June 1, 2012

Downright despondent, disturbed, and depressed

In the months before Benjamin turned one, I began writing.  I had worked as a writer, but I had never before written in my own voice.  The muse was calling me; I had but one possible subject.  I wrote about parenting.

As I poured out essays, I began to look around for venues. I had read a couple of glossy parenting magazines in the OB/GYN’s waiting room (not at the reproductive endocrinologist’s, where he kept only back issues of Cigar Aficionado on the table).  I knew what I was writing wasn’t for Parents, but was there a place that published essays from the front lines of parenting? A magazine where it was OK to have a sense of humor and an edge?  A magazine that kept it real?

There was: Brain, Child.

And so I began to write my way towards Brain, Child.  I submitted essay after essay, never quite hitting the mark, but knowing I needed to be ever better if I wanted to get an essay in there.  When my issues came, they moved to the very top of the pile in the bathroom.  Even above the J. Crew catalogue.  I loved reading those essays and understanding other people’s parenting experiences in a deeper, more profound way.  The day I had my debate published in Brain, Child, I felt like I had made my mark.

I loved the conversations blogging allowed back then, but we all know what happened to blogging.  It turned into a way to cash in.

Brain, Child is folding.  The editors have raised the white flag in the face of market forces far beyond their control: the death of print, the economy, and us all being too damned stupid to appreciate it.

There was a chance, not so long ago, for us to have intelligent, meaningful conversation about parenting.  We sold it all for a good time and a song.  And so we have what we deserve: sensationalist blog posts in which mothers declare their seven-year-olds’ homosexuality to the world in order to buy fifteen minutes of fame for themselves and an endless run-on sentence about what strollers celebrity moms are pushing these days.  Flowing over it all, we have the flotsam and jetsam of Twitter.

Benjamin turns six in a few months.  It’s been five years that I’ve tried to make a go of parenting writing.  I won’t tell my kids’ stories for them – it’s not right and it’s ugly.  I won’t post pictures or embarrassing YouTube videos.  I won’t do what it takes in a market that no longer seems to care about the carefully weighed word and the well-developed thought.

I don’t know if I can survive parenting writing in a post-Brain, Child world.  Nor do I really want to.

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  • Reply Anjali June 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I can probably pinpoint my children’s milestones with each Brain, Child issue. There never was, nor will there ever be, anything like Brain, Child.

    I’m terribly sad to see it go.

  • Reply Tara June 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    This is, indeed, sad. I count Brain, Child among the top 10 things to which you have introduced me over the years (along with the Moosewood cookbooks, chocolate meltaways from Stowaway Sweets, high- or at least medium-quality shampoo, milk delivery…). I didn’t always put the newest issue at the top of my bathroom-reading pile, but I have read each and every issue cover to cover, eventually. I give you permission to grieve the loss of Brain, Child, but not to stop writing…

  • Reply Jennifer June 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I have never been a fan of the parenting blogging that is going on.

    In my opinion, parenting is about the process of one’s identity being bruised and healed over and over again as a parent struggles to love self and child, learns not to let love for one swallow love for the other, and strives to peacefully integrate competing loves that can daily dredge up past wounds.

    Many parents recognize the need to protect their children’s experiences. I agree.

    But there is another layer to parenting writing. The writing often exposes the parent as person through the telling of stories that “mommy bloggers” often think they are telling to make a point about some social value or another (e.g., breastfeeding in public). But these stories have another layer to them that isn’t about confronting a social norm. Often, the positions these “mommy bloggers” take often reveals a deep emotional and psychological experience that many times I don’t believe the “mommy bloggers” are aware of. Protect your children all you want by not writing about them per se, but children will have access to all of this parenting writing when they are old enough to use media on their own. If we believe that they won’t “get” deeper layers of meaning from treading these explorations in parenting, I suggest that we are overlooking the search for meaning that goes on in adolescence and young adulthood as our children will come to a point in their lives when they start preparing for relationships of their own and families of their own. They will search and search and search for information about becoming an intimate partner and parent much like our little ones search for every detail about trucks, dinosaurs, or My Little Ponies now.

