Monday, September 20, 2010

Is Your Mama a Writer?



You would think given my life with a four year-old, a two year-old and a baby due in a matter of weeks that I would spend most of my time reading such adorable books as IS YOUR MAMA A LLAMA, from which I have shamelessly adopted this post's title. But this is not the truth. Being a reader with an endless appetite, I sometimes consume so many books I find that I have, as though devouring a box of Cheez-its in a single gulp, read so many books in a month that I can't remember a single thing about any of them. Compulsive reading at its worst.

But I can remember the lessons of children's books. Like the llama searching for its mama among the many animals that are not at all llama like. My mother was not a llama. Nothing like it. She was and is a novelist whose twentieth novel came out last June (same time that her 19th came out in paperback and she finished the revisions on her twenty-first). Of course I've learned a tremendous amount from this Nancy Thayer about the craft and the industry and the profession, but it doesn't make it any easier to be the daughter of someone so prolific and successful. One example: my mother's 19th novel, SUMMER HOUSE, and my debut novel were published on the same day in June of 2009. In one of those anxious/curious/hopeless moments new writers know so well, I checked on Amazon to see my rankings. Then I checked my mother's.

She was visiting at the time, helping to take care of my two small children. I headed straight upstairs after my fateful visit to the computer and announced: "Mom, you're at 2000 on Amazon. I'm at two...hundred thousand!"

It begins to seem that my mama may be a llama, but I am something more like a turtle or a rabbit, any other animal in fact, for all our differences.

My mother, for one thing, always wanted to be a writer. She knew it as clearly as anything from the age of five and with unwavering certainty accomplished her goal and has sustained herself and her family with a lifetime of novels. I, on the other hand, always knew I wanted to be a mother. Other passions came in and out. But motherhood, I knew I wanted it, and many children too. My poor husband. When he met me he claims I said I wanted twelve, but this isn't true. I have only ever wanted six. A measly half-dozen.

Perhaps it's no coincidence then that my life as a published writer began with my life as a real mother. (As opposed to the mother of many dolls that I was for so many years of my childhood. Six Cabbage Patch Kids, for one thing.) I began writing THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME during my son's nap time when he was about nine months old. By the time he was a year-and-a-half, I had a two-book contract.

Still, sometimes even a llama isn't what it seems. Both being published--as opposed to my dreams of it--and being a mother--as opposed to my dreams of it--have been different than imagined. My mother has always made it look so easy.... Too, I imagined certain kinds of greatness that are statistical unlikely--you know, Oprah calling me in person to invite me on her show, choosing my book, that kind of thing.

The rewards? Well, as far as my novel goes, nothing has been more satisfying than hearing from readers who love the book, in particular mothers who have found it to be a wonderful, healing, humorous, wacky kind of salvation, as the book ruefully follows a new mother through the first nine months of mommy boot camp (for which there is no adequate preparation).

And the rewards of motherhood? Far too many to list and some possibly too standard to bother saying again (though they are all true). One of the greatest rewards though is seeing my own mother in a new light, as a person, as a woman. In my own motherhood, I can see clearly all the sacrifice and selflessness, what it meant to be dragged away from her desk (as a single mother raising two children alone), away from her novels, to take care of sick children, sad children, simply children.

It's as rich as anything, this mother stuff. Good enough for fiction in fact. Perhaps I should write a novel....

In the meantime, does anyone out there who has children feel like having them changed your own sense of (if not your relationship with) your mother? Anyone feel like after they had children they could forgive their mothers for basically everything? Did becoming a mother give you new insights into your own mothers?

Samantha Wilde is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME. Her next novel is due out in 2011. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two and 9/10ths children. Among her other pursuits besides novel writing and motherhood and voracious reading are chocolate consumption, yoga practice and teaching, and spiritual pursuits. She is, among other things, an ordained minister. You can visit her blog, wildemama.blogspot.com.

14 comments:

  1. Absolutely! We've always had the very best of relationships but after my son was born it was like I was seeing my Mum for the first time. She had four children under five *gulp* and I have three under four (but I have a set of two year old twins) and I have no idea how she coped.

    She gives her thoughts, opinions, praise and love with equal abundance and I am so grateful for all of it.

