Mothers Who Think: Tales Of Reallife Parenthood

Overview

From the editors of Salon.com's cutting edge Web site, "Mothers Who Think," comes "an anthology of smart and lovely essays" (Chicago Sun Times) — provacative collection that challenges and changes our views of motherhood today.
Anne Lamott, Jayne Anne Phillips, Sallie Tisdale, Susan Straight, Jane Lazarre, Nora Okja Keller, Beth Kephart, Ariel Gore, Alex Witchel, and many other contemporary writers elevate the discussion of motherhood above the level of tantrum control and potty...

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Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood

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Overview

From the editors of Salon.com's cutting edge Web site, "Mothers Who Think," comes "an anthology of smart and lovely essays" (Chicago Sun Times) — provacative collection that challenges and changes our views of motherhood today.
Anne Lamott, Jayne Anne Phillips, Sallie Tisdale, Susan Straight, Jane Lazarre, Nora Okja Keller, Beth Kephart, Ariel Gore, Alex Witchel, and many other contemporary writers elevate the discussion of motherhood above the level of tantrum control and potty training. Irreverent, wistful, hilarious, fierce, and tender, these essays offer an unsparing look at the myths and realities, the serious and silly sides, the thankless and supremely satisfying aspects of being a mom — and are a testament to the notion that motherhood gives women more to think about, not less.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Chicago Tribune Wistful, tender, hilarious...will move you the way only good writing can.

Los Angeles Times [These] essays...are not so much issues as personal truths, spun out with equal parts observation, honesty, and good humor. They are sad, and funny, and poignant, and real.

Ms. Magazine Finally, we who share the joy and the fury can share a book that embraces both and, unlike any other book on the subject, invites us to honor ourselves for simply doing the best we can.

Elizabeth Taylor, literary editor Chicago Tribune Trade the parenthood guides in for this collection of provocative essays. I read most of them late at night on Salon, the Internet magazine, and revisited, they come alive again. The sheer intelligence and range of these mothers, from Jayne Anne Phillips to Sallie Tisdale and Alex Witchel, enlarge the world of motherhood.

Miami Herald This book is a lot like motherhood itself full of joy, trauma, insanity, hard work, exhaustion, and more than a few good laughs.

Austin Chronicle (TX) A must-read for anyone contemplating motherhood and a bible for all of us whose lives have been warped, splendored, and expanded by our dear little ones.

The Bellingham Herald (WA) Most popular press articles on the joys and tribulations of mothering are mildly insulting. Good friends may share true feelings with you, but not the press. [The web site] "Mothers Who Think" is where you go when you realize you've been duped...Heartfelt, exuberant essays...Funny, straight-talking...

Mirabella Full of dames both besotted and fed up...Essays by these mothers who think deal with the sweet, the sour, and the unthinkable.

Minnesota Parent Here, at last, is a parenting book for those of us who have made the desperate search for some literature (any literature!) that reflects our own intense, horrific, hilarious, joyful, maddening, bewildering, sublime experiences as mothers.

New York Newsday Motherhood, apple pie, angst. This book offers proof that good parenting exists on many levels...Reflective and crisply written.

Chicago Sun-Times
[A]n anthology of smart and lovely essays.
Los Angeles Times
[These] essays...are not so much issues as personal truths, spun out with equal parts observation, honesty, and good humor. They are sad, and funny, and poignant, and real.
Ms. Magazine
Finally, we who share the joy and the fury can share a book that embraces both and, unlike any other book on the subject, ivites us to honor ourselves for simply doing the best we can.
Kirkus Reviews
An intermittently provocative and entertaining collection of essays, most reprinted from othe online magazine Salon, on many aspects of motherhood. Peri and Moses, editors at Salon, present close to 40 first-person narratives by mostly new voices deliberating on the joys and sadness of motherhood. Among the more refreshing is that of Joyce Millman, Salon's television critic, who humorously depicts her half-hearted decision to become a classroom volunteer in her son's kindergarten class and its unsuspected consequences. For the first time in her life, she achieves popularity and gains school spirit. But, even more, she gains enormous respect for teachers, "not just for the workload they carry, but for the emotional load." On a more serious note, Ariel Gore, editor of the parenting zine Hip Mama, vividly describes the nightmare of her six-year odyssey in a dysfunctional family court, while seeking protection for herself and her daughter against her daughter's criminally insane father. And writer and editor Kim Van Meter describes the wrenching decision she made, together with her partner, Margi, not to adopt an emotionally troubled five-year-old girl who was likely to need a lot more than "someone to love her." Also on the theme of adoption is writer and editor Ceil Malek's moving and enlightening account of giving up a baby girl in 1965 and reuniting with her 20 years later. NPR contributor Karen Grigsby Bates describes her attempts to instill black pride and awareness in her daughter, who is growing up in a privileged white world. The most powerful essay is by editor Peri, who, in relating two tales, vividly describes the unbearable pain the loss of a child brings. Though some of theessays here are too "cutesy" and come off too much like self-indulgent exercises in prose, many brim with intelligence and excitement. (illustrations, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671774684
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,333,536
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Camille Peri is the editor of "Mothers Who Think," the most popular feature in the online magazine Salon.com. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Parenting, Lear's, and Savvy.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Reparations

