On Balance

Published on November 3rd, 2016 | by Minna Dubin


#MOMLISTS by Minna Dubin


Two years after giving birth to my first child, I felt like I was still in survival mode. Our modern-day connector—social media—is a barrage of happy mom-and-tot selfies. I am not living that picturesque motherhood life, and my suspicion is neither is anyone else. In search of an alternative motherhood narrative, I began a guerrilla public art project in the Bay Area, consisting of 150 lists about my early motherhood experiences. Through brutally honest lists that are often mini-memoirs, #MomLists aims to lift the societal surface of motherhood and expose a messier, more resonant truth.

Each list is handwritten on a 4×6 card. A layer of bright decorative paper is placed on top and the two papers are sewn together across the top. The act of making—cutting, sewing, hand writing, stamping—then feeling the tangible, finished product in my hands is a relief. Each piece is a clearly laid-out goal—the opposite of the uncertain nature of raising a child. The lists dangle from ribbons in public spaces (laundromats, playgrounds, coffee shops) looking like flattened gift bags, waiting for strangers to stumble upon them. #MomLists require interaction. Readers must lift the pretty exterior to access the gritty, vulnerable list underneath.

I decided to do a public art project, because writing can be such a “quiet” art form. I want the writing to be out in the world; I want moms to see it. The surprise element of art hiding on bulletin boards in laundromats amidst the guitar lesson and house cleaning flyers tickles me. I believe in making art and writing accessible. I love the idea of plastering a city with #Momlists, like the literary mom version of graffiti writing.

Because it’s disposable art, I don’t know how long the pieces stay up for. Except for a few instances when someone posted a photo of a found #MomList on social media or a friend told me she saw it, I have no indication of how many people see the physical lists or how they react to them.

Because of this, the online presence of the project is really important to me. The project title, which I stamp on each list, contains a hashtag to suggest, “This is a conversation. Join in!” Each time I post a list in the real world, I also post it on social media. Moms comment on, repost, and even contribute their own lists or make list requests. This audience, most of whom I have never met, has become part of my mothering community. They inspire and feed the work. When I began the project, I was sort of writing into the void. Now, I know there are moms like me out there—moms who love their kids but struggle every day with the mountain-like task of parenting—and I’m writing for them. My hope is that if I put my truest self out there, another mom will see it and recognize herself, laugh at the mayhem and beauty of motherhood, and hopefully be a little gentler with herself. When a mom responds on Facebook or Instagram with even a simple, “Yes! So true!” it’s a good feeling. Motherhood is a never-ending series of trial and error, and there’s a lot of faith you have to have in yourself that you’re doing a good job. It’s hard to feel sure all the time. In the midst of society pitting moms against each other (stay-at-home moms v. working moms, attachment-parenting moms v. sleep-training moms, homebirth moms v. planned-caesarian moms), a little mom-to-mom affirmation goes a long way.

The project completed the first run of 50 pieces in Berkeley in 2015. The second run of 50 pieces in Oakland concluded in August 2016. The third and final run just began on September 15th. By the time I finish the project in the Spring of 2017, it will have taken me over two years. This long timespan has allowed me to document and witness the ups and downs of my motherhood journey. Sometimes I write a list on my computer weeks before I make the physical piece, and by the time I make it, my son no longer acts that way, or I’m no longer feeling that way. It’s a good reminder for me to appreciate the now (even when I want to scream!), because it changes so fast. I hate to write that, because it’s so cliché, but it’s a true cliché. My fourth list, which went up in early 2015, was called “Reasons NOT to Have Another Baby.” Currently, I’m seven months pregnant with my second child.

You can follow #MomLists on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or Twitter.

“Our Secrets” was first published in *82 Review’s Issue 4.3 and again in Quiet Lightning’s sPARKLE & bLINK 76.  “A Parenting Street Scene” was previously published in Damfino Press’ Journal.

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About the Author

Minna Dubin (she/her) is a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesSalon, ParentsRomper, The ForwardHobartMUTHA Magazine, and elsewhere. She is the author of MOM RAGE: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood (September 2023) from Seal Press. You can follow her @minnadubin.

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