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Friday, April 30, 2010


The genre I post most often about on this blog is memoir, because, well, I’m a memoirist, and teach creative nonfiction. But I also love fiction. I love novels! I especially love to come across novels by emerging writers, and especially if these writers happen to be mothers. So you can imagine how excited I was to crack open Remedies, the first novel by Kate Ledger, who is a mother of a six-year-old daughter and twin 3-year-old sons and lives here, in the Twin Cities.

Remedies is a stunning debut novel about Simon and Emily Bear, a couple who have grown apart in the fifteen years since their infant son died. It’s a story of loss and healing and the lengths to which people will go to not feel pain. Ledger’s prose is tight and her narrative is engrossing.

Simon Bear is a doctor who runs a private practice from the basement of the couple’s home, and he’s obsessed with treating his patient’s chronic pain. When his father is in a car accident and fractures his ribs but feels no pain, Simon is convinced that he’s discovered a cure for chronic pain.

Emily, who is a partner in a PR firm and likes everything in its place, struggles with what kind of mother she is as she constantly battles her rebellious thirteen-year-old daughter. She seems dead inside, dulled by the energy it takes to protect herself from grieving her son. But when Will, an old flame, reenters her life, something inside Emily begins to thaw.

I have long wondered how Donny and I would have managed if Stella had not made it out of the NICU. We experienced her hospitalization and the long, isolated months that followed so differently, and it put a tremendous strain on us. But we always did come together. Eventually we sat down with each other on the couch and hashed out our emotions, trying to understand one another. But the loss of a child is altogether different, and I’m amazed by my friends and their spouses who have had to navigate this terrain.

I have more to say about Remedies, but I’m going to hold myself back because I have the author, Kate Ledger, here at Mother Words today, and she has been gracious enough to answer a few questions.

KH: Can you talk a little about how this book started? Was it with an image, a character, an idea?

KL: I write about health and medicine for a living, and I get to talk with a lot of doctors about their work. I was awed by several physicians I’d met who’d made incredible discoveries or developed new treatments. I decided I’d write a novel about someone who’d discovered a cure for something, and chronic pain seemed like a complex and amazing thing to cure. My first scratchings, though, were about character: what kind of person would believe he’d made a remarkable discovery, one that was quite possibly helping people but that also came with no actual proof? But as I dug in, it became clear that this doctor’s desire to cure pain in other people came from an inability to address his own emotional pain. I began to imagine Simon Bear in the context of his family, his desires, and the losses in his life. I imagined that this was a man whose marriage was in great trouble. The book became deeper then, and evolved into a story about a family and emotional pain, in particular the difficulties of experiencing—and sharing—grief.

KH: You began writing Remedies over a decade ago, before you were married and became a mother. How did your relationship with the subject matter (a troubled marriage and the loss of a child) change after you became a mother?

KL: Even though I knew Simon’s marriage was in trouble, for a while I wasn’t sure what that trouble was. The answer clicked after I had kids. It was a scary moment, though. I’d been thinking about Simon and what might be plaguing him. I asked myself what I was most afraid to write, what words was I most afraid to see on the page? As a new mom, I was most afraid of losing my child. And I was also afraid of the blame that might linger between two parents when it wasn’t clear who, if anyone, was at fault for that loss. My first response to the idea was to resist it—no way, I can’t write about that! And my second thought, feeling that I’d hit on a very vulnerable aspect of human existence and certainly of parenting, was that I had to write about it.

KH: A big part of this story for me was about the power of loss and how something as huge and devastating as the loss of child can pull partners apart. I’m wondering how you settled on this loss as the one that would come between Emily and Simon. Did you do any research on the affects of losing a child on a marriage?

KL: I did do research about loss. That was excruciating and humbling, and I spent a lot of that research time choked up and teary and feeling grateful that my kids were doing well. I did some reading about the effects of loss on a marriage. Some studies—though not all—suggest the divorce rate after the loss of a child is astoundingly high. Mostly I was concerned about how difficult communication might be between two parents who’ve lost a child. We all grieve differently. We need comfort at different times. We experience the need for answers, rationalizations, spiritual connection differently. For all their flaws, Simon and Emily Bear have a deep sense of respect for each other. For years, they’ve both been shielding each other from grief. They’ve done everything in their power to move beyond their tragedy. But my feeling was that if you don’t address that pain, it not only doesn’t go away, but it becomes heightened. And it gets expressed in your life in new and uncomfortable ways.

KH: What was the most surprising thing that happened in the process of writing Remedies? (In terms of the narrative itself, your writing process, or how you approached the material.)

