Who says what?

Novelist, mother, minister, and yoga teacher muses on books, babies, motherhood, and what matters with reverent humor.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sex-Therapy, Missing Grandmothers, Infertility, Proper Foot Wear, and Your Inner Child

I wrote a book. Some people would classify it as "chick lit." I love chick lit. I like hens, too. But what's the problem with that title? People think a book classified as "chick lit" isn't about anything of substance. Or maybe they think it's about chickens lit on fire. Either way, not helpful.

I'll Take What She Has covers many topics in it's enthralling plot, among them, missing grandmothers, infertility, sex-therapy, and proper foot wear. If that isn't the stuff of The National Book Award, I don't know what is.

But one heart in the book, one thread of substance, concerns a mother, Annie, struggling with how to parent her energetic, strong willed daughter Hannah. My friends, there is nothing romantic about parenting a candidate for the World Wrestling Entertainment Network. Any parent of a powerful tycoon-tot knows that trying to mother a difficult child has many adjectives tied to it--chick and lit do not apply.

I like to tell a story in a funny way. Otherwise, we might as well all cry. And I don't like crying. In the words of an old friend of mine, "it makes me feel sad." I want to infuse the world with joyfulness and so I wrote a funny book about the agonizing struggle of coming to terms with the dreadful, appalling, and alarming fact (if you are not a parent yet, don't read these words): YOU CANNOT CONTROL YOUR CHILDREN.

The only thing a person can do, in the end, is find a way to make sure that your child, and your child's maniacal moods, don't control you.

Annie is sparked into delving deeper into the issues of her mothering by a book on her shelf: Parenting From the Inside Out. I actually own this book. I even read the first page. The book explores the idea that our own childhood effects our parenting. No lightening bulbs there, naturally, still how many of us simultaneously parent our children and re-parent ourselves? As in, get out your inner child and give her some lovin'!

I love the plot thread of Annie and Hannah. Annie complains a lot. She's funny and sassy and angry. Yet in her relationship with her daughter, in her dedication to figure out how to best mother her unique little girl, her best self gets revealed. Driven by her desire to mother better she examines her own life (who has done this? This is not easy!), her own childhood, her own motivations, and ultimately reckons with her imperfect parents and discovers a way to make peace with them (and those parts inside herself that are not perfect).

"Motherhood is so failure oriented," Annie says in one conversation with her good friend, Suze. That's two mother hens talking, but not about anything lite. Motherhood's messes are a real thing that matter very much, at least to two important people: the mother and the child.

Pulitzer Prize in Mommy Lit? Give it to me, people. I nursed a baby while I wrote the first three chapters of that book! And that's only the beginning.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book Give-Away: I'll Take What She Has book trailer

Tell me what you think!
Less than two weeks until the I'll Take What She Has hits the shelves.

If you share the trailer on FB, Tweeter or with your email circles, leave a comment to let me know and you'll be entered to win one of 3 copies of the book. Winner announced on my author Facebook site next week.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


In another reality, I am the writer who looks at a bad review of her book, rolls her eyes, says, "that reviewer has no taste," and goes on with her life.

In this one, OUCH!

No matter how many times I see a negative online review of one of my books, I get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It has never been easy for me to feel un-liked but to do so publically? Ah! Picture me screaming all the way to the Pennsylvania Amish. No secret that I love those people and they are a community for whom fame and celebrity do not exist--on purpose taken out of the social environment.

The interesting thing about putting yourself out there in any form, which I do with my writing and in ministry and in teaching (as opposed to mothering where at least my failures are private), is how the contours of emotion change with the wider audience. If I have a bad day with my children and don't feel I'm the super-mom I long to be, I take a bath, read a book, say a prayer, and try again the next day with renewed intentions. If I get a bad review for a book I've already written by a random reader?

It is important to me, since I wrote a novel about envy and am talking a lot about envy now online, to share this dismal, unhappy piece of writing and publication because I do actually believe--as I hope my newest novel ultimately conveys--that green grass proves itself a myth. Those with one hundred likes on facebook want two hundred. Those with one thousand want two thousand those with fifty thousand want a hundred thousand. When I struggle with that sense of dejection and rejection, I get to bring my spiritual practice into my writing life, haul up the work of letting go into the work of self-promo.

At the end of the day, I actually like the book I wrote. Is it the best book I could ever write? I don't think so, but it is funny and it is true, and for many years I created and recreated (for 4 editors!) a story that means something to most people. Here it is:

You will not get everything you want. You will not get what she has. You will get this imperfect life and if you pay attention you may find a way to love it. And that will be enough.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Mother-Religion

The spiritual teacher Byron Katie says that if she had a religion when she was raising her four children it would have been: clean up your socks. Because, of course, that's all she said, all the time (or so it seemed) and because of how much it mattered to her.

