MaMoMeMo
May is motherhood memoir month

Motherhood

Paper doll Mom

Have you ever imagined a character you’re writing, or your mother, as something you might play with, some relic from your past? I’m going through my dead mother’s artifacts when I find a youthful head shot of her, colored and cutout, like the bust of a paper doll. Back before color photography, my mother painted her sepia photos with a set of Marshall’s photo-oils, bringing a rosy glow to her cheeks, shading her lips to set off her straight white teeth, dotting her eyes deep blue, and adding a touch of auburn to her hair. In the 50s, my mother was starlet pretty, a once-upon-a-time model, so the tinted head shot of her, taken before she stood next to the wrong man, is easy to imagine as an iconic paper doll I’d dress with my youngest daughter, the last one left at home. She’s 11, on the cusp of adolescence,…

Dented Love’s Saluted Image

“In my unresisting picture, all love seen All said is dented love’s saluted image” This line from beat poet, Bernadette Mayer, calls out to me from her book, Midwinter Day, written on the shortest day of the year; a mother with two small children wrote an entire book in one day. Cataloging every thought, every image and scene, beginning with waking from a dream, flitting from one moment to the next, as a mother’s life does, yet still missing many it is an epic memoir/poem streamed from what might be her subconscious. But what is dented love’s saluted image? What can it be, but motherhood? My mother, my daughters, my self This image, my mother, my three daughters, each born in different decades, and myself, calls me out too. So today, I’m putting them together. A line-up. Almost 10 years ago, before I left California, I asked my mother and…

Devious Dolls

What do you do with your mother’s doll collection after she dies? No one wanted them, except my youngest daughter, but we had to fly home from Las Vegas, and she already had too many dolls for the size of our house. “You can have one box of dolls. One small box,” I said, giving in, trying to think where we would put them when we got back to our down-sized house in the Pacific Northwest. We’d gone from 6 kids to 4, to 2, and now finally, to one; one child who still wants to play with dolls at 11. In today’s grow-up fast culture that’s got to be a good thing, right? A year and a half later, as our daughter turned 13, she asked for only one birthday gift: a dollhouse for her American Girl dolls, which are quite large. But when your quarantined daughter becomes a…

Last Day of 12

It still does not fail to amaze me that I have a 12 year-old, but especially this 12 year-old, this child I was sure I didn’t want. At the time I found out I was pregnant I was 46, applying to grad school, literally filling out applications in the physician’s office, just getting a yearly check-up, but feeling a bit tired. We already had five kids. The oldest daughter was 25, trying to get pregnant. The oldest son was in college. One son was high school age, and another junior high. Our youngest daughter, a surprise when I was almost 40, was a third grader. It was finally my time to go back and get the graduate degree I’d put off for 20 years. Except I was pregnant. Our oldest daughter wanted to have a baby but was having trouble conceiving. She asked us to pray for her. As I…

Permission to Struggle

It’s okay to struggle. painting by L.Lyn Greenstone Give yourself permission to struggle, Char, the Pilates instructor says. She also says things like, it’s okay to wobble. I never see her wobble, and none of the HIIT Pilates moves we do seem a struggle for her strong body, but I trust she knows what she’s talking about. As I take in her words, something settles within, allowing me to focus and be okay with weakness. So I take this bit of wisdom home, mull it over as I write this memoir. I’m struggling with organization, structure, and cohesiveness–all things I shouldn’t worry about right now. But I want to name all 31 chapters, know more about where I’m going, what the stops along the way will look like, and how I’m going to get there. It turns out writing isn’t like that for me. It is always a surprise journey.…

Write a Memoir in May

I’m writing a memoir during the 31 days of May- since May is (Motherhood) Memoir Month–I deemed it that–now I have to do it. On Day 1 I decide my memoir will have 31 chapters, a chapter a day. The writing will be lean, maybe just the skeleton of the story. It sounds do-able, yet ambitious. Both impossible and possible. Impossible goals scare me. I hear my mind saying, No, no, no, don’t try that- you’ll fail, And then you’ll feel like a failure. Stay in the cave (as Brooke Castillo, The Life Coach School says; I recently spent a year being coached…). This is the primitive part of my brain talking. But I want to live from my pre-fontal cortex, lean into a higher calling. So here is my new thinking on this: If I know I will most likely fail, why not do it anyway? Trying and failing…

Untangling the Mess

First drafts are messy. We’ve all heard that, but I always think no draft can be as messy as mine. Given enough time, I will restart and restate parts of the story, losing track of what I already wrote. I’ll rethink it until the story swirls around and leaves my head spinning. Finally I have to print it and cross out areas, bracket and draw arrows to new places, cut and paste, with scissors and tape, old school. Actually, I start with my journal, so lots of scratching there too. I wonder how it will ever come together. But if I stay with it, like the bucking horses my mother used to put me on, it finally calms down and becomes something cohesive and wonderful- a great ride, a story readers can inhabit. I live for that. Believe in it. Believing keeps me going. Writing is an act of faith.…

The Barbed Wire Within

When I sit down to write about my recently dead mother I am overcome by a sense of dread. I want to write this memoir, I tell myself; it is an important story that needs to be told. the hard edges of writing difficult stories tear like barbed wire on the inside marika-vinkmann Her death was untimely in many ways, a wrongful death I might have prevented, had I not been somewhat ambivalent at the time, eager to go back home and spend Thanksgiving with my real family. In my absence, my older brother, who our mother trusted to take care of her, and who she had signed over everything to, put on Lorzepam, a heavy anxiety med, and morphine. He moved to a group home where she was given occasional sucks of water from a dirty sponge. When she lived more than the two days our brother got nervous,…

Where You Begin, Again

Forget the flowers- write about fears, and all else your heart runs from. May is (Motherhood) Memoir Month- You don’t have to be a mother to have a motherhood story- It’s where YOU begin, or began, or begin again. I am always and forever beginning again, a firm believer in new beginnings, but also in finishing what I’ve begun. I’m not as good at that. I’m better at starting over. Right now I’m working on finishing a memoir about my mother- what it means to be a daughter of a manic mind, and how her recent death has changed our relationship. It’s a complicated, conflicted relationship, and writing about it helps me understand it better, helps me understand me better. Meanwhile, the writing feels messy. However, I’ve found some tools to help bring order to the chaos. As I write toward my goal of bringing completion to this work during…

Ode to an Other Mother

Sons #2 & 3 just left to return home to Portland and Seattle. #3 was wearing a Timbers T-shirt. My hub commented that it was a pre-Alaska Airlines influenced logo (he works for AA now). Chase gave me this shirt the last time we were together, he said. And he told the story again that we love to hear, but are sad for too, for Chase is no longer with us. A few years ago Chase called Scott and said he’d be in Portland where Scott was living, interning with OPB, and could they catch a Timbers game together? I don’t have the money for that, said Scott, the starving student/intern. My treat, said Chase. And I’ve got nothing to wear. I’ve got that too. And Chase brought him the T-shirt. It was on loan. Never returned. Worn with a deep sense of nostalgia now. But it is the mother…

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