birds and the bees to her precocious 8-year-old.

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'It's Pat' Creator Muses On Motherhood And Family Life

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother


I want to be alone. I really need to be alone.

I took so long to assemble my lovely family. I did it all a bit backward: first a delightful daughter, then a beloved husband. I went after creating family, like a golden retriever running after a ball — how much does the dog think about what he's doing? He doesn't think. He does. He is a doer. That's me, too. I did it, I do it. I am doing it.

Every morning I get up and hustle. I'm sure this is true for most mothers. It's true for me, too. This is what I wanted, after all. This was my dream. I'm always on task. I never go up the stairs of our house without looking around for what needs to be taken up. I never buy just one meal's worth of food at the grocery store. I drive the carpools, I volunteer at the school cafeteria. I wait patiently outside the dance classes. I iron. I clean up the cat vomit. Make dinner. Walk the dog. I work (write) at home and then really work, at home. I quell the rising ire in my roommates. I try to instill harmony, efficiency, and a calm, enabling environment for my fellow family members. I often set the table two hours before dinner. I live by lists. I pick up things in our house and put them where they go. Chiefly, I'm the protector against the chaos that threatens us. I am a good soldier.

I love my job.

Secretly I hate my job.

I love my family.

If only they would disappear.

Why do I sometimes find myself entertaining the enticing idea of entering a witness protection program? Why does the desire arise, when I walk my dog to Lake Michigan, to drop the dog leash and swim straight out toward the Upper Peninsula, then on to Montreal, and then over to the Atlantic and into a frothy sea that would suck me into—somehow—incongruously—some calm tranquility?

I just want this family to go away and leave me be.

And now they are leaving me be.

A delightful convergence of circumstances has occurred. My twelve-year-old daughter, Mulan, is going to sleepaway camp, for a month. And my husband, Michael, is going away to work out of town, to Tucson, to Boston, then to Europe, for a month. Well, Michael will be home for three days at the end of the second week, but mostly I will be here by myself. People! Can you stand it? I'm so excited. In fact, I'm giddy.

Four weeks by myself. No nudging, no breakfasts, no mad mommy and disgruntled wife. Just me in my house.

I act different when it's just me in my house. I've never gotten four weeks—but I have had a day or two, here and there, to bask in the solitude of my home. A muscle relaxes; the mother/wife/hostess mask slides off. I don't rush around and pick up every little thing. I let the dishes pile up, and the newspapers don't make it to their designated place. I don't make the bed.

Oh. Oh ... yes. The bed.

I'll get into bed early, around 8:30 P.M. Sometimes even earlier—when it's still light outside. I'll watch TV and let the cat rub up against my feet while I eat ice cream. I'll move all over the bed. It's just there for me. I'll wander around the house and let myself get consumed by a random project. I'll sit on the sofa and listen to the sounds of the street outside. I'll surf the Web in my office for hours. There's going to be no need to look, or even pretend to look, productive.

I have big plans for these four weeks. I want to stay inside. I don't want to go anywhere. Truthfully, this desire has been gathering momentum for a while now. I expected myself to be a careerist, out in the world, living in an urban environment with urbane friends and lots of cocktail parties. But I turned into a woman who doesn't like to leave her house. If I'd known when I was twenty that I was going to turn into the person I am at age fifty-two, I would have cringed. And laughed. No way!

And yet.

That twenty-year-old self knew so little about the delicious taste of solitude.

So come with me; let's spend this month together. If I'm going to be alone, you're coming too, goddamnit. You'll be my compatriot, my conspirator, my secret bearer. I'll tell you my story, and then you'll help me understand. How did I get here?

I have found myself in another part of the world.

I have found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile.

Thank you, David Byrne and the Talking Heads, for giving me—a head who is often talking—the right lyrics. And speaking of large automobiles, mine is a minivan, a Honda Odyssey. An Odyssey! I laughed when I saw it for the first time in Hollywood, realizing I would be driving to the Midwest, and away from my own Trojan war, after having won a certain kind of peace. Some women recoil at the idea of minivans, but not me, not us, not we in the land of minivans.

However, we'll only admire this car from the vantage of the kitchen window, because I'm hoping not to drive for an entire month. And yet, metaphorically speaking, we'll travel near and far. We'll occasionally gaze upon the car, and its existence will figure into a couple of stories. Let it serve us as an icon of our time together. We're going on a journey home, while being at home already.


My favorite kind.

From If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother by Julia Sweeney. Copyright 2013 by Julia Sweeney. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NYC.