Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Book Plug: Waiting for Birdy

A family friend, Catherine Newman, has a weekly column at, about her life as the mother of Ben (now 5) and, more recently, Abigail, referred to since conception as Birdy. A book of her columns plus new material is now out; as it covers her second pregnancy and the first few months of Birdy's life, it's called Waiting for Birdy. Her book signings have been big successes. I've been hearing about this for a while: "Catherine has a following! People recognize her on the street!" I didn't get it. At my mother's house this weekend, I picked up her copy of the book, and ended up reading the whole thing. Oh, now I get it:
I know it's totally normal for toddlers to be fearful, but it's just so sad. One day you have this joyful child bouncing through your house like a rubber ball, and the next day he staggers to the breakfast table all haggard with worry, like an extra on the set of A Clockwork Orange. You can practically see the fears lounging around in his psyche, helping themselves to another bowl of cereal while they plan their latest attack: "Okay, you — yes you, Unshakeable Terror of Drains — you're up today." I can hardly stand it.
"What's 'drown'?" Ben suddenly thought to ask one night, and a million terrible thoughts unspooled immediately in my mind. I remembered that, like, 20-page section on drowning in the book The Perfect Storm, which describes, in shattering detail, how long you can keep yourself from inhaling underwater, and then how it might feel as your lungs fill up with the sea. Nah. I thought about Titanic — those countless good people rolling off the tilted deck and into the dark water, like potatoes into a stew pot. Nah.

How do you balance the requirements of honesty with the risk of a life-long terror of water? Because believe me — we're bathing infrequently enough as it is. "It's like swimming," I finally said, "only, um, the water makes you too tired." Michael overheard this and raised his eyebrows at me. "Nice one," he teased, "really clear and honest."

My friend Barbara laughed when I told her about my equally lame explanation of "war." "Ah," she said, "you went with 'The mean guys who can't share.' We went with 'Greedy guys who don't know how to use their words.' Similar approaches."
Here's the book link; here's the column archive.

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