When my children first went abroad to study, a woman I used to carpool with asked if I would like to contribute my time at the local centre for women since I had been active during its inaugural years. When I returned from my studies abroad decades ago, I had been eager and idealistic then. This acquaintance had thought that I might be suffering from empty nest syndrome. But I declined because taking part in such social causes was no longer my thing.
I first started a reading blog with a view to share my musings and thoughts on books that I read. It so happened that Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother, the memoir by Amy Chua was the debate at the time so I was curious. I wrote about the memoir in my first post. click
Perhaps by default I became a mother. It was a natural progression of things, you get married and you have kids. I’d like to think that I handled the task OK until the day I read Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother. Parents like Chua believe that children will slack off if their parents do not push them hard enough. Chua’s memoir got me thinking if I had done enough to ensure that my children could reach their potentials as adults. Chua’s parenting methods had been hailed as the eastern way and her self-proclaimed tiger mother’s parenting method was creating quite a controversy at the time. Unlike Chua who was hoovering over her daughters’ shoulders and checking the notes and comments left by their music teachers, I left my girls to practise or not practise their piano and violin. I mostly left my children to decide what they wanted and you wonder if you have not made them realize their full potentials. Aside from ferrying my children around and being supportive in every way I could, I fell right at the other end of the spectrum where I trusted my children’s discretion and acumen and often allow them to make decisions on their own. To be able to do something well you must want to do it, so I believe. I could be anxious and worried when they were troubled or disappointed when they were not making the choices that I might have liked them to make. I have to remind myself I cannot vicariously live my dreams through my daughters. I relish in motherhood and all that joy and angst that come with it. But then what is the measure of success? All I want is for them to be happy with where they are, and be kind, open-minded and strong individuals.
It is apparent that Chua is a high achiever and from her narratives , she comes across as a super competent individual. There is no one rule that fits all. Most of us probably grow up feeling that our parents could have done things a little differently and inevitably along the way all of us would have suffered some damage as we grow up. But then we cannot blame our parents as they just do what they think is best since they are just as clueless as the rest of us.
With the Internet, the boomers, generation X, Y(the millennials)and Z (the zoomers) are sharing their thoughts. Couples mull about whether or not they want children with rising costs of living and all that is going on in the world. There are those who just know that they want children no matter what, and others who are aware that children will definitely change the dynamics between them and it is not reversible. If we cannot figure things out ourselves , how are we going to care for our offspring? We Need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver is a dark tale about how motherhood could go awry. I read it when it was first published in 2003. Shriver’s prose is prolific and beautiful and the story is told in an epistolary form. It’s a slow burner and you feel the pains and conflicts of the protagonist Eva Khatchadourian through her letters to her absent and estranged husband, Franklin. Eva never wanted a child as she was happy as a successful travel writer who owns a travel guidebook franchise and she was apprehensive about becoming a mother, but Franklin wanted a family as he is conventional and portrayed as a man who is in denial of their son’s nihilistic nature. So they have their first child, Kevin who turns out to be monstrous and it is the horror story that makes you think if Kevin, the child has felt the mother’s reluctance and resentment when he is first conceived or he is just born evil, terrifyingly destructive and ends up killing students and teacher in school. It is a disturbing read.
Lionel Shriver writes in Guardian about her book
Olive by Emma Gannon is a contemporary read that examines the choices that young women make in their lives. In Olive, thirty-three-year-old Olive Stone as a millennial feels strongly about not having a child of her own. She has no sign of ” twitching ovaries’ or fertility flutters, or random broodiness.”
As the editor-in-chief of .dot, an online platform, she writes this:
‘I hold babies and , sure, they ‘re cute, but I give them back and don’t feel any biological shifts or urges. I see pregnancy announcements online and press the heart button but feel zero jealousy. I picture myself twenty, thirty years into the future, with silver in my hair, walking on a beach with a partner, writing in the evenings with a glass of wine, and multiple nephews and nieces visiting me in my cosy home. There might be no children of my own in my future, but why should this cause me any worry? ‘
The fiction is narrated in Olive’s voice. It explores different variations on adulthood and motherhood. Olive tells her readers ‘ the decision to have kids might be one of the biggest choices we ever face, and we should be talking about this in all its complicated, nuanced depth.‘
In 2019, Olive breaks off a nine year relationship with Jacob whom she loves and adores. Jacob wants kids and her not wanting kids is a deal breaker. She is heartbroken but like all those who have been in love and then out of love, you go through a period where you mope and wonder if you will ever feel the same way again or resist the temptation to just rekindle the relationship that will only end in more heartaches and tears. Olive is terribly sad, crying and drinking booze a lot and leaving heaps of washing -up that needs doing. She feels like a woman made of ‘Play-Doh‘. She distracts herself ‘ by watching Netflix documentaries about climate change, serial killers, and how the world is totally fucked beyond repair.’ She watches old episodes of MTV Cribs on Youtube and even forces herself to have a haircut. But none of it helps. She badly wants to share her news with her close friends from college flat share days. She finds that she can no longer connect with her married friends whom they have gone through things together and vowed to be there for each other no matter what. For a start, they cannot hang out freely just like before. Bea is a mother of two, and she is naturally good at running a household, a planner and organizer. ‘In Bea’s book, you embrace the madness of life and stop trying to control everything by keeping your life clean and orderly‘. When Cecily gets pregnant, both Bea and Cec become close. Cecily used to be the friend whom Olive can count on when she wants to have a wild evening out but now she is an expectant mother who is trying to do everything right for her first child. Isla has been struggling for months in trying for a child through IVF . Olive cannot tell them how she is really feeling and the reason why she and Jacob have broken up.
‘ Everyone else seems to have exciting or important news, while my only update is that my relationship has come to an end.’
So Olive begins to weigh the pros and cons to have or not to have babies. She feels lonely and to her friends, she is not a grownup. Of course everyone of her friends is just too involved with their own trajectory based on the choices they have made. They each have expectations of how the others will be understanding and supportive of some of the big changes they are going through and be there for each other. Olive feels alienated and in standing by her own feelings of not wanting children of her own, she ends up looking like she is totally insensitive to women like Isla who is struggling to conceive.
Olive by Emma Gannon is primarily a story about becoming adults and friendship between four women who manage to move pass their differences and follow their own paths and make peace with whatever life throws at them. It is sweet and funny, a commendable and thought-provoking read about cross-roads and milestones in life. Gannon is a Sunday Times bestselling author, speaker, novelist and host of the No.1 careers podcast in the UK, Ctrl Alt Delete. She also writes a weekly newsletter called “The Hyphen’ and runs a book club, The Hyphen Book Club.