When “Nothing” Is Really “Everything”

If I were still Roman Catholic, I’d nominate Naomi Stadlen for sainthood.

Okay,  I just totally lifted that from what Frank McCourt said about Lynne Truss– she of the awesome Eats, Shoots and Leaves

However, Naomi Stadlen –the author of the book What Mothers Do –Especially When It Looks Like Nothing— gets my awesomeness award.

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Being a mother is like falling down the longest and strangest wormhole ever.  And at least Alice’s wormhole dumped her, albeit unceremoniously, someplace magical and wonderful.  Motherhood is a wormhole with no end, and Naomi Stadlen’s book — a collection of snippets from conversations with new and not-as-new mothers interspersed with facts and quotes from research and from many other mothering books– is here to reinterpret the obvious in a compassionate and erudite way.

From the outset, picking up this book was like having a warm embrace and a gentle hand patting my back and telling me, "There, there, love.  It WAS that hard in the early days."  Reading about the frustration and the exhaustion mixed in with the joys of motherhood — unedited and without as much outward pushing of an agenda as most other books about the subject tend to do– was comforting and reassuring and, most importantly, it described chapter by chapter the reasons why while my own personal life is wonderful and challenging and exhausting and rewarding and frustrating, to the outward world the only description I can ever muster of what I do is that I am a "stay-at-home mother"; a description said with a shrug of the shoulders and a certain self-conscious grimace, meant to urge the querent to hurry the eff up and ask me another question that I may be able to answer a little bit better, or at least be able to answer with words.

The book is divided into chapters such as "So Tired I Thought I’d Die", "I Get Nothing Done All Day",  and " Snapping at My Partner"– which may sound horrible to a person who’s never had kids, but which will ring so very true to anyone who does.  In each section, we read voices that sound so much like myself or like my friends and acquaintances who’ve been through this process with me, it was almost eerie.  And when she contrasts these contemporaries of mine with accounts from many many generations ago –including several quotes from Plato’s ideas on raising children– the overall effect is as relieving as it is unsettlingly familiar.

Throughout the book, Ms. Stadlen tries to keep the focus on a vindication and a validation of mothering and motherhood and away from comparing and taking sides in the mothering debate along the all-too-familiar breastmilk-vs-formula and stay-at-home-vs-working-mother warfields.  While I think she does a good job of steering clear of the main battles in these divisive mother lines, it is clear that her stance –and to a certain degree, her advocacy– is more along the lines of the breastfeeding/stay-at-home/crunchy-motheresque persuasion.  This could be unpalatable reading to mothers whose choices are diametrically different from the ones listed above, but at the same time it is also a validation of how their own choices have made their jobs as mothers challenging in their own unique ways.  In fact, one of the best things about this book is the stressing of the uniqueness of each mother and child bond.

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From my own point of view –validated by this wonderful book–  having a child and rearing it yourself day in and day out amazingly looks like nothing, both from within, as you spend your days tra-la-laing yet another little ditty with an Elmo voice; and from without, as you meet people with jobs and responsibilities and titles that represent money in the kitty while you –it is widely assumed– sit in your pajamas and go about your day in a leisurely manner, only having to worry perhaps about changing a diaper here or there.

I have never felt as not-alone about my role as a mother as I have reading this book.  Thank you, Mother Talk , for allowing me to read this excellent book and share it with my blog friends.

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This entry was published on September 28, 2007 at 4:03 pm and is filed under Bookish. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “When “Nothing” Is Really “Everything”

  1. I’ve actually heard about this book previously. Now I have something to get for a young mom who’s dear to me for Christmas. Good call.

  2. being a mom is a full time job. i wish more people would realize that.

  3. I’m not a mother but I know it’s the hardest job on this planet, which is why, I guess, I’m not yet ready to have a child. I’m selfish that way. But kudos to all the hot mamas out there!

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