Who Do We Think We Are? Part 1

My friends and I met Saturday night to watch Who Does She Think She Is?  

There were 6 of us from the ages of 41 to 59.  We have children ages 9 and up to 30-something.  Between us. we have 9 children and have written seven books, 5 of us are either editors or have been editors of a literary journal, there is 1 Rona Jaffe $25,000 award winner in the mix, 6 Artist Trust GAP grants, 5 of us have either have our MFA or MA or will complete it in the next couple of years, we all have won awards for both art and writing.  I mention this not to brag, but so you understand when I ask myself-- why on earth do we have self-doubts if what 1) we are doing is worthwhile and 2) it's okay to focus on our creative work.

After typing out some of our achievements, writing that we sometimes feel self-doubt seems ridiculous, but I tell you, it is true.  

I will say it honestly as I can here--while I truly believe that I could completely live with myself if I failed as a poet and writer, my biggest fear is that in finding the balance I will somehow fail as a mother and that is something I can't live with.

I didn't realize that until this afternoon when I asked myself--what exactly am I afraid of?

Even this morning when I was watching the director's interview on why she made this film she said, "I left my family for 2 weeks, I had never done that."  But instead of leaving it there she added a few seconds later, "Well, it's not as if I left them at home by themselves--they were at camp."  When she said that, I immediately got that knot in my stomach--why couldn't she have just said she left her kids for two weeks to focus on her art, why does there have to be a self-protection clause, that "I'm-a-good-mother too" side note, why do we worry so much what other (mothers) think?

The knot in my stomach was because that woman on the television had a part of me in her.  I was annoyed because I do it as well and I don't think it's helpful to other mother writers/artists.  I slip in a good-mom clause occasionally just to make sure... We so want the world to know we are good moms.  

And actually, maybe it's not the world but other mothers because really, I have rarely felt judged by men, fathers, or women without children when it comes to being a mom, but I have been made to feel inadequate by other mothers-- a woman told me when she found out I was working on my MFA while I still had a child at home that she didn't know how I could leave my child with her father to come to a writing residency.  And how many years later do I remember this?  And why?  Because it went to the center of my own insecurities (was I being a "good mom" by leaving her?)

I want to tell you, before I had kids I really could have cared less about any of this. 

Before I had kids you could have told me you were leaving your kids with your next door neighbor who you met three weeks ago (but she seems nice) for six weeks to go to Italy to paint and my only questions would have been, "What part of Italy?" and "Will you paint in oil, acrylic, or watercolor?"  I would have assumed the kids would be fine.  Why?  Because they are kids and well, kids are durable and they are always fine.  (Also, by this part of the conversation, I would have already forgotten the names of your kids... but tell me again about your art!)

Then I had kids. Or should I say "kid."  And all those things I couldn't have cared less about now mattered.  




  1. Great post, Kelli,
    I love your theoretical neighbor-kid story on Italy! As a writer (why can't I say poet or artist?)without kids - I have to say that there are really similar issues - but not the same. Does the world need another poet? Shouldn't I be doing something more productive then dedicating my life to my writing -- something like mothering! From my point of view, you women get the best of both worlds. And I love that you mentioned all of your books and accolades!

  2. I agree with Susan; great post. Who among us who is a woman hasn't experienced some aspect of what you describe. That's why "Who Does She Think She Is?" is so important a film. The implications even in the title!

    I have a son and never felt worse than when I went back to work and left him in the care of another during the day. It still bothers me that I felt such anxiety that I couldn't be at home with him and do what I did then: edit and write for a living. Even those of us who grew up in the '60s with feminists as our models felt this tug.

    Thank you for such honesty and continuing the conversation.

  3. Susan & Maureen-- Thank you for your generous responses!

    What has been interesting to me since I've been writing about "Who Does She Think She is?" is that I've been hearing from women who do not have kids or do, have a full-time job or don't, are stay at home moms or not, or have unique situations and the question of self-doubt returns in different ways to each of us--

    Is our writing/art/work valuable?

    When yes yes yes, it is! We are doing what we should be doing!

    Thank you for adding into this conversation. It's one close to my heart and I so appreciate hearing from you both.

  4. Silly as it sounds, cat mommas feel guilty too.

  5. Oh Kelli, what a great post, so true in every way! I'm always adding that qualifier, every (once a month!) time I go out (only for poetry readings) (it's only for a couple hours) (they're having much-needed [and overdue] daddy-time) and on and on and on. Though I inwardly wince, I can't seem to help myself.

  6. Great post, Kelli. I think we all qualify - it's part of our reflex. But it's important for our kids to see what we are passionate about. Mothers who revolve their entire lives around what is perceived as "good" mothering by others often are unhappy - that is much worse for your kids than going off to a writing class!
    I like to think my son (who is creative in other ways) has learned to value that part of him by watching me pursue my poetry.

  7. Hi Kelli, I'm going to have to watch this now after all you've said-- That struck me, too, about camp--the "bad mother" issue-- And congrats on your recital! xo, Joelle


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