Five parenting tips from “Game of Thrones”

I know the symptoms. A dull ache in the vicinity of the heart. Fitful dreams involving imps and dragons. A tinny echo resembling the clanging of swords.

Here’s your diagnosis: “Game of Thrones” withdrawal. Yep. I’ve got it, too.

If it gets any worse, I’m going to have to break down and read the damn books. I’ve only read the first, and though George R.R. Martin’s storytelling rocks, I confess I love the TV series even more—so much that I prefer not knowing what happens next.

If I could wave a wand and produce Series 4 for you right now, I would. In lieu of me acquiring such dark magic, here’s my post on NYTimes.com’s Motherlode on what I learned about parenting from GoT.

Sunday, June 9, 2013: As we have every other Sunday these recent months, tonight my husband and I will tuck in our two little girls, kiss their sweet faces goodnight, then rush downstairs to watch men and women get slaughtered.

I speak of course of “Game of Thrones,” the wildly popular HBO series set in a mythical land resembling medieval England, except with dragons. Based on the blockbuster books by George R.R. Martin, the show is bloody with battle, sticky with sex and just plain awesome.

But let it not be said that “Game of Thrones” holds no educational value for parents! I’ve gleaned many a lesson from the show’s insanely dysfunctional families—mainly in what not to do when attempting to raise a non-rapist, non-murderer person.

Here, in tribute to the Season 3 finale, are five parenting tips from “Game of Thrones”:

1. When it comes to your child’s safety, never let your own agenda cloud your judgment. In the infamous penultimate episode that aired last Sunday, Robb Stark asks his mother Catelyn if he should pay a visit to Lord Walder Frey. Robb had betrayed Frey by marrying Talisa instead of one of Frey’s homely daughters, as agreed. But now Robb needs Frey’s army to battle the king. Catelyn wavers. She knows how treacherous a man Frey is and how dangerous such a mission will be. But then her thirst for vengeance on the king’s clan takes over. “Show them how it feels to lose what they love,” she counsels. Oh, Mom. Terrible advice!

Robb Stark, Talisa Stark in war tent

Just in general, the battleground isn’t a terrific place to be pregnant.

2. When pregnant, it is ill-advised to attend weddings populated by heavily armed men. In the same Episode 9, Robb and Talisa attend the wedding of Robb’s uncle to one of Frey’s daughters, a gesture meant to secure peace between the families. Every single guest carries a weapon. One wears chain mail under his garb. Yet Robb and Talisa eat and drink merrily (these being fictional times, let’s just assume preggo ladies can imbibe). Suddenly, the music stops. The arrows fly. The knives slice and dice. And everybody wishes Talisa would have stayed back in the war tent, singing lullabies to the heir in her belly.

3. Teach girls to fight and boys to run away. When we first meet the noble Stark clan in Season 1, mom Catelyn is exasperated that her younger daughter Arya is more interested in bows and arrows and sword fights than in embroidery. Now we’re wrapping up Season 3, and guess who’s still alive? That’s right—our little fighter girl. Meantime elder daughter Sansa, the obedient beauty, is stuck in King’s Landing, a pawn in other people’s schemes. As for the boys, Robb’s dead (see Tip 1). Still alive are Jon Snow, the bastard, who survived the decimation of the Night’s Watch by defecting to the Wildlings—then survives again but running away from the Wildlings once they get back south of the Wall. Also still alive are Bran and Rickon. Granted, Bran’s not using his own paralyzed legs to run. But his wits are keeping his little band of escapees alive—at least for now. Sensing a theme here?

Cersei Lannister

Mommy dearest: Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey

4. Don’t live your dreams through your children. “Dance Moms,” meet Cersei Lannister. We haven’t seen as much of Cersei in Season 3, and that might be because her power as the king’s mother has evaporated. But that’s what happens when you invest all your hopes and ambitions in your precious offspring, who happens to be a monster: the monster eventually grows up, gets engaged to a devious harlot, and stops listening to your own manipulative advice. Along those lines…

5. Avoid siring children with your sibling. King Joffrey is the product of Cersei’s incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime. Which of course means Joffrey is not the rightful heir to the throne, as he shares no blood with the late Robert Baratheon, the former king and his supposed father. This poses a political problem for the Lannister clan if ever this should be proven, but that’s probably difficult in a mythical land with no DNA labs. Even in Westeros, however, the laws of genetics seem to apply in that the brother-sister mating has produced in Joffrey a cruel freak of nature. Also? Jaime’s never around to give Cersei a hand in raising their little jerk. What do you call a deadbeat uncle-dad? A duncle?

So here we are, facing the end of Season 3. What marvelous parenting tips will the season finale offer? I, for one, will be ready with pencil and paper.

The one yoga pose all working moms need

[This is a brief essay I wrote for my Bikram yoga studio‘s newsletter. It’s about how I suck at lying down.]

Savasana is my nemesis.

Who am I kidding? Every Bikram pose kicks my sore butt. Awkward pose was never meant to look this awkward. It took me two years of regular practice to even attempt standing head-to-knee, and I’m talking about the part that involves standing but not my head to my knee. If a pose is easy, I figure I’m doing it wrong. The day I lock my knees will be the day I eat my shorts.

