During my daily browsing of the Awful Library Books site (if you haven’t checked it out yet, you need to), I came across this gem, a book about children with disabilities (which is great, teaching kids about the differences we all have, but apparently the only handicap a child could have in the 1980s was being in a wheelchair – I’ve seen the special Saved by the Bell, I know what’s up).
Anyway, I noticed that the cover bore a striking resemblance to a book my mom used to read to me when I was little – I’m assuming the same illustrations that every “Golden Learn About Living Book” has. I took to Googling, and of course, right on Amazon you can find a copy of Why Can’t You Stay Home with Me, possibly the most traumatizing book ever in print. Let’s walk this through.
As most modern mom’s now do, my mom went right back to work after her maternity leave was over. While this may not sound weird in 2011, apparently it was not the norm in 1984. Whatever. I don’t think I really noticed over the years I was formulating my impressions of the two adults I was now stuck living with. I remember a lot of mornings with my dad, and going to McDonald’s for Egg McMuffins, and watching Alf and the show about the little girl who was a robot or something. I remember coloring outside the lines and writing fanmail to Michael Jackson. So, I wasn’t the most normal kid, but I don’t remember being upset that Mommy went to work in the morning and came home at night. But because it was the mid-80s, and women were empowered and going back to work and wearing scrunch socks with white velcro hi-tops, I must have been upset about it, and something had to be done. Enter the book.
From what I can remember, the story line goes something like this: the mother is done having children and decides that she needs to go back into the workforce; daughter is used to having her mother at home all the time and is uncomfortable with this; her mother drops her off at school and they share a sad wave and tearful glance; daughter is at school all day while Mommy works (similar!); grandparents pick daughter up from school and make her a snack and do homework with her; mother picks daughter up at grandparents’ house; daughter and mother get quality time on the weekends.
Seems innocent enough. But there were definitely some weird undertones that this book was not overtly expressing, and even at 5 I could pick up on it. Like, where was the daughter’s father? I think there’s a line in there somewhere that says he went to the store one day and hadn’t come home yet, which I guess leads to the reason of why the mother had to go back to work. Add to it I’m pretty sure the daughter couldn’t go to the dad’s after school because he had a new girlfriend (seriously, I’m not making this up). And why did the mother only have one kid? Was there some kind of difficult pregnancy? And I think one of the grandparents was on a respirator. Maybe they were just trying to sell their next “Golden Book” entitled How Long is Grandpa Going to Be Sleeping, but I know these were heavy issues that I was not ready to deal with.
I really don’t like those touchy-feely books that keep asking what you’re thinking or feeling about a certain topic. I was 5. I wasn’t thinking about anything really (ok, that’s not entirely true, I was probably thinking about my next meal). But when you press home the fact that I should be sad about this situation, I’m going to be sad about. On top of that, this daughter was getting a lot of attention I was not. I can’t remember who took me to school, but a babysitter picked me up. Or I stayed after longer than all the other kids, until dark, until my mom could get me. I didn’t get to spend as much time with my grandparents as this daughter did. And then, mom and I didn’t get quality time on the weekends because we were usually at some kind of sporting event and I was all hopped on popcorn and soda. And I’m really not trying to make my mom feel bad for 20-year-old situations that were perfectly fine to begin with, but this book had me thinking that I was getting jipped. At some point, the trips to McDonald’s could not appease me and I became irate at the fact that my mom had to go back to work. Irate.
It was a short time later that we put the book down and chose a nice new title, The Monster at the End of this Book, starring Sesame Street’s own Grover. Another seemingly innocent children’s tale. Have you ever read that book? It’s infuriating. Grover keeps telling you to not turn the page! But you do! Because you need to see the Monster!! But then it turns out the Monster is Grover (or you yourself, I’m not quite sure I accurately picked up on the book’s retrospective metaphor back then).
So needless to say, I think my parents did more harm then good with these books. I’m easy. All I really needed was some more hash browns and I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But I love them for trying. And I think they hit a homerun with The Dollhouse Family, which pretty much had no message whatsoever.