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What Do Mothers Make? Delight

SBB and CBB by Becky Moulton summer 1998

“One of these things is not like the other”- do you remember that song from Sesame Street?
While interactions on social media are never the same, there is a common thread that runs through what happens on Laundry Line Divine and on the other platforms I participate in, like Twitter and Instagram. I am fascinated with connections. I am intrigued by the stories of mothering. I am intrigued by the patterns we make in our lives, what we return to again and again and when and what we learn new and relish, a new vista, a new flavor, a new photography app.

There are things that happen on Face book that I never imagined enjoying.

This month the building I lived in for six years in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan was demolished. As the nymphs of social media would have it, a woman who was in my Powder Keg Sessions, who happens to live in Portland, Oregon but was in the Berkshires on a certain Sunday last fall, got wind of this small factoid as it scrolled by on my news feed. Well, this woman, Margaret, has a good friend, who lives opposite my old apartment building. While she was in Manhattan this week, Margaret snapped a photo of the space that was the building in which I lived with my former beau. There has been quite a funny banter on Facebook including this man, who I love being connected to in the Face book way we are- loosely but within a distance to enjoy his humor. Now, the place where we once made Thanksgiving dinners and fed cats and organized a rent strike is a pile of rubble.


Margaret Barton-Ross 25th Street

Without Face book, this connection would not have been made, linking my former life on 25th Street and 8th Avenue with a new writing student who has a penchant for laundry lines and vintage stamps and sends me little missives full of gifts. Nor would I have found a comfortable social relationship with my former partner. Aside from a funeral for a common friend perhaps, I don’t know where we would have connected.

I have met many amazing women on social media. Many of the contributors to An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice and the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series are women I met through Twitter or on other blogs, or on Huffington Post. One such author, Amanda Magee, who lives with her family in the Adirondacks and worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival for several seasons, writes today’s Out blog post. She and her husband have a set of Huff-Po blog posts written together that are cause to get up off the couch and go hug your partner. You can read Amanda’s response to “What do mothers make?” post here. I will include links to her Huffington Post pieces there.

Social media has it gifts. This past Monday I got to have a real live visit with a dear friend and collaborator, Lori Landau. Familiar to readers of the Anthology and the Out blog series, Lori lives with her family in northern New Jersey. I was passing through her area and stopped for a whole afternoon of slow wandering through a park near her home. Long walk and talk, sharing book forms and parenting thoughts. Her daughter is just south of mine in age and her challenges are ones I have lived with for a year or so. We dove right in to conversation, relying heavily on all the threads we have woven in to friendship through social media, emails, texts, real live mail and art sent back and forth, as if all those lines of intersection weave something tangible. Looking in to Lori’s eyes, I would say very tangible.


Writing about being a mother is dicey. You write, freely I hope, with no editor on your shoulder, just letting the stories flow. Later, when you look over your writing, you decide whether you have told yours or someoneelse’s story. That is how I decide whether what I have written is mine to share. When I publish something that includes my kids I always run it past them.

Laundry conundrum

So, last night, I had a surprise. In my Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions we have been experimenting with the blazon, a form of poem that is a list of attributes of another. I learned about it from Monica Devine. In its medieval roots, it was a roster of praise for a woman, starting from the top down. Over time and with a dose of irreverence from William Shakespeare and many others, the form retains is roster of attributes aspect but has come to include wry pathos and revelation.

I wrote one last week that has been simmering in my writing mind. I was itching to share it with you all, as I prepare for teaching a Writing Motherhood writing workshop in June. So, while my girl was preparing to go for a run last evening, I read it to her. I just blasted open whatever reticence I had about exposing my tender heart to her and a potentially personal moment in her abundantly sweet life.

She stood in the doorway to this studio listening. I picked my way through the lines I thought she might take issue with and cruised to the end, expecting her standard, “Oh god Mom, you can’t say that”. But, because she is not standard in any way, her response was a deep flush of pleasure and she beamed at me.

And without asking, she said I was free to share it.

In honor of this week and loving daughters, every single girl, each of us, daughters and sons, and the loving gaze that mothers hold us each in, no matter which realm those gazes issue from, I give you my Blazon for Catherine.

Please be tender with yourselves these days.
Find a live person to go hug and share an appreciation with.
Social media brings us together but what glues us takes breath and skin and the mingling of fingers in to a grip that is unforgettable.

