The anthology Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit and Grit turns this assumption on its head. You won’t find cliché advice on how to become a writer or cute essays on potty training. Nothing unserious here. What you will find are real stories about the messy business of being both a writer and a parent.
The anthology, which sprung from a monthly writer’s group called the Write on Mamas, was created to give its members a safe place to write their stories. Contributor Lorrie Goldin describes the grit required of both occupations, saying, “… if you want to birth a baby or a bestseller, you can’t escape the pangs of labor.”
Many of the essays disclose aspects of mothering not often shared in the popular media—what it feels like to raise a transgender child who isn’t comfortable being the girl everyone expects. Or the sense of accomplishment when a child born with a rare genetic disorder is able to weather the potential meltdown of losing his ski on the lift to continue skiing with his family. Or the unpredictability of parenting a middle-schooler with a mood disorder who leaves for school in crazy outfits but is slowly finding her way.
One of the most difficult stories comes from Janine Kovac, founding member of Write on Mamas, who describes the many mornings she spent in intensive care, 92 to be exact, caring for twin sons born months premature. It is in the company of other writers that she found the courage to get past the stock phrases she told friends and family and go deeper, to the place where, “Remembering feels like sticking needles under my fingernails.” Kovac’s babies survived their hospitalization, and it was through the community of other writers that she was able to release the pain of those days spent in the ICU.
Teri Stevens, who also gave birth to a premature baby, tells a different ending. She was in her 24th week, her husband out of town, when she felt a pain that went on for four days. Her doctor found nothing wrong and wrote it off to fibroids. When the pain didn’t subside, she called 911, was taken to the emergency and gave birth immediately. Moments later her doctor arrived with the sad news. Nothing could be done. Her baby’s lungs were too undeveloped. Another week and the baby might have survived.
Along with sadness, there is a healthy dose of humor in this collection.
Pamela Alma Weymouth writes about the desire to correct a childhood that wasn’t well, perfect. “If your daddy leaves you at the age of three in the hands of a mother whose love is as predictable as the hurricanes in New Orleans, you make deals with yourself and your future children: You will have a TV family like the one on Family Ties.” Nice idea but it didn’t pan out. She finds herself divorced with two young children and seriously downsized: “You stare at your cell phone trying to figure out who to call. Everyone on your list of ‘favorites’ is married with children, which means they are changing diapers, running baths, cooking dinner or having scheduled sex.” The happy ending comes when she is finally asked out on a date, but ends up declining because by then she’s figured out that she’s the one she’s been waiting for.
In another hilarious essay, Joanne Hartman writes about having to curb her daughter’s reading obsession—termed “The Reading Thing”—when her daughter announces during the middle of a play date, “I’m going to go read.” Hartman throws down her New Yorker and springs into action, delivering an on-the-spot list of the dos and don’ts of reading etiquette.
There is much to take away from this engaging and honest anthology. Not least is the fact that being a mother doesn’t disqualify one from being a writer or a feminist. But what most unites the stories here is truth. These writers are telling it. And it’s worth the listen.
Leslie Absher’s work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Fiction Writer’s Review and Skirt! Magazine. She and her partner are mamas to four happy cats.