MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Rarely does a children's book cross my desk that produces a lump in my throat. "Someday" is one of those books. And it's not just for children. It's for all ages. Mostly though, it's for mothers. The book's author, Alison McGhee, is a mother of three herself. In just 35 pages, her book traces the seesaw of emotions in motherhood: from the birth of a child, through adolescence and adulthood, onto the next generation.
Ms. ALISON MCGHEE (Author, "Someday"): (Reading) "One day, I counted your fingers and kissed each one. One day, the first snowflakes fell, and I held you up and watched the melts on your baby skin. One day, we crossed the street and you held my hand tight. Then, you were my baby, and now you are my child. Sometimes when you sleep, I watched you dream, and I dream, too."
NORRIS: That's Alison McGhee reading from her book, "Someday." It's her ninth book, and it's illustrated by Peter Reynolds. With "Someday," McGhee says she quite literally put her heart on the page.
Ms. MCGHEE: I think because it's a story that's written out of my bones. It felt like - when I first put it down on paper, it felt like I was writing the essential story of my experience as a mother and also my experience as a daughter. And there's nothing adorned about it.
NORRIS: When did you first put it down on paper?
Ms. MCGHEE: I was trying to remember exactly. I think it was about six or seven years ago. I had just come from looking at one of my daughters asleep. And I wrote it down in a form of a poem. And it came out as a whole in about half an hour. And since then, over the past six years or so, I have been returning to it and working on it. So it was one of those stories, which emerged with its heart and soul intact, and then it needed to find the exact right forum for it. And that's what has taken me these years.
NORRIS: I want to ask you about some of the particular scenes and passages in the book. The first page, it is a woman sitting and in her bed - not sure if it's a hospital room or she's home - and she's holding a newborn in her arms.
Ms. MCGHEE: Mm-hmm.
NORRIS: Is it the hospital? Because I do see a bracelet.
Ms. MCGHEE: I am assuming it's the hospital, but it's something that Peter and I have never talked about. It's because of that bracelet that I think so, too, in the sort of hospital-like way the pillows are plumped behind her back. So I imagine this page as a woman who has just had her baby, and the baby is snuggled up against her knees the way when you're a parent with a newborn, you can put your knees up and that baby just fits perfectly on the sweep of your thighs. And you can hold their hands and look at their eyes, and those little tiny fingers that are always reaching to clutch around your thumb.
It seemed like the perfect way to begin the book to me.
NORRIS: There is a page in the book where the girl is now a young woman, and she's sitting in a big armchair. And her knees are folded into her chest, and at the bottom of the chair on the floor is a letter that apparently she has just read.
Ms. MCGHEE: That's right. That page was difficult for me to write, that someday your child will hear something or see something, feel something so sad that they will fold up from sorrow. You don't want your child to feel that, and yet to be fully alive and fully human means that we all will experience - that we all will suffer. And I wanted that to be an essential part of the book. I didn't want to shy away from any part of life.
NORRIS: Were you writing this for your children or for you mother?
Ms. MCGHEE: I think I was probably writing it for myself. Because once you have a baby, you're filled with that overwhelming love. And you're also filled with fear all the time, because you love something so much. And maybe it was a way for me to understand what John Keats' called negative capability - that ability to hold contradictory thoughts in your mind simultaneously. You know, I love this child more than anything I want to keep this child safe. In order to keep this child safe, this child needs the strength to go live her own life fearlessly.
NORRIS: Alison, do you read this book with your children?
Ms. MCGHEE: You know, Michele, I never have. I've given it to them to read, and they have each read it quietly and absorbed it, and shown it to their friends. But I myself have yet to read it to them.
Ms. MCGHEE: It's so much the truth of what it feels like to be their parent that I almost want to - I don't know. Maybe it's a book I'll give to them when they are parents. It's hard to explain.
NORRIS: It's hard to tell your children how absolutely terrifying parenthood can be at times.
Ms. MCGHEE: It is hard. It is hard. And maybe that's - that is something in me that I want to protect them from that knowledge for a while.
NORRIS: Yeah. But, you know, as smart as kids are, they probably know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MCGHEE: They probably do. They probably - they know everything.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: They got to figure it out.
Ms. MCGHEE: Yeah.
NORRIS: They really do.
Ms. MCGHEE: Yeah. It's really sad.
NORRIS: Alison McGhee, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.
Ms. MCGHEE: Well, thanks for having me, Michele.
NORRIS: Alison McGhee. Her book is called "Someday." And if you want to hear McGhee reading from her book, go to our Web site, npr.org.
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