06 April, 2012

I like Jodi Picoult books but...

Yesterday I posted a review of Jodi Picoult's latest book Lone Wolf. In that review I said that I frequently have issues with Picoult's mother characters. I mentioned it here, in my review of House Rules. I also know I got frustrated with the mother's in My Sister's Keeper and Handle with Care. And here is my issue - in books where there is one child with a condition or disability that requires more of a mother's time than usual, the other child is all but discounted and shoved to the side. I'm not unrealistic - I know that a child with special needs takes more of a parent's time - there are appointments and treatments that have to happen - and is can mean other children in the family miss out on things, do not receive the same portion of time. Picoult's characters though seem to take it to the extreme and, as a mother, it annoys the hell out of me!
So it was quite nice with Lone Wolf to actually quite like the mother - to not feel she was putting one child in front of the other. In fact, she was conflicted because she could see both sides and wanted to support them both. Her relationship with both Edward and Cara was fractured and she was trying to work out a way to repair and support, while still dealing with their younger half siblings who, simply by their young age, also needed her. In fact, if anything, I was annoyed at what I felt was Cara's self centred feeling that the moment her mother's attention was not focussed solely on her, it meant her mother no longer wanted her.
And then, as if she had heard my complaints, Picoult, in my mind, tried to justify the actions of all her mother characters with this passage.

It's not politically correct to say that you love one child more than you love your others. I love all of my kids, period, in different ways. But ask any parent who's been through some kind of a crisis surrounding a child - a health scare, an academic snarl, an emotional problem - and we will tell you the truth. When something upends the equilibrium - when one child needs you more than the others - that imbalance becomes a black hole. You may never admit it out loud, but the one you love the most is the one who needs you more desperately than his sibling...
For years after Edward left us, I use to wake up in the middle of the night and imagine all the worst things that could happen to him...I loved him most because I thought that might be the spell that would bring him back to me.
                             - Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult pg263

There is one statement in the above quote I agree with. I love all of my kids, period, in different ways. Yep, absolutely agree! I love my son's quick wit, his insatiable curiosity, his random acts of affection. I love my daughter's cheekiness, her perpetually happy nature, her inability to walk past me without giving me a kiss or a cuddle. I do not love one more than the other - ever.

I know what Picoult is trying to say - when one of your kids is in trouble, needs support, that is the child you spend the time on. I don't agree that at that point you love that child more, or you completely block out your other child's need for you. Families ebb and flow - at no point will you kids get equal time. Someone always needs it more than the other, but you always consider the other child/ren and try to make sure they get something from you - a cuddle, a bed time story, an explanation of why you can't be the one to take them to swimming today - but you (or at least I)NEVER love one more than the other.

As for the second part of that quote, here is my big problem with it. Edward was gone for 6 years. In that time, the mother had another 2 children, as well as the child she had before he left. She spent 6 years loving an absent child more than the ones who were present - no wonder her daughter felt like a 5th wheel and went to live with her father. And while I know the mother in this book would never had said out loud that she loves one child more than the other, kids are not stupid and they pick up on a million different things. The daughter may not have consciously known Edward was loved more than she was, but I do believe she would feel it.

I may be wrong. Picoult's words may ring true for you. I also know that if you do love one child more than another, for whatever reason, for whatever amount of time, societal beliefs means that you most probably cannot voice that without fear of condemnation. But my truth is that when my mother says she never loved one of her three daughters more than the other, that she loves all eight of her grandchildren equally, I believe her. My truth is I could not love one of my kids more than the other, and when my friends tell me the same, I believe them.