Resources and reporting for mothers and others who think about social change.
get active
about mmo
mmo blog
mmo Books

Motherhood, with an edge

The Essential Hip Mama:
Writing from the Cutting Edge of Parenting

Edited by Ariel Gore
Seal Press, 2004

Review by Diane Glazman

I remember reading Annie Lamott’s Operating Instructions when my older son was about 18 months old. It was the first time another mother revealed a truth I had been living since becoming one myself. Annie would write one day that her son was the best baby in the world and she loved him so much she could hardly stand it and then the next that she regretted ever becoming a mother. Recognizing myself in her words was liberating, validating the wild and wonderful range of emotions and experiences that came gratis with the diapers, nursing bras and stretch marks. Operating Instructions became an essential part of every baby shower gift I gave after that and I would tell the new mom-to-be that this book spoke the truth in a way no other parenting book would.

After reading The Essential Hip Mama edited by Ariel Gore from essays published by her zine Hip Mama, I’m thinking it may replace Lamott’s book in those pastel colored gift bags. The essays reveal a range of experiences, challenges, and realities gleaned from more than a decade of moms (and dads) speaking their truth about what it means to be a parent in today’s world.

Gore started Hip Mama more than a decade ago almost by accident. A 23-year old single mother struggling to finish college, keep herself and her child fed and clothed, and maintain her grade point average on three and a half hours of sleep a night, Gore proposed the first issue of Hip Mama as her senior project— an act of desperation while she planned to land a job as a journalist and become a member of the middle class.

What began by seeming chance quickly gained a following as Gore focused on the reality of parenting— the chaos, the struggles, the lack of sleep, the incredible joy— without what she calls the glossy “and then he smiled at me and it made it all worthwhile” endings she found in mainstream magazines. She also decided to focus on the reality of who mothers are— the single mother, the teenage mother, the mother trying desperately to make ends meet when the food stamps run out before the end of the month shared equal billing with the middle class mom, the artist mom trying to carve out creative time that does not involve finger-paint, and all the moms who feel that no matter what they do they will, in some way, irreparably damage their children by loving them too much.

In the introduction to her book, Gore says that at the time she started Hip Mama,

I had been a teen mom, a welfare mom, a single mom, a college mom. I was young, poor, urban. The plan from the start was that the zine would be reader-written, so I expected to receive essay submissions from other young and poor moms. I though the zine would attract readers and writers like myself. But I discovered, almost immediately, that telling the truth about our experiences as mothers doesn’t necessarily attract others like us – it attracts people who want to tell their truths about motherhood, no matter how different those experiences may be. The readers of Hip Mama are as diverse a group as the writers: There are teen moms and fiftysomething moms, single moms and married mom, straight moms and queer moms, college moms and rural moms, midwives and bank tellers.

Gore is also upfront about the fact that Hip Mama has a political bent and counts few conservatives among its subscribers. Taking on issues of child support, family leave acts, domestic violence, and public education is about taking on issues that affect our ability to raise our children and affect our daily lives. “They are political issues,” Gore writes, “but they begin and end in our living room and nurseries.”

The Essential Hip Mama divides the essays into seven sections ranging from “Nobody Said it Would Be Like This” to “Looking for Love” to “Faith and Irreverence: UnVirgin Births.” Peppered throughout the book are Gore’s “Yo Mama’s Daybook”— a month of one-liners such as “Try to dye pink hair brown for family court. It turns green!” “Stay up all night with high school boyfriend, keep forgetting I’m not 16.”— letters from readers, cartoons, and newsflashes that offer sometimes pithy (remember the “gay” Teletubby issue?), sometimes irreverent, and sometimes down-right aggravating news stories that have hit the wires during the past decade of Hip Mama’s existence.

