In June 1997, Camille Peri and Kate Moses launched the daily website Mothers Who Think on Salon.com for women who, like themselves, were starved for smart, honest stories about motherhood -- personal and intimate stories that went beyond tantrum control and potty training to grapple with the profound issues that affect women and their children. Like the online site, their bestselling American Book Award-winning anthology Mothers Who Think struck a nerve across the country not just with mothers, but will all those who shared a vested interest in the raising of the next generation. Because I Said So gives readers even more to think about. This new collection of fiercely honest essays edited by Peri and Moses captures the challenges of motherhood in the twenty-first century as no other book has. Writers such as Janet Fitch, Mariane Pearl, Mary Roach, Susan Straight, Margaret Talbot, Rosellen Brown, Beth Kephart, Ariel Gore, Ana Castillo and Ayelet Waldman delve into the personal and the political, giving passionate expression to their relationships with their children and to their evolving sense of themselves. Provocative, candid, witty and wise, their stories range from the anguish of giving up child custody to the guild of having sex in an era of sexless marriages; from learning to love the full-speed testosterone chaos of boys to raising girls in a pervasively sexualized culture; from facing racial and religious intolerance with your children to surviving cancer and rap simultaneously. Told in prose that is as unabashedly frank as it is lyrical, this is the collective voice of real mothers -- raised above the din -- in all their humor, anger, vulnerability, grace, and glory. ---from the HarperCollins hardcover edition
Kate gives an overview of the book:
I arrived at three o’clock in the morning, but even then Cairo’s notoriously polluted air was thick with lingering heat. Though the city’s lights glittered against the desert’s distant darkness, it was far too early to go to my hotel. As we drove on empty highways, the taxi driver, who spoke some English, said he would take me to a café where I could have tea and wait. “In Cairo, you will be treated as a man,” he reassured me. I had heard this before: western women are typically relegated to the status of “honorary men.” I wasn’t convinced; being treated as sexually invisible seemed closer to the truth.
Left on a corner with my luggage, dressed in modest, baggy clothing, I was at the edge of the labyrinthine Khan al-Khalili, a 14th-century neighborhood famous for its historic, bustling market sprawling over a square mile of medieval streets and alleyways. Beyond the corner sidewalk café, the thousand-year-old Al-Azhar university and the Al-Husayn mosque -- holiest of all in Cairo -- rose behind walls on either side. Even that early, many people were wandering about, mostly men but also some women and children. The women I saw sat in family groups at the café, veils carefully pinned close to their heads as they sipped spicy, fragrant Egyptian coffee or hot, scarlet tea – karkaday, made from steeped hibiscus flowers -- while the men smoked flavored tobacco from sheeshas, ornate, brass-fitted water pipes. Or they strolled slowly with their families through the crowds, mildly looking around, sleeping babies draped limply over their shoulders.
Pulling my suitcase along as discreetly as I could, I turned down an alley lined with market stalls, lights blazing. There were tourist-trap bazaars crammed with faux-Egyptiana and gaudy belly dancing outfits alongside craftsman’s shops selling hand-embroidered tribal tents and rugs woven of camel hair. There were huge rush baskets brimming with spices, donkey carts loaded with burlap sacks of roasted nuts, tired salesmen with piles of cheap plastic toys laid out on blankets in the street. I looked at everything and everyone surreptitiously, obliquely, not wanting to make eye contact, not wanting to be noticed. I felt a tug behind me, and heard laughter. I turned around: a group of beggar children, barefoot and wearing shreds of clothing, were skipping away, giggling, having just touched my uncovered hair. Behind them was a man with no legs, only bare, black-crusted feet, using his hands to walk. Along the sacred mosque’s high crenulated wall a merchant had stacked cages of restless, hissing wild animals, their tails brushing the wire bars, and on top of the cages, dead animals -- taxidermied, grimacing creatures I couldn’t identify, their glass eyes soulless.
I hurried back to the corner where the taxi had dropped me. I sat at one of the
café tables surrounded by men smoking sheesha, the sickeningly sweet smoke from their apple-scented tobacco making me dizzy and ill. For the first time I admitted to myself that this trip might be fruitless, a bad idea. I’d never before in my life gone anywhere alone, ever. I had always managed to bypass any chance I’ve ever had to move independently through the world; the truth is that my identity had always been largely dependent on others -- my parents, my family, my friends, ultimately my husband and my children, motherhood being my selfhood’s galvanizing force. I felt confident and solid as long as I was the caretaker or the mother, the provider of comfort or the solver of problems. During the spring of 2004, though, my self had become someone I found unreliable.
A few days before Christmas, at the age of forty-one, I lost my third baby.
Five weeks later, a dear friend was diagnosed with a rare form of metastasized cancer. She is the fourth of my beloved, trusted friends – all women, all mothers – to face a cancer diagnosis in three years.
Now in summer, trying to remember the Arabic words the taxi driver had taught me, awkwardly ordering another scalding cup of mint tea when my last one had cooled, I was not entirely sure I was up to this. I’d lived as if skinless, utterly vulnerable, for months. Overwhelmed by human frailties, especially my own, I didn’t know what to do, but I had to do something. I came to Egypt to see a painting, a portrait of a woman whose face haunted and consoled me.
With each sip of tea, my fingers trembling around the glass, I tried to coax myself back from the ledge of panic. I tried to focus on something I’d read in a novel by Egypt’s Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, who had grown up in this neighborhood. Mahfouz wrote several of his books in the “Closed Treasure Room” at el-Fishawi’s café, a Khan al-Khalili institution for hundreds of years. The line I remembered was one I loved for its ambiguity, its multiple layers of meaning and possibility: Cairo, wrote Mahfouz, was “like meeting one’s beloved in old age”. It was almost a riddle. Did “meeting” mean for the first time, or after a lifetime’s separation? Is it the beloved or the lover who is old? Or both? In my head, I mentally fingered the variable answers.
Cairo itself embodies contradiction, a city widely acknowledged as bewildering, seductive, filthy, operatic, vast, decadent, glorious. The prehistoric mythology of the ancient Egyptians says that life began at the spot that is now Cairo, born out of universal nothingness by the creator god, a radiant orb whose tears became mankind – though Cairo is known in Arabic as Misr um al-dunya, “Mother of the World.” The creator god’s wife was the resourceful goddess Mut, protectress of the innocent, righter of wrongs, and patroness of women, especially mothers. The hieroglyphic form of the word mut is the huge, powerful vulture of the African desert. In Egyptian, mut means both “mother” and “death.”
From my sidewalk table at the café I watched the sky, deep indigo when I arrived, but now, with the sun’s rising light bleeding up through the shadows, bringing the minarets and the domes before me into high, gilded relief. At five o’clock, the recorded voices of the muezzins broke the morning’s relative silence as loudspeakers came on at mosques all over the city, calling the faithful to prayers.
---from "Mother of the World" by Kate Moses, Because I Said So
Kate Moses is the author of the internationally acclaimed Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath (St. Martin’s Press 2003, Anchor Books 2003). Published in thirteen languages, Wintering received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for best novel by an American woman in 2003, and the...