In the quiet hours after my children fall asleep, after the whining and the bickering, after the requests for snacks and meals and drinks and games and puzzles and cars and hold me and carry me and tuck me in and sing me a song and just one more song, after all of that, I am the mother in Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Gimenez Smith. All I want is me for a minute. Me. Who is that? Separate from mother, distinct, other– is there such a division? Can there exist such a division? Bring Down the Little Birds is a quick and unsettled memoir searching for identity, balance, and some kind of reconciliation… or perhaps at least a handshake… between the many roles, wants, and needs of a mother who is also a daughter who has a mother who had a mother once too, who all had other selves they protected or neglected or hid or buried or dissolved entirely from their lives as mother.
I hear Edna Pontellier. In those quiet hours alone, sometimes I hear myself.
Tonight I rolled on our bed with Henry, blew raspberries on his belly and he laughed and squirmed and laughed. He patted my face with his pudgy palm. He concentrated on the blank screen of my phone and pushed with all his might to make it do something.
Earlier, I watched Miss Lydia kick a soccer ball and felt my heart swell with pride and wonder at how she’s gotten so tall and fast, how determined she is, and I wondered at the complicated blending of personality and skill sets and talents and looks and how similar and different she is from her brother, and how much alike and different the boys are from each other, and so on. How we are a unit.
I was frustrated to be standing out in 40 degree weather watching a soccer game with my kids and also proud of myself for managing all three kids, proud of her competitive drive, proud of my boys under blankets in the wagon, proud to give this to them, this part of myself, this time.
The more I give of myself the more I seem to get back. The more I give of myself while retaining my self, my identity, the fuller I experience my life. It is not this or this or this, not one piece of myself exchanged for another without negotiation. It is this and this and this and this. And all of these things make me. This is the reality echoed in Lisa Catherine Harper’s book, A Double Life. In it, she celebrates with awe and wonder the changing self, the changing sense of who she is as writer, wife, and now mother, how each feeds the other, and how both home and self/career are good and important places. She shares with the reader the transition of becoming mother and what that can look like. It is a memoir that celebrates a relatively normal pregnancy, a relatively normal delivery, and a relatively normal first year. It is a memoir that celebrates.
Two memoirs about motherhood. Two vastly different approaches, both real and true and beautiful. I recommend both.