Lessons From a Mother-Daughter Book Club
By Jennifer Margulis on July 27, 2011
“Mo-om! Let’s go-o!” my 11-year-old daughter, Hesperus, cries. There’s baby spit-up on my shirt but I don’t have time to change.
“Get the bikes out!” I yell back, jabbing a contact lens into my right eye.
The baby toddles into the bathroom, reaching her arms out for me. I manage to swing her onto my hip and blink the lens into my eye at the same time. She cries when I hand her off to my husband and her older sister and I say goodbye.
Hesperus and I are on our way to our mother-daughter book group. Hesperus’s best friend’s mom, a doctor from Mississippi whose house is always clean and whose girls are always polite, invited us to join.
The group’s mission is to empower our daughters and each other, discover new authors together, read good books, and have fun.
I was looking forward to having a leisurely bike ride to the group, and chatting about our most recent selection, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Ten Things I Hate About Me, as we pedaled along.
Instead Hesperus zooms ahead without once looking back.
I still remember when she was listing on her training wheels but now I can’t keep up with her long legs. I end up getting off and walking my bike up the steep hill to their house, much to my daughter’s disgust.
“See?” Hesperus says when I finally join her. She’s only waiting for me because she isn’t sure where to leave her bike. “I told you we were going to be late.”
I look at my watch.
It’s only 4:02 p.m., two minutes after the meeting is supposed to begin. The other moms and daughters are still arriving. But My Child. Must. Be. On. Time.
Our relationship is fraught these days. A fountain of sweetness to every other adult in her life, Hesperus is surly with me. She has an opinion about everything I do (it’s wrong) and she shares it openly. Recently she’s decided I don’t know anything. And I do really embarrassing things. Like saying hello to her friend’s mom in the supermarket. How could I?
While I’m impressed by how strong-willed and hard-working my daughter is, she exhausts me.
Is this the feminist’s dilemma?
We want our daughters to be powerful and confident. We want them to find their voice and use it. We want them to be well educated, to speak out against injustice, to believe so strongly in themselves that they know that they can change the world. But it’s so much easier to parent more compliant kids.
“Sometimes the most difficult children to parent make the most interesting adults,” a more experienced mom with four grown kids once told me.
The 11- and 12-year-old girls sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the plush green couch, giggling and eating brownies. They are disappointed that the book’s protagonist, Australian-born Jamilah (“Jamie”) Towfeek, dyes her hair blond and wears blue contact lenses to hide her Lebanese-Muslim background from her friends at school.
“If people don’t like you for who you are, you shouldn’t be friends with them,” Hesperus contends. “She needed to be truer to herself.”
I sit next to the girls and help myself to thirds on the brownies. At the end of the meeting I find myself volunteering our house for the next book. The mother-daughter pair that hosts gets to choose what we read.
“Let’s make sure the house is really clean, okay, Mom?” Hesperus says as we buckle our helmets and fetch our bicycles from back yard. I careen down the hill but Hesperus outpaces me once we turn south on Siskiyou. She races along, turning onto our street before I’ve even cleared the library, mouth open in a smile, heart pumping, limbs strong.
I’m pissed that she’s leaving me behind again but filled with love for her at the same time.
How, I wonder, will we ever agree on the next book to read?
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D.
Author of the forthcoming book, "Business of Baby: How Corporations and Private Interests Skew the Way we Parent" (Scribner)