Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write about Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race, and Themselves

Overview

The challenges facing mothers in the twenty-first century go well beyond tantrum control and potty training. Camille Peri and Kate Moses, the founding editors of Salon.com's "Mothers Who Think" column and the subsequent anthology of the same name, have once again compiled a selection of intimate and fiercely honest essays on the profound issues that affect women and their children.

Because I Said So offers thirty-three unique perspectives on motherhood from such writers as Janet...

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Because I Said so: 33 Mothers Write about Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race, and Themselves

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Overview

The challenges facing mothers in the twenty-first century go well beyond tantrum control and potty training. Camille Peri and Kate Moses, the founding editors of Salon.com's "Mothers Who Think" column and the subsequent anthology of the same name, have once again compiled a selection of intimate and fiercely honest essays on the profound issues that affect women and their children.

Because I Said So offers thirty-three unique perspectives on motherhood from such writers as Janet Fitch, Mariane Pearl, Ayelet Waldman, Mary Roach, Rosellen Brown, Mary Morris, and Ana Castillo. Witty and wise, their stories range from the anguish of giving up child custody to the guilt of having sex in an era of sexless marriages; from learning to love the full-speed testosterone chaos of boys to raising girls in a pervasively sexualized culture; from facing racial and religious intolerance to surviving cancer and rap simultaneously. This is the collective voice of real mothers in all their humor, anger, vulnerability, grace, and glory.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
“The creators of ‘Mothers Who Think’ have assembled smart, fierce, honest stories that are distinguished by their originality.”
People
“Smart, touching and often provocative.”
Booklist
“Women will appreciate the humor and candor, and men will gain insight into the stunning challenges of motherhood.”
People Magazine
"Smart, touching and often provocative."
People
“Smart, touching and often provocative.”
Publishers Weekly
Moses and Peri, who edited Mothers Who Think, an American Book Award-winning anthology based on a Salon.com column, have gathered some 33 talented mothers (including writers Rosellen Brown, Janet Fitch, Ayelet Waldman and Ann Hulbert, among others) discussing aspects of "real motherhood" today. True, most of their issues-spousal abuse, divorce, cancer, step-parenting, single mothering-aren't new. Some contributors, like Mariane Pearl, the widow of journalist Danny Pearl, have even published their thoughts elsewhere. What's magical about this collection, though, is what happens when such diverse accounts are stitched together in a single volume: a new picture emerges of what it means to be a mother in modern America. Chemo treatments may leave you bald. Your kids may suffer from "KGOY-kids growing older younger," and as they test your limits, you may find yourself "morphing into some authoritarian freak." If you're black, people may assume you're your own child's nanny. But as one woman discovered traveling solo to Cairo to see a particular set of Roman-era memorial portraits in the Egyptian Museum, the acknowledgment "of death, of loss, of suffering, as well as of desire and remembered joy" is all "part of living." Skip the flowers and candy this Mother's Day, and buy this book instead. Agent, Ellen Levine. (May 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This essay collection by the editors of Mothers Who Think (inspired by the column of the same name on Salon.com) features a broad array of women attempting to provide their children with "hope, strength and dinner." Readers first encounter a modern-day Muslim Hester Prynne, who relates her excommunication from her mosque in West Virginia for her refusal to feel or impersonate shame as an unwed mother. From this auspicious and riveting beginning follow still more perceptive, witty, and sometimes poignant contemplations of life as a mother, be it a mother with cancer, a divorced mother, a stepmother, a mother of small boys, a mother of teenage girls, or a mother dealing with terrorism, racism, or infertility; for all psychology and women's studies collections. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060598792
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/27/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,148,885
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kate Moses is a former contributing writer for Salon.com and one of the founding editors of Salon's Mothers Who Think. She is also the author of Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath, winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, as well as coeditor, with Camille Peri, of Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children.

Camille Peri was a founding editor of the Mothers Who Think website at Salon.com and coeditor, with Kate Moses, of the American Book Award–winning anthology Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.

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Read an Excerpt

Because I Said So

33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race, and Themselves
By Kate Moses

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Kate Moses
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060598794

Chapter One

The Scarlet Letter Z

Asra Q. Nomani

Ugly whispers about me began long before I found myself, in the summer of 2004, standing before a massive green door that led into the mosque in the town that I have known as my home since I was a girl of ten. The door stood in front of me like an entryway into my own personal hell.

My local community of Muslims -- interconnected via the Internet with like-minded Muslims globally -- had rebuked me for giving birth to a child out of wedlock and living without shame with this fact, then writing about it publicly to defend the rights of women who were quietly punished for similar cultural trespasses in the far corners of the world. From the pulpit of our mosque, a Ph.D. student called unchaste women "worthless." In the grocery store, an elder I had called "uncle" since my childhood days averted his eyes from mine when I passed him in the fruit section. A professor told his children to stay away from me. My family lost Muslim friendships of thirty years, relationships considered solid since we first made this town our home.

