lmbook_largeI just realized that I’ve neglected to write blog posts when new creative nonfiction at Literary Mama is published. My bad! It is such a great privilege to read these submissions, select them, work with these authors, and I am so pleased to show them off.

Recently we had to fill out some sort of questionnaire that asked what our acceptance rate is, and we estimated it around 10%. I didn’t realize we were that selective, but as it turns out, I think we are. Out of every ten submissions, I’d say we probably send six back straight away. Of the four remaining, we hem and haw and deliberate. If all three CNF editors agree, we send it on to the two senior editors for approval.  Probably one out of the four passes muster of all five editors and ends up being published. That is quite the gauntlet.

So congratulations and brava! to the three CNF writers for January:

Sasha Hom offers up this excerpt from her essay, “Unassisted,” in One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love.

Twenty-nine years old, jobless, pregnant, sprawled across pillows on the floor of my midwife’s houseboat, I felt it was important to tell my midwife about my dreams of flight, of soaring. I always landed, I told her. Sometimes with a thud, my limbs jerking as I awoke, or gracefully on two feet. Then I’d rise up, dragging my wings, and walk slowly into wakefulness.

Allison Shores, in “The Loss of Meaningful Things,” wrote a poignant piece about her daughter, adopted from Guatemala, who carries nightmares within her.

Whenever she saw a police officer, she shouted “Policia!” She locked her arms in machine gun position and shook them while she clenched her teeth, “Chee, chee, chee, chee!”

More than once, she tied up the baby doll with string, then sauntered across the room to apply pretend eye shadow with her finger tips and primp her hair. She ordered me to be the baby and to cry. Sometimes the police would come, sirens screeching from her mouth, taking away the mommy while she directed me, the baby, to scream.

And finally, I loved Andrea Askowitz’s “Nanny” because it cracked me up.

When I was approaching 35, I decided to have a child on my own. I was single and also a lesbian. I thought that if I didn’t act, I might lose the chance.

I got myself inseminated and then one day I woke up fat and alone. Next I was alone with a newborn. My mom, who lived 3,000 miles away, came to help. She hired a cleaning lady. Deniz, a Turkish Muslim who barely spoke English, came over with a bucket and a mop.

photo-3Well, our girl has been determined to get a tattoo for about four years now (maybe more, who knows). Our standard answer was always “when you’re eighteen.” Because that is the age that you no longer need parental permission.

She turned 18 in October. We thought she’d run right out and do it right away, but she’s been taking her time, contemplating design, meaning, placement.

We got the call yesterday. “I did it!” 

It’s a chrysanthemum on her leg, which is what my mother’s name (Kikuko) means in Japanese. It also stands for determination, which this girl embodies. So it’s a perfect symbol.

A few people have asked me if I’m freaked out. No, I’m not. If she had a drug or alcohol problem, that would freak me out. Or if she was clinically depressed or had a serious illness or injury. Those things would freak me out. But a tattoo in honor of her grandmother?  No, not at all.

turkeyI’ve got a new column up over at Life at the Sandwich on Literary Mama.

 

All last year, I dreaded my older daughter’s departure from our home. I painstakingly noted every “last” — her last birthday at home, her last time driving the car. I wept in anticipation of how terribly empty the house would feel without her. I wrung my hands and waited to suffer.

Then we took her to college in August, two thousand miles away. She was anxious to go and get started with her new life. Our goodbye was not sentimental, drawn out, or deeply heartfelt — she waved and said “Bye, Mom” very quickly, and then literally ran up the stairs into her dorm. She was gone.

Here’s my latest column over at Life in the Sandwich. I’ve noticed that since writing it I am feeling a little bit less sad and urgent about this issue. I think the writing of it was very cathartic. I’m still not sure what will ultimately happen, but I feel more at peace that it could go either way.

As soon as I got my copy of Mama, Ph.D., I knocked my forehead and said, “Why didn’t I write something for this?” And then immediately, I knew. When I first read the title for the call for submissions way back when, I sent it to all my mama friends who HAD Ph.Ds. I didn’t really consider my lowly MFA to be worthy of consideration.

But as I thumbed through the poignant, intelligent essays in this collection, I soon understood that a lot of the women in this anthology didn’t have Ph.D.s either. They were abandoned or veered away from when children raised their siren calls.

I gave birth to my second child a week after waddling across a hot stage to receive my master’s degree in writing. Many of my classmates were on to doctoral programs, but I felt I was at the end of my particular line.
So it was with a mixture of envy, regret and relief that I read this collection; reading of the intense sacrifices of mixing a life of academy + family.

