When I first learned that I was going to be a mother, I called a friend with two young children, who worked as a writer and editor from home.
“So,” I asked her, pen in hand, ready to take detailed notes. “Can you give me an idea of what your day looks like?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know: your schedule. How many hours you spend on child care each day; how much time you have to yourself, to get things done. That sort of thing.”
There was no sound at the other end of the line.
Nearly four years into this mothering gig, I know why. My friend was likely gaping, slack-jawed, at the phone in her hand, marveling at my utter ignorance. Schedule? How much time I have to myself? she was probably wondering. My God, I don’t even pee alone.
The other moms I interviewed all but rolled their eyes at me, too, so I soon turned to books for answers. Luckily, bookstore clerks proved blessedly unwilling to mock me. Almost gleefully (they knew an easy mark when they saw one), they loaded my arms with classic parenting titles (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Dr. Spock) and edgier mother-lit (Operating Instructions, Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life, Mother Shock), while I salivated over the wisdom I imagined would transfer, by hard study or osmosis, into my expectant mind.
Thus began my grateful awakening as a reader — and, later, as a writer and editor — of mother lit. As I pored over my books, it became clear that some authors were armed with an agenda: a one, true parenting path that would produce a perfect child with a sane mother. Thankfully, those books were few. Closer to the middle of the spectrum were the good-hearted parents, doctors, and educators who were writing both to share their experiences and impart a bit of insight.
But then — ah, then — there were those other titles: the ones that seized me and held me, like an eager new college roommate, saying, You’re here! At last! Imagine the adventures we’re going to have! Or, like a wise therapist, reminding me: Of course you feel depressed; my God, everything in your life has just turned upside down. Or the street-smart sister, warning: Better grab some Dramamine, baby, because you’re in for one helluva ride.
These are the stories that grip me still. The ones that mince no words, that refuse to pretend everything is fine, that say “screw you” to the manners police.
Though I am guilty of stating the obvious, it bears noting that there remains tremendous cultural pressure for mothers to put a positive spin on their roles and lives. Reading submissions to Literary Mama, I see mother-writers fall into this trap every day: crafting pieces that explore the darker, harder side of parenting, but eventually circle back to conclude that “it’s all worth it.” Which it is. Sometimes. Except, of course, for those times when it’s not. Some days, some moments, we all want to send our kids to the kennel, to stab our partners in the temple with a plastic fork, and to take to bed with a bottle of Shiraz. We don’t generally do it, but we think it. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s downright life affirming.
Truth is, I like me a good mess — I live in one every day. So it makes sense that I like to read authentic, gritty stories about the ways in which other women’s lives are gloriously complex and messy, too. And if life doesn’t wrap up neatly, why should the story? Pretty little endings tied up in pink bows are for Harlequin romances and 1980s sitcoms. But there are moments. Natural pauses in life when each of us stops and reflects, when we catch a glimpse of what might be an epiphany — about motherhood, about life, about being a woman — and we take a minute, just to sit with it. It’s as much of a beginning as it is an ending.
Closing a piece at such a moment may not make the reading of it “all worthwhile” in the perkiest sense of the phrase. But it does take the writing to a deeper level of honesty. It lifts it above the average, the predictable. The trivial. As an editor and a reader — and, yes, especially as a mother — I find that this is worth very much, indeed.