The ultimate labor of love

Writing a preamble about motherhood has been laborious. I don’t know if it’s because my focus has been eclipsed by the pregnant belly of the moon. Maybe it’s because I’ve been to 7 cities in 10 days, and yet my friends with kids are 3x more exhausted. But I suspect it’s because the mental drawers that keep my thoughts on child rearing are an absolute chaotic mess. Notes about legacy are jumbled with before & after anatomy diagrams, essays on purpose scattered amongst maps of the world still unknown. I am fighting off the label “late 30s” with a flimsy flyswatter, and still the thought of “settling” let alone “down” makes me recoil. But then I take a friend’s 18-month-old to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and I revel with her at each unique stem and bud. We stroke the cherry blossoms and we poke the cactuses who poke right back. After the swirl of wonderment collapses her, I carry her to the car with her fluffy head nestled into the hollow of my collar bone, feeling the weight of her sleep radiate down my spine. My arms wrap around her tiny body, and I duck to sit under a magnolia in bloom. With the rise and fall of our chests in sync, I think to myself, “Oh, this is the proverbial ‘good stuff.’” 

As I write this a child screams on a 35-row plane, and I am childlessly content. Perhaps there will come a day when my labors of love include the labor of life. But until then, I am grateful for the role of Auntie. And I am grateful for the works of art that act as a surrogate for the massive, profound experience of motherhood.

Eric Gravel turns the story of a single mother’s commute-gone-wrong into a gripping thriller that is acutely relatable. Every detail of the film is considered, but with such subtlety that it never feels contrived. Threads of irony and metaphor - the strike for better working conditions threatening the overworked mother’s ability to pay bills, the weight of domestic labor as a chambermaid leaving her little energy for her own household - allow for a greater story within a story about the strains of everyday survival. Frenetic editing and a pulsing score make for a breakneck pace that is usually reserved for drug lords and super heroes, reminding us that motherhood is perhaps the most unrelenting, unreliable, unreasonable path of all.

Captivating. Affecting. Delicate.

Bridget Maloney’s short follows a woman struggling to digest parenthood as her identity and boundaries slip from her sticky, snotty, colored-markered fingers. With her body as the family source of food, protection, and pleasure, Blocks brings levity to the battle to reserve a sliver of body for oneself. The film has a surreal premise that could easily become gimmicky, but knowing dialogue and nimble scenes maintain a light and grounded sensibility.

Self-aware. Wry. Comical.

In response to a culture of childbirth shrouded in feelings of indecency and isolation, My Birth insists on making this essential process of life visible. Carmen Winant weaves autobiographical and found images with personal essays to immerse readers in the continuum of labor and delivery. A vital work of art, vivid visuals and intimate writing unearth the confounding bodily experience of birthing. A book comfortable with obscurity, Winant asks, “Is birth a process of connecting to our bodies, or of leaving them far behind?”

Sensorial. Confrontational. Revelatory.

Snack: Mom’s Mac & Cheese

My mom worked 80 hours a week and spent weekends cramming for night school, so my family meals usually consisted of warm fries out of paper bags and ketchup packets stuffed in car consoles for tomorrow’s dinner. Save for a sporadic canned cinnamon-bun-with-orange-glaze special, my mom was not a cook. She was radiant, deeply kind, and tirelessly hard-working. But a cook? No.

Eventually my mom finished school and climbed the ranks, affording her hobbies and actual sleep, but by that time I was out of the house relishing in my newfound autonomy. After months of prodding and pleas, I finally obliged to make a visit home with 2 new friends in tow. Full of exuberance, my mother announced that she was going to make a smorgasbord of home-cooked food for our arrival. Imagining variations on Pillsbury in tiered lazy Susans, I warned my buddies that only a few polite bites were required and then we’d sneak away to a real meal. But when we walked in the house, we were greeted with courses of made-from-scratch, precisely crafted dishes filling the dining room table. Tuscan farro soup, wild mushroom étouffée, beef bourguignon, collard greens au gratin, savory galettes, sweet galettes, dips and spreads and homemade condiments in ramekins not packets, and not even the napkins were made out of paper.

As it turns out, my mom was always a phenomenal cook. She was just too busy putting all her time into me so that one day I had all the time in the world. The ultimate labor of love, indeed.

*Guest recipe from the consummate mother, Cami Jones.

Velvety. Satisfying. Soothing.

  • Heat oven to 350

  • Mix up some spices: 1 tsp white pepper + 1 tsp granulated garlic + 2 tsp onion powder + 1 tsp mustard powder (Mom uses Colman’s).

  • Mix 1 cup sour cream (Mom uses Daisy), 1 cup mayo (Mom uses Hellman’s), 2 cans cream of chicken soup (Mom uses Campbell’s), and spice mix in a very large bowl.

    “You’ll need a bigger bowl than you think!”

  • Cook 4 cups of elbow macaroni (Mom uses Barilla) very al-dente in salted water.

    “Don’t even bother to taste for doneness – it won’t be!”

  • Drain the pasta and rinse with cool water to stop cooking. Then mix gently into your creamy spiced blend with a spatula.

  • Gently fold in 2 cups shredded gruyere, then 3 cups shredded sharp Vermont white cheddar, then 3 cups shredded medium cheddar until mixed evenly.

    “Get your cheese from your local deli in a block, don’t use pre-shredded!”

  • Pour mixture into greased roasting pan and smooth. Sprinkle with paprika to make color and flavor pop.

  • Bake covered for 30 minutes and call your mom. Remove foil and bake an additional 15-20 minutes and call your daughter.

  • Serve and enjoy with all the bravest women you know.

To the ones who brought us here,

<3 Julie

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