January 2008

Jennifer Johnson

magazine whore

Brain, Child

How does a “normal” mother stay sane in a time when babies are the hottest accessories in Hollywood and the Mommy Wars (the perpetual tug-of-war between working mothers and stay-at-home moms) make their habitual appearance in the media every few months? How does a mom not go insane when everyone in the world is judging every move a mother makes, ready to ridicule anyone who makes what the majority considers to be a major parenting mistake (allowing your child to eat fast food, allowing your child to watch television, sending your child to anything other than the most-expensive pre-school in the city)?

Thank God for Brain, Child -- the self-proclaimed “magazine for thinking mothers.” Brain, Child is for the hip, confident, cool mom. The intelligent mom who doesn’t quite want to give in to the American media’s vision of what a perfect mom looks like. Hell, Brain, Child is for the few moms who know that it’s impossible to be a perfect parent, but who are trying their best to wade through the millions of conflicting messages confronting the average parent every day.

But, I’ll be honest. I was a bit wary in picking up my first issue of Brain, Child. Perhaps it was the cover story -- To Catch a Pee, a diaper-free infancy -- that turned me off. Was this going to be a magazine for hippy moms who eschew all material goods in the quest to be organic? Would there be recipes for wheat-germ cookies and a guide to the best in hemp diapers? And, also, perhaps there would just be no way for me to understand Brain, Child. After all, I don’t even have any kids. What am I going to do with a magazine for mothers?

All my fears were unfounded. Brain, Child is more of a literary magazine than a guide to being the perfect parent. The bread and butter of the magazine are its essays and, in the Winter 2008 issue anyway, they are eloquently written. Alternately hilarious and heart wrenching, the essays explore the real stories behind the average mothers you see at your local playground -- the stuff no one wants to talk about.

For example, “Secret Baptisms and Other Forgivable Sins” tells the tale of a mother who discovers a secret plan hatched by her mother-in-law to covertly have her new granddaughter baptized. Not exactly the sort of story one wants to share at the water cooler the next day (well, depending on how cool your co-workers are, anyway).

The cover essay I was afraid of, “Relieving Myself,” was actually pretty hilarious. The author, Heather Caliri, chronicling her experiences practicing “Elimination Communication” (could this have a more New Age-y name?), the practice of “trying to gauge your baby’s patterns, signals, and preferences, and facilitate her being able to pee and poop outside of a diaper.” Basically, you hold your baby over a sink or toilet until he or she takes care of business. Holy crap (to make the world’s worst pun). If I have learned anything about parenting by reading Brain, Child, it is that there is no way that I’ll be practicing “Elimination Communication” (EC, for short) with my future child. Of course, I can’t say that would have been likely even if I hadn’t read this essay. By the author handles the story with aplomb, talking of joining an online EC forum where she “read about “potty-tunities” and “nakey-butt” time.” Caliri’s story of becoming a slave to her daughter’s bowel movements was an unexpected gem.

I was also struck by Kate Trump O’Connor’s essay, “Not One of Those Mothers,” about her son’s Down Syndrome. “Before Thomas, given the choice, I’d be leaning you’re your shoulder looking at some other mother with that same sense of sympathy and awe. ‘How do you do it? You’re amazing,’ we’d echo in unison to that other mother who, but for the grace of God, the universe, Mother Nature, and random chance, could be us.” Actually, this essay more than struck me -- it made me cry. If you were sitting in a coffee shop in Baltimore last week next to a woman reading a magazine and sniffling, that was me.

But, nearly every essay was brilliant. I laughed, I cried, I smiled, I cringed. I guess, when you think about it, Brain, Child gave me a little, teensy taste of what it will be like to be a mother -- alternately funny, tragic, embarrassing, frustrating and beautiful. It told me that motherhood could be more than a competition to create the world’s most perfect child and that you don’t have to give up your identity to become a mother. The Brain, Child mom is the mom that my mother was and the mother that I hope to be some day.