By Rebecca Luber Sullivan
An Amazon search for humor parenting books relies on the shock factor; drinking during playdates and calling whiny toddlers a-holes and letting children watch TV all day while drinking Mountain Dew out of a sippy cup. These books are a departure from the parenting books on the other extreme that put pressure on mothers to breastfeed exclusively, sleep train with military precision, and only feed kids wild raised salmon, organic berries, and quinoa. There’s something in between those extremes, which is what Kelly Corrigan recalls in her funny, yet realistic, memoir Glitter and Glue.
There are mothering memoirs and there are memoirs about mothers. The mothers I tend to read about are dramatic, glamorous, neglectful and manic: mothers of authors Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle, Wendy Lawless in Chanel Bonfire and Diana Welch and Liz Welch in The Kids Are All Right. But Kelly Corrigan’s mom, Mary Corrigan, is as steady as can be, a middle class, devout Catholic, strict and serious mother. Practical, predictable and judgmental and sometimes cold, Mary Corrigan as a mom is the opposite of Greenie, Kelly’s fun loving dad, who she adoringly wrote about in her first memoir, The Middle Place. “She looked at motherhood less as a joy to be relished than as a job to be done.”
“Glitter” and “Glue” refers to Mary’s description of parenthood in the Corrigan household. She was the glue and Greenie was the glitter. Even now, in the most progressive parenting dynamics, Mom is typically the one enforcing bedtime, while Dad is the fun one, wrestling and riling up the kids when they should be calmed down. (It’s maddening!) Dads can be more fun, but moms get things done. Most Moms will be able to relate.
After college in the early 90s, Kelly decided there was no way she was going to “be just another apple rotting at the base of my mother’s tree,” or the glue, and decided to leave her entry level job to travel to Australia. Plans for glittery adventure and working abroad don’t turn out like Kelly envisions, and she ends up taking a job as a live-in nanny to care for the young children of John Tanner, a recent widower. John Tanner does his best, but the kids need their mom, or a mom-like figure.
Through his grief for his wife who died from cancer months before, John Tanner tries to hold it together for Milly (who is wary of Kelly) and little Martin (who laps up affection from Kelly). Kelly realizes what these children need is the steadiness of a mother to cook meals, check homework, and drive them to school and her twentysomething self conjures up memories of her mother to help her get the Tanner family back on track as best as she can. Kelly realizes, through caring for the family, how much her mother taught her and how she needs her mother.
Turns out that every family needs some glue, even though that glue can be so judgmental that she grouses about non-serious churchgoers who just want to see who is at Mass or only show up at Easter and Christmas to show off their outfits. Mary Corrigan’s grumpy diligence as the glue of the family and no-frills attitude, often foiled by Kelly’s desire to be a fun loving young woman, are part of what makes the book as witty as it is heartfelt.
The humor in Glitter and Glue comes not just from experiences, but Corrigan’s telling of them. When Kelly decides to start feeding the Tanner family homecooked meals, she buys ground chuck on sale at the grocery store, remembering: Once or twice a month after a sale, she’d pull a block of anemic brown turds from the freezer, slap it against the Formica to break the patties apart and voila- dinner for five!
Throughout her time with the Tanner family, Kelly reflects on her relationship with her mother. When Kelly wonders who will tell Milly about her period, Kelly remembers Mary giving her the talk and asking if Kelly had any questions. I had noticed something in the Reilly master bathroom the last time I babysat… “What’s a douche?” “Oh, Kelly!” She shrieked like I’d put a centipede on her leg. “That is dis-GUS-ting!” “It is? Even Summer’s Eve?” Mary goes on to describe a douche and then exclaims, “And to think Susan Reilly is a Catholic!”
Glitter and Glue reflects on motherhood and being mothered through the eyes of a woman in her 20s, who thinks she knows everything, but realizes how much her mother really knew all along. Someday our kids will realize this, too… Hopefully all the glue and glitter will look back with humor and love together someday.
Rebecca Luber Sullivan is the mom of a middle school girl and 2 boys (elementary school and preschool-aged). She handles PR for companies in the advertising industry, and would love to do more creative writing instead of writing press releases. www.twitter.com/@rebeccasullivan