Jessi Klein didn’t plan to write about parenthood; in fact, she avoided the subject for as long as possible.
“I wonder why I’ve felt such inner resistance to accepting that anything I do as a mother might actually be a page in a book,” writes the showrunner and executive producer of “I Love That for You” in “I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife and Motherhood,” which just spent two weeks on the hardcover nonfiction list. “And really, it doesn’t take long to connect that feeling to the fact that in popular culture, at least in America for the past forever years, what mothers do is seen as so unremarkable it’s not just an unimportant story, but not even a story at all.”
Considering the precariousness of Roe v. Wade and the fact that baby formula is now as hard to come by as toilet paper was in March 2020, Klein might be onto something. She ended up writing about early motherhood — the maddening, heart-expanding mess of it all, from forced memorization of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to hours (that seem like decades) perched on the rim of a sandbox to the sweaty, futile, endless battle with twisted straps on a car seat. Klein’s essays are funny, but they also strike that you’re-on-your-own/the-buck-stops-here nerve that develops during a pregnancy, even one accompanied by privilege and resources.
Perhaps the success of “I’ll Show Myself Out” is a reminder that — as Klein put it in a phone interview — “all those little moments I had with my son, of playing on a rug and watching him push cars around, this is still something. We should still feel this is a story to tell.”
Now, with a few more years of experience on this particular job (her son is almost 7), Klein bristles at the idea that accounts of motherhood don’t matter or that they’re “not interesting to a wide assortment of people.” She said, “I don’t know how often men telling any story about their lives creates that kind of inertia. If this is a book that for whatever reason only other mothers read, then that’s enough. I will embrace that. It’s still a huge number of people.”
As for the newest members of her audience, who wore masks in the delivery room and are currently enduring an onslaught of opinions about how to feed their kids, Klein said, “I bow down. I think people don’t understand what formula is and what formula means. The number of people weighing in who have no understanding of how critical it is or how female bodies work — it’s mind-boggling.”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”