Originally created 06/27/04

Mother, daughter, take on adolescence together in new book



PORTLAND, Ore. -- What parent of a teenager hasn't heard the refrain, often accompanied by an exaggerated eye-roll, and with an emphasis on the second syllable for maximum insolence: "Whatever, Mom"?

Author Ariel Gore, now 33, heard the phrase from her 14-year-old daughter, Maia, over and over, so many times that when she sat down to write the latest in her series of alternative-parenting guides, the title was obvious.

Out came "Whatever, Mom: Hip Mama's Guide to Raising a Teenager," a 257-page stew of advice, musings and teenage angst for adolescents and the hipster parents who love them.

"Having an adolescent is like feeling completely isolated, almost like having an infant again," Gore said in an interview with The Associated Press. "You wonder, 'Is this normal, am I a weak, degenerate person, should I be alarmed, should I just make peace with the universe?"'

Gore first gained national prominence in 1995, when she took on uber-Republican Newt Gingrich in an MTV-sponsored debate about welfare reform. At the time, she was a graduate student in Berkeley, Calif., a single parent of a small child, snatching a few hours of sleep a night if she was lucky, living month-to-month on an income that was anchored by the very welfare checks Gingrich was crusading against.

Somewhere along the way, inspired by such writers as Anne Lamott, Gore found time to start Hip Mama, a do-it-yourself zine aimed at Gen-X breeders, the types of parents who didn't want to yield their cool cat credentials just because they were packing a baby in a sling.

Now based out of Portland, Gore still edits the zine, and draws heavily on her own experiences of raising Maia, who for a while was the perfect child for a self-proclaimed hip mama: radical like her mother, dressed in black from head to toe and the publisher of her very own zine.

Until she turned 13.

The way the two of them tell it, it happened almost overnight, Maia waking up, putting on a pink shirt, forbidding her mother to speak in front of her friends and announcing plans to try out for the cheer-leading squad at her Portland middle school.

Her mother had never even been to a football game.

"My daughter has a new phrase: 'Who's the genius?"' Gore writes of this stage of their life. "This is a rhetorical question. I make the wrong turn. Who's the genius? I think a pair of blue-and-white striped pajama pants look OK to wear grocery shopping. Who's the genius? I am not the genius. I have one teenage girl-child and I might as well be in middle school for the loser I feel like."

Gore's other parenting guides - "The Hip Mama Survival Guide" and "The Mother Trip," both about raising younger children - were written when Maia was safely past the ages detailed about in the books. This time around, though, Gore said she figured she might as well benefit from her own research into the murk of teenage years.

And writing, she said, helped her cope with the reality that Maia wasn't going to be her "Mini-Me," and Gore was going to need to move beyond her personal and professional identity as a mother. This will likely be her final parenting book, she said.

"I learned that I wanted her to turn into her own person," Gore said. "I need to get over myself. Would it really be so great to be a cooler version of me? It's not that cool to be me. Did I mother her so she could feed my ego, or so she could have her own life?"

But her daughter's attempts at chipping out her own identity have also helped Gore understand the type of parents she never liked - the strict religious ones who refuse to accept that their child is gay, or the traditionalists horrified by purple and punk hair and pierced tongues.

"Turns out, I wasn't such a big tolerance diva," she said. "It was like everything is cool with me, as long as it's alternative. And if your children are not who you pictured, that's very scary. But the important thing is not that I support every decision (Maia) makes, but that I support her."

The book hits on most of the prominent teenage (and adult) topics: sex, drugs, crime, suicide, religion. Gore intersperses hard-nosed advice about backing up rules with consequences (but not necessarily draconian ones) and about listening between the lines to teenagers, with interviews with teenagers and their parents, and essays by Maia.

"Now that I'm older, my mom isn't supposed to be my friend, not that I don't want her to be, but it's different from when I used to tell her everything and wanted advice," Maia writes in the book. "Now I want a loose, yet very motherly mom. Like giving me a curfew, but not asking exactly when I'll be back, and making sure I'm not alone with a boy. My family and my social life are incredibly different, and should not be mixed at all, or even meet for the slightest time."

Preliminary sales for "Whatever, Mom" have been strong, said Eric Riesenberg, a spokesman for Avalon Publishing Group, which owns Seal Press, distributor of the paperback; so far, about 6,000 of the initial 7,000 copies have been sold. The company also plans to publish Gore's next project, an anthology of works from the zine called "The Essential Hip Mama: Writing From the Cutting-Edge of Parenting," which is due out in the fall.

"Whatever, Mom" has also been turning out solid crowds at the mostly independent bookstores up and down the West Coast where the Gores have been doing readings, and has garnered good reviews from critics. San Francisco-based Girlfriends Magazine said the book was "a fascinating and hopeful meditation on raising teens," while Bust Magazine wrote that Gore chronicled the fall from coolest-mom-ever to world's-most-embarassing-parent with "humility and humor."

Gore's editor at Seattle-based Seal Press, Leslie Miller, said their intent was to make sure that "Whatever, Mom" would speak to both parents and teenagers.

"Society sort of thinks that teenagers are mentally ill, that you have no judgment, no reason, no rights when you turn 13," Miller said. "I think it is so nice to approach it as thinking of them as creative, interesting people who have a different problem set than adults do."

Even after writing "Whatever, Mom," Gore still has days of feeling like there is no way to plumb a teenager's studied impenetrability.

"I want to say to her, 'I am paying for everything, I'm giving you a ride everywhere, buying you all these clothes - You have no idea how easy you have it! Have a great time,"' she said.

"But there's no room left there to recognize that being a teenager is really hard. It's easy to lose our compassion as parents."