The Mother Load


ALMOST 20 YEARS after The Mother Zone, her account of raising her son, Marni Jackson explores parenting as he reaches adulthood and, in turn, examines her own relationship with her parents in Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest (Thomas Allen). Jackson, a Zoomer contributor, dropped by our offices to talk about her latest family memoir.

Athena McKenzie: You say in the introduction that mothering is the opposite of writing. Can you explain?
Marni Jackson: As a mother you feel like you’re breaking a taboo when you talk about your family. Your instinct is to protect your secrets and that goes against your instincts as a writer to reveal truths. Mothers love good news, but writers want bad news. It’s hard as a mother to present everything honestly and not to present a revisionist version.

AM: How involved was your son with the creation of Home Free?
MJ: He read it all, he vetted it all and he really gave me some very helpful editorial input. He’s a good editor. We negotiated and I basically took out whatever he wasn’t comfortable with, which wasn’t that much.

AM: Is it important to you that readers don’t approach this as a how-to?
MJ: Of course. What I hope is that when people read it they think about their own lives. If they have kids, they think about their kids and what they are going through with them. Obviously we all have parents, so that they reflect on their own experience with their own parents. I think a lot of times in families, you can get insular and imagine that everyone else has smoother sailing. Of course, every family has rough seas, and writing about it is a way to connect to other peoples’ lives. This is a multi-generational memoir. It is not a parenting book. It’s a family story and it happens to deal with a lot of themes and ideas that are out there about grown kids.

AM: When did you realize it was as much about your relationship with your parents as it was about your relationship with your son?
MJ: As I was writing it, life was unfolding. My mother was in her 90s and my father had died at the beginning of writing the book. My mother died in the very last stages of the book. I spent a lot of time with my mother because she was in long-term care, and I talked about the book with her and she was part of my story, very much part of my days, so she ended up on the page too. I think she recognized that she made a pretty good character. Part of thinking about my son was thinking back to what it must have been like for my mother to go through my 20s, which were much more uncommunicative than my son’s.

AM: What’ll you write about next?
MJ: I always have secretly written fiction and will probably go that direction now. For one thing, I need a break from writing about family.

—Athena McKenzie

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