It seemed that most of the women in this anthology were pursuing Ph.D.s while pregnant or with very young babies or children. I would have been very interested in reading about women who pursued graduate or doctoral degrees when their children were older, in high school or college or beyond; maybe, coincidentally because now that my elder child is heading to college, it is the first time the notion of a Ph.D. is wiggling its seductive little finger at me. I don’t think I’ll probably go down that path, but for so many years it was “No, no, no WAY” and now again it’s “Hmmm… could I do that? Do I want to?”

The writing in this book is alive, often very humorous, often fraught. The quality of these narratives is uniformly excellent. It’s creative nonfiction at its best: true stories that often read like fiction, with compelling narratives, and characters for whom much is at stake. I was pulled in immediately by the funny-but-extremely-thoughtful first essay, Jamie Warner’s “The Conversation.”

Jamie: Do you think you want to have kids?
George: I don’t know. Do you think you want to have kids?
Jamie: I don’t know either… and why don’t you know? What else needs to happen? Is this a question of timing, or is more of an existential question?
George: I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I also loved Sonya Huber’s exquisite “In Media Res,” an ode to her unborn “Goat-baby.” I want to see you; I am hungry for the plot, for the tiny details of your story contained in the pads of your fingers, and your plans for rebellion and creation.

Loved Jennifer Eyre White’s “Engineering Motherhood,” about a “troubled youth” turned electrical engineer/mother/grad student. Susan O’Doherty’s “The Wire Mother” masterfully examines motherhood and psychology, and Elisabeth Rose Gruner’s “I Am Not A Head On A Stick.” My daughter, still in utero, used to kick books off my belly when I’d rest them there to read. My husband and I joked that she knew they were competition. Maybe it wasn’t a joke.

I have to admit that in reading this, I was biased. I was biased towards the mothers who hung in there, who used their Ph.D.s, who walked around their universities with people calling them “Doctor.” How could someone go through so much and then… not use it? Are there people who battle their way through medical school and then decide not to become doctors? Maybe it’s because of my own road-not-traveled regrets and longings. I have to say that I felt a twinge when I read editor Caroline Grant’s “The Bags I Carried,” which described her leaving academia and really not looking back. She ultimately found Literary Mama (for which I am personally grateful!), which gave her another powerful venue for the world of words and ideas, of sharing them with other thinking, writing mothers. But I couldn’t help hoping that when her children are older that she might turn back to her Ph.D.

Only after reading the entire book did I feel like maybe it was a bit … TOO uniform. I would have loved to have heard more from older women, lesbians, more women of color. Hmm, is that why they call it the Ivory Tower?

This is one reason why I particularly loved Angelica Duran’s essay, “One Mamá’s Dispensable Myths and Indispensable Machines.” She brings in the many layers of race, culture, gender, and grapples with them beautifully.

While my mother would have been patient with me if I had used her as a babysitter from my Anglo-American contextual culture rather than appreciated her as an abuelita from my Latino root culture, I managed to be a mamá so that she in turn could be an abuelita.

Truly, every piece in this collection is strong, provocative and gives much food for thought. I’ve been turning these womens’ stories over and over in my head for weeks, having silent debates with them and myself, and I suspect the conversation is going to go on for a long time.

It’s been a verrrrrry long time since the Dad in our house had any babies to bond with, and this book, with subtitle “Building A Closer Connection to Your Baby” brought back some fond memories. It’s very cute visually (see photos!) and light on heavy-duty advice. It’s basically a reminder that dads can and should be involved in basically every aspect of their new kid’s life. The instructions are kind of on the silly side (Diapering: Sing “she’s a very stinky girl” to the tune of “she’s a very kinky girl”) but nonetheless humorous and appealing. You’re not going to get any answers to the REALLY heavy-duty challenges of parenting here, but as I said, it’s a lighthearted reminder that there is no aspect of one’s baby’s life that is hands off.

I could not agree more. I was VERY into the notion of 50-50 parenting when I had my babies. Even though their dad was working full time out of the house, I really felt like it had to be split evenly when he was home. I will say that he valiantly did almost 50% of the feeding (with pumped breastmilk) and almost 50% of the nighttime getting up and Dealing With Whatever. He was a real trooper. I personally do not think that Motherhood should have ANYthing over Fatherhood, especially in these early months/years, and this book was a great validation of that idea.

This book was written by a mom-and-dad duo, James di Properzio and Jennifer Margulis, and they did a great job with their teamwork. It’s obvious that a lot of loving care went into this pretty little book.

All I can do when I look at these photos is sigh and wait down that looong tunnel ’til grandparenthood.

