I mentioned in the post I wrote about the movie Brave that I might need to amend or rewrite part of my first novel to accommodate it. I can't decide because I kind of like it the way it is, but it could seem like an obvious omission since the novel has yet to be published. Or maybe I should leave it as a reflection on when it was written, rather than update it?
I could use some opinions if anyone is willing to take a few minutes and read an excerpt.
The name of my novel is The Real Mom, although I'm considering changing the title to Pink Ponies. It's about Maddie, an artist who is married and is the stay at home mom of two young girls. This excerpt is from the middle of chapter four after she's found out she's pregnant again, and she's taking care of her girls while making dinner and waiting for her husband to come home. (I look forward to the day when anyone who is interested can read the whole thing. Which could be soon as I am about at my limit with rejections from agents and may just self-publish and be done with it. If anyone has advice on any of that I'd love to hear it too!)
The Real Mom, by Korinthia Klein, pages 79-84:
Maddie set about putting together her meal, wishing as she usually did when she was home alone with the kids that she had an adult to talk to. But right then, specifically, she wished she could talk to her mom. She was just a child when she lost her mom and Maddie wanted so badly to tell her about the new baby. All the babies. There were many points along the way where her mom's absence was more strongly felt than others, but at no time more acutely than when she first became a mom herself. There was so much she wanted to ask her and tell her, and she knew that her mother would have loved her children like no one else could have. When she tried to imagine her own kids with kids somewhere in the future it took her breath away. It was so wrong that her mom didn't get to see any of this.
As dinner cooked and Maddie began cleaning up where she could, she switched her thoughts to one of her private obsessions. Maddie was fascinated with the missing moms of the super hero worlds and adventure stories. Maddie had pondered the puzzle of the missing moms as long as she could remember, scouring her brother's comic books when he wasn't home for evidence of any mom who was spared. The key seemed to be that a good mom ensured that there could be no adventure. Any mom who didn't know what sort of danger her child was up to was simply not a good mom. Good moms were there for love and protection and they kept things running smoothly. They anticipated problems before they could happen and were prepared for the mishaps of life. They were supposed to be forever vigilant, forever self-sacrificing, and forever careful. They would lay down their own lives rather than see harm come to their babies. This was a recipe for killing adventure, so the solution more often than not was to kill the moms first.
And a 'mother figure' did not carry the same expectations as a real mom. That was why there was the illusion of mothers in super hero stories, but they were never the real moms. Spiderman had Aunt May, but we didn't hold her accountable for not keeping track of Peter Parker better. Superman's mom was really an adoptive mom, his real one having been blown up on the home planet.
This also extended gruesomely to other children's adventures, Maddie had noticed. Cute kids' tales were littered with the corpses of mothers strewn willy nilly, some more craftily covered over than others. She was the only kid in her class who seemed to notice or care that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz was being raised by Auntie Em. She figured it was because you could forgive an aunt for going into the cellar without her niece, but would anyone have had sympathy for a mother who left her child alone to face a tornado? Dorothy has no adventure if her mom is alive to see her safely into the cellar.
As her children sat entranced by their movie, Maddie mentally reviewed the list she had compiled for herself so far. Her tally of missing moms that occupied her thoughts when she had no one to talk to got longer each year:
Superman: Parents died on Krypton; raised by adoptive parents.
Batman: Parents gunned down; raised by Alfred the Butler.
Robin: Both parents killed.
Spiderman: Both parents killed; raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben (who himself gets gunned down).
Wonder Woman: Never had parents, was formed from a chunk of clay by gods.
Daredevil: Orphaned when his boxer father was killed for throwing a match, and mom is never mentioned but presumed dead.
Wolverine: Dead parents.
Dorothy: No parents (presumed dead); raised by Auntie Em.
Snow White: Dead mom.
Cinderella: Dead mom.
Ariel: No mom. (Seriously? What was that about?)
Belle: Dead mom.
Fish from Finding Nemo: Dead mom.
Bambi: Really dead mom.
Dumbo: Mom imprisoned for most of the film. At least in that movie the mom gets out at the end when the adventure is safely over.
The other thing that was puzzling, although it made sense when she remembered that the true audience for the super hero comics was usually young boys, was that even in the absence of both parents, only the lingering influence of the dad ever seemed to resonate with the hero. Superman was even guided by the memory of not one, but two dead dads. Despite all of a mom's attention and sacrifice and offering up of her own body to bring that hero into the world, her contributions were never reflected upon or of any notable consequence. That always struck her as not being authentic (unlike the flying or the climbing up walls or the super sensory perception--she knew she was selective in her suspension of disbelief). She had a dead mom, and trolled her memory all the time for any direction she got as a child that might have an application to her life as an adult. Dead moms were not so easily dismissed or forgotten.
Maddie believed she was likely the only one in the theater who cried during the animated movie 'The Incredibles.' It was the only movie (aside from the numerous learning-in-disguise programs for the kids) she owned on DVD, and it held endless fascination for her. It was the only movie she could think of where the mom was a good mom, and a hero, and her children still have an adventure. The point where Maddie lost it predictably every time was when the mom and the kids were falling from the sky after their plane was destroyed. They were all unconscious, but when mom comes to in time to realize what's happening, even though she's still in trouble herself, she instinctively reaches for each of her children to shield them and help them to safety. There is a delicacy and a ferocity to a mother's love that somehow seemed to be driven home to Maddie in that scene and she never tired of it. It was also proof that the mom did not have to die. Unfortunately, if the moms really didn't have to die, that meant countless writers at all levels might be killing moms simply for their own amusement, and she didn't want to know what that meant.
As much as she found the real mom scenarios entertaining to think about in the fictional world, there were real world implications to them that scared her. There was a reason people blamed mothers for their children's autism for so long, and why single moms struggling with an impossible situation were often the brunt of so much societal scorn. It appeared everyone in psychology and literature went to great lengths to find ways to blame the mom. There was an ideal mom image with pie and sparkling floors that if you fell short of at all you were done for, and you opened yourself up for scrutiny and disapproval.
It seemed to Maddie that the ideal impact of the ideal mom was only neutral. The ideal mom worked her fingers to the bone completely behind the scenes so that everyone else could have a life, but if she had one too, she was taking the risk of drawing attention to herself, and the odds were good that that attention would be framed as blame for something. Mom was infallible and invisible or mom was the problem, and there seemed very little room for being a truly real mom. For being human.
The story that most sent chills up her spine in this arena was one she saw on television right after a tsunami hit Indonesia and devastated the region. There were two women on the screen, a mother whose baby had been ripped from her arms by the water, and that woman's aunt. The mother was beside herself with grief, the kind of grief that seems cruel to passively document with a camera, and she was weeping uncontrollably and describing how the same water that had swept away entire villages had robbed her of her baby, too. That was hard enough to watch, but the twist of the knife came when the aunt said with a disapproving look at her niece, "You should have held onto that baby." Maddie was haunted by that line for months. Because the lesson was clear: There was no excuse for a mom who didn't protect her baby, not even if the excuse were as big as the largest wave the world had to throw at you. Being a mom meant you had to be better than that. That thought still kept her up at night sometimes.