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Book Review: "Fun Without Dick and Jane"

A Humorous Look at the Empty Nest

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Book Review:
Chronicle Books
It was only natural that today's uber-involved parents would find dormitory farewells an emotionally overwhelming experience. But does the tail end of the baby boomer generation really need an empty nest support group? Get a grip, says author Christie Mellor, tossing an ice cold martini - shaken, not stirred - into the face of anyone contemplating the post-dorm blues as a given. Mellor tackles the empty nest years in her newest book, "Fun Without Dick and Jane," published by Chronicle Books in 2012.

Buh-Bye, Dick! Buh-Bye, Jane!

Remember those learn-to-read primers from the 1960s? Dick and Jane cavorted in the backyard, chased their dog Spot, and phrases like, "Run, Spot, run!" were etched into our cultural consciousness. Mellor - the Los Angeles-based author of "The Three-Martini Playdate" and "The Three-Martini Family Vacation" - riffs on the retro theme in "Fun Without Dick and Jane," a book that balances irreverent wit with practical advice for parents anxious about their transition from carpool culture to empty nesthood. As she did with "Three-Martini," Mellor's exclamation mark-filled text insults, cajoles and reassures in equal measure, addressing readers as "you" and sounding more than a bit like your BFF - hopped up on wayyy too much caffeine and doing her best to talk you out of a case of impending empty nest blues.

It's unlikely that you'll have much of a case of the blues by the time you get through this light, funny read. Even if the advice and humor don't have you feeling better, you'll be too abashed to admit it. Or irate. In the opening chapters, Mellor blithely - and repeatedly - slams parents who mourn their children's departure. She calls the empty nest blues a construct of the same "fear-based... cabal" that has parents hiring pros to babyproof their homes, and notes that "if you're generally prone to the vapors, hate change and tend toward panic and/or histrionics" you might want to give some thought to your impending non-carpool driving status. That she has written a 174-page book about coping with those empty nest blues and reclaiming your life is, even she admits, more than a tad disingenuous.

She's absolutely right that dwelling on loneliness and sadness pretty much guarantees wallowing in those emotions, but I wonder how many readers will be so put off by the opening chapters' glib, disdainful tone that they'll stop right there - when honestly, the worth of the book lies after page 27. In fact, it may be better to just skip the opening and go straight to page 28.

Chapter 3 and Beyond

"Fun Without Dick and Jane" is divided into four main sections devoted to the college farewell, fun at home ("Hello, Gorgeous!"), fun with friends, and a section dubbed "They're Baaa-aack" about grown-up kids who return home.

Mellor's books all share a stand-up comic vibe, with one-liners coming fast and furious. That's certainly true here too. Parts of the section on rediscovering your spouse, for example - which includes an entire page of euphemisms for sex - are hilarious, but the section also includes numerous suggestions for things to do together, including variations on the date night theme. There also are plenty of ideas for ways to get your own brain buzzing again, new hobbies and classes, and ways to reconnect with friends. (A lot of those ideas are similar to the ones you'll find here and here, by the way.)

My favorite part of the book comes at the end, though, in Mellor's plea that readers remember that there's more to each of us than the carpool-driving, lunch-making role we've inhabited for the last 18 years. "You're all torn up. I get it," she writes, compassionate at last. "But do you not yet understand how much fun this will be?"

So true. And even better with a martini.

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