Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What is means to me to be part of this new anthology - TORN: True Stories of Kids, Careers & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood

My four-year-old son, Lucas, is putting coins into his cow bank (it's a cow bank, of course, not a piggy bank). He's taking them out and putting them back in again and taking them out (you get the idea). Suddenly, he dumps all of the coins out and slides them across the table towards me.

“Mommy, here is some money and then you don’t have to go to work,” he says, excited about his great idea.

On the mornings when daycare drop-offs are difficult, I have told him that I need to work so I can get money to pay for our food and his toys. He thinks he has found a way around this.

If only it were that simple. 

"Thanks, honey," I tell him. "But this is your money for you to buy stuff."

"Like candy?"

"Sure," I say, successfully diverting the flow of conversation and untying the knot in my throat. It appears whenever guilt surfaces over my choices. The big choices like, choosing to work and choosing daycare, and the smaller moral dilemmas like whether to call in sick when its really my son whose sick, or whether to go to Write Club when I haven't seen him all day. 

So, when I got the email from editor, Samantha Parent Walravens, that gave us the title of the anthology we had contributed to, I felt this huge sense of relief. "TORN" completely describes that knot in my throat that I feel almost every day over some decision I am making. And "True Stories of Kids, Careers & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood" makes me feel like I'm not alone in feeling this way. To be part of the 47 women who share their stories in this exciting collection is such an honour. 
Now that the book has come out, it is generating a buzz that gives  moms permission and a space to talk about their own struggles in trying to "have it all".  As Deborah Netburn's says in her review in the LA Times, "For those of us who live in a constant state of anxiety about how we've compromised our careers for our kids or the other way around, books about the the work/life balance and how other women have dealt with it remain perennially interesting."

As I wrote before, in "Why I Put Aside the Ethical Dilemma of Writing about my Son", I want to part of a movement around ending the pretense and surface-level depictions that motherhood is natural, simple, or sunshine and lollipops. "I have to bear witness to this journey, this challenge, this life-changing experience. I have to share my story and inspire others to share theirs. I have to push back, to stir the pot, the invoke some conflict, and step out WAY out of my comfort zone to do so. Because I can't not. For me, as a writer, it would be a moral dilemma to stay silent."

Being a part of this book, this cross-section of true tales from real mothers, is thrilling to me because it's a way to be part of this new movement and to contribute to redefining what motherhood is. Indeed, TORN has been described as “a heartfelt look at how a generation of mothers is trying to forge its own identity while honoring the legacy of 60s and 70s feminism. Sometimes freedom can be its own trap, and this book illustrates that principle beautifully” by Neal Pollack, a Vanity Fair columnist and author of Alternadad and Stretch. 
As a writer, I take from my life and craft essays to make sense of it all. Then I put my stuff out into the ether and see what happens, in the hopes it will reach those who wish to read it. When I submitted my piece, "Cupcake Crazy", I had no idea it would morph into a chapter within this important work. And as nervous and sheepish as I am whenever I "come out" as a writer in my public life, I am doing what I can to promote the book.

So, I will be hosting (eek) and reading (yikes) at a Book Launch that I'm organizing (that part, no problem) in Vancouver at the Rhizome Cafe on May 26. I am bolstered by the fact that my Write Club mamas are going to read their work alongside me (or perhaps we will be propping each other up) as long as I buy them preparatory beverages. And my hope is that the event just gets moms to take some time out, to talk about what's going on for them, and hopefully, to get some relief from those knots in their throats.

And I will be watching, with the same eager anticipation that my son has about candy and cows, to see how this book takes off.

For additional information on TORN, please visit, check it out on or

TORN: True Stories of Kids, Careers & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood published by Coffeetown Press, May 2011, ISBN: 978-1-60381-097-5.


Trudi said...

As someone who knew you when you were younger and (I hope) played some small role in helping you develop your writing voice and find an audience for it, I so enjoy seeing you grow as a writer by being part of projects like these. Wish I could be there for the reading.

When I consider the subject matter of books like these, however, and the fact that they are so very evergreen because women like you don't ever seem to be able to rid themselves of the guilt they feel over trying to balance work and motherhood, it becomes ever more clear to me why I didn't place a higher priority on making marriage and motherhood a part of my life. (While marriage is still possible, motherhood--at least of the biological kind--is no longer an option.) We still live in a society in which women who work and become mothers feel "torn" and agonized about their role, while the idea of feeling a similar degree of "torn-ness" doesn't even show up on the male radar. Working men become fathers every day and don't feel the ache of divided loyalty that women do, nor are they looked askance on by society for doing so. We tell women they can't "have it all," or at least can't "have it all" without being dogged by a constant sense of "not doing it right." But for men, "having it all" is simply a matter of course, and always has been. Why? Because women enable them to have it.

I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I realized that if I ever became a mother, it would take every ounce of my boldness and determination to avoid the trap of feeling "torn" about needing or wanting to work and have a career at the same time. As it is, single and childless, I have the closest thing a woman in this era can achieve to a guilt-free life, because no one questions my choice to work or have a career commitment. It is accepted as something I MUST do, not just something I WANT to do. Maybe I've missed out on some profound maternal joys, or just didn't have enough faith in myself that I could buck the tide. But I really don't have regrets. The only thing I regret is that we don't yet have a society--at least not a North American one--that regards parenthood as something engaged in by two people (not just the mother) and provides parental support accordingly in the form of things like paid leave for BOTH PARENTS and universal free or at least partly government-subsidized day care to enable BOTH PARENTS to work more easily when children are small. It's my understanding that Canada offers some accommodations, if not always ideally, but that they are geared specifically toward mothers, not fathers. Where I live, in the United States, they would be considered utter anathema; government-subsizided daycare is considered a downright laughable concept. The attitude is: "You want kids? YOU raise 'em! YOU pay for their care! That means YOU, Mama! They came out of YOUR body, so YOU need to raise them!" Any concessions to parenthood are made by individual employers, if you're lucky enough to work for one.

In other countries, citizens pay heavy taxes for paid parental leave for mothers AND fathers, and for daycare services. This appears to be working very well. But when childcare is regarded as an individual personal problem for parents to solve on their own, women usually end up being the ones feeling the most guilty about whatever solution a couple devises. I would love to see the day when my own country puts its taxpayers' money where its mouth is rather than simply paying lip service to the importance of families, and actually provides them with something to make their burdens easier to bear. Not only will women feel less guilty, but more men will have the opportunity to fully experience fatherhood without having their manhood or career commitment brought into question.

liesl said...

Trudi - it's taken me a month to finally get in here and follow up to your excellent, well-articulated, "comment" / addition to this conversation.

First, thank you for being proud of me. Since you were my first real "editor" (and definitely helped me way back way) it tickles me pink that we have reconnected now and you are still part of this writer's dream of mine.

Second, there is a quote that goes something like - having a child is forever walking around with your heart outside your body. And for that reason alone, I think moms will always feel torn. But when you had the social, political, economic, historical, gender role, layers on top of that, it becomes pretty complicated.

I have been conflicted of late about why dads don't feel that sense of being torn. And it's interesting that you note "because women enable them to have it all" and I think of my mom and all she did to sacrifice for my father and us. I think of myself and despite having my own career(s), I think of how much I hold on to in terms of control of my own family. And I wonder how many generations it will take for us to let go.

And finally, I really appreciate you putting this into a context for me, in terms of US vs. Canada and other countries. I feel extremely blessed to have had a PAID YEAR OFF for material leave, and then for my employer to top off what the gov't did not pay me as an incentive to come back. And after reading Torn, I realized just how lucky we are in this country.

Thanks Trudi - as always - for your insights! said...
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