Some babies are born with full heads of hair, but not mine. My daughter entered the world with whispers of strawberry blonde in tufts and swirls. Oh, how I cherished those downy patterns. I’d kiss them in comfort and adoration. I’d rock her in the nursery and run my hand in circles over them countless times. I’d breathe in it’s sweetness and revel in its unmatched softness. But her hair, like everything else about her, grew. And before I was ready those swirls were hidden from sight.
The little tufts filled out, becoming unruly bronze locks. The wisp on her crown spilling over, falling just on the bridge of her button nose. Believe me, I’ve tried everything to tame that wild tress. Clips, bows, hair-ties and hats all meet a similar fate; ripped off and discarded on the floor of the car or buried at the bottom of the toy box. It’s amazing all the chasing, wriggling, and re-doing I endure to secure those fussy accessories. All just for her dimpled hand to reach up and pull it out. When that strand falls back into her heart-shaped face she truly smiles.
People often ask me why I don’t just cut it off. “That way she wouldn’t look so messy!”, they chide. “She’d look so sweet with little bangs!” they encourage. “It’ll grow out.” I often reply with a wry smile.
It is such a part of her, that foremost wisp. It has been dragged through tears, pulled by her baby brother, dried to her face by applesauce, and stuck up like Alfalfa with shampoo during bath time. When she looks up at me it frames her doe eyes, playful or pouting. I tuck it behind her ear as I giggle to her in mock-secret. I twirl it ’round my finger as I sing to her at night. I brush it off her ample cheek before stamping it with kisses. It is such a part of us; of who we are together.
Part of being a mother is learning to let go. Despite our wishes, we remain powerless over the passage of time. We are helpless spectators of the bittersweet growth of our children. There are so many things that are out of my control, so much I have to let go of. I’ve packed up the swaddles and the binkies. I’ve shelved once-loved stuffed animals and now-boring books. I’ve committed her dove-like coos and gummy smiles to memory. My heart barely has time to process the changes as we move simultaneously from one phase to the next.
I wish they would stop telling me to cut my toddler’s hair. It has taken this journey along with us. Present from the beginning. Grown from a tuft into something wild and pure. Beautiful and free. I can’t keep her small or slow her down, and I wouldn’t dream of holding her back, but I can leave those baby hairs intact and let them linger for just a little longer. So when that boy mom you know is still letting her son sport a man-bun even though he’s mistaken for a girl sometimes, try to understand. Is it really so wrong of us to want to hold on to these little locks for just a little longer?
That rogue wisp of hair is still “growing out,” but I know that the time for that first cut is coming up quick. When it does, well-meaning loved ones will sigh in relief and her dad and I will marvel at how much our baby girl has grown. I’ll tie the precious cowlick in a ribbon and keep it always. When I brush my fingers over it, I will remember those dreamy days of wisp and swirl and feel grateful for the joy my daughter brings to me in every stage.
Cait Winters is a Massachusetts mom of 3 living in a small, woodsy town with her kids, husband and dog. She is a poet at heart with a love of blogging, wine, and musty old New England library books.
An online Boot Camp for those interested in perfecting the literary essay through extensive one-on-one coaching by an editor of MAW. Our camp also offers the opportunity for peer review and discussion with other writers through our camp’s FB group. And, if you’re looking for writing support once camp is over, you can join a writers critique group with other camp participants.
The boot camp runs for three weeks beginning Monday, March 25, 2019. Tuition is $130 (Proceeds in part are used to support MAW’s mission to pay its contributors). Space is limited to fifteen participants per workshop. Our Boot Camps fill up quickly. Register here on Submittable.
What makes a piece of writing literary?
Literary journals seek writing where the language contributes to the reader’s experience. The story, while strong, shares the stage with well-crafted language that relies on figures of speech to enhance the reader’s understanding of the theme. This workshop will help writers strengthen their creative writing skills.
The workshop will provide: 1) An outline of reading materials on the literary essay; 2) Sample teaching essays with annotated comments; 3) An opportunity for brainstorming on your essay topic; 4) A general critique of your piece for content and back and forth discussion sessions with your mentor; 5) Specific line-by-line edits including explanatory comments and suggestions; 6) The opportunity to ask editors questions about writing and the publication process through live FB chats; and 7) The opportunity to have your essay considered for publication by MAW as well as a list of suggested sites for publication. We have now extended our workshop to three weeks so that participants have ample time to fit your writing in between life’s other demands.
