Book Review: I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids by Jen Kirkman
I Can Barely Take Care of Myself
by Jen Kirkman
Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: April 16, 2013
I am a childfree (CF) lady, just like Jen (I feel like we’re on a first name basis with each other since she responded to my tweet when I flipped out on Twitter about how much I loved this book). We’re both in our thirties and we seem to have the same sense of humor. Beyond that, our lives segue onto very different paths, but for a brief moment in time, while reading her book, I felt as though she could be my doppelgänger.
And being childfree (especially by choice, which I am) while trying to find others like you isn’t always easy. I’ve almost made it through every book on the subject and I’m always on the look-out for more (granted, there are maybe only seven books total, but writing that makes me seem like a scholar on the subject). When a book can combine self-deprecating humor and embarrassing personal anecdotes to tackle a subject like this, I’m instantly enthusiastic.
So I messaged Jen seconds after putting the book down (warning: contains some non-grandmother approved words):
@JenKirkman Just finished your book (I work in a bookstore & got an advance)…F**KING BRILLIANT.
@JenKirkman I could relate to everything. It’s said all the time, but I kept thinking you were writing about me….
@JenKirkman CF guilt? Chk. Saying “well, maybe”? Chk. 13 yrs. of ballet & no body fat? Chk. Weight gain after marriage? Chk. Anxiety? CHK!
@JenKirkman The list goes on and on and on…anyway, thank you. I’m going to be hand-selling the SH*T out of that book when published!
She direct messaged me back, appreciative of positive feedback regarding her book. My night was made.
I Can Barely Take Care of Myself is all memoir with none of the boring bits thrown in for continuity sake. Kirkman (a comedian/panelist on E’s Chelsea Lately and After Lately) doesn’t shy away from anything, whether it’s recounting the increasing paranoia & anxiety she experienced at the age of nine after watching the fictional nuclear war movie, The Day After, moving back in with her parents right after graduating college, trying to win back an ex-boyfriend by giving him a copy of Superfudge or her failed attempts at babysitting, which resulted in one child obsessing about untimely death and another one wearing his mom’s lipstick.
She takes us through her early years of stand-up comedy, relationships that came and went, and how she met her (now ex-) husband. She describes the familiar tale of getting engaged and immediately being hounded with questions about when they were going to have children (and then being asked why they were even bothering getting married if they weren’t having kids). Recounting one of these conversations with an aquaintance at a friend’s wedding, Kirkman is astounded at the woman’s audacity (“Help me. I’m being judged by a woman for an abortion I didn’t have!”) and later tries to convince her husband that he needs to to take the heat off of her by lying and saying he got a vasectomy.
But my favorite part, by far, is when Reverend Kirkman starts preaching toward the end:
I resent having to refer to my career as my baby in order to explain myself to parents. It suggests that as long as a woman has something she feels maternal toward, then she passes as a regular human being . . . Women don’t have to have maternal urges to be women . . . Men don’t call their careers their sons or daughters.
It’s a weird thing society puts on us women. They tell us that we can have careers . . . and then they tell us that we aren’t real women if we have careers but no babies, and if we dare pick a career over a baby…we better at least talk about that career like it’s a baby in order to blend in and not call attention to the fact that we’re selfish women who are not carrying on the human race.
I was giddy while reading this book. I was relieved, I was laughing, I was cringing. I dog-eared my way through (for e-readers: that means I bent the page corners over in lieu of a bookmark). I underlined passages that particularly connected with me. I fist-pumped after finishing two different sections that immediately made me feel less self-conscious about myself. Because not only was she able to share snippets of her life that read like a regular memoir but culminate into the many reasons why she’s not having kids, she was also able to connect with the reader on a personal level, especially those of us who wonder if our anxiety disorders play a part in not wanting to become parents.
This is the childfree memoir I’ve been looking for. This is the book that gave me the courage to write my CF story and submit it to a high-traffic blog, where it was later published. When this book is released in April, I hope that it inspires a whole slew of childfree memoirs by women who need to share their stories, but until now, haven’t found an outlet. I hope that it encourages discussion and awareness that women are so much more than our ability to reproduce.
And after all of that, you know what’s even better? It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious and a worthy addition to a bookstore’s Humor or Biography section, let alone a Childfree section (hey, a lady can dream, right?).