33 best books for expecting parents

I read about 70 books about birth and babies while pregnant, even though everyone told me not to read anything.

These people, clearly, did not know me well. Telling me not to read something is a surefire way to move a book to the top of my reading list. Furthermore, what a wild season of life to tell me not to read things. Why would I not read about one of the most significant undertakings of my moderately young life?

Having done this all of this reading and heeded none of these warnings, I now understand the intent behind this caution: There is a TON of fear-mongering around pregnancy and birth, and I am glad I stayed away from that (as best I could). In sum, womenfolk: Don’t let people scare you about pregnancy and birth. (Also, don’t let health care providers patronize you.)

With that caveat, having read about 60 books, here are the 33 that are worth your time and unlikely to cause paroxysms of fear and stress, if there is a wee babe on the horizon.

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Best 8 books on birth and pregnancy

  1. Active Birth, Janet Balaskas. Clearly explained advice on how to move well while laboring. It is an older book from the UK, and not as widely read or mentioned in these parts, but I’m so glad I found a used copy. Excellent advice, with helpful images and descriptions.
  2. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin. Read it for the happy birth stories! Even if you don’t go the hippie/drug-free route, it’s just lovely to read about births that are joyful occasions—and to discover all of the manifold, various, and beautiful ways that babies come into the world. Ina May will help you relax. This is the main thing that I wanted someone to do for me, as a first-timer contemplating birth: Someone help me relax. Ina May is that saintly someone.
  3. Expecting Better, Emily Oster. This rational book was one of the only things that helped me calm down during my anxiety-ridden first trimester. Highly recommended.
  4. Real Food for Pregnancy, Lily Nichols. Comprehensive and somewhat urgent; I wish I had read it at the start of my pregnancy instead of toward the end! Nichols presents an evidence-based approach to nutrition for pregnant women, avoiding much of the tired fear-mongering that’s present in so much common advice for American women (e.g., paranoia over raw eggs, soft cheese, seafood, etc.) and instead prioritizing health through whole, natural foods (with some interesting additions, at least for American eaters, like her high praise for organ meats, bone broth, eggs, and seaweed).
  5. Nurture, Erica Chidi Cohen. Read this instead of the dreadful What to Expect. This is the calming, clear, modern overview of all pregnancy and birth-related matters that you want to leaf through and use as a reference throughout your nine months.
  6. Birth Matters, Ina May Gaskin. More of a manifesto, and likely a contributing factor into why I decided to have home births (in 2019 and 2021), but it’s a holistic, woman-and-baby-centric text, decrying much of the institutional, overly medicalized trends in American obstetrics.
  7. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, Penny Simkin. Another great, clear, non-hysterical guide to these nine months and the bleary newborn months that follow.
  8. Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke. Admittedly, I don’t think I used any of these meditative practices while giving birth, but they sounded so nice! A more mentally strong woman may derive more active benefit from these practices. Still, I enjoyed knowing about the power of the brain over sensations of pain.

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Best 8 books on motherhood/postpartum life

  1. The First Forty Days, Heng Ou. A beautiful book that encourages women to follow the Chinese tradition of resting and staying in for 40 days after birth: eating rich, nourishing foods; resting; snuggling with your baby; and being pampered. A much wiser and better approach to the postpartum period than the typical American Instagram mom, who likes to brag about how she ran a bunch of errands immediately after giving birth.
  2. Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, Ina May Gaskin. I found this to be so much better and less judgmental than the La Leche League’s Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which assumes that all women are stay-at-home moms who wouldn’t dare leave their baby alone for even a moment.
  3. Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott. Wry, sarcastic, and heartwarming memoir of raising a baby boy as a single mom.
  4. The Little Virtues, Natalia Ginzburg. Beautiful little essays from the Italian-Jewish writer Natalia Ginzburg, who is wise and elegant and comforting all at once.
  5. Little Labors, Rivka Galchen. A perfect little book to read in those bleary postpartum days, because it’s charming and episodic. You can easily pick it up between feeds. Galchen’s observations of motherhood are the perfect blend of sweet without being sentimental.
  6. Daybook, Anne Truitt. The diary of a talented American sculptor, who finds time to care for her children while also creating art. Encouraging to those of us who have other interests outside of child-rearing.
  7. Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich. A strident series of essays from my favorite second-wave feminist.
  8. And Now We Have Everything, Meaghan O’Connell. Another humorous memoir that would be a fun, lighthearted book after having a baby of your own.

