no winning in this mothering
but here for it anyway—what I'm reading, listening to, worrying over + savoring
I spend a lot of time thinking about my kids. This is not a brag, or even a humble brag, or a confession, or a regret. It just is. It may or may not benefit them. Or me.
Currently, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can be a better parent to my kids. The timing seems right. One is a tween which feels like a steep new learning curve. I’m trying to learn to talk tween. The other is younger, and watching closely. We recently moved both of them from the home they’d always known in Brooklyn, plucked up our city mice, brought them to the country, a whole new habitat. This move has changed them, made them braver, sometimes sadder, sometimes more interested and alive. I’m changing too, why not try to do that for the better?
For five years I owned and ran a children’s bookshop in Brooklyn called Stories. I had less time to think then. But I spent a lot of time with parents of small children, and with their children. I loved on those families and observed up-close the constant vigilance and creativity and problem solving and care the parenting of small children requires. Also large children.
Then the pandemic came, shuttering our gathering spot and every other, and driving parenting indoors, inside individual homes, that care, like so much else, locked down and in. Mothering has often being inside work, a profound unseen labor, but maybe never more so than in the last two years.
Even in the before times though, motherhood could feel like a Harry Potterish cloak of invisibility. Instagram has famously presented a cult of curated motherhood, which in generous moments seems to me a moving effort to make the invisible visible. Look at this art activity I did, this batter we baked, this way I made my playroom pretty. I was alone, with an audience that showed their appreciation only through their focus or lack of screaming. Now you can see it, see me. It’s a good moment to make the invisible visible. If not now, when?
Mothering can seem a quiet, small subject (maybe because it’s been women who tend to do it), when in fact, in the course of a very noisy day-to-day of mothering, you are creating and raising up a human being. The wild vastness of the endeavor, the almost science fiction worthy world-creating-ness, is what more often strikes me.
The winter my first son was nearly one, my father asked me, poetically, somewhat dramatically, and not unkindly (I noted in my journal), whether I felt “house-bound, constrained, coffined” by my daily life of mothering. It was not a bad question then. And it’s a good one now.
Sometimes I wondered whether I should feel more “coffined.” But I didn’t. And I don’t now. Being a mother feels natural to me, in a way that being a writer or a business owner—though I feel sick and somewhat ashamed writing this—hasn’t always. I imagine there are mothers who feel the reverse—natural at work, doubtful with their children—and that the discrepancy makes them similarly ill and ashamed. There’s no winning in this mothering. Only a big stew of honest complexity we can share together, with a side of empathy and self-compassion.
Sometimes the amount I love mothering makes me feel like a bad feminist, which is perhaps another way of saying sometimes I worry that it makes me weak, or small. Other times, it makes me feel bold and powerful, in touch with my truest self. I hope to explore both extremes and everything in between right here.
I’m writing this bi-weekly-ish meditation on what I’m exploring around mothering—reading, listening to, worrying over and savoring—and sending it out for any others likewise preoccupied with the work of mothering. I know it’s not a neutral word; I’m also working on expanding my thinking on gender. But today motherhood still often feels gendered to me, in the sense that my relationship to mothering is related to and challenged by the patriarchy. I’m a cisgender woman, married to a cisgender man who is the father of my children. At the same time, I believe that fathers can mother, children eventually (if not before) mother their parents, friends and partners mother each other daily.
Maybe I’ll even mother you from over here, and you can mother me some, too.
Bewilderment, by Richard Powers: A novel about a father looking for signs of life in the universe while mothering his troubled motherless son. Captures the science fiction that is the universe and raising humans, the wonder, and the darkness.
Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen, by Michelle Icard: Helping me to talk tween; valuable scaffolding and support for all the necessary conversation kids need to have at home before teenagerdom.
Ashley C. Ford on We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle
Ashley C. Ford, author of the memoir Somebody’s Daughter, is the wisest commentator on family, and she is so insightful here on what forgiving our own parents can mean. A perspective shifting conversation.
A letter from the superintendent of our school district Thursday evening citing generalized threats of school violence on TikTok had me on edge (a little extra edge, on top of the Omicron edge). Parents around the country received similar notices and some schools closed. Gun violence in schools on top of a pandemic seems like more stress than children or their parents should have to navigate on an average weekday. No surprise we are in the midst of a massive mental health crisis for young people and for adults in this country—we need to keep talking, and therapists have no availability.
In that narrow window between kids 5 to 11 (including my own!) finally getting vaxxed and the crush of Omicron uncertainty, my son’s middle school held an in-person, masked, distanced, chorus and band concert. I can never not cry when children sing inspiring songs, but when children who were kept from singing in person together for two years sing songs while masked —well, there was weeping. The program included a page on what arts education can do for children (I took a photo; image below) that I found so powerful. Oh my heart: #8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. Isn’t that everything?