Privilege Blog

The Various Meanings Of Rock, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:01am

I just finished Elizabeth Strout’s first novel, Amy and Isabelle, Strout also wrote Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer in 2009.

Amy and Isabelle concerns a mother and a daughter. I recommend it highly. Here’s a passage from the final pages. (I will tell you in advance that the book is, in the end, hopeful. These words are a release rather than a trigger to misery.)

Knowing that her child had grown up frightened. Except it was cockeyed, all backwards, because, thought Isabelle, glancing back at her daughter, I’ve been frightened of you.

Oh, it was sad. It wasn’t right. Her own mother had been frightened too. (Isabelle’s foot was bobbing quickly, in tiny little jerks.) All the love in the world couldn’t prevent the awful truth: You passed on who you were.

This is a book with neither innovative plot nor grand themes. It’s terribly specifically and beautifully observed, particularly in the mother-daughter relationship, and becomes large for all its smallness.

Now, as you know, I’ve got a daughter myself. Maybe you do too.

Mine was born in July of 1987. That Thanksgiving, we traveled back East to my in-laws house. A friend came to visit, someone I had known before marriage. She asked if I was in love with my new baby. I told her I was mostly terrified, even 4 months in. My friend was not looking for that answer; we changed topics.

My daughter came visiting this last weekend, in a confluence of goals and circumstances. First, she had been in Southern California, where she will be starting medical school this August. It was a quick flight up the coast to San Francisco. Second, she was dying to meet her newest little cousin.

Back to Amy and Isabelle. My daughter is not attending medical school because I passed on who I am. She did this herself. She didn’t know in college she’d want to be in medicine, she took few pre-med prerequisites. As a result, she had to make up many of the courses and study for the MCATs, all while working full-time. She drove an hour each way to take night classes in Philadelphia, and paid for them herself.

I am embarrassingly proud. All the more proud because I fret about the role of privilege in my own achievements. As I said, the girl did this on her own, and that knowledge roils me like water rushing through rocks. Imagine the little flecks of light.

Go you, honey. Where you got your core of steel from I do not know, but having survived and embraced it throughout your childhood, now I can only wave a flag and cheer.

And as for the baby cousin, well then. My daughter stayed at my brother’s place, helping out the new mother. A lot of time wearing the little one, smiling, and rocking from foot to foot. My sister-in-law texted to say she was welcome to come back any time. My brother left me a voice mail, saying she’d been a great help with his son.

Then he said, “You can tell she had a good mother.”

There isn’t much that would make me feel better. I’m not trying to trumpet my own work here. I want to pass on something to young moms, and to smile at the older ones who will know exactly what I’m talking about. The whole world ought to be glad that even when we’re afraid, and beset by self-doubt, as long as we try our hardest and exercise our talents in service of our children, things can be OK. What we pass on we can’t always predict, nor should we. Our daughters grow up knowing how to rock.

To avoid too much sentiment, I leave it to you to play with “rock” in all its meanings.

Have a wonderful weekend.

58 Responses

  1. My daughter was born in 1986, after her two older brothers. She is the love of my life. Thank you for this.

  2. What a wonderful compliment your son gave you! Thank you for this post which is so well stated. I am amazed at my own daughter, who is raising four children and have recently realized I must have done a few things right. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

  3. I just melted! A remarkable young woman on so many levels and I’m not surprised. Also, a true redhead, yes? Frosting on your (patty)cake.

  4. This is beautiful! Thanks so much. Now hopefully I will be able to swim the waters of motherhood soon (please oh please, please, please).
    And it’s never to late to start medical school (I started my Veterinary Science studies when I was 25).

  5. Have 3 daughters. Only one has children. I recently complimented her on something she did for her boys by telling her what a good mother she was. Her gift to me was her reply: ” I learned from the best.”

    Go Lisa, go me and go all the lovely moms that read your blog!

  6. How proud you must be! And who can blame you? It’s nice to know our hard work pays off in ways that are sometimes unexpected.

  7. I must read that book…
    your post is lovely Lisa!

    We will be celebrating our daughter’s birthday this evening she turned 34 on Thursday and she has turned out to be a lovely woman.

    About rocking…the istant that I pick up a baby I instinctively rock. It’s so soothing to an infant and it’s surprisingly easy!

  8. Thank you. I have been looking forward to your Saturday post. I live in the Boston area and reading some of your archives this week has relieved some tension for me. Thank you for holding your candle of love and light. Gentle and beautiful writing, including your blog among several others, kept my light shining. Xxo

    1. Strength to you, Jenny. <3

      And Lisa, reading this post makes me feel somehow proud of your daughter, too, even though of course we've never met! It's wonderful when hard work and persistence pay off.

    2. I am so sorry for what you and Boston entire went through. I am honored that anything I wrote might have played a role in the light continuing to shine.

