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Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  816 ratings  ·  125 reviews
A comic and heartwarming memoir about childhood's second act from Real Simple journalist Catherine Newman.

Much is written about a child's infancy and toddler years, which is good since children will never remember it themselves. It is ages 4-14 that make up the second act, as Catherine Newman puts it in this delightfully candid, outlandishly funny new memoir about the yea
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  816 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: parenting, 2016
“Babycenter?,” I said to my friend Miriam, probably with the look on my face my mom calls looking like I smell, um, excrement. “You want me to read something on Babycenter?”

“You’ll like Catherine Newman,” Miriam said. “She reminds me of you.”

And I do like Catherine Newman. Since I started reading her regular column about being a parent on Babycenter, she’s written a book as well as essays that show up all over the place, and she’s moved to her own blog. Her two kids are right about the same ages
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have never wished so hard to be actual friends with an author I was reading as I have with Catherine Newman. I'm convinced we'd be best pals if we could only meet. Her writing style, her pop culture references, the stories she tells about her children and their misadventures, her ability to instantly see the worst case scenario in any situation: these all point to our complete compatibility as bff's.
Ms. Newman? I'm your number one fan!
Ahem, back to less stalker-esque things.
I absolutely adore
Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Loved this book a lot, of course. Catherine Newman is one of my favorite writers. The only reason for the 4 stars vs. 5 is that so much of the material in this book has been published before as articles and essays elsewhere. And being a big fan, of course I've already read it in those other places! I've been waiting with baited breath for this book because I expected it to be all - or at least mostly - new material. That being said, I'm never sorry to revisit any sentence crafted by Catherine Ne ...more
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book! There were laugh-out-loud funny parts, and it was very relatable. My own children, a girl and a boy, are three years apart like the author’s. It was also a good reminder to slow down and enjoy these moments with our kids, a sentiment we hear often as parents, but still need reminding of often.
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Newman handles with humour and grace the divine bittersweet experience of raising children with the knowledge that they grow up to be their own selves, and all the unique fears and joys that come for the ride.
Lexi Wright
Catherine Newman has been my parenting soothsayer for more than a decade, and this collection of essays portends the wild, delicious Big Kid years I have ahead with my son.

(An aside: Newman and I were once at a holiday party together for a publication we both worked on. I embarassingly fangirled over her, hard, and mustered the courage to say hello. I asked her whether it ever got old to have a harem of childbearing women wanting to hang on her every word.

"It's not like they're trying to sleep w
Kristen Campbell
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The author's sense of humor and no-holds-barred honesty are refreshing, insightful, and heart-warming. This is a mom I'd like to hang out with. 4.5 stars.
Janet Elsbach
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
"I had not pictured being an adult as the crazy derangement of joy and sadness that it is turning out to be."

