Dear Mom, You’re Ruining My Life By Jean Van Leeuwen

You always say parents and children should trust each other. Well, I trusted you.

This is the most mysterious book I have picked up for this project. While there are certain titles that the back-cover copy gives the potential reader very little idea what the story is about, this one goes further and doesn’t include any copy on the back cover at all! Flip it over and you just see Our Heroine’s legs and feet clad in hot pink socks (which is actually a minor plot point).

The Plot: It’s a lot of build up for not much pay off, because this story turns out to be about the very low-stakes conflicts between a middle schooler and her mother, that doesn’t even go all in on the faux-diary format.

6th grader Samantha Slayton is most notable for losing an alarming number of baby teeth during throughout the school year, as most chapters open with a note to the tooth fairy, although Sam is well-aware that it is her father playing that role. Sam’s dad is also an absent-minded mathematician, Mom identifies as a housewife, but is also a published writer and poet, and Sam has an annoying teenaged brother named Bradley who is into HEAVY METAL and “dresses like a homeless person.”

The minor conflicts include changing friendships in the 6th grade: her grade school best friend Rebecca started calling herself Becky so she can hang out with Betsy and Bonnie as part of a clique called The Busy Bs (meanwhile classmate Sara has to change her name to Brett in order to join) and the thrill of being chosen to participate in the new Gifted program at school.

She also has agreed to attend a white-glove dancing school with her new BFF Katy when she learns that her crush, Brian, will also be attending, but starts to have second thoughts when she realizes that she is the tallest student in her grade.

And of course, her mom is SO EMBARASSING!

The publication date is 1989, but I strongly suspect that Van Leeuwen had this one in her trunk for the better part of the decade, because of the copious references to the popularity of Disco dancing, and designer jeans-mania.

The designer jeans stuff is pretty amusing, and it is just barely this side of Terrible Fake Names (Remember Gobble Guy?) Sam begs her parents on the first day of school to get her expensive Funky Dogs jeans, but when the bus arrives she sees Betsy and Bonnie are already decked out in the newest fad, Ashcans:

They had been the first girls to get their ears pierced, back in fourth grade. They’d also been the first to wear purple nail polish, in fifth grade. Whatever you were supposed to be wearing in sixth grade, Bonnie and Betsy would be wearing it.

The plot seems to take a serious turn halfway through the book, when Sam finds a women’s magazine survey on “How Satisfied Are You With Your Life?” filled out by her mother, indicating that she is not all that satisfied, and maybe wishes she wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, and sometimes thinks about running away from home. But all is resolved by the end of the chapter, and Sam is on to accepting her first babysitting job, for a very boring child and a dog that barfs on the couch.

And Sam’s worry about her mother’s personal satisfaction is short-lived, as she agrees to allow her to attend the parent-child volleyball tournament at school ONLY if she follows strict guidelines for dress and decorum:

Wear your gray sweat suit

Only hit the ball when it comes to you

Use two hands

Don’t show off

Don’t hug or kiss me

Don’t embarrass me

While her mother agrees, things get out of hand at the game when her mother starts hot-dogging it to score the winning point and Sam is so embarrassed that she can’t be more like Bonnie’s mom who showed up in a hot pink jumpsuit that matched her nail polish and even owns TWO PAIRS of Ashcan jeans!

The plot, such as it is, climaxes with Sam and Katy’s Science Fair project, which is a very ladylike test of two competing dishwashers detergents during the course of which they also melt Sam’s brother’s Industrial Arts ashtray on her mother’s best frying pan, which mom is VERY UNDERSTANDING about. Sam also writes an essay about babysitting for a boring child and sick dog for the school paper, which is well-received, making her think she might follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a housewife-writer.

Stylin’ Department:

“Extremely strange,” pronounced Bradley. According to him everything his parents did was strange. Sam thought he was the strange one, with his hair covering his eyes like a sheepdog’s, his black T-shirts with pictures of weird rock groups, and- his most recent addition- a New York Mets baseball cap, which he wore backwards.

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9 Responses to Dear Mom, You’re Ruining My Life By Jean Van Leeuwen

  1. Liz says:

    I remember this one and loved it in 5th-6th grade, in the early 90s. Ash Can jeans, hot pink socks, purple makeup on the couch (at the birthday sleepover). I knew disco dancing wasn’t a thing by the time I read it, but didn’t place it back to the 70s. Good memories!

  2. Sheesh says:

    Her “I Was A 98 Pound Duckling” was much better, although it did give the unfortunate notion that anyone not swimming in dates by 8th grade is doomed to be alone forever.

  3. Uly says:

    Still taking requests? Because this reminded me of Sixth Grade Secrets, and I know we all have more free time now that every day is catturday for the foreseeable future.

  4. Julie says:

    Ooh, I’d love a post on Sixth Grade Secrets.

  5. Kate Beifuss says:

    Yes! I didn’t read Sixth Grade Secrets until I was in my 30s and looooved it!

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