JANE LAZARRE

I am a small child, somewhere between the time language opened up the world of meaning to me and six years later when my mother died and key words lost their meaning. Words in the dictionary. Words I could no longer comprehend. Forever. Dead. Like elephant, which had suddenly turned from solid sign into a mysterious drifting sound in an extraordinary moment when my mother, perhaps unknowingly, enabled me to see the precariousness of meaning, its constructed fragility.

"Knock, knock," she said, having taught me the routine.

"Who's there?" (I might have clapped in excitement. I was only four or five.)

"Ella." (I think I recall her dark eyes twinkling, or she may have shook her head, displacing her carefully shaped, short dark hair.)

"Ella who?" I whispered, obedient and aroused.

"Ella-Fant," she said.

It took a few moments for me to grasp it. Ella-Fant. What was that? For what seemed a very long time I repeated the words over and over, searching for the double meaning I knew must be there, and finally the strange name slipped back into the image of the familiar animal I saw nearly every Sunday in the Central Park Zoo. I would hold my father's hand as we watched the huge creatures lift their trunks with dark holes at the end that seemed to stretch and constrict rhythmically around peanuts, leaves, the world.

When it was elephant again, I stared at my mother in silent amazement, but she may have had no idea what was happening inside me as I stood there repeating, "Elephant, Ella-Fant..." The long gray trunks, hard and erect and opened at the end. My father's hand in mine. My mother's voice, her laugh-as I stood there falling in love with the indefinite plasticity of words.

After she was dead (but I never said "dead," not until much later, when I was in my twenties; I said died, "she died"; the action suggesting a possible reaction, a lack of definite ending), I kept saying "elephant" to myself — meaning, I think, that the word dead, which I wouldn't say, might have within its mysterious sound the same magical ambiguity.

I am about four years old, dressed in some ruffled, stiff thing my mother likes. I cannot see its pattern because it is under my coat, which is wool, navy blue, with a pretty indented waist. My defective feet (weak ankles, turned-in toes) are pushed into smart patent leather shoes, Mary Janes. Under a thick, red plaid woolen blanket that reeks of animal hair, I cuddle next to my mother in an old-fashioned open carriage that is being pulled by a tired-looking black horse around Central Park. This is a special date — "excursion" is the word my mother uses and I have come to love. We are on an excursion together, only the two of us. My father is someplace else. My sister is only a baby, left at home with our grandmother. I notice the weariness of the horse's movements, his mangy mane threaded with what looks like gray dust, a great sadness in his eyes. As with the twin worlds of elephant (in one world, the word meaning something perfectly comprehensible; in the other, nonsense), I imagine twin worlds of a different sort for the horse. I can see he is an exhausted animal in ordinary life. But held in my mother's arms, my aching feet warmed by the stiff wool and my cheeks icy from the cold, I can feel the saliva of excitement gather in my mouth and I am certain the horse is really majestic, powerful, his coat glistening. I see him lift his hooves high off the ground, prancing. His mane grows long and shines like I imagine midnight might if you were alone on a dark sea reflecting a sky full of stars. And that is how I come to remember the horse that pulled our carriage around the park. Years later, when my father takes my younger sister and me for a ride one afternoon, trying to replicate my mother's excursion and, perhaps, preserve a bit of her dramatic nature for her daughters, I will be shocked by the sickly appearance of the black horse and, despite my previous insistence, refuse to go for the ride.

Many years later, I dug out my old books about black horses for my son. He loved The Black Stallion series so much he read all the novels one summer, and I felt a strange thrill. But when I gave him Black Beauty — the story of a powerful colt who is orphaned, sold here and there until he becomes a carriage horse and is then overworked, whipped, underfed, and generally so mistreated he is eventually retired to a farm — my son disliked it, finding it too sad, and his dislike filled me with an annoyance I did not understand at the time. I gazed at the illustrations of the ill-used, exhausted horse and tried to push behind my idealized memory to a vague, uneasy familiarity, where I recognized that worn-out animal from someplace in my past.