There's at least one quotation I'd like to highlight in just about every essay in here, but that one above has kind of been the theme of my week. I see so much of myself in the more than half crazed, lovesick, adventure-seeking, safety-obsessed, joy-drunk, lucky/cursed, Olympic-level worrying mother that appears here. She makes me feel better about being that way, and not just because she
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have long admired the profound and yet wholly irreverent wisdom of Catherine Newman. Her writing is at once clever, hilarious, self-deprecating, fierce, opinionated, wry, and deep.
Now you can read all of her insights in this remarkable collection of essays. When Catherine's son Ben turns 12 at the end, it’s a triumph and a turning point. He has grown up from this spunky wise toddler to the brink of teenagehood. This must be the toughest part of parenting: the inevitable letting go. She crystal
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you’re a fan of Catherine Newman, you’ll recognize portions of some of these essays; it’s like running into unexpected friends at a party in a great new restaurant. For those of us who already love her work, and for those lucky enough to be discovering her for the first time, this book is wonderful, hitting just the right balance between poignant (“The parent I want to be floats in and out of my life, and some days it speaks through me, and other days I lunge after it like it’s a shaft of sun ...more
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading Catherine Newman's column since I discovered it on Babycenter, back when I actually had babies. I've never read anyone who so perfectly and comically captures the joys, frustrations, anxieties and sheer oddities of parenthood. Some of her columns have stuck with me for more than a decade, and were such a comfort when my kids were small and I was sure I was doing everything wrong. Even though my kids are teenagers now, this book was a joy to read, start to finish. I hope it prop ...more
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
I ADORED parts of this book, and others didn't really grab me. Catherine Newman is excellent in writing short essays/blog posts about raising her children, who both seem to be adorable little people. I couldn't quite get into her first book about pregnancy and babies, but this one was a great summer read. (And big hugs to whoever helped her divide the content up into nice, short chunks. That was my main complaint about Waiting for Birdy.)
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, parenting
This book is just what I needed right now: a humorous and heartwarming glimpse into a hopefully-not-quite-as-chaotic future. I love the writing style, and this book, for me, is just the right mix of humor, perceptiveness about some serious topics, and sentimentality. Now I have to figure out how to be half as good of a parent as Newman appears to be.
Katie Bruell
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Please can I give this 20 stars? Catherine Newman has a way of writing the things that you didn't know were so, so true until she put them into words. I'm so glad she's still writing. I've been missing her since Bringing up Ben and Birdy.
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I can't often say this truthfully, but I did laugh and cry when reading this lovely book. A wonderful set of essays about parenthood and childhood.
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Another hit by Catherine Newman-reading her books is like reuniting with a long-lost best friend. So hilarious and beautiful. Can't recommend her books highly enough.
Jill Cassinat Urie
She's a good writer. But I really never engaged. I found myself scanning a lot. And I just felt impatient with it. If it hadn't been a shortish book, I wouldn't have finished it.
Aug 29, 2020 rated it liked it
It’s odd to give a somewhat neutral rating to someone whose writing I so deeply admire. Moreover: I am exactly the target audience for this book - a mother with two young children, afraid their childhoods are slipping by without proper attention, raising them with my somewhat bemused husband in our small liberal bubble. Her sentences are more eloquent and incisive versions of my own thoughts - “I live in anticipation of my own broken heart.” In many ways, her writing reminds me of Marjorie Willi ...more
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it
This is such a sweet look at parenting through various ages and stages. It's clear that Newman absolutely adores her children and her life. She admits she's incredibly blessed and has a life that is, on the whole, amazingly good. And perhaps that's why the essays felt a little dull to me. So much happiness, so much love, so much... routine, normal, parenting stuff.

I was expecting more practical advice, perhaps, about how to hold on to your identity while raising small children. I really enjoyed
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Catastrophic happiness

This was a really easy book to read, the layout of the chapters - with each chapter being a short story from her parenting experience - made it easy to pick up and read one or two in spare moments. Some chapters I liked more than others, and some chapters I disliked more than others.

I liked the brutal honesty (pg 153, I’m sure we all think something similar at some stage during pregnancy) although it was sometimes to the extreme. My suggestion for an alternative title: “Cat
May 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction-read
A collection of essays reflecting on the fears, challenges, and joys of parenting from birth to age 12. The author is funny, but sometimes a bit too saccharine for me. But she did have some beautiful reflections:

--"The parent I want to be floats in and out of my life, and some days it speaks through me, and other days I lunge after it like it's a shaft of sunlight I want to capture." (p 66)

