Monday, February 24, 2014

Glitter and Glue

Back in 2008 I read and loved Kelly Corrigan’s first novel, The Middle Place. The Middle Place was a warm, funny and poignant memoir which juxtapositioned Kelly’s past and present, highlighting her then battle with breast cancer and memories of her youth growing up in Philadelphia and her incredible relationship with her dad. The book was never maudlin or depressing and more than a story about cancer it really was a loving tribute to her dad. The love and warmth between father and daughter was palpable through every shared snapshot of their life.

Since I had so enjoyed Kelly’s first memoir, I had readily added her latest, Glitter and Glue, to my 2014 book preview list post back in January and finally read it last week. Glitter and Glue is Kelly’s new memoir and meant as a heartfelt homage to her mom, as noted in her book dedication in which she simply states “This one’s for you, Ma. Long overdue.” The memoir’s title comes from her mom’s honest and unsentimental assertion that while her dad was the glitter of the family, the lovable joker that all her kid’s loved and gravitated towards, she was in fact the glue; the one that got things done, the disciplinarian, the accountant, the appointment scheduler, etc.

In the book, Kelly shares insights into their early relationship and her mom’s general parenting guidelines; “She looked at motherhood less as a joy to be relished than as a job to be done, serious work with serious repercussions, and I left childhood assuming our way of being with each other, adversarial but functional, was as it would be.” Whereas her dad was her friend and cheerleader for whom she could do no wrong, her mom took her role seriously and felt that what her kids needed wasn’t another friend, but a mother. No warm and fuzzies here and in these honest revelations you readily feel the distance between the two in those years; easily imagining teenage cold shoulders and eye-rolls directed at a strict and stoic parent.

Kelly acknowledges the slow evolution of her relationship with her mom and how it came to pass thanks in part to her travels in Australia while in her twenties when she served as nanny for two children that had recently lost their mother. This early mothering role helped her to not only better understand and appreciate her own mother but actually unconsciously adopt her parenting style and rules; from snubbing sugar cereals to staring down adversaries, Kelly begins to see more of her mom in herself and realizes that’s not such a bad thing after all.

What seems like a lifetime later, after many years, two babies and cancer, Kelly says that lately “it seems like the only person who can lift the anvils that sit heaviest on me is my mother.” She didn’t come to that all at once, though maybe it was inevitable, given life’s many knock you down lift you up moments, as well as the slow-dawning wisdoms that come with maturity, experience and time.

While I found this small book enjoyable and a definite must read for moms and daughters alike, I must admit that in comparison to The Middle Place I found it slightly lacking in warmth and poignancy. Maybe it’s because most of Kelly's insights focus on anecdotes dating back to her childhood, and other than the bracketed references at the beginning and end of the book in which she discusses her adulthood realizations about her mom, the book doesn’t offer many examples of the newfound warmth or connection between mother and daughter.

Reading this book did make me reminisce about my own relationship with my mother, which was in such stark contrast to the writer’s experience that it gave me a deeper appreciation for what I had, though to be honest, I always knew I hit the lottery when I got my mom as my mom. Mom and I had one of those “mommy and me” type of relationships which Kelly references in her book; we were each other’s best friend, confidant, and cheerleader. I will admit though that my love for my mom deepened with time, as I’m sure it does for most adults as maturity helps us to fully value all of the hard work, sacrifice, and selflessness inherent in being a great parent. Unlike Kelly, as a child my mom was that kind, gentle and warm constant in our lives; holding our hands through an illness or wiping our tears through injury or heartache; though like all moms with more than one child, taking care of a home and working two jobs (full-time and part-time), she couldn’t be there 24/7 but we understood.

I think it’s not only maturity that strengthens or deepens our bond with a parent, mother or father, but also the fact that as an adult you’re now in a relationship as equals. Not only that, but as an adult you also better appreciate your parent as a whole person; seeing them as something more than just your mom or dad. Sure I loved my mother for being my mom, but I also adored and respected her for everything else that she was that the role of mom didn’t encompass; she was loyal, brutally honest, patient, meticulous, and with a wicked sense of humor I envy to this day, to name just a few of the traits that made her special.

I would definitely recommend Glitter and Glue not only for what Kelly has brought to it, but really for everything each of you will bring to it and take from it as well because through its pages you’ll find yourself transported to your own dear memories and insights with a renewed appreciation for one of the most underrated, underappreciated jobs in life, that of mother.