As Good as I Could Be: A Memoir of Raising Wonderful Children in Difficult Times

Overview

Having children transforms us — through the amazing power of our love for them and theirs for us, through the anger they can provoke, and because being good parents means we must accept that we are no longer children. In As Good as I Could Be, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles with passion and courage her own imperfect transformation, offering inspiration for other parents doing the best they can.
By relating the trials and triumphs of raising a daughter and a son ...

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As Good As I Could Be: A Memoir About Raising Wonderful Children in an Imperfect World

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Overview

Having children transforms us — through the amazing power of our love for them and theirs for us, through the anger they can provoke, and because being good parents means we must accept that we are no longer children. In As Good as I Could Be, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles with passion and courage her own imperfect transformation, offering inspiration for other parents doing the best they can.
By relating the trials and triumphs of raising a daughter and a son Cheever illuminates some basic truths learned along the way: a family should not be a democracy; teaching your children to celebrate their mistakes helps them forgive yours; and a damaged childhood is not a guarantor of bad parenting. With unflinching honesty, Cheever tackles tantrums, divorce, eating disorders, and alcoholism, celebrating how she and her kids have weathered all this — and more — with love and respect intact.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Philadelphia Inquirer It is Cheever's ability to dive suddenly from the surface to the deeper places of the soul.

Los Angles Herald Examiner Out of the pain of real life, Susan Cheever has created a document that is ultimately a paean to family love.

The New York Times Book Review Cheever's writing has true resonance.

From The Critics
In her latest memoir, Cheever divulges the secrets of good parenting during this age of divorce and single parenthood. In the tradition of Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions, the daughter of writer John Cheever sets out to create an intimate, candid account of raising her own son and daughter that is meant, she writes, to make her readers "feel a little less alone." Unfortunately, this book feels more like a work of penitence; Cheever admits to slapping her daughter, to marrying the wrong men and to hiring the wrong nannies. We understand her guilt and bewilderment, and we see how difficult parenthood can be, but we do not see fully how she guided and nourished her children through all these trying times. Throughout the book, Cheever reminds us that her children are precious and wonderful and that parenting is an act of faith. "Still, I have no idea of how anyone does it," she admits. Ultimately, what this book tells us is that parenting is all about survival and forgetting. Because the narrative lacks the warmth and self-effacing humor that made Lamott's book so inclusive, we remain outside Cheever's experience. We do not feel less alone after reading the book, and we do not learn anything from Cheever's mistakes.
—Susan Tekulve

(Excerpted Review)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Those who look to Cheever's memoirs (Home Before Dark; Note Found in a Bottle) for insights into her father, writer John Cheever, will find this book disappointing. This parenting guide-cum-memoir, based on her weekly New York Newsday columns, focuses instead on her life as a single mom bringing up two good kids her son, James, and daughter, Liley (age 10 and 18, respectively, when she completed the book) despite divorces from each of their fathers, alcoholism and a host of other problems. Cheever's honest, realistic approach to the difficulties of parenting is refreshing, as is her optimistic belief that people can be good parents despite their own unhappy childhoods. At times the book is repetitive (too many descriptions of how great her kids are). While many of her suggestions are sensible it's important to listen to our children others fall short of the mark. She denigrates the value of therapy for children, for instance, despite her own kids' problems (her son is depressed and her daughter has an eating disorder). Working parents who don't have the luxury of flex time may disagree with her blanket rejection of quality time in favor of spending more time with kids. Some essays, like the one on not worrying about what college your child gets into, seem condescending given that Liley is a freshman at Princeton. As a parenting guide, Cheever's is woefully incomplete, but at its best, it is pleasurable, not unlike whiling away a few hours with an encouraging friend, albeit one who brags too much about her kids. Forecast: Cheever's previous books have sold well and have won her name recognition. This one may attract a literary readership intrigued and perhaps impressed by the fact that someone from such a famously dysfunctional family has written a parenting guide. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Noted author and mother Cheever (daughter of the great American writer John Cheever) reflects on the importance of motherhood and tells us what having children has meant in her own life. Although not a how-to manual for raising children, Cheever's memoir will encourage readers in their efforts to follow their own paths in parenting. Cheever talks about her mistakes (e.g., she battled alcoholism for many years, recounted in Note Found in a Bottle, which led to her daughter's health problems) and how she corrects them; she also analyzes her successes, which she attributes to establishing authority in the parent-child relationship. This sense of authority, which is at the core of Cheever's philosophy on parenting, is not absolute and autocratic but rather comes from the belief that parents must leave their childhood behind and become adults in their relationships with their children. This sensitive and touching narrative will appeal to a broad range of readers. Recommended for most libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Kay Brodie, Chesapeake Coll., Wye Mills, MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671034986
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Cheever

