Categories
Family

Simply more pleasant

Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1979 via The New York Times

I loved a recent issue of Mason Currey’s Subtle Manuevers newsletter introducing the artist couple Bernd and Hilla Becher. The German photographers spent decades making photos of industrial architecture across America and other countries. When asked what is different about their photography because they make it together, Hilla replied:

“Traveling together is simply more pleasant. … When you are traveling together you can exchange ideas and it feels less bleak when you are in some god-forsaken place—like when we spent weeks traveling through the American Midwest. The nights in shabby hotels are more comfortable when you are with somebody.”

It made me reflect on how much more enjoyable it has been to endure the early months of parenthood because I have Ryan by my side. My version of Hilla’s explanation might go something like this: “When you are raising a child together you can exchange ideas and it feels less bleak when you are in some god-forsaken developmental phase—like when we spent weeks comforting a teething baby.”

As Bernd says, everything is easier to handle as we help each other.

Categories
Reading

5 good books on motherhood I read this spring

Amidst a bleak landscape for American families these past few months, I have been widening my scope, thinking as little as possible about “parenting” and more about community, presence and care. Here are five books that are helping me feel hopeful, in the order I read them:

The Gardener and the Carpenter
Alison Gopnik

I love the thesis in this book for the liberation it provides both parents and children: “parenting” should not be a job, nor a verb. Gopnik, a child psychologist and researcher, argues that children simply need to be given a safe and stable base from which to explore the world and themselves. (Austin Kleon interprets this roughly as: Give them art supplies and let them go!) Her breakdown of the explore vs. exploit dichotomy gave me a lot to think about in what I model for my child and how I want her to orient herself toward what the world will have to offer her.

The School for Good Mothers
Jessamine Chan

Devastatingly good. (Even if it did hit a little too close to home for the parent of a three-month-old at the time I read it.) I loved the close writing on modern motherhood and all its entrapments, and the bigger thoughts on whose responsibility it is to raise children “well,” and what it means when race and gender and power come into play in the domestic sphere. A brilliant novel.

Nightbitch
Rachel Yoder

Hilarious, a little wild and loose, this novel imagines the madcap life of a stay-at-home mother who has put her art career on hold to care for her toddler… and who fears she may be turning into a dog. Satirical and voracious, this book pushes back on easy tropes and also begs for systemic change in this country. Vivid and funny.

Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from My Daughter’s School
Courtney Martin

Martin, an activist and writer whose work I’ve long loved, takes a good, hard look at her own fears, values and decisions about how to raise her daughters in a divided country as she and her husband navigate school choice. An incredibly original, inspiring account of trying to live out one’s values in a country that prioritizes the status quo.

Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change
Angela Garbes

This book is so necessary and such a pure joy: a treatise on the pleasure, power and possibility of treating mothering (a verb that can be done by anyone, of any gender) as the only essential work that humans do. An important perspective on what the pandemic has laid bare: we must (and can) demand more from family life in this country, but we don’t have to wait for a social safety net to start to make change in our lives and our communities.