This month, the Kveller Book Club read In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe. Yesterday, a group of our contributing editors chatted about the book, and today we present this interview with Roiphe herself. Read below to hear her thoughts on the sacrifices we make as parents, children as mirrors, and moms who wear yoga pants.
In your introduction to In Praise of Messy Lives you write, “I am drawn to subjects or ways of looking at things that make people, and sometimes even me, uncomfortable.” Is there an essay in this book–or a subject tackled in this book–that made you particularly uncomfortable to write?
I actually found all of the essays fun to write. When I say that sometimes even I am uncomfortable, what I mean is that I feel myself thinking about things that are difficult or unsettling, that I am pushing my argument farther than the easy or comfortable place. An example of this would be the “child is king” essay when I talk about how children release us from certain desires and ambitions.
I found that essay so interesting. In addition to a “release” from desires and ambitions, you also talk there about how having children can be a “reprieve from romantic happiness.” Isn’t it just as true, if not more true, though, that children can also act as a mirror, and in looking at them we can see the failings in ourselves, which ideally might serve to motivate us, yet we’re stuck because, as you so aptly put it, that same kid is calling for a cookie?
I don’t have that experience of children as mirrors, I guess. I don’t look at my children and see myself particularly. Though if you mean that one is motivated to be a better version of yourself with children, then that I think can be true. Though what the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter and Geoff Dyer were talking about is that the sacrifices we make for children are very complicated, and sometimes our reasons for giving things up are less purely generous than we believe.
In the essay “Feminine Mystique on Facebook” you write, “Like wearing sneakers every day or forgetting to cut your hair [posting our kid's picture instead of our own on Facebook is] a way of being dowdy and invisible, and it mirrors a certain Mommy culture in which it’s almost a point of pride how little remains of the healthy, worldly, engaged and preening self.” I wonder, isn’t it possible though, that there are mothers/women out there who feel healthy, worldly, and engaged in their yoga pants and sneakers? Or do you honestly think that a pony-tailed mom in her Reebok’s can’t possibly be as engaged as she who still wears heels occasionally?
Sure. I don’t really mean to issue fashion judgements. Some people are too serious or high minded to think much about clothes, and I admire those people. I was simply talking about a self-effacing mommy culture that extols a certain kind of erasure of strong, sexual, independent women.
Getting a little personal, how old are your children now? Is there something you wrote in one your essays about parenting that you wish you could take back, given your more recent child rearing experiences?
My children are now 3 and 9. I wrote most of the parenting essays very recently so not much has changed in my experience of parenting, and I really don’t wish I could take back anything.
Finally, what do you hope readers will take away from this collection?
I like the romantic poets’ idea of making the familiar strange. My goal in this collection is to get people to look at the familiar things in a new way. I wanted to challenge our current emphasis on the “healthy” or “balanced” life. I wanted to suggest that we have a little more imagination or tolerance for those who live outside of a rather narrow or conventional idea of the good life.
If you haven’t had a chance to read In Praise of Messy Lives, get it on Amazon and a portion of the profits will help support Kveller.