I have a mother-religion, too. I know you're all guessing, eat more chocolate, but alas, that's simply my personal coping mechanism, and I hardly ever share my best chocolate with my children, anyway.

No, my religion when it comes to children is this: GO outside.

My angel. This morning.
 I could probably count on two hand the days, since I first gave birth to my first son six-and-a-half years ago, we stayed inside. I have a clear memory of taking my two oldest children, before my third was born, out to the woods behind our house. The thick snow encrusted in ice barely gave below our feet. They must have been two and four years old. I bundled them, took a camera, and let them play in the frozen magic of the trees. I let them use the camera and discover the separate shades of white the sun reveals in the snow. How cold was that day? Bitter cold. We had a good time.

I am the mother who says to a cold child wanting to go in, "Move around. Five more minutes." I hadn't realized the strength of my religion until my husband pointed it out a few months ago. Our lazy Saturday morning drawing in toward lunch time began to give me hives (as tends to happen any day we haven't been out by noon). We needed the fresh air. Children belong outside! They're like dogs! They need to be out, running, every day. My husband said to me: "You're really intense about going outside."

Ah. So I am.

In her book, Raising Happiness, Christine Carter writes: "All told, over the last two decades chidlren hae lost eight hours per week of free, unstructured, and spontaneous play." When I am outside with my children, something I do every day with few exceptions (I even have sick children play outside. When my sick children play outside they "magically" act all better. Hmmm...), I play with them. I don't think about or do the laundry or the cooking or try to tidy the toys while they un-tidy them faster. I watch them climb trees or practice skipping or play soccer or find a slug or a rock or a stick or a cloud or a bird.

Perhaps, it is ME who needs this time. Outside, I recover my senses. Even in the cold, even in the rain, even in the sweltering heat, I am more human outside, more free, and most importantly more like a child. So much of my own childhood memories come from being in nature (and this despite the fact that I watched a great deal of TV as a child)...that could be it. Or it could be more profound and more universal, the elemental power of the natural world, the scope of the yard so much greater than the interior of the house. I consider the outside our real play room. When I can't stand the kids for squabbling, when the energy is thick with hostility, when there are hints of boredom, I say: "Let's go."

Yesterday, as the first flakes flew onto our yard, we headed out for a bike/scooter ride/lion hunt. I listened to the sounds of my boots on the newly fallen snow. My daughter wanted to go in before the boys, and I pressed to keep her out. Well, it is my religion. And, in the scheme of things, I consider it a very good one. When we came back inside, we were not the same people. Cheeks pink, hair damp with melting snowflakes, the house itself felt new and welcoming, and I, for one, felt more truly alive.  

What's your mother-religion? I'd love to know!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This Hand Rocks the Cultural Cradle

Andrea O'Reilly and her daughters
Erin and Casey Oreilly-Conlin at the first slut walk 
in toronto, april 2011.
Do you recognize this feminist mother?

A few years ago, while working on a book about motherhood, I discovered Andrea O'Reilly and the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement. It actually blew my mind. Did YOU know that there is an organization out there studying mothering? The breadth, scope, creativity, originality, compassion and innovation of O'Reilly's work and vision amazes and inspire me. In addition to being an Associate Professor in the School of Women's Studies at York University, she founded the Motherhood Initiative, is herself the editor or co-editor of 14 books, the author of Rocking the Cradle, not to mention the mother of three. I encourage you to spend some time looking at the Initiative's site. Their sister organization Demeter Press is continuously putting out fascinating material, and I truly can't do justice to O'Reilly's achievements here.

All of O'Reilly's work and effort focuses on empowering mothers. This problem I keep coming up against, that the words feminist and mother can't go together, she has worked to fix in scholarly, public, community and academic ways. She even created a course on Motherhood.

Since I became a mother it has been one of my favorite gripes that the role of mother, the work of mothers, the name of mothers, the worries and concerns of mothers, the effort of mothers, the contribution of mothers and the vocation/calling/gift of mothering are all dismissed. It's not simply that they aren't taken seriously, they aren't taken into account at all. Many of the mothers I know personally feel that the LEAST important thing they do is mother. This is a cultural mistake and it makes my heart glad to know that O'Reilly and others are working to correct this perception with the empowering stance of feminism--which, just to remind you, simply means a belief in the equality of the sexes.

In my novels, I have tried to affirm and celebrate motherhood as well as to offer a investigation of the profound, personal, and familial issues that arise with mothering--but in the context of plot and humor and wit and sass. Mothering is deep but it is also very funny--and writing about the truth of a woman's or a mother's experience with levity and laughs in a way that legitimizes the work of the mother is what I have hoped to achieve.

I still want to see what your feminist mothering looks like. Send me a picture for a chance to win both of my novels. And tell me what happens when you start to talk to friends about this issue. Is feminism the "F" word among good mothers?