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They're Experts on 'What to Expect' : Books: Arlene Eisenberg and her daughters use their collective experience to help others deal with pregnancy and toddlers.

March 05, 1995|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWTON, Mass. — Elizabeth Hathaway was having an ordinary 3-year-old day. No, she did not want to change out of her pajamas. No, she did not want to watch a video. No, she did not want a nice slice of fresh mango.

"No mango?" her mother asked pleasantly. "You must be sick."

Elizabeth tightened her grip on her mother. Her knees locked around her mother's waist; her arms formed a magnificent headlock. No , she insisted, she did not want to let grandma hold her.

For most adults at this juncture, screaming, crying, groaning or growling would have been understandable reactions. But far from frustrated, Sandee E. Hathaway and her mother, Arlene Eisenberg, looked modestly pleased with themselves. Once again, their live-in case-study had validated their theory that the folks who dreamed up medieval torture took their cues from toddlers.

In reassuring tones, they join with co-author Heidi E. Murkoff (sister of Hathaway, younger daughter of Eisenberg) in contending that children and even parents have a way of surviving these horrors. But for several interminable years, they report in their newest bestseller, "What to Expect the Toddler Years" (Workman, 1994), there are moments when the arrival of the age of reason, 4, seems eternally distant.

Starting when your sweet, adorable baby secretly takes monster lessons, the second and third years of a child's life constitute "the first adolescence," Eisenberg said.

In toddlerhood, as in adolescence, "a kid has to break away, find some autonomy," said Eisenberg, who at 60 is in a position to look serene about such pronouncements.

"Some do it more vociferously than others. But they're all learning to say 'no' to their parents." It's an inevitable, time-honored part of childhood, she continued, "and it's necessary."

Fine. Tell that to the mother whose 2-year-old has just asserted his independence through the time-dishonored practice of pulling out every single toy in the playroom. Or the parents of the 3-year-old who has discovered the spectacular power of a good tantrum. Try sending valentines for reasonableness when parents and child are all down there on the floor, red-faced, yelling "NO!" at each other.

By telephone from Phoenix, where she was on tour to promote "Toddler Years," Murkoff explained that "The first thing . . . is to understand why they are behaving the way they are." Put simply, Murkoff said, toddlers are vying for control over a world that is vastly larger than they are.

"Everyone else is so big, and they're so little," she said. With their limited verbal skills, "they can't say what's on their mind half the time. They can't reach things. Everything's too tall for them. Their motor skills can't keep up with what they want to do. They want to put their shoes on, but they always go on backward."

For Murkoff, 36, the "glaring similarity" between how these control-and-rebellion issues manifest themselves in toddlerhood and again in adolescence has begun to strike home. Her daughter Emma is 12, and on the brink of hormone hell.

"It certainly hasn't been heaven in our house recently," Murkoff conceded.

It was Murkoff's pregnancy with Emma, eldest of Arlene and Howard Eisenberg's five grandchildren, that inspired the first collaboration by this mother and two daughters, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (Workman, 1984). Far from nine months of nonstop joy and giddy anticipation, Murkoff found pregnancy to be a jittery experience. The books she consulted kept hammering her over the head with how happy she should be, while what she wanted was straight, unvarnished information.

But their literary agent balked when the three women submitted a proposal for a true-facts pregnancy book. Eisenberg had a strong track record as a free-lance writer and textbook author, and Murkoff had dabbled in free-lancing as well. Hathaway had a degree in nursing. But none boasted the medical credentials traditionally associated with pregnancy books.

The manuscript for the first "What to Expect" book brought a small advance, and Workman initially shipped a scant 6,400 copies. More than a decade later, with almost 4 1/2 million copies sold, the book still roosts on bestseller lists and sells 75,000 copies each month. "What to Expect When You're Expecting" has been translated into 21 languages, including Polish, Hungarian, Hebrew and Chinese. Even Murphy Brown was shown using the book during her television pregnancy.

"We thought we were just writing one little pregnancy book to reassure people, to give them some accurate information," Eisenberg said. "And we thought that would be that."

But the three co-authors quickly followed with "What to Eat When You're Expecting" (Workman, 1986; 478,000 copies) and "What to Expect the First Year" (Workman, 1989; 2,385,000 copies).

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