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"Ugh! Kids! Why do you leave these things right here where Mommy can trip?" Amanda dropped the bags on the floor and turned sideways to allow the children to burst past. "Just go-go upstairs, do something, watch a video, I don't care."
Amanda bent down and swept aside the offending objects. She did not glance into the living room, knowing it to be in even worse condition than the hall. She would get to it later, after this-but when? And where would it all go? The children's shelves were already full. The area beneath Sophie's bed looked as if it had been attacked by Suicide Bomber Ken: plastic body parts, shoes, purses, and broken pieces of doll furniture were strewn everywhere. Amanda knew from experience that to sort toys consumed as many trash bags as it did hours, and still you were left with uncategorizable little piles of childhood detritus- goggly-eyed fast-food figures, tiny cars, baseball cards, rubber snakes-objects that you couldn't throw away, but you didn't know where to put exactly, either. Four years spent earning a bachelor's degree had not prepared her for a career as a domestic curator.
"And don't make any more mess!" she called up the stairs, to no reply.
It took two more trips to the car to bring in all the grocery bags. Amanda stacked them wherever she could find room in the kitchen: on the narrow counters, the stove, the breakfast table, the floor.
The kitchen, like the rest of the house, remained in what the real estate agent had described as its "original condition." Amanda and Bob had bought the house during the Washington real estate slump of the mid-1990s. The "three-bedroom, Old World charmer/lots of detail" turned out to be a typical Woodley Park semidetached brick job from the 1920s crammed up alongside another semidetached brick job from the 1920s. There wasn't much to recommend it except that it was not- repeat not-a tract house in the suburbs. Never mind that if she and Bob were different sorts of people they could have afforded a spanking-new, Palladian-windowed, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath "Manor Home" in a development named Badger Run Estates. They had looked at such a place precisely once during their transition from apartment-dwelling, one-child family to house-dwelling, two-child family, and had driven away so quickly that their car left tire tracks in the freshly planted sod.
"I don't want to spend my life commuting," Bob muttered as they sat waiting for the light to change at a six-lane intersection near a strip mall where you could buy, right away, with no money down, a reclining mattress.
"I don't want to be more than two blocks away from a good cup of coffee," Amanda replied, and that was all they said for the next forty-five minutes until the bridge that would take them back over the Potomac hoved into view.
By comparison, the Woodley Park house had seemed charming: the plaster moldings, the slanting walls, the cubbyhole kitchen, the urban backyard of flagstone, bushes, and gap-toothed fences. "Eventually you might want to push out the back here and create a sunny breakfast room overlooking the garden," the agent said airily as Amanda wondered whether they could afford to pull up the scuffed linoleum.
That was before Amanda knew Christine Saunders and her custom-built mock Georgian on its two-acre ravine lot, with its "media room," "chef's kitchen," and "in-law/au pair suite" in which Christine stored her holiday decorations. Christine lived in the suburbs-but not the suburbs that advertised in weekend supplements. Her neighbors were artfully hidden behind the glades of an adjoining golf course. Inside her house everything vanished as well: children, toys, noise, even Christine's husband, who kept an office somewhere in the vast basement. The few times Amanda had met him were as he emerged, blinking like a ferret, to ask if anyone had seen his car keys.
Amanda no longer felt any of the defiant pride she had once taken in the clutter of her own house, the clutter that announced, I am not a homemaker. I am "at home" to care for my children-not to "make a home." One day I will be returning to the office, where I belong. Until then we can get by with the pressboard bookshelves from college and the pullout loveseat we bought when we moved in together, and my grandmother's lamp, and the milk crates we thought made creative record holders. As for the toys everywhere, they just show what affectionate, nonauthoritarian parents we are. It was the same pride Amanda had once taken in driving an old Volvo wagon instead of the suburbanite's vehicle of choice, the minivan.
Now, as Amanda stared into the overcrowded racks of her twenty-year-old refrigerator, wondering where the new gallon of milk would fit, she felt a nasty pressure building inside her head. She had spent most of the day by the swimming pool at Christine's club. It was the first Tuesday after Memorial Day, and the children had been given one of those mysterious holidays from school ("Teacher Resource/Development-no classes" according to the soggy flyer retrieved from Ben's knapsack). She had stood all morning, knee deep in the kiddie pool, trying to look dignified as Ben spat arcs of water and Sophie screamed in terror at the tiny ripples lapping at her shins. As usual, Amanda and her children were the only ones creating a spectacle. The other mothers rested upon their chaise longues as still and majestic as the gilded figures on Egyptian sarcophagi.
At lunchtime Christine commanded her nanny to take the children to the clubhouse. Amanda joined Christine by the adult pool, where she eagerly accepted a glass of white wine. (Christine was a firm believer in "maternal restoratives," and Amanda was pleased to find that the wine worked upon her like a mild sedative.)
