I first became aware of Jen Haupt through her marvelous blog, “One True Thing” at Psychology Today, but today I’m excited to share some thoughts on her new e-book from SheBooks, Will You Be My Mother, a collection of three linked essays. These essays ostensibly explore what it means to be a mother and to look for a mother figure, and the courage therein, but they are also about the razor edge of grief and love. I was struck by this sentence, “Looking back, I can’t help but feel that I learned to equate love with grief–perhaps, even with death—through all the things my parents couldn’t say to us.”
This duality is a powerful undercurrent in Haupt’s journalistic impulse, which takes her first to the genocide museum in Rwanda where she goes as an antidote to numbing depression, to “find ways to feel more.” There, not only is she profoundly smashed by the sledgehammer loss of so many Tutsi’s, many of them children, she has an encounter with a young Tutsi girl who asks her “Will you be my mother?” Overwhelmed with complex emotion, Haupt says no, assuming the girl is looking to be adopted. The more she thinks about it, however, the more she realizes that perhaps the girl was looking for something else, a mentor or mother figure. The meeting leaves a lasting impression on her, and plants a desire to make her way to “yes” next time.
Next time comes in the form of a Nairobi boy named Julius, who wants to be a journalist, too. This time, Haupt is able to offer not only emotional support but financial, which Julius makes good on, “paying it forward.” It also serves as a lesson for her own growing sons on what it looks like to be able to think and act beyond one’s own means to help someone less fortunate.
Finally, Haupt travels to the more personal territory of her own young sister’s death back in childhood and how this shaped the family environment, her emotional burdens, and set up the curiosities that led to her desire to write. Haupt asks the reader to consider how we love and grieve, how we find courage and take inspiration from those who have suffered.
A powerful read!
*** Author profits ($1 per book) from this mini-memoir through May 2014 will be donated to mothers2mothers (m2m), a non-profit organization that trains, employs, and empowers mothers living with HIV to eliminate the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies and improve the health of women, their partners, and families in sub-Sahara Africa.