Mothering Sunday beckons here in the UK and this book would make the perfect gift both to give or to receive.
I have collected many anthologies of writing about motherhood over the thirty years I've been doing it for myself, so when Everyman Classics wrote and asked if I would like to see a copy of their latest collection in the Pocket Classics series Stories of Motherhood I sent back a very siwft 'yes please and thank you for thinking of me' reply.
A truly beautiful little book arrived and with a cover that has had me transfixed every time I pick the book up to read it.
A Mother and Child in an Interior by Peter Vilhem Ilsted 1898
The Danish artist has captured something inexplicable yet perfect about the facial expressions of both the mother and the child, especially given that they can only be seen in side profile. You can tell they are both smiling at each other and to the exclusion of all else.
The search for a copy of the image took me to this amazing blog, I am a Child (the child in art history) and I have spent much more time than I meant to browsing the pictures, because if I collect books about motherhood in general then I also collect any I find about children too and that includes several about children in art.
What lies beneath the cover of Stories of Motherhood is a beautiful lavender-coloured cloth bound book with a silk ribbon bookmark and a thing of joy in that way that each Everyman Classic is. These are books which cope admirably with or without a dust jacket, and inside this one an eclectic mix of stories covering the last century, from writers as diverse as Harold Brodkey, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen, Louise Erdrich, Amy Tan, Colm Toibin and many more.
Ron Carlson's Blood and Its Relationship to Water in which a father explains how his baby son Eddie has revealed 'whole new rooms' in his heart is a wonderful opener to the book. A story to shift expectations from the married with 2.4 children of our own norm. It quickly becomes apparent that Eddie has been adopted and whilst his dad has little doubt that all will be well, his mum craves a smile, the smallest sign that she has finally been accepted as a mother...
'I never thought Nancy would be nervous about making this baby belong to us; and when I saw that she was, that she wanted fiercely for him to be ours in every way, I started getting nervous, because I didn't know how to help her.'
Perhaps within the space of Nancy's craving lies the unspoken history of this couple's journey towards adoption, these days often a path littered with a sense of hopeless and expensive failure whilst that yearning for a babe in arms grows ever stronger.
It is a love that grows despite the fact that the baby's cries resemble a 'fanbelt slipping' and can quickly escalate to real trouble as in a wail similar to the 'straining of the power-steering in some later model Fords' and when the 'moment' finally happens it really does set the seal on the rest of the book.
It all had me casting an eye over the Motherhood shelves and there was Balancing Acts On Being a Mother edited by Kathleen Gieve and published by Virago in 1989; bought and read when I was in the thick of it with an eight, six and four year old.
How well I remember this book, with its slightly blurred mother and baby cover picture, for its first hand accounts of the trials and tribulations, the surprises and the unexpected highs and lows of motherhood, so much that I could identify with. The pressures for 'certainty and perfection' all to be reconciled with reality, and as Kathleen Gieve outlines in her introduction along come those moments of vulnerability, the 'not coping' too.
I have never forgotten the moment when we finally arrived home with Offspringette and I put her in the waiting pram... an enormous box-shaped Marmet upholstered in navy corduroy.
I looked at her and remember thinking very clearly...
'OMG....this is not a puppy.'
and feeling momentarily overwhelmed at what we'd made.
As for the pram, well the height of fashion but corduroy??
What was I thinking given the propensity for rain here in the South West. One downpour and I was pushing something that seemed to weigh as much as the Queen Mary up the hill.
Balancing Acts became, for me, a really important book.
I marvelled at Helena Kennedy's energy in holding down her high-powered job whilst I could barely hold down a shopping list as I staggered bleary-eyed around the supermarket trying to decide if we should have Cornflakes or Frosties.
1980's feminism discussed... how far it may or may not have come, and all confirmation if needed that though we might have been the generation that had forged our careers we had completely forgotten that there was no childcare to speak of (especially in rural Devon) and would have to give up work once we had babies.
But despite all that how it was possible to feel 'extended and not diminished', the intense pleasure of children as outlined by Kathleen Gieve as she seeks out the company of other women with children to talk and socialise with. I was part of a group of about twelve friends who had all had professional careers but who had given them up to be stay-at-home mums...we were a bit of a force to be reckoned with when we asked for a creche so that we could go to Keep Fit classes.
And about the ambitions mothers have for their children.
And the untold grief of mothers who have lost their children.
And about the simple, unusual but utterly congruent things.
How well I remember being hugely comforted by the simple fact that Jenny Uglow (author and editor) also found her days dogged by the need to buy football stickers even though they had been banned at school. Offspringette, within a week of starting school, had so perfected the art of swapping but never actually giving something in exchange that the boys were in tears, and football stickers were banned forthwith (fortunately she had completed our collection) and I had my first experience (of many...many) of being 'spoken to' at the school gate.
Happy days...any books that saw you through ??