Patterning a Fictional Motherhood

The children paused at the front door when they  returned from school if they heard loud classical music.

They’d scan my face and ask, “is someone coming over?”

If the music was something particularly dramatic, like Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries, or possibly worse, Tchakovsky’s 1812 Overture, the odds plummeted I was cleaning for company.

Which usually meant only one other option: I was angry.

I always cleaned to classical music, particularly if I needed a constructive outlook for my fury, but it was only years later I realized why.

That’s exactly what Mrs. Austin did in Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet the Austins.

During one child’s birthday party, my husband took everyone to the movies and I stayed home to “get things ready,” for the sleepover to come. Since I had a couple hours to myself, I painted the front and back doors of the house.

In the middle of a birthday party.

Later, I realized that’s exactly the type of thing Mrs. Belford would have done in the Katie Rose series by Lenora Mattingly Weber.

The summer my daughter turned eight, I realized she had never seen The Sound of Music, so I went to Blockbuster Video to rent a copy. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked the young pierced man behind the counter. He started typing, “Sound of what?”

The Sound of Music.” I spoke slowly and enunciated everything with care.

Music?” he looked puzzled.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of The Sound of Music.”

“Nope.”

So help me, I turned into Woody Allen and addressed the middle aged man behind me in line. “You’ve heard of The Sound of Music, haven’t you?”

“Of course,” he grunted. “Chick flick.”

The clerk shook his head.

So I became Julie Andrews and broke into song: “Doe, a deer, a female deer.”

The female clerk behind the counter joined me and I only wish, now, I’d danced through the video aisles with my arms outstretched as we got more and more enthusiastic.

Paralyzed at his screen, the male clerk watched with his mouth open. I suppose this was a two-woman flash dance . . .

The point of these stories is to show how fiction has affected my life and my mothering in unexpected ways. When I read and reread those YA books by L’Engle and Weber as a lonely teenager, I had no way of knowing how they were imprinting me and thus my own family. The musicals I loved added music and joy to my life.

Is that what YA fiction is doing now?

I’ve heard stories recently of wonderful teenagers I know cutting themselves. What would make them think to do such a thing, particularly young teenagers?

Could it have to do with the media they consume?

What we put into our minds, particularly those stories we reread and think about, has an affect. If your society emphasizes the “dark side,” the negative, the ugly, the brutal and the cruel, do you really think you can “consume” those ideas and not be affected?

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, “I’m going to clean house to classical music because that’s what Mrs. Austin did.” I just did it because it made sense.

It still makes sense.

But I’m far more conscious now, on the potential affects on my life if I read too much in the negative. How about you?

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2 Comments

  1. I clean when I’m angry too. Which means my house is a mess. I guess that’s a good thing. I could’ve stood in the video store and sang the whole score with you!

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  2. Absolutely. There is some dark stuff that’s very good (for example, James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux stories) but I have to be in the right place to attempt it.

    As a side note, it was a sad day when my 10 y/o told me I was going to have to sopt singing and dancing in the grocery aisle (to Muzak) because it was embarrassing. :)

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