I’ll Show Myself Out Is For Anyone Who’s Ever Felt Like A Bad Mom
Author Jessi Klein on the hidden darkness we encounter while becoming mothers.
In April 2022, a friend sent me a link to an essay in which a mom goes to the grocery store to buy teething crackers for her baby because without them, “sh*t hits the fan.” “I think she’d be our friend,” she said of the author, Jessi Klein. Both of us had 1-year-olds then. We knew there was something more to becoming a mother than just sacrificing sleep or free time, but we could only brush up against what we were ever trying to say to one another about just how hard motherhood could be. And then, in her irreverent and honest voice, Klein wrote about exactly what we were going through without being the least bit reductive (when so much writing for moms is).
You might have heard of Jessi Klein long before then. Her debut book, You’ll Grow Out of It, is a New York Times bestseller. She is the showrunner and executive producer of Showtime’s half-hour comedy series I Love That for You and a voice actor and consulting producer on the hit Netflix show Big Mouth. She has won an Emmy and been nominated for six more.
In her second book, I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife & Motherhood, Klein dives into the special magic and mourning of the postpartum period and the metamorphosis all mothers go through as they raise a child. Reading this collection of essays feels sneaking off to your best friend’s house after bedtime to split some wine and Oreos; complain about your stupid, stupid car seat; and commiserate about the hell that is potty training.
She describes motherhood as a hero’s journey, but instead of facing dragons or armies, parents are squaring off with their innermost demons and generally battling the urge to flee the house altogether. And in an interview with Romper, she chats about how much she loves Dr. Becky, her son’s contribution to her book, and our least favorite topic du jour: Ozempic.
What was the inspiration for putting all of this down on paper? Was it meant just to be cathartic for you at the time, or did you hope that one day it would help other people?
I would say it was both. It was cathartic for me. Of course, I hoped that it would be helpful to people, that feeling of companionship in the crazy of those years. I also was really struggling with the feeling of “Is any of this worth writing down?” even though I know it is. We live in a culture that minimizes and diminishes what you’re going through as a mother. You’re just feeling invisible. You feel like anything that you’re going through doesn’t matter or it’s cutesy. Also, I think every woman understands that the terror of being labeled a bad mother is huge. We do a lot of that labeling ourselves, but it seems like there’s this kind of deafening vacuum and silence around women talking about the details of how gory and hard the day-to-day existence around raising a little child is.
I think it’s wonderful that you’ve written about things that can feel like they don’t matter, like potty training. But if you said that to someone who maybe hasn’t gone through it, they would be like, “God, she’s gotten mushy since she had her baby.”
Well, just even all of the words associated with motherhood and parenting, the way they sound doesn’t feel important. Like “potty training,” it just sounds like nothing. It just makes me picture colored plastic. You know? It doesn’t suggest that there’s this sweeping dark struggle to do it. It is profound for both the child and the parent. There’s a reason it’s hard. If it wasn’t hard, if there wasn’t something deep, it would be easy, but it’s not. I guess for some annoying people it’s easy.
But yeah, I feel that way about even just the word mommy itself. In our language, all of these things seem to cover up the darkness and depths of what all of these milestones really entail.
You touch on bento lunchboxes and a few other parenting trends in the book. Are there any new trends in parenting that cause you to have big feelings?
Oh, gosh, parenting trends and big feelings. I guess just that everybody’s on Ozempic.
I think there are some good parenting trends that I see. I am a Dr. Becky obsessive. I’m very anti-dogma of anything. I don’t think there’s anything that works all the time, but little snippets of her advice and her general philosophy of trying to listen, to make your child feel heard, I guess, before you bring the hammer down on them, I find it’s been a good reminder for me to be like, “Oh, you matter, and I hear you, and also you still can’t do these 30 things, but I hear you.” It’s so different from how I think anyone in my generation was raised, and I think it is a really nice shift.
Let’s talk about the logistics of writing a book. How does one accomplish that while also raising an entire child? What did your days look like?
Well, the most privileged piece of advice I can give is that you have hired help to allow you to have more hours with which to write the book. There certainly are people who aren’t. I was fortunate to have help. I do try to just get my butt in a seat for at least four hours a day, but it’s really lonely. I also deal with chronic depression, so that’s another whole suitcase of garbage I drag around as I try to get anything done.
Before I had a kid, I usually had a day job or a paying job and then would squeeze [writing in] ... It’s like 6 o’clock, when I get home from that job, I’ll start this other job. Then when you have a kid that’s gone. So it completely changed the way I had to go about things.
And yeah, you just look at the history of drunk male “genius” writers running around. You’re like, “Yeah, of course you wrote a book, you had nothing to do. You abandoned your family.”
Did anyone in the book read it and react? I like to think that Nate Berkus saw it and loves you back.
I did end up hearing from Nate and Jeremiah. It was truly one of the highlights of my life thus far. Nate reached out and was like, “We thought this was so funny. We’re dying.” I ended up having a drink with them, and never has someone put on more outfits and taken more outfits off than I did when I was getting ready to hang out with them for an hour. They were so lovely. They were exactly as I had imagined. They were, I felt, very “what you see is what you get.” These are two sweet dreamboats. Dreamboats!
When it comes to writing about your experience of motherhood candidly, what do you think about Asher reading it one day?
There are things I think about when I’m writing all the time, which is I don’t ever want to be unkind to anyone. I can be truthful, but I don’t want to be unkind. But yeah, I’m like, “What will this be like for him?” My hope is that there is some quality of a love letter to him in it and that, I don’t know, that there’ll be some sort of really lovely understanding that might be helpful.
It was a really emotional moment for me when I wrote the last lines of the book, because I had been stuck. I had to get so many extensions on this book because of the pandemic and my kid not being in school, and the world going upside down... I was down to the very last paragraph or so, but I just didn’t know what image I wanted. It was 2 in the morning. Then I just had that idea of writing about this vision of him and I having a lunch when I’m old and he is a young adult.
I wrote it and then I just burst into tears. I think part of me bursting into tears, I was like, “Oh my God, my f*cking book is finally done. This was so hard. It’s done. It’s done.” It was almost like the tears after giving birth. It was just, I hit on something emotional about this part of this journey with him. I don’t know how to explain it, but yeah. I hope it’s a love letter.
It definitely reads like one to me. I would imagine him taking a lot out of it, and all of it good.
Look, they’re all going to be in therapy regardless. There’s truly no right move.
So, I see the book jacket says the cover art is by Asher. Can you tell me more about that?
That is Asher’s drawing. I think it’s a drawing that was supposed to be of me. He was doing drawings during the pandemic. We had a little pod school in our backyard and the drawings were all just classic “things are not going well in your kid’s brain” drawings. His teacher’s like, “Do a self-portrait,” and it would just be like spirals for eyes. But those drawings, they’re always so great, you know?
I always wanted that drawing to be on the cover. I was like, “I need it to be this drawing,” because it’s so off-kilter and weird in a way that only a kid can really do. It was this drawing that just got done in the middle of a horrible time. I love the book cover design, and it felt right that it was this beautiful font and it’s like, “Here’s my presentation of my book.” Then it looks like a little kid defaced it and ruined it. And I was like, “That feels like somehow that contains the whole journey of the book.”
Klein’s book, I’ll Show Myself Out, is available now in paperback.