Criticism and condemnation seemed to come from everywhere: a Charleston, West Virginia, man wrote that I should stay in the shadows: "It would have been best if the facts of [your son's] birth had not been so callously flaunted ... Do you HAVE to rub it in?" When a Muslim immigrant said I was unfit to be a leader because of my unwed motherhood, an American convert responded, "... why not just make her wear a big red Z on all of her clothes, for zina, so everyone can steer clear and judge her for the rest of her life, like the adulteress in The Scarlet Letter?" Finally, the men at my mosque were putting me on trial, trying to banish me -- a symbolic exile from our community.

It was my mother, Sajida, strong and supportive and curious, who first sought out Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel. "You are Hester Prynne," she told me when she closed the cover. I read it next, and she was right: the elders of our mosque were like the seventeenthcentury Puritans in The Scarlet Letter who sentenced a single mother, Hester Prynne, to forever wear the letter A on her chest as punishment for the adultery in which she had conceived a child.

Three hundred years later, I was being subjected to the same experience of religious scrutiny, censure, and community rejection in a country that was founded on religious freedom. But could I garner anywhere near the strength of Hester's inner character in the inquisition that I faced? To walk into my house of worship was to invite the demons of hatred into my life. With a deep breath I opened the door, my son scampering inside ahead of me.

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

An assembly of my community sat, mostly men with beards, crocheted prayer caps, and dim-colored pants and T-shirts; others were clean-shaven, intermixed with women hooded with hijab, the head covering of Muslim women. I tucked my jet black hair into the hood of the oversize black, hooded jacket I had won in a beach volleyball tournament in my younger days. Like Hester most of her life, hiding her lush hair under a cap, I was making myself asexual in this world in which my sexuality had become the evidence of my criminality. But my jacket had the label "Six Pack," insider volleyball lingo for the power of a hard-driven spike hitting an opponent's face.

I took a seat at one end of the cafeteria-style tables arranged in a U. At the head of the table, a gray-haired, bearded, casually dressed elder, a university professor, got down to business. He pulled strips of paper with names typed on them out of a plastic Ziploc sandwich bag. He read the names on the slips of paper as if he were the master of ceremonies at a carnival drawing winners for raffle prizes. In fact, these were the names of those who would be the jury for the secret tribunal that the professor and the other leaders of the mosque had initiated against me. The judges at this "Ziploc justice" trial would be the five-member board of trustees that ran the mosque.

My crimes? In October 2003, I had walked through the front door of my mosque on the first night it opened, my infant son, Shibli, on my hip, instead of taking the rear entrance designated for women. I sat in the secluded women's balcony that night, but eleven days later, I walked through the front door and into the main hall, which is reserved for men. Then, when the mosque elders wouldn't meet with me, I wrote about the rights denied women in mosques such as mine, drawing attacks on my family and myself. But questioning the leadership and policies of the mosque wasn't enough to earn the full wrath of my community. My greatest offense was being an unwed mother.

She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the gloom ...

From my first memories, my life has been defined by a search for community. I was born in India but came to America at the age of four to join my mother and father, arriving with my older brother, Mustafa. Our parents had settled in New Jersey so that my father, Zafar, could pursue his academic career. I loved the one-story red house that we called home ...

Continues...


Excerpted from Because I Said So by Kate Moses Copyright © 2006 by Kate Moses. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi
The Scarlet Letter Z 1
Two Heads Are Better Than Three 19
Material Girls 23
Prayin' Hard for Better Dayz 37
Thirteen 55
On Giving Hope 66
Harry Potter and Divorce Among the Muggles 79
Escape from the Devil's Playground 88
Boys! Give Me Boys! 95
Why I Can Never Go Back to the French Laundry 105
There's No Being Sad Here 116
Was He Black or White? 136
Motherlove 148
Immaculate Conception 156
Thin, Blonde, and Drunk 165
Fight Club 168
Chaos Theory 173
Are Hunters Born or Made? 184
Wolves at the Door 192
Mothers Just Like Us 203
Iranian Revelation 216
Survivor 235
Bald Single Mother Does Not Seek Date 248
Natural Mother 252
No Blame 262
Why I Left My Children 269
Invisible Worlds 281
The Babysitters' Club 286
Ourselves, Carried Forward 297
Dude, Where's My Family? 304
My Surrogate 310
The Belly Unbuttoned 324
Mother of the World 334
Contributors' Notes 363
Essay Credits 371
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First Chapter

Because I Said So
33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race, and Themselves

The Scarlet Letter Z

Asra Q. Nomani

Ugly whispers about me began long before I found myself, in the summer of 2004, standing before a massive green door that led into the mosque in the town that I have known as my home since I was a girl of ten. The door stood in front of me like an entryway into my own personal hell.

