Mother on Fire

Wow, someone has finally written a book for me, I thought when I first saw that Sandra Tsing Loh — long one of my favorite writer-performers — had written a memoir that was actually subtitled A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting. You can keep your cutesy-poo tales of motherhood; I need something with more edge.

As it happens, though, this isn’t really about motherhood at all. ”This is a story about the year I exploded into flames. Which turns out to be more common than you’d think, among fortysomething humans,” Loh writes. It was the year she lost her job at NPR, thanks to a certain word she blurted on air. And it was the year her older daughter, Hannah, was finally ready for kindergarten, when she and her husband, Mike, discovered that their lovely old Spanish-style bungalow, nestled in a neighborhood of $700,000 homes, was situated smack in the middle of, as she puts it, ”a public school MINEFIELD.” Naturally, this was the sort of thing that had never occurred to them when, childless and carefree, they had bought the place.

So before you know it, Loh — free-thinking, progressive Loh — is infected with the desperation and fear of other moms at her daughter’s nursery school. Faced with the horrors of the elementary school down the street (a school she never even bothers to visit, by the way), she immediately begins to cadge and wheedle her way into the admissions process at various private schools. This is undoubtedly a humiliating process, for parents and child alike, and in Loh’s hands, it has moments of both hilarity (her visit to the city’s most exclusive kindergarten) and sadness (when Hannah botches an entrance exam).

I’m not making light of Loh’s dilemma — as a parent, I can’t imagine having to deal with substandard city schools for my kids. But I expected something better from Loh, something more typical of her acidic performance pieces. It’s not that Mother on Fire isn’t funny. It’s that the shallow, one-note humor gets old awfully fast. And Loh’s biting trademark social commentary is nowhere to be found. C

Mother on Fire
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