The true stars of the book, though, are the essays. This is not parenting advice, this is the collective wisdom from the front lines of mamahood, and right from the beginning, Gore’s contributors lay it on the line. The collection’s second essay, Christine Malcolm’s “You’re the Stupidest Mommy in the World, and I Hate You!” reveals this touching family moment. In the midst of cuddling with her three children, her oldest looks at her body and says “Ladies have REALLY fat butts!” For this I had children, Malcolm asks herself, but she says it is the truth, though not all of it. Her “stretched-out, flubbery body is amazing. It bears the record of the work you have done as a mother, the love you have let pass through you. It is real. It is sexy.”

There are other such luscious truths contained in this book, such as “I Don’t Wanna Be A Mother Anymore!” by Opal Palmer Adisa, who’s essay takes on the dark myth that motherhood somehow transforms us into Mother Teresa with all her patience and wisdom. “There is nothing worse than sending my kids to bed and not being able to find a dark spot to cry in because I am aching so much from observing how difficult it must be to live with me,” Adisa writes, adding that telling her children how much she loves them does not make up for the fact that she often feels inadequate to the task of raising them, that she feels she is failing miserably, and resents the passion and depth of feeling they pull from her every single day.

In Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner’s essay “What This Mama Wants,” she reveals that, though she got her belly pierced for her 30th birthday, what she really wants for her 31st birthday is a kitchen mixer, and wonders how such a symbol of 50’s suburbia can be transformed into an anti-conformity device or even if it is necessary that it do so.

As Gore says in her introduction, Hip Mama takes a political stance on parenting issues, and she includes several essays in this vein, essays that pack a powerful punch. “Abortion After Motherhood” by Julia Bowles reveals the truth that 49 percent of all women who have abortions have also had at least one live birth and that 8-1/2 percent have three or more children. In the clinic waiting room, Bowles finds other moms, like herself, with families at home, dinners to cook, babysitters to check on, Christmas shopping to finish. Her investigation of abortion data leads to a black hole of motherhood as a contributing factor in a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The Alan Gutmacher Institute, she writes, which has conducted the only surveys that ask a woman why she has chosen to have an abortion leaves out mothers, identifying three common reasons: that a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; that they cannot afford to have a child; and that a baby would cause problems within a relationship with their husband or partner. Bowles says that although the statistics do not reveal if existing children factor into the decision to have an abortion, “Realistically, these ‘other responsibilities’ must include taking care of a family. Clearly the reasons some women ‘cannot afford to have a child’ is because they already have children, and perhaps part of the reason having a baby would ‘cause problems in their relationship’ is because their family is large enough already.’” Her essay becomes all the more relevant in the current political climate when the right to choose may no longer be a choice, and echoes the “what if” question every woman of child-bearing age has needed to consider at some time in her life.

I will admit, I picked up a copy of Hip Mama many years ago at a newsstand that specialized in “obscure” publications. Looking for places to query for articles on parenting, I could not find myself on the pages of Hip Mama and put the zine aside. Flash forward several years. A middle class mother, married, with two sons— a soccer mom without the mini-van or the SUV (I drive a station wagon), my fortieth birthday is looming near the beginning of 2005. What Gore and her reader/writers talk about in their essays hits home in a way that connects powerfully and directly. It’s like sitting around with a bunch of girlfriends and sharing the stories that make us who we are— mothers and human.

mmo : November 2004

Diane Glazman is a writer living in the Bay Area. Her business communications company, Ink Communications, provides writing services for public relations and marketing agencies as well as corporate clients.
The Hip Mama web site is “bursting with political commentary and ribald tales from the front lines of motherhood. Edited and published by Ariel Gore (print) and Bee Lavender (online), the zine started as a forum for young mothers, single parents, and marginalized voices, but has grown to represent progressive families of all varieties. Hip Mama maintains the editorial vision that qualified it for the title ‘conservative America’s worst nightmare’.” www.hipmama.com
What are you reading? Let us know. Send your recommendations to editor@mothersmovement.org
Reuse of content for publication or compensation by permission only.
© 2003-2008 The Mothers Movement Online.


The Mothers Movement Online