Awhile ago, Celeste Ng published her book Little Fires Everywhere, which is a story that takes place in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, Ohio known as Shaker Heights. As soon as I heard where this story took place, I knew I needed to read this book. Not only were my friends who were living in Cleveland reading it, but it seemed the whole country was as well.
This book did so well, that a show was made from the book featuring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington – two heavy hitter female actresses whom I trusted would bring these characters to life in an authentic and fruitful way. I subscribed to Hulu to watch. Both the book and the movie explore topics that are confounding in society. Even though it takes place in the 1990s, we are wrestling with the same issues in 2020.
Some of the issues include:
- Should a woman always have a child even if she is married and feels her family is already complete?
- When does being a mother overshadow one’s career and how does the mother deal with her professional losses that motherhood have taken from her?
- What about the man who gets away because you let him get away but can’t quite get over to the detriment of your marriage?
- How do we see our children, i.e. the way we want to view them or for who they actually are? What is the cost to either of these choices?
- Is a surrogacy pregnancy ever truly that or does the child always belong to the birth mother?
- Should a child born of another race be raised by parents from another race — does such an adoption ever do the child justice? If so, how?
- What does being a Mother actually mean?
So much of this story — of the little fires bursting forth everywhere — has to do with a woman’s identity as a mother. Whether she looks to be perfect from the outside with the beautiful home, four children, and perfect career or is a bohemian artist rambling from town to town with a daughter who does not know from where she comes from or is a mother who is desperate to raise a baby of her own, but can only find this fulfillment via adoption, to the socio-economically poor mother who feels forced to give up her baby for a better life than she can offer — all of these types of mothers and their meanings are explored in the book and show.
It’s quite masterful the many ways that Ng weaves all of these maternal stories together in an explosive tale that leaves all lives upended in many surprising ways by the end. For me, it has provided me fodder to think of mothering in a way that is not known to me for being a child free woman who chose to not take a motherhood path. For me, mothering feels like I sit outside of these narratives.
However, Ng seems to invite even me in to think about the various ways mothering plays out in our lives, whether we are actually a mother or not. I have been mothered, I have many friends and family members who are mothers, I have patients who are mothers — mothering feels universal on some level. Yet, Ng shows the various threads and unique paths women take toward it and live it out.
Worth a read and/or a watch to perhaps see where you find the mother in you.