It’s a familiar struggle. Your child is seated in front of a full plate of nutritious food, flatly refusing to consume a single morsel. You barter. You beg. You threaten. Level them with statistics about their good fortune. Enforce rules about mealtime attentiveness. Give praise for small successes.
Finally, you collapse into exhaustion and renege on refusals to allow dessert, knowing that at least ice cream has enough fat and calories to sustain them to the next morning. Outwardly, you’re trying your darndest to model polite, calm behavior while in your mind there may be an array of choice words you try to never use around the kids.
Author Adam Mansbach feels your pain. After achieving unexpected success (and 41 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list) with his first book, “Go The [expletive deleted] to Sleep,” Mr. Mansbach tackles another common challenge for modern parents, the often mighty struggle to encourage your child to eat. “You Have to [expletive deleted] Eat” has been long-anticipated by Mansbach’s wide fanbase (including some illustrious admirers like actor Samuel L. Jackson who famously narrated the audiobook) and it arrived in bookstores everywhere on Nov. 12.
Mansbach’s children’s-style book for adults is as innovative as it is funny. Owen Brozman, a Brooklyn-based graphic illustrator, shows a cross-armed, sour-faced child surrounded by ring-tailed lemurs and piles of fruits and vegetables. Soothing, lyrical prose is punctuated by irreverent and plentiful profanity. A sample page shows lambs grazing and adorable bunnies, painted in the idyll of a pastoral setting: “The bunnies are munching on carrots, the lambs nibble grasses and bleat. I know you’re too hungry to reason with, but you have to [expletive deleted] eat.”
Actor Bryan Cranston, most recently acclaimed for his "Breaking Bad" performance, has narrated the audiobook version of the story for US audiences. Actor and comedian Stephen Fry and comedian Dave Hughes have leant their voices to the UK and Australian versions of the audiobook, respectively.
Sophomore efforts to repeat a meteoric success can sometimes have dubious outcomes, but it’s hard to say if that will be the case for Mansbach. He seems to have wisely chosen to put a few years and a carefully-selected topic between his first best-seller and the new book. It’s possible that this new expletive-laced book will now come in a boxed set with its predecessor for baby showers and holiday gifts.
A book like this might not have succeeded years ago, but a confluence of cultural factors (smart phones, blogs, social media) makes this book welcomed by many contemporary parents yearning for an honest approach to parenting issues. This generation is not soothed by delicately worded tomes filled with earnest parenting advice – we are yearning for the kind of bawdy authenticity being offered in Mansbach’s pages.
Perhaps beginning with Anne Lamott’s vulnerable and hilarious "Operating Instructions," followed by the success of books and blogs like "The Honest Toddler" (ghost-written by mother Bunmi Laditan) and "Safe Baby Handling Tips" by David and Kelly Sopp, the era of get-real parenting materials has arrived.
Universal parental battles like sleep and eating can be fraught with agony. When they don’t go well, these struggles can tear away at our sense of success and worth and we want to know we are not alone.
This book and it’s prequel not only acknowledge, but also celebrate, our collective failures and allow us an escape from the shame that can come with these many failed attempts.
Parenthood can be a mighty endeavor and sometimes all that overworked and exhausted caregivers wish for is a little empathy and vindication.
Adam Mansbach has generously offered parents a little empathy and vindication for their efforts, as well as a hearty dose of much-needed gallows humor. It’s a winning combination.
Leaving us only to wonder, again, what’s next for this delightful formula. Based on my own current struggles with a 4-year old, further sequels might include, “Why The [expletive deleted] Won’t You Listen?”
Just a suggestion.