KL: All of it surprised me. I was surprised when the final draft looked completely different from the first draft. Same basic story, but completely different book. I was surprised the day I finished—because I hadn’t dared imagine that I’d reach a day when I’d lean back and say, “Wow, I’m done.” I was surprised a few days later to realize there was more I wanted to patch in the middle of the book and the patching turned out to take two months.

KH: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

KL: I think one of the most challenging parts of any type of writing is trusting the fact that the first draft is a first draft. You might hope what immediately bubbles up out of you will be polished and perfect, but getting to the final stage is an arduous process.

KH: Can you talk a little about how your writing life fits in with the rest of your life—mothering and teaching?

KL: That’s an interesting question. I assume you mean time-wise. Writing is like other work. And I spend each work day working on some form of writing or another. The writing part is pretty lonely. Some days, especially if I like what I’m working on, I find writing like problem-solving and it’s incredibly energizing. I go back to being Mommy at the end of the work day, and I think I’m better with my kids having occupied that other space for a time. I think my children are proud that I write. My daughter has been like a publicity force, telling people about the book. One of my three-year-old sons recently put on my one pair of high heeled boots and paraded around the room saying, “I’m going to do a reading.” I guess that’s what I look like.

KH: Can you describe the editorial process? (How much did you revise the manuscript after it was sold? Can you also talk a little about what it’s like to work with an editor?)

KL: I was tremendously fortunate to work with Amy Einhorn. She began her own imprint at Putnam, and she’s selected her own books, which means she’s working directly with the writers on about 12 books a year. She chose The Help and The Postmistress, both of which became bestsellers. She’s lovely and very incisive, and I felt this great sense of trust that the book was in great hands because she sent me an e-mail at one point saying that she was in her office and had to go fix her make-up. She’d cried while reading the book. She didn’t ask for any structural changes in the manuscript, but she did send pages of revision notes with lots of questions and requests to flesh some things out more thoroughly. I wrote another 40 pages. She was very specific, and I loved her ideas.

KH: How does it feel to have this book out in the world? What kinds of responses are you getting from readers?

KL: The most amazing thing is the way readers have hooked into the book from all angles. I’ve gotten e-mails from people who’ve said that the book affirmed their decade-long experience with pain. Others have written to say the book made them reflect on their marriage. There’s a spiritual aspect to the book, too, a longing for community and ritual, and people have responded to that, too. The most moving e-mail was from a woman who wrote that she and her husband lost a child five years ago, and that the effects of that loss have continued to ripple through their marriage. She wrote that it was both difficult and comforting to read Remedies, and that even though their outcome was still in progress, the book had come along at exactly the right time.

Thanks for taking the time to be here, Kate!

Go get this book, people.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

and the winner is...

Thank you, again, to everyone for submitting their wonderful haiku. I'm turning it over to Judge Laura to announce the winner:

Wow! As a past contestant in and fan of the previous two Mother Words Haiku contests, I was awed by this year’s entries. They were funny, touching, puzzling (let’s be honest, the genre DOES make everything a little extra pithy but cryptic), sincere... in a word, art! The readers of this blog can certainly turn a phrase. Here were my top 5, in no particular order:


my good old aunt flo
turned into a raging flood
no pad can contain


Meet Anxiety
Here to stay. And your chest? Like
deflated balloons.


What no one told me?
I would become my mother.
But that is o.k.


The dream where she is
suffocating beside me
never lasts all night.

But the grand winner is Pia, because her haiku made me smile and also cry a little, and because I thought it encompassed the theme (What No One Told Me) the very best of all:

My heart left my chest
In tiny jeans and t-shirt
Walks around, exposed

Congratulations to all who entered the contest—it was a tough race this year!


Thanks again to all contestants! And thank you, Laura, for being the judge! Pia, look for your $10 amazon gift card as an e-mail link.

Monday, April 26, 2010

by heart

Thanks to everyone who submitted a haiku for the Annual Mother Words Haiku Contest. Laura has a challenging task ahead of her! I’ll post her choice for winner in the next day or two.

On to books: I just finished Kathleen Melin’s lovely book, By Heart: A Mother’s Story of Children and Learning at Home, which tells the story of her family’s journey from public education to home schooling. But this book is about more than mothering and home schooling; it’s about the kind of life a couple chooses for their family. (Instead of a bustling urban life (mine?), Kathleen and her husband embrace rural living—wood burning stoves and maple syrup collecting and all.) This collection of essays explores how one family navigates the choices they make, choices that are sometimes outside what society considers “normal” and “expected.”

