Have you ever been called mama by someone who is not your actual child?
I have. I bet most women have. And I’m sure your feelings about it probably aren’t nearly as hostile as mine but then again maybe they are. I also know there’s a zone, probably between adolescence and late twenties when women call each other mama as an affectionate shorthand. This is fine. And this is not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about when actual mama-ness enters the picture, for example with a visible pregnancy. Suddenly coworkers, random acquaintances, complete strangers feel 100% comfortable calling you mama. Here is a reenactment of how this went down for me during both my pregnancies:
Random person: Hey mama!
Me (inside my head): FUCK. YOU.
Me (on my face): 🧐😒😑
Random person: Someone woke up on tHe wRonG sIde oF hEr PrEgNaNcY
I’m just here to say HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY AND ALSO FORCED OR FALSE INTIMACY IS SO EXHAUSTING OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR LIFE AS A WOMAN SO PLS STOP. Somewhat tangentially related are school staff or pediatricians or anyone else connected to your kids who refer to you and your partner — two adults they do not know all that well — as “Mom and Dad.” “Don’t you agree, Mom and Dad?” Oh my god use actual names! If you don’t know what my name is please ask! Do not call me, a fellow adult who is meeting with you on some sort of official kid business, mom! Holy cow! What is wrong with you!
Anyway, I don’t get called mama much anymore just like I don’t get catcalled either. But in the lady life cycle there’s always something worse to look forward to and now it’s cute. I just can’t imagine anyone who’s ever had a single conversation with me would think “cute” applies to me either in looks or certainly in temperament. But cute isn’t just a lady thing (for a change), it’s an equal opportunity old person thing. I know I’ve been guilty of it and I bet you have too. Old lady being an old lady, cute! Old couples holding hands, cute! Old man on the dance floor at a wedding, cute!
I’ve had to think about why cute sets me off just as much as mama used to. There’s the forced intimacy, I guess, but it’s also just incredibly patronizing. And what really hit me hard is that whatever we call cute is something or someone without power. And what we call cute is also not sexual. Cute isn’t friends with these things, they are in direct opposition. You can’t be cute-cute and fuckable. Our lives are bracketed by cute. We’re born cute, we become fuckable, then right back to cute you go, then death. Anyway Happy Mother’s Day, LOL SORRY THIS IS HOW I AM ALL THE TIME ISN’T IT MISERABLE.
Anyway who wants a gift guide???
FOR THE NEW MOM WHO FEELS WEIRD AND GRIMY AND IN LOVE AND LOST AND AMAZED AND NEEDS A BEST FRIEND IN THE FORM OF A BOOK THAT 100% GETS IT
This utterly fantastic book by Emily Flake would be a great gift at any stage of motherhood but when I read it I thought how much I would’ve loved to have received this as a new mother (although sadly it did not yet exist back then), how much better I would’ve felt, and how cool and amazing I would’ve thought anyone who’d give this as a gift must be. Buy it here.
FOR THE MOM WHO WANTS TO HELP ME EARN OUT MY ADVANCE
Buy the book that The New York Times Book Review said “…will stay with you for a long, long time” and the Associated Press said “… careens from the hilarious to the poignant, eliciting nods of recognition, fists of outrage and many moments of bemusement and reflection. If your throat isn’t constricted, heart not cracked by the end of it, you may consider checking if you have a pulse." and some lady on Twitter said “This author is not even half as amusing as she perceives herself to be. Returned for refund.” Related: I do not search my name on Twitter anymore! Buy AMATEUR HOUR here!
FOR THE MOM WHO WOULD WATCH THIS VIDEO RIGHT HERE AND THINK FUCK YES
"Mother Tongue is a forthcoming print magazine that interrogates (and celebrates) what it means to be a mom in the modern world. It is not a magazine about our children or how to parent them, but an inclusive publication about the nuanced lives we are living—as mothers and much more.” Fund them on Kickstarter, I did! (Sorry but Substack suuuuuucks and I cannot embed this particular video here but I love the below thumbnail. ANYWAY go watch it at either of the links above!)
