Thursday, February 23, 2006

Reading for the maternally inclined

I never considered myself particularly maternally inclined, but here I am.

I've been a mother for more than 3 years now. In some ways, the last month or so has been the hardest — at 3, Helena is horrid and vile, by which I mean no longer completely pliant to my will, stubborn. She is testing her boundaries, my patience. Of course, the first months were hard too, but frankly, I barely remember them anymore, if anything at all of those sleep-deprived times even registered on my cortex.

And this is one of the great mysteries new mothers puzzle over: Why didn't anybody tell me it would be this hard? I didn't think it was supposed to be hard — it's supposed to be natural. Women have been doing it for millennia. How hard could it be? And why didn't they tell me?

Because they forget. Because they know how it is, and with the years it's easier, and they convince themselves it's not so hard after all; they assure you you will arrive at the same conclusion, that it's worth it. And really, most of the time it's not that hard at all.

Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, edited by Andrea J Buchanan and Amy Hudock, helps us remember.

Earlier this month, anthology editor Andi Buchanan on her own blog responded to some questions posed by Miriam Peskowitz. Parts of those answers are worth repeating:
Why should mothers read literature?...
...As an avid reader, I can't imagine a life without reading, and even though motherhood has compressed my available "free time" to an incredible degree, I find myself needing good literature now more than ever. And when I say "good," I don't mean lofty, or Important, or boring, or academic, or literary, or whatever adjectives people like to use to describe books that seem more like assignments than enjoyments; I just mean works that lift me out of my own life. As a mother, alternately plunged into the most mundane and most vital aspects of existence, reading books is a window out of and into my busy, complicated, boring (and when you think about it pretty incredible) life...

What's the literary in Literary Mama?
...The Literary in Literary Mama is about making mother-writing count as "real writing," as writing that matters. And if you care about that — and about reading that kind of writing — then you're a literary mama.

Reading Literary Mama has been an emotionally charged experience for me. Since it arrived on my doorstep just after Christmas, I've been dipping into it when I can. Of course, this is the same timeframe that included post-holiday clean-up, bedroom furniture assembly, an ever-growing work project with a cruelly unrealistic deadline, a crashing computer, a bout of something flulike, central vacuum installation, and a sick child (twice!). Too, it seems my longest sessions with this book were accompanied by PMS.

I started keeping a reading journal for this anthology, but gave up after just three entries. They all kind of went like this: "Wake up at 5:30. Helena won't go back to sleep. She drags me to the living room and turns on the TV. I try to read a couple pages but doze off. Not enough energy to make coffee." Other days are better, whether because I manage to read chapters at a time or because Helena has spontaneous bursts of affection that paint my day happy.

Some of the essays make me uncomfortable. While I don't think it's always a deliberate effect, it's still worthwhile for me to consider why. A few others — the poetry, for example — simply don't speak to me, at least not in a voice that I'm accustomed to listening to.

(I have not yet read those piece on illness and loss. That will require the emotional fortitude of another time and place.)

My favourite essay by far is The Gift, by Karen Vernon. She recognizes her daughter's creative gift and finds incentive to nurture her own. I am similarly awakening to the gifts before me and within me.

Read the introduction to Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined:
...the vein of voyeurism that is often a part of motherhood—observing children, teachers, other mothers—leads women online, often late at night, between feedings or diaper changes, to seek out other mothers’ stories.

...we assert that motherhood as a theme is worthy of great literature — and that mothers are capable of writing it.

If you've read along this "review" thus far, you might be dismayed that I've provided very little information about the book itself, that it's all about me. As far as I'm concerned, this is the point. The essays are windows, as much into myself as to other mothers. They let me try on other styles of mother for size, recognize the common denominators while appreciating the uniqueness of my own experience.

The pieces included in the anthology will hold appeal for both women and men, regardless of parenting status, wanting insight into their mothers, sisters, wives. It's great that motherhood is considered a worthwhile topic of discussion, and that mother-writers are supported, allowed a voice and given a platform. But Literary Mama's greatest gift is to the new mother, showing her her past and her future, reassuring her that she's not alone, encouraging her to embrace her Now.


Diana said...

I was particularly enjoying that the review was mostly about you. :)

I still remember a journal entry I started once when my kids were around the age of Helena (I just realized that when Katie was 3, I had 1-yo Joey at the same time!):

"I don't know what to write this morning. I'm still waking up and now I hear Katie stirring from her ro"

Yeah, that's as far as I got. I didn't even finish the word. And the next entry was dated several days later.

Things do change.

GaelicGrl said...

I often think it would be nice to read stories about other mothers but I just don't feel like I have the time: a blog entry penned here, a chapter in a book read there, is about all I can handle.

You're right: it IS hard. I have only had D. in daycare twice a week for the last month or so.

I've found that among all of my friends whose children are not still toddlers, there isn't one who says she can vividly remember the difficulty of the toddler years.

If ever I muster the energy to do so, I will definitely pick up Literary Mama.

Kris said...

Excellent review. Excellent!

Raehan said...

I should order that book. Thanks for the review.

Toddlers are hard. You are doing great with her, Isabella. I can tell.

It comes in waves doesn't it. Hard for a few weeks, then easier, then hard again.

martha said...

I wish I had had something like that before I started having my children. But then again, it might not have made any sense without the overwhelming context of having a child, or children. Really, this is by far the hardest thing I have ever attempted, this motherhood gig. Partly because of the level of commitment; you're absolutely in it for the long haul. It's quite helpful to hear other people's stories, which sometimes reassure me that other people have also had a really hard time, but that also can show me that others have reveled in it, that there are as many experiences out there as there are mothers. Except when it comes to toddlers, and then everyone throws up their hands. Oh. And my husband has just informed me that ours just barfed all over her bed. Surpriiiise!