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The Essential Hip Mama: Writing from the Cutting Edge of Parenting

The Essential Hip Mama: Writing from the Cutting

Author:Ariel Gore, editor
Publisher:Seal Press

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 4/13/2005

About 10 years ago, Ariel Gore, a single mother and high-school dropout, was a senior project away from graduating from college. Tired of parenting magazines targeted toward June Cleaver wannabes, Gore decided to create one she could actually relate to, one that acknowledged the reality of mothers who were single, teenaged, on welfare, or just unconventional. What started as a school project became a zine, Hip Mama, and then a movement, creating a space for counterculture DIY mothers to express themselves with a sort of I’m-freaked-out, you’re-freaked-out honesty. It spawned Hip Mama clubs across the country and launched Gore’s writing career. Her books include Hip Mama Survival Guide, Mother Trip, Whatever Mom, and Atlas of the Human Heart. Now, Gore has helmed The Essential Hip Mama, a collection of essays from her zine loosely timed with Hip Mama’s 10-year anniversary (so it’s a year late—these women have kids to look after).

It is perhaps a testament to the movement Gore started that the book feels outdated. Despite the subtitle Writing from the Cutting Edge of Parenting, there is little that feels fresh here. The Essential Hip Mama’s downfall is that its essays feel too much like philosophical musings. As Ayun Halliday’s exquisite Big Rumpus and some of Gore’s own books have shown, vividly drawn personal stories are generally far more entertaining and thought-provoking than vague motherhood diatribes. When The Essential Hip Mama gets personal, it does better. Keely Eastley’s “Weaning Sucks,” about her intention to breast feed her son until he wanted to stop and her realization that wasn’t going to work for either of them, and Dr. Barry Brown’s “Saying No: How Hunter Convinced Me to Quit Performing Circumcisions” are intriguing whether you agree with the authors or not. But essays like Annie Downey’s “I Can’t Figure Out How Passion Works,” which begins, “Who am I now? A fall skirt, a stream bent on becoming a river, time taking time, and never once myself,” make you want to put the book down.

Along with the essays, Gore includes smaller segments like “Yo Mama’s Daybook,” an amusingly honest version of a mother’s monthly calendar; “News Flashes,” a sort of parent-centric “News of the Weird”; and letters to Hip Mama. The first two are fun bite-sized treats as you work you way through the book. The last is far too self-congratulatory. Hate mail would have gone much further to show the importance of Hip Mama than these fawning letters. While there are plenty of bright spots in Essential, this is a book that shows from where the indie mothering movement has come, not where it is going.

E-mail Anna Ditkoff

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