Motherhood & Words

a cough, a festival, and a few words about stories

I mentioned in my mother’s day post that Zoë was sick and that—after being on the receiving end of her croupy cough—I was getting sick, as well. Well I did get sick—head-exploding, coughing-until-I-puked sick. I had to take Zoë into the ER early Monday morning because she was barking like a seal, poor dear, and by the end of the day I was coughing uncontrollably, as well. And then, after Zoë wiped her snotty hand across D’s face—she thought this was very funny—he got sick, too. (Stella, so far, is fine. Knock on wood.)

I’m feeling much better now, but as a precaution, I’m going to stock up on cough suppressant, cough drops, and antibacterial hand gel so I’ll be ready for the Memoir Festival this weekend. As a mother of a former preemie, I know as much about hand hygiene as anyone. I will douse myself in antibacterial gel before I shake even one hand. I promise.

My fear, however, is that I will begin coughing loudly during Bernard Cooper’s reading tonight, and I’ll have to leave the auditorium. That would really suck. I have been waiting for this too long to have to banish myself into the hallway. Keep your fingers crossed for me. (And if you want to attend the memoir festival, there’s still time. You can register online today or in person tomorrow morning. Cooper’s reading is open to the public, as well! For more information, click here.)

I’ll report on the festival next week (and maybe even this weekend if I can squeeze in a post), but until then, I want to mention a wonderful thing I read last night.

I have had the anthology Love You To Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs on my shelf for a few months. (If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that this is, sadly, my habit. I just don’t have very much time to read non-teaching writing right now.) But last night, I was drawn to this book. I had just posted a lecture for my online Mother Words class about structure and Penny Wolfson’s wonderful “Moonrise”—which I’ve posted about here and here—and I was thinking of the ways that so many of the mother-writers I know write about their children with special needs. So I opened Love You to Pieces. This is what Suzanne Kamata writes in the introduction:

I’m the kind of person who looks to literature to make sense of life, so when I learned that my daughter was deaf and had cerebral palsy, I sobbed for a while and then logged onto I was looking for deep and sustaining stories to guide me on the long path ahead, and while I found many cheery volumes offering hope and inspiration, that wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I needed to know that others had felt the same kind of pain, fear, and anger that I was feeling, and I wanted a better idea of how my daughter’s disability would affect my marriage, my son, my work, and other aspects of our lives. The best novels, short stories, and memoirs can pull us into the lives of their characters and provide a deeper understanding of others, while poetry can distill and illuminate moments that longer essays gloss over.

She ends the introduction with this: “…literature eases loneliness and helps us understand and empathize with those unlike ourselves.”

In my online class, we have been talking about this very thing—the way stories, as one of my wonderful students said, “can humanize us.” Reading a wide variety of voices—those of mothers and non-mothers alike—makes me a better person, helps keep life in perspective, helps, as I said on Sunday, not take my life or my family for granted.

I read the first few pieces in Love You to Pieces—Vicki Forman’s amazing “Coming to Samsara” about the birth of her twins at 23 weeks gestation; Hannah Holborn’s “Without Strings,” the heart-wrenching story of a mother dealing with her daughter’s diagnosis of Angelman’s; Ellen Bihler’s poem about the mother of a baby with spinal muscular atrophy falling into hopelessness; and Marcy Sheiner’s “A Homecoming,” the story of a mother isolated from her friends because of her son’s brain damage. This was all I could manage. My heart felt too heavy to continue. But underneath this heaviness was something else: gratitude. The words of these writers are brave and necessary and life-changing, and I want to send out a shout of thanks to these wonderful writers and to Suzanne, who pulled this book together.

I also want to make sure everyone knows that Vicki Forman’s memoir, This Lovely Life, will be released this summer. And also this exciting news: Vicki has agreed to come to Minnesota this fall to be part of the 3rd Annual Mother Words Reading, which will also feature the wonderful local writer Kate St. Vincent Vogl, author of Lost and Found: A Memoir of Mothers. I will be bombarding you with details as the date approaches, but I want you to put it on your calendars now: September 24th, 7 p.m. at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Everyone is welcome!!

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. cath c on May 15, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    as a mother of special needs, i was drawn to ‘loving you to pieces’ too.

    i loved susanne kamata’s intro, too because i couldn’t bear another article re: my son’s autism/aspergers telling me to buck up or grace of godisms, etc. i have been ‘in the trenches’ for years and needed to hear from others in the trenches, too.

    it’s not easy. but i felt your statement ‘My heart felt too heavy to continue. But underneath this heaviness was something else: gratitude.’

    i started reading this book last summer. funny enough, i took it out of my ‘walk bag’ this morning and put it on my desk. i may be ready to pick it up again now. even if i had to stop reading it for awhile, i do really appreciate the stories of real journeys through the emotional maze that is parenting special needs.

  2. gillian on May 15, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I really need to get my hands on these books.

    As always, thankful for your guidance.

  3. Elizabeth on May 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for the “shout-out” for all of us mothers with special needs children that also write!

    I hope you feel well enough to really enjoy your festival — good luck.

  4. kristenspina on May 15, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    “Love You to Pieces” is the kind of book that I wish everyone would read. Its stories are that important. How lovely to come here today and find this, a wonderful reminder as to why we write–why we must write. Thank you Kate, for posting this.

  5. Suzanne on May 22, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you so much, Kate! You know I would join you in Minnesota if I could!