*There may be some great books about fatherhood, but I didn’t read any! Dads, feel free to chime in.

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Best 7 books on the history and culture of parenting

  1. Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, Steven Mintz. Reading this history of how Americans have defined childhood was so helpful and orienting, especially when I contemplated where many of my deeply held beliefs about parenting came from.
  2. Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting, Jennifer Traig. Delightful. Jennifer Traig presents a lighthearted—and yet thoroughly researched—account of parenting through the ages. Smart and sarcastic and informative.
  3. The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development, Richard Weissbourd. A Harvard psychology professor’s perspective on how American parents are messing up their kids by trying to be their friends.
  4. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte. Not uplifting! Brigid Schulte tackles the consuming problem of living in a society that does not support mothers and leaves them feeling overwhelmed, all day, every day.
  5. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Jennifer Senior. The most compelling argument, which Senior cites from an American historian: We have no parenting folkways, and so we are always muddling around, trying every trend and suggestion, when it comes to childrearing.
  6. To the End of June, Cris Beam. A chastening account of the dire straits of the U.S. foster care system.
  7. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley. A quick and thought-provoking book that looks closely at South Korea and Finland’s public schools and considers why U.S. schools lag so far behind.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

Best 10 books on baby raising

  1. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, Kim John Payne. Sage, calm, and inspiring. We still have so much to learn about raising little people, but this book has served as a beacon. I plan to return to it over and over again, like a liturgy, in the hopes that it will continue to inform my parenting.
  2. Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy, Kim West. The title says it all. (Given to us by our life-changing doula!)
  3. Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool, Emily Oster. Calming and reassuring, much like Expecting Better. Emily Oster puts many early parenting fears to rest with her clear-headed analysis. (I also love her Substack ParentData, which I read religiously.)
  4. Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More, Katy Bowman. Our movement goals for our family in a nutshell! Also introduced to Katy Bowman by our aforementioned doula. Very inspiring and important.
  5. Bringing Up Bebe, Pamela Druckerman. People have lots of opinions on this book, but I think it’s just great parenting advice, from start to finish. Non, je ne regrette rien!
  6. Montessori from the Start, Paula Polk Lillard. I really appreciated this book in the early days of babyhood, and it encouraged me to make many different decisions about how we interacted with our firstborn and set up our home for him. There’s also a lot of overlap with the Montessori baby-rearing philosophy and the natural movement ideas from Bowman, as mentioned above. Our second-born also gets the benefit of being looked after in a bonafide Montessori classroom, which is so lovely.
  7. Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv. Terrifying and extremely motivating book that urges you to get your kids outside.
  8. The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, Meghan Cox Gurdon. I mean, of course I was going to read aloud to my babies, but this book made me even more firm in my dedication to the practice.
  9. Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina. Helpful, readable survey of what we know about how children’s brains develop and how we can help them flourish. Medina confirms research I’ve encountered elsewhere (e.g., have conversations with your infant; don’t tell your kid that she’s smart but rather that she worked hard; the best parenting style combines clear boundaries with gentle, consistent discipline, etc.) The book is broader than the title suggests and also offers practical, compassionate advice on how to fortify your marriage, your sex life, and your general sanity as you embark on parenthood.
  10. Baby-Led Weaning, Tracey Murkett and Gil Rapley. Instead of pureed baby food and rice cereal, we followed this method of giving babies real, whole food to start with—and honestly, it’s not really a “method,” because it’s what parents always did until companies invented baby food. It worked so well with Moses, and he’s a great eater at 2.5. Fingers crossed that this method will also work with Felix.

What am I missing? What have you read and loved on the subject of bringing babies into the world?