Blazon for Catherine

Catherine the Great.
Catherine the girl.
Catherine my Fluffy Angel who leaves teabags drying into
crispy dead bats in the bottoms of long ago supped tea cups,
her rosebud lips with a staining pale birthmark over the
upper left petal,
that once
drew comment from a very opinionated neighbor, that
oval of color rises when she is furious or
when she is flushed with pleasure as she was
one summer night, arriving after her curfew, confessing to
making out in the parking lot of the appointed place where
she was to meet her older brother and be safely transported home,
he, who texted and paced and prowled looking for his little sister,
Catherine, Cath, Cat, is the little sister, a strong beautiful
quiet storm of a sister, who, that night,
stretched in to the arms of a tall boy
who kissed her til that mark raged red and
here she, Catherine, the young woman flushed at the
foot of our bed apologizing and fearful we will take
away her new found, enpinkening freedom.
Catherine who works harder than most to
overcome what she sees as a lack.
Whose “tiny writing” fills pages of her little books but now,
whose writing, big words typed by long fingers
Catherine the smart, the able, the curious,
the persistent as a raccoon in the trash,
ass over head with her nose in a book
or baking vegan zucchini bread
or sussing out a social conundrum.
This girl is a sucker for a thrift shop.
Catherine is a seller of squash and a bagger of lettuce,
rows of community supported lettuce, spun neatly in to a plastic sack
and sold on sunny summer Saturday mornings.
Catherine is market-fresh, this girl and she is mine.

May 1, 2014
Suzi Banks Baum
Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions

CBB and me Cape April 2014

Love your friends.
Love your mothers.
Love those kids, Nigerian, Amanda’s, Lori’s, Margaret’s, yours and my own.


He’s Coming Home

Ben Photo Strip piece




My boy will be home in less than a week.

Without realizing it, I have been making the place ready for his whirlwind to arrive.

Today, as I tidied up a corner of the kitchen, I realized it was for his eyes that I replaced photos on the bulletin board over the kitchen sink, a place I know he will gaze while he, I pray, washes at least one dish.

The feeling in my body is a mix of choked excitement lest I be too thrilled and scare the kid, flooding tears for the ache his departure has carved in to me, and happy dancing for all the playful light hours we can spend or I hope we will spend or if I am really truthful here, the minutes we will spend in between his visits to friends and going out and just leaving and coming and leaving and laundry, repeat, over the course of

six days.





I am happy.

Here is Leigh Strimbeck’s poem about her boy’s departure to college in August.
I recall my first visits home after the first leaving. And how those returns always brought with them a sea of emotion.

Leigh is one of the authors in An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.

Leigh is also going to be one of the readers for my Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others this coming March 1, 2014.
Mark your calendars.

After Leigh's EVE Talk at Women's Voices for (a) Change at Skidmore College June 2013
After Leigh’s EVE Talk at Women’s Voices for (a) Change at Skidmore College June 2013

Remember Almanzo’s mother in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder?

How she would cook and cook and cook for the family gatherings?

I am beginning to understand that instinct.

Keep them at the table.

Enjoy Leigh’s poem and so many more women’s writing about mothering and creativity on the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series.


Thank you for reading us here.




What Forces Affect a Woman’s Creative Voice?

Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.
Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.



The Atlantic published an article that spurred a great round of discussion on the Internet over the past few days about motherhood and the creative life.

The original article by Lauren Sandler asks if the secret to being a successful writer is to limit the number of children one has. The article has drawn many comments, including authors Zadie Smith and Jane Smiley. Here is one of the literary responses on Melville House Books by Zeljka Marosevic.

Sandler’s article opens the idea that women writers would retain their peak effectiveness if they have only one child. She goes on to say more. Please read the article if you are interested. Marosevic’s response states that children are not a threat to a woman’s creativity and supports her points with some of the comments to the original article.


If you asked me,


Yes, having children does impact a woman’s creativity.

So does having a full-time job. So does having a marriage. So does having a life.


Creativity is born out of chaos.

It is a human response to longing.

It is fired by the passion we have to express our inner responses to this fascinating and complex world. We yearn to leave a mark, to discuss ideas larger than our back yards, we yearn to remember or simply to play.

It is vitally important to get to that expression.


Having or not having children is a choice most women get to make today. Women, in a historical perspective, only recently got to make this choice. But I think the discussion of children or no children, one or two or twelve, (as Ingrid Hill had and still managed to write Ursula Under, one the best books I have ever laid eyes on), is beside the point.

Creative work, good intellectually valuable work, is borne no matter what your life circumstances. It is up to you to make the choice to nurture that work. Many commenters on Sandler’s article suggest that the way our society values mothering, what services are available to a woman with children are forces that have the most impact on a woman’s creative work. A woman may or may not have a partner willing or able to support her creative work, she may struggle with time and budget and scheduling conflicts that no partner or day care center can completely ease. So, she adapts. She finds a way to work.