My local community of Muslims -- interconnected via the Internet with like-minded Muslims globally -- had rebuked me for giving birth to a child out of wedlock and living without shame with this fact, then writing about it publicly to defend the rights of women who were quietly punished for similar cultural trespasses in the far corners of the world. From the pulpit of our mosque, a Ph.D. student called unchaste women "worthless." In the grocery store, an elder I had called "uncle" since my childhood days averted his eyes from mine when I passed him in the fruit section. A professor told his children to stay away from me. My family lost Muslim friendships of thirty years, relationships considered solid since we first made this town our home.

Criticism and condemnation seemed to come from everywhere: a Charleston, West Virginia, man wrote that I should stay in the shadows: "It would have been best if the facts of [your son's] birth had not been so callously flaunted ... Do you HAVE to rub it in?" When a Muslim immigrant said I was unfit to be a leader because of my unwed motherhood, an American convert responded, "... why not just make her wear a big red Z on all of her clothes, for zina, so everyone can steer clear and judge her for the rest of her life, like the adulteress in The Scarlet Letter?" Finally, the men at my mosque were putting me on trial, trying to banish me -- a symbolic exile from our community.

It was my mother, Sajida, strong and supportive and curious, who first sought out Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel. "You are Hester Prynne," she told me when she closed the cover. I read it next, and she was right: the elders of our mosque were like the seventeenthcentury Puritans in The Scarlet Letter who sentenced a single mother, Hester Prynne, to forever wear the letter A on her chest as punishment for the adultery in which she had conceived a child.

Three hundred years later, I was being subjected to the same experience of religious scrutiny, censure, and community rejection in a country that was founded on religious freedom. But could I garner anywhere near the strength of Hester's inner character in the inquisition that I faced? To walk into my house of worship was to invite the demons of hatred into my life. With a deep breath I opened the door, my son scampering inside ahead of me.

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

An assembly of my community sat, mostly men with beards, crocheted prayer caps, and dim-colored pants and T-shirts; others were clean-shaven, intermixed with women hooded with hijab, the head covering of Muslim women. I tucked my jet black hair into the hood of the oversize black, hooded jacket I had won in a beach volleyball tournament in my younger days. Like Hester most of her life, hiding her lush hair under a cap, I was making myself asexual in this world in which my sexuality had become the evidence of my criminality. But my jacket had the label "Six Pack," insider volleyball lingo for the power of a hard-driven spike hitting an opponent's face.

I took a seat at one end of the cafeteria-style tables arranged in a U. At the head of the table, a gray-haired, bearded, casually dressed elder, a university professor, got down to business. He pulled strips of paper with names typed on them out of a plastic Ziploc sandwich bag. He read the names on the slips of paper as if he were the master of ceremonies at a carnival drawing winners for raffle prizes. In fact, these were the names of those who would be the jury for the secret tribunal that the professor and the other leaders of the mosque had initiated against me. The judges at this "Ziploc justice" trial would be the five-member board of trustees that ran the mosque.

My crimes? In October 2003, I had walked through the front door of my mosque on the first night it opened, my infant son, Shibli, on my hip, instead of taking the rear entrance designated for women. I sat in the secluded women's balcony that night, but eleven days later, I walked through the front door and into the main hall, which is reserved for men. Then, when the mosque elders wouldn't meet with me, I wrote about the rights denied women in mosques such as mine, drawing attacks on my family and myself. But questioning the leadership and policies of the mosque wasn't enough to earn the full wrath of my community. My greatest offense was being an unwed mother.

She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the gloom ...

From my first memories, my life has been defined by a search for community. I was born in India but came to America at the age of four to join my mother and father, arriving with my older brother, Mustafa. Our parents had settled in New Jersey so that my father, Zafar, could pursue his academic career. I loved the one-story red house that we called home ...

Because I Said So
33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race, and Themselves
. Copyright © by Kate Moses. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

From the editors of Salon.com's Mothers Who Think, which led to the American Book Award-winning anthology Mothers Who Think, comes a new collection of essays by women, about women, for women. Elevating the discussion of motherhood above the level of tantrum control and potty training, the essays cover everything from the anguish of giving up custody after the divorce to the joys and heartaches of having one child with autism and one without.

Questions

  1. Which of the essays spoke to you the most and why? Did you disagree with any of the essays or have you had an opposite experience?

  2. Do you find it hard to juggle family, work, and time for yourself? How do you (or don't you) do it? Do you feel that one or two areas of your life suffer for the sake of another?

  3. Several of the essays deal with various cultural backgrounds and their importance in the authors' lives. Do you find that you draw strength from your cultural history? Do you try to make sure that your own children grow up with both knowledge of and pride in their family's history?

  4. The Ayelet Waldman essay has received a lot of media attention, both negative and positive. How did her essay make you feel in terms of your own family?

About the Authors

Camille Peri was a founding editor of the Mothers Who Think website at Salon.com and coeditor, with Kate Moses, of the American Book Award-winning anthology Mother's Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.

Kate Moses is a former contributing writer for Salon.com and one of the founding editors of Salon's Mothers Who Think. She is also the author of Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath, winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, as well as coeditor, with Camille Peri, of Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children.

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