Claiming your blessedness

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We still have a dog! She is good and sweet and quiet. Here we are on a family walk in a field.

I have been seized by an inexplicable urge to decide the names of the rest of our sons. I am convinced that if we have other children, we (a) will only have boys, and (b) must determine their full names posthaste. I cannot explain either the origin or urgency of this feeling.

. . .

Unexpected consequences of parenthood thus far

  • We have become extremely concerned about other babies, even fictional babies. We were watching a comedy series that shall not be named, and Jason Sudeikis left a baby in another room with swords hanging on the wall. The baby was not a critical character in the scene, but Guion and I looked at each other and said in unison, “Someone better go check on that baby!”
  • We cannot listen to music with any high-pitched crooning, wailing, or wind instruments, because it all sounds like an upset baby—specifically, our upset baby.
  • We have separately taken on various baby grooming tasks with such devotion that now the other parent does not know how to do the task. Guion trims Moses’s nails, and I give him baths, and we cannot switch duties. I do not know how to trim his nails, and Guion does not know how to give him a bath. I am sure that we both could learn, but we are too far gone in these individual areas of expertise. We will likely carry along on this trajectory until the boy is a teen.
  • We have effortlessly and guilelessly become those parents who show people photos of our baby that they did not ask to see and have no desire to see and then wait for them to affirm what we know to be deeply, unquestionably true, that he is The Cutest Baby to Have Ever Lived. We have likewise become incapable of detecting dismay or boredom in the faces of our captive audience. We think everyone sees with the same love-blind eyes that we do.
  • We have started saying things like “It’s such a fun age” without a trace of sarcasm.
  • We cry whenever someone talks about Mister Rogers.

. . .

“Not claiming your blessedness will lead you quickly to the land of the cursed. There is little or no neutral territory between the land of the blessed and the land of the cursed. You have to choose where it is that you want to live, and that choice is one that you have to keep making from moment to moment.”

— Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

. . .

This baby is almost seven months old (sob) and recently discovered the incomparable joy of a teddy bear.

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Strange little big-eyed alien

Before having a baby, I appreciated hearing from other moms that the deep/eternal/life-altering mother-love doesn’t always happen instantly. Even my mom, the paragon of virtuous motherhood, admitted she didn’t love me at first. “You were this strange little big-eyed alien,” she said. “I loved my nephew a lot more than I loved you, and you were my baby!” My dad also chimed in to add that he didn’t really love any of us until we were at least six or seven months old.

Thus established, it now feels freeing to confess that I don’t think I loved Moses at first. The primary emotion I had, after giving birth, was Thank God that’s over, not Bring the light of my life to my chest so that I can gaze upon his perfect brow! I liked him, sure, and I wanted to meet all of his needs and keep him safe and happy, but I wouldn’t call it love. Especially during that brutal first month, my primary emotional state was a mix of bewilderment and exhaustion.

Today, now that we are three months in, I am pleased to say that the feeling has come. I think about him all day long now. I want his little body to be close to mine as much as possible. Securing his joy seems like the only task that matters in life. He is also so CUTE. Just the cutest. I don’t care if I’m blinded by bias; it’s all I can think when I look at him. I mean, look at this little doofus:

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The boy.

All this to say: I am happy that the feeling has come. I suspect it will last. And then, soon, in a matter of months, when he becomes more cognizant, his father and I will both have to work hard to keep him from becoming a spoiled little princeling, lest all this overbearing love make him totally unbearable.

. . .

Perhaps it is a sign that I am getting old, but I long for moderation. I want to regulate and conserve my life. I want to use what I have. I want to keep the company of temperate people.

. . .

“The advantage of motherhood for a woman artist is that it puts her in immediate and inescapable contact with the sources of life, death, beauty, growth, corruption. … If the woman artist has been trained to believe that the activities of motherhood are trivial, tangential to the main issues of life, irrelevant to the great themes of literature, she should untrain herself. The training is misogynist, it protects and perpetuates systems of thought and feeling which prefer violence and death to love and birth, and it is a lie.”

