Two More Book Reviews

Louise Erdrich, The Blue Jay’s Dance and Books & Islands In Ojibwe Country

My father, knowing that Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors, suggested I read her account of motherhood, The Blue Jay’s Dance—and when I told him how much I’d liked it, he sent me the follow-up, Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country. I loved both.

Dad was kind enough to tell me that my blog reminded him of The Blue Jay’s Dance. I think that’s because new motherhood suits itself very well to the style of writing that Erdrich adopts in that book, which is also the essential blog format: short entries, diverse in subject and not necessarily forming any direct chain of thought or experience, but turning and returning to the same themes.

Erdrich’s experiences are of course suffused with the particulars of her own life, but still one of the great pleasures of both books were the moments of recognition, the bits where I said to myself that’s right, that’s right! I did, felt, said, saw the exact same thing!

One of those moments, where she’s describing the power and flexibility of the Ojibwe language:

There are lots of verbs for exactly how people shift position. Miinoshin describes how someone turns this way and that until ready to make a determined move, iskwishin how a person behaves when tired of one position and looking for one more comfortable…Mookegidaazo describes the way a baby looks when outrage is building and coming to the surface where it will result in a thunderous squall.


For at night, as she curls up or sprawls next to me and as I fall asleep, I hold on to her foot. This is as much for my comfort as to make sure that she doesn’t fall off the bed. As I’m drifting away, I feel sorry for anyone else who is not falling asleep this way, holding on to her baby’s foot. The world is calm and clear. I wish for nothing. I am not nervous about the future. Her toes curl around my fingers.

I have written about co-sleeping before, but I skimmed over that part: how very sweet it is to fall asleep with a baby cuddled against you. I don’t hold Robin’s foot; his kicking reflex is too strong for that; but I do fall asleep with one hand around his belly, feeling the rise and fall of his breath. And for anybody who has ever gone to sleep hugging a pillow or a teddy bear, a baby is so much better.

I joke sometimes that a happy baby is my second-favorite kind of baby, but my favorite is a sleeping one. It’s because at these times I am flooded with the same serenity that Erdrich described.

Co-sleeping is nice for the baby too. There’s a whole bit in my baby book that made me feel smug about it:

But be aware of some possible problems ahead: As her separation anxieties intensify in the next few months, she may start to resist going to bed, and she may wake up more often looking for you. During this difficult period, you may need to experiment with several strategies to find those that help your baby sleep. For example, some children go to sleep more easily with the door open (so they can hear you); others develop consoling habits, such as sucking their thumbs or rocking…To repeat, this period can be extremely difficult for parents. After all, it’s emotionally and physically exhausting to listen to your child cry, and you’ll probably respond with a combination of pity, anger, worry, and resentment. But remember, her behavior is not deliberate. Instead, she’s reacting to anxieties and stresses that are natural at her age.

This “difficult period” is not difficult at all if you sleep with your baby! Nor is the baby anxious or stressed. He doesn’t cry, and he doesn’t display his sadness by rocking or thumb-sucking. He wakes up, finds his mommy right there, and instantly, happily, goes back to sleep. Problem solved!

I said before: people have big arguments about this but I don’t see what’s to argue about. Some people do it and some people don’t. Presumably everybody just picks the sleeping arrangements that work best for their family, right? There is nothing here to argue about. And I still believe that. I’m sure co-sleeping isn’t right for every family. But it’s working great for ours.

Anyway! Louise Erdrich! She’s an awfully good writer, and I really like these books.

2 Responses to “Two More Book Reviews”

  • Nina Says:

    ahh, when I heard you say that your favorite baby was sleeping!baby, I assumed that it’s because you were flooded by the sensation of no one near you crying or pooping… but maybe that’s just another way to say “serenity”.

    the co-sleeping does sound cozy! sleeping with three dogs is not quite as idyllic. they are furry and warm and sweet, but they snore. and sometimes at 3 a.m. they decide that they urgently have to walk on my face.

  • shannon Says:

    ha ha! Yes, the freedom from responsibility is definitely a part of what makes sleeping!baby so great–but there’s also more to it.

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