Boot Camp Instructors:
Sarah Clayville is a Creative Writing and 11th grade English teacher as well as freelance editor and writing mentor. Her fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Central PA Magazine, StoryChord, and other journals. Her areas of expertise are short and flash fiction. She is a poetry and essays editor for Mothers Always Write.
Michelle Riddell has earned her B.A. and M.A. in English from Wayne State University in Detroit. She has written for Ford Motor Company, MSX International, The Cornerstone, MomSense Magazine and Hello, Darling. She is a two-time recipient of the Albion College Cathy L. Young award for French poetry, and has written a novel. She is a poetry and essays editor for Mothers Always Write.
Julianne Palumbo has worked as an attorney, a writer, and a writing coach. Her poems, short stories, and essays have been published in Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, The Manifest Station, Literary Mama, Motherwell, and others, and she has been a columnist for Literary Mama. Julianne has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and for Best of the Net. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), and 50/50 (Unsolicited Press, 2018). She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Mothers Always Write.
Read what participants in our previous workshops had to say:
“I think every Writer, whether aspiring or established, could have benefitted from this Boot Camp. I appreciated our Mentor’s feedback, as well as what was given to me by my co-horts. The idea of having a deadline, articles to read, and a private Facebook page to share on, really brought this whole Boot Camp to life. I kept saying that I felt as though I had enrolled in a University-level class. Michelle [my Mentor] didn’t just push me to do my best, she provided an array of suggestions. Thank you so much MAW Editors for pulling this together!!”
“The MAW Boot Camp helped provide a workable timeline on writing an essay and taking it from draft to finished product. If you are looking for a way to jumpstart your literary essay writing, this workshop offers the tools, resources and editorial help to guide you through the process. Top notch editorial feedback helps take your writing to the next level. I highly recommend working with Juli and the other editors at MAW.”
“I have been participating in a 10-day literary boot camp put on by the editors of MOTHERS ALWAYS WRITE. This magazine is not just a wonderful venue for mother-writers to share their stories, it’s also a loving, supportive community of writers. A family of sorts. I made so many new, wonderful writerly-friends, learned copious amounts of writerly-stuff, and had absolutely amazing (did I mention I’m addicted to alliteration? lol) mentoring from Julianne Palumbo. And, thanks to Juli’s suggestions of where to submit, my essay has been accepted for publication in MANIFEST STATION, an brilliant online literary magazine. I would never have tried to submit to this magazine before. But this workshop, and the support of my mentor gave me the courage to try.”
“Boot Camp was just what I needed to help motivate me to write. I enjoyed the small group feeling and enthusiasm from the other members. It was helpful to receive feedback both from my mentor and other group members. I feel as if I have made some new connections to other writers.”
“My editor pushed me without being pushy. She offered thoughtful, probing comments that made me dig deeper into what my essay was really about, and offered encouragement every step of the way (and sometimes receiving permission not to rush the result is as important as anything else!).”
“The MAW Boot Camp was by far the best value writing experience I’ve participated in during my five years as a freelance writer. It’s affordable and accessible, and provided a much needed burst of inspiration. The detailed level of feedback from engaged and excellent editors, along with a supportive and encouraging community of fellow writers, make it a hugely worthwhile investment for writers at any stage of their career.”
Two days before my youngest daughter was set to go off to college, we painted her room. I went in and looked around as she was selecting things to take off her walls to take to her college dorm. There were piles of stuff everywhere, exposing the dust bunnies, the blemishes and the scuffmarks on the walls, the never-treated rolling closet doors. I looked around and sensed change breezing in through the window, between the panels of Swiss dot curtains. I felt charged with that mild current that slips into your psyche when you can feel time propelling itself forward, and you are helpless to stop it. Remnants of what was now past occupied the space. The recycling bag filled with high school papers. The graduation cards on the corner of her desk. Pictures showing off the years, highlighting the milestones. The walls of little girl pink. I have three daughters. I have never liked pink.
I rarely go in my daughters’ bedrooms these days. Together we frequent the communal spaces of kitchen and family room and the patio out back. It is seldom that I go upstairs, except to my own bedroom to fall into bed exhausted, usually much later than I had intended. The girls retreat to their rooms, too, when they want to relax alone, study, listen to music, clean out the closet, or sleep in.
“Why did we ever paint your room pink?” I wondered aloud.
“I have no idea,” she said. Indeed, we had tossed around the idea of painting her room a few times in the last couple of years. We had even gone so far as to tape up an assortment of paint chips procured from the home center.