— Alicia Ostriker

. . .

A lovely neighbor, the mother of two beautiful boys, sent me an email after Moses was born, asking me how I was adapting to my new life. She wrote, of her own experience with her firstborn son, “I was all strung out and anxious and generally uncomfortable and homesick for my old life for a lot of those early days.”

I loved her use of the word homesick, because I think it perfectly captures this new state of being. It’s a curious homesickness, because all of the trappings of your old life are still there: Your home hasn’t changed. It is the same, and yet your experience of it is completely altered. It is hard not to miss the old ways. I find myself frequently telling Guion, “I miss you.” I feel like I never see him anymore, even though we arguably see each other more than we ever did before.

It is a long period of adjustment, I suppose. At least the reason for all of this internal upheaval is very cute. That helps.

Little lessons learned

Things Moses has taught me

  1. I apparently have a wretched memory for lyrics, demonstrated by my fraught desire to sing hymns to him while he drifts off to sleep. I can only get through a verse before I start making up lines.
  2. I have, perhaps, idolized having a sense of “control” over my daily life.
  3. It is therefore hard to have one’s idols toppled.
  4. I consistently miscalculated how hard this would be.
  5. It is silly to be frustrated with a baby.
  6. Babies cannot be reasoned with.
  7. But I will still try, and I will drive myself to the edge of madness trying to apply reason to the baby’s behavior.
  8. I thus become comfortable with living on the edge of madness.
  9. This edge of madness seems like a new (albeit claustrophobic) home.
  10. So I settle in to this new habitat, congratulating myself for showering, remembering how to drive, and speaking a full sentence in the morning without mixing up any of the nouns.
  11. The new habitat also reveals that kissing babies is extremely delightful.
  12. It is best to do it as many times as possible on any given day.

. . .

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I have an iPhone 5 (yeah, I’ll brag about it); this is the best I can do.

As I suspected, I continue to be very interested in dogs, but I am also more interested in babies on the whole, babies as a universal concept and lived experience. This I did not expect. I even find other people’s babies pretty interesting now. I want to stare and them and find out what they know.

. . .

Pyrrha, our German shepherd, has been a silent angel during these past two months of life with Moses. I wasn’t sure how she’d behave, and I’ve been impressed and grateful for her calm acceptance of this new, often bewildering, creature. She greets him in the morning with a gentle lick to the back of his head or feet, and then she quietly lies down on her rug in the hall, waiting for someone to give her a little attention. She doesn’t stress when he screams (making her the calmest family in the moment).

The other afternoon, I was in the kitchen when he woke up from a nap, and I swear Pyrrha had the purest Lassie moment. I didn’t hear his cries at first, and so Pyrrha got up from her post in the hall, walked up to me in the kitchen and looked me in the eye with concern. She then walked back down the hall toward the baby’s room and stood in front of the door, glancing back at me, as if to say, “Lady, the baby needs you! Please follow me and perform your God-given duties before I have to intervene.”

She’s a good girl.

. . .

During my maternity leave, I was a little depressed to learn that reading is rather difficult while nursing. I can do it if I have a lightweight and semi-floppy paperback that I can hold with one hand, but because Moses has been a rather high-maintenance feeder, I’ve only read a few books during my leave, which is almost up. This has been a bummer. (And no, I don’t want a Kindle. I hate reading on them so much that I’d almost rather not read anything at all.)

As a consolation, I’m really into email newsletters right now. Nicole Cliffe’s has been a daily delight, along with her wise and often hilarious advice column at Slate, Care and Feeding. (Leah Finnegan’s Leah Letter is my other favorite newsletter, but she only writes once every few months. But when she does, it’s worth the wait.) I just wanted to give some public thanks to Nicole Cliffe for getting me through much of my maternity leave with amusing ideas and great articles to add to Pocket and read during that long 3 a.m. feed.

. . .

My esoteric titles are a holdover from my moody days as a teen blogger, which is a real shame, but I can’t help it. I don’t often write posts focused on a single topic, and so choosing some title that could have been a tantalizingly vague AIM away message, circa 2005, well, it continues to appeal to me. No regrets.

