In this column, Kristen Mulrooney writes letters to famous mothers from literature, TV, and film whom she finds herself relating to on a different level now that she’s a mom herself.

- - -

Dear Marmee,

I always hoped I would be just like you when I became a mother. I dreamed that one day, my most literary child would write a book based on our family and portray me as an extraordinary beacon of light, wisdom, and patience.

So far, it’s not looking great.

I’m trying my hardest, but I wake up tightly coiled and exasperated every morning before anyone has even started asking me to play Roblox with them. Like most writers, I consider myself a Jo, maybe not in terms of talent but at least in temperament. Under your guidance, Jo learned to be less reactive and more in control of her emotions, so I’m assigning you the role of my new mentor. Congratulations.

Last week, I visited Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in Concord, where it is commonly agreed that you and your family resided. I was accompanied by my four-year-old daughter, Greta. I hoped being in your space would help me channel some of my inner Marmeeness. Maybe I could carry some of it home with me and find some serenity in my own life.

The difference in our motherhood experiences became apparent when I misplaced Greta almost immediately after entering your home. I managed to locate her with a few Marco Polos and found her hiding in a nook behind a bookshelf.

I guess I was surprised by your home because when your girls complained about being so poor, I pictured everyone huddled together in a little shack, trying to stay warm by the fire. Marmee, with all due respect, what the fuck? Your house is a mansion.

I have never misplaced Greta in my modest home, and I couldn’t misplace her or her siblings if I tried. The kids are always there. I can always see them. I can always, always hear them. You’re probably thinking, “You should buy a bigger house.” And I thought of that! I even went on Zillow to find houses like yours for sale in the area, and now I’m just trying to save up the $3 million that house would cost me today.

I’m living in a pretty rough timeline, Marmee, which I suspect is the source of my stress. I know, I know, I’m talking to someone whose timeline is “Civil War,” but I promise things aren’t great right now either. It’s not just about money, even though everything is definitely too expensive—not only the things we need, like housing, heating, and groceries, but also the things we don’t need but have been made to think we need, like the streaming services, tablets, and video games I buy for my kids and then get mad about when they use them all the time.

Everything is too busy, too fast, too overstimulating, too much. I’m not sure you can understand how too much everything is, but I’ll try to paint the picture with a few examples of how you and I are living two very different experiences:

  • You have hired help who cooks breakfast for your family.
  • Nobody expects you to be your kids’ primary source of entertainment.
  • The internet hasn’t turned your entire life into a social-media-themed dick-measuring contest.
  • You have never set foot inside an indoor trampoline park.

I wish I could slow things down just a little bit, but I can’t, because other people keep inventing new burdens for me, like leprechaun traps and travel soccer. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is honestly a reasonable complaint, but my kids come home from school wondering why they didn’t get any half-birthday gifts like some of their classmates did.

Remember how your twelve-year-old was so happy to have a quarter to buy a bag of pickled limes? That’s sweet. Twelve-year-olds do Molly now.

In my timeline, we never stop. Did you know that Louisa May Alcott’s dad invented recess? Well, in my timeline, we invented never ever taking a moment to breathe or process anything, no matter what. In my timeline, we had a deadly pandemic, and everyone was still worried about how school closings would affect standardized test scores. I haven’t lived through a civil war, but I have lived through remote kindergarten.

I don’t know who to blame, because I don’t know anyone who actually wants to live like this. We all know we would be happier if we could sit quietly around the fire with our families at night and read, but we can’t, because the timeline itself is too loud. In my timeline, Greta and the other preschoolers practiced active shooter drills last week.

So yeah, it’s not fucking great, Marmee. Of course I’m tightly coiled and reactive in this environment. My timeline is a disaster, and it’s only getting worse. How am I supposed to ground myself and be a calming presence for my kids when everything is too fast and busy and overstimulating and too much? Maybe I should visit Walden Pond as an escape and find a little peace in the natural world…

Nah. Too crowded.

Fraughtfully yours,