“I think I have some sample pints in the basement,” I said casually. Often these days, between the upstairs and the basement, I might forget what I went downstairs for in the first place. But that day, I quickly found the samples and a slim paint brush on my husband’s workbench, even an extra stirring stick, and hurried back up to her bedroom. “Let’s just put these up in an inconspicuous spot,” I said.
It isn’t as if I had nothing else to do. My own classes at the high school where I teach would be starting up in a few days. My father-in-law had to be driven to doctors’ appointments for an injury that had incapacitated him. There was a pile of paperwork I could not neglect so that bills like tuition would get paid on time. And the rest of my house, which I had vowed to organize at the start of my summer break, was upside down.
I blame the rest on Dove White. It looked like sweet vanilla ice cream next to the sickly sweet cotton candy pink on the wall. It was warm and soothing, yet cool and awakening. Fresh as summer air after a thirst-quenching rainstorm. Our eyes could not get enough. My daughter’s room is small, about ten feet square. It houses a twin bed, a desk, a bookcase, and a dresser. I considered the cotton curtains and the jute area rug. They could use a good washing, a good airing out. “I think we can bang out this paint job ourselves in no time,” I said with total confidence.
I instructed my daughter to remove everything she could from the room and enlisted her older sister to pitch in while I jumped in my car to buy a gallon of Dove White in matte and a pint in semi gloss for the trim. I was the only woman in the paint store in the middle of a muggy “end of summer” day. The guys behind the counter seemed languidly surprised at my enthusiasm as I asked for advice about brushes and rollers.
Back home, determined not to slow the momentum, we pushed the furniture into the middle of the room as much as possible. This still gave the three of us little space in which to work. I pulled three worn out white undershirts from my husband’s closet. “Put these shirts on, and take off your shorts so you don’t get paint on them,” I commanded. My daughters thought this was ridiculous, but I soon had us all painting in our underwear and old white tees, hooting at the spectacle of ourselves. We listened to music on Spotify, streaming old tunes and new ones. It was a lot of work, but it was fun. By the middle of the afternoon, we had covered up the pink. The bedroom was well on its way to becoming a tranquil oasis, and in those hours, the angst of being on the cusp of change was held at bay.
Last year around the holidays, we had lost my husband’s mother. This year, I was finding it hard to get into the holiday spirit. Usually, a great burst of energy inspires me to write the cards, dig the Christmas CDs out of the basement, put up the lights, and deck the halls with greens. The look of Christmas in my home is usually warm and inviting, but this year the pumpkins were still on the porch in December. One evening in mid-December, my oldest daughter’s boyfriend paid us a visit, asked for our blessing as he planned to propose to our daughter before Christmas. We were happy but surprised he wanted to get engaged so soon. There was so much going on, I could hardly think.
About a week before the engagement, I received an email advertisement from a painting company I’d had used a few years back to update the faded exterior shingles of our home. The ad offered free estimates and discounts on any painting job planned within a short time frame. On impulse, I clicked reply and wrote: “I’d like to get an estimate to paint.” Within a day, the owner, an enthusiastic man, came over to see the job. I started with the idea to paint the kitchen and family room and ended up expanding the project to include the living room, the foyer, the trim, the doors, and the staircase. We shook hands when he left as if it were a done deal. The next day, when he sent the proposal, the subject line read, “Would you like us to start on Monday?” When I read it, my mind deliberated: Monday? But there’s so much going on, and it’s so close to Christmas. Against my better judgment, I hit reply again: “Monday’s fine,” The Christmas tree my husband and I had just bought and lugged home half-heartedly, which stood as of yet unadorned by ornament and light, would have to sit on the front porch and wait.
Now, with the holidays past and the New Year fresh with brightness, like my house’s walls, I look around and feel at peace. There is something about life’s shifting that unsettles and disquiets. We become comfortable with the norm, the usual routine in our lives and the way we relate to one another. It is so much easier to be static, to look at the same walls the same way, to leave the apple cart un-toppled. Giving in to the impulse to paint at times of change is my way of plunging into the water rather than testing the temperature with my toes. I have faith that the leap will be refreshing, resulting in a baptismal kind of renewal.
I chose the color Bone White. Not quite white, but solid and strong, like its namesake. There is a weight to bone, integral to being alive and living in this world. It is something of substance that I trust will sustain and move us forward until the next wave of change sweeps in, and it’s time to paint again.
