“Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words” (Harper Perennial), by Kimberly Harrington
Motherhood is nothing if not a roller coaster of emotions, and a new book on the topic captures the wild ride perfectly.
“Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words” by Kimberly Harrington careens from the hilarious to the poignant, eliciting nods of recognition, fists of outrage and many moments of bemusement and reflection.
Harrington, a regular contributor to the humour site McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, writes movingly about the grief of miscarriage and the gift of doting grandparents. She writes passionately about the sanctity of parental leave and the inhumanity of work intruding on the foundational early months of a family. She writes hysterically and authentically about what wedding vows would sound like if we wrote them based on actual experience.
Her essay outlining the job description for “Mother” starts with a fitting summary: “This position manages to be of the utmost importance and yet somehow also the least visible and/or respected in the entire organization. You will enjoy a whole bunch of superficial attention and lip service from culture, advertisers, and politicians but will never receive a credible follow-up in the form of a concrete plan for advancement, support, benefits, or retirement. Please note: although you will co-ordinate, plan, and do almost everything, you should expect to crash face-first into bed every night feeling like you’ve accomplished basically nothing. Welcome!”
She brings perspective to the dispute among — and within — mothers who work outside the home and those who stay home with their children. “Yes, working mom, you have missed a first. … But along the way you have probably dodged a bullet or two or a half dozen on the colic or the crankiness, the teething or earache front.”
“Yes, stay-at-home mom,” she writes, “you have missed stringing your thoughts together and having them stay that way without someone tugging at your shirt or your hand. … But you have also missed the mind-numbing tasks, the manufactured chaos, and the never-ending client dinners that have taken you away from your family.”
In Harrington’s final essay, she imagines having deposited childhood sounds in a bank, to later play when “everything is too quiet.”
“I would withdraw you calling me ‘mama’ because it’s already been years since you’ve called me that, and I would withdraw every single time you unabashedly whispered to me that you love me, love me, will love me forever and will live with me always.”
If your throat isn’t constricted, heart not cracked by the end of it, you may consider checking if you have a pulse.
Not all of the essays land, as is to be expected with any collection of writings, but if the pitch-perfect book title strikes a chord with you, most of the essays will, too. It’s a balm knowing you’re not the only one on the roller coaster.