A Picture and a Thousand Words: Guest Post by Kim Suhr

“Leathery oak leaves grip my soles, and I am stunned by the realization that I must get used to seeing you from this vantage point — the back of your head bobbing, you running, running, running to the next vista, the next adventure.” ~ from “Sweet Scented Place” in Maybe I’ll Learn: Snapshots of a Novice Mom by Kim Suhr

Motherhood is a tricky business. There are plenty of books, mind you, that detail the how-to’s, the do’s, the do-not-ever’s. But inevitably, as soon as we take that baby in our arms (first-born, second-born, it doesn’t matter…every child is different) the books fall to the wayside, the instructions we studied blur, and we begin our individual journey as Mother, Mommy, Mom.

I’m not saying these how-to books should be ignored or discarded; they do provide a starting point. But it is a different kind of book on motherhood that often plays a larger role in our understanding: the book that reminds the new mom she is not alone; the book that says you’ll make mistakes, you’re only human; the book that suggests, even as your son or daughter grows up, that feeling of being a novice never entirely goes away.

Kim Suhr has written such a book. Her essays in Maybe I’ll Learn: Snapshots from a Novice Mom highlight her experiences of motherhood when her children are young, from that first bicycle day trip (where siblings turn  enemies) in “Peace in the Trailer” to a quiet hike for two in “Sweet Scented Place.” But the story doesn’t end at the last page. Throughout the book, in the Afterword, and with her guest post here, the message is the same: take note of everything–good, bad, frustrating–and know that each adventure, each intimate moment, reveals a new truth about who we are as human beings.

I’m thrilled to host Kim as she shares a snapshot of her story now, as a mom of a college-bound son. And because Mother’s Day is right around the corner, I’m offering a giveaway. ENTER HERE for a chance to win a copy of Maybe I’ll Learn. Deadline to enter is Sunday, May 14th, at noon.

Now, welcome Kim Suhr!

A Picture and a Thousand Words

By Kim Suhr

“Take lots of pictures. They grow up so fast!” The advice came from all corners: the old lady in the grocery line, a mom of tweens at the library, the middle-aged neighbor who had just sent his last child off to college. Flash forward 18 years, and my hard drive can attest to the fact that I took this advice. Nineteen thousand images. Add to that the few years of actual hold-‘em-in-your-hand photographs from before the digital era, and we’re talking lots of pictures.

Now it’s time to send my first-born off to college, and, while I am glad I took the advice of strangers, I am also glad I listened to my writer’s heart and took notes. For each kid, I kept a notebook in which I wrote periodic letters describing simple things—my worry of the moment, the kid’s developmental level or fascination du jour, what was happening in the world. They include a few sticky notes and ticket stubs. One particular nametag I just couldn’t throw away.

When I revisit these journals, I get a reminder of the phase when Shelby would break into singing “EIO!” to show her general state of happiness, how she went through a time where everything in the past happened “the otter day,” how she first learned to “write” her name and “read” with inflection.

Twelve years later, I write down a few Instagram posts that capture the vision she shares with her peers, “Life always offers you a second chance. It’s called tomorrow,” and “You can always find sunshine on a rainy day,” both accompanied with arty pictures of herself in starfish-type stances.

A dip into Ethan’s journal takes me to his vexation at having our yard signs stolen during the 2004 election, and his brainstorming on how to solve the problem. One solution involved electrifying the metal posts in the sign. Another called for copious amounts of dog poop.

Fast forward eight years, and I record his reaction to the most recent presidential election, the one he missed voting in by a few months. In a darkened living room, we watched the results together, both at a loss for words:

Before we went up to bed, you said, “Well, at least some really good art is going to come out of this time period,” observing, I think, that it is times like these where we can look to the arts to express what we can’t.

It certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me to take a picture that night, but I sure am glad I recorded a few thoughts.

So, if you have kids and no other stranger has given you this advice, let me be the first: write it down. Start with “Dear Sweet (Name)” and the date. It doesn’t need to be eloquent. Sometimes a list is all you need: Funny Things You Like to Say, What Seems to Be on Your Mind Lately, A Parenting Conundrum. Describe mealtime conversation or what you talk about at bedtime. These snapshots will not only help your kids remember what they were like at different times in their lives but will also give them insights into who you were, too. Perhaps that is the biggest gift of all.

