Be Happy or I’ll Scream! By Sheri LynchApparently, this Sheri Lynch person somehow opened my skull, perhaps while I was passed out after two weeks straight of taking care of five people suffering with the flu even though I was close to death myself, and peered into the labyrinth of my exhausted, fanciful, underappreciated, and always hopeful mind. She knows too much about me, this woman. She knows all about my sick suburban fantasies, my secret wishes for the “perfect” family, my fears, my horrible, horrible truths…Then she had the unmitigated gall to write a book about what she saw squirming about my fevered, delusional brain.
Think I’m kidding here? Okay then, explain to me how she knew that I often feel like I’m failing my own Hollywood-perfect image of the ideal wife and mother. How desperately I want to create my very own Cosby/Little House on the Prairie/Leave it to Beaver life, complete with pearls and non-existent toilets, children who smile -- a lot -- and never, ever whine or call me a “big poopy head.” How’d this lady know that I dream of a family life filled with special moments involving sweater-wearing husbands who always see the humor, sparkly-eyed children who are always the purveyors of the humor, and grand, heartwarming conclusions at the end of every perfect, educational day, replete with orchestra, in which the entire family floats off to bed with satisfyingly sore faces from having reveled in the humor all day long?
“Be Happy or I’ll Scream” (St. Martin’s Press), a memoir of sorts that chronicles a year in the life of Sheri Lynch and family as they embark on a not-so-magical journey in pursuit of the perfect family life, hits close to this home, my friends. Way too close. She wants to experience her fantasy family, wants to take vacations like the Brady Bunch did, serve an Alice-worthy breakfast every morning, teach her children well by attending cultural events, walking through museums, dine by candlelight with her husband and have meaningful heart-to heart conversations ala Mike and Carol as a rose petal-strewn bed awaits, along with Brad Pitt and a magnum of champagne. Okay, that last scenario is mine, but still…
Lynch, in her admittedly unattainable quest for Cosby-like glory, forces her husband, thirteen-year-old stepson, and two young daughters to brave the wilds of her imagination, endure the trials and tribulations of such horrors as traveling by plane to Chicago (God bless her, really), going to the (ulp!) State Fair, and turning their home into the Shrine Circus for the benefit of her birthday girl. Not great for the author at the time, but awesome for me, who has, on more than one occasion, gone the Shrine route myself. While reading her thoughts on Satanic petting zoo goats, I found myself nodding enthusiastically and smirking like a…Well, like a Satanic goat.
Did I say that this book hit close to home? What I meant to say was that this book hit me in the back of the head, repeatedly, like a pair of nunchucks. There’s this passage about going to a restaurant with all of the kids, see, and bodily fluids make an appearance, as do alien waiters who are not familiar with our Earthly serving etiquette, and there are staring, whispering people, and humiliation to go with those fries, and, and…STOP LOOKING INTO MY HEAD, SHERI LYNCH!
“Be Happy or I’ll Scream” is a fast-paced, funny read, to be sure, but I sensed a hint of sadness within, too. Though the author doesn’t reveal too much, it’s obvious why she yearns for some semblance of the perfect, happy T.V. family; she’d learned at much too young an age that flesh and blood parents can and will let you down, that they will hurt you, whether intentionally or not, and that the smiling, kind, loving faces with the warm, gentle voices on television are there, not only for entertainment, but for comfort, too.
The beauty of this book lies not in the sharp humor, tight writing, or “everywoman” appeal, but in its lesson to all of us parents, a lesson that is best interpreted individually. We’ll all get something different from this book depending on our life experiences, but there’s one message we all can identify with, and it is a simple yet brilliant one: Happiness is as close as your own backyard, dumbass.
I’m sure Claire Huxtable would approve.