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Monday, April 14, 2008

Book Tour #11: The Mistress's Daughter

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about The Mistress's Daughter? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Tour by visiting the master list in the post above. Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #12 (Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen) and all are welcome to join along (see the post above to sign up). All you need is a book and blog.

I read the bulk of The Mistress's Daughter this past fall when I was waiting for the Wolvog to emerge from an appointment and it seemed fitting--here I was in the act of waiting and I was reading about someone who spent so many years waiting for information. I grew up and still live in Maryland, frequent Politics and Prose and know my way around Potomac and Chevy Chase. Reading the book made me feel as if I was literally walking alongside AM Homes in each scene, meeting these relatives. The mark of a powerful book.

Why do you think the author's biological father went through the DNA testing if he was still going to go along pretending she didn't exist? How did you react to that emotionally as the reader?

I'd like to believe that he had good intentions and poor follow-through. I think, similar to AM, he was gathering information. I think, dissimilar to AM, he didn't see the importance of using the information gathered--learning from it, making sense of it. It was hard to judge him because you never hear his side--why he does what he does, what he's going through emotionally--but, to be fair to the author, he also forfeited including that side of the story by not letting her in and holding her at arms length.

Reading the book encouraged me to think of my own family "secrets." For example, most members of my extended family want to hush up any discussion of IF, as though it's a contagious disease. Do you think that secrets strengthen a family or tear it apart and, how does your family process secrets?

It's an interesting question. I think secrets definitely have the ability to go either way. I know secrets that I hold for others and ones they hold for me and how information can bind two people completely. I think the difference is when some people hold information and others sense it exists but don't have access to it (especially when they are affected by that information) vs. when all parties share a piece of information with each other yet keep it within the family and not share it with the outside world (who would never be affected by the information).

There are several instances in the early chapters where AM is struck by references to her arrival in her adopted family as a "gift" or a "present" one that's wrapped in pink ribbon at that. As an adoptee, I too have felt somewhat commodified in my adopted parents' retelling of my arrival into the family. We waited and waited and then you were handed to us... And this is something I worry about when I think about sharing origin stories with our (hopefully, someday, maybe) child. Will they feel like they were a commodity? More so than other children? What are your thoughts on this?

I wonder if it's not the message of a "gift" that creates a feeling of being commodified because I think even naturally-conceived children are given the image of a gift. Is it something more then--a combination of the message and something else. Actions? Other words? Circumstances colouring the message?

Certainly, I think it's a message many of us in the IF world tell our kids. I would think that some children take it and draw a lot of self-esteem from the message. And then other children take it and draw discomfort from the message. But it's impossible to know how the child will react.

It's a really fine line to walk: letting the child know how special they are and how much love you have for them and not overwhelming them with a feeling of being a saviour. I only worry when we start examining things that we say to naturally-conceived, assisted conception, or adopted children and have too many self-conscious moments. I would find it difficult to believe that non-IF parents worry about letting a child know how wanted they were or think about the damaging side effects. I think every child regardless of how they came into a family has the potential to view their origin as a commodity (or a burden or selfish or joyous or divinely-stated). But is every parent worrying about it and should they? Will it make us self-conscious if we weigh our accolades and messages of love? Will it start creating space between parent and child? I think we need to be circumspect with our words but I also think it's impossible to know how words of love will be taken and processed by another person. I don't know--the question gives a lot of food for thought.


Deb said...

Good point about her birth father and his reaction.

You bring up some interesting questions in your third answer. If only there was a simple answer for everyone.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

loribeth said...

Great answers, esp. to #3 -- how true, I very much doubt non-IF parents give these kinds of questions a second thought. And I agree with you on #1 about the biodad. In the end, he couldn't face up to how much his life would change if he truly let her be a part of it.

Jen said...

Interesting last point. I had a friend in college with the opposite problem. She was an accident from a one night stand and her mom let her know it. It really messed her up.

Lori said...

I'll hone in on your 2nd question.

Your answer made me realize there are two types of family secrets.

1. Secrets within the family (shared inside but not outside)
2. Secrets among family members (some in the family know and others don't)

The former may be non-harmful and even protective, while the latter is the kind that always blows up on soap operas (and often IRL).

As for Q1, I was really pissed at dough-boy for keeping AM at arm's length.

JuliaS said...

I thought it was interesting that shortly after AM's bio-mom's death contact with her father fell off. It wasn't until she applied to the DOR and contacted him before they spoke again. Some of it seemed to be her choice - though bio-dad certainly didn't make any efforts either. It was almost as if now that bio-mom/mistress was gone - the interest on his end dissipated as well. It sounded like dad was in contact with mom almost more frequently than with their daughter during the time she was still alive.

I really liked your thoughts on commodifying our children. I think some of the things we say are said that way because it sounds nice - who doesn't want a gift after all? I hadn't really stopped to think how something so innocuous sounding or pretty to us might be disconcerting for a child. Food for thought.

Queenie. . . said...

I think your final point is a good one--we DON'T know how a child will react to a representation that is made to them. The best of intentions, when interpreted through a child's eyes, can end up being a source of pain for the child. I hadn't really thought about that, as it relates to the story of how the child came to be a part of the family.

Bea said...

I'm trying to remember what my parents said to me about my origins. It didn't seem to come up. Whenever they discussed our relationship it was always about the here and now. I'm inclined, suddenly, to think that might be a good way to go - very natural, impossible to be taken the wrong way.


Bea said...

When I say "didn't come up" it was an open piece of information, and I did understand physically how it happened, it just wasn't a frequent or weighty topic of conversation.