Here is a bit from an interview with author Ingrid Hill on Bookslut:


Hill had begun the writing process the only way she could: in her head.


“We had a huge, long table we got from the University of Michigan surplus, taken from an old library. It was 12 feet long, and every night we sat down to that table for dinner. I made dinner, everything. I baked bread twice a week, I made my own yogurt; it was Little House on the Prairie. And I wasn’t thinking about the celery I was chopping or the pajamas I was washing; I was writing stories in my head, and I was doing the writing and revisions in my head.”


Certainly we could ask the question, what would Ingrid Hill have written if she did not have 12 children? What would Emily Dickinson have written had she found her way out of her house and into a marriage with children? What would Anna Quindlen or Anne Lamott or Maya Angelou or any one who’s work has inspired you, what if they had more time? Fewer distractions? Maybe they would not have had the yearning to express that they have now. Maybe Barbara Kingsolver would have stayed in the jungles with Steve and never gotten to living a year of living Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that she wrote with her daughter.


The crux of this matter, for me, lies in what happens in your life that shutters you, silences you or tells you that your words, images, offerings are not important enough, not worth the time, money, space or effort. If motherhood makes you stumble, it also can make you stronger, just as any other struggle gifts us.


Motherhood affects you. Alters you. It changes you forever.

But you are still a human being with something to say, with work to do.


Therese, a commenter to the Sandler article suggests that mothering changes the way you work. I am interested in this place of being transformed by mothering. This is why I write, why I teach the Powder Keg Sessions: A Writing Workshop for Mothers and Others (next one meets on June 30 at 1pm) and it is why I run the blog series that fueled the live event and the publishing of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.


Therese writes,



When I meet people who are considering whether to have children, I tell them it’s like eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The scales fall from your eyes, and suddenly you have this new magnificent wisdom about human existence. And then maybe it was something about the prolactin hormones nourishing my brain – I never was able to be so organized or disciplined as to get whole books down onto paper before my daughter was born. There was a year of mommy brain, where all I could think of was her, and then after that year, I started writing in a way I had never quite seemed capable of before.



In the stew of this discussion float some big chunks of ideas to savor.


Do you feel that your creative life is supported by your life choices?
Does taking time for your creative work feel like an indulgence?
What would do for you?
Can you begin to consider that, as Katherine Paterson wrote, “ the very persons who took away my time are the ones who have given me something to say”?
Is it possible to begin to look at the way you live your life as innately creative?
Are there spaces and places in your life where you could redirect your choices to provide for your own creative expression- to read, to day dream or to pick up a pen?

Whatever your place, children or no children, bringing forth your ideas and dreams is worth the time it takes to do that.

I am going to be with Jan Phillips this week at Women’s Voices for (a) Change. This conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY is a gathering of artists and activists looking to take our work higher, to celebrate the work of women who have gone before us and to circle, to listen and consider what is possible for our work. Jan, who inspires my creative work so much, has written a new book which I cannot wait to read.

I will post from Women’s Voices for (a) Change this weekend.

Stay tuned.













Laurie May Coyle leads by example

Again, the Mountain Laurel blooms

Happy June people.

I am so happy to know you are here, reading these posts.

Our guest today is Laurie May Coyle who is a mother, artist and life coach here in Berkshire County. I met Laurie long ago when we shared a table in an art class at IS183. Laurie inspired me then and she inspires me now. I hope you enjoy her post. This week Laurie launches two classes at Lifeworks Studio here in Great Barrington. Here is info on that.

Laurie May Coyle with her girl Natalie
Laurie May Coyle with her girl Natalie

This week I am preparing for the Amazon launch of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. If you have not yet ordered your copy of the book, or you’d like to send a copy to a friend, I’d love you to head over to Amazon to do that this week. If you happen to live in the Berkshires, please don’t order it-go to The Book Loft or The Bookstore in Lenox- always support your local indie bookstores.

But for most of you out there in the world, Amazon is your go-to place for this anthology. If you have connections to a bookstore or library in your area who you think might like to carry it, don’t hold back! Email me and I will send you a promotional packet of materials to share with your connection. Here is my address:

Until then, enjoy what is blooming in your yard!