-"Life isn't about avoiding trouble, is it? It's about being present, even through the hard stuff, so you d
Karen Leonard
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: parenting, funny
I laughed out loud so much in the first 2 chapters, that I thought this would be fabulous. But, then the laughs were much more spread out, so not as enjoyable of a read after that and it was a bit of a burden to finish. But, I can definitely relate to many of the experiences and lessons she's passing on. It's basically just reading a mom's story over the years, and all her and her kids' quirks. Far fewer lessons than most other parenting books I read (that usually do include the author's own sto ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I can't remember the last time I saw reflected in a book something I needed so badly. As I move from a mom of babies to what comes next, I feel a little adrift. I vaguely remember people feeling this way after weddings although I never did. If I am not and never again will be constantly nursing, what am I? Newman was right there, from the first page, exactly in my head but also just ahead, telling me all of the things I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear them. "I'm trying to bel ...more
Kristen Corscadden
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found Catherine Newman back when our babies were little. I was a big fan of Babycenter and read all of her blogs and always felt like we could be friends. Then life.... and I came across Catherine again recently and it was like visiting an old friend and her kids were growing up like mine. I had read her first book, Waiting for Birdy, so I knew I would like this collection too and it did not disappoint. Ready to pass it down to my sister who is the weeds with an 8 year old and a 4 year old. I ...more
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
I loved Waiting for Birdy and I loved this book, too. I appreciate the way Newman celebrates the seemingly mundane parts of parenting that make it so joyful and full of beauty.

“I used to picture time as a rope you followed along, hand over hand, into the distance, but it’s nothing like that. It moves outward but holds everything that’s come before. Cut me open and I’m a tree trunk, rings of nostalgia radiating inward. All the years are nested inside me like I’m my own personal one-woman matryos
Kristin (Life Between the Pages)
I'm rounding up what should probably be a 2-star review based on my feelings about the first half of this book. The writing is witty and often funny, but about halfway through it lost steam. Where in the beginning I felt excited to read what relatable parenting anecdote would come through, by the end I was just glad I could mark this as read. The last several chapters were a bit political and soapboxy too, which is fine if the book is advertised that way, but it doesn't really match the "finding ...more
Sarah Carr
Oct 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: kids-and-family
This book was alright. It was billed as a book that would help you better understand kids ~4-14, so I made a (wrong) assumption that Newman would talk about her own experience and interweave it with studies, academic advice, etc. As it turns out it was a lovely set of stories about her two kids, who seem great -- and the vignettes are lovely -- but it felt much more specific and less generalizable than I hoped. Perhaps it would be more relatable if one were a parent. There are also better books ...more
Mar 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Newman's essays perfectly capture the humor, frustrations, and poignancy of parenting. I read through her collection in a few days, but think I would have been better served to read them over the course of weeks or months, as many of the ideas and examples repeated themselves. It is an especially good book for parents in the thick of parenting young children as she offers a light at the end of the tunnel to parenting's most physically demanding and sleep-deprived years.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
This is definitely a life stage book... early parenthood. It's great writing. I wish Newman lived next door to me! We'd have some great chats. Don't know if I would recommend it to anyone actually in this stage. Some parts might be a little too challenging. Might be worth the risk, though. Newman can be devastatingly funny and flesh out the contradictions, concerns and conflicts all of us humans have in some forms or others.
Chloe (Always Booked)
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: baby-a
This book is just a series of short musings about motherhood and how crazy it can be. There’s a lot of conversations between her and her kids. A lot of the sections I just skimmed because her humor is different than mine and I found it boring and repetitive. There were a few sections that were interesting but I felt like the humor was inappropriate in places and I just didn’t identify with most of it.
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“You know how you secretly worry that this is it, that it’s all downhill from here? I know you do. You worry that the children will turn into hulking criminals; their scalps will turn odorless. You lie in bed now during a thunderstorm, two sleeping, moonlit faces pressed against you, fragrant scalps intoxicating you, the rain on the roof like hoofbeats, heartbeats—and the calamity of raising young children falls away because this is all you ever wanted. Now you boo-hoo noiselessly into the kids’ hair because life is so beautiful and you don’t want it to change. Enjoy it. But let me tell you—you won’t believe it, but let me tell you anyway—you will watch them sleeping still and always: the illuminated down of their cheeks, their dark puffs of lips and dear, dark wedges of eyelashes, and you will feel exactly the way you feel now. Only better.” 2 likes
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