My youngest child turns two this summer and as I fold up the clothes he no longer fits to pass along to the charity store, clothes passed down from his brothers from four or five years ago, clothes that we no longer need to keep because there are no more babies to have, I am acutely aware that a very specific, very particular phase of motherhood is ending.
Soon he’ll drop his nap. He’ll join the realm of his older brothers - a full life force that has the power to stay awake all day. Soon we’ll no longer need nappies. Soon he will stop calling raspberries ra-dee-dee and eventually he will stop dragging me by my little finger to watch a bumblebee or a fly crawl in front of the back door. Sooner than all that, he will stop talking in song.
I am not writing this for the sentimentality of it; more for the acknowledgement of a small loss of something that will always hide in the shadows, I suppose, for the rest of my life. I imagine there will be a time when I am old and I will struggle to remember all of this, all of them so small, and that chips away at my heart a little. I know there are great times to come but the fragility of all of this; that feeling doesn’t go away.
Perhaps all of this, all these feelings of being caught between wanting these moments to last forever but also wanting them to move on, is why lately I’ve found myself drawn to books on motherhood. Books in which I recognise fragments of myself.
Of course, you don’t have to be a mother to enjoy these books for books on motherhood are not just about babies. They’re about feeling lost or feeling like you’ve found yourself. About love. Loss. Loneliness. Making friends, losing friends. Learning to be kinder to yourself. They are about being human.
Here are some books on motherhood I’ve cried and laughed over and texted the titles of to far-off friends with the order YOU HAVE TO READ THIS, all in caps:
Summer Reading List + 4 books on motherhood
1. Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike
I wanted this book to last forever. It’s the most beautiful and meaningful writing I’ve read in a long, long time. I hadn’t read fiction for a long time as I’m more drawn to first-person and memoir lately but this collection of short stories exploring motherhood sucked me all the way right back in. Each short story explores some facet of motherhood (trying to conceive or trying not to conceive, or losing a mother, or trying to be someone else’s mother or not wanting to be a mother at all) and every single story is intimate, tender, lovely, heartbreaking, shattering, destructive; all of those things. Rosenwaike’s prose is exquisite and simple and beautiful - the sort of writing that says so much by so little, the sort of writing I aspire to.
2. And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell
An honest memoir on motherhood for the first-time that is not at all rose-tinted. Funny and light but also hard and messy and magic, it contains the sort of conflicting thoughts you might find yourself thinking when you’ve got a newborn but that you can’t say aloud because no one ever does. O’Connell writes bluntly about the pressures of motherhood and its impact on her mental health and relationship with her fiance. Her journey to motherhood is a very modern, New York one but her story is nevertheless immensely relatable (and I mean that in a good way).
3. The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry
This is not strictly a motherhood book or a beautiful piece of literature for you to enjoy on your summer break but I feel it’s worth a mention especially if you feel you overwhelmed by school summer holidays. I approached this parenting book as a cynic, mindful of a catchy book title and how so many books on parenting top the bestsellers lists just because parents often feel they need all the help they can BUT this book humbled me greatly. I’ve always enjoyed Perry’s writing and I hugely appreciate the gentle but no-nonsense unfussy tone in which she writes on parenting. I also appreciate that this is not a book that teaches you how to cajole your children into behaving but rather accepts that they are all unique as are we and that it’s up to us as adults to take a long hard look at ourselves before we make expectations of children who are but children. There’s parts I skipped - guilty of sleep-training - but overall, this book reminds me to do better and try harder for them because I’m the one that brought them into the world in the first place.
4. I miss you when I blink by Mary Laura Philpott
I read this essay collection and at times had to shake myself for so much of what Philpott writes about, I recognised deep inside myself. The essays explore the central theme of burnout, of having to start over when you thought you had it all. She was a type-A personality of wit and ambition but found herself forced to slow down after having her children. While not all of these first person essays are specifically about motherhood, Philpott writes of and around and about her family and so it all overlaps - family, children, work, writing. Warm and funny but also poignant and brave, I found great comfort in this.