Synopses & Reviews
Award-winning author Jeanne Marie Laskas has charmed and delighted readers with her heartwarming and hilarious tales of life on Sweetwater Farm. Now she offers her most personal and most deeply felt memoir yet as she embarks on her greatest, most terrifying, most rewarding endeavor of all….
A good mother, writes Jeanne Marie Laskas in her latest report from Sweetwater Farm, would have bought a house in the suburbs with a cul-de-sac for her kids to ride bikes around instead of a ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere with a rooster. With the wryly observed self-doubt all mothers and mothers-to-be will instantly recognize, Laskas offers a poignant and laugh-out-loud-funny meditation on that greatest–and most impossible–of all life’s journeys: motherhood.
What is it, she muses, that’s so exhausting about being a mom? You’d think raising two little girls would be a breeze compared to dealing with the barely controlled anarchy of “attack” roosters, feuding neighbors, and a scheme to turn sheep into lawn mowers on the fifty-acre farm she runs with her bemused husband Alex. But, as any mother knows, you’d be wrong.
From struggling with the issues of race and identity as she raises two children adopted from China to taking her daughters to the mall for their first manicures, Jeanne Marie captures those magic moments that make motherhood the most important and rewarding job in the world–even if it’s never been done right. For, as she concludes in one of her three a.m. worry sessions, feeling like a bad mother is the only way to know you’re doing your job.
Whether confronting Sasha’s language delay, reflecting on Anna’s devotion to a creepy backwards-running chicken, feeling outclassed by the fabulous homeroom moms, or describing the rich, secret language each family shares, these candid observations from the front lines of parenthood are filled with love and laughter–and radiant with the tough, tender, and timeless wisdom only raising kids can teach us.
Beloved columnist Laskas explores the often-weird, always-wondrous landscape of motherhood in this soulful, witty, extraordinarily wise collection of essays.
About the Author
Jeannne Marie Laskas is a columnist for The Washington Post Magazine, a GQ correspondent, and the author of Fifty Acres and a Poodle and the award-winning The Exact Same Moon. A professor in the creative writing program at the University of Pittsburgh, she also writes the "My Life as a Mom" column for Ladies Home Journal. She lives with her husband and two children at Sweetwater Farm in Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania.
Reading Group Guide
Delighting readers with her tales of Sweetwater Farm, award-winning memoirist Jeanne Marie Laskas now shares more personal stories of her life there, paying tribute to the exhilarating experience of being a mother, in a world that has some downright silly notions about perfect moms.
Brimming with scenes that are by turns heartwarming and hilarious, Growing Girls weaves the lives of Jeanne Marie’s two young daughters, Sasha and Anna, with episodes of their family’s ever-growing backdrop of lively livestock. From the anarchy of pecky roosters to the complexities of turning sheep into lawnmowers, the chaos of the fifty-acre farm matches the daily bedlam of life with two highly creative little girls. Jeanne Marie also conveys the trials of competitive homeroom moms, along with naysayers who raise questions about her daughters’ legacy of adoption from China. Speaking to the blend of self-doubt and profound maternal love that every parent will recognize, this is a book to cherish.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jeanne Marie Laskas’s Growing Girls. We hope they will enrich your experience of this inspiring celebration of motherhood.
1. Though Jeanne Marie expresses some wry shame over raising her children on a ramshackle farm, what actually makes this the ideal setting for a family? What discoveries about life do her children make at Sweetwater Farm that they would never know if they lived in suburbia?
2. What universal fears and adjustments, experienced by most parents, are captured in Jeanne Marie’s first encounters with Sasha?
3. Discuss Anna’s attachment to Birthday and the other chickens. Did you have a similar cluster of “playmates” when you were a child? What do these imaginary worlds of childhood predict about our personalities?
4. What do Sasha’s language challenges reveal about the concept of language and communication in general? To what extent does every family create its own vocabulary–even a nonverbal one?
5. What does the story of Luna the Sheepdog indicate about Alex and Jeanne Marie, and the world of livestock rules in general? Do farmers and ranchers have to follow these rules, particularly the ones regarding emotional detachment, in order to be successful?
6. Have you ever had a period of silence with a friend or neighbor like the one Alex had with George?
7. How did you react to the issues of mothering raised in “Fossils”? What portrait of family is offered in the haunting initial paragraphs of this chapter? What accounts for the competitive, expensive expectations of contemporary mothers described in Jeanne Marie’s Valentine’s Day memory?
8. What non-material aspects of life and love do Jeanne Marie and Alex emphasize with their children? Are twenty-first-century families more materialistic than those of your parents’ generation? What determines whether a family becomes materialistic?
9. In “A Day at the Mall,” the author encounters the phrase “transracial abduction” and discusses the controversy over her decision to adopt children from China. Why has this topic become controversial in some circles? How would you respond to those who disapprove of Jeanne Marie’s family?
10. In what ways do Jeanne Marie and Alex try to honor their children’s birth families and ancestry while making them feel secure in their adoptive families? What do their attempts to learn Chinese with their daughters indicate about the way identities are shaped?
11. What are Jeanne Marie’s strategies for juggling life as a working mother? Have you ever had an experience similar to her gas-pump extraction story? What is the best way to prevent burnout? Is being a parent also in some ways the ultimate energizer?
12. What experiences of loss and maternal love were illustrated in the powerful closing scene of “Killing a Sheep”? In what ways does the animal world of Sweetwater Farm underscore the cycles of life in the human world?
13. In “The Foggiest Notion,” a farrier derides the author and her husband for using horses as “expensive lawn ornaments.” What should the appropriate role of animals be in our lives? How did we develop our notions of which animals should serve as pets and which ones should be put to work?
14. What is unique about the process of growing a girl? As their skills and traits emerged, how did Sasha and Anna also develop their sense of what it means to be a girl–especially an American girl?
15. In her closing lines, Jeanne Marie tells us that motherhood rescued her. How did this prove to be true throughout her memoir? In what ways do children rescue us?
16. How has the author’s outlook on life changed over the course of her three books, which include her debut, Forty Acres and a Poodle, and The Exact Same Moon? How do her current notions of family compare to the days before she had become a mother?