Melin questions what socialization is and who it serves. After an encounter with a neighbor who thinks Melin’s three children are missing out because they don’t “go” to school, Melin writes:

It was my first encounter with the question most often asked of home school families: socialization. […] Our (society) accepts as natural rather than strange that the proper socialization for children is institution-based rather than home-based.

We’ve come to doubt that a family, regardless of its plunge into the society around it, can pass on the necessary values and behavior modifications in order to ensure the stability of the social group. We’ve come to suspect parents, the indoctrination they might execute, the things they will do to their own children in their private homes. This frightens us.

Melin dives into history and research and discusses how compulsory school attendance began and to what effect. This aspect of her book was particularly fascinating to me.

Her prose is also lovely, and I found myself wanting to linger with her story. I wish it had been 100 pages longer, so I could have immersed myself more deeply in scene and character, so I could steep myself in her lyrical language.

In my favorite chapter, towards the end of the book, after a fight between Melin’s son, Jack, and her husband, Cy, Melin tries to comfort Jack. Jack says, “Dad hates me. I know he hates me.” And Melin writes:

I want to remind this child of the days he cannot remember, of the days when Cy carried him newborn through the winter woods in the South, showing him the trees, the red clay creek, and explaining the sudden neighing of horses. I want to tell him about the summer I lay in bed two months during (my second) pregnancy and watched as Cy guarded his son’s climb up the ladder in the old orchard where he picked cherries, and how afterward, they swayed in the hammock and feasted on the red fruit.


I am not a home schooler, nor do I want to be. I am a much better mother for the hours I have at my computer, away from the girls I love so dearly. But I love to peek into others’ lives, into other ways of being in the world, other ways of mothering. And for that I’m very grateful for Kathleen Melin’s book.

Kathleen Melin lives on her ancestral farm in northwestern Wisconsin, where she operates a retreat for artists and is at work on a young adult novel series. If you’d like more information about Kathleen and her work, you can contact her at kathleenmelin{at}centurytel{dot}net.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

haiku contest dealine extended!

Thanks to all of you who have submitted a haiku for the contest! I'm loving them!

For those of you who haven't submitted, there's still time. I am extending the deadline until Sunday night, April 25th. My dear friend Laura, the judge of this year's contest, is at a work conference through the weekend, and though she offered to judge your wonderful poems from her hotel room, I said no. I want her home, in the thick of family life, when she sits down to pick her favorite "what no one told me" haiku.

So if you haven't submitted, there's still time. You can do it. You can. Post your haiku in the comment field here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

meredith winn on etsy

My wonderful blog friend, Meredith Winn, who is a talented writer and photographer, has just opened up her etsy shop! Check out her amazing work here.

And don't forget to submit your "what no one told me" haiku here. Don't be scared. It's three lines. Come on.

Friday, April 16, 2010

3rd annual haiku contest

Spring is in the air. The determined stems of our peonies have pressed their way through the mulch, the Clematis is twining its way up the trellis on the side of our house, and the pale leaves of our baby Elm are unfurling despite the damn rabbit that snacked on the tree’s tender bark during the dark days of February.

I have forgiven the rabbit because I love spring. I sit on the front step and breathe deeply, grateful for the sunshine. I go for long runs along the river. I take the girls to the park and on bike rides to the lakes, where we watch the ducks and eat ice cream.

I love spring for all of those things. But I also love spring because it means it’s time, friends, for the annual Mother Words haiku contest.

For those of you who are new to Mother Words, I launched the annual contest in 2008, when Zoë was just a couple of months old and I developed a raging case of mastitis. D was traveling, so I was on my own, juggling an infant and a four-year-old. It wasn’t pretty, people. You can read more about that here.

But from my experience with mastitis, the annual Mother Words haiku contest was born. You can read the 2008 entries here and the winners here.

Then last year, to recognize Zoë’s transformation from a sweet, biddable baby into a trouble-making toddler, I hosted the toddler haiku contest. These killed me. (You can read those entries here and here. The top seven and winner are here.)

This year, it will be the “what no one told me” haiku contest. Dig into your story bin and write me a haiku (5-7-5) about what no one told you (or what you wish someone had told you) about motherhood or raising kids. My dear friend Laura will be the judge this year. And, as in years past, humor is always appreciated.

So bring on the haiku. Please post your haiku in the comment field below. The deadline is Friday, April 23rd. The winner will receive a $10 gift card to

Don’t be shy. Haiku!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

goodbye ARM, hello motherhood institute

I’m sure some of you have heard that the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) has been forced to close its doors. ARM was established in 1998 and was the first international feminist organization devoted specifically to the topic of mothering and motherhood. With members from over 20 countries around the world, ARM reached across borders and scholarly disciplines, connecting women, mothers, and scholars from across the globe. ARM hosted three conferences each year, published the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, and also published books through Demeter Press.

