Parents pour out their often-funny, invariably heartfelt stories in Is It Bedtime Yet?
Behold, a collection of stories by the village Emily has built. Most of these 50 essays first appeared in the parenting section she edits for a website. “I’m not really a writer,” contributors often apologise, before sending in a wonderful piece of writing.
The bio of Eliza Prestidge Oldfield, for example, says she is a mother of two and a lawyer. But she’s taken the time one of her children threw glitter all over the house and turned it into a funny, clip-cloppy, musical story with the rhythms and rhymes of a kids’ book. The mum “tried her best but needed a rest”; every couple of paragraphs we’re warned, “But things were about to get much worse.”
Not every piece is so writerly but they all tell a truth, and that’s the point here: voices. Children are often directly quoted, too, particularly in Emily’s pieces, which makes them important, and gives the writing shrieks, whispers and gasps. “Will the knife be a kids’ knife?” asks one little girl of her surgeon. “And will it cut softly?”
In this book, parents bicker and snap and are forgiven. Gender politics are addressed head-on. Dads are here with their perspectives on sharing the load and staying at home.
Lots of it is very funny. Emily’s kids learn to fart in cups and get Mum to “drink” it. A lesbian couple drastically overestimate the size of the syringe they’ll need for their donor’s semen. There’s an essay entirely devoted to how to do a poo after giving birth.
There’s also a story about traumatic birth that I can’t quite bring myself to read. Art writer Thomasin Sleigh contributes a deft, moving piece about the ways in which babies mess with time. And Nichole Brown’s essay about white-washing her Māori daughter’s world throbs with sorrow and regret and promises.
“I am so sorry for calling them ‘koomrah’ and ‘paawiz’ when they are kūmara and pāua. I should have taken you to the secret little spring below Grandma’s whare to pick watercress for our kai, instead of buying it in little zip-locked plastic bags …”
The book’s essence? It’s there on the dedications page. “For Abel,” it reads, “Adeline, Alice, Arthur, Augustine, Aurelia, Ben, Bobbie, Charlie …”
For the kids.
IS IT BEDTIME YET?, by Emily Writes and friends (Random House NZ, $35)
This article was first published in the August 25, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.