  9. As I don’t possess your knack for the written word, all I can say is thank you. Just spent a lovely morning with a 24 year old woman, also a rocker. As she casually explained chemical engineering to my feeble mind, I was blown away, and also “embarassingly proud” (love that!) to know she is my daughter.

  10. “My daughter is not attending medical school because I passed on who I am. She did this herself.” While I understand what you mean by this, and stand in awe of your daughter’s rockin’ ability, I’d like to respectfully add that that’s not precisely true.

    She certainly did every bit of the considerable work required, but she got *something* from you, very likely lots of it, that allowed her to become the remarkable young woman she is.

    I’m not a mother, but I had a marvelous one, and I’m an aunt and great-aunt many times over. Young women with your daughter’s character don’t happen by accident. I’m thrilled for you both. Rock on!!

  11. A lovely post! Your daughter sounds an amazing young woman! I have 2 daughters and even when they were tiny and role playing, one of the things they always chose to do was ‘nurse’ their ‘babies’ just as I had nursed them.
    I hope you’ll write another post on your little nephew soon :-)

  12. Beautiful post! I hope your daughter loves this path she has chosen; I took this path long ago and have loved it, despite the sacrifices one must make. She will be rewarded richly by experiences with people she would not otherwise have; a sobering burden, but she sounds up to it! My girls have taken other paths– one is teaching English abroad and one will be doing a fellowship after graduation in her field– and I am truly proud and awed by them. Congratulations!

  13. I look at my oldest daughter raising three little girls that are not her own and think of her grace and her fortitude and of how lucky those little ones are. I see those same those same strong Lakota values in place throughout many generations and I am humbled and awed by her knowing what is right, good , and proper. She doesn’t belong of this generation and ego. Those little girls love her and tell everyday that they live her. It doesn’t get any better than that. Have a beautiful weekend!

  14. Loved this post! As you said ‘trying our hardest’ is all we can do as parents with our children and as mothers with our daughters. Sounds like all your ‘hard work’ has paid off tenfold, definitely something to be proud of!
    Now off to check out this book!

  15. Congratulations to your daughter, and to you too. You must be so proud. I have an amazing daughter as well, and it’s a fantastic feeling to know you did something right.

  16. I loved this post! I am a long-time lurker and this is the first post that I really felt compelled to respond to (even more than the post on limiting the drniking, which mirrored my own inner dialog). My daughter is 10; my mom recently died. You did something right by your daughter. I am.entering the preteen and teenage years of struggle and I hope my daughter will come to reflect me as much as I (unwittingly) reflect my mom. Your children are a reflection of you, whether you like it or not. Be happy or beware! You did good!

    1. Thank you for commenting. I am sorry for the loss of your mother. And if you feel happy about reflecting your mom, I am sure your daughter will do the same.

  17. What a beautiful compliment from your son, and a tribute to what a wonderful job you did raising your children. Your amazing daughter worked very hard, and made many sacrifices to pursue her new career path. She has great discipline and inner strength that comes from you. I wish her the very best as she continues on, perhaps a Pediatrician she will be?

  18. Words born of true wisdom and beautifully rendered. Cheers to our daughters (and sons) and the joy in seeing what was passed on.

  19. I am in my last pages of Olive Kitteridge and LOVE this book so much. I don’t want it to end. I will definitely add Amy and Isabelle to my reading list right away!

  20. Thank you, Lisa, for this post! It made me tear up over my morning coffee and blog reading. Strangely I have been on an Elizabeth Strout jag recently myself; I re-read Olive Kitteridge last month and then followed it up with Abide With Me. I will have to read Amy and isabelle next.

    I have two daughters, ages 9 and 11 and am still often terrified as we approach teen-hood, middle school, menstruation and myriad other things I find myself worrying about. But they are such joys (mostly) and I can totally relate to being “embarrassingly proud”. I hope the lessons I am teaching them are good ones.

    1. I think if you just batten down your emotional hatches, the teen years are not so bad. I’ll have to read Abide With Me son.

  21. Ahhhh.. I am tearing up – that’s such a lovely post… And I understand so well about you being “embarrassingly proud of your daughter”. It’s wonderful – go her and go you, too! x

  22. Oh, yes, it’s difficult especially when we, as women, are strong individuals and no matter what we will always always always be there for our kids, hoping to guide them along the way. I’ve made many mistakes, mostly giving them too much, therefore, making my daughter especially, think she should have everything easily. Now she’s always angry. I’m just waiting.

    On the flip side of this, I watched “Rock of Ages” last night and nearly died with laughter at the exact conduct of all of us during these times. Seeing Alec Baldwin as a long-haired gray man made me know for certain life never changes, we always love the same things. So I’ve started playing ABBA again, they always made me happy and they still do…that was my hayday time.