Meanwhile, if there are any new dads out there, or people who love them, leave a comment here if you want to be in a random drawing to win my copy of this book!

I almost didn’t review Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children. It arrived while I was away and I thought, I’ll only have two days to read it AND write the review? No way… but when I staggered home from the airport on Saturday, I found the package and ripped it open. I thought I’d read a page or two before passing out. WELL. I ended up reading almost half of it and the next morning I got up and finished it off faster than a hot sugared malasada (that’s a Hawaiian donut, in case you didn’t know).

I LOVED THIS BOOK. I loooove Mama Rock, who is the mother of comedian Chris Rock, as well as nine other kids and a ton of foster children. How much do I love her? Well, if I could, I’d invite her to come live with me and stand over my shoulder every time I say anything to my kids.

Mama Rock is a down-to-earth, no nonsense and yet warm and funny person. She IS a rock: she’s rock solid, she’s strong, and she knows how to head a family. I love her rules. Her first rule, which is nothing new really but something that practically every parent *I* know (myself included) has a very hard time with. Which is, you are not here to be your child’s friend; you are here to be their parent.

Were you torn between being a parent and a friend to the child? In my world, there is no decision to make. It was made when you had your child. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s mental, emotional, and spir-itual growth. Your friends don’t ask you to be accountable for them in the same way, do they?

After all, I don’t tell my friends what to do or punish them if they don’t keep a promise
to me (OK, I usually act kind of cool toward them for awhile, but you know what I mean). I don’t make rules for them and certainly never enforce any. My friends also don’t expect me to provide their security or be their protector.

You ask me: Mama Rock, can’t I be both a parent and a friend to my children? Listen, when parents say they want to be friends with a child it is usually about pleasing the child; after all, no one likes friction. Every parent must have the courage to be in charge and to say no. You can have fun with your kids just like you can with a friend—we had plenty of fun—but you can’t be afraid to enforce the rules because you might lose your child’s affection. As parents, we have to protect our children. That is a job for a parent—not a friend.

This was something that I have been unclear on the concept about. I mean, it has been really, really hard for me to wrap my head around. And I have, I believe, paid the price.

Mama Rock makes a very clear distinction between being able to have FUN with a kid, and enjoy each other immensely, and being their friend. It sounds like lots of good times were had in her household, but she was still the one in charge.

She is all about having basic rules around respect, and responsibility, and just being a standup person. I think I have been a pretty good mom overall but when it comes to rules and respect and responsibility, I felt very humbled as I read this. My kids are not wayyy off the scale when it comes to disrespect, but I know they say stuff to me that would cause Mama Rock to take out her “can of whup-ass” (figuratively, not literally) and stop it right then and there. I often don’t stop things because I am pretty much a wimp much of the time. I’m not a rock, I’m a marshmallow. And that has caused problems for both me and the ones I love. Often when my kids were little, my husband and I would be frantically asking each other, “WHAT’s the consequence for this?” and we had such a hard time figuring things out. We either undershot (um, time out for 30 seconds) or overshot (“I’m never taking you anywhere again!”) and most of the time we had no clue what we were doing. If only we had had Mama Rock then.

I had a thought about chores and responsibility as I was reading this. Everyone I know (or read about) who has a large family pretty much has the chore thing down. I think this must be for two reasons: one, because when you have a TON of kids you’re just too overwhelmed to do everything yourself, and two, because if everyone’s doing it, then it’s the norm, and they make it a family culture thing, even if they don’t like it. People that I know (including self) who have one or two kids, generally do NOT make them do a bunch of chores because it’s “too much of a struggle” or “it’s just easier to do it myself” or some such.

Mama Rock has nice, good, strong opinions about just about everything and she is not shy about sharing them, which I found abundantly refreshing. She talks about how to talk to teenagers about sex (“Don’t lie down with anything you don’t want to spend your life with”) and drugs and curfews and self esteem and spirituality but in a very nondogmatic good way. She talks about the all-important family dinner and family time, but not at all in a heavyhanded way. She makes it sound easy.

She’s NOT about giving your kid organic vegetables and sleeping with them or giving them all kinds of Enrichment and whatnot. She keeps Coke! in her refrigerator, and shops at Kmart and orders Domino’s Pizza. She’s like, a REAL PERSON! That 90% of the people in this country could relate to.

I could go on and on. I am going to go back and read this book again. It humbled me and inspired me and made me wish, for a little bit, that my kids were 1 and 5 years old again so I could implement these things for a lot longer. I really want Mama Rock to come to Pact Camp and meet with all the parents there. If you feel like a bit of a spineless parent, this book could be just the shot of strength you are looking for.

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