Mother courage: Ahndraya Parlato on parenthood and paranoia

During labor, every woman touches death, if only for a second. This preface to our physical death also marks the beginning of the death of the autonomous self as we know it. I once read about a type of Buddhism where only parents can become monks, because we have already begun erasing our selves, because we’re relentlessly asked to place someone else’s needs before our own. Perhaps this is why so many new mothers say they have trouble reorienting themselves to the world after childbirth. What does it mean to stop navigating the world with yourself at the center of it, to instead circle the world, like a planet orbiting a sun?

Starting with labor and its need for privacy and darkness, parenting is primal. There’s so much talk about methodology, but we’re animals, relying on instinct. Sure, our kids can take Mandarin, but at the end of the day, we’re just trying to keep them alive. I’m angry that I worry about sending you to school, but at the risk of paralysis, I relegate this fear to a subconscious level. I read that bullet-proof blankets have been invented for school shootings, and I wonder: is this fear more than, equal to, or just different from the fear of mothers throughout history?


At a little over two and half years old, from the back seat, Ava randomly and sincerely asks me, “Is you crazy Mama?” And while I’m sure she’s just grappling with the meaning of the word, part of me wonders what she senses.

Single Mom, Tiger Mom, Helicopter Mom, Jellyfish Mom, Elephant Mom, Dolphin Mom, Dragon Mom, Bad Mom, Overprotective Mom, Stay at Home Mom, MILF, Lawn Mower Mom, Free Range Mom, Unicorn Mom, Mother Lover.

Mother Fucker. 

Today, I started a run too late to finish in daylight, and as I ran back home along the LA River I imagined being attacked. Rather than thinking about what physical actions I might take, or how I could use my phone to get help, my first instinct is to yell, “STOP — I’M A MOM!” I realize this assumes that thieves and rapists would be empathetic to the fact that there are small humans somewhere who need me, and that they would then feel too guilty to continue.

I’m thinking all this while I’m running. But then I stop and text your father to tell him he can use your leftover lunches for your dinners. I don’t finish the thought about attackers and move on to what you should have for dinner: the thoughts happen in tandem, like two parts of a round being sung simultaneously in my head.

When I was around eleven years old, I came up with a theory that all moms were crazy. I would even joke, “All moms are crazy, but mine is a little crazier than the others.” Maybe it just so happened that my close friends’ mothers had their own versions of crazy, and that’s why we found each other. Or maybe something really does happen once you become a mother that makes you a little crazy. I think about the dueling conversations in my mind and I wonder if this is why we go crazy; who wants a constant round in their head? Us moms, we’re always hearing voices.


Excerpt from Who is Changed and Who is Dead by Ahndraya Parlato.

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