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Sunday, January 28, 2007

one small boat

one small boat: the story of a little girl lost then found

I picked this book up while I was looking for a good adoption memoir for the class I'm teaching. I meant to just skim it to see if it would be appropriate, but after reading the first paragraph, I was hooked. I finished it the same day, which is something that does not happen often in my house. (I have a three-year-old.)

One Small Boat is a tender story about what love can and cannot do for children in the foster care system. The narrative most closely follows the story of Daisy, a five-year-old who, when she arrived at the Harrison’s house, was emaciated, green snot dripping from her hose, arms flapping.

Harrison’s prose is smooth and her voice engaging, but one of the things I loved most about this book was her honesty. One is tempted (and by "one" I mean "I am tempted") to think of foster parents as saints, which I think can be reductive. (If they are saints, it's easier to convince ourselves that fostering is something that non-saints can't do.) But Kathy Harrison never makes herself out to be a saint. She is clearly getting something from taking care of these children, and she admits that. When she is waiting for a new child to be placed with her, she states how impatient she is. When a foster-parent friend calls to tell Harrison about the six-year-old twins she was getting that afternoon, Harrison "sulked for the rest of the day. When a full week went by, I was beginning to feel a big ghoulish in my pining for another child. After all, the only way for me to have what I wanted was for another family to sink into the mire of social services." When she takes care of two older, very difficult girls, and she wonders why she kept them as long as she did, she admits that "there was a certain ego jolt I got from caring for these particular girls. They put on a good deal of weight and gained several inches in height…People commented on how well they looked and how much progress we had made. Foster parents get precious few pats on the back. Caring for Ruth and Mary Margaret assured me lots of pats." It’s this kind of honesty and her refusal to make herself into a saint that make Harrison such a successful narrator. I trust her. She is real and vulnerable, and when she cried, so did I. Seriously, I was wiping my face with my sleeve.

Harrison seamlessly moves between the stories of the foster children in her home, and I was pleased that we got to know each of them. The only thing I was left wanting in this book was a little more about her older biological and adopted children. What are their reactions to all the foster children coming and going? How does the fact that their mother spends so much time and energy with the foster children affect them? Some of this may already have been addressed in Harrison’s earlier memoir, Another Place at the Table, so I guess I’ll just have to check that out.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Hello. Welcome to my blog! I'm a mama and a writer. I live in Minneapolis, where I'm freezing my tush right now. When I'm not picking up Dora puzzles (or making dinner, or taking my 98-year-old grandpa for errands, or watching something silly on t.v. after the little one is in bed), I write and I teach. I'm finishing my first book, a memoir about the premature birth of my daughter due to severe preeclampsia, and I'm teaching "Mother Words" at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. This is a reading as writers kind of blog. I'll post every week about an essay or poem or story or book by a woman writing about motherhood. Occasionally, I might post about writing that's not about motherhood, but I'll try to stay focused. I hope this will be a place where mamas can exchange ideas about writing and reading and the general (hectic) nature of trying to put words on the page as you try to microwave an organic hot dog. (I probably shouldn't even feed her those, but she loves them.)

I want to post these quotes on my first day as a blogger:

"Mothering is a subtle art whose rhythm we collect and learn, as much from one another as by instinct...
-Louise Erdrich, The Blue Jay's Dance
"It takes courage to write about motherhood in a culture that sets women with children on the sidelines, and it takes even greater courage to give voice to the powerful emotions and fears that swirl deep beneath the surface of our daily lives..."
-Kathleen Hirsch and Katrina Kenison, Mothers