"They can bring us a sandwich here if you like," Christine said, shielding her eyes from the sun. "Thanks-I'm not hungry yet." "Me neither."
Christine resumed her talmudic studying of the latest issue of W; Amanda closed her eyes, lulled by the distant hum of a lawn mower perfecting the tenth green in the valley below. "Aren't you loving this weather?" a voice called out. Amanda turned and squinted. A tall woman in a black string bikini was passing by their little encampment of bags and towels. The bikini set off, like jeweler's velvet, the glistening facets of the woman's figure. Amanda sucked in her stomach. Her own practical one-piece was faded and stretched after many summers of propelling toddlers through the shallow end of her public pool.
"Fabulous," Christine replied. The woman drifted away. "She looks too good for fifty," Christine commented. "Her?" Amanda sat up to take a second look at the disappearing form of the woman.
"No-her." Christine pointed to a photograph of an aging starlet in the magazine, hunched catlike on a bed and dressed in a plunging leopard-print bodysuit. "It's either surgery or airbrushing. What do you think?" "I can't tell." "I'd say both."
Amanda took another gulp of wine and settled back into the cushion but it was no use; she still felt self-conscious. She picked up the novel she had brought along, an experimental work by an expatriate Chinese woman-highly praised by the Times-but she could not concentrate. She could only think about how the white dimpled skin of her thighs resembled raw chicken.
"You want a swim?" Christine asked, rising. "I'm burning up." "You go. I'm fine."
Amanda watched Christine weave her way through the prone bodies, marveling at her sense of ease. Christine had been a lawyer in an earlier life, specializing in intellectual property, "before it was fashionable," as she put it. Bob told Amanda that his colleagues at the Department of Justice still cited an article Christine had written for the Chicago Law Review. Yet in the year since the two women had met, at a play date demanded by their sons, Amanda had never once heard Christine express doubt about the surrender of her career. The only time Christine ever made reference to it was to remark how poorly her job had prepared her for motherhood: "It's not like knowing the doctrine of contributory infringement helps me get Vaseline out of Victoria's hair."
It was not an ease Amanda could share. All her life Amanda had felt herself on a steady trajectory toward some professional goal. The goal wasn't always visible, but she knew it was there. It was why she had studied calculus and biology. It was why she had made herself ill with worry after a poor exam. It was why she and Bob had spent the past ten years paying off her student loans rather than saving for a bigger house. (Her mother had been so proud: a daughter at Brown!) And it was why, at age thirty-five, Amanda could not lie beside a pool on a weekday afternoon without feeling restless.
What of these other women? Amanda cast her eyes over their gleaming haunches. They reminded her of prized thorough-breds, retired from the track, content in their new vocation as broodmares. When they were not grazing by the pool, they were wandering serenely over the landscaped grounds, hair glinting in the sunlight, a genetically perfect clone or two trotting along at their heels. Personal trainers kept their bodies buffed and sculpted purely for aesthetic pleasure, not because the women had any need to exert themselves physically. Where would they exert themselves if they could? Out here in the suburb of Potomac there were not even sidewalks. When a woman was not at the club, she was chauffeuring her kids, flexing, at most, her right foot upon a gas pedal.
Christine reappeared, dipped and glistening. Amanda attempted the first page of her book. In the tiny village in Szechwan province where I was born, there were no dreams. My childhood was dreamless. This is the first thing you must understand about me. A burst of howls announced the return of her children.
Good God, it was nearly six. She had to get dinner started. The broiler chicken she had scooped up on the way home suddenly seemed ambitious. Maybe they should just order takeout- although it would be the second time this week. How would she justify it to Bob? Sorry, but I spent all day drinking at the club and didn't have time to make dinner.
Her head pounding, Amanda looked through the cupboards for something that would be easy to prepare. Pasta. Canned tomatoes. They had been eating a lot of that lately. She opened the fridge again. Despite the fresh infusion from the supermarket, there was still little that would constitute dinner for two adults: peanut butter, bread, yogurt, juice boxes, eggs, the congealed remains of last night's cheese pizza. Amanda searched through the fridge drawers but came up with only a head of Boston lettuce, some apples, a bag of carrots, and an unripe avocado. Her elbow knocked over a full container of grated Parmesan, coating everything in the fridge with white powder, like a snow globe.
"Damn!" "Uh-oh, Mommy use bad word." Sophie wandered into the kitchen stark naked, trailing one of Amanda's scarves. "Sophie," Amanda said tensely, "why did you take off your clothes?"
"I'm playing Indians with Ben." The little girl shook her long brown curls. "I'm an Indian princeth. Will you tie this on me, Mommy?" She held up the scarf.
"No, Mommy will not tie this on you. It is Mommy's good scarf," said Amanda, snatching the scarf away. "And you are not Indians," she added irritably. "You are Native Americans." Sophie burst into tears. Amanda sighed and wrapped the child in her arms. "B-b-but I want to be an Ind-d-d ... a-a-a Natif Merkan princeth."