Susan Cheever is the bestselling author of thirteen previous books, including five novels and the memoirs Note Found in a Bottle and Home Before Dark. Her work has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Boston Globe Winship Medal. She is a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the Corporation of Yaddo, and a member of the Author's Guild Council. She teaches in the Bennington College M.F.A. program. She lives in New York City with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

From Part One: Real Me

When my daughter was born eighteen years ago, my brother Fred and his wife sent her a stuffed brown bear with a white nose and tummy and a manufacturer's name tag which told us its name was "Snuffles." Snuffles joined the piles of plush bears, dogs, cats, frogs, and clowns in her room; she was my first child and my parents' first granddaughter, two facts which seemed to provoke stuffed animal buying orgies on the part of otherwise sensible people. But slowly, as she grew and learned to grab, cuddle, and express preferences, she gravitated toward Snuffles. As soon as she could gesture, she let us know that Snuffles needed to be in her crib at night. She began regularly falling asleep with her tiny hands nestling in the bear's soft fur. Like all first-time mothers, I had read every baby book from Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach to Margaret Mahler, and I knew that the bear was my daughter's transitional object. I was proud of everything she did, and settling on such an appealing transitional object seemed further evidence of her exceptional intelligence.

Of course she didn't call the bear Snuffles. She was ten months old and innocent of the silly names provided by manufacturers for their products. She didn't even realize it was a bear. She thought it was a male cat and she called it Meow, which she shortened to Me. Me the bear became her most beloved thing, the center of her secure world. "Where's my Me?" she would ask, in her sweet little voice. "Where's Me?"

What the baby books forgot to mention was the devastating effect of too much love. By the time my daughter was two years old, Me was worn and tattered from being caressed, his once gleaming fur had been fondled to a dull, tufted fabric, his button eyes were missing, and his smile kissed away. After a citywide hunt, I located another Me — a new Snuffles — and brought him home triumphantly. My daughter was less than pleased. She added the new bear to her menagerie and continued to sleep with the worn-out old one, amending his name to "Real Me" to distinguish him from the impostor.

By the time my daughter turned three, Real Me was a sorry sight. As he became more tattered, he seemed to become more necessary — especially after my daughter gave up the bottle which had lulled her to sleep. She couldn't even think about bedtime until Real Me was ensconced on her pillow. When we traveled, Real Me was the first thing I packed. As he crumbled, my anxieties soared. What if he was lost? What if he just came apart at the seams one day after a particularly energetic hug? I was convinced that if that happened my daughter would never sleep again. When I slept, I sometimes had nightmares about Real Me. In my dreams he disappeared or disintegrated as I watched helplessly. My psychiatrist asked if I thought my marriage was disintegrating.

One day, shopping in a downtown department store, the escalator took me past the toy department. There, displayed as if he was meant for me to see, was another new Snuffles. This time, I had him wrapped in plain brown paper. That night while my little girl slept, I massacred this new Snuffles with a pair of scissors, reducing him to parts — eyes, nose, ears, and swatches of fur. I crept into her bedroom and stealthily took Real Me from her pillow. With an ear cocked toward the room where she innocently dreamed, I hastily sewed on one new plush leg.

I had a restless night. Had I tampered with the thing my daughter cared about the most, and ruined it forever? Had I failed to respect her feelings for the one object in the household which belonged to her and her alone? Would she notice and be horrified? The next morning I held my breath. She didn't comment. That night at bedtime, I watched terrified as she stroked the new leg in her sleepy ritual. "Mmmm, soft," she said. After that, every few weeks, I replaced a tiny part of Real Me with a part from the new Snuffles. I have continued to replace parts of Real Me with dozens of parts from new Snuffleses I have bought over the years. After a few years, my daughter realized what was happening, but by then my replacement rituals had become as much a part of Real Me as the bear himself, and she accepted the fact that he was a patchwork of old and new.

Real Me sits on my computer as I write this, one-eyed and tattered, his tail all but worn off. It's been a few years since I have replaced a part. As he is fondled less, he wears better. My daughter is with her father this weekend (our marriage was disintegrating). These days Real Me sleeps at the end of her bed in a pile of quilts. She doesn't notice him much, and when she leaves she doesn't take him with her. Her security comes from other things now. I still keep him though: he's a memento of that time long ago when my teenager was a baby, and a proof that although too much love can destroy, it can also repair and mend.

