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March 24, 2011

The original chronicler of motherhood

Lately I’ve been turning to Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books whenever I’m in need of parenting guidance. (I am also reading another book called Toddler Taming that recommends spanking and tying up children with rope, quite unabashedly, but then it was written in 1984 when that sort of thing was de rigueur. But actually, casual cruelty aside(!), it’s a great book. Just let me explain… Review to come.) I love Shirley Hughes, and I really love Alfie, and Harriet loves him too, so we’ve read his stories an awful lot.

And I don’t think the experience of parenthood has ever been better articulated in literature than with this one paragraph from Alfie Gets in First: “Mum put the brake on the push-chair and left Annie Rose at the bottom of the steps while she lifted the basket of shopping up to the top. Then she found the key and opened the front door. Alfie dashed in ahead of her. “I’ve won, I’ve won!” he shouted. Mum put the shopping down in the hall and went back down the steps to lift Annie Rose out of her push chair. But what do you think Alfie did then?”

This kind of tedious maneuvering is the story of my life, and if you’ve ever lived such a life, you understand that Mum has spent ages strategizing the perfect order in which to perform the tasks that will deliver her children and groceries into her house with maximum efficiency. I absolutely adore that recognition. Never mind Rachel Cusk as chronicler of motherhood, no, Shirley Hughes absolutely did it first.

I love her illustrations, and am fascinated by the interior of Alfie’s house. Harriet likes to comb the pictures for teapots, and I love to spot what else is cluttering the corners: discarded shoes, soccer balls, old ties, umbrellas, toy teacups, tennis rackets, folded strollers, and acorns.

Though Alfie’s mum, however rumpled, is a far better mum/mom than I am. Which I’m absolutely fine with, having chosen to take Alfie and Annie Rose’s dad as the parent upon which I model myself. He’s not around as much as Mum (and there I fall short. I never seem to go away), but when he is around, he’s usually behind a newspaper. I love that when in Alfie’s Feet, he takes Alfie to the park, he takes care to bring his book and his newspaper. A parent after my own heart, I think, and Alfie doesn’t seem any less content as he splashes through the puddles, his dad reading the paper on a park bench behind him.


4 thoughts on “The original chronicler of motherhood”

  1. Heidi says:

    Oh my, that maneuvering! It is definitely more challenging in a city, without a car, and with more than one child. And in snow. Entering a store is an epic event. Tomorrow I need groceries and I don’t know what on earth I’m going to do.

  2. Deborah says:

    As my late mother used to pencil into the margins of her books: “How True!”. And still with my children in their twenties we can’t stop from reading about Alfie and Lucy and Tom, and all the rest, examining every illustration – again – for details we might have missed or rereading the part where Tom had had too much Christmas, or was it birthday, and needed to take a walk outside with his grandfather.

  3. Alyssa says:

    First I’ve heard of the Alfie books before. Can’t wait to discover them!

  4. Kelly says:

    I too have never heard of the Alfie books, but have put in a request at the library now. I love this description. As a naturally clumsy/disorganized/impractical person, I take great and perhaps pathetic delight in achieving minor triumphs like managing groceries, stroller, and two children, but now that I think of it, I don’t see it much reflected in what I read.

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