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Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering…, by Carmen Gimenez Smith.

July 23, 2013

Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else, by Carmen Gimenez Smith.  Tucson : University of Arizona Press, c2010.

A lovely little book about the contradictions of being mother and having a creative career of one’s own.

For many women, motherhood is a complex and often contradictory experience in which, however much we love our children, we often find ourselves despairing about them and  ourselves as mothers.  new mothers started out on their own careers are especially vulnerable.  Few books deal adequately with this experience.  Carmen Gimenez Smith is one of rare authors able to captured the complex mix of joy and pain that characterized my own experience of motherhood.  This is the best book about being a mother and a daughter that I have read since Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born.

 Bring down the little birds is a crystallization of her journal-like observations, thoughts, and emotions as she began her second pregnancy and her daughter was born.  Her son was two and still nursing at the time and some of Smith’s comments are about him and her first pregnancy.  The responsibility of being a mother and never “good enough” was a burden for her.

Motherhood is heavy matter, lead.  Weighted down with my son in my arms, groceries, diaper bag, and baby inside of me.

She longed for a conversation with another mother who is also a creative writer about the tensions she is experiencing.

I want another mother made imperfect by her desire for herself, but how do you ask that? I want her there, some other mother.  I want to know that my anxiety is typical.

She continued her teaching at New Mexico State University, noting the responses of students and other faculty to her pregnancy.  Her husband, who was also a writer, was supportive and nurturing of both her and their son, but there are always too many demands.  “Time is allotted in small, slightly melted squares. The way I take my chocolate.”

Eventually her daughter is born.  Smith relates the baby’s early infancy  and her own delight in having another child, especially one that is a female like herself.  Although she doesn’t suffer from extreme postpartum depression, she does have moments of despair.

At the same time, Smith’s mother is facing a health crisis of her own.  With a daughter of her own, the author also becomes more sensitive of herself as a daughter.   “I grow into my mother with my daughter.”  When her mother calls, Smith lies and refuses to tell her of her own problems.

I want to tell her of my despair, but she has her own brand of it.  Growing old and tired.  I wouldn’t want her life.  I tell myself I won’t have it.  Or her head.

I am sleeping well. She’s such a good baby.  The kids get along fine. Don’t talk about unpublished poems gathering dust.  About houseplants dying on my watch. About my irregular grading practices while breast-feeding.

Smith sees her mother becoming “more old woman, less mother.”  She wants to help her.  “I want to tell her a story because that is what motherhood is all about.”

Strongly recommended to all who enjoy good writing, and who care about mothering and about the critical balance of self and others that has traditionally defined all women.

Related readings:  Links are to my reviews:

Of Woman Born: Motherhood As Experience and Institution, by Adrienne Rich. The feminist classic.

Biting the Moon: A Memoir of Feminism and Motherhood, by Joanne Frye. A memoir of a single mother.

“Writing Mothers, ” online interviews with Australian mother/authors by wildcolonialgirl

 The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood , by Rachel Power.  An Australian collection of interviews of women who are authors and mothers. Not available to borrow or buy in the USA.

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