Archive for May, 2006

When I first received my reviewer copy of It’s a Girl, I was apprehensive – as I had been when Andi first mentioned that it would be out for review this spring. I even considered asking her if I could bow out this time. Even after I found out I was pregnant again, when a healthy ultrasound image made the possibility of a daughter much less remote than it was six months ago, I was apprehensive. My relationship with my own mother is not good, and hasn’t been for many years. I figured the essays in Andi’s new effort might provide some insight into why that was, even if it couldn’t help me figure out how to mother a girl.

In reality, the essays did exactly the opposite. While some, like Jessica Berger Gross’ “Garden City,” struck home as they detailed birth family dysfunction, most were about the kinds of close mother-daughter relationships I’ve never been sure I could duplicate. Mothers learn to let go of their preconceived notions, to see their daughters as the people they are, not the people the mothers thought they would be. Lone Star Ma said it best: “An overarching theme of this book is that, while raising sons is sometimes experienced as an adventure into the realm of ‘Other’ for mothers, raising daughters is often about dealing with issues of ‘Self.’ Some of the the essays explored the ways in which mothers looked forward to sharing with daughters things that they had enjoyed or wished they had been able to enjoy…only to find that their daughters had their own ideas about what was enjoyable and were not, in fact, reflections of their mothers’ desires…. Some essays explored the ambivalence, and even dread, that some writers felt at the prospect of raising daughters – having intimate knowledge of what women face in our world and knowing that, in raising a daughter, they would be forced to confront all the things in their lives that they had run away from and stuffed down into the unconscious.

Ultimately, I realized along with Kelly H. Johnson in “Park-Bench Epiphany,” “I saw that buried within my desire for a less painful past was the presumption that I would remain exactly the person I am in the present…. My childhood was the way to the here and now, to who I am today.” Reading It’s a Girl reminded me that raising a girl would turn out to be no different from raising my son: instead of seeing the child as tabula rasa, imprintable with my own expectations and desires, I would have to become the blank slate.

My next ultrasound comes four weeks from now. Although I’ll go into the room apprehensive, it won’t be a fear of learning the baby’s sex. I only hope I’ll be given the opportunity to get to know my child, perfectly unique as he – or she – may be.

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Many of you who follow my blog recognize Natalie R. Collins‘ name. She’s the author of Wives and Sisters, which has been impressively blurbed by New York Times best-selling authors and is now available in mass market paperback from St. Martin’s Press. Her next book, Behind Closed Doors, will be out in January 2007. She also blogs at Trapped by the Mormons.

Many of you also probably know that Natalie is a mom as well as an author. How she balances the two jobs was the focus of the interview she recently gave me:

CMM: How old are your kids now? How old were they when you first started writing? How have you adapted as they’ve grown and their needs have changed?

NRC: My girls are 13 and 11. I’ve always written, even before they were born, although the whole novel thing started about six to eight years ago, so they were much younger. Right before my youngest was born, I tried to write a children’s book. I was NOT good at that. When I first started writing the novels, they tried to be supportive, but children are very narcissistic and it was hard for them to understand me as I was “in the zone” and them wanting food! What nerve.

Also, back then I was writing and hadn’t sold anything, so it was hard for my husband to understand why I was writing and not cleaning the house or tending to my family’s needs. I’m not sure it’s ever easy. I suspect I will be a grandma and still fighting for uninterrupted time to write and fighting off the guilt. While my children have adjusted for the most part, and I can do more REASONING, they still don’t understand when I need them not to talk to me and explain every little detail of every little thing they are doing when I am trying to write a book. And it adds to my guilt, because it won’t be long before they aren’t going to WANT to tell me every single detail. This is a tough time. I think almost tougher than when they were younger. Back then there was nap time and you could always count on a good two hours just to write. And there wasn’t the worry when they happily tell me they will stay out of my hair… Just what ARE they up to?

CMM: So far, what has been your greatest challenge as a writing mother? The greatest benefit?

NRC: Great challenge is, without a doubt, time. There simply isn’t enough. And my girls are older, so there is dance, and soccer, and competitions, and games, and sleepovers, and constant run, run, run. I have really had to lay down the law when it gets close to deadline and say, “I HAVE to get this book done. Your braces and those expensive shoes you want depend on it.” Still, they forget and stand there in front of the fridge, waiting for magic food to appear. It never does.

The greatest benefit has been how proud they are of me. They often tell their friends about my books, and I’m amazed when they will ask me questions about my books, and how I write them, and express interest in the process. “My mom writes books” is the neatest thing they have ever said, and they still say it.

CMM: How do your kids and husband perceive your writing career? Besides getting published, did you have to help them take it seriously, or have they been supportive the whole way?