Kim Suhr is the author of Maybe I’ll Learn: Snapshots of a Novice Mom and director of Red Oak Writing. Recently, her work has appeared at Midwest Review, Stonecoast Review and Solstice Literary Magazine. Her short story collection, Nothing to Lose & Other Stories, was a finalist for the Eludia Award. To learn more about her writing, visit kimsuhr.com. Kim holds an MFA from the Solstice program at Pine Manor College where she was the Dennis Lehane Fellow in Fiction.

Don’t forget: ENTER THE GIVEAWAY by Sunday @ noon, May 14th (Mother’s Day), to win a copy of Maybe I’ll Learn: Snapshots from a Novice Mom!

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#FamilyStories Meet the Author: JoAnne Bennett

This post is part of an interview series featuring the authors of Family Stories from the Attic, an anthology of essays, creative nonfiction, and poetry inspired by family letters, objects, and archives. Monday posts are featured on the Hidden Timber Books website, and Wednesday posts are featured here. Learn more about Family Stories from the Attic at the bottom of this post. Without further ado, let’s meet JoAnne Bennett, author of “When We Feel Invisible.”

JoAnne Bennett

Q: How has the publication of your piece influenced the work you are writing today or your writing in general?

JoAnne: I still have every assignment I wrote back in my favorite high school class, Creative Writing. Not even looking up from reading one of my first stories, my adoptive mother would say, in a less-than-impressed voice, “That’s nice.” I don’t ever remember hearing my mother’s words of encouragement or that she ever believed in me as her daughter.

Years later, while going through difficult chapters in my life, I found myself leaning on this “buried gift” that I didn’t even know I had up until then. Now, each time I get brave and share my deepest thoughts and heart-felt feelings in a possible new submission, I find myself not only growing as a writer, but also as a human being. I loved being a part of this wonderful writing project where I felt encouraged to try new things, like writing my first prose poem. I am going to take this newly-found confidence as I move forward and continue to challenge myself with more diverse writing opportunities.

Q: What is a fun, interesting, or unusual fact to share with your readers?

JoAnne: How many sisters can say they have enough brothers to have their own Tee-ball team? Yes, I have seven brothers. None are full-siblings, and some are not even related to me by blood. Sadly, many I have never even met, and three have passed away.

When I was placed for adoption at birth, my new parents were already in the process of adopting another newborn – this brother and I are only two months apart (brother #1). Our adoptive parents already had a son … our big brother (#2). And in recent years, I learned who the guy was that called our home back when I was a teenager. My adoptive mother and my stepfather weren’t home. I asked the person on the other end of the line if I could take a message for my dad. This nice guy just said, “Please just tell him his son called” (brother #3). I never asked for any explanation; I knew I wouldn’t get one. He passed away before I got a chance to meet him and to say how sorry I was that life had to be so complicated for all of us.

In searching for my birth family, I learned that 10 months after I was born, my late birth mother got pregnant again from infidelity, and placed my younger brother (#4) up for adoption as well. The much older siblings (including brother #5) that were raised by our mother had been led to believe that she had placed twins for adoption. Of course, we are not twins, but my brother’s adoptive parents named him Joe, which seemed surreal. One year on my birthday, out of the blue, the florist delivered a beautiful bouquet of flowers signed, “With love, from your brother, Joe.” But it hasn’t been easy to make up for lost time. I have learned it’s easier for some birth siblings to stay guarded and keep their distance out of self-protection from the hard stuff in life.

I wasn’t searching for him, but recently a new brother on my paternal birth side found me (#6); he also has a younger brother (#7). While working on this new family tree, I feared it would change everything if I revealed to my new brother that all my close DNA matches were starting to connect to his family. When I asked, “How do you feel about being my brother and me being your sister,” his reply was something I never heard from any of my other brothers.

“I am proud to be your brother.”

You would think I’d have this brother and sister thing all figured out by now.

Connect with JoAnne

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Family Stories from the Attic features nearly two dozen works of prose and poetry inspired by letters, diaries, photographs, and other family papers and artifacts. Editors Christi Craig and Lisa Rivero bring together both experienced and new writers who share their stories in ways that reflect universal themes of time, history, family, love, and change.

Available now from Boswell Book CompanyAmazonBarnes & Noble and other online retailers.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Biggest News in Town

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