By: Phyllis Barrett
Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey
Greencup Books, 2008
Hang in There, Mom! is a collection of lighthearted and humorous vignettes based on a column Phyllis Barrett wrote for the Birmingham News between 1979 and 1987. She writes of the problems and rewards of marriage, rearing children, and aging, and the adjustments in life that each of these demand.
The narrator is a philosophical housewife and mother of five who has a lot of common sense and a good-natured disdain for the opinions of “experts” on the subjects of marriage and parenting. Her husband is “Clipboard Charlie,” a highly organized and punctual person, whose habits are a foil for her disorganization and tardiness. As Barrett puts it, “Gradually, I began to find out what it was like to be first in the parking lot, first in the building, first in line and first at a party. I also discovered the thrill of watching an empty stadium fill to capacity.”
One of the best segments, titled “Please Take Me,” ruminates on the sanitation department’s refusal to pick up any type of old, dilapidated garbage can that is put at the curb to be disposed of rather than emptied. Thought-provoking as well as humorous, this musing speaks of the tunnel vision of our consumer-driven society, as well as our inherent respect for members of our own kind.
While Hang in There, Mom! is often witty, and even hilarious, at times it becomes simply anecdotes of parents coping with teenage foibles and children’s exuberance. Barrett herself admits this and writes: “There’s only so much that can be written about spilled dye, smashed eggs, complaining kids and frazzled nerves.” Many of us have been through these things, but we don’t necessarily want to read about them, and therefore relive those experiences, unless the author brings a fresh perspective or makes us laugh, as Barrett often does.
The experiences of a full-time housewife and mother in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s seem a little outdated in today’s world, where many women have expanded their place in society to include careers. If it had been written by a mother in the present day, there would have probably been a segment on the problems of daycare, rather than on the time-consumptive activity of being a volunteer for PTA and Boy Scouts. Nevertheless, Hang in There, Mom! makes an entertaining read.
Rebecca Dempsey is a graduate student at the University of Montevallo.