With love, S


Laurie May Coyle

Leading By Example

I’ve been a mother for just over three years now. I have written much about mothering, spoken much about mothering, discussed and discussed and discussed mothering and parenting and all its ups and downs — with friends, colleagues, family members and strangers, on my blog, in person, in my classes and in the grocery store checkout. I have parsed the words of many many authors who have written on pregnancy, birth, infancy, parenting and everything in-between, distilled down their meaning and read between the lines, and also followed some of their exact “plans” of action (for at least a week!) for everything from sleep-training to breastfeeding and everything in-between. I derive much joy from being able to tell others what to do, and show that I know what I’m talking about because-see-I-read-it-here.
As it happens, though, I am learning in my life and career, that it’s not so much about telling-what-to-do as it is about leading, showing-by-example and exploring for myself and seeing what works. That’s where the magic happens.
This is the case in parenting and in coaching, and in friendships and stranger-interactions. No one wants to be told what to do, whether from a book or a movie or an expert or a friend (or, gasp, a parent!). We all want to weigh in on what we’re being presented with, and find for ourselves what works. Especially toddlers.
I find this has been the case in my parenting and in my creativity, and in my new found career path as a life and health coach.
I can compare helping a client find her way to optimal health through eating more veggies to, well, leading my daughter to find her way to optimal health through eating more veggies. Neither of them wants me to tell them what to do. Though they do look to me for guidance, for example (I’d better be eating my veggies, too!) and for accountability. And sometimes for something to resist and argue with, but I’m ok with that. That’s my role.
I can see that my daughter would be very upset with me if I didn’t “know what’s best” for her — she even said that once, in her squeaky, adorable three year-old voice, “you’re the mama, you’re supposed to know what’s good for me!” (I’m pretty sure that was after she hadn’t taken a piece of my advice and had fallen off of something she shouldn’t have been climbing on, but who’s keeping track?)
So I don’t tell them what to do, the client or the toddler. I am charged with gently guiding, letting them discover for themselves how powerful and knowledgeable they already are. And when it comes to green veggies, if we keep mentioning them or putting them on the table and eating them ourselves, they’re both bound to take a bite. And then another and another until it becomes a habit.
And I can gaze on with satisfaction, knowing they’re doing what’s right for them and they feel like they came up with it all on their own and they figured it out themselves. And really, they did do it themselves, with a little help, a little push and a little encouragement. That is my job, now as a coach and definitely as a parent.
I think I was looking for that from all those books I read about parenting. I wanted some hand holding, some cheer leading and some instruction. I wanted to know which way was the “right” way. To feed my child, to birth my child, to toilet-train my child and so on.
I found this kind of hand-holding and cheer leading in-person with the amazing team of midwives that attended our home birth — and I remember eventually putting those pregnancy and delivery books aside when I met them, because they seemed to know everything I ever needed to know and I could call them anytime I needed them, and they would answer, with a thoughtful, knowledgeable answer and then a little question about how I felt and how my body was doing — giving me the opportunity to check in with myself.
That was my first glimpse of an accountability partner. They were there for me, encouraged me and led me through a very tough time (i.e. childbirth) and knew that I would make it through and have a beautiful and healthy baby as the outcome. They held steady in their visions for my future, and it was so powerful to have them on my side. I have used that example in my parenting and now in my coaching, everyday since I met them.
I see in my parenting that leading by example is the only way to go. I know I can get a little too up-in-my-heads about the “right” way to do things (i.e. parenting, learning, healthy eating, childbirth etc.), and I want to pass on all that I know to my daughter. However, when I lean back and let her take my hand and we just sit in the present moment and I’m showing her the way by being me, that is when the whole world opens up to the possibility of an easy, joyful way.
Time slows down a little bit and I’m able to sit with myself, accept myself for my flaws and truths, and really see the person in front of me, whether it’s a client or my toddler. I’m able to hold their hand, encourage them, and cheer lead for them. Without judgment and with heaps of compassion for the reality at hand — it really is easy, and it really is joyful, even when it’s also messy and challenging.
And I believe easy and joyful is always the “right” way, no matter what any book tells you.


To your artful life,
Laurie Coyle is a Life Design Coach, Artist and Mama, melding her passions for unconventional living, mothering, nutrition, art, design and personal development. She inspires creativity, abundance and health in the lives and businesses of artful entrepreneurs (while empowering them to stop doing shit they don’t want to do!).

She helps overwhelmed, multi-passionate creative women find their true path and make money from their calling, so they can live more creative, fulfilled and happy lives.
She lives with her husband and daughter among the trees on a shady hillside in South Lee, MA, along with one dog and one cat, who mostly get along.

She works with entrepreneurs and wannabe-entrepreneurs through one-on-one coaching, group programs and courses, both online and in-person, to create systems and strategies for busting through fears and soaring to the heights they only dream of. She’ll help you find the most healthy, sustainable and thrilling path to the life and business of your dreams, with ease, grace and heaps of joy.

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