motherhood, stray thoughts
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Talking to myself (or, go & read these essays)

Wildeve buds in frost | edge of evening

Verbena bonariensis in frost | edge of evening

Geranium leaves in frost | edge of evening

After half-term & various illnesses and school events etc, Wednesday was the first day in three weeks that everyone has been at school/pre-school for their full hours. And, oh, the joy of those precious hours alone. I read so many good things that morning & I wanted to share a couple of them here — though I suspect that many of you will already have read them.


Firstly, I reread Rachael Nevins on Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia. I love this essay so much! I’ve enjoyed Rachael’s blog for years & so it was wonderful to read how she recognised her personal ‘frantumaglia’ in Ferrante’s fiction.

Few people know about my phobia, because it is so peculiar that even I can hardly account for it; now I have a word I can use to tell the strangest thing about me, the way that my mind snags on certain objects of the world, allowing an inexplicably horrifying disorder to tumble in.

“Why might you have felt that you were going to pieces?” asked my therapist after my honeymoon. Her question seemed to be beside the point, because my terror seemed to have to do with something deeper than mere personality or the taking up of a new identity as a married woman. I remember looking out the window of the bed and breakfast where my husband and I stayed after the wedding. The sweet evening light illuminated the grass and trees, and I thought, Now I am married and one day I will die. The part of life that fairy tales tell about had for me come to an end.Fall to Pieces: On Elena Ferrante and My Own Frantumaglia, Rachael Nevins

It’s a short one, so do head over right now & find out what Rachael’s rather unusual phobia is.


My Elisa Albert love knows no bounds & so while over at Hazlitt I was excited to finally have time to read her essay on ambition, The Snarling GirlI need to reread this one. There were bits that frustrated me & then suddenly I’d read something that I’d underline so hard that my pencil went right through the paper (oh, yes, paper…). And, you know, I kind of liked that about this one — that I need time to think it through again, that there’s stuff that I want to revisit.

But one of the (several) things that completely stopped me in my tracks was Albert’s realisation that her mother’s criticism had actually been self-directed:

“I’m lazy,” she [Albert’s mother] amends, and my heart breaks for both of us.

She used to tell me I was lazy, back when I was refusing to care about my GPA, refusing to run the college admissions race, refusing to duly starve myself like all the good li’l girls, refusing to wax my asshole or get manicures or chemically straighten my hair, refusing to do much of anything other than consume books and music and movies and books, then scrawl my favorite bits all over the damn place. She was talking to herself all along. She was talking to herself! Remember: our most haunting, manipulative ghosts always, always, always are.

It’s true, I thought. She was talking to herself all along. But that recognition instantly lead me to wonder what my own children will remember me saying to myself, out loud to them.

A couple of years ago, when Pops was about to turn two, I started a post about my favourite motherhood books. But already, so long ago, I felt out of touch with the subject of new motherhood, as though my life had moved on & to confess the immensity of what I had felt was almost embarrassing. One of the books I was going to write about was Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky A. Bailey, which is a pretty awful title for a really good book. (My copy also has an excruciatingly annoying photo of a small girl with her thumb in her mouth.)

This book is the one I still turn to when it’s all falling to pieces. I should confess that I’ve never actually read it straight through because I’ve never needed to. Bailey starts her book with the seven powers of self-control that parents need to model to their children. Basically, every time I focus on these — focus on mothering myself, controlling & understanding my own emotions — things get better again & I just use the rest as and when I need to.

One of Bailey’s powers is the ‘power of perception’, ‘no one can make you angry without your permission’, & in this section she writes what has been, for me, the most valuable piece of advice: ‘You are never upset for the reason you think you are.’ So often, when I’m feeling enraged by a child, I simply have to think back to the minutes before — to the email I was thinking of, to the task I was just trying to finish off, to the concern with what other people are thinking, or (true more often than I’d like to admit) to the fact that I just glanced in the mirror & didn’t like what I saw.

Albert’s observation seems a corollary of Bailey’s. It’s certainly true of my relationship with T that I criticise in her what I least like in myself. I’m not sure if I’m like that with the boys. Its always been her I over-identify with; her behaviour that I feel reflects most on me, even though I know this is lunacy. I don’t have a conclusion, but I’m really grateful to Elisa Albert’s essay for opening this conversation with myself.


Any recommendations for things — obvious or not! — that you’ve read recently?


Photos: Yesterday there was a frost & the rose leaves were edged in white, the last buds still closed.


  1. Kate says

    Sarah, this is such a thought-provoking post. It resonates in so many ways. But of the main points where it hits are; that I had a boy and so thought I could sidestep some of my really difficult parenting issues – can in some ways but my lovely emotionally literate boy teaches me that I don’t have to – and that so many times my emotional reactions to my son come from my own emotions. And I’ve learned to say sorry in that context that I’m able to use in my grown up relationships that I might not in the past have been able to say;)

    • Thanks for sharing this, Kate. You’re so right that, whoever our children are, there are lessons to be learnt from our relationships with them. I love the idea of learning to say sorry in ‘grown up’ contexts too. I’m also always amazed how much re-learning I seem to have to do…I think I’ve got it all figured out & then I forget & have to learn all over.

  2. Ah, the joys of mothering… As I navigate our newly emptied nest, those early years of parenting seem oh so distant. I’m currently doing Nanowrimo, but as a Rebel (writing, but not a novel), and yesterday I wrote a piece prompted by the quote ‘Be the woman you needed as a girl’. And while I didn’t know it at the time, this was how I mothered my children – trying to be the Mother I never experienced as a child. I know I made mistakes – especially trying to walk the fine line between discipline and indulgence – but all the time I knew I wanted my kids to have a very different childhood from mine. I wanted to be the mother I’d needed as a girl.
    Thank you for this wonderful post, and on recently read things – I’m delighting in the exquisite Notting Hill Editions and falling deeply for the essay, THE most satisfying of genres!

    • Oh, I love this. What a wonderful way to mother! I hope your rebel version of Nanowrimo is going well. And, yes, the Notting Hill Editions! So beautiful! I’ve read a couple (I loved Deborah Levy’s), but there are more I’d love to read — Kirsty Gunn on Katherine Mansfield springs to mind. Thank you for reminding me of them.

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