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MAMA LIKES

My Name is Amy, and I'm a Mommyblogger
posted by Amy

In my ideal world, Sheri would live across the street from me, my mom and grandmother and sisters and brothers would live within walking distance, and my next-door neighbors would be Catherine Newman and Marrit Ingman. For now, though, I'll settle for getting to read Catherine's weekly column on ParentCenter.com and Marrit's new regular column on Austinmama.com.

This week, Marrit takes on the mommyblogger label. Is it good? Bad? What's behind the name? Marrit writes:

We should write about the experience of motherhood in whatever language comes from our hearts: exultation, crushing boredom, frustration, bemusement, righteous anger, fluff, or any combination thereof. Evidently it makes a lot of people furious. We must be doing something right.

I'm in the middle of reading a new anthology, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, and happened upon these words in the introduction just after reading Marrit's latest column:

Whether the mother writer is Fannie Fern or her modernday counterpart, motherhood literature is not considered literary. A web search of motherhood literature brings up a host of how-to parenting books. Bookstores shelve literary memoirs about motherhood in the "Parenting" section. Mother writers often are told by publishers that the market is flooded with mother books; that mothers don't read or buy books; that motherhood is a "trend" that is is already "played out."

Is the market really flooded? Or do the works of contemporary mother writers seem ubiquitous because of general attitudes toward the mother's voice in literature— namely, that "motherhood" and "good writing" are incompatible? As one mother writer put it, "There are 907 books about Ronald Reagan. You would think we could stand a few more about motherhood." At Literary Mama, we've been developing a bibliography of memoir, fiction, poetry, and critical commentary on motherhood that is fairly complete, and it hasn't reached 907 entries. The market can't really be flooded.

Critics who think the "momoir" is played out remind me of students in my composition classes. Every semester, when we read a two-page essay about various factors influencing girls' coming-of-age experiences, a male student will invariably say, "Well, I can't really write my (one-page) reading response on this. I mean, I'm NOT a girl." We've always read two autobiographical works by male writers before this assignment, because I've learned to plan the class this way for just this reason. "Well," I tell him, "Do you have a mother? Or a sister? Do you know any women?" We all laugh, and I refrain, usually, from pointing out that never once in ten years of teaching has a female student made the same comment about having to write a response to readings about and by male writers. Now, my students are learning to think critically and to broaden their horizons. I understand that. But I guess I expect more of literary critics, who must have very little imagination if they're unable to understand that the work of mothering is complex and different for everyone. It's also, by the way, an experience we've ALL HAD in the sense that we were all born to mothers. What could be more universal than that?

I'm hopeful that this new wave of mother literature will not be forgotten and out of print when/if my children become parents. I became a mother after I'd already been teaching for a few years. My natural instinct in both jobs is to talk to others about how they handle discipline problems, improve reading skills, and figure out how to handle the inevitable down days. Sometimes I do that at the park or in my office with my office mates; sometimes I do it by reading blogs or academic journals. In any other profession, people are encouraged to learn from those who came before them, to share best practices with colleagues, to build on each other's work. By writing and reading blogs and books about mothering, aren't we doing exactly that?