Copyright © 2001 by Susan Cheever

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Table of Contents

Part 1
Real Me 15
The Birth of a Child 18
The Birth of a Parent 26
Might Makes Right? 34
Teacher Versus Parent 42
Stepmother 45
Please Don't Go! 52
Tantrums 58
Divorce 66
It's Not the Divorce That Hurts 73
Children and Therapy 79
School 84
Inventing Adolescence 92
Baby-sitters 99
My Daughter Searches for God 107
Part 2
Rabbit in the Snow 115
Comforts 119
Does Money Help? 124
Clothes 130
The Pedagogy of Parenting: How Do Children Learn? 134
The Ethics of Parenting 142
Pets 147
Teenagers: Why We Hate Them. Why They Hate Us. 154
Avoiding the Broccoli Battles 159
Eating Disorders 162
Children and Alcohol 168
How Love Works 174
Believe 178
Epilogue 188
Acknowledgments 190
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First Chapter

From Part One: Real Me

When my daughter was born eighteen years ago, my brother Fred and his wife sent her a stuffed brown bear with a white nose and tummy and a manufacturer's name tag which told us its name was "Snuffles." Snuffles joined the piles of plush bears, dogs, cats, frogs, and clowns in her room; she was my first child and my parents' first granddaughter, two facts which seemed to provoke stuffed animal buying orgies on the part of otherwise sensible people. But slowly, as she grew and learned to grab, cuddle, and express preferences, she gravitated toward Snuffles. As soon as she could gesture, she let us know that Snuffles needed to be in her crib at night. She began regularly falling asleep with her tiny hands nestling in the bear's soft fur. Like all first-time mothers, I had read every baby book from Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach to Margaret Mahler, and I knew that the bear was my daughter's transitional object. I was proud of everything she did, and settling on such an appealing transitional object seemed further evidence of her exceptional intelligence.

Of course she didn't call the bear Snuffles. She was ten months old and innocent of the silly names provided by manufacturers for their products. She didn't even realize it was a bear. She thought it was a male cat and she called it Meow, which she shortened to Me. Me the bear became her most beloved thing, the center of her secure world. "Where's my Me?" she would ask, in her sweet little voice. "Where's Me?"

What the baby books forgot to mention was the devastating effect of too much love. By the time my daughter was two years old, Me was worn and tattered from being caressed, his once gleaming fur had been fondled to a dull, tufted fabric, his button eyes were missing, and his smile kissed away. After a citywide hunt, I located another Me — a new Snuffles — and brought him home triumphantly. My daughter was less than pleased. She added the new bear to her menagerie and continued to sleep with the worn-out old one, amending his name to "Real Me" to distinguish him from the impostor.

By the time my daughter turned three, Real Me was a sorry sight. As he became more tattered, he seemed to become more necessary — especially after my daughter gave up the bottle which had lulled her to sleep. She couldn't even think about bedtime until Real Me was ensconced on her pillow. When we traveled, Real Me was the first thing I packed. As he crumbled, my anxieties soared. What if he was lost? What if he just came apart at the seams one day after a particularly energetic hug? I was convinced that if that happened my daughter would never sleep again. When I slept, I sometimes had nightmares about Real Me. In my dreams he disappeared or disintegrated as I watched helplessly. My psychiatrist asked if I thought my marriage was disintegrating.

One day, shopping in a downtown department store, the escalator took me past the toy department. There, displayed as if he was meant for me to see, was another new Snuffles. This time, I had him wrapped in plain brown paper. That night while my little girl slept, I massacred this new Snuffles with a pair of scissors, reducing him to parts — eyes, nose, ears, and swatches of fur. I crept into her bedroom and stealthily took Real Me from her pillow. With an ear cocked toward the room where she innocently dreamed, I hastily sewed on one new plush leg.

I had a restless night. Had I tampered with the thing my daughter cared about the most, and ruined it forever? Had I failed to respect her feelings for the one object in the household which belonged to her and her alone? Would she notice and be horrified? The next morning I held my breath. She didn't comment. That night at bedtime, I watched terrified as she stroked the new leg in her sleepy ritual. "Mmmm, soft," she said. After that, every few weeks, I replaced a tiny part of Real Me with a part from the new Snuffles. I have continued to replace parts of Real Me with dozens of parts from new Snuffleses I have bought over the years. After a few years, my daughter realized what was happening, but by then my replacement rituals had become as much a part of Real Me as the bear himself, and she accepted the fact that he was a patchwork of old and new.

Real Me sits on my computer as I write this, one-eyed and tattered, his tail all but worn off. It's been a few years since I have replaced a part. As he is fondled less, he wears better. My daughter is with her father this weekend (our marriage was disintegrating). These days Real Me sleeps at the end of her bed in a pile of quilts. She doesn't notice him much, and when she leaves she doesn't take him with her. Her security comes from other things now. I still keep him though: he's a memento of that time long ago when my teenager was a baby, and a proof that although too much love can destroy, it can also repair and mend.

Copyright © 2001 by Susan Cheever

Read More Show Less

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