Is there a balance between motherhood and feminism? Dispatches From a Not-So-Perfect Life or How I Learned to Love the House, the Man, the Child, by Faulkner Fox, Harmony, 2003, $23.

Faulkner Fox's new book is as familiar and as exasperating as motherhood itself. Fox is an articulate spokeswoman for women everywhere who mourn the loss of their independence when they become mothers. But she offers no new insights to her fellow travelers, and her earnest complaints finally become wearisome.

An upwardly mobile professional, working passionately for women's rights, Fox is rudely surprised to realize, when her first child is born, that her time is no longer her own. Desperately trying to hold on to her own identity, she resolves that household duties be equitably split between herself and her husband-50-50-exactly. She compulsively keeps account, planning to redress the injustice of her extra hours spent breastfeeding by subtracting that time from her account after her baby is weaned.

Claustrophobic and time-deprived, the author describes feeling like an alien in the tribe of mothers, trapped in small talk and longing for significant conversations. She grieves her loss of status-from a professional woman to "just" a mother who is working part time. While she condemns societal attitudes that devalue the work of parenting and housekeeping, she seems helpless to stop espousing those attitudes herself, unable to figure out why she is so unhappy.

Fox condemns "traditional" marriage as an institution totally oppressive to women. The only marriages she knows produce wives who have lost their autonomy completely and husbands who have turned into insensitive, self-serving "assholes." Not surprisingly, then, Fox comes out fighting as she tries to forge a new identity in the context of her family.

Dispatches From a Not-So-Perfect Life would benefit from some judicious editing and from finishing what it started. How does she learn to Love the House, the Man, the Child, as she maintains she does in her subtitle? Fox doesn't tell us. The reader receives these Dispatches with a welcome sense of recognition of the painful challenges of motherhood. But we finally lose patience with the author's inability to find a way out of her complaints. Kristin Gehring


The babysitter basics for both parents and sitters The What to Expect Baby-sitter's Handbook, by Heidi Murkoff with Sharon Mazel, Workman Publishing, 2003, $12.95.

Here is an effective book for both parents and babysitters. It tells parents what their sitters need to know while addressing the concerns of babysitters-both amateur and experienced-about everything from bathing to sleeping to health and safety. It is a practical resource for parents, providing frequent questions that babysitters may ask-or may not know to ask-and providing the answers every babysitter needs.

Like other what-to-expect guidebooks, this one breaks down the information in an easy-to-use format, giving babysitters the developmental basics on children from newborn to 6 years and providing them with the same information parents may have read in What to Expect the First Year and What to Expect the Toddler Years. The mother of the 5-month-old baby for whom I babysit often gives me information from What to Expect the First Year, which I found reprinted in the babysitter's version.

The final chapter of the book, titled "Our children, our home," provides the babysitter with a list to fill out; it includes space for emergency phone numbers, feeding instructions, playtime, bedtime and discipline rules. Parents should fill out the information with their babysitter. That way it will ensure the sitter learns the information she needs to know, and parents can gauge the sitter's abilities.

As an experienced babysitter, I was surprised to find answers in this book to questions I never thought to ask-in my almost 10 years of babysitting I never knew there were three ways to burp a baby. Although there was some advice I thought to be painfully obvious, such as "never shake a baby," overall the information was useful.

This book is a good guide for babysitters and parents. It may even be a good tool to make sure the lines of communication between the two are always open. After all, this is an entire book dedicated to the one thing parents and babysitters have in common-the children. Alissa Calabrese



The instruction manual on why tween boys are gross The Big Book of Boy Stuff, by Bart King, Gibbs Smith, 2004, $19.95.

Do you know how fast the average burp leaves the body? Fifty miles per hour. Did you know Sept. 19 is Talk Like a Pirate Day? Arrr, now, matey do you also know why funny facts like these can cause pop to shoot from a tween's nose? Well, no one really does know that, but I suspect it has something to do with that Y chromosome.

Being a boy means you think any noise from the body is license to laugh-anywhere, any time. So how are parents going to cope when their once seemingly cute baby boy becomes a bodily function beast? Well, therapy, weekends away and prayer might help, but how about a little knowledge? The Big Book of Boy Stuff offers a window into everything boys are interested in, think about and laugh at.

Written for both adults and kids, this book is useful to either group. It is also perfect for mothers who didn't have brothers and are ill-prepared for what behavior to expect as their boys become men.

It is much more of a quick reference guide than a steady read-through. For young readers, if it's a rainy day, flip open to the activities section and find out how to put a pet house fly on a leash. Or look through the joke section and develop a standup routine for the family reunion. (Parents, some of the jokes might not be appropriate. You be the judge.)

No, there is no Big Book of Girl Stuff, as yet. But this is not an anti-feminist book. In fact, it virtually ignores girls-addressing the subject in only about three pages-because this book is intended for boys who don't care about girls yet. Boys who just want to have fun before the rage of hormones and high school hits them like a cartoon anvil.

Parental warning: This book has one section on fireworks, another on homemade weapons; it also casually instructs readers to "use your pocketknife." So the book may require supervision. And moms, that means you. Even if dad is around when your child is using this book, you might want to keep an eye on both boys.

This book is very funny, useful and approved by the Federal Burping Institute. Graham Johnston


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