19 April 2019

When You Find Out The World Is Against You by Kelly Oxford

Last March I reviewed Oxford's first novel, Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar, and I really enjoyed it. I was excited that she wrote a second because I still felt like there was a lot of ground she didn't cover in the first, such as parenting, transitioning to fame, etc. I got her second book this year for Christmas and it really delivered in the areas I just mentioned.

The format of the book is something we're all familiar with. It's a 'celebrity' memoir, written in essay style, and is honestly just like her first but covers different topics. I was pleased to find the exact same, dry sense of humour, and that she hadn't tried to be super 'deep' now that she's more famous, blah blah. I know this will be a highly controversial and unpopular thing to say, but I was dreading her diving into her #It'sNotOkay hashtag and the "Me Too" movement, but I am happy to report there's only one essay on it and it's more humble and tasteful than her Twitter account would suggest.

The major win for this book, I feel, is how detailed and intimate Oxford is in talking about herself as a parent. I (and I think a lot of us) have this misconception that to be a good parent you need to be super organized, super positive, super "able to take on the world", and because this is not me- at all- I am constantly seeking validation that I could still be a good parent from women who I see more of myself in. Not that I think I'm Kelly Oxford, but the girl likes to smoke dope and chirp our society on the internet, so I just feel it's more of a relatable level for me.

Kelly Oxford, with her best hair look if I do say so myself

This book is rich in parenting essays, and Oxford delivers exactly what I'd hoped for- how to feel successful as a parent when you don't feel successful as a person, how to raise children that aren't dicks, how to navigate the emotional complexities of being responsible for tiny humans, etc. One part that I thought she did a great job at writing about is the transition of being needed for everything from everyone, to suddenly having children who are independent, who both don't need your help and don't want it.

It may sound fucking desperate, but I've just spent the last fifteen years of my life providing everything, being responsible for everything from bathing to feeding to clothing for three children, and suddenly,... suddenly, what? No one needs me to ask if they have to pee?"

She describes this hilarious inner monologue of watching her young daughter try to fill her water glass with the Brita from the fridge, and how she actually hopes her daughter will knock her cup over and smash it so that her daughter will have no choice but to call her mom for help cleaning up glass. How fucked up is that? But also, this sounds exactly like something I would want. 

Equally relatable, Oxford decides that a dog is the best way to buffer this new independence in her children:

But I do believe that a dog can help a person get through the rough transition of human babies growing up.  Over the past few months I've been witness to my own personal demise in this very regard. My kids are suddenly basically fully functional people and my duties as a mom have suddenly gone from 'You are my everything. I need you. I love you.' to 'Drive me. Money. Stay away.' They have become independent of me, and now I find myself clawing at them to regress. I offer to dress my oldest daughter. I'll pop in the bathroom and offer to 'really wash' my son's hair while he's in the shower because he can't possibly be doing a good job. And I continue to offer to wipe my six-year-old's butt while she's on the toilet."

I really enjoyed the passage below about how men and women handle this differently, and not because men are stronger but because they had less to do with it in the first place. I also feel like any woman can relate to her sentiment about going through this with her own mother. As I've grown up I can literally melt into the floor in shame thinking about some of the things I've done/said to my own mom and I can't even imagine the actually pit I will fall into if my own kids ever do/say those things to me.

I have become a joke in my own home and to my own flesh and blood, and it's ruining my self-worth. I don't feel like fathers go through anything as severe as mothers do when it comes to this parental bridge, this crossover from being a needed and life-drainingly depended-upon human being to being a punching bag, or worse, ignored... It's just that dads don't wrap up feelings in whether or not they are pushing strollers. Not like women do. I've not only seen this behavior in my children, I've been the perpetrator of it. I was a daughter who grew out of needing a mother for every single thing. When I no longer needed her to fill my toaster slot, she was toast."

Clearly, I enjoyed Oxford's insights and anecdotes on parenting from this book. I like reading these types of books and seeing women, who still maintain their own personalities and lives, not just succeed as parents but also fall victim to the emotions of parenting. It's something I'm  insecure about, and I found Oxford talking about it to be comforting in a way. The quote below would usually break my heart, but I found it a relieving thing to hear coming from her:

And now, I'm learning, sadly learning, what comes along with this transition of the kids no longer needing me for all the things I'd changed in my life to learn."

Another topic Oxford covered that I was really into was the idea of adult/family friendships. Growing up, we had a number of families we 'hung out with'... aka our parents wanted to go drink and play cards and we were banished to the basement with their kids, even if we didn't like them. Looking back I'm super nostalgic for these hangouts. My parents' friends' kids are still 'friends' of mine and I love seeing their lives develop over social media and what not. I hope to be able to provide that for my future children as well.

Oxford recounts spending her childhood with her Dad's high school best friend's family, the Binders. She elaborates on fond memories of growing up with their kids, playing at their house, listening to the four parents laugh upstairs. Sadly, John Binder, the patriarch of the family passed away while Oxford was living in California. She brings her kids home for the funeral and they too are nostalgic for 'family friends' despite not even knowing what they're missing:

Sal looks at me, asks, 'Why don't we get to grow up with people like the Binders?' then takes a bite out of her mini roast beef sandwich. Sal did not mean to out by biggest sadness, the thing I feel most guilty about, on my birthday at a funeral, but she had just done exactly that. We only get one chance with our kids, and the time goes by so fast. Moving to America had in many ways taken away the possibility of having that kind of relationship with another family. We came there too late for James and me to form tight bonds with other parents whose kids were the same age as ours. The lack of a family like the Binders in our lives in Los Angeles is an emptiness that I have always felt. My kids never did, not until today."

I appreciated Oxford's vulnerability here. Moving with 'older' children is hard in general, especially out of country, abandoning all the traditions you know (Oxford admits feeling sad her children won't really experience tobogganing, etc. the way they would if they'd stayed in Canada). But it's also hard in the sense that you'll never be able to form those close 'family friendships', or properly maintain the ones you're leaving. 'Family friends' are not something I've really spent too much time thinking about before, but after finishing this book I've been thinking about them a lot, and realizing how much I've undervalued their importance.

Oxford with who I think are her two oldest kids, Salinger and Henry
There was a sadness to reading this knowing that she recently announced her divorce from her husband. It kind of added a dark cloud over everything she wrote that mentioned him, similar to Anna Faris' book Unqualified. I hate celebrity divorces, and I hate the optics of Oxford's in that it looks like she was this sweet Canadian girl who started a family with the love of her life, then moved to LA to pursue fame and dropped him. I'm sure this isn't how it went but, you know.

Overall I actually really enjoyed this book. Oxford pisses me off a ton in how she acts like an entitled celebrity when I barely consider her to be one. I am annoyed to enjoy her writing, but I do. This book humbled her a lot for me, and I really, really enjoyed the content and her voice. If you have friends or family that enjoy celebrity memoirs and/or female comics, I think they'd really enjoy this, even if they've never heard of her before. It's also a book I'm keeping in my back pocket to gift my girlfriends when they hit the depression of their kids outgrowing them.

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