Funny family man wears thin with cliched material

Whose Kids Are These Anyway? True Confessions of a Family Man, by Ken Swarner, Perigee, 2003, $13.95.

The art of raising kids brings with it loads of comical material. For a parent, every day promises another parade of peculiar interactions, odd observations, amusing experiences and original one-liners.

In his book, Whose Kids Are These Anyway? True Confessions of a Family Man, Ken Swarner opens up his treasure chest of child rearing and treats its lively contents like playful props in a vaudevillian revue. This hands-on dad tackles the laundry, experiments with school lunches, deals with sleep deprivation and engages in rapid-fire dialogue with his wife and two kids. The problem, however, is that Swarner's comic barrage is laid on a little thick, and the ground he covers seems more familiar than fresh.

Comedy is a tough act, and funny dads writing about fun kids has become a crowded field in recent years. In Whose Kids Are These Anyway?, Swarner sprinkles his eager prose with homespun devices that include letters to his son, e-mails to and from his boss and a minute-by-minute look at his children's bedtime routine. Still, his own stab at a literary sitcom is weighed down by carefully scripted scenarios and over-embellished outtakes from the frontlines of fatherhood. You can almost hear the canned laughter.

Playing the wisecracking, eye-rolling dad able to take all parental absurdities in stride, Swarner's fodder ranges from baby spit-up erupting just after Dad has changed into clean clothes to the daily drain of being woken up at the crack of dawn by tireless toddlers.

As his children age, he simply adjusts his satirical bent. "I think my son is actually an alien placed on this planet to drive me NUTS," he writes. "For starters, if anyone reading this book is planning to be on Interstate 95 this summer, and you see a poor guy's sanity lying there, please let me know … it's mine."

In writing about his daughter, Swarner trots out the old routine about how terrifyingly protective he'll be when it comes time for her to start dating.

The book gains some traction when he offers broader context, such as the struggles of juggling work and home life, the rationale of his wife's safety-conscious tendencies and his own frenzied attempts to discover some athletic prowess in his son.

While parents-to-be can find lessons and laughs in some of these episodes, any hint of amusing authenticity is quickly doused by the book's choreographed feel, excessive sendups and predictable punch lines. Dave Whitaker


Book offers help, advice for parents of anxious children The Worried Child: Recognizing Anxiety in Children and Helping Them Heal, by Paul Foxman, Hunter House Publishers, 2004, $16.95.

Children today face the same issues as we did but in a different way. Family, society, media and school create stress, fear, fright and anxiety. However, Foxman successfully delineates the difference between normal childhood anxiety and childhood anxiety disorders. He indicates some possible sources of these disorders and some possible treatments.

Children can experience panic attacks and forms of anxiety disorders similar to adults. In his book, Foxman responds to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration's report that one in five children has had a mental health problem.

Well-organized as a parent-friendly reference, this book clearly explains that anxiety is natural and some fears and stressors are typical in a child's development. Foxman outlines fears commonly associated with a child's age. The book also gives examples of children's external and internal experiences that may trigger anxiety. He goes on to state the differences between typical and atypical anxiety symptoms.

Secondly, this book gives a great explanation of some sources of anxiety stemming from birth through the adolescent years. Although he notes that parents may have little control over whether a child develops anxiety, he gives some ways to counteract anxiety related to familial, societal, media and school-related issues.

Finally, Foxman offers general information regarding treatments for anxiety disorders. Highlighting biochemical, alternative and psycho-therapies, he outlines the pros and cons for each to help parents determine an intervention best suited for their child.

Overall, The Worried Child is an excellent resource for parents with little knowledge about childhood anxiety disorders or those who are looking for general information regarding anxiety and treatments. The book contains factual, unbiased information, some case studies related to specific anxiety disorders and a resource section. Foxman has also included a chapter specifically written for children and adolescents. The author shares his knowledge regarding the topic without pretentiousness.

This book would be an excellent addition to an educator's or parent's library. Michelle Bezy


Discussing the next step in the women's movement Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life, by Daphne de Marneffe, Little, Brown and Co., 2004, $25.95.

There was a time not so very long ago when it was admirable for a woman to want to stay home and taboo for her to acknowledge sexual desire. Today, we respect the woman who professes an aggressive libido and pity the unliberated mother who acknowledges maternal desire. Currently, the prevailing diagnosis of a woman who admits to experiencing longing to be with her children, or reluctance to be away from them, is that she suffers from a gentle neurosis that is understandable but best ignored.

Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life is a revolutionary book. It treats a woman's desire to spend time with her children as powerful and transforming. Recent writing on the subject has focused on women's liberation from the constraints of parenting-in order that they can be free to achieve their own personal potential. But de Marneffe's book examines a woman's active desire to mother and the opportunities for pleasure and self-actualization that can be found in time devoted to children.

De Marneffe examines issues of childcare, fertility, the role of fathers, adolescence and abortion through a new lens-one that acknowledges the profound importance of the time a woman spends with her child, to herself, as well as to her child. Be warned, however, this book is not an easy read. Those of you who are well-versed in feminist theory will find most of the heavy hitters discussed here. De Marneffe appreciates the groundbreaking work of these opinion-changers in terms of women's rights. And she doesn't think that women should get back into the kitchen.

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