Not Really A Parenting Book
Act Natural is a well-researched look at the cultural history of raising children. A quick look at just a few of Traig's chapter titles will give you an idea of the dark wit she uses to assuage her own curiosity about child rearing throughout history:
The book is not a memoir, but Traig is also brutally honest about her own parenting choices - most of which elicit a laugh of recognition.
Traig studied English and holds a PhD in Literature. Her first book, Judaikitsch: Tchotchkes, Schmattes & Nosherei (2002), is the ultimate guide to a "funky, festive Jewish lifestyle." She followed this title with a deep dive into her own childhood with Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood (2004), and Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria (2009).
Traig is quite clear about her impetus for writing Act Natural:
"But really, of course, that's all it is - an act, a performance of a script that was written a long time ago. And when recently I started to examine the hundreds of parental actions I take every day, I realized that I have no idea why I do any of them, or whether I should or shouldn't. I just go along with the received wisdom, without asking where I received it from, or whether it's even wise."
Installing the television
On a recent trip to our Daughter's home, Little Guy greeted us with "I'm helping MamaDad with a project" as he showed us the screwdriver he was using to assist with a kitchen reorganization. Not sure why he had the screwdriver, but I was really aware of how proud he was to help!
Later in the day the Boss helped Little Guy's Dad set up a new television. The desire was to mount it above the living room mantle and there was much discussion about where and how to add an electrical outlet next to the fireplace. This project even involved a trip to the big box hardware store and a stop for ice cream on the return trip.
What is fascinating about this activity is that Little Guy was right in the thick of it with the big guys. Little Guy held a flashlight with an extendable magnet, asking "What's this?" while fishing for things out of the toolbox. Tools and parts were strewn across the living room, but, every time, the Boss would patiently answer and even explain the item's purpose. Little Guy's Dad asked for his assistance in holding the measuring tape a number of times. And at one point all three of our guys were huddled over a diagram on the floor trying to determine the next step in adding the bracket to the wall. I'm sure Little Guy had no clue what he was seeing, but he knew he was part of the project team.
Traig's premise that we know how to parent most of the time, but that we don't usually think about why we do it in certain ways was on full display: the big guys did not say, "let's involve Little Guy so he will learn about tools, and teamwork, etc." -- they just included him in the process. And this will become part of the script he uses when raising his own children.... oooh, Great-Grandchildren!!
Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting is a humorous survey of Western child rearing practices -- read it before the arrival of your first child or after said child causes you to need a good laugh at your own parenting decisions.