The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor edited by Marika Lindholm, Cheryl Dumesnil, Domenica Ruta, and Katherine Shonk

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Review by Laura Dennis

 

Single parenting can feel like a high wire act performed with no safety net, the empty platform forever just out of reach. Letting go of a bad marriage may have saved my soul and ultimately made me a better mom, but it can get pretty lonely up here.

Enter We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor, a collection of poetry, essays, and quotes by writers both famous and less-known. In 2015, nearly two decades after her divorce, editor Marika Lindholm founded Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere (ESME). That community inspired the present volume, whose intent is to dispel stereotypes and myths surrounding solo motherhood. The mothers in these pages are not only diverse in race, nationality, and sexual identity, they also became single parents in nearly every possible way–some chose adoption or sperm donation, while others never expected to end up alone. We Got This takes the reader on an emotional journey from tears, to anger, to literally laughing out loud. If you don’t believe me, follow my lead and read it at your local café–unless you’re as inscrutable as a sphinx, your reactions will attract a look or two.

One finds, as one might expect, panicked moments in which solo moms must face fraught situations alone, for example Melissa Stephenson’s and Courtney Christine’s car accidents, or the unexpected hospitalizations described by Sarah Netter and Angela Ricketts. Addiction, abuse, divorce, military deployment, abandonment, prison, mental illness, deportation, and death all appear as well, as do recurring crises like the father who fails to show. We hurt with Terri Linton when she writes:

It’s a persistent pain a mother raising a son alone knows: the pain of watching your child’s sky-high hopes come crashing down when the phone doesn’t ring; the pain of his distress when Daddy delivers an apology instead of himself; the pain of your child standing by your side at a Father’s Day celebration amid a sea of twinned fathers and sons. (14)

What strikes me most about the collection, however, is not so much the depictions of myriad hardships and horrors as the way these are interwoven with moments of freedom and light. Essays by Jennifer Baumgardner, Sarah Kowalski, Mika Yamamoto, and co-editor Cheryl Dumesnil embody this especially well. Take this passage from Dumesnil:

Though at times I felt utterly overwhelmed by the trifecta of responsibilities–raising kids, making money, and keeping house–that was no reason to couple up. At forty-five years old, I had some questions about how I’d support myself, how I’d handle retirement, illnesses, or aging on my own. But when those questions floated to the surface, so did an abiding faith that I’d find a way. Meanwhile, I was content on my own, guiding my life by intuition, watching my path unfold one true step into the next. In fact, I loved it. (263)

What’s more, along with independence, these writers discover the gift of interdependence as they each find their own tribe. The whales in Isa Down’s “Tahlequah” provide a stunning illustration of this, while Baumgardner expresses it thus:

As a single mother, I was not selfish–that suffix “ish” connoting something gross or halfway. It’s more like I was self-full. It was definitely a time in my life in which I had to rely on myself more than ever before, and yet my life was very rich with other people. (86)

Humor graces the collection too. The image of Anne Lamott soaked in breast milk, a donut seat stuck to her rear, is unforgettable, as are Evie Peck’s misadventures in online dating. Amy Poehler will have divorced moms chuckling in recognition, while P. Charlotte Lindsay’s open letter to “Mean Mommies” is priceless, especially the conclusion.

Despite a few flat places, the writing is generally strong. Some of the pieces wrap up a bit too neatly for my taste, but with so many voices in a single volume, some are bound to resonate more for individual readers than others. The pieces I love might leave another cold; what matters is that there is something in here for everyone. I would recommend We Got This to other solo moms, and to non-solo moms as well. I would love for them to see that “single parenting is not contagious” (Lindsay 250) and to marvel, as I did, at the infinite ways our stories can unfold.

 

We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor edited by Marika Lindholm, Cheryl Dumesnil, Domenica Ruta, and Katherine Shonk
She Writes Press, 2019, $17.95 [paper] ISBN 9781631526565 [paper]


Laura Dennis is a college professor in Appalachia. She manages and writes for the Attachment & Trauma Network (ATN) blog. Her nonfiction has been recognized in two literary contests, her writing has been selected as Editor’s Choice for the 2019 Kentucky Philological Review, and she will be the featured author in the Spring 2020 issue of the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

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