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Mama Said

[whitespace] Ariel Gore The Mother of Invention: Ariel Gore gives advice from the trenches on pregnancy, potty training and overthrowing the patriarchy.

Local writer Ariel Gore talks about her book 'Hip Mama,' which gives cheeky advice on how to be a cool mom

By Michelle Goldberg

At 15, sick of high school, local writer Ariel Gore split for China and then spent the next five years bumming around Asia and Europe. At 19, she found herself pregnant and pretty sure she didn't want to stick with the father. Soon she was back in the states, a teenage high school dropout single mom on welfare. Sounds kind of dire, until you add grad student, professional writer and all around hip mama.

See, Gore did more than survive--she survived with grace, wisdom and humor, and parlayed the whole crazy-making experience into a career as one of the world's frankest, funniest and most incisive writers about fin de millennium motherhood. In 1993, she started the zine Hip Mama, a fiercely feminist parenting mag. Since then, she's debated Newt Gingrich on MTV and been featured in Ms. magazine and on CNN and NPR. Last month saw the release of her first book, The Hip Mama Survival Guide, a cheeky compendium of parenting wisdom ranging from the insouciant (when to take out your nipple rings, music to divorce by) to the deadly serious (dealing with collection agents, custody battles and nervous breakdowns).

Metropolitan: Now that you've written a parenting how-to book, do you feel more pressure as a mom?

Gore: I hope not. I don't feel like I put myself out there as an expert. I put myself out there saying, "This is what worked for me, this is where I blew it, this is what happened with my family." In the book more than I've ever done in the zine I did gather together real, actual rules that you would expect from a parenting expert: This is OK and this is not OK. I don't know how I feel about that, because I have a general aversion to the idea that there are experts.

Metropolitan: In the book you wrote about nervous breakdowns and about having violent impulses toward your children--that's so unspeakable in most parenting literature.

Gore: My hope is in talking about stuff like that, you can avoid the whole Susan Smith thing. Obviously, if you feel like you might act on those impulses, then you need some assistance, but it's not something to be totally ashamed about.

Metropolitan: Was it easier being a teen mom knowing you had already experienced so much?

Gore: I probably felt older than I was. Obviously, looking back I think I could have used a little more adult life experience. Maia's dad is a lot older than me too, so that made a big difference as far as envisioning that this was a possible context to start a family in.

Metropolitan: What would you do if Maia wanted to do the same thing?

Gore: No way! I would be really freaked out.

Metropolitan: You were a welfare mom, and then you suddenly got this huge book advance. What was that transition like?

Gore: It's sort of evened itself out. Now I'm broke again. But psychologically it was a total trip to suddenly have all this money. Before, I would be like, "I can't buy shampoo, but I really need conditioner." I guess it's a trip any time you have more money than you're used to having.

Metropolitan: Is your next book also about parenting?

Gore: Yeah. It's a little more personal than servicey. I didn't really write it yet, so I don't really know what it is.

Metropolitan: How does your daughter feel about being so prominent in your book?

Gore: Before it came out, I went over with her a lot of the stuff that I thought would be disturbing for her to read. I don't want someone to come up to her and be like, "You weren't potty trained until you were 3 1/2" and for her not to know where they got that information.

My book that I'm working on now is harder, because she's 8 now and a lot of this stuff that has to do with my mothering of her is more her business now than it was when she was 3 or 4.

Metropolitan: Our culture attributes so many problems to bad mothers--isn't that paralyzing?

Gore: It is. The question is how you get beyond that and accept that you are going to blow it, that your kid is going to end up in therapy (laughs). Just accept it. People stop reading so much parenting advice as their kids get older because after you blow it a certain number of times you relax to the reality that this is your family.

Metropolitan: Were you afraid to give other people too much advice?

Gore: I didn't trip out about that too much. I had some experty people read it, because I had to make it clear that I was just talking about my trip. The main criticism that I have gotten about the book is that it encourages irresponsibility, rather than just encouraging realism. But so far no mom has said that to me, so I'm not really taking it too seriously.

Metropolitan: Has there been a conservative reaction?

Gore: Not to the book, but to the magazine. This guy in L.A. who's sort of like the local Rush Limbaugh had one of his shows about evil me. Fortunately it's been more personal than having to do with my work, having to do with me being on welfare, and me having student loans and me being a ho. You know, when I did that debate with Newt Gingrich, it wasn't about my work. That was just about the fact that he thought I personally was a ho. For me, that's easier to deal with than if people are attacking my writing.

Metropolitan: Do you ever worry that Maia's going to rebel against you by becoming a Republican?

Gore: She is already a little more conservative than me. She thinks it's truly whack to get a tattoo--she's like, "You're going to regret that, mom!" Hopefully whatever her politics turn out to be, they won't just be a reaction against me, but will instead be what works for her.

Metropolitan: Is it true that when you have a kid your life as a cool person ends?

Gore: It's definitely true to some degree. For the first couple years when your kids are really little, life is the dishes and the diapers. There is the reality of all the emotional changes that do make you more of a grown-up, but then there's this other stuff, our whole internalized "I have to be some TV character now."

Most people with really little kids don't really look that cool, so it's not necessarily that kind of hipness that I really care about. It's more just being real and feeling like you can be yourself and you can go through the natural changes that motherhood's going to bring about, but you don't have to take it any further than that. You don't have to suddenly be able to make these wicked macaroni casseroles if that wasn't what you did before.

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From the June 1-14, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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