I was an 80’s mom- all three of my sons arrived during this decade. I reconfigured my teacher/lawyer dreams when I realized that staying home would provide a needed anchor for my sons. I was fortunate to dive in to the daily demands of motherhood without having to juggle the two jobs. I am too conciliatory to be a good lawyer, anyhow. I did, however, miss the human contact that dropped off when I finished law school. Many days the only adult I saw was Steve. Though the job of parenting is crucial, the daily work is often menial. When I caught a glimpse of my disheveled self in the mirror, I would ruefully wonder, who are you, and what have you become?
Through the sheer grace of the New York Times syndicate, I received an answer from Anna Quindlen. Her column, “Life in the Thirties” dealt with the everyday threads of life. She wove the daily joys and frustrations of parenting, parents, homes, spouses into a tapestry. She was my spirit in a far more articulate package. She treated the family as the most essential unit in society. She made me proud of days when I was so busy that the baby food dried in my hair. She was iconic to me- she is responsible, in part, for my love affair with newspapers. She won a Pulitzer for commentary that unraveled the everyday life of the family. When she let me peep into her kitchen, her family and her thoughts, she became a sister to me.
In 1995 she said farewell to her column and dedicated herself to the writing of novels, which she could do at home. I grieved. I wanted her in my everyday life. Even as she abandoned me in favor of her family, I was forced to admire her: she knew the moments of childhood evaporate. She wrote for Newsweek, and I subscribed. She left that, too, last year, to make way for “new, younger voices” in the constricted world of publishing.
I spent a few days with her this week, as I vacation in Michigan. Her new novel, Every Last One, was published in the spring. It has been patiently awaiting me on the Kindle. The narrator of this book is a mother- a very good mother- engaged in the push and pull of parenting. When are the tethers too tight? When are they so loose that they threaten your children? How can a mother interpret every encoded message her children and their friends send when their expressions are the product of hormones and growing pains? Can we protect our families completely? Of course we cannot.
The life Quindlen constructs in this novel is nuanced and familiar. The characters are people I know- people I love. Their difficulties trouble me. I knew a terrible thing would happen in this book. I did not know how terrible. I knew Anna Quindlen would not simplify the process of recovery. I suffered. Cried. Admired. I moved into Mary Beth Latham’s life. I worried that the old dog would die. I marveled at the kindness of her friends in the book, the purity of the high school girls. I lived in her suburb.
Motherhood is a harrowing job. We telescope our kids into college and wedding gowns as we rock them in the hospital. No matter how hard we smother our babies, and watch over our loved ones, their wings were made for flying. We cannot set their flight plans. And their journey is not guaranteed. Helicopter parents, beware: your efforts are in vain. Much of life is outside of our micromanaging. Love is what our kids need; limits are what we are charged with imposing. The wisest parent will make mistakes, the most cautious child can fall into harm’s way. What are we to do? Magnify the blessings, shrink the irritations. Celebrate and recall every happy moment you get. Live the NOW fully. And face forward instead of second guessing and revisiting despair.
Steve always worries when he finds me weeping with a book. I consider it a gift from my old friend Anna that I could slip into this world. I will be thinking of the Latham family for a while. There are slivers of my life in those pages- and I have a lot to think about. I have 13 books waiting for me in my Kindle. They will have to hold on for a bit.
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