A New Memoir Explores How We Talk to Our Kids About Our Pasts

mother noise cat

How do we talk to our children about our pasts? It’s a question that plagues many of us, but loomed particularly large for artist and essayist Cindy House, who found herself needing to tell her young son about her years-long struggle with substance abuse. These themes and more are at the forefront of House’s powerful new memoir, Mother Noise.

Raised in Connecticut, House was an anxious kid, who found ways to numb her emotions early on—first with alcohol and then with casual drug use, which, as so often happens, became far from casual quickly and spiraled into a full-blown addiction to heroin.

Now clean and sober for more than 20 years, she writes with clarity and unflinching honesty about the tremendous lows of her years of active addiction and how she grappled with talking to her 9-year-old son, Atlas, about her past. She writes tenderly about Atlas, whom she describes as having the emotional maturity of a much older person. She worries about the effect her truth may have on him, but ultimately decides, “Part of parenting is letting them separate and see you as a human and flawed.”

Another transformative figure in House’s life is the writer David Sedaris, whom she met when he taught her at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1987. The two remained close friends over the years (House often opens for Sedaris on tour), and she pulls no punches when it comes to admitting how crucial Sedaris’s support was in her recovery. “It took a decade of recovery before I emailed David one night to tell him that I thought he saved my life,” she reveals. “No matter how hard you try, you can’t completely give up on yourself when someone you admire refuses to give up on you first. 

Despite the heavy subject matter, Mother Noise manages to feel hopeful, thanks in large part to the sections about Atlas. There are also, unsurprisingly, echoes of Sedaris’s wit, as in a chapter about the hippy-dippy co-op she and Atlas visited in 2009. (Spoiler: Most of his playmates were named after trees.)

In the spirit of Mary Karr’s Lit and David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy, Mother Noise is a powerful meditation on overcoming addiction, reckoning with the past and remaining hopeful for the future of our children.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...