“Mommy, Mama, and Me”, by Leslea Newman. Plus miscellaneous thoughts on being the “other mother”

So now that we’ve got the first post out of the way, on to the first review!

A book that has a very special place in our family is Mommy, Mama and Me, by Leslea Newman, illustrations by Carol Thompson.  Originally published 2009, I think by Tricycle Press?  So is now probably a Random Penguin book.  (I know, I know, Penguin Random.  But who names themselves Penguin Random when they could be Random Penguin?  C’mon, people.)  I’ll have to actually look at the pub. info again and get better at remembering to look this stuff up if I’m going to be a serious review blog, huh?  But I want to hit Post and get this show on the road, so I’ll come back and edit if it turns out I’m totally wrong about that.

Edit: Turns out I’m right about that! http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/197684/mommy-mama-and-me-by-by-leslea-newman-illustrations-by-carol-thompson/9781582462639/

So far our kid likes it just fine, but back in the prenatal days, it was also a comfort-read for me. (My wife likes it OK too, and has lately started saying that the child reminds her of ours.) It was the first book that I knew that I had to buy back when we were expecting. (I bought a lot of books during the pregnancy, flimsily justifying these purchases on the grounds that I wouldn’t have as much time to read reviews after the baby was born.)

In this sweet book, a toddler of unclear gender spends a day doing rhyming things with their parents. Trip to the park, food, bathing, bed – all the usual. It’s cute, and the kidling seems to enjoy it. But if the parents weren’t both mothers, I don’t think it would be remarkable. In another time, I can hope it will become just another ordinary little board book getting lost in the shuffle and slowly becoming dated in its clothing and hairstyles.

But that time is not now. Instead, it is one of the only picture books I could find that showed a two-mom family just going about their business. Y’know, the way we do. Snacks/naps/reading books together etc. still rate a lot higher than angsting about family structure in my little one’s world.

I mean, I know the Offspring is going to face some prejudice and discrimination. Being the child of a minority won’t all be hugs and smiles and sunshine. And the day may come where books about other kids facing the same problems will be worth their weight in gold. However, that time is also not quite now. My little one isn’t ready for Issue Books about how their future classmates might turn out to be bigots. Right here and now, Mommy, Mama, and Me is that rare book that reflects the life we actually have.

In having no overt message – not even any weirdly emphatic commentary about how awesome it is to have two mothers – this little book of ordinary family rituals carries a weightier message than any Issue Book could. In simply not commenting on the two mothers, it renders them normal. (Y’know, the way we are.)

I love reading this book with my child. No matter how many times we go through the simple rhymes, I find them affirming. I hope this book will give the Offspring some affirmation in the years to come, too, but in the meantime just being able to go and look at the illustrations of a two-mom family being happy together has made me a better, more relaxed non-gestational mother.

In the meantime, the Offspring has no idea about any of that, but does very much enjoy how we smack our lips on all the pages featuring food. I think this is one of the first books where the Offspring realized that the colors on the page symbolize real things like bananas. And it has the honor of being one of the books that the Offspring can “read’ already. It melts my heart to see our not-quite-a-toddler sitting alone, turning pages and smacking lips at all the correct times. During a phase (now passing? for the moment?) when all the best books were about yummy things, Mommy, Mama, and Me was in high demand around here. (Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert was of course even better, though.)

As the Other Mother, I do have one slight quibble, and it’s silly and petty and I wouldn’t ever have noticed it if this kind of book wasn’t so rare. Or if being a parent who doesn’t share genetics wasn’t such an unnecessarily fraught and vulnerable position.

It’s at least implied by family resemblances that Mommy is the bio-mom. The basic format of the book is a page of “Mommy does X thing” across from a page of rhyming “Mama does Y thing”. Somewhere in the middle of the Lipsmacking Yummy Phase, when we were reading this book ten times in a row, I suddenly noticed that Mommy appears on Mama pages, but not vice versa. (There are also a few full-family spreads taking both pages.)

Quick count shows that the child appears sixteen times, Mommy appears thirteen times, and Mama appears nine.

Which – I wouldn’t trade those four pages of the whole family enjoying time together. Those are some of my favorites. And maybe it packs more artistic “oomph” or something to have the more crowded pages on the right? So I guess I wouldn’t actually change anything about this particular book. (Anyway, who knows, maybe Mommy’s brother was the sperm donor or something, and Mama did carry after all!)

But if you’re thinking about getting this book for a baby-shower in a situation where the Other Mom is feeling insecure, or if you’re a non-carrying mom with some post-partum depression who is struggling to connect with your child – be aware that this book could hit the Insecure Feels. I know I had a moment where my stomach sank, and I think at this point I’m on the the fairly chill and secure end of the not-a-bio-mom spectrum.

Which is to say, I had a few anxieties and fears, but they almost all disappeared in the delivery room. They’d mainly been struggles about whether I would struggle in future, since I’d heard that was a Thing That Could Happen, and because I wanted so very much to be A Mother and didn’t have a good model for what being the second mother looked like. (BTW, if you have someone in your life who is going to become a mother by a nontraditional route, don’t ever, ever, ever tell her that “you’ll be just like a dad!” Unless of course she’s mentioned that she really imagines herself as a dad or something clear like that. Otherwise, though? That is a Very Bad Thing to Say. It seems like this would be obvious, but I heard it from more than one person, so apparently it is not.)

But on the other hand, during those days trying to visualize what my place in my future-family was going to be and occasionally freaking out about it, I used to go sit in the future-nursery and re-read this silly little board book over and over again. And I never noticed back then how many times each mother shows up, and it was balm to my soul each time I read it. Because back then I’d never even seen an “other mother” in a book before. Turns out, just I’d hoped, those cheerful illustrations do capture some of the raw truth of being the other mother – or any kind of mother. You read the books and give the baths and love that child with every fiber of your underslept being, and that’s just the way it is.


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