Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Catherine Newman's "Catastrophic Happiness"

Catherine Newman writes the cooking and lifestyle blog Ben & Birdy. Her books include Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years and Waiting for Birdy; her middle-grade novel is due out in 2017.

Newman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Catastrophic Happiness and reported the following:
From page 99:
The baby poops and cries and spits up into your bra, and it is all one big long meditation, halfway between tedium and franticness. (“Wake me if I actually do anything,” Ben said recently, watching a very long video we’d taken of him as a newborn, kicking microscopically on his changing table.) The baby wants to play Candy Land and Hi-Ho Cherry-o and some weird zoo game where you’re both dying dolphins, and you breathe in and out slowly through your nose and notice the way the sunlight is catching the down along those ripe peaches of her biceps. The baby wants to read Maisy’s Bed Time and Maisy’s Morning on the Farm and Where’s Maisy? and your brain threatens to contract and shrivel into a dried pea rattling around your skull, but instead you inhale the baby’s summer-smell scalp that is pressed fragrantly against your face (and also you occupy your mind with estimating Lucy Cousins’ net worth). The falling-asleep baby wants you to scratch her mosquito bites, and when you say you'd really prefer not to, she snatches your hand in her own and uses it as a disembodied scratcher, dragging your nails across her stomach and forearms until the darkly lashed eyes flutter and close, the beloved rose of her face open and slack in sleep.
Well! Weirdly, that's kind of the book in a nutshell. In fact, it's really just that, for the 98 pages that precede this passage, and the hundred or so that come after. Just joking! (Sort of.) The book it comes from, Catastrophic Happiness, is a memoir about raising children, and it's about that kind of dead-zone that doesn't get written about as much as the crazy baby years and the wild teen years--just the regular school-aged children who kill you softly with their magic and awfulness, with your own love and boredom. Page 99 is actually in the middle of a chapter specifically about boredom--about bored kids and also the bored adults caring for them. It used to be called, "In Praise of Boredom," because I actually think it's so vital to be bored, to have that kind of weird mental downtime, to know what to do with bored energy that isn't drugs or crime or video games. But also how boredom is kind of a segue to mindfulness. To paying attention to all the beautiful moments as life passes you by--as your kids grow like a stop-motion film of a flower opening, and they're halfway out the door even as you're catching your breath, stopping to notice your own incredible luck, your welling gratitude.
Visit Catherine Newman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue