For my first official Mother’s Day as a mother, I received a book (Bossypants by Tina Fey, excellent) – but the real gift was a few hours alone in my own house to read it, a luxury I rarely experienced as a new mother.
Ever since, I’ve been an evangelist for books as Mother’s Day gifts – and a stretch of time at home alone to read. Bonus points for maternal-themed books. Here are a few new titles to consider for the mom in your life – or for yourself, if that mom in your life is you.
Good Mom on Paper: Writers on Creativity and Motherhood
Edited by Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee
In their introduction, Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee note “when you become a mother who makes creative work, it becomes clear whom our systems are built for, and whom they are built to exclude.” Reader, I fist-pumped. In essay after essay – and I savoured every one; they are so beautifully written – mothers offer glimpses into their processes, their challenges, their grief. Their lives.
I strongly related to Meaghan Strimas writing (in her essay In That Time in Trailer #289) that her creative aspirations during new motherhood were sitting “in a glass jar on the shelf, right beside the Baby Mum-Mums and creamed green beans.”
But also this: For so long, motherhood has been seen as an impediment to creative work, observes Rachel Giese (now an editor at The Globe and Mail) – but for so many writers who have children, the experience of parenthood is an essential part of their practice. Her essay A Book Is Not a Baby rejects the trope of the mother-artist as a “thwarted, depressed, raging and neglectful shrew.” And offers this gem: “We have turned both parenting and creative work into a competitive sport, as measures of our worth, as extensions and projections of the self.”
In Lite-Brite Times Square, the incomparable Heather O’Neill, who was 20 when she had her daughter, tracks her frowned-upon ambition and campaign to become a novelist as a young single mother. What she discovered, writing next to her growing daughter all those years, was that the experience of motherhood was not a detriment, but absolutely central to her craft. Writing in longhand over many years at the zoo, the amusement park, in a McDonald’s playroom – and regularly at the library as her daughter engaged in age-appropriate activities next to her. Then finally being able to buy a computer through an initiative aimed at single mothers, sneakily printing out the manuscript at a part-time job and taking a bus to New York to give it to someone who knew someone who was married to a literary agent. That book became Lullabies for Little Criminals, which went on to win awards, including Canada Reads, and was shortlisted for a bunch of other national and international prizes, including the Governor General’s Literary Award.
That essay will have you cheering. But nothing in this book is glossed over: parenting/writing through obstacles big and small – from leaking breasts and sleep-deprivation to poverty and abuse. Parenting a child with a disability, the death of a child. These essays are beautiful, unforgettable, the kind you want to read out loud to the person next to you (but can’t, because it’s Mother’s Day, and you’re in your house alone with a hot cup of tea and your feet up on the coffee table).
There is some pandemic content here too – what it has been like as a writing mother during this time. Early in the pandemic, I interviewed Jael Richardson about how she was pivoting (before the word became ubiquitous) her FOLD literary festival online. I wish I had taken the time for a non-interview chat with her. Because as I learned from her piece, That Kind of Mother, she and I were going through so many of the same struggles. (Writers – we need to talk to each other more, I vowed, reading this.)
The final essay was written by Lee Maracle, who died last year – before she could give it a title. It is a fitting way to end this collection: Maracle was not just a mother of her own children, but mothered so many people in the writing community in this country.
The book (a portion of each sale will be donated to the Mothers Matter Centre: a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering isolated, at-risk mothers) begins with Carrie Snyder’s essay The Dog was Fine, in which she writes that she hopes her children “will find themselves seen and rescued by books, as I have been seen and rescued by books.” This collection has done just that for me. I felt seen; I was rescued.
Send Me into the Woods Alone: Essays on Motherhood
By Erin Pepler
This is the book I wish I had had as a companion during those early, difficult months and early, difficult years. Because this book is not just instructive and insightful, it is great company. And hilarious. I needed to laugh more! Through the indignities of giving birth and far beyond, Burlington, Ont.-based writer Erin Pepler tells great stories. For instance, the time she was at a baby shower when her daughter was two or three months old. She was doing what many new mothers do, bouncing that baby up and down, when another woman offered to take her for a bit so Pepler could eat with two free hands. Relief! Pepler was about five minutes into her baby-free meal when she realized she was still bouncing up and down. “I’d handed over my baby, but my brain had not, and there I was, mindlessly comforting a plate of pasta salad, rocking my lunch to sleep.” A delight.
Chasing Baby: An Infertility Adventure
By Morwenna Trevenen
Mother’s Day can be rotten. There are lots of circumstances that can make it so; among them, struggles with infertility. In this page-turner about trying to become a parent, Winnipeg-based realtor Morwenna Trevenen tells her story of trying to conceive with her husband Kyle, then trying to adopt and then trying to conceive again. It’s a story with some awful twists and turns, but it is also very funny and highly readable. Infertiles, as she calls them, will relate. But you don’t need to have experienced these troubles firsthand – or even be a parent – to get caught up in this excruciating, wonderful story.
Can’t Help Falling: A Long Road to Motherhood
By Tarah Schwartz
Tarah Schwartz was a busy reporter and anchor for CTV in Montreal covering all sorts of high-profile stories, but behind the scenes, she was privately dealing with her own agonizing drama: multiple miscarriages, fertility treatments, and finally a decision to adopt. Reading her story, I felt like I was right with her as she encountered obstacle after obstacle. As the title suggests, she and her husband ultimately became parents, but she is well aware that that is not always the case. “I don’t want to imply that there are always happy endings,” she writes, “but they do exist.”
Watch Out For Her
By Samantha M. Bailey
Sometimes the best literary escape for an exhausted mom is a novel that sucks you in from page one and makes you want to read and read. Even if that novel happens to be a thriller about a mother who has moved her family from Vancouver to Toronto to escape the clutches of a babysitter adored by her six-year-old son. What happened exactly to make this family pull up stakes? You will stay up way past your bedtime to find out.
By Anne Tyler
For a story that allows you to forget about your own troubles for a moment and get caught up in someone else’s, you can’t go wrong with Anne Tyler. The Pulitzer Prize-winner’s new novel starts in 2010 with an awkward first meeting with the new boyfriend’s parents, after which, the young woman, Serena, spots someone in a train station she thinks might be her cousin. The story then rewinds back to a not-idyllic family vacation by the lake in 1959. As you follow the family members from there, it’s amazing to observe how close families can be and how far apart they can wind up. Enjoy the closeness while you can.
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