Bikram yoga bow pose

Needless to say, this is not me.

But savasana is hardest of all. It’s not just the physical difficulty of emulating a corpse. For me, the Olympic-level hurdle is clearing my mind.

“Empty your thoughts,” the teacher says. “Clear your mind and think of nothing but your breath.” It’s like being told, “Stop thinking about elephants.” Now you can’t do anything but.

Savasana is when I make lists. Grocery lists, to-do lists, wish lists. Savasana is NOT when I should make lists. I have to remind myself of this every time.

Savasana, after all, is the one pose I need to master. As a working mom, and moreover as a writer, I desperately need those few minutes of meditation. And when by some small miracle I do achieve it, the results are nothing short of remarkable.

It is during those occasional moments of clarity that a line of dialogue or a solution to a tricky plot problem comes to me. When that happens, it’s like I hear a choir of angels. I want to break into a happy dance and shout, “Eureka!” But that would be weird.

Like many of us, I came to Bikram yoga at a tumultuous time in my life. I had just had my second child. I had just quit my longtime career as a journalist and embarked on a new and risky one writing fiction. Both my parents had just died.

That was three and a half years ago. In the time since, yoga has often felt like one of the only constants in my life. Three times a week for ninety minutes, my foremost focus is staying in the room and not falling on my face.

And someday, with practice and no small bit of faith, I’ll no longer consider savasana my nemesis but my friend.

Should writers have families?

This is my family. They need me to do stuff.

I only just got around to writing about this infuriating essay by Roger Rosenblatt in The New York Times Sunday Book Review from May 11. I only just got to it because I was busy ushering my kids out of the school year and into summer camp—with all the report cards and teacher evaluations and forms, the camp bags and the sunblock and the forms—while slamming toward my own deadlines. It begins,

So there I stood at the front of my granddaughter Jessica’s fourth-grade classroom, still as a glazed dog, while Jessie introduced me to her classmates, to whom I was about to speak. “This is my grandfather, Boppo,” she said, invoking my grandpaternal nickname. “He lives in the basement and does nothing.”

Aw, I thought, as I folded the laundry. Boppo. So sweet. But what could that mean, he “does nothing”?

…as far as anyone in the family can see, I do nothing, or next to it. This is the lot of the writer.

Huh.

Writers and families don’t mix, Rosenblatt says. Writers “do not live in the real world, or wish to,” and therefore “it is fruitless and dishonest to protest that we do.” Families should treat writers like exotic animals or anarchists—with care and a bit of caution.

Yeah, I thought. My family treats me just like an African gray parrot. Who makes dinner and wipes butts.

But apparently I’m wrong, because writers as a species are totally useless at any of the millions of tasks that make a family function. As proof, he cites an anecdote about E.L. Doctorow, who, asked by his wife to write a note to their daughter’s school, wound up so tangled up in crafting the perfectly worded letter that his wife gave up and wrote it herself.

If the sad truth be known, writers, being the misfits we are, probably ought not to belong to families in the first place. We simply are too self-interested, though we may excuse the flaw by calling it “focused.”

What I would give to be called self-interested. Or focused.

He concludes,

The writer may not be good for the family, but the family may do wonders for the writer simply by teaching him that “it takes all kinds,” including him.

So here’s the gist: while writers add nothing but dead weight to their families, families sure do enrich a writer’s work—if only as material.

Reading his bio, I recalled that Roger Rosenblatt wrote this book and this book about how, following the death of his daughter, he and his wife moved in with their son-in-law and grandchildren. And then I felt bad, because, come on, that’s a lovely and noble thing to do. Besides, Rosenblatt is the grandfather in the house, not the father. It’s enough that he’s there. Surely he’s entitled to “do nothing.” He’s earned it.

But he doesn’t speak for me. Nor any writer I know.

I suppose his kind of writer exists among my generation. There’s probably a 40-year-old genius in Brooklyn who hunches over his laptop while ignoring his wife’s plea for a hand with a poopy diaper. But I doubt it. Because very soon he’d be divorced, or dead.

Notice I speculate only about a dude. That’s because no way any writer mom would ever be accused of self-interest. Or focus.

Rosenblatt cites Alexander Pope and John Cheever and George Seurat as artists who viewed family as an impediment. Of course, many male writers marry. I’ve read that John Updike wrote three pages a day, every day, even when his kids were little. Which leads me to suspect he wasn’t changing those poopy diapers.

And yet, moms write. And sometimes, we write well. Jennifer Egan’s said that she wrote her Pulitzer-winning book during the hours of 9 and 2, in between the school run. If she’s like me, during that time she’s also shoving in the laundry and marinating the ribs and buying the gifts for the weekend birthday parties.

I’m not really mad at Roger Rosenblatt. He’s a distinguished journalist whose work I’ve long admired. I’m just pointing out that some writers, many writers, don’t get to check out from family life. Without us, our families would fall apart. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.