To raise a little boy

In my current state, I am not to be trusted with basic tasks. I rarely know the day of the week. I was once very adept at remembering names, and now I have a hard time recalling the names of people with whom I’m casually acquainted, people whose names I really ought to know. The burners on the stove have been left going for an uncomfortably long time. Four or five times since Moses was born, we’ve left the front door either (a) slightly open or (b) with the keys in the lock all night long. It’s amazing we’re all still alive, unmurdered, safe in our beds. We may have all of our limbs, but we do not have all of our faculties.

I am also strangely clumsy, in a way that I was not before. I trip over things; I stub my toes; I catch myself going up and down stairs. Moses has been an unfortunate victim of my clumsiness as well. The other day, I dropped the small portable sound machine on his face while trying to put him down for a nap. He released that scream of betrayal, winding up with soundless rage and then releasing a florid wail; it’s such a genuinely heartbreaking sound. I bumped his legs against the outdoor umbrella. I caught his foot under the arm of a rocking chair. I somehow scraped his temple with the prong of my engagement ring. Guion watches me do all of these things and looks at me with silent (but still gentle) reproach. I know, I know; I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.

Despite these notable declines in my ability to function, I have become extremely efficient in simple domestic tasks. In the hour or so of free time I get between feeds (if I’m lucky), I run around the house, possessed. I can finish a small calligraphy print in half an hour. I can clean both bathrooms in 10 minutes. I can unload the dishwasher, get dressed, and make our bed before the little dragon wakes.

I am not sure how to relax. Everyone tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” and I’m all for that between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., but I can’t seem to master the art of daytime napping. I’m too distracted; there are too many (little, meaningless) things on my to-do list. To sleep in the day seems to squander what little productive time I have. It is difficult to give up this mindset. Perhaps I am not meant to be productive right now. I have already done a hell of a lot of producing. See example below:

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He is six weeks old now, and while we are still in the thick of it, I feel less afraid. I no longer dread nights. (By all accounts, for his age, he seems to be a pretty good sleeper. Some nights are much better than others.) I do not spend my waking hours wondering if he is OK. I am pretty sure he is OK. He will live. One day, he will be a small boy, and then a man.

. . .

I loved reading this column by poet Sabrina Orah Mark in the Paris Review while pregnant, and it has taken on a greater resonance now, now that I too have a son. She writes beautifully about fairy tales and the intersection of these long-held fables with her work raising boys.

This passage, from her latest essay “Sorry, Peter Pan, We’re Over You,” stuck with me particularly:

I dropped Noah home, and ran off to Target. I pass the girl’s department, and a T-shirt flashes at me: THE FUTURE IS FEMALE. Sorry, Nibs, Tootles, Slightly, Curly, Twin One, and Twin Two. Sorry, John and Michael. Sorry, my sons: the future is female. Sorry, Peter Pan, we’re over you.

I think a lot about boys. About raising mine to be sensitive, and effective, and strange, and lovely, and kind, and funny, and brave. I want them to be boys who keep their shadows on, and who belong to a future. Boys who understand the difference between a thimble and a kiss. Worry picks at me like Hook’s metal claw. I want their boyness to bloom. I want to keep them safe.

In our well-intentioned desire to give girls as much chance and confidence as boys have been historically given, I sometimes fear that we have swung too far. Our feminism for our daughters is notoriously shallow, rooted in empty slogans and engineered to pit girls and boys against each other. These days, among adults of our social order, girls are better; girls are prized. Boys are difficult; boys are troubled.

I’m guilty of buying into it myself. While pregnant, I wasn’t shy about expressing my hope that our baby would be a girl. Everyone else seemed to want a girl too. Girls are marketed as easier to raise and temperamentally superior.

Now, of course, I feel differently. I want to openly reject this paradigm; I lament that I was seduced by it. Girlhood ultimately does not profit by our denigration of boyhood. Both girls and boys must be allowed to blossom in free, natural ways, ways inherent to their natures. Specifically, I reject this expectation that boys, if they are to be labeled “good,” should conduct themselves — in play, in public, in school — like girls.

