“The contradictions abounded–I was happy, but this new core of happiness was accompanied by an unexpected sense of isolation and loss of self. I was lost, and found.”
~Marni Jackson, The Mother Zone (1992)
When I was pregnant, I imagined that motherhood would be like one of those diaper commercials.
Baby: clean, smiling, looking lovingly at mom.
Mom: clean, smiling, looking lovingly at baby.
In reality, my life with baby seemed like an endless cycle of pablum, poop, parks and play dates. Having a two-minute shower once a week was about the only “me time” I had for three years.
Much of that time is a blur, yet I clearly remember how hard we worked to soothe our seemingly inconsolable baby. There was endless rocking and walking. There were fancy swings and slings. Soft music and warm baths. A parade of parenting books and videos.
Next came “the schedule”, designed to bring some semblance of order to our upside down lives. My husband used his corporate planning skills to set up a 24-hour feeding and sleeping chart, which he posted on our bedroom door.
We soon discovered that our baby girl could not, would not, adhere to this well-intentioned regiment. She had her own agenda from day one. And it did not include sleep.
I was so utterly in love, and yet so utterly lost.
Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this?
I know I’m not the only one to wonder. After struggling (and failing) to find a suitable answer to this question, Marni Jackson wrote a book about it — The Mother Zone. Her memoir takes us deep into the zone, as she experienced it, and lays bare the sea change that occurs when women turn into mothers.
Enter The Mother Zone–the book that helped me understand, and navigate, my strange and wonderful new life as a mother.
About the book:
Who? Written by critically-acclaimed Canadian author and journalist Marni Jackson, published by Random House of Canada
When? Published in 1992, long before the birth of the “mommy blogger”. Jackson lead the way in this regard, perhaps creating a safe space for others to talk more publicly about motherhood. This is a good thing, but some could take a cue from Jackson: she is intimate, but not voyeuristic. As an experienced journalist and writer, she handles herself and her subjects with respect and discretion.
What? A memoir about one woman’s struggles and triumphs with motherhood. Jackson describes how she got lost in the Mother Zone and slowly (and somewhat painfully) re-entered the world of work. By sharing her experiences, she maps out with profound accuracy the metamorphosis that takes place when we become mothers.
Why? If you’re looking for quick fixes, you won’t find them here. Jackson’s prose is a slow, burning heat that offers comfort and wisdom to anyone lost in the zone. Jackson is personal not prescriptive, funny not flippant. Importantly, she is never judgmental. This is her version of the “truth” about motherhood, and the reader is encouraged to find their own path. She is a gifted writer, making this one of the most poetic non-fiction books I have ever read.
Words of wisdom from The Mother Zone:
1. Prepare to fall in love: “I knelt watching him sleep in his basket. This gazing was a full time job.”
2. Recognize that your life has changed: “When a mother comes home with her new baby, she will find her abstractions are all concrete now. “Freedom” now means being able to take a shower…”Flexibility” mean being able to push the Record function on the VCR without dropping the baby.”
3. Recognize that you have changed: “The things I did all day and night with my new baby were changing me, with or without my consent.”
4. Learn to improvise: “…it’s a work-in-progress, a never-ending renovation job that begins with tidy blueprints and ends in plaster dust and daily chaos.”
5. There is no perfect mother. Define motherhood in your own terms: “…somewhere in the middle is a good-enough mother, with the usual emotions, doubts, and desires.”
6. Forgive yourself your weaker parenting moments: “Anyone who thinks they could do better I refuse to believe, unless they’ve been there.”
7. Don’t expect anyone to tell you the truth about mothering young children, because they’ve forgotten (or revised): all mothers have amnesia when it comes to parenting young children, and “the rest is fiction”.
8. Don’t trust the “experts”: “Motherhood is like Albania–you can’t trust the descriptions in the books, you have to go there.”
9. Don’t worry, you’re not alone: “The answer, I’m convinced, is that no one is prepared for the experience of motherhood.”
10. Mothering young children can be terribly lonely: “I didn’t miss work at all. But I felt at an inexplicable remove from the rest of the world, and that I hadn’t anticipated. It seemed as if fewer and fewer people understood what I was going through…”
11. Mind the gender gap: “First, women couldn’t vote. Then they couldn’t work. Now they can’t sit down and read the paper.”
12. Once a mother, always a mother: “…the mothering continues. I am still learning when to zip my lip, when to speak from the heart, when to cut through the existential dilemmas with something brisk, and well, parental.”
I would add another thing to that list:
13. Things get easier, sort of: It’s no coincidence that Jackson wrote this book when her son was nine. Older children just don’t need as much attention as young ones, which mean we have (hopefully) a little more time for ourselves. For me, that means more time to sleep, read and write–and finding my way back to me. A changed me that’s for sure, but better for being a mom. It’s been a long journey, but I see the world opening up to both of us in new and wonderful ways.
I look forward to reading Jackson’s latest book about the next stage of motherhood: Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest. But there’s no rush. My seven-year-old daughter has already warned me that she is never moving out.
So the journey continues. And it’s the best one I’ve ever been on.