I started the knock-knock jokes as soon as my sons began speaking words. We moved from Ella-Fant on to more complex ambiguities — "Ida" becoming "I da know," "Willie" becoming " Will e win the race?" Both boys became fascinated with the magic of the game, which ignited other passions, so each time the double meaning became clear, they would throw themselves into my arms, kiss my neck, and declare their love for me.

Thinking about passion and words, after my children are grown, I begin a novel with the memory of the knock-knock joke. I want to write about a woman writer — a subject that demands, or seeks, a selfconfident mood — so I feel hopeful when I realize I am drawn to mirrors. I do not pass them by with a quick glance as has been my habit for years. Nor do I sit and stare into them as I did as a child, searching for evidence of my dead mother's features shadowed in my own. I look at myself — my face, my body, clothed and naked. I gaze closely at my shoulders, my neck, my thighs. And then I hear my father's voice admonishing me long ago: "Stop admiring yourself in the mirror!"

My father was a storyteller, and when I was a child, about to go to sleep and full of anxieties that had taken hold since my mother's death, he would try to calm me with tales about his long trip by train and foot from the Old Country — even the Atlantic Ocean months away, let alone the eventual goal of America. But when he finally arrived, there were unimagined riches to behold, and he'd begin the story of seeing an orange for the first time in his life. He would hold up an orange for me to admire, looking at it as he must have years before, and I would imagine the taste of real orange juice emerging from succulent, dripping crescents outlined in delicate, edible white thread, all meeting in his mouth for the very first time. The orange came to represent all the possibilities one might hope for even at the most hopeless times. The story about the orange became a tonic for our grief.

He elaborated on his stories as the years went by. Stories of Ordinary Life, he called them: the day my younger sister learned to pump herself on the swing in the park; our ride in a Central Park carriage drawn by a powerful, beautiful black horse; our Sunday trip to the zoo, where I stood holding his hand at the fenced border of the elephant's cage and watched in wonder as those long, powerful trunks threatened to ingest the whole world.

If my mother's laughter and her death introduced me to mystery, it was my father's voice that taught me how stories might be a railing when the chasm seemed to fall too far and steep below. Of course, he would no more approve of these mirroring sequences of my life I am calling a novel than he liked me looking in mirrors. Nevertheless, he bequeathed the obsession. When Ella-Fant becomes "elephant," it is my father's hand I feel pressing around mine, the hardness of his thigh against my cheek.

During those years of childhood and adolescence when a beautiful young girl looked back at me from the mirror, I was incapable of what he was accusing me of. More than forty years later, I am admiring myself. In a beautiful old Cape Cod house where I stay for a few weeks of uninterrupted writing, I shower outside under a large tree and admire my aging thighs. In my quiet room at night, one small light near my bed casting a soft glow, I stand before the large, mahogany framed mirror and admire my face. Then I return to my bed and open the notebook where I am recording memories of my childhood and my children's childhood; drafting scenes, passages, sentences; making lists of magical words.

Copyright © 1999 by Jane Lazarre

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Table of Contents

CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

FOREWORD / ANNE LAMOTT

INTRODUCTION: THE MAMAFESTO / CAMILLE PERI AND KATE MOSES

REPARATIONS / Jane Lazarre

WHAT MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME, OR HOW I WAS

BLINDSIDED BY CHILDBIRTH AND SURVIVED /

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

BOY CRAZY/ Sallie Tisdale

ON NOT HAVING A DAUGHTER /

Jayne Anne Phillips

DRAMA QUEEN FOR A DAY: HOW I BEAT A BULL

WITH MY THREE-SPEED BLENDER /

Cathy Wilkinson

ONE DRIP AT A TIME/ Susan Straight

MOTHER ROUX / Erin Aubry

HOW MANY WORKING FATHERS DOES

IT TAKE TO SCREW IN A LIGHTBULB?

