Welcome to the latest stop on Ayun Halliday’s whirlwind “Dirty Sugar Cookies” virtual book tour. Ayun asked if I would do this, and I couldn’t say no. I am powerless to resist the charms of anyone who writes as she does. And if you read “The Big Rumpus” or “No Touch Monkey” or “Job Hopper,” you know what I mean.
As much as I love her (and my love borders on the inappropriate), when I read "The Big Rumpus," it bothered me. Actually, only one phrase bothered me. Two words! But so much so that it colored my opinion of the entire book, even though I laughed and wept throughout the rest of the book. So when she emailed about the tour, I knew I had to mention it. Below is our email discussion on the phrase in question:
Me: “I read The Big Rumpus when Henry was just born, and I literally loved it to pieces. It dissolved from overuse. But I must tell you, there was one part that bugged me. That made me want to write you letters. Or, you know, one letter. It was where you were discussing the joys of nursing and referred to giving a woman giving her baby a bottle 'the hairy eyeball.' (Or you saw someone else giving said hairy eyeball.)
As someone who was completely incapable of nursing, and god did I want to, this made me cry. And I thought, really? What if the woman had adopted? What if she had no breasts? Is the hairy eyeball ever okay?
Unless I misunderstood and this is shorthand for 'the hairy eyeball of understanding.'”
I wrote this and then cowered in a corner of my room, rocking back and forth and petting an old sock, so worried was I that one of my writer-heroes would hate me for my critique.
And here’s Ayun’s response (which I read through my fingers):
“Oh my god, I got so worried when I read the end of your letter that for the first time in years, I reread the entire breastfeeding chapter of the Big Rumpus, terrified that five years ago, I had committed to something flip and nasty, trying to be funny.
Here's what I found at the end of the chapter:
(following an anecdote about a woman getting kicked out of barnes and noble for breastfeeding in the junior aisle) ‘There's rarely trouble when a child drinks from a bottle in public. Occasionally I have seen a mother hunched over her child like someone caught shoplifting as a park bench of proud breastfeeders gives her bottle the hairy eyeball.’
What I wanted to do w/ that sentence is turn the tables and show a scene where a bunch of (breastfeeding) mothers gang up on and exclude another (bottlefeeding) mother for something totally benign and normal and not their business. You know, treat her like she's a stupid little
bush-deer and they're the big, bad-ass jaguars who rule the jungle. To use your phrase, never okay. Never okay for the breastfeeders to judge the bottlefeeders, never okay for the bottlefeeders to judge the breastfeeders, especially not in the land of the free, yo!
So, I wish I'd written the sentence better or longer or something, so that it conveyed what I wanted it to convey, but thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain myself and bringing the matter up in such a polite, non-hostile way. Actually, this sentence kind of makes ME want to cry, b/c of how unfairly and often the mothers of little children get judged, when they're working their butts off taking care
of their kids.”
Can I tell you how happy this made me? Just like that, whoosh, all the badness got washed away. And while this isn’t a Big Rumpus book tour, I asked Ayun if I could use this exchange, seeing as how misunderstandings seem to be the order of the day around this place. Just as I thought Ayun was a breastfeeding bottle-hater, people seem to think I’m out to murder senior citizens! Or, wait, just laugh at them? Either way, wrong wrong wrong, all of us! Let the healing begin. Or something.
None of this has much to do with Dirty Sugar Cookies, which is described on the back cover (and I concur) as “an omnivorous, rollicking chronicle of culinary awakening.” Part memoir and part cookbook, it served up childhood memories of the Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook far too vividly (Bunny Salad, anyone?), and after reading it I will never drink grape Fanta ever again, not that I was considering it, but STILL. I’m also looking forward to making Postcoital Pancakes (rowr) or Monkey Brain Tartare (delightfully monkey-free!). And the part about finding her Gran’s rice custard recipe made me cry--which is weird because we all know I’m a heartless senior-loathing robot that was constructed without tear ducts. Ayun can be both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time, and my only remaining problem with her is that she makes it look way too easy. I don’t think she gets enough credit.