14 July 2011

Literary License

When I was pregnant with Em I bought baby books like every other new mom-to-be. I got the Baby Center emails letting me know when she was the size of a kumquat. Then I googled kumquat since, well, I had no idea how big that was. I prepared for that surge of energy in the nesting phase the books promised and when that failed to come, trapped as I was in a air-condition-less apartment in the dead heat of summer, I learned the most important lesson of new parenthood: things do not always go the way the books say they will.

This is, I think, fundamentally a good thing. No individual, parent or child, should be reduced to the horrible task of being normal. Especially when normal is, as one of my pregnancy books suggested, to become distressed by violent or disturbing images. Out of context that doesn't make much sense, but what the book was actually suggesting is that I, in my highly fecund state of being, should not watch television shows with violence since I might find myself uncontrollably sobbing and powerless to look away.

Television. Fiction. Was the assumption that pregnancy had made me unable to tell the difference between SVU and the nightly news? I'll admit to being somewhat more scattered than usual during those forty weeks, but really, I was hardly addled. Perhaps the authors expected my corset to be cutting off the blood flow to my brain.

So fine, I remained essentially unchanged during my weeks of pregnancy. I grew larger, sure, but not more fragile. And then Emmaline was born. She ate, she slept, she pooped, she grew. And, because she sleeps through the night, I was recently lucky enough to pick up my old copy of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

My mother HATES this book. It makes her viscerally and gut wrenchingly ill to discuss it. Growing up, having first read the novel in tenth grade on our battered orange (yes, orange) living room couch, I'll admit I thought her dislike was evidence of some inner weakness. I thought she couldn't handle the dystopian vision of an America ruled by the Tea Party...I mean a totalitarian theocracy.

But as steadfast and unchanged as I was by my pregnancy, it seems I was not unchanged by Emmaline. When reading about the narrator's separation from her daughter I nearly vomited. I fought the urge to cry. I turned into exactly the sort of hapless sap my pregnancy book said I would and I understood my mother in a way I never had before.

It's still one of my favorite books, but I don't think I'll pick it up again anytime soon. I'll stick to Atwood's other, less disturbing tomes. Like Oryx and Crake.

Oryx & Crake fighting over the box

Sure the world basically ends, but at least no one kidnaps a little girl. I can handle a theoretical apocalypse. I'm not a total wuss.

1 comment:

  1. The Handmaid's Tale is also one of my all time favorites, read for the first time with good ol'
    Chuck LaChuisa and a couple times after that; but I haven't re-read it as a mother and particularly a mother of a daughter. I imagine I will have the same reaction as you did. Have you read The Year of the Flood? Intense, but Atwood at her best.