It's a bit embarrassing to note that I did read Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, but that I pretty much skipped all the bits that had to do with yoga.
Which, of course, made it faster to read, as the book is really about yoga and Dederer's journey of self-discovery through its practice and discipline. She details her life, marriage, family relationships, and parenting experiences, all set against the backdrop of her native Seattle, but primarily she describes the yoga classes she attends, the poses she seeks to master, and how yoga helped her make sense of her life for more than a decade. She also intersperses stories of her own childhood (a unique one: her mother left her father for another man, but her parents never got a divorce) in 1973.
So what did I read, if I skipped the biggest chunks of the narrative? Well, I cherry-picked it for Dederer's marriage and parenting stories, which were delightfully meaty. When she had her first child, more than ten years ago, "attachment parenting" was the big trend in Seattle: everyone around her was co-sleeping (babies and parents together in one bed), buying organic, and wearing their babies in various slings, as strollers put children at too much of a distance from their parents. Although I am too lazy to do any of those things (I wouldn't give up the stroller for love or money), I still recognized Dederer's feeling that she's a bit of a parenting impostor in a land of other much more driven "perfect mommies." Consider her take on weaning her daughter a bit earlier than is usually accepted in perfect mommy circles:
"Lucy wasn't yet ten months, and I wasn't supposed to quit nursing until at least a year. If you think this sounds like a frivolous dilemma, or not worth losing sleep over, then that just goes to show you were not a new mother in a liberal enclave at the end of the last century.* While I debated whether or not to wean her (and Bruce, my husband, feigned interest), the inevitable occurred. My back went out...so I weaned her.
Now that I've been doing yoga for ten years, I'm tempted to say something wise, such as: I was ready to wean and my body made the decision for me. But back then I didn't believe in that kind of crap. Instead, I paddled around in a complicated gumbo of guilt and relieve. I claimed to feel cheated of my full, god-given, federally mandated year of nursing. I apologized to my husband for my subpar performance. I told my friends: Oh, no! I can't nurse the baby. Inside, I secretly exulted..." (p. 7.)
I found that entertaining. I also found her take on child-rearing in the 1970s fascinating; she makes a big deal out of the feminist movement and how women went to work instead of staying home, as well as how divorce changed American family dynamics. I am a child of the 70s but my experience is directly opposed to hers: although my mother worked on the farm she was also our full-time caregiver. She was also not a fan of "feminism," my mother, although she actually is kind of a feminist.** So, weirdly, this book helped me understand why I often feel kind of out of step with others from my generation.
My other favorite quote from this book came during a story of the author's friend Lisa, who left her husband and four children, and whose experience Dederer sought to understand:
"Lisa followed the first thing that gave her the right to be: wifedom, motherhood. And now she wanted out. When the first thing no longer works, you have to get away from it somehow. You need something to set you free. And everyone knows that in order to leave a marriage, in order to change a family, you need a disaster.
Not the kind of disaster that just falls from nowhere onto your head, like a cartoon Acme anvil. Not a huge disaster, maybe more of a mini-disaster. The kind of disaster you have to build with your own hands. (Like you have to do everything else in this goddamn family.) You have to blow up the palace where you're the queen." (p. 213.)
Come on: "Like you have to do everything else in this goddamn family." That's a good line. I defy any married woman to tell me otherwise. So yeah. I can't tell you if this book was any good because of the actual yoga writing, but women who've been at all puzzled about marriage and children might find something to like here nonetheless.
*Or now. People feel really strongly that you should breastfeed for at least a year. Oh, and it's totally natural and easy, and you are bad at womanhood if you suggest otherwise.
**She did, after all, give me the greatest gift any woman can give her daughter: the confidence to know that I was (and am) loved, and I didn't need attention from boys to give my life purpose. That made high school a lot easier.