Elizabeth Rapoport

ONE WEEK UNTIL COLLEGE /

Sandi Kahn Shelton

2-4-6-8, I'M THE ONE THEY APPRECIATE /

Joyce Millman

DRAMA QUEEN FOR A DAY: IS THAT A TONGUE

OR AN UMBILICAL CORD?/ Beth Myler

MOTHER ANGER: THEORY AND PRACTICE /

Anne Lamott

BRINGING UP BÉBÉ / Debra S. Ollivier

THE LINE IS WHITE, AND IT IS NARROW /

Beth Kephart

YOU'LL GET USED TO IT/ Nora Okja Keller

THINKING OF YOU/ Rose Stoll

STEPMOTHER/ Alex Witchel

DRAMA QUEEN FOR A DAY: NO DIAPERS,

NO COFFEE / Catherine A. Salton

COURT OF LAST RESORT / Ariel Gore

YOUNG, BLACK, AND TOO WHITE /

Karen Grigsby Bates

EXPECTING THE WORST/ Jennifer Reese

A MOTHER OF A YEAR / Stephanie Coontz

STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF /

Susie Bright

DRAMA QUEEN FOR A DAY: SPAGHETTI WEEVILS /

Leslie Goodman-Malamuth

A MOTHER'S BODY / Kate Moses

MY OTHER MOTHER/ Lori Leibovich

CAN THIS CHILD BE SAVED? / Kim Van Meter

COMMON SCENTS/ Chitra Divakaruni

BOYS WITHOUT MEN / Celeste Fremon

TOY STORY / Joyce Millman

DRAMA QUEEN FOR A DAY: DOGSITTER / MOTHER /

NURSE PUNCHER/ Arlene Green

SEX AND THE SEVEN-YEAR-OLD BOY/ Mona Gable

THE BABY GIRL I GAVE AWAY / Ceil Malek

COYOTE DREAMS/ Cynthia Romanov

DOUBLE DARE/ Sallie Tisdale

DANCING WITH DEATH/ Camille Peri

NOTES ON THE CONTRIBUTORS

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First Chapter

JANE LAZARRE


I am a small child, somewhere between the time language opened up the world of meaning to me and six years later when my mother died and key words lost their meaning. Words in the dictionary. Words I could no longer comprehend. Forever. Dead. Like elephant, which had suddenly turned from solid sign into a mysterious drifting sound in an extraordinary moment when my mother, perhaps unknowingly, enabled me to see the precariousness of meaning, its constructed fragility.

"Knock, knock," she said, having taught me the routine.

"Who's there?" (I might have clapped in excitement. I was only four or five.)

"Ella." (I think I recall her dark eyes twinkling, or she may have shook her head, displacing her carefully shaped, short dark hair.)

"Ella who?" I whispered, obedient and aroused.

"Ella-Fant," she said.

It took a few moments for me to grasp it. Ella-Fant. What was that? For what seemed a very long time I repeated the words over and over, searching for the double meaning I knew must be there, and finally the strange name slipped back into the image of the familiar animal I saw nearly every Sunday in the Central Park Zoo. I would hold my father's hand as we watched the huge creatures lift their trunks with dark holes at the end that seemed to stretch and constrict rhythmically around peanuts, leaves, the world.

When it was elephant again, I stared at my mother in silent amazement, but she may have had no idea what was happening inside me as I stood there repeating, "Elephant, Ella-Fant..." The long gray trunks, hard and erect and opened at the end. My father's hand in mine. My mother's voice, her laugh-as I stoodthere falling in love with the indefinite plasticity of words.

After she was dead (but I never said "dead," not until much later, when I was in my twenties; I said died, "she died"; the action suggesting a possible reaction, a lack of definite ending), I kept saying "elephant" to myself -- meaning, I think, that the word dead, which I wouldn't say, might have within its mysterious sound the same magical ambiguity.


I am about four years old, dressed in some ruffled, stiff thing my mother likes. I cannot see its pattern because it is under my coat, which is wool, navy blue, with a pretty indented waist. My defective feet (weak ankles, turned-in toes) are pushed into smart patent leather shoes, Mary Janes. Under a thick, red plaid woolen blanket that reeks of animal hair, I cuddle next to my mother in an old-fashioned open carriage that is being pulled by a tired-looking black horse around Central Park. This is a special date -- "excursion" is the word my mother uses and I have come to love. We are on an excursion together, only the two of us. My father is someplace else. My sister is only a baby, left at home with our grandmother. I notice the weariness of the horse's movements, his mangy mane threaded with what looks like gray dust, a great sadness in his eyes. As with the twin worlds of elephant (in one world, the word meaning something perfectly comprehensible; in the other, nonsense), I imagine twin worlds of a different sort for the horse. I can see he is an exhausted animal in ordinary life. But held in my mother's arms, my aching feet warmed by the stiff wool and my cheeks icy from the cold, I can feel the saliva of excitement gather in my mouth and I am certain the horse is really majestic, powerful, his coat glistening. I see him lift his hooves high off the ground, prancing. His mane grows long and shines like I imagine midnight might if you were alone on a dark sea reflecting a sky full of stars. And that is how I come to remember the horse that pulled our carriage around the park. Years later, when my father takes my younger sister and me for a ride one afternoon, trying to replicate my mother's exc ursion and, perhaps, preserve a bit of her dramatic nature for her daughters, I will be shocked by the sickly appearance of the black horse and, despite my previous insistence, refuse to go for the ride.


