Secrets from With/out Pretend: Mothering is Revolutionary
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June 2019

Mothering is Revolutionary

"The only way to survive is by taking care of one another."

— Grace Lee Boggs

Today, we launch a new collection from The Vault featuring the stories and art of 22 contributors On Mothering.

Many of my friends are actual mothers, but even so, my best friend Julia tells me I am the “mother” of our friend group. She tells me this during one of my weekly visits to the east end to see her new baby, a little girl who will one day simply call me “Auntie” to distinguish me from her other aunts — all whom have earned the title by birth or marriage. 

I cannot know what it is like to be an actual mother; I have not stayed awake for days at a time while she’s cried, I do not buy her diapers or her formula, and I will not be responsible to make major decisions about her education, health, or socialization over the next two decades. Intellectually, I understand that I am not her mother, but on an animal level, I feel connected to her in a way I didn’t expect. When I’m away from her, I long to see and hold her. I watch videos of her in her jolly jumper on repeat, sometimes when she is right in front of me. I think about her future and the kinds of interactions we might have, the lessons I might carry on from my own upbringing, the negative habits I will try with all my might to leave behind. Mothers, it feels to me without actually knowing, have very specific responsibilities that as an auntie I will be able to sidestep, allowing us to eat ice cream together before dinner, or gossip about the mean kid in her class who has it coming. And, I wonder, if there will be special duties that only an auntie can perform. Like picking her up from the mall when she’s caught shoplifting a tinted lip gloss, and promising never to tell her parents. Or giving her my well-worn copy of Anais Nin’s Little Birds a year or two before she’s old enough to read it. An auntie is like a mother but different, so that she has options, and another soft place to land when the world feels hard.

I am an auntie to this baby despite our different bloodlines, and this new role has me questioning the ways in which we all need care, and how we offer it to each other — within our immediate, extended, and chosen families, and within our larger communities, too.

The word “mother” conjures different associations depending on our personal experiences, our cultures, and our desires. For me, mothering is a very particular way of caring about someone else’s needs. In its most positive form, it’s an act which includes the ability to tend to the needs of loved ones without sacrificing a sense of self.

If you’ve read my introduction to You Care Too Much, you know that I briefly mention with an almost cavalier swiftness my own mother’s battle with caring too much, and the toll this took on me as a young woman learning about the consequences of caring too much at the detriment of one’s own well-being. When I first showed that introduction to my mother in 2016 she was hurt and frustrated that I had told a story which, in her opinion, wasn't mine to tell. I have reflected on that exchange, and her reaction, at least a hundred times over the last few years. Because I want to be a writer, and because my stories (whether fiction or not) will almost always be a reflection of my real-life experiences, they are bound to reflect (and consequently affect) the relationships in my life. 

It is difficult to tell our own stories without impacting those we love, or running the risk of mis-telling their stories, which may differ greatly from our own within the same place and time. The ways in which I see my mother, and have learned from her, and love her dearly, are part of my story and not necessarily hers. And: it is impossible to make a collection about mothering without mentioning my mother. My own story of mothering is undeniably linked to her.

I have always been a little bit ashamed — or concerned — about my inclination to meet the needs of others. I have always been good at understanding what the people my life need, and because I like doing things I’m good at, I run the risk of giving them so much that I forget to ask for the things I need. I inherited this nature from my own  mom.

I wonder, is this the trait that makes my best friend feel that I am the “mom” of our group? She delivers it as a compliment, but somehow I receive it with a tightness in my stomach. I do not always like this part of me because I am afraid of it.

Growing up, my mother was warm, generous, organized, decisive, empathetic, and perhaps too good at mothering. When my brothers and I were young, my mother was a present, consistent, loving caregiver, teacher, and a soft place to land. As I entered teenagehood I started to see a different view of her reality; I watched her withdraw into her motherhood until it became an albatross around her neck. When I was fifteen and we spoke like friends, she told me: You know, when I was twenty, I was sure I didn’t want children. I wanted to be a poet, like Leonard Cohen, or the Prime Minister of Canada. She loved her children with her entire being, but I don’t think she loved being a woman who was defined by her motherhood. Her nature didn’t allow her to be both women in one life.

I believe that you can’t fight your nature. I am like my mother in all the ways that make her nurturing, well-liked and the world’s best dinner party host — and I am like her in the ways that make me worried to become a mother. Like her, I might be too good at it. I am terrified that I would disappear.

In the foreword to this collection, Jessika Hepburn writes: “Stop thinking about mothering as exclusive to women with babies. Consider mothering an essential life-saving skill, like CPR, or knowing how to breathe. Make mothering political. Teach mothering to every grade and age and gender. Value the practice of mothering as the highest good, and place those most skilled at the work at the centre of every table, policy, and social movement.”

It is instinctively human to want to care for things and people — look at how many of us enjoy cooking for others, collecting houseplants or giving gifts, long before we become, if we ever become, actual mothers.

On Mothering is for anyone who has ever had a mother; for parents who have birthed or raised children; for anyone who has ever questioned their relationship to care, emotional labour, or sacrifice in the name of love. These stories are for and by mothers, future mothers, but also atypical caregivers like doulas and pet moms, and aunties, like me.

I will likely never be anyone’s mother, at least not in the way most people would define it, but even so, I want the mothering I do, in its many forms, to be counted. To be valued.

Despite my fear of disappearing in those I love, I will continue to love with my whole being and embrace my nature. I will strive to set boundaries and protect my energy so that when I am whole, I can give generously. I will commit to being a passionate leader when I am asked to lead, and a soft, supportive place to land when the people I care about become weary.

With the arrival of this baby girl in my life, I am seeing the value of my mothering nature like never before. This is a moment where I can lean in. I can finally accept the qualities that make me mother-like and show up in small, meaningful ways that will make a difference to her future. Because, couldn’t we all use an “Auntie” like that?

xo Erin

Did you know our All Access membership gives you access to ALL digital stories in The Vault, INCLUDING our special collections? Not to mention, free gifts in the mail, and our undying love. So all said, a pretty good deal.
On Mothering
A collection from The Vault

In this collection of honest stories and full-colour visual art, 22 contributors tackle their feelings about the most universal of human experiences: the balancing act of caring for someone else without losing yourself in the process.

The stories in this collection are for and by mothers, future mothers, but also atypical caregivers like doulas and pet moms. It is for anyone who has ever had a mother; for parents who have birthed or raised children; for anyone who has ever questioned their relationship to care, emotional labour, or sacrifice in the name of love.

On Mothering is now available as in digital and print editions
July 10 @ 7PM
On Mothering
A night of storytelling

We're celebrating the launch of On Mothering the way we always do — with a storytelling event!

The act of mothering is universal, political, and loaded with preconceptions. The word mothering compels us to question the ways we each give and receive care.

This storytelling event will feature a diverse line-up of storytellers — some who are mothers, some who are not, but all with a story to tell about what mothering means to them.

Our evening features stories from:

Sheila Sampath, Jen McNeely, Tania Peralta, Fauzia Asim, Shulamit Sappire, Daphne Joseph, Sarah Keast ...and more

Featured in the press

Jessica Kasiama, an editorial assistant at With/out Pretend, said she doesn't believe the government sees marginalized people as a priority — and these cuts prove that.
"This government is continuing the work of erasing, it's continuing the work of overlooking, it's continuing the systemic mission to erase people that matter, people that exist, people that have stories that need to be told so that people like me feel seen and understood." she said. 
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