FOR THE MOM WHO WANTS TO FEEL SEEN MORE THAN ONCE THIS YEAR
Kate Baer’s poems keep drawing more and more women in, especially mothers. Her work is a huge hit on Instagram and she’s been profiled in Vogue, The New York Times, and somehow also has four young kids at the same time. I mean, how. WHAT KIND OF WOMAN hit the NYT Bestsellers list and I bet her latest book, I HOPE THIS FINDS YOU WELL, will find an even broader audience due to how many women have to contend with (there it is again) forced intimacy (and insults and unsolicited advice and and and) from acquaintances and complete strangers. You can order both books here.
I just want to close with this: It’s okay to love your children and still think motherhood is actively trying to kill you (uh, because it is). It’s okay to know you’d throw yourself in front of a speeding bus for your child one minute and in the other not feel like you can peel yourself away from your dumb phone long enough to make them a grilled cheese. It’s okay to write a newsletter that comes across as crabby and perhaps ungrateful while still including a photo of you big and pregnant in it because you know exactly how deeply grateful you are and you don’t need to perform it for strangers. And it’s okay to be okay or even barely okay at being okay. Happy (early) Mother’s Day (P.S. it’s Sunday May 9th) to you and yours, may no one call you cute and may everyone just leave you alone for one single day omg-g-g-g-g. Also, a special salute to these two heroes who I’ve decided are my mothers now:
NEW FROM ME:
• My next book, BUT YOU SEEMED SO HAPPY: A MARRIAGE IN PIECES AND BITS is out October 5th! You can preorder it here. (FYI, the links for Books-A-Million and Bookshop.org aren’t live yet.)
• I went viral for wholesome motherhood content for a change and this is the only flavor of viral I want from now on. 🥺 Follow the Humane Society of Chittenden County on Instagram and here is the website for Mountain Dog Photography who also took such magnificent photos of one particular pup that I adopted her.
THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE:
• Related to my previous newsletter, “Private Schools Have Become Truly Obscene” in The Atlantic.
• “How an obsession with death led to great jewels” from Town & Country. I’m so fascinated by mourning jewelry and although this auction has passed the photos are worth a look.
• “The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife: Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn’t have had a successful career without them.” in The Cut.
• "'Motherhood is taboo in the art world – it's as if we've sold out': female artists on the impact of having kids” in The Guardian. “Female artists from across the UK responded to my open call to be interviewed about the impact of motherhood on their work. Many wrote or spoke to me at length: outpourings of brutal, painful honesty. Motherhood was not a subject most artists had been invited to talk about before. Many felt they needed to keep the two sides of their identity separate, as though they were somehow operating beneath the radar: secret mothers, infiltrating the house of art.”
• There are so many brutal, devastating lines in this piece that I felt like I was being repeatedly punched in the face and spit my teeth out just long enough to say, “Please may I have another.” Holy shit this is so, so, so good and I might get it tattooed across my body: “The problem with ‘mom boss’ culture: Mommy blogs and influencers are monetizing the horrible working conditions of motherhood.” in Vox.
• 🇺🇸🇺🇸VASECTOMIES FOR ALL🇺🇸🇺🇸 from Evil Witches. “I definitely judge fathers who are done having kids but don’t get vasectomies. I get heated at the idea of a man who witnesses his partner go through a pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, childbirth, postpartum depression, breastfeeding, and/or the emotional, physical and professional toll of motherhood and then say that he’s scared, or will be less of a man, or clings to scant, disproven research about links between vasectomies and cancer.” Anyway, Happy (early) Father’s Day!
• And to end on a more nostalgic and tender note, no definitely not me getting extremely swept up in this clip of Alan Alda and Carol Burnett singing a duet on her show. Nope, that is definitely not me doing that 😭😭😭
Like what you’re reading? Subscribe, share, forward it to your friends!
You can find my copywriting work here.
You can find my writing-writing work here.
You can find me on Twitter.
You can find me on Instagram.
Please do not find me in real life, I’m not yo mama.