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[600] I Don’t Know How She Does It – Allison Pearson


” For my generation, coming to it later and sometimes too late, motherhood was a shock. Sacrifice wasn’t written into our contract. After fifteen years as an independent adult, the sudden lack of liberty could be as stunning as being parted from a limb; entwined with the intense feeling of love for your baby was a thin thread of loss, and maybe we will always ache like an amputee. ” (Ch.34, p.281)

Thirty five-year-old Kate Reddy is a hedge fund manager and a mother of two. At work she juggles nine currencies in five time zones and at home she juggles toys strewn all over the place. The opening scene is both funny and brilliant: Kate trying to bash in a store-bought pie in order to make it look homemade for her daughter’s school party, at 1:37 am! Career Kate’s life is captured and examined to its minutiae details. She seems nonstop and invincible, always in a hurry, switched on to a task-driven mode 24/7. Her life is pretty much a race against time, at work and at home. The change of gears between work and home can be so abrupt that she can “hear the crunch of mesh in her bran.” (Ch.2, p.12)

You know that I always say I want to be with my children. Well, I really want to be with my children. Some nights, if I get home too late for Emily’s bedtime, I go to the laundry basket and I Smell Their Clothes, I miss them so much. (Ch.5, p.53)

I’m quoting from her e-mail to her best friend that she never sends. From these reflections I feel an underlying buzz of anxiety throughout most of the read, which is not entirely relieved by the book’s tidy resolution. I am sympathetic, but there are issues of the book that irritates me, not so much the unforgiving, misogynist work environment or the presumptuous in-laws or immense social pressure to be good mother but rather Kate herself. Caged-in Kate. Kate who likes to win. Maybe she can at least be open with her feelings to her husband and relegate house duties to him? The book does capture the ever changing nature of motherhood in our society. The hysteria and struggle of working motherhood is hit home, although I can see why some stay-home mothers might not root for Kate. One thing that strikes me the most is when Kate notices how women rarely display family pictures in the office. Pictures of kids enhance a man’s humanity. If a woman has them it decreases hers. Why? Because man is not supposed to be home with the children; woman is.

So why do all us Daddy’s Girls go and work in places so hostile to women? Because the only real comfort we get is from male approval. How fucking sad is that? (Ch.16, p.153)

As tidy the ending might be, the book doesn’t answer the questions about working mothers and their dilemmas. The issue lies too deeply in our inveterate cultural expectation on women. No matter how high a woman is climbing the career ladder, she is still expected to take care of children and run the family smoothly. The question becomes how much she wants to sacrifice and for whom. I find this book very funny, engaging but provocative. Kate’s self-debate in her head is often insightful. Her one liners are brilliant. Pearson has pulled this book off by addressing every issue that confronts working women—sex, family, marriage, love, guilt, and personal time.

338 pp. Anchor/Random House. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]


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