I don’t know anything yet about raising a child. I’m still figuring out how to keep a baby and myself fed every day. But I want to be more thoughtful about raising a boy. I want to start pondering that work now, to consider how I can help Moses’ boyness bloom. The future is his as well.

A happy haze

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Looks can be deceiving. This little darling looks so gentle and calm, but he is extremely demanding. He does a fabulous interpretation of the demon possessed between the hours of 6 and 8 pm; really, you should stop in for the show. My most common nickname for him is Little Dragon. This is not news to anyone who has had a baby before, but it still feels like news to me.

I am tremendously needed right now, and I can’t say that I perceive it as fun. I would like to be less necessary. From my nursing chair, I watch people walking and biking and running along our street, and I feel envious of all of them. All people who don’t have to worry constantly about a newborn. How carefree and happy all other humans must be! This is a thought I have every day. The other day I think I had three total hours, out of the 24, during which he was not attached at the breast. He is five weeks old now, so we’re apparently in the trenches of baby care, with the expectation that his murderous rages and constant feeding will start to taper off soon. Some days it feels more relentless than others.

We’ve had an army of wonderful support, and I don’t know how we would have made it without our generous community: Family who came and stayed and cooked and cleaned and held Little Dragon while we slept. Friends who brought and keep bringing us food. Doulas who made us feel sane and guided us on all aspects of postpartum life. Neighbors who check in on us regularly. A dear friend who babysat for us so we could go out for dinner. Unbelievably generous mothers who donated their own milk during the week we had to supplement his feedings, so I could work on my own supply and avoid formula. And of course, Guion, always and forever Guion. I knew I liked him before all this, but now I know for a fact that I could not live without him.

Things I am trying to treasure up and ponder in my heart: How frequently the mothers of older children tell me, “Oh, I miss this phase,” when gazing upon my squalling infant. And I think, “You must be insane, lady. I can’t wait until this creature can tell me what he wants and sleeps more than a few hours at a time.” So there is some shift that happens. Perhaps it’s simply that everyone recalls and longs for the seasons past, because they always seem easier than the one you’re currently in.

But there are lovable aspects, which even I can discern in my incarcerated, sleep-deprived state: His milk-sweet breath. The smell of his little head (now beautiful and round, after looking like an old potato right after birth). Wearing him in a wrap. Cuddling with him on my chest while he naps. Getting eye contact. His small animal noises while he nurses. These are lovely things.

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He has no idea how much he’s in charge. But look at that face. Would you dare cross him?

Heart lifting

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Baby Abby and baby Guion, engaging in favorite activities. (Photo from a sweet baby shower.)

The joys of spring are so apparent that they’re almost not worth naming. I part the curtains with anticipation every morning, noting the growth of my long-nurtured perennials and the return of familiar weeds. We continue to walk every day, observing how quickly the trees shed their blossoms and mature, how insane the songbirds have become in courtship and competition. I walk slowly now, but I am still walking. This seems to be what counts.

I have always tended toward loving home and domesticity, but this instinct seems to have kicked into high gear, now that I’m nearly nine months pregnant. I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. My first instinct at any invitation is to say no, definitely not (much to my extroverted lover’s chagrin). I am staying put. I am waiting here, where I have been planted for the time being.

. . .

Perhaps one of the strangest sensations I’ve encountered, poised on the brink of motherhood, is the fact that even though I am reading copiously about babies and parenthood, I don’t know anything more than I did before. All of this knowledge hasn’t transformed into preparation or prediction. I still have no idea what it will be like. In almost every other realm, I can read dozens of books and walk away with at least some increased knowledge. This does not seem to be the case concerning child-rearing. It’s all still a grand mystery. Maybe it always will be.

These days, most people ask us, “Are you ready?” And I always say no, of course not. Who is ever really ready for this?