Amanda dabbed at her daughter's tears with her sleeve and draped the scarf around the thin, shivering body, arranging it, as artfully as she could, to resemble a three-year-old's conception of what Natif Merkan princesses would wear if Natif Merkan princesses shopped at Nordstrom's. "Just this once, Sophie. Next time use a towel." "Natif Merkans don't wear towelth." "Well they don't wear Mommy's good scarves either, sweetie. Off you go."
"I'm hungry," Sophie replied. The telephone rang. Upstairs, Ben began shrieking for his lost princess. Sophie did not budge. "Go!" Amanda pleaded. "I'm hungry!" Amanda answered the phone. It was Bob. "Hi, hon. What's going on there? It sounds like you're surrounded by Apaches."
"Actually, I am." Amanda pushed Sophie out the kitchen door and closed it, keeping it firmly shut with her foot. A second set of shrieks joined the first. "Can you talk for a minute?" "Uh, yeah-sure."
"Do you think we could go out for dinner tonight? Alone? I've got some great news." Amanda brightened. "I'll have to find a sitter-" "Maybe Hannah could come over from down the block. We won't stay out late." "Okay, I'll call you back. But what's the news?" "I'll tell you when I see you."
Amanda hung up and fetched the vacuum cleaner from the hall cupboard. She stepped over Sophie, who lay theatrically on the floor weeping, and ignored Ben's howls. The only upside of vacuuming, she realized, was that it drowned out the screams.
Excerpted from Amanda Bright@Home by Danielle Crittenden Copyright © 2003 by Danielle Crittenden
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted March 27, 2007
It's a really easy and quick read. It's light-hearted and entertaining. Gives stay at home moms something to relate too and ends on a happy note that would never happen in real life, but hey its fiction and meant to entertain us. Who wants to see the main character end up miserable anyway.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 27, 2004
I really enjoyed this story about an intelligent woman in her mid-thirties dealing with the realities of child-rearing, politics (social, school and government), and marriage. It's 'chick-lit' for women my age and a lot of what she wrote about rang true of many smart women who choose to stay home and worry about the loss of their 'identity'. I agree with the reviewer who wished for a more satisfying ending. There's definate character growth but I hoped for a stronger resolution of her relationship dilemmas (particularly with her shallow, playgroup friends).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 18, 2003
Amanda Bright is a degreed, intelligent woman who, like so many women, does not have what it takes to be all things to all people (imagine!). She has decided to stay at home to raise two children because it was just too difficult to do justice to both her kids and her work. I think deep down she knows that staying home with her kids is the right thing FOR HER to do, but she grew up with a women's libber mother who continues to tell her she's wasting herself being a stay-at-home mom. She also remembers the sense of satisfaction and enjoyment she got out of her job prior to having babies. I think her real struggle is this: she wants to stay at home with her kids but she also wants to be recognized and appreciated for this choice as much as she was when her choice initially was to stay in the 'working world' -- and our society just doesn't do that. There was also the money factor. Amanda, hubby and kids live in D.C. on one public sector salary; pretty hard to do in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I understand her dilemma and I know it's one that women all over this country struggle with. The only thing that bothered me was the rosy ending: her hubby gets a $400,000 a year job and fixes everything! If only!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 25, 2003
For any women considering being a Stay at home mom or are one already, do not read this book. It was miserable from start to finish. The characters whining jeolousy of everyone from her husband to her friends was nothing uplifting. Thank god I don't live one aspect of this womens life. If you are considering having children, don't read the book. Thank god this is fiction, and not someones real life! A total waste of time, from start to finish.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In Washington DC, thirty-five years old Amanda wonders if that is all there is in life. Currently, she is a mom raising two small children while her brain atrophies and sex when she can find her spouse Bob is typically 'kid interuptus'. Bob works for the Justice Department where he heading up an antitrust investigation against MegaByte.<P> He is so engulfed in his work, Bob is clueless that Amanda is unhappy, depressed and perhaps nearing collapse. She cringes every time she sees her husband on the news as he has made something of himself while her degree serves as toilet paper. Amanda even dreams of returning to the NEA where she once was gainfully employed. Will Bob see the dual lights in the tunnel of the onrushing train in time to help Amanda before she suffers a breakdown and before he leads the Un-American attack on big business?<P> Though married with children, AMANDA BRIGHT@HOME is a chick lit tale focusing on the woes of the lead female character. Readers will feel for Amanda when her depression seems overwhelming and she cannot breathe, but also wonder over how trivial the cause of the collapse seems. Still readers who believe that a family can save everyone within the unit will savor this tale. Pragmatists, centrists, and the left will prefer Dan Quayle for their family value treatise.<P> Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 24, 2010
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