But York University, where ARM was housed, was not willing to support the research center. You can read more about that here.

I was actually slated to present a paper at the joint ARM/Mamapalooza conference in New York this spring, and I was thrilled that I would finally meet ARM’s founder, Andrea O’Reilly, and its wonderful coordinator, Renée Knapp. I won’t meet Andrea this year, but I am hoping to meet her someday soon at a conference, a Motherhood Institute for Research and Community Involvement conference.

In the wake of the announcement of ARM’s closing, there was an outpouring of support. Letters were written to York University officials, and there was a flurry of commiserating and outraged e-mails being sent back and forth between ARM members.

It was clear to O’Reilly that the work ARM was doing needed to continue. So a few weeks ago, O’Reilly announced that a new organization on motherhood would be formed and would begin operations on May 1, 2010. The Motherhood Institute for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) is the newly launched feminist scholarly and activist organization on mothering-motherhood. It will continue the work of ARM, move in new directions and take on new projects.

The institute will house the Journal of the Motherhood Institute (formerly the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering), Mother Outlaws, The International Mothers Network, The Young Mothers Empowerment Project, The Motherhood Studies Forum, and it will be partnered with Demeter Press. Memberships to MIRCI and subscriptions to the Journal of the Motherhood Institute will commence May 1, 2010.

In an age where writing and research about motherhood is often ignored or discarded (I know you’ve heard me say this before), it’s vital to have organizations like MIRCI working to bring motherhood research out of the limelight. So, join MIRCI if you haven’t already. Or make a donation so their motherhood research, activism, and community work can continue without interruption.

Thank you, Andrea and Renée, for continuing with this important work!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

a work in progress

I love the latest Literary Reflections essay, up now at Literary Mama. "A Work in Progress" is about learning to balance motherhood and writing, and about the author's realization that becoming a mother did not squelch her need/desire to write. Jennifer Itell is lovely. She teaches creative writing at the University of Denver and is at work on a series of short stories about motherhood. Check out "A Work in Progress."

Friday, April 9, 2010

marie howe

Back in 2007, when I was pregnant with Zoë and deathly afraid of losing the pregnancy, I spent weeks on the couch with my feet up, willing my uterus to hold tight to that little bean. I lay there, wishing I could read, wishing I could focus, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t follow any kind of sustained narrative. Then a friend recommended Marie Howe’s What the Living Do. I ordered it, and as soon as it arrived, I devoured it, poem after fantastic poem, letting myself slip out of my life and into Howe’s words. I hated coming to the last poem in the collection.

I meant to revisit Howe’s work and buy her latest collection, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, but well, I got busy with my little Zoë, with making sure that Stella knew we still loved her. I got busy with teaching and writing and—everything. But then last week, one of my lovely students—hi, Carrie!—sent me one of Howe’s poems, and I remembered, instantly, why I love her work.

In honor of National Poetry Month, and because I love Marie Howe’s poetry, here is “Hurry,” reprinted with permission of author:


We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry--you walk ahead of me.
You be the mother.

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

Please check out her work if you’re not familiar with it. Revisit it if you are. And then raise your glass in honor of all the poets whose words save us just when we need to be saved.

Monday, April 5, 2010

writing about adult children: an interview with momma loshen

As you know, I’m interested in the ways mother writers deal with the ethical issues that arise when they’re writing about their children. I’ve posted about it here and here. And you can read the responses of writers I’ve interviewed here and here.

It’s easier to find essays out there about raising young children, and part of the reason, of course, is that those young children aren’t telling you what you can and can’t say about them. Hell, they probably don’t even know you’re writing about them. But when kids get older, they have opinions about what you can and cannot say/write about them. It gets more complicated. But I love to read the writing of women whose children are older, because, well, I find it interesting—it’s a glimpse into our future.

So I was thrilled to stumble on the newish blog, Momma Loshen, where Momma Loshen writes about the ups and downs of parenting adult children. Momma L. agreed to a few questions about writing about one’s children, so I’d like to welcome her to Mother Words today:

KH: On your blog you say, “In the interest of protecting the feelings of the innocent — my daughters in particular, whose feelings I’m not known to have tried to protect in personal essays I’ve published through the years — I’m using pseudonyms and trying to keep a low profile. Luckily, a low profile is an easy thing to keep on this overpopulated blogosphere.”

I’m interested in hearing more about your decision to blog anonymously. You feel you need to protect your daughters’ privacy, yet you’re drawn to writing about mothering and motherhood. Can you talk a little about this?