I skimmed an interview with a designer, a mother of two, who used this metaphor for the voyage from childlessness to parenthood: You lived on Earth, very happily, for many years. Then you’re packed onto a spaceship and sent to another planet. You can always see Earth from your new planet, and you know you can never return. Sometimes this stabs you in the heart. This other planet is very different and strange at first, but you come to love it. It has its own joys and pains and secrets and pleasures. You accept it as your new home, remembering Earth as a distant, fond memory.

. . .

To tell a story is to say: this is the important story. It is to reduce the spread and simultaneity of everything to something linear, a path.

To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention.

When we make moral judgments, we are not just saying that this is better than that. Even more fundamentally, we are saying that this is more important than that. It is to order the overwhelming spread and simultaneity of everything, at the price of ignoring or turning our backs on most of what is happening in the world.

The nature of moral judgments depends on our capacity for paying attention — a capacity that, inevitably, has its limits but whose limits can be stretched.

But perhaps the beginning of wisdom, and humility, is to acknowledge, and bow one’s head, before the thought, the devastating thought, of the simultaneity of everything, and the incapacity of our moral understanding — which is also the understanding of the novelist — to take this in.

— Susan Sontag, lecturing on Nadine Gordimer, quoted in Brain Pickings

A woman’s ability to lead a full life

“For those who are troubled by America’s high abortion rate, the good news is that we already know what will lower it: more feminism. More justice. More equality. More freedom. More respect. Women should have what they need both to avoid unwanted pregnancy and childbirth to have wanted children. For motherhood to truly be part of human flourishing, it has to be voluntary, and raising children—by both parents—has to be supported by society as necessary human work. Motherhood should add to a woman’s ability to lead a full life, not leave her on the sidelines, wondering how she got there.”

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, Katha Pollitt

Why I’m looking forward to being 50

Woman Seated in a Garden, by Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec

As I have grown, I have become very interested in the renaissance of life that occurs for women when they hit 50.

I see it often happening in this way. A mother spends the bulk of her young life caring for her children. Even if she has a job, for the most part, she is more intimately concerned with raising children because of the joint demands of biology and cultural tradition. This is not true in all cases, but the majority of women have to make life sacrifices in parenthood that men are never asked to make. Although I have seen exceptions to this, it seems to me that men may keep their hobbies and be fathers; mothers are not so lucky. A mother’s entire life is wrapped up in her children and she does not have any time to think of herself.

This was certainly true for my mother. I realized she didn’t have any time for herself when I was about 9. That year I was charged with writing the family Christmas letter. I went around the house and polled everyone on their favorite hobbies so I could write about what they did for fun. Kelsey told me about gymnastics; Grace told me about fashion and painting; Sam babbled about basketball, football, soccer; Dad played tennis.

I asked Mom what her hobbies were. “Umm… well,” she said, thinking. “Raising you kids?” I frowned. “That’s not a hobby, Mommy.” She smiled. “Well, I don’t really have time for hobbies.” And she didn’t. She didn’t do anything that wasn’t directly related to raising us, homeschooling us, and running her retail business. I think I finally made something up and wrote in the letter that Mom’s hobby was making scrapbooks. I was sad about this, even at the age of 9.

Mom, age 52. Source: Grace Farson photography

This why I find so much joy in seeing women become empty nesters. After 20 to 30 years of child rearing, these women finally have some time to themselves. If anyone deserves a peaceful retirement, it’s mothers. I imagine that it could often be a frightening stage of life, though–to have poured your whole self into parenting and then, suddenly, you are left home alone and wondering what your life calling is now.

My mom still has Sam at home, but he’s the strong, silent boy, and so she’s eased herself into early mothering retirement. Today, she has a plethora of life-giving hobbies. She is a prodigious gardener and her plots are the envy of the neighborhood. She took a beekeeping class and is planning on acquiring her first hive soon. She is becoming an amateur birdwatcher. She goes to daily yoga classes with her new set of friends, a group of similarly emancipated mothers. And it makes me extremely happy to see her doing all of these things; no one deserves time to themselves as much as my mother does.

