I met one of my heroes in the pantheon of unshakable mamas Tuesday night at a publishing launch for the aptly titled memoir, "Bitch is the New Black
," by WomanUP writer Helena Andrews
In our family, we have a joke that behind every successful daughter there usually stands a strong woman holding her purse. As the mother of a flourishing female offspring, I enjoy many public honors (mostly off stage and in some custodial role) savoring the incomparable pleasure that pride for my child provides. As with every newborn that starts life with an uncertain future (all of them), it wasn't always clear things would turn out so happily.
I started parenting without an instruction manual or traditional family structure, wondering what the blazes I had been smoking to decide to have a child alone at 22. From the moment she was born, my little girl instilled in me a feeling of deep terror paired with firm resolve. She is now a well-regarded documentary filmmaker named Rachel Grady
, but back then that golden-curled sprite was my clone, sidekick, nanny and occasional date bait. I was unskilled at this responsibility and made judgment errors
that, in retrospect, should have alerted child protection services. By the code of resolute motherhood, however, I persevered in service to her glory.
If precocity is an indicator, Helena, who is not yet 30
, will be gracefully accepting accolades long after this first book is merely a trophy on her groaning shelf of accomplishments. The daughter of a "non-traditional" single mother, Helena joked ("This book tells my life story from beginning to middle") at the rooftop publication party co-hosted by her (other) day-job employer, The Root
, and her publisher, Harper Collins.
Her book is a series of essay snapshots of a slightly hapless but fearless Helena as she triumphs at distinctiveness. The slim volume captures the author's skinny-legs childhood off the California coast as the rarest of dark-skinned daughters on a sparsely inhabited island, through her Ivy League sorority sisterhood practicing "the new black," and shows a glimpse of her current post-college life as a single but dating
writer in Washington, D.C.
To me, Helena's earliest years on tiny Catalina
with her iconoclastic out and proud lesbian mother
evoke the feminist superhero Wonder Woman growing up on Paradise Island with her single mother, Amazon Queen Hippolyta
. I read BITNB several weeks ago (as her sometimes editor, I wrangled an advance peek), but even before I did, I knew the story would reflect the influence of Helena's personal Queen Hippolyta, Frances Vernell Andrews. (The proverbial Amazon sisters don't enter the picture until college.)
Helena has written
(and e-mailed) many times about her amazing mother, so I knew the high-quality parenting with which she was gifted would come through the pages. In every paragraph the stories radiate the daughter's trust in her mother to love and support her, in service to her glory, even if she cannot always protect or endow her.
When we spoke for a few moments before Helena pulled her to the center of the room to take a bow, Frances told me, "We locked our purses in an office," so they could both enjoy the appreciative fans and well-wishers at her daughter's celebration.
Success has a thousand mothers, and in that regard Helena makes all of her older sister writers at WomanUP
super pleased. With every funny sentence and eyebrow-raising observation, however, the beautiful and bold memoirist
proves she is unwaveringly the "first and only" daughter of her proud Amazonian mother.