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Book review: Rants in the Dark by Emily Writes

Blogger Emily Writes. Photo/Christopher Tse

A young mum’s rants are essential reading.

Wellington mum Emily Writes blundered into blogging two years ago with a 3am rage-post that got almost two million hits.

She also campaigns for the rights of women and children, and volunteers for Plunket and Mothers Network.

She’s a blessed relief from the stuff that clogs most parenting blogs and mainstream media. Parenting philosophy? Nah. Just do your best and love your kids. Hers, by the way, are Eddie, 4, and Ronnie, 2, aka “Ham” because of his resemblance to a Christmas ham.

To call what Writes writes “rants” is reductive. This first book is a celebration of childhood and community, and most of all, of motherhood. It is packed with cliché-free tributes – to her husband and her kids’ crèche teachers, to her midwives and her online “village”. Other pieces are gorgeous, prosaic fly-on-the-yogurt-smeared-wall snapshots of family life. Small people and small moments matter. Here’s one piece in its entirety: “Goodnight, my sweet little sausage.” “I AM NOT A SAUSAGE I AM AN LIDDLE BOY CALL EDDIE YOU STOP DAT NOW.”

Then there’s the satire. She nails it. From an essay called Natural Parenting: “I’m on a mainly grass diet. I have grass in the morning and at lunchtime and at night. Grass is paleo, so you’re really safe using it as your main food group. But it really needs to be grass-fed grass.”

Many of these pieces appeared first on her blog; read by the dozen, they have heft and coherence. (Pro tip: if you’re buying this for a new mum, consider the e-version so she can read in the dark.)

But I’ve a problem with the blurb. It promises “unfiltered truth”. One of her strengths is that she does filter. Hard. When she rants, it’s often about certain questions or comments that badly upset struggling parents or just simply piss them off. She is hyperaware that her writing can do the same. She held back an essay about breastfeeding for months, for example, just to give any clangers time to show themselves.

As for showing herself? The pseudonym is to protect her boys. There’s not much else that’s off limits. Her writing is full of poo and spew and saggy-baggy leggings. Leaky boobs and whispered fights with her husband. We know that sometimes she calls her baby an arsehole when he wakes (again) in the night; we know that along with the love and the joy, she has felt overwhelmed and terribly lonely. We know she has problems with anxiety and not a lot of money to help smooth over what really is debilitating sleep deprivation. When she writes, “I am an okay, sometimes quite good parent”, I want to give her a big hug and a long nap. In lieu of that: how’s “thank you”?

Her greatest wish for her sons is that they grow up to be kind.

I don’t think it’s overstating her impact to say that her writing helps other parents be kind, too, to themselves and to their kids. Tena koe.

RANTS IN THE DARK, by Emily Writes (Random House NZ, $35)

This article was first published in the April 15, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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