What I Am: Reading this Week

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
This is a story about a fictional couple and their lives in the aftermath of a real event: Columbine. Caelum Quirk is an English teacher at the school; his third wife Maureen is a part-time school nurse. The day of the shootings, Caelum is in New England dealing with the death of his only relative, his Aunt Lolly; Maureen is in the library, where most of the children were killed that day, and where Harris and Klebold committed suicide. She survives the day by hiding in a cabinet, but she suffers severe PTSD.

I am about two-thirds of the way through the book. It is compelling. Several other storylines are woven into the lives of Caelum and Maureen: Caelum’s childhood as the son of an alcoholic man who commits suicide and a woman so damaged by her marriage she can barely tolerate raising her only son; the couple’s relationship with Velvet Hoon, another collateral casualty of Columbine — and more; the Mick couple, a bi-racial man and his white wife fleeing the destruction of Katrina; and the family of Morgan S, a teenage boy who crosses paths with Maureen with devastating consequences.

Wally Lamb has only written three novels, and I have been amazed by them all. His protagonists are broken men and women trying to piece their lives back together. Their humanity is so naked and raw, that I cannot help rooting for them. They are far from perfect, but I don’t find them unlikable.

What I find especially touching about The Hour I First Believed, told primarily through the first person perspective of Caelum, is the intense introspective nature of the writing. He knows how flawed he is, but he works to be better, to be strong for his wife, to help himself so he can help her. He takes missteps along the way, of course. He also discovers in his aunt’s papers the history of his family, which provides more insight into his own character.

The book is literate, with black humor and great dialogue. I don’t know where the story of Caelum and Maureen ends up; I am hoping for the best. It doesn’t have to be a conclusive ending, but I have to admit to hoping for a happy one. I’ve read Lamb before, though, so I can’t hold out high hopes for that.

****

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Suggested to me by Kelly at Peace, Love, and Flowers. I have to thank her for that.

This is a gothic novel set in the early 20th century. It has all the requisite elements: a single woman with a secret; an elderly woman with more secrets; secret rooms and passageways; ghosts; madwomen (and men); orphans (of the literal and figurative types); and startling revelations. Beautifully written with its own humor, the story recalls the classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I was thoroughly engaged and delighted.

****

“A Mother’s Day Uprising” from Newsweek.com

I can’t quite grasp the tone of this article. Satire? Commentary? Humor? Complaint Journalism? Encouragement? Commiseration?

I don’t know when I knew it was okay to not be and do everything — to not be Super Woman. After I became a mother, certainly. When I went back to work for sure. I try to keep my household running — that means decent meals, laundry, and minimum clutter (DearDR is helping more and more with that last one, because it drives him bonkers). I make sure my daughters know they are loved; I also make sure they are fed, bathed, read to; I pack lunches; I underline show & tell or other special school events on the calendar. I juggle our finances. I take the kids to the doctors and get their prescriptions filled; I do most of the shopping. I continue to tend to my relationship with my husband.

Do I do it “all”? No. I have yet to sign either of the girls up for “extracurricular” activities like swim lessons or Mommy & Me classes. The dust in my home is truly shameful. My sinks are a bit sticky. I have too many girls’ clothes of varying sizes all over the upstairs, too many clean clothes still in laundry baskets.

I feel I’m doing the best I can with what I got. Most days, this is perfectly okay. Sometimes, it’s a little embarrassing — I would be mortified if you, dear reader, came to my house unannounced. Occasionally, DearDR and I fight about it, and, occasionally, I find it depressing.

But I just refuse to stress out about it anymore. That is definitely not worth my time. I think it will get better as the girls get older. Some days, even now, I can see it’s getting easier for me, and different as well.

What are your expectations of yourself? As a woman, as a mother? Have they changed for you over the years? Do you think this mothering gig will get easier? Harder? Just different?

And what are you reading this week?

7 thoughts on “What I Am: Reading this Week

    • Congrats, number 1000!

      It’s funny to me to have enjoyed a book so like the required reading I had to do in high school. I mean, I love to read, but it was great to read without the homework aspects of it!

      ciao,
      rpm

  1. *yay* you liked it!! You are very welcome! The Thirteenth Tale surprised me. I never thought something new could hit like something written 100+ years ago, but it did.

    I will have to look for The Hour. I read his She’s Come Undone and it was quite good.

  2. Thanks for posting about the Wally Lamb novel. I was not aware he had a third; I’ll have to look for it. I have read the two others and was moved by them both.

    My expectations as the woman of our house: My DH is not ‘helping’ me when he does laundry, tends to kids, etc. It’s his house and family, too and we both work FT. But it helps SO MUCH that I married a neat-freak! Cleaning up is second nature to him.

    Mothering day to day has become easier. For example, DH is out of town this week and it’s fine. Nobody is frazzled. My girls and I know our routine. They are of ages to have chores (clean the litter box, empty the dishwasher) which can help or be more work for me depending on the day. My older daughter rarely does something correctly the first time. I can’t figure out if she is rebelling or being lazy, but it doesn’t matter. The outcome is the same – she has to do it over. The younger whines and complains, but then she just does it and it’s done.

    Having the day to day stuff be easier is a big change. When the kids were toddlers, I never thought I would be this content or this good at being their Mom.

    • @kjax: I feel the same way about the DH “helping” — it’s his house, they are his children. He’s been a husband and a father, not a babysitter. Right now he works such bloody long hours, that the few hours a week he gets to spend with me or the kids at home, he doesn’t want to have to “do” anything. And sometimes, that’s just too bad. He’s getting better about it though; he sees that I can’t do everything myself.

      Those are the days I am looking forward too: when Monkey & Bun can help out with chores, etc. We do clean-up of the toys, and Monkey sometimes “helps” with putting dishes away (silverware, usually) or laundry. I’m trying to instill the idea that whining just makes it take longer.

      And definitely check out the Lamb novel, especially if you liked his other too. I think this is his best too date — very layered, very nuanced, great characters.

      take care!

      ciao,
      rpm

  3. Just last night, I got the best compliment…My aunt, who, admittedly, is biased, told me that the older I get, the more I remind her of my mother. My house is much dustier and more cluttered than my mothers(she stayed home until I was 10), and I don’t get to make homemade cookies and cook as often as I like (but I know how to, thanks to her!) I never appreciated my mother’s strength until I had children of my own…to this day, I have no idea how she held it all together, even when she went back to work full time…working in day care for over 20 years. as stated in her obituary, children were the true joy of her life. Her grandchildren were her favorites, of course. These days, I pray to her daily for guidance and strength, love my children, and do the best I can to care for them. I think that’s all any mom can do.

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