Bring out your flower bouquets and your brunch reservations! This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and we’re bringing the books to take you into the weekend and beyond. These books show how every kind of mother needs to be valued and supported in the catch-all societal stew we call the US. Mothers of color. Immigrant mothers. Mothers who become parents at a young age. Mothers separated from their families because of incarceration. Mothers challenging the medical establishment about misconceived notions of disability. House mothers who form found families to take in queer and trans children disowned by their biological parents. These are titles to gift to your mother, to be read with your mother, with those who want to be mothers, those who want to better understand their mothers, those who understand where other mothers are coming from. Cheers!
[A]t its core Ballroom is an answer to an act against nature: parents disowning their children. . . . [B]all culture was started by defiant trans ladies like Crystal LaBeija and then jettisoned through the twentieth century and into the future by trans mothers like Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Avis Pendavis, Angie Xtravaganza, and countless others who instilled in their houses and children unique traits and values that are the very life essence and lineage of the culture.
I am indignant at their pitying eyes. I do not want to be their emotional spectacle. I want them to admit that you are people. Black boys. People. This fact, simple as it is, shouldn’t linger on the surface. It should penetrate. It often doesn’t. Not in this country anyway. But no matter how many say so, my sons, you are not a problem. Mothering you is not a problem. It is a gift. A vast one. A breathtaking one, beautiful. One that makes me pray for an unmercenary spirit about what I am here to do, never considering it a burden or worthy of particular praise. Mema, your grandmother, said it this way, “Mothering Black boys in America—that is a special calling.” How do I meet it? What is it like?
In reality, across the US, corrections officials and child welfare workers rarely inquire or even think about how incarceration will negatively impact the parent-child relationship during the possible phases of trial, sentencing, and prison intake. And here, as parents facing incarceration, the consequences for women differ radically from those experienced by men. Although all mothers and fathers have to cope with separation from their children, for men, there’s usually a woman on the outside—mothers, wives, girlfriends—to care for their offspring . . . [W]hen women are locked up, families are splintered, and the upheaval affects communities as well. Children all too often lose any sense of permanence and feel they don’t belong anywhere. They stop attending school, feeling unmoored and uncertain, emotions they share with their mothers. And despite all the upheaval, there is simply no support and no reentry planning for women and their children once mothers are incarcerated.
In challenging the view that she had caused her child’s autism, Clara defended the value of intelligent love. In doing so, she put her finger on a central assumption in autism literature that blamed mothers. All the researchers working on children’s emotional development, from Erik Erikson to René Spitz, from Margaret Ribble to John Bowlby, from Leo Kanner to Bruno Bettelheim, claimed that children needed “natural” love—some kind of raw, instinctual feeling that should not be sullied by a mother’s other interests. But none of those researchers had explained why this type of maternal love, love that was untainted by intellectual and professional aspirations, is richer and more nurturing than other types of love. None of them had explained why the intellect and the emotions are in conflict with each other. Clara thought they were not, even in childrearing.
[My mother] was just foreign, from another country, another time, another world. She couldn’t be my mother, this alien, this immigrant. I read books. She hated books. I loved words. She fought furiously, hopelessly with the English language, losing every round, retiring into defeated, bitter silence in her corner while I performed a jeering victory dance in mine, fists raised triumphantly, oblivious to my own privilege. She wanted to enfold, to care for the child that was finally hers and hers alone. But every photo of me from the time I could stand shows a stick-limbed child moving away from her, scrabbling out of her arms, fighting to hold onto myself so she couldn’t engulf me in a molasses tidal wave, knocking me over, stealing my breath, drowning me in a flash flood of her sticky love.
These women’s stories reveal that the mothercoin is not an industry or an immigration pattern, but an approach to value. The invisibility is what does the harm, the insignificance attributed to the work and to the woman and to the choices she has confronted. When the work is swept under the rug, so are the cultural expectations about a woman’s place in the home, on the job. When the woman is little more than a household expense, her landscape of choice succumbs to the cold reality of supply and demand and her humanity is compromised by a hierarchy of value that pits the faces of the mothercoin against each other: presence against protection, labor against love. The deepest damage comes from a language that paints these conflicts as the result of her own choices.
—Elizabeth Cummins Muñoz
It really hit when I first held my baby in my arms. Suddenly, Russian seemed like the most intuitive way to speak to her. It felt like home. Whenever my daughter and I watched cartoons from my childhood together, my eyes welled up with tears. I wanted to dig up family recipes, to hum to her the lullabies my grandparents sang and their parents sang before them, to whisk her away into a familiar world, safe and secure, as seen through the eyes of a child. This nostalgia had nothing to do with politics. I’m not a supporter of Russia’s human rights violations or foreign policy. If my relationship with the motherland were a social media status, it would probably be “It’s complicated.” Sharing my culture with my children turned out to be a heavy lift for many reasons, not the least of which was because my home no longer existed.
Without knowing it, I was feeling the impact of a president’s words and a country’s fears. It was 1998—just three years after President Bill Clinton, in his State of the Union address, called teenage childbearing “our most serious social problem.” Not the peak of crime rates in the early 1990s, which had been on the rise since the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency. Not the crack-cocaine epidemic of the mid-1980s. Not the mass incarceration that exploded under President Ronald Reagan, decimating families and disproportionately affecting communities of color. No, young mothers were the greatest threat to our country. Those two pink lines meant that I was now an enemy of the state.
—Nicole Lynn Lewis