Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The Yummy Mummy’s Ultimate Family Survival Guide
By Liz Fraser
May 2007, ISBN 9780007243686, RRP $29.99
Liz Fraser’s Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide was a refreshing antidote to the “perfection” often espoused by parenting handbooks. Her latest guide The Yummy Mummy’s Ultimate Family Survival Guide goes a step further, turning family survival into a form of entertainment. This isn’t really a how-to guide. Rather, it’s a lighthearted, fun, and often ribald read which other yummy mummys will relate to, finding simpatico, camaraderie, and a lot of laughs. The book has an unusual structure. It has been designed to follow through the typical rooms of a family home, and using those rooms as a metaphor for family life and the kinds of activities that go on in them. Fraser’s prose has a light, chatty style, and the narration is set up as a kind of tour as she welcomes you into her home and introduces issues as they might occur within each room.
The book starts with the foundations of the house at the front porch which serves as a kind of introduction to the whole notion of family life, and then moves through the front porch and questions about matrimony, the entrance hall and issues about etiquette and family admin. The book progresses through the cupboard under the stairs and questions of household tidiness and chores, the pantry with issues on food and storage, the kitchen and cooking, the dining room and eating; the living room and television; the playroom and friendships/toys; the landing and family dynamics; the master bedroom and marriage issues including sex, conversation and keeping love alive; the children’s bedrooms and teaching; the extension and pregnancy/birth/increasing family size; the guest bedroom and dealing with parents and in-laws, the study and work/childcare; the bathroom and medical issues (including nits!); the toilet and training; the attic and travelling; the garden and playground/green living; the garden shed and hobbies. The connections as I’ve described them are fairly tenuous, and often each chapter covers a lot more than one topic. Often too, the metaphor is a little stretched. But overall it makes for an interesting and certainly unique way of looking at family life. This house is a little bigger than most, and the path through it is a winding one with plenty of overlap. It might have been easier to follow some kind of progressive structure, although life doesn’t always occur progressively either – moving simply from marriage to babies to teens to aging, and perhaps the structure of The Yummy Mummy’s Ultimate Family Survival Guide recognises that. The book has a broad focus and in addition to providing entertainment, also provides a number of rather useful tips. For example, in the kitchen, there are some practical ideas for making dinner time easier, including a few simple recipes for fish and stir fries:
I am aware that this list borders on the Offensive to My Intelligence, and I am starting to feel Gordon Ramsay breathing fury and contempt down my neck. But I stick with it, knowing that a great many people still cannot think of anything to make for dinner, feel that cooking is an unfathomable challenge and an ordeal, and go to the chippy three nights a week to break up the microwave-meal monotony. (84)
Although the book remains positive and celebrative of the joy that family life can bring, Fraser certainly doesn’t sugar coat it or suggest, at any point, that parenting is an easy thing. Instead, she provides funny anecdotes that most parents will readily relate to, and may also learn something from. For example, in the playroom, Fraser talks about going on holiday and not packing toys. Instead she brings blank paper, pens scissors, glue and tape. While initially the children are restless and bored, but after that:
Stones become little people and piles of leaves and grass their homes. Paper is fashioned into clothing, restaurant order sheets, aeroplanes, diaries, wobbly boats, fans and trumpets. They invent new games simply by lying on their backs and using various cracks on the ceiling as prompts. Most of the time what they come up with is beyond anything we boring, unimaginative adults could understand, and that’s why it’s so special. (133)
In the children’s playroom, Fraser provides some excellent ideas for becoming a better parent, starting with a reminder that there are no problem kids, only problem parents. She’s absolutely right, but no guilt please. Instead, Fraser urges the reader to take time out to catch up with old friends, secure the use of a good babysitter, and keep up your hobbies. This is not a book for prudes. Fraser’s language is often fairly colourful with plenty of “f” words scattered through her otherwise silky prose. But the result is that this reads like a natter you might have at playgroup – candid, fun, and to the point. After graphic discussions of childbirth and lochia, there’s probably not point trying to make any pretence at refinement. Instead, there is ‘been there, done that’ advice which is never condescending or overly confident about everything from organising the cupboards to dealing with tantrums. It’s a lot of fun to read, and might even provide some advice that will save your sanity. At the very least there will be plenty of laughs at Fraser’s house.