You’ll Grow Out of It, Jessi Klein

There are plenty books I recommend across the board. It’s rare that I talk about a book that I know won’t appeal to a family friendly audience, but this one – by a comedienne and writer on the sketch show Inside Amy Schumer – is neither family friendly nor intended for all audiences. It’s hilarious and excellently written, but it’s not for everyone.

186c98c0323fd6c5cf1008b23d0e36edIf you’re not familiar with the television show Inside Amy Schumer, you may well be on the list of readers who will want to skip this book. My husband and I stumbled across it right after our son was born, and in a sleepless haze, we burned through most of the episodes over the course of two months, occasionally succumbing to fits of silent laughter, tears streaming down our faces while the baby slept in our arms.

Recently, we watched an episode with a sketch about a lamaze class, and at this point, we’ve probably played that five minute clip about twenty times. We quote it at the park when we run into intolerable or ridiculous parenting, and we quote it at home when our own kid is running around like a tiny naked savage before bathtime.

My husband was also the one who sent me the recommendation for this book. He hadn’t gotten around to finishing it yet, but what he’d read, he knew I’d like. He was right. I ate it up. My favorite chapter was called “Poodle vs wolf.”

One late night when I was working at SNL, I wandered out of my office for a break and saw that some random TV in the hallway was tuned to an interview with Angelina Jolie (I think it was with Charlie Rose, who was shamelessly hitting on her, as is his wont when he interviews a pretty lady). I wandered over to watch, as did Emily, one of the senior writers there at the time and an all-around hilarious and fabulous lady. We both stared at Angelina in awe.

“Isn’t it amazing,” Emily asked, “that we’re the same species she is? It doesn’t even feel like we are the same species.”

“I know,” I said. I continued the riff: It’s like with dogs. A poodle and a wolf are both technically dogs, but based on appearances, it doesn’t make any conceivable sense that they share a common ancestor. We decided that some women are poodles and some women are wolves. And no matter what a wolf does (puts on makeup, or a thong), it will still be a wolf, and no matter what a poodle does (puts on sweatpants), it will always be a poodle.

[….]

BUT BEING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT WHAT MAKES YOU A POODLE OR A WOLF. There are millions of beautiful wolf women out there. It’s how much of the beauty feels like work, like maintenance. It’s a very French concept, which is probably why we think every actual poodle was born in France and we always imagine them in berets. (loc 581)

I’ve always struggled with the marriage of femininity and being a woman. Being a mother is something that feels very natural to me, as does caring for others – both of which are considered “feminine” characteristics. Putting on makeup or any outfit that doesn’t include questionably clean jeans and a tee shirt? Makes me feel like a horse in heels. And although I consider myself to be a sensible and reasonably intelligent person, there was genuinely a part of me, when I got married, that expected to wake up the next day ready to wear dresses and enjoy cooking (or at the very least become a competent enough meal planner that every day didn’t look like my first in the kitchen…).

I kept waiting for the moment when I would “grow up” – in this case, “grown up” meaning that I looked and acted the way mothers of my childhood looked and acted. Sure, they all worked outside the home, but they also were primary caregivers, doing the housework, the shopping, the laundry, the child care. (For the record, the fathers I knew and know did share some of that load, and most of them now do much more of it – my own father is the ultimate dish/laundry/vacuum king, and has been for years.)

And even though I’ve never specifically thought of myself as someone struggling with gender identity, reading Klein’s lighthearted take on the issue made me realize that my entire life, I’ve had expectations based on observation that have zero to do with reality, or at least my reality. Those expectations have pressed down on me, led me to spend money on products I don’t need or want simply to try to buy my way into becoming a poodle, when really, being a wolf makes me happy. (Honestly, just the thought of those two animals:  wolves are rugged and have a pack. Poodles are intelligent but have always seemed reserved to me – mild mannered even in their athleticism.)

Like Klein, I have a great admiration for “poodle” women. They seem to sit in their skin so easily, as if being a graceful, elegant, well-mannered woman was no chore at all. (In comparison, I’m currently eating handfuls of Cheerios straight from the box while trying to remember the last time I saw my comb…) Reading her book was much like reading Tina Fey’s, in that it felt like a whisper of truth. It’s a truth I didn’t even know I was looking for, and I’m certain that if I had been, I wouldn’t have expected to find it in this book.

Nevertheless, there it was. A hallelujah moment hidden in plain sight, amongst the jokes and the self-deprecation. I love to laugh, so it shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does when I find wisdom in my favorite escape, when women like me – strong but also questioning – hold some of the answers that I’ve been searching for.

 

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