I also think of my friend Catherine’s mother, Janet. Janet is a wonderful example of this life-after-50 renaissance. Janet went to law school after all of her kids had left home. She wrote a book about the dire need for conservation of Falls Lake. She turned Catherine’s old bedroom into a Room of Her Own and put a sign on the door that reads, “The Falls Lake Center for Social Justice.” She is fun, sassy, beautiful, and opinionated — and it is delightful to see her enter into this new stage of living.

All of this to say, I am looking forward to being 50. Not that I want to skip over the whole process of being young and raising kids, but I am excited about the freedom that American women are allowed to experience once they are middle-aged. One day, it will be good to be old, to acknowledge that my life is half over and not to balk at it, but to be gracious, to take heart in it.

Monday Snax

That is one fresh baby.
Welcome to the world, Leah Catherine! Dear friends Tara and Andrew welcomed this sweet baby on Saturday morning, just in time for Tara's first Mother's Day!

We had a full, busy, and sunny weekend and it was just perfect. I spent most of my weekend around dogs, which naturally made it a wonderful one; I had my volunteer orientation at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, which I loved. I can’t wait to go back there and walk some more attention-hungry puppies! After getting home, I took a two-hour walk with my beloved Bo. The next morning, I walked our rector’s dogs with Mary-Boyce and then we all went to go see the newest addition to our community, Leah Catherine! Such a sweet baby and SO much hair! Tara looked amazing and we are just so excited to get to hang out with her and watch her grow up.

Snax with a bowl of perfect strawberries:

The Princess Party. This is about a week late now, but I just wanted you to appreciate all of the gorgeous details from Cate’s royal wedding-watching party. Didn’t it look amazing? I feel very privileged to have received an invitation. We had such a good, thoroughly girly time! (The Charlotte)

Rainbow Gatherings. I have an abiding fascination with off-the-grid living communities and I love photo series of these groups of people. Photographer Benoit Paillé spent a series of years with people from the Rainbow Gatherings, which happen all around the world. The people are so haunting and unusual; so many of them look like they might have lived a thousand years ago. (Behance)

Super-Secret War Dogs Are Basically Bionic. This is crazy. Titanium teeth!? Headpieces with microphones so they can hear and respond to handlers’ remote commands?! (Daily Intel)

A Mother’s Day Report Card. A day late, but this is still hilarious. “Helping me with math homework: Average.” (Passive Aggressive Notes)

A Mother’s Prayer, by Tina Fey. A hilarious but heartfelt prayer from the funniest woman alive.  “When the crystal meth is offered, may she remember her parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with beer.” (Peonies and Polaroids)

Best Countries to Be a Mom. Is anyone surprised that Scandinavia rocks this list, too? #1, Norway. Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are also in the top 10. The United States is not. (The Hairpin)

Around the Farm. I’m not going to lie: This is kind of our ideal life. Fairytale, dreadlocked children in a tractor? Homemade biscuits? Chicks in a bin? Bring it on. (Farmama)

House G. A sweet house in the Netherlands that was once an old barn. I’ll take it! (Wolf Eyebrows)

The Art of Disney Animation. A collection of sketches and proofs from old Disney films; makes you appreciate the artistry behind those chirpy little films you watched as a child. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

The Man Repeller on Makeup. Ever since Catherine told me about The Man Repeller, I’ve been hooked. Here the main Repeller herself shares her favorite makeup products. I love her. (Into the Gloss)

Gypsy Queen Marina. The strong brow and the devil-may-care attitude! I feel like she wears whatever the heck she wants and manages to look fabulous all day long. (Tales of Endearment)

This Is How We Do It. All I want is to be invited to one of Brian Ferry’s dinner parties. How magical. You can almost hear the sparkle of conversation in his photographs. (Brian Ferry)

A Beautiful Hair Story. A photographer documents the daily regrowth of her hair after cancer treatments. (Design for Mankind)

Meet Riggins. My friend Megan just got a tiny kitten and named it Tim Riggins, after the Friday Night Lights rebel heart-throb. Well done. (Thoughts from a Nest)