The Primates of Park Avenue

Originally published July 2015

I read this book so you don’t have to.

Sometimes, the books that garner the most attention really aren’t the best reads (cough cough 50 Shades, cough cough). And Wednesday Martin’s Primates of Park Avenue has received a lot of press. It’s controversial in many respects, beginning with the topic it covers—Upper East Side New York mothers and continuing with questions about its authenticity.

In the end, I”m not sure either of those characteristics matter.

Here is what I learned from this summer’s “it” memoir:

“Upper East Side” is just geography. I don’t doubt the mothers Martin encountered and lived among are on one of the highest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. But that attitude isn’t about an address. Snobs are everywhere. When Martin details some of her first interactions in her new neighborhood, and trying to make new acquaintances, I was taken immediately back to my move from mid-Michigan to Chicago’s northern suburbs—not unlike the UES in many respects. It really IS that hard to break into a clique after kindergarten. That said, …

You find what you are looking for. In my opinion, Martin’s anthropology experiment had her focusing on the extreme of the UES—the billionaires living the high life with private jets, multiple homes, the best of private schooling, and the ability to buy whatever it takes to look and feel like, you know … a billion bucks. In my North Shore surroundings, the number of billionaires is nowhere near what the UES holds—but there’s definitely a lot of money. And a lot of really expensive ways to spend it. And if you wanted, you could narrow your view so that all you can see is Treasure Island instead of Target. But, look further, and you will find like-minded individuals. What’s more, you can find that money doesn’t make a person. A person makes a person. Something I think Martin discovered when she made the connection that …

Mothering is a shared experience. It doesn’t matter what the balance is in your bank account—there are loving, happy mothers everywhere. There are frustrated, tired and burnt out mothers everywhere. There are grieving mothers everywhere. There are anxious mothers everywhere. Emotion doesn’t recognize economic boundaries. Wealth sometimes provides a wider variety of solutions that come with parenting problems—but not always. In the end …

We all just want to know we are doing OK. As a woman, as a wife, as a mother, we’re just seeking validation. For some, they are lucky to get it from the very best place—themselves. Others rely on their family—their spouse, their kids. Still others, as it seems in the case of the UES, validation comes from co-op boards, fitness trainers, the salesperson at Hermes and the friends you are trying to impress. Yes—even the Queen of the Queen Bee Mean Moms, somewhere, is seeking approval from someone. It’s unfortunate she, like others, feel the need to tear other people down to bring herself up. But I guarantee that personality trait doesn’t come with a price tag. You don’t need to be carrying a Birkin to be a bitch.

Here’s the thing—I’m not going to wave anyone off reading it. It’s not poorly written. In fact, I enjoyed Martin’s anthropological comparisons. And I did relate to much of the commentary. But in the end, I didn’t find the observations all that earth-shattering. Just a reminder that we are all more alike than we are different. Your call.

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