Motherhood & Words

I just made it through another five-day stint as a single mom, which I hope explains my recent silence. Stella is also on a reduced pre-school schedule this month, so I have even less time to sneak away to my computer. When to blog? When to blog?

When D is gone, it’s the extra sleep that I miss the most (other than just missing him, of course). Stella is an early riser—she always has been—and when I’ve been up with Zoe in the night, it’s utterly painful to be dragged downstairs before 6 a.m. Strong decaf just doesn’t cut it anymore. I’m a morning person, so it’s a serious problem when I’m dragging and it’s not yet 7 a.m. It can only go downhill from there.

But now D is back, and though I don’t feel rested, exactly, I do feel calmer. He’s always had this affect on me. Just after he and I began dating, one of my closest friends was in town for a visit. We were out at a bar and I had my undies in a bunch about something or other. But when D arrived, my friend later told me, I instantly relaxed. (She actually said, “It was remarkable.”) So even though he’s super busy right now and working crazy hours, just having him home makes me feel more settled.

On Sunday, after we got home from the airport, he went outside to start the grill and play with Stella—she likes to be pulled around the yard in her sled, which they were jumping off a soccer ball. (You’d have to see it to understand what I mean.) Zoe was sleeping in her car seat, so I settled myself on the porch with Best American Essays of 2004. I’ve been slowly making my way through the volumes, looking for a little inspiration to help me with an essay that’s in my head but not so much down on paper.

Well, I got to the very end of the volume and began reading Cynthia Zarin’s “An Enlarged Heart.” I didn’t remember this essay, and in fact, after a few paragraphs it was clear I had never read it. How could this be? I’m religious about this series; I read the latest volume every year during the days after Christmas when we are up at my mom’s cabin. But in 2004, Stella was just one (and very busy) and I was finishing up my MFA and under deadline to get thesis pages to one of my readers. That’s my excuse. It’s all I got.

The problem is that I have insisted that in twenty years of Best American Essays, only one motherhood essay has been featured: Penny Wolfson’s “Moonrise.” But I was wrong. Zarin’s essay is about her daughter contracting Kawaski disease while they are vacationing in Cape Cod. Her prose is tight—perfect—and her voice absolutely engaging. It reminded me a little of Lorrie Moore’s in “People Like That Are the Only People Here.”

I don’t like to be wrong. But in this case, I’m glad I was. I like Zarin’s writing so much that I’m going to order some of her poetry. Here are two poems I found online. She has three collections: The Swordfish Tooth, Fire Lyric, and The Watercourse. Now the only question is which one should I read first?

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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. Andria on June 10, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Congratulations on making it through the last 5 days!

  2. American_in_Cairo on June 13, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    If you’re going to be wrong, it’s nice to have a good excuse! 😉

  3. Suzanne on June 14, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    I remember that essay! It was in The New Yorker, and I found it profoundly affecting – and easy to relate to – as well.