Natalia and Melissa, Mother Tongue
Freelance writers Melissa Goldstein and Natalia Rachlin launched Mother Tongue to provide a platform for motherhood that reaches further than parenting and childcare advice.
As issue two arrives, the two share the origins and inspirations behind their magazine, and their desire to ‘bring a new aesthetic sensibility to the motherhood realm—something a bit raw, unexpected, a little tense, but also fun.’ They also discuss their remote working relationship—Melissa lives in Los Angeles and Natalie is based in Houston.
What are you up to this morning?
MG: We moved from Santa Monica further south to Palos Verdes, a suburb of Los Angeles where I actually grew up, at the start of the pandemic. We were anxious for more space—my daughter had been sleeping in a pack-and-play in our living room where my husband was also attempting to work during the day with noise-canceling headphones, so we were ready to trade the perk of walking to our local coffee shop for the luxury of space.
After the morning rush with getting my kids breakfast and off to school, I (sometimes) get dressed, pour my second cup of coffee, fix myself breakfast and sign on Zoom with Natalia, who’s already been hard at work for a few hours!
NR: We moved from Hackney to Houston three and a half years ago—I went from a total East London life to a suburban soccer mom life and I’ve learned to embrace it, mostly. Mondays I’m up at 6:30: try and get in a cup of coffee alone, then kids up, chaos, and school run.
There’s a lot of driving here, it’s an urban sprawl, and the time I spend getting back home in the car is when I get to collect my thoughts for the day. I’m at my desk by 9:30 and ready to go—I’ve always been a morning person and my head is clearest before lunch so I try to do the stuff that requires a bit more of me first, then link up with Melissa.
Describe your desk and your work space.
MG: My desk is in my bedroom which means anyone we talk to on Zoom has a very intimate perspective on my life from the get-go, but I face a window that looks out onto the backyard, which overlooks a canyon, all of which makes for a lovely, exceptionally green view for me.
On my desk (which was my grandmother’s) there are galleys of books (right now it’s Angela Garbes’ Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, and Chloe Caldwell’s The Red Zone: A Love Story) as well as paperweights inherited from my grandfather, a Flamingo Estate Roma Heirloom tomato candle and my tax paperwork which I have successfully ignored for far too long.
NR: Also a desk in bedroom situation over here. The light is one of the best things about living in Texas–there’s this epic, warm, bright tone to everything, and this room is flooded with it. We have a little balcony and for more than half the year I have the door open and I can hear our neighbor, Tom, who is 82, puttering about his garden which is full of plants that attract butterflies–it’s kind of spectacular.
As for my desk: it’s either a complete disaster or very tidy, there’s no middle-ground. I write a lot of sticky notes and then toss them away as the week progresses and things get executed: it’s a really satisfying way of ticking things off the list.
Which magazine do you first remember?
MG: Sassy. Such a brilliant ’90s-era magazine with a strong, distinctive voice for an audience of coming-of-age women. I remember their how-tos were like: ‘How to start your own band.’ I found it super inspiring.
NR: I was born in Copenhagen and lived there until I was five, and then every summer thereafter when I’d go back my grandmother would buy me Anders And which is Donald Duck in Danish– they did a weekly-release comic book which was wrapped in plastic and usually had a little toy. In my preteens, I remember my older sister buying Seventeen, and I’d do anything to get my hands on it—just googled it now and actually can’t believe it still exists.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
MG: Balcony. We launched around the same time as they did and it’s been really cool to watch their journey simultaneously to ours, like we’re all in the same graduating class or something. Love their mission: to bring the art world—which is often perceived as such an elevated and untouchable place—into the everyday, by virtue of telling stories from the perspectives of the artists themselves.
NR: Cloakroom. My friend Claudia Donaldson makes it out of London and I’m a contributing editor. I’m starting to work with her on a design portfolio for her next issue, so that’s on my mind this week.
And Citizen—they just released their first issue and it’s beautiful and brainy, and they have an interesting sponsorship model with only two brands funding each issue. I’m intrigued by anyone working with new biz models in the indie mag space.
Describe Mother Tongue in three words.
Not. About. Kids.
Describe your hopes for the mag in the context of other media for mothers.
MG: The pandemic was definitely our spark, because we both (had to) put work on pause to stay home with our kids when schools shut down in the spring of 2020. The load on mothers the world over just got so intense, and we felt like there were so few arenas to have candid, more nuanced conversations about the realities of motherhood today. Most of what we encountered in mainstream media that was geared towards moms was about kids and parenting, and there was a lot of light pink going on.
