So this was how it was. People entered your life. Some would stay. Some would not. Some would drift but would return to you
I started picking up some books from my ever-expanding bookshelf and I had the pleasure of hitting one of my favourite authors: Gayle Forman – who wrote If I Stay (Gayle Forman)
Meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack.
Afterwards, surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: She packs a bag and leaves. But, as is so often the case, once we get to where we’re going, we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is finally able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from those she loves and from herself.
In today’s world, career and motherhood are not mutually exclusive but still, women are drawing the short straw. Maribeth is still expected to perform her wifely duties while still recovering from a very difficult operation. Her husband is at work more and more, relieved to be out of the house and all he wants to hear from her is that she’s feeling better. She’s not feeling better. Her children are little tiny black holes that seem to absorb energy and resources and her mother that was called in to help with the household chores is more of a burden than any real help. Maribeth sees that the household is declining – dirty dishes are piling up, the grandma falls asleep instead of taking the kids to school and the pretence of trying to look put together and well adjusted is draining poor Maribeth. Everything seems to explode when the kids are taken back home with their head filled with lice.
She felt so caught out. She’d thought she’d done everything right. She’d spent her entire life making lists, following through, keeping everything in check, all to make sure this kind of thing would never happen.
And look where it had gotten her. Just fucking look.
Maribeth slaps her child after she gets pushed on the chest (where her operation was) and then feels regretful. She withdraws 25k from a fund her father left her and runs away to find herself.
Maribeth figured out “the ugly secret of a mother’s love: you protect them, to protect yourself”.
This is where I started looking at Maribeth from a slightly different perspective. She abandoned her children without a word and a look back. For a whole month. Because she could not cope with her daily chores and did not speak up that she wants help or needs help. If it was me, I would have probably hired a temporary maid to help out and sent the grandma packing as she was more in the way than any actual help. The children would have been told well in advance how close to death their mother was and asked to behave accordingly – no pushing. no shoving, no yelling. Plenty of rest for mom.
She would have had then the patience and love to take care of her young ones. And I think the huge set of savings were a Deus Ex Machina. If she was broke, would she had still run away? Or would she have dreamed of it daily? Eh, personal opinion. Running away is the easy way out. A cop out. She absconded from her motherly duties and if I were the husband I would probably not have received her back with open arms and no slap on the wrist.
There have been studies regarding the effects of a mother abandoning her children as the kids are scarred and might develop low self-esteem and doubt about their worth in their parent’s eyes. They might feel unloved and it will take a long time to earn their trust again after failing so miserably to tend to their needs.
In many states, what Maribeth did could be considered a felony.
But hey, that’s just me. Back to the book.
Food for thought: Do we judge a mother for ‘walking out’? Going off grid? Not leaving a note of where she is going? Can we forgive her? Do we justify her actions ‘because’ had a heart attack?
So in the book, Maribeth absconds. She goes into hiding, cuts her hair, gets a new wardrobe from the thrift shop. She decides to go see a doctor but because she does not want to use her insurance so she doesn’t get tracked down by her husband, she goes to see a doctor who only takes cash. There’s a dark cloud around this doctor – maybe a malpraxis suit had caused him to be cast out from the medical community and be referred to in whispers. I started frowning at this part as well. Why don’t doctors in America accept cash for a consultation? It’s standard practice everywhere in the freaking world! And why would Maribeth risk her well being to go see a shady doctor just because he takes cash? One less washed hand could mean an infection that her recovering body would not be able to handle.
“Scars are tattoos with better stories”
Well, the plot required that Maribeth had another love interest. An older doctor, assumed widower, actually divorced and with an adult daughter. Maribeth quickly forgets her marital vows and goes with the doctor for ice-cream, sees him in his private home and even invites him for dinner in a very romantic setting. She kisses him…
At the same time, she starts sending accusatory emails to her husband asking him why didn’t he look for her? Why didn’t he care enough to look? Why did he hate her so.
I liked her husband’s character. He sounded chill and composed and was smart enough to concoct a believable story for the children and keep appearances while his wife was frolicking around in another city with another man.
Because she had all this new free time, Maribeth decides to look for her birth parents – she knew she was adopted but she didn’t actually care until she was free to think. I would have thought that all the questions about the birth parents would have come earlier, in the teen years but no… the plot wasn’t suited for that…
Maribeth does find her birth mother, does find out that she was an unplanned pregnancy and her mother quickly gave her away to avoid destroying her future and that she was carefree in court and in the hospital.
The book ends with Maribeth reuniting with her husband, leaving the doc alone again and finding her birth mother.
“Sometimes we just have to learn to take care of ourselves first”. This is easier said then done when you have other people depending on you. Maribeth should have gone for a retreat for the month. Email her kids and her husband. Make new friends, read a book. Exactly what she did in the other city but without running away. Plan everything and use that huge inheritance fund to go somewhere nice. If she was feeling good, get her husband with her for a few days. Start missing home, return to the fray when the energy is back up.
The book got me thinking and it’s a great conversational toping. I won’t put it in the charity pile but the solid 3/5 makes it ideal for the birthday gift section 🙂
Would you have done what she did?