Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days: An Almost Completely Honest Account of What Happened in Our Family When Our Youngest Son, His Wife, Their Baby, Their Toddler, and Their Five-Year-Old Came to Live with Us for Three Months by Judith Viorst, originally published by the Free Press, 2007, now available in a number of formats through Amazon and at the library. (The above is an Amazon affiliate link.)
To be honest, I haven’t been doing a lot of book reading these days. It seems as if every waking moment that I’m not spending on anything else I’m devouring articles about the election. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love books and have ones that I recommend, and I can’t believe that I’ve never posted about this one. I bought it in hardback when it first came out and vividly remember reading it aloud in the car to my husband and son. The title is a takeoff of Viorst’s earlier children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Very Bad Day. Same guy, but now he’s married with three children, needing a place to stay while his family’s house is being remodeled. So his parents invite the tribe to stay with them rather than renting a place. It turns out to be quite an adventure.
I love books that have a strong authorial voice, and especially those that echo my own personality. Oh my! Do I ever relate to Judith, whether she’s slipping an article underneath her son’s bedroom door about the dangers of too much bike riding, or trying to nonchalantly remind him about the instability of the big oak dresser upstairs, or restraining herself from shrieking about chocolate coming anywhere near her beloved velvet furniture. (I’m that way about my beloved dining room table and anything that could possibly scratch it.) She’s very self-aware, though, as I hope I am. Here’s a representative passage:
It’s inevitable, I suppose, that living, as Milton and I are now living, in close quarters with our resident grown-up children, there are bound to be opportunities–lots of opportunities–for intergenerational irritations. Some of them, however, some of us parents might be able to avoid by repeating the following mantra twice a day:
Don’t judge, advise, or criticize.
Respect their boundaries and choices.
Accept who they are.
Well, sometimes we need to repeat it ten times a day. And then we must try to abide by what we say. I’m doing my best.That doesn’t mean that I always succeed in keeping my mouth shut when I should keep my mouth shut. But I don’t understand those parents who won’t even try.
For me, the greatest delight of this book is that it reminds me of my own wonderful family, both immediate and extended, and how much I enjoy spending time with them. The long trips taken with my in-laws. The family reunions at the beach. The Thanksgivings and Christmases. This afternoon we’re heading over to said in-laws for dinner, so I’m trying to get this post done and my newsletter out before we leave. We haven’t had our usual Sunday-afternoon lunch for a couple of weeks, so it’ll be nice to see them.
Great takeaway: “And then we must try to abide by what we say.” A great reminder to me, as a champion maker of resolutions that I don’t keep,
Eventually the 90 days end and everyone goes back home. It’ been a great time, and now it’s over. One more quotation, only one, I promise: “I am full of smiles and tears at the same time, full of the difficult knowledge that I can’t, as the poet once put it, ‘cage the minute within its nets of gold.'”
Well, you need to read the whole thing. Only 113 pages of big type, and every one of them full of wisdom. Well, well worth the time.