It’s that time of year again…Mother’s Day is looming, and I do mean looming. Everyone I know is either scurrying to mail a gift or scurrying to type in a gift order. Not I; I felt so smug last week as I placed my Red Envelope Mother’s Day commands. Then my own mother announced she’s decided to come down here to visit – and the Red Envelope site informed me waspishly that orders placed between certain dates cannot be changed or cancelled.
Sigh. As we say on Twitter, “FAIL.” I’m not the perfect daughter, this year, I realized. But neither am I the perfect mother to my own two daughters.
Thinking of perfect anyone makes my Virgo faculties twitch into high gear. Who WOULD be the perfect mother? Given my predilection for reading, books, and literature, it was inevitable that I’d start thinking about who the perfect mothers are in the classics.
The first one who sprang to mind (and this may be true for many of you readers, too) is “Marmee” from Little Women . Not only is Mrs. March a patient, long-suffering Army wife, she’s kind and peaceable and thrifty, too. Every time I’ve read Louisa May Alcott’s superficially sweet but deeply complicated homage to her mother, Marmee’s saintliness has made me crazy.
The only thing that saves the book for me is that at some level I believe Marmee makes Jo just as crazy as she does me.
With that thought, I decided that it would be far more interesting to think about the imperfect mothers in literature. The possibilities are endless! We can start with the biblical Eve and continue right up to this spring’s Susannah Nathan from Admission admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Dippy Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice …Shakespeare’s wicked Queen Gertrude…Hester Prynne bearing The Scarlet Letter…and let’s not forget Mrs. Portnoy!
I think we should compile two lists of hot literary mamas: The Good and The Bad (maybe we need The Ugly, too? After all, think of Grendel’s mommy). I suspect the second list will be longer, but I could very well be wrong. After all, I didn’t even manage to get the flowers to the right place at the right time…