Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Growing Girls by Jeanne Marie Laskas




(Mildly Recommended)




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Jeanne Marie Laskas’ latest dispatch from Sweetwater Farm in Pennsylvania is titled, Growing Girls. Many parents have enjoyed Laskas’ writing from the Significant Others column in The Washington Post, and the My Life As A Mom column in Ladies Home Journal. The essays in this book are a bit longer than her columns (although some were familiar and may have appeared before), and Laskas is able to develop the stories and her reflections more fully. I actually find her columns to be better writing: the forced space limit requires her to pare words down to the essential, while making her point. Here’s an excerpt, all of the essay titled, Up for Grabs,” pp. 33-36:


A father, a daughter, a balloon. They are just now heading toward the car, hand in hand, toddling down the driveway. It is the same way every week. They’re going to the grocery store. They’ll get a free sample of cheese, they’ll get a free cookie, she’ll ride in the cart awhile, then get down and push. He’ll say, “Whose little girl are you?” She’ll say, “Daddy’s!”

It is the same way every single week. Except there isn’t al­ways a balloon.

Alex is an older dad, well into his fifties. Before Anna ar­rived, he wondered if he could do it. He wondered if he’d have what it takes.

On this day she’s barely three. She knows she has an older dad. “I think,” she’ll say, “he might be twelve.”

The balloon is two days old, practically ancient in the life of a standard-issue balloon. It is red. It’s tied to the end of a pur­ple ribbon. It has fewer thoughts than a household pet, and yet, to a three-year-old, it is in every way a pet. You have to take care of it, and it won’t last forever. But for the time being it is all yours.

The center of everything.

“Would you like me to tie the balloon around your wrist?” Alex is saying, already knowing the answer.

“I would like to hold it,” Anna answers. “I would like to hold my balloon in my hand.”

“Okay, sweetie,” he says. “Well, hold on tight.”

The balloon has lost a good bit of its helium, and there is no wind, and so the balloon appears to be walking one step behind her, at just her height. A pal if ever there was one.

He is boosting her up into the car seat, they are fumbling with sleeves, straps, buckles. It’s hard to tell how it happens. A slow-motion replay probably could not verify the sequence of events. But the balloon! The balloon gets loose. The balloon is floating in the air, just above the father’s head. “Oh, no!” she is saying. “Oh. . . no!” He reaches into the air, tries to pluck it from the sky but the balloon at that moment catches an up­draft and lifts higher, just beyond his grasp.

“Daddy!” she is saying. “Oh, no!”

He tries again; this time he leaps. But the balloon soars a foot higher, hangs there stupidly.

“My balloon,” she cries, craning her neck so as to make a more direct appeal. “Please, balloon! Please, Daddy! Oh, my balloon…”

Another father might say, “I told you, honey, I told you to

hold on tight!” Another might think, We have to hurry, we have a long list of groceries. Another might think, We can just buy an­other balloon at the store.

“That’s my balloon!” she is saying, looking into the sky with longing. “That is my best balloon…”

This is one way a father, old or young, finds out who he is, with no time to decide which one he should be, which one he wants to be, which one might, perhaps, look better. When a balloon is loose, there is no time. You either charge after it, or you don’t.

And so he finds that he is the kind of man who charges af­ter a loose balloon, charges after it with courage and fight. He isn’t aware of his heroism, or his foolishness, he is too busy chasing a balloon. He hops, runs, reaches, trots over the grass and trips into the boxwoods. That balloon is either dancing or flirting or maybe a little of both. It doesn’t have enough loft to go into the clouds—no, it hovers, dragging its purple ribbon just beyond his pleading fingertips.

“Get it, Daddy!” she is saying, cheering him on. “Oh, good job, Daddy!”

It is all he needs to hear. It is fuel. He leaps a few more times until he gets an idea. He’s going to outsmart that balloon. He calculates its direction, like a receiver estimating the trajectory of a touchdown pass, and he runs past it, up a little hill, to the top of a wall, off of which he can hurl himself and go for the grab.

One, two, three—the timing here is critical—and he leaps! And don’t you know that darn balloon darts left. Left? The bal­loon is now over the wall, high in the air.

To another father, that balloon would be a goner for sure. But not him. Not yet. He watches it. He shakes his head. He wonders how he might break the news to her. He thinks, Life isn’t fair.

Just then the first real breeze of the day kicks in, and the bal­loon makes a U-turn, an absolute about-face. It drifts toward him, closer now, and closer. He hops at just the right moment. He feels the ribbon like a tickle between his fingers and so he grabs, he grabs happiness out of the sky.

Aaaah!” she says, her mouth dropping open. “You did it! Daddy did it!” She can’t quite believe it’s true. Her father has performed a miracle. Her balloon is back. And life, to her, but also to him, has plenty more fairness left.


Essays like this one will attract some readers and repel others, mostly because of the same sweet quality that brings an expression along the lines of “awww” at the end. Growing Girls presents modern family life through the skilled writing skills of one mom, and brings reading pleasure to parents of all ages, and a dose of saccharine that might be over the limit for some.


Steve Hopkins, July 26, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the August 2006 issue of Executive Times


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