The Austin Chronicle

Girlfriend to Girlfriend

By Roseana Auten, March 5, 1999, Books

Photo of Vicki IovineIn the summer of 1997, newly pregnant and shocked, I staggered into a bookstore to sort through the daunting amount of material on what the next 40 weeks had in store for me. There were books that tracked the weekly development of the growing fetus (eww, lanugo, huh?), and books on nutrition ("cover your food -- even pizza! -- in wheat germ!"). There were scores of books that dealt solely with the physiological aspects of pregnancy ("You may feel some tenderness and swelling..."), and even books by men on how they can make the most out of the nine months ("ask your wife's OB/GYN if you could have a peek at her cervix").

But only one book, The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy, by Vicki Iovine, who writes a column for Child and is also a contributor to Redbook, seemed to zero in on what it's really like to be pregnant, and it was laced with a welcome amount of humor and levity, to boot. To read Iovine, who is a sort of hipper, latter-day Erma Bombeck and a mother of four, is like inviting all your favorite friends over for a mommy slumber party. For example: Iovine warns, IN ALL CAPS, not to cut off your hair when you're hugely pregnant. A pregnant woman "is not really looking for a new hairdo," Iovine reasons. "She is looking for a new, nonpregnant look, and I'm afraid that's too tall an order for a haircut."

I still say I never got a better piece of advice the whole time I was expecting. The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, which came out in late 1997, was chock-full of similar wisdom. So is her newest release, The Girlfriends' Guide to Toddlers (Perigee Books, $12 paper). Iovine and the girlfriends are back at it again, granting us the benefit of their considerable experience on everything toddlerish, from what Iovine playfully dubs the "Studio 54 attitude" toward getting your kid into the desired preschool, to the perennially comic experience of potty training. But even Iovine, single-minded as she is when it comes to her own children, reminds us that without some self-restraint, the subject of mommying can take on a "gag me" quality in a hurry. So lighten up, already.

"Parenting is the cult of the new millennium," she quips. "We tend to seek only other believers. We don't want to hear from anybody who hasn't been through labor. They shouldn't be allowed to talk at a dinner party." She talked to me recently, girlfriend to girlfriend, from Dallas while on her book tour.

Austin Chronicle:What would you say is your biggest insight about the toddler years?

Vicki Iovine: It's life's biggest ad-lib, to parent. And the thing we have to do is, figuratively and literally, get on their eye level. Whether it's baby-proofing your house -- you must get down on your hands and knees and see what they can see, see what they can reach, see how things look from down there. And I say that for discipline. If you don't get down to where your children can see your face and hear your words, then you're just yammering into the wind. And they really do believe there are monsters under the bed. You can save the day by crawling under there and getting them, rather than sitting there like a ninny, saying, "Oh honey, monsters are make-believe." Just go kill them!

AC:Don't you have to get their advice, too, on how to kill them?

VI: My daughter told me -- I hope she doesn't turn into an axe murderer later -- that the way you killed them is, you cut their stomachs out. I said, "What do I need to do it with?" She said, "A knife!" I said, "Okay, I've got one!" And it was all imaginary.

AC:Most books about pregnancy and parenting seem to focus only on "problem-solving," and never discuss the experience itself.

VI: What most books fail to do is to factor in your transformation -- which is neck-snapping -- from being a non-mother to being a mother. And that is such a huge thing. I kept thinking -- and it was almost until I wrote the toddler book -- it was a temporary state of affairs. I knew I'd always be a mother, but I didn't feel that it was such an essential change. By the time I had toddlers, I said, "Oh, I get it." My whole reason for living is different. All of a sudden, I only care about my own safety and staying well so my children will have a mother.

AC:Exactly! A guy recently repaired the siding on my house and told me to look at it from a ladder, and I said, "Mister, I can no more get on a ladder than fly to the moon."

VI: I really get that! So I realized that what we needed was some reassurance about us, as mothers. My guides are always to make you feel reassured and to reaffirm how good you're going to be at this job.

AC:Talk about the role the girlfriends play.

VI: First of all, I found turning to my girlfriends was always important. We were all devoted to raising our children but uncertain how to do it. So we would swap stories and problems and suggest solutions, based on what we'd tried ourselves or what seemed like a good idea. The girlfriends' wisdom seemed to provide community to those of us who don't have it. It can be lonely until you get your girlfriends in place.

AC:You've said that parenthood is the cult of the new millennium.

VI: We tend to make parenting hugely important in our lives. (Mock-breathlessly) "It's her nap time. Don't call between 2:00 and 3:00." We make idolatry out of our children, and then only seek the company of people who believe the same thing.

AC:Is that okay?

VI: I think ultimately it's not okay. Because here's the news: If you raise your children well, they will leave you. That's either a bad joke in a religion, or you've picked the wrong thing to idolize.

AC:Yeah? How so?

VI: [Iovine recounts how she secretly clipped a pager -- "like crack dealers use!" -- onto her daughter's training pants to remind her to make pee pee at preschool.] I made my life about finding a phone every hour and 20 minutes! It was a stupid thing to do! It goes to show how much I put my big brain behind this potty training thing -- and involved technology!

AC:Your husband's [Jimmy Iovine, president of Interscope Records] a big fish in the music business.

VI: And getting bigger. I don't know whether it's shrinking around him, or what.

AC:So is rock & roll the antithesis of hearth and home?

VI: I think rock & roll is a statement of youth in rebellion. Part of the thankless job of being a parent is you're the anvil on which your child will forge his personality. So you must be very strong in who you are. And they need to bounce off you, because if they don't get to do it in your home, they're never going to figure out who they are. Rock & roll music? My heavens, I'm looking at rap music! I can't filter out the culture from my child, but I can teach my child to deal with the culture.

AC:I agree with you completely, but what's it going to be like when it's time for me to experience this?

VI: Don't worry, at least I'll have gone through it ahead of you. We'll have a book.

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