Today we are pleased to welcome guest contributor Barbara Dee, author of Trauma Queen (linked to Jennifer’s review and giveaway) and This is Me from Now On.
Was there ever a more perfect mom than Marmee? When I was growing up, I wished my mom was the matriarch of Little Women. Marmee never nagged you about making your bed, or forced you to eat spinach, the way my own mom did. Whatever mischief her girls got into, she never freaked. If they messed up at school—the way Amy did when she stole the limes—Marmee would give a brief, sweet lecture, then keep them home as a “vacation” from the mean teacher. Even when Jo cut her hair, Marmee’s reaction was calm and empathetic: “My dear, it was not necessary, and I’m afraid you will regret it one of these days.”
Marmee was kind, patient, loyal, loving and completely selfless. She had an amazing relationship with all four daughters, telling them things like: “Mother is always ready to be your confidante.” (How come my own mom never said things like this? And why didn’t my mom refer to herself in the noble third person as “Mother”?) About the most unfair thing Marmee ever did was to make her daughters give up their Christmas breakfasts to a poor woman with a newborn baby. But were they happy to do it? You bet. Because if Marmee wanted you to do something, it was obviously the right thing to do.
Measured against Marmee, my real mom couldn’t possibly stack up. But whose could? Not the moms in my other favorite books. So many of those moms were missing, anyhow (Pippi Longstocking, Harriet the Spy, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Heidi, The Secret Language, all the Nancy Drews). If the moms were around, they were boring and tangential (A Wrinkle in Time, The Black Stallion, Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine). Of course, there were a few book-moms who were actively involved in their kids’ lives, like Mrs. Quimby in Beezus and Ramona, and Ma in the Little House series. I liked these moms okay, but they weren’t Marmee.
Then one day, when I was about thirteen, I discovered a new book-mom: Katie Nolan. Katie, Francie’s mom in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, was a shocker. She was loving and responsible, but also prickly, argumentative, strict, ambitious (for her kids) and proud, kind of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Irish-American Tiger Mom. If you messed up with Katie, you definitely knew it—she’d scold and nag exactly like a real mom. But she was heroic too—one time she shot a pistol at a guy attacking Francie. And killed him, right there in the hallway.
I have to admit I didn’t really like Katie Nolan, but for me she was a game-changer. Every time I read A Tree Grown in Brooklyn (which was often) my Marmee-worship faded a little more. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that I was thirteen. It’s hard to be that age and think any mom—even a book-mom—is perfect.
I’m struck, though, by how few “real” moms there are in tween fiction, even now. By “real moms” I’m talking about the in-your-face, make-your-bed, overscheduled, overworked, cranky-but-loving Katie Nolan kind. So when I wrote my mother-daughter book, Trauma Queen, I tried to create a mom who seemed “real” from a thirteen-year-old daughter’s point of view—unfair, prickly, argumentative, controlling. But I made her a chocoholic performance artist so that she’d also be funny and weird.
She isn’t prim Katie Nolan. She isn’t perfect Marmee, either, but I’ve decided that’s a good thing.
Thanks for contributing, Barbara!
I read many of those same books when I was younger. I don’t remember comparing them to my mom or having a favorite, so this was fun to read.
Hm… My most memorable literature mom from childhood was Iza, Ayla’s adopted mom in The Clan of the Cavebear. She loved Ayla so much, even though she was so different from everyone else.
But most books didn’t deal with the mom much at all. And now the kids’ TV shows also seem to have absent parents. I guess the kids enjoy that feeling that “kids know best,” but I don’t love it much as a parent.
I read those books as a young teen too!