Many years later, I dug out my old books about black horses for my son. He loved The Black Stallion series so much he read all the novels one summer, and I felt a strange thrill. But when I gave him Black Beauty -- the story of a powerful colt who is orphaned, sold here and there until he becomes a carriage horse and is then overworked, whipped, underfed, and generally so mistreated he is eventually retired to a farm -- my son disliked it, finding it too sad, and his dislike filled me with an annoyance I did not understand at the time. I gazed at the illustrations of the ill-used, exhausted horse and tried to push behind my idealized memory to a vague, uneasy familiarity, where I recognized that worn-out animal from someplace in my past.

I started the knock-knock jokes as soon as my sons began speaking words. We moved from Ella-Fant on to more complex ambiguities -- "Ida" becoming "I da know," "Willie" becoming " Will e win the race?" Both boys became fascinated with the magic of the game, which ignited other passions, so each time the double meaning became clear, they would throw themselves into my arms, kiss my neck, and declare their love for me.


Thinking about passion and words, after my children are grown, I begin a novel with the memory of the knock-knock joke. I want to write about a woman writer -- a subject that demands, or seeks, a selfconfident mood -- so I feel hopeful when I realize I am drawn to mirrors. I do not pass them by with a quick glance as has been my habit for years. Nor do I sit and stare into them as I did as a child, searching for evidence of my dead mother's features shadowed in my own. I look at myself -- my face, my body, clothed and naked. I gaze closely at my shoulders, my neck, my thighs. And then I hear my father's voice admonishing me long ago: "Stop admiring yourself in the mirror!"

My father was a storyteller, and when I was a child, about to go to sleep and full of anxieties that had taken hold since my mother's death, he would try to calm me with tales about his long trip by train and foot from the Old Country -- even the Atlantic Ocean months away, let alone the eventual goal of America. But when he finally arrived, there were unimagined riches to behold, and he'd begin the story of seeing an orange for the first time in his life. He would hold up an orange for me to admire, looking at it as he must have years before, and I would imagine the taste of real orange juice emerging from succulent, dripping crescents outlined in delicate, edible white thread, all meeting in his mouth for the very first time. The orange came to represent all the possibilities one might hope for even at the most hopeless times. The story about the orange became a tonic for our grief.

He elaborated on his stories as the years went by. Stories of Ordinary Life, he called them: the day my younger sister learned to pump herself on the swing in the park; our ride in a Central Park carriage drawn by a powerful, beautiful black horse; our Sunday trip to the zoo, where I stood holding his hand at the fenced border of the elephant's cage and watched in wonder as those long, powerful trunks threatened to ingest the whole world.

If my mother's laughter and her death introduced me to mystery, it was my father's voice that taught me how stories might be a railing when the chasm seemed to fall too far and steep below. Of course, he would no more approve of these mirroring sequences of my life I am calling a novel than he liked me looking in mirrors. Nevertheless, he bequeathed the obsession. When Ella-Fant becomes "elephant," it is my father's hand I feel pressing around mine, the hardness of his thigh against my cheek.

During those years of childhood and adolescence when a beautiful young girl looked back at me from the mirror, I was incapable of what he was accusing me of. More than forty years later, I am admiring myself. In a beautiful old Cape Cod house where I stay for a few weeks of uninterrupted writing, I shower outside under a large tree and admire my aging thighs. In my quiet room at night, one small light near my bed casting a soft glow, I stand before the large, mahogany framed mirror and admire my face. Then I return to my bed and open the notebook where I am recording memories of my childhood and my children's childhood; drafting scenes, passages, sentences; making lists of magical words.

Copyright © 1999 by Jane Lazarre

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2000

    Mothers are people too.

    You probably will not agree with all the views contained in this book, but you will find yourself in these pages over and over and then you will know that you are not alone! The stories are funny, sad, and real. Our children give us the gift of a full range of emotion - love and anger as we've never had before. I found the title offensive, as if only some mothers think.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2000

    The book that reminds you that Life is funny!

    I laughed....I cried....I said to myself 'Thank God, I am not alone'! It's one of those rare books that you try to read where ever you are...the pick up line for school, the gynocologists office or in the grocery line. Where ever I was, everyone around me asked the same question...'what's so funny?' The answer ...LIFE!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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