  23. I feel as if I smack in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. My daughter is 13 and one look the wrong way and it could be tragic.

  24. Lisa, your love for your children is palpable. Your daughter is so lucky. And she is thoroughly admirable, too–I’m just a year shy of her age, and can barely imagine how she must have worked and felt to make this happen. How hard, unyielding, and sometimes cruel and competitive the path to medical school can be…It’s incomprehensible what it would take to night-school yourself for the missed classes–and then wind up Southern CA, where as we know there are only the very best medical institutions. You are right to be proud.

    As both your appreciative reader, and a daughter whose mother has asked this very same question about will and goal-seeking and self-sufficiency–she got it from you, silly.

  25. I’m reading this on Monday morning, a few days late; I shut the computer off on weekends. After the past week here in the Boston area, it feels like a benediction of love and hope. A moving tribute to your daughter — and you. Beautiful and beautifully written.

    1. Love to you Linda. I hope your life and the lives of everyone there are returning to hope and trust.

  26. Lovely post. I don’t have daughters – I have sons. Both are married – my older son and his wife have 2 children.

    I didn’t get along always with my daughter-in-law…but she is a wonderful, wonderful mother to my granddaughter and grandson – so I love her dearly.

    I am also so, so proud of my son – he has turned out to be an absolutely fabulous father. His father, unfortunately, hasn’t turned out to be very supportive of our children since they have become adults (we divorced after they were grown). I always thought he was an involved father, but now I think my memory is faulty.

    I figure I must have done a pretty good job!

  27. Your post bring to mind an often-cited quote from Jackie O, whereby whe says something along the lines of: if you don’t do your best job with your children it really doesn’t matter what else you do in life. I think mothers so often don’t get positive reinforcement and kudos from family and friends for doing the jobs they do and playing such a big role in how their kids turn out. My two cents.

    My daughter is almost 7 and a job. I get scared when I think about the coming teen years.

  28. Congratulations to your daughter! What an achievement. No wonder you want to wave a flag and cheer. Yes, the most important thing is to try our best, and to never stop trying, as long as we live.

  29. Oh my, there is much here that resonates. First and foremost, congratulations to you both. Your daughter for her extraordinary accomplishment, you for passing on the core of steel. Because you did.

    The other glaring statement: “My friend was not looking for that answer; we changed topics.” Indeed.

  30. I have been reading your blog since it first began and almost never post, but I am coming out of lurk-dom to say THANK YOU.

    I have a 3 year old son, and grew up with 2 younger brothers – I am adept with boys. But now I am about to have a baby girl (due in June) and I am TERRIFIED that I am going to ruin her.

    There are so many issues that only girls have to deal with – the mean girls in school, the tendency of society to judge women based on looks, the desire to be known as “nice” rather than smart or funny, later the conflict between having a career and being a mother…

    In any case, your post put me a little more at ease. And gave me hope that it is possible. Thank you!

    1. Yasmin – I can’t thank you enough for reading from the beginning. That’s getting to be a long time. I think bringing up girls requires most of all an honest and loving eye on oneself. Don’t be terrified. It will be fine. More than fine.

  31. To all of you, your comments mean so much. I feel like this is the best environment I know to test the impact of inspiration, emotional precision, and hard work. Thank you.

  32. I didn’t know I wanted to go to medical school when I was studying my first degree, either. I read English Lit. and worked as a medical typist in my holidays, because it was better paid temp. work than other secretarial jobs. The letters and case histories I typed were stories, just like the ones I read in class, but these ones meant something in a direct, essential and very human way. I started to wonder. I told my mum I was thinking of training as a medical translator. She looked straight back at me and said I was far too bossy to want to translate anyone else’s ideas and advice, so if anything I might as well be a doctor instead. I laughed, said ‘Science is for geeks,’ and carried on. And wondered some more.

    After my English degree I moved back in with my parents, working as a medical typist in the mornings, and going to evening classes. I studied Chemistry A Level on Mondays, Biology A.S. on Tuesday, Biology A Level on Wednesdays, and Chemistry A.S. on Thursday – so in one year I took two high-school courses* which are normally studied over two years, each on three hours a week instead of the recommended eight. I got good enough grades to start a highly competitive medical school that September.

    I managed all this because of my mum. Not because she pushed, pulled or opined. Because for that year, she cooked me three meals a day and did my laundry, talked about current affairs and fiction, and was generally there with anything I needed. No questions asked, unless I had something to say.

    Mums are great. You and mine above all.

    And congratulations to your daughter! I hope med school is not too brutal.

    *(because medicine is an undergraduate degree here in the UK, so entry requirements are high-school exit exams, the A Levels which ten years ago were divided into the modular A and A.S. exams).

  33. And once again, Congratulations! To both of you. That comment was rather more about me than intended.

    Blame the delirium of working in the ED ;-)

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