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*Crawling: A Father's First Year* by Elisha Cooper
Crawling: A Father's First Year
by Elisha Cooper
Anchor 176 pages September 2007 Paperback    

In this brief (one hundred sixty-three page) memoir, Cooper writes about his experiences with his baby daughter, Zoe. Each chapter feels like a mini-essay on some topic of fatherhood, so the memoir feels less like a comprehensive account and more like meditations on growing up. The reader gets to watch as Zoe grows from newborn to sturdy one-year-old, and as Cooper changes from a guy who "had never liked children" into a confident new father. Additionally, Cooper is talented at bringing places to life, so the reader will get to know Berkeley (where the Coopers live), Chicago (where they move), and several vacation spots in between.

The writing style is very straightforward: average sentence length, no frills or attempts at stylistic devices. In fact, each chapter almost reads like an e-mail Cooper has sent to his best friend. This kind of intimacy draws the reader in, and quickly the reader finds herself wrapped up in Cooper's life, worrying about his fears and rejoicing in his triumphs. The book does contain some crude humor (since that's Cooper's favorite kind), and it doesn't shy away from shock value. Here's the opening paragraph:

"There's a head sticking out of my best friend. This is insane. Anybody who says this moment is the most precious wonderful thing is delusional. This isn't a miracle, it's assault. I'd call 911 but we're already at the hospital."
Obviously, readers looking for a gentle ode to the joys of parenting should look elsewhere. Yet mixed with Cooper's many concerns about fatherhood (and often hilarious escapades with his daughter) are tender moments:
"When I look at Zoe she is so beautiful it makes me ache. I look at her and am floored. So these feelings, of wonder and sadness both, meet in parents' eyes as they see their child."
The thing is, this memoir is about real parenting. When Zoe is a newborn, Cooper explains that as the father, he feels he is "defined by what I cannot do. I can't soothe her. I can't nurse her. I can't put her to sleep well. I do what I can, though." This chapter is entitled "The Sous Chef Parent," and Cooper brings the emotions of a new father to life so vividly that even as a girl I could understand him. He also points out the difficulties of parenting: in his case, many of these revolve around restaurants. Before Zoe was born, Cooper loved going out to restaurants, the whole feel of dinner and drinks with friends. With Zoe, Cooper struggles to recapture that feeling. His frank descriptions of his frustrations will probably help many parents who feel obligated to act as if their new baby makes everything in life better. The memoir also mixes lighter stories (such as Cooper's love of going out with his daughter, because he gets so much attention from women due to Zoe's cuteness) with real insights:
"Acceptance of change is at the heart of parenting, which is not so good for someone so bad at it. Change for me has always been a scary and unknown creature, who circling presence made me construct routines to guard against it. Changing my routine, I was sure, would ruin my art. And yet, that didn't happen. Zoe, by doing nothing more than being on my chest, showed me I could paint when I wasn't perfect."
This memoir feels like an act of generosity: Cooper opens up his soul so that the reader can follow along with a life-changing year.

All in all, this book is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Its brutal honesty allows readers to sympathize with Cooper and, perhaps, learn something about themselves. Recommend for everyone, whether or not they have children.

Parenting book reviews and books for educators, teachers, and librarians

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