Heather Slee’s conversion from noncommittally childless to adoring mother in her pregnancy memoir “Expect This” is a mirthful promenade through a practically universal rite even a woman who’s never yearned to spawn can enjoy.
I happened upon Slee’s work at 3 a.m. one morning this week when I couldn’t sleep (that story here). I don’t want to imply her writing put me to sleep because her self-deprecating humor probably kept me glued to my Kindle longer than I should have let it, but its light tone was a perfect distraction to my insomnia. Note of warning: “Expect This” is dangerously easy to download and practically painless — this crisp, 84-page book is only 99 cents.
Writing humorous memoir is a talent I appreciate all the more because I can’t emulate it. Slee’s snark reminds me of “Bitter is the New Black’s” Jen Lancaster, whose memoirs make “LOL” a literal concept instead of just a lazy text message. But Slee’s humor isn’t as mean as Lancaster can be at her most sarcastic. Even Slee’s antagonists such as George, Slee’s opinionated co-worker, or Liz, the bitchy nurse, aren’t skewered.
Slee mines for humor in embarrassing situations like peeing into a cup or in her own insecurities:
You can’t predict what a child will take to heart. You can tell them a thousand times that doing drugs is bad, and wind up finding a giant bong made out of a plastic dinosaur in their closet.
Besides humor, Slee uses language beautifully:
I wanted simplicity. Old fashioned wooden blocks that became ominous, mysterious castles. Non-battery-powered stuffed animals that became magical confidants. Dandelions that became bracelets and rings.
As a biologically childless woman, I have no time for women who describe in excruciating detail a biological process that’s been executed billions of times since the Cro-Magnons as the single greatest accomplishment of their entire lives; honestly, I think I have greater bragging rights for resisting my maternal instinct. Slee describes — in vivid detail — her labor and delivery but unlike some horror stories of childbirth I’ve been subject to, Slee’s description is more clinical (and funny) and less like an entry for the motherhood medal of valor. After having witnessed my sister’s deliveries, I found Slee’s inside-out perspective interesting and insightful.
“Expect This” is set in Minnesota, which always gets props from me, a Minnesota native. Minnesotans are a little like the Eskimos who according to legend have 200 words for snow, and Slee delivers with a descriptions like “lazy snow” that “zigzags gently down in no particular direction or hurry” and snowflakes blowing “toward the windshield as if they were stars and we were flying through space.”
Slee’s book is an amusing treasure for readers thinking about having children, women who are already pregnant or outliers like me who prefer to keep their encounters with pregnancy in the literary realm.