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.