Saturday, April 3, 2010

How does fiction become non-fiction?

Four women meet at the house of a new mother. They chat together over a morning pot of tea, two of the children play noisily on the floor, one is sleeping, one is being attended to by his mother. The women are relaxed, discussing things that have occurred since they were last together. They ask the newest mother how she is coping. She is becoming relaxed enough to give an honest answer.

When morning tea is finished the woman begin working together to do household chores. One woman attacks the kitchen with a vengeance, doing dishes, clearing benches, emptying bins. Another dusts, sweeps, vacuums, mops. The third is washing clothes and changing bed sheets. One mother potters around tidying things, while keeping an eye on all of the children. They work in this way for an hour or two before stopping for lunch.

Lunch takes time, there are nine mouths to feed. The mother of a four month old watches with interest as her friend’s nine month old learns to eat solids. The newborn baby wakes up for a feed just as lunch is served, the women laugh at the timing and chat together as he is fed. When the newborn finishes feeding he is passed to the open arms of another mum. His mum eats a slow lunch as another mum begins the dishes.

It is a nice day outside so two of the women head out to do some gardening while the older children play outside. One woman mixes a cake while the another chats with her, minding the children. None of this takes long and the women find themselves sitting chatting together while the cake bakes.

At the end of the day the women head back to their own houses, one remaining a bit longer to give the new mum a chance to have a shower before her partner comes home.

This is a story of friendship and bonding. This story is important because of what comes next.

It is six o’clock at night one of the mums is home alone. Her partner has been working night shifts all week. He is exhausted from the hours, she is exhausted as well. Their newborn baby has been crying every evening. She feeds him, she changes him, she bathes him. Nothing works except pacing the floor, and even that it broken up with crying. It has been like this for three nights and she is exhausted. She calls up one of the other mothers from the group, she is asking for help. She has only known them a few months however they have bonded together well. The mother comes over and helps out. They boil the kettle and takes turns nursing the baby, things feel a bit better. The group organises to come visit her for a few nights in a row. One of the mums is not able, but she sends over a meal instead. They support each other, things are isolating for this new mum.

Be inspired.

The women in my story meet together regularly, several times a week. They meet at each house in turn. They open up their lives to each other and, by doing so, bring themselves out of isolation. They have broken down the barriers that stop women from asking for help. The women become good friends, they share a wealth of knowledge and they support each other.

How does fiction become non-fiction? This story seems so right, why is it so wrong? Why does it not work? How do I make it happen?


  1. Cassie, I don't really know a surefire way to make something like this work.

    I moved to this town two years ago, and while I met the bunch of people that are now my closest friends almost immediately, it's only now that we're starting to do these kinds of things to help each other out regularly.

    I found that offering to help someone out in the vague hope that they (or someone) might return the favour one day was the best way of getting some sharing happening. Like today I offered to take my friends kids (2 & 4) to the playground to give mum and newborn some time alone. Next baby for me maybe she'll do the same thing!

    Maybe start small - have a weekly playgroup at each others places and arrange that the host gets to have 1 hour at the end of it to clean up/do something they want to while the others look after the kids. And you need at least two other mums to look after the kids as it's pretty boring just looking after the kids yourself! It makes it much more fun to have a chat.

    I know when my kids were little I just wanted someone to take them for me for a while - my mum would always come and hang up my washing and stuff and I just wanted her to take the baby so I could have a break.

    But it's hard finding someone who you click with that is willing to give this way of parenting a go. The majority of our society just doesn't think this way. It just might not have occurred to anyone to try it this way.


  2. For me, I needed to work on myself first. It's a lovely idea, but I couldn't have done it. I don't know if I could now. I needed to work on my own attitudes to mothering, children and other people. I'm working very hard at the moment to let go of the mother guilt and accept that it's impossible to be a perfect parent, I should aim to be a good parent. Without that change in my thinking, I couldn't accept support from others.

    I saw some work ages ago from a primatologist who suggested that young families share houses and live together to try to replace the extended family that has been lost, it's another model to explore.