We especially hope that the magazine will resonate with mothers who may not have connected to other media for mothers—who thought it wasn’t “for them” because they didn’t want to talk only about parenting tips, or because they didn’t relate to the versions of motherhood that were depicted.
NR: We wanted to look at motherhood through a cultural lens: to connect with mothers who felt frustrated by the fact that their intellectual, professional, social, sexual, analytical lives were sort of overlooked once they were a mom.
And tell the stories of women, who yes, are mothers, but also about a million other interesting things. I think it’s fair to say we were more inspired by mags outside of this space–Apartamento and PIN-UP are always references for me: Apartamento for its informality and fun, PIN-UP for its rigor and edge.
Melissa and I both come from the art and design world as journalists, and we wanted to bring a new aesthetic sensibility to the motherhood realm too—something a bit raw, unexpected, a little tense, but also fun.
Cate White, who was the art director on the first issue, really set the tone with her use of color and she designed our logo; our current creative director, Vanessa Saba, who is based in New York and a brilliant artist in her own right, has evolved the concept so masterfully, and really refined and established the visual language that we want to carry forward.
The decision for print was twofold: first of all, it felt manageable and realistic for us, because we both do other work so we needed something contained—we can’t be publishing content daily or weekly or monthly at this stage, when it’s just the two of us and we both have young kids.
And then: we really wanted to tell rich, long-form and visually led stories that needed room to breathe, and print allowed us to do that while creating something tangible and hopefully lovely that moms could sit down with and indulge in. Print forces you to make time for it—which I think is sort of a prerequisite for moms, otherwise we just don’t find it.
One of the things I immediately warmed to was the variety of voices and moods in the magazine.
MG: That’s really lovely to hear because that was such a big part of our mission from the get-go.
NR: We opted to structure the magazine in parts, with stories grouped by loose themes rather than by format. We didn’t want to do single themed issues, but wanted to keep things more open and untraditional, so we actually create these parts after most things have been commissioned and the red-threads reveal themselves. That creates a kind of natural flow, and tension is an inherent part of that: a heartbreaking story can sit next to something hysterical.
A celebrity profile can sit next to a quiet, first person account—the mix is what is interesting to us. It’s so crucial to the magazine to present many perspectives and points of view, because we felt that was so lacking in the motherhood space.
Clockwise from top left: Gigi Jack, commissioning photo editor; Melissa Goldstein, co-founder and co-editor; Natalia Rachlin, co-founder and co-editor; Vanessa Saba, Creative Director
You and your co-founder work remotely. How do you facilitate this?
MG: We met 10 years ago while working at the video storytelling platform Nowness in London, but we’ve only hung out a few times in real life, as I moved to L.A soon after Natalia started. Most days we are on a perpetual zoom, but we also text round the clock, dm on Instagram, and pretty much communicate on every available digital platform.
Our creative director Vanessa is based in New York, and our partnerships director Jessica Gray and commissioning photo editor Gigi Jack are both based in and around Los Angeles.
NR: I’ve never met Vanessa or Gigi IRL which is wild! But we have become very dear friends all of us which has been a wonderful bonus and we look forward to an eventual meeting in the flesh. I do think we’d all love the energy of being in the office together, of having the option to gather around the screen and nerd-out.
When we’re shipping to print, it’s always a bit stressful because we never know whether we’re seeing exactly the same thing on the screen—and we print in London, where we have no one on the ground! There is an element of chance and luck to it all, which is scary but also thrilling.
As for software: We love Blinkplan (above) which is a digital flatplan software that allows us all to look at the same thing and move shit around during production. We have clocked so many Zoom hours we think they should sponsor our next issue :-)
What did you learn from launching issue one that you applied to the new second issue?
Literally EVERYTHING! We had no f*ing clue about anything related to production for the first one and we are still learning as we go. There’s probably a naive advantage to not having done this before–less rules to follow because you don’t know they exist.
Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication
Don’t think too hard and find a partner who believes as much as you do.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week? (from the Monday)
MG: The latest episode of The Dropout and a margarita.
NR: Most immediately: I’m making spaghetti with oven-roasted romanesco and loads of parmesan tonight for dinner. The process of making it, with a glass of very cold white wine nearby and sleeping children upstairs–yes.
Mother Tongue co-founder Natalia Rachlin is one of the speakers at magCulture Live New York, on Sunday 22 May. Details here.
Buy your copy from the magCulture Shop