    The best bit of advice she ever gave me was to enjoy my children. She admits she was too focused on cleaning and keeping things tidy to play with her children and regrets it every day. So when the washing is piled up, dust bunnies are providing entertainment for our small dog and I can all but hear the dishes demanding to be washed and a small person asks me to play or read them a story or watch them show off a new skill, I find it very easy to say yes - all thanks to my Mum!

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  2. I remember when they handed my first to me, I looked at my mom and was awed. "You love me this much," I said.

    She just smiled. Yep, she does. What an incredible feeling to know, truly, what that love is like.

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  3. What a fun, sweet post, Amanda. And to answer your question, a resounding YES! I have a wonderful mom and I know there are echoes of her flowing in my own mothering.

    When my sons were teenagers, I remember calling her and asking if she had ever felt underappreciated by her own teens. She may have dropped the phone she was laughing so hard.

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  4. My mom had three kids under 4 at one time just like you. I have the upmost respect for her after having only one and feeling completely overwhelmed at times. (I was a single mom) When my son was two I remember asking her, "When do I get to go to the bathroom by myself?"

    She said, "About four more years" and she was right.

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  5. Yes, yes...well, kind of. I never had children. But when I had Charlie McNally, my main character, I had her deal with her mother. And also become a step-mother. And WRITING about Charlie thinking about becoming a mother--changed her relationship with her mother--which became a big theme of the book!And it changed my feelings and understanding about my own mom, too!

    Great post...

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  6. Samantha,
    Congrats on your new baby coming! You know I adore your book - it was a Top Pick on Book End Babes - and so many of our readers wrote to me thanking me for introducing you.

    I can't imagine what it would be like to have the mother-daughter novelist dynamic, but I'm sure it's interesting. My daughter has started dancing and acting and trying out for movie roles and commercials, and I love that I get to experience that world with her - something I wouldn't have had the chance to do when I was a little girl in a small town.

    Babies rock, mommies rule! xo

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  7. Sorry, Samantha, I don't know who Amanda is . . . oops. Clearly I hadn' had enough coffee!

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  8. Somehow, my having a child completely changed my mother. She was no longer the strict disciplinarian I grew up with - suddenly she became this soft pushover. I've never been able to figure out how, but the birth of her grandchildren completely transformed her.

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  9. I loved everything about this post! And I identify so much with it.

    After I had kids I found myself calling my mom often to apologize for things I did as a kid. "I'm SO sorry I used to quote TV shows constantly!" "I'm so sorry I used to ask questions the entire way through a movie!" "I'm so sorry I used to say I didn't like what you fixed for dinner."

    And once I said, "You did this all so much better than me. I don't remember you once yelling at us."

    I think she spit coffee all over the table. So maybe we aren't that different after all.

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  10. Samantha, congrats on the new baby coming soon!! Exciting times ;-).

    As for being a mom--yes to everything you said. When the crazy overprotective maternal instinct kicked in for me (my son hadn't even been born yet, but I'd glare at any stranger who got too close to my enormous belly--LOL), I instantly forgave my mother for her decades of crazy overprotectiveness. Well, maybe it wasn't quite so "crazy" after all... :)

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  11. Oh boy, did you strike a chord with me! My three children are now grown but when I began my life as an author they were all under foot and not even remotely interested in whether I finished a chapter. Or as my then six-year old son told his teacher when she asked whose parents could come speak to the class on Career Day: "My mom doesn't have a job. She's a writer."

    Congrats to you on the babies and the books. Long may you write (but not change diapers)... Can't wait to read your work!

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  12. Congrats on the new baby!!

    I can't imagine starting a writing career once you have kids! Now that I have a one year old, it's so hard to find the time to write. When I was single, I thought I was busy, but my time was truly my own. Now it's more difficult to find the time to write. So, kudos to you for making it happen!!

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  13. Thanks, ladies. I love all these little stories and tidbits. When I asked my two-year old daughter what I did for work she said, "You're in the kitchen." That about sums it up!

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  14. This was a really beautiful post. I was on my way to becoming a mother this summer when I suffered a miscarriage. I've never experienced anything more heartbreaking. I hope I will one day know the joys of motherhood you describe.

    I can tell you that my own relationship with my mother has been very strained, but she was there for me when I lost the baby, and that was the kind of comforting I really needed.

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