November 3, 2017

Smarty Book Review: ‘Small Victories: The Off-Camera Life of an On-Camera Mom’

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Okay, first of all, for those of you who don’t know, Molly Grantham is an Emmy award winning anchor and investigative reporter who has been named TV News Reporter of the Year for both Carolinas, one of Charlotte’s top “40 under 40” and one of Mecklenburg County’s “50 Most Influential Women.” If all that isn’t enough, she’s now written a book based on a popular series of personal Facebook posts, Small Victories: The Off-Camera Life of an On-Camera Mom, in which she chronicles the first few years of her children’s lives.

It seems a little unfair that a person so genetically gifted with talent and beauty and wit is also able to write, but after having read her debut book, I have to admit she is, in fact, a terrific writer. By now you might be thinking Molly is one of those people overly burdened with accomplishments. You’re right. However, she balances all this achievement with a personality so genuinely nice and goofy it’s hard not to think of her as regular person. She’s like the best friend who tries to comfort you after a bad breakup by bringing over a bottle of wine and spilling it all over both of you, or the room mom who accidentally sends multiple emails to the entire class in which the teacher’s name has auto-corrected to Mrs. Salivate. (Oh wait, that last one is me.)Molly 1

But you get my point. Molly is real. And her authenticity as a mom and a fallible human being shines through every one of her pages in this compelling collection of parenting essays. She takes no special measures to burnish her telegenic image or promote the seeming perfection of her life. Instead, the stuff she writes is raw and honest. Sure, most of it is funny-honest, or lovable-honest, but some of it is straight-up embarrassing-honest. Take this passage, for instance:

Hutch added a new food group to his diet this week: sand.

He must be the only child on the face of the earth who not only likes to eat sand, but LOVES to eat sand. He loves sand more than any food he has ever tried, which is saying a lot. (Parker nick-named him “the Refrigerator” for a reason.) At first I worried. Would he choke on small shells? Is sand digestible? I did a finger sweep of his mouth and pulled out wet hunks. Instead of being grateful the gritty grains were gone, he went berserk. He was all-out pissed I’d taken away his new delicacy.

I quickly put some back in.

It took me a good thirty seconds to quit laughing as I read that last sentence. That’s right; she let her baby eat a handful of sand so he’d quit yelling. Who admits to that? And, let’s be honest, who hasn’t wanted to do that? I know I have. But am I brave enough to admit my mothering-fail moments to the world, especially a world in which people are viciously judgmental about other people’s parenting? And even more: would I be willing to do that if I worked in an industry where a polished, perfect appearance is part of the job description?

Molly is open about her initial ambivalence about becoming a mother. Like a lot of women who “thrive in corporate settings,” she describes herself as a driven multitasker with control issues. She overachieves. She’s a solver. She eats pressure for lunch.

And she missed all that about herself when she was home on maternity leave.Molly 2

These aren’t things you often hear new mothers saying about themselves. We are supposed to wax poetic about the opiate-like bliss of breast-feeding, the indescribable ferocity we feel at protecting the helpless little being we created, the fathomless depths of love that envelop us when our baby meets our eyes for the first time. It’s permissible to commiserate about the sleep deprivation and the memory lapses and the disappearance of anything remotely resembling hygiene. It’s not permissible to say how much you miss working.

Or is it? Molly’s essays encompass all of these feelings, describing them in such sympathetic terms you’ll be convinced you too are missing your high-powered media job even when you’ve always been a SAHM. But the street also runs the other way: the most hard-hearted childless executive in America couldn’t read these pages without yearning to hold a baby or to watch the wheels turn behind a toddler’s eyes as he imitates your every move. Molly’s love and delight and endless fascination at the development of her beautiful children is evident in every word she writes, whether it’s about Hutch staging a potty-training revolt, or Parker manipulating the system to ensure some extra nighttime cuddles, or the inevitable barf-fest that happens to every family sooner or later during virus season. It’s all so relatable.

Have you ever really thought about how children become a whole new person in one short year? Last year at two years old, Parker cried meeting Santa. This year she is totally into the storyline. She wants to rub Rudolph’s nose and has opinions on how Elfie (our predictably-named Elf on the Shelf) must travel to the North Pole each night. A year ago, she wasn’t evolved enough to have those thoughts. It’s fascinating to now hear things drop out of her mouth like little clues about what’s going on inside her head.

“Mommy, if reindeers eat carrots at each house, why don’t they get full?”

“How come Santa comes down a chimney instead of walking in a front door?”

“How do they make ALL those toys?”

Hutch obviously has no clue about anything. Next year, I suppose, he’ll be walking around tugging on Christmas tree branches. Two years from now, maybe he’ll have enough mental capacity to stop his older sister from dressing him in girly reindeer booties. But for now, he’s out of it. Just sits here and lets me rub his back.

I can’t believe Parker is already three and a half, with a brain that questions whether we’ll hear the reindeer when they land on the roof. I really can’t believe butterball Hutch is nine weeks old, fitting in six-month-old clothing. Individual days can feel like an eternity, but a year-to-year comparison makes you think it’s flying by.

I hope this is the first book in a series. I can’t wait to see how Parker and Hutch change, how Molly’s career evolves, and what insights she chooses to share in the future. Now, though, I’d recommend reading this book somewhere private, since you’ll look like a lunatic to anyone observing you as you react to the quotable lines on nearly every page. You’ll nod emphatically or LOL or gasp or fling the book down to call your best friend. You’ll probably cry near the end, as Molly realizes she is going to lose her beloved mother to cancer: I was writing this book about being a mom as I watched mine die. It felt very full circle.

If you are one of those people who cherishes the thought of your own circle of life but haven’t quite gotten around to penning a book about it, this is the perfect read for you.
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Kimmery Martin is a doctor, book reviewer, author interviewer, traveler, and obsessive reader. Her debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, is set in Charlotte and will be published by Penguin Random House on February 13, 2018. Kimmery lives with her husband, three children, and the world’s most obstinate dog. You can read more of her writing, including travelogues, book reviews, and social commentary at www.kimmerymartin.com.

You can buy Small Victories: The Off-Camera Life of an On-Camera Mom HERE.

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