    Children benefit from believing their parents loved parenting them long into their developmental lies. Children survive because they believe they are at the center of their parent’s universe. That’s how they psychologically and emotionally survive.

    Over time, children may develop the ability to see their parents in more realistic perspective. They can grow to see their parents as primal love objects who are not perfect, but rather human–flawed and imperfect. But that’s not an easy perspective to master. It takes sophisticated psychological maturity to get there and many adults will go to their own graves idealizing their parent or parents because being the center of a parent’s universe feels so good.

    I wonder what will happen to children’s memories when they read about what mommy or daddy wrote about being an angry, exasperated, exhausted parent. In might all be very real to us, as mommies and daddies. But our reality often forces children and teens and even emerging adults to confront reality when all they want and need is to stay cloaked in the belief that their parents enjoyed loving and raising them.

    I’m not saying that no one should be writing about parenting. But it is more complicate than it seems.

    I, too, am sorry that Brain, Child has gone away.

    I am not sorry that Emily has brought the issue of writing about parenting and the “mommy blogging” to the table.

  • Reply Poker Chick June 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I realize this wasn’t your point, but “even above the j crew catalog” cracked me up. I didn’t realize they had gone under, though. Sad.

  • Reply V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios June 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    My kids are teens now and I never read a parenting magazine, mostly because they seemed to be all about infants and toddlers, stating the obvious, and selling stuff. I’ve heard several writers I respect speak of Brain, Child and I regret I never read it. My kids were born before the blogging boom and the mommy bloggers never interested me–too much faux drama.

  • Reply Jenn June 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Jennifer’s comment has me scratching my head.

    “They can grow to see their parents as primal love objects who are not perfect, but rather human–flawed and imperfect. But that’s not an easy perspective to master. It takes sophisticated psychological maturity to get there and many adults will go to their own graves idealizing their parent or parents because being the center of a parent’s universe feels so good.”

    It’s not an easy perspective to master. It’s an even harder perspective to master if parents make the child the center of their universe, and work hard to convince the child that Mama and Papa are perfect, shielding them from the discomfort and ouches that come with living honestly and humbly and as part of a flawed but deeply loving family unit.

    I must respond to “I have never been a fan of the parenting blogging that is going on”:

    I’ve personally never been a fan of the bashing of parenting blogging that is going on and the outrageous, sweeping generalizations about the genre. I’ve been writing at Breed ‘Em and Weep since 2005. Writing is writing. Parenthood may be the general subject for some, but that’s just the lens used to focus on bigger truths and explore what it is to be human, in care of others and in care of self.

    Writers write because they are moved, because they are paying attention, because their hearts care profoundly and passionately about a subject. I’m humbled and knocked out by my kids, even when they make me batty. I write and parent from the heart, with respect and sensitivity for the kids they are now as well as the adults they will be — as do most of the writers termed “mommy bloggers.” Personally, I’m f*cking thrilled that I can say to my daughters, “Hey, this was my way of paying attention to you, to me, to us, during those early years together. I hope this frees you to speak boldly and beautifully in the world, to express ambivalence and dark thoughts as well as joy. You are all of these things, and you are beautiful for it, even when your insides feel ugly. You are my world, and at the same time, you are not my world. I wrote because I loved you and I loved me and I got it wrong sometimes and I got it right sometimes, and so will you.”

    You BET it’s more complicated than it seems. And I applaud everyone who dares to write their truth, ESPECIALLY about a universality like parenting. Every person on earth has or had a mother or father. It’s where humanity begins, and there’s plenty of tragedy and comedy to be found within it. WRITE ON. And thank you, Brain, Child, for challenging all of us to think and write about what it means to raise a child and raise ourselves, at the same time.

  • Reply Lilian Nattel June 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    How sad–I’m so sorry another fine magazine has bit the dust.

  • Reply Jenn June 3, 2012 at 2:00 am

    Psst. My earlier comment is awaiting moderation and I am dying to get in on the discussion! *waves hand, jumps up and down, yells “ooh, ooh, pick me!”*

    • Reply emily June 3, 2012 at 2:12 am

      Sorry, I’m away at a writers’ conference without much connectivity.

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