ML: My need to protect my daughters’ privacy comes after years of NOT working too hard to protect their privacy -- and having them get bothered by that. Actually, it’s only the older one, whom I call Meta on the blog, who was really bothered -- when she was a teenager, after I wrote a series of personal essays about her and her younger sister (whom I call Scootes on the blog), Meta told me I was never to write about her ever again as long as I lived. I had thought I was very careful about what I wrote about them -- even when they were children, I showed them what I was writing first -- but at least in Meta’s adolescence, the only rule she would issue was a zero-tolerance rule.

KH: How is writing about your daughters anonymously different and/or the same as writing about them non-anonymously? Is your purpose for writing different now?

ML: I still showed them the blog, after I had written a couple of posts, and asked them if it was OK for me to continue with it anonymously. Meta also blogs anonymously, and knows it’s possible to protect your identity, but I wasn’t worried about their public identity so much as I was worried about how they would feel reading the stuff I was writing -- I mean, THEY know who they are! Meta said it was OK, that I wasn’t writing about her (which would have violated the zero-tolerance rule), I was writing about me in relation to her. A subtle distinction, but I went with it.

After a while, I did let some friends know that I was blogging as Momma Loshen, and some of them have become regular readers. Oddly, Meta is a regular reader, too, and occasionally posts comments on my blog. I don’t know if she’s mentioned it to HER friends. Also oddly, Scootes, who has told me often that she loves the essays I wrote about her because it’s kind of like looking through a photo album of what she was like as she grew up, doesn’t seem to have been reading the blog at all.

My purpose in writing this blog was originally to see if there was a book worth writing about this subject -- and then, of course, if I really ended up wanting to write a book on this topic, my plan was to go public with the blog so I could use it as a way to create that all-important “platform” that every author is supposed to have. But I’m not there yet, and I’m not sure what Meta would say if I eventually did want to reveal my identity and, therefore, hers.

KH: When did you begin writing about your children? Why? What kinds of reactions did your daughters have to this when they were younger?

ML: I started freelancing when Meta was born (she just turned 30), and some of my earliest assignments were for parenting magazines, so occasionally I mentioned my kids, even when they were little. I wrote about Meta’s problems with weight when she was 6, and how I put her on a diet -- it appeared in a woman’s magazine, along with some photos of her, and I think that was what started her on hating being written about. But if she complained, I didn’t really notice. When she was about 8 I wrote about Meta getting reading glasses to prevent myopia, for a major newspaper, and again there were some photos of her -- I thought she sort of liked it, but now I wonder. And when she was about 10 I wrote an article for that same newspaper about getting kids to be less sedentary, and for the first time I insisted to my editor that Meta get a chance to speak her piece in a sidebar that she wrote herself. Meta had a chance to point out my own relative sedentariness, too, and to write, “I guess the point is, when it comes to your children, they should do as you say, not as you do.” Touche!

I wrote about Scootes playing soccer when she was about 8 -- also a women’s magazine, also a photo of the team -- and she kind of loved it (except for me saying she wasn’t such a great player when she was on a co-ed team). I also wrote about her a lot when I had an occasional newspaper column -- getting whistled at when she was 12, wearing clothes that showed her bra straps, playing girls’ basketball, also at about 12 or 13. I’ve written about them a lot, I realize -- book clubs I’ve been in with both of them, Meta’s bat mitzvah and what it meant to me, Meta going to an all-girls college, and blah blah. Sometimes I worried about being too much like Joyce Maynard, using their lives for my own purposes, turning my family into material. But I felt that if I always asked them if it was OK, it wouldn’t be so bad. And anyway, most of my professional writing activity had nothing to do with them -- these essays were occasional, and they were the fun part.

KH: What advice would you give to parents who are new to writing about their children? Are there things you wish you had done differently?

ML: Based on Meta’s subsequent anger at me, I probably wouldn’t have written at all about her weight. And I probably would have been more careful about being absolutely sure they were OK with whatever I was writing when I wrote it. For a long time I cared only about what made the best essay, and the best essays are the truthful ones, no matter who it hurts. I can still make a case for that -- but there’s a good argument to be made for sparing people’s feelings, too. Maybe that’s because I’m 56 years old. In the end, what you end up with is a relationship with your children, not with some anonymous reading public, and that’s the thing that’s essential to preserve -- even if it means the essay isn’t as good as it could have been.

You can read more from Momma Loshen here. Thanks, Momma Loshen, for taking the time to answer my questions!

I’m interested in how all of you navigate this issue, as well.