Mother's Little Helpers

Reviewed by Beth Teitell
Sunday, August 20, 2006


Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories

of an Ordinary Mom

By Brett Paesel

Warner. 320 pp. $23.99

Like many new mothers, the actor Brett Paesel longs for her carefree past, and, in her case, there is much to miss -- oh, how much there is to miss. "What I really wanted," she writes by way of introduction, "was a stranger to [expletive] me blind in a parking lot after loading me up on margaritas and Thai stick." (That's high-quality marijuana, FYI, not an Asian appetizer.) With that, she's off, chatting about all sorts of adventures not suitable to print in a family newspaper, but, as luck and perhaps a good agent would have it, more than suitable to be turned into an HBO series.

Indeed, her book reads less like a "momoir" than a TV script, complete with the obligatory quartet of friends who meet weekly for happy hour. Their gab-fests are inevitably cut short by pesky childcare duties, but except for a few cameos by Paesel's boys and one good chapter about her younger son's tear-duct problems, the kids seem almost beside the point. One gets the impression that a demanding job would have equally impinged upon plans for a cocaine binge.

The publisher describes the book as nonfiction, but even so, it carries a James Frey-era disclaimer: "Some of the places and incidents described in this work are the product of the author's imagination." That's on the copyright page. Fine, although the reader might wish that Paesel had a better imagination. The stress of making the snack for a preschool party, the absurdity of kindergarten admissions, the banal mothers at the play-group, the onslaught of parenting magazines with inane tips on making lollipops from Jell-O -- is there a hen-lit reader alive unfamiliar with these subjects?

But maybe Paesel's target audience is not mothers but frat boys. With its relentless references to drugs, booze and sex and with the author's admiration for one friend who can "do a beer bong standing on her hands while balancing a plate of fries with her feet," and another who can move an egg from one chair to another "with just her ass," parts of this book would be a hit with the "Real World" crowd.

Still, some bits reach "Seinfeld"-ian heights. Anyone whose spouse has said, "We should [ insert chore here ] . . . " when he/she means, " You should . . . " will appreciate her riff on her husband's use of "we" ("We really have to keep his hands clean") when their son's eye becomes infected. And any mom who's feared that her child will inadvertently reveal poor maternal behavior will enjoy Paesel's visit to the doctor, where her older boy entertains himself in the waiting room's toy kitchen by pretending to microwave items traditionally cooked on a stove top, as he's obviously seen her do: "If he starts shaking martinis, I'm going to have to reschedule.'' Paesel's willingness to mock herself even allows her to milk a laugh from a postpartum visit to a therapist. "I'm so unhappy," she cries. "I hate myself. I hate my life. I feel like it's never going to change." After a while, the therapist makes a suggestion. "Maybe we should think about antidepressants.'' " What? " Paesel thinks. "It's not that bad."

And guess what? She eventually finds that motherhood is not that bad. In fact, she likes it, which is lucky, since Hollywood demands a happy ending. Even so, it's safe to say that if there's Jell-O around, this mommy wants not a lollipop but a vodka-infused "shooter." ยท

Beth Teitell is the author of "From Here to Maternity: The Education of a Rookie Mom" and a columnist with the Boston Herald.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company