Laura Pochintesta is a high school English teacher, wife, and mother of three children ages 18, 21 and 24. Her pastime and passion is writing. Last summer one of her short stories won the Peter Hixson award through Writer’s Relief. It will appear in an upcoming issue of The MacGuffin literary journal. She recently completed a semester course, The Art of the Personal Essay, where she first shared this piece.
The moment I opened Motherlandsby Natasha Garrett, I knew this book would resonate with the feeling of rootlessness that has defined my adult life. Garrett, a Macedonian by birth, has spent her adult life in the United States, and the book’s nine essays explore the way her cross-cultural life has defined her, especially as a parent. While I have always lived in the United States, my husband’s career as a military dentist has led us across the country, thousands of miles from our support network. Despite the many aspects of our lives that vastly differ, Garrett’s feelings of displacement and cultural uncertainty echoed many of my own experiences.
Motherlands begins with a short poem, “Where are you from?” in which she toys with the various meanings the phrase can have, particularly for an expatriate. The poem is immediately followed by an essay, “Poetry and Prose,” where Garrett describes her writing life. She juxtaposes writing poetry and essays with living in the United States and growing up in Macedonia. She explains, “Though I will always respond that I am from Macedonia, every visit to the motherland reminds me that my full-time life is elsewhere; at the same time, in the United States I will always be the woman who is not from here.” (Garrett, 15)
The third essay, “At Home,” was my favorite. In an echo of her poem, “Where are you from?” Garrett explains the difficulty of deciding where to call home–is it where she grew up, or the house where she now lives with her husband and child? She expounds on definitions in academic literature about the different iterations of home, borrowing from scholar Ilan Magat the phrases “Little Home” to describe the place she lived her life and “Big Home” to describe the place where she feels she belongs. I was fascinated and drawn in by her reflections about these definitions and the way they reflect my own experiences. She explores defining home by relationships, identity, freedom, and symbols, finally concluding, “Perhaps it is not such a terrible thing after all to have more than one place that I can call my home,” a sentiment I, too, have adopted, as my family prepares to pack up and move to our fifth state of residence in the coming months. (43)
In “A Family of Aliens,” Garrett describes the compromises she must make for her husband and child and family of origin, as well as her own sense of belonging and everyday comfort. She marries her American spouse in Macedonia, but lives her day to day life in the United States; she prepares traditional Macedonian foods for dinner but also masters baking apple pies and roasting the Thanksgiving turkey. She describes the conundrum she faces in naming her son, hoping to find a name that is easily pronounced in both Macedonian and English. “The family aligns and realigns repeatedly,” Garrett writes, describing the dance of language and tradition among her family members. (48)
Throughout the book, Garrett uses sophisticated metaphors to illustrate her experience–a landscaped lawn given over to a spreading vegetable plot as her parents visit their grandchild, herself as the embodiment of translation when she acts as interpreter between her parents and in-laws. It is clear Garrett’s transnational identity lends a richness and uniqueness to her life and gives her the ability to navigate through a multitude of experiences.
Natasha Garrett’s writing about her experience across countries and cultures informed my own sense of displacement as I struggle to establish my own sense of home in a nomadic, uncertain life. She is vivid and personal within her perspective, but manages to appeal to the universal as well. Motherlands is well researched and brimming with academic definitions and descriptions, but the prose remains rich and interesting, never bogged down with too much academia.
Garrett concludes her final essay, “Global Souls,” with these words: “I strive to bring languages, cultures, disciplines, people and ideas on speaking terms with one another. It is in the midst of that conversation, in that very exchange, that I feel most at home.” (92) In Motherlands, she accomplishes this, both in exposing me to the culture of her home country and showing how a displaced life can still be completely fulfilling. Readers who wish to explore the idea of home and migration on a deep and multi-faceted level will find much to consider in Motherlands. As someone who frequently moves, albeit within my home country, I will be pondering Natasha Garrett’s ideas and experiences in the months to come.
Book review author: Lorren Lemmons is a mother of three, a military spouse, a pediatric nurse, and a lover of words. She is a contributing writer on Military Moms Blog and has also had work published on Mothers Always Write, Coffee + Crumbs, Mother.ly, and other online publications. Lorren currently lives in North Carolina and will be moving to Georgia this summer.
Natasha Garrett was born and raised in Macedonia and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she serves as a Director of International Student Services at La Roche College. Her poetry, personal essays and translations have appeared in Transnational Literature, Gravel, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Arts and Letters, and other publications. She is the editor of “Macedonia 2013: 100 Years After the Treaty of Bucharest.” She obtained her PhD in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, and her Master’s in English Literature from Duquesne University. Motherlands is her first book.