NRC: Well, back when I was unpublished, it was tough. When you are sending out manuscript after manuscript, and getting all these rejections, and having brief moments of excitement only to get that dashed, it’s hard to explain to your family why you are doing this. It’s hard to explain it to people who don’t write! The “don’t give up” attitude that is necessary for success doesn’t really go hand in hand with a family. I think my girls were always proud, but there wasn’t a lot of perks going hand in hand with proud.

It’s also hard to explain away all the time that goes into writing, because it is SO consuming. Without any return, financially, well, you look pretty stupid continuing on with the dream. I know my girls took it seriously, but I don’t think my husband really did until I actually sold my book to St. Martin’s Press. And also, I think he has really started to accept it and go with the flow, as far as support and realizing that I DO need the time and allowances I ask for, because I am finally earning some money.

CMM: WIVES AND SISTERS has met with much controversy. How did that affect your family, especially your kids? How do you talk to them about it?

NRC: I suppose there were times that they might have worried. Especially when I got a death threat or two, but truthfully, I have downplayed all of that for them. After all, they are kids. And it was never so threatening that I thought they might be in danger. I just have to admit I’ve always been bothered to think, “Wow, the truth can get you killed.” But it can. Luckily, in my case, it’s been mostly nasty emails.

My book is real life. It is true, and honest, and in your face, and if people don’t like that, oh well. It would be great if we lived in a perfect world but we don’t. Kids die and get hurt every day. Women are raped every day. People are murdered every day. Sexual predators show up in droves at Dateline NBC’s sexual predator house, and some of them even admit they SAW the shows, and some of them are probably Mormon. None of these horrible acts stop just because you join a particular religion, or make vows in a temple, or wear special underwear, and to tell someone they DO stop is so irresponsible.

Mark Hacking did all of that, all of the good Mormon stuff, and still murdered his wife, Lori. It WILL NOT SAVE YOU if you are already messed up. In fact, it will make you crazier, as is evidenced by Brian David Mitchell who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. The entire beginnings of the Church have so much wackiness that depraved minds are given a smorgasbord to feed on.

As for my kids, well, they think the controversy is funny. That might sound cold, but it’s not. They know where I stand, as far as religion, and they are remarkably level-headed about this stuff. The rest of life, expect histrionics. But for this stuff, they are so cool–except when hormones hit.

CMM: Describe your typical day. How do you balance writing with family needs, especially during deadlines or book promotion?

NRC: Right now I am finishing up at my job so I can write full time. I have been teaching at a private school, but it’s so hard to try and teach and also to write and promote and meet my deadlines. I work all day long and then try to write at night and on weekends. I also take days off to write, but I never feel like that is fair to my employer. But in the next two weeks I will be done and then writing full time. But it is never an easy battle. Book promotion is ALWAYS going on. It never stops. You simply cannot downplay this part of being a writer. As for deadlines, well, it’s funny. I can tell my children I cannot be bothered–not even ONCE–but that one big emergency or MOST IMPORTANT THING they need to tell me always weighs in. And it gives me guilt that is sometimes extreme. And while their “emergencies” rarely weight in as real emergencies, I know these ages will never come again, and their communication with me is fragile. So, there are days when I feel completely and utterly inadequate. But I always get up and try again the next day, and hope for the best.

CMM: Did family life change much for you after you were published? If so, how? If not, how did you keep it stable?

NRC: Yes, it changed a lot. It forced my family to take me seriously, and yet I discovered in so many ways they will NEVER take me seriously. They have seen me with bad hair, or pulling the mother-lode fish out of the water to discover I caught a large CARP. They have seen me screaming, and crying, and melting down, and they know I am just this human person who is trying to write books. Although, to an extent, they have grown to understand that now this writing, this incessant computer-sitting, actually has a result that is good. They have said they want to read my books (answer: Not yet! Not old enough).

But the demands are still the same. I am still required to be Mom. And mom will always get the scut work. Mom will always clean up the vomit, and wash the dirty underwear, and cry with you when you don’t understand how THIS happened. And I wouldn’t give it away for the world.

CMM: Any tips for fellow mother-writers?

NRC: Oh, just believe in yourself. Keep writing, and remember, that even when you think you are the worst mom that ever lived, you probably aren’t–unless your child has been living in cage all of his/her life. If that’s so, you suck. For the rest of us, a lot of moms work. Mom writers work just as hard as the rest of the working moms. Sometimes they see financial results, sometimes they don’t, but it all boils down to YOU being a person. YOU still exist. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t forget that you are real and that you have needs. If you NEED to write, then you must write. You can’t be real for your kids if you don’t exist anymore. And to exist, you need to maintain your individuality.

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