In my novel Someone To Come Back To, Dr. Maggie O’Brien seeks the seclusion of the Adirondacks for some peace and to undertake some clear-headed thinking about her life. One of the things she finally faces with brutal honesty is her relationship with her mother and her contribution to that relationship and how she hasn’t always been fair to her mother. She realizes what most of us realize at some point – the breathtaking amount of work and effort her mother put in to ensure she and the rest of her family had a happy and as smooth running a life as possible. I’m sharing the excerpt here in honour of all the Mothers on Mother’s Day – enjoy!
“She remembered her last boyfriend Tim, and his pleas to her to leave the E.R. and get engaged, to become Mrs. Taylor and follow him to a life in the burbs, from where he intended to commute to work every day and leave her rearing their children. His vision of domestic bliss had only revealed itself under the influence of a lot of alcohol at the staff Christmas party and Maggie had realized there and then their relationship was over. It had spluttered on for a few more months, mainly due to their hectic work schedules but Maggie had finally ended it.
The idea of her as some sort of housewife, trying to juggle domestic commitments with raising children was the stuff of her own personal horror movie. She could barely manage her life as a single woman, never mind trying to keep small people alive and cared for. And there was the rub, the thing she didn’t understand, the thing she wanted to put under a microscope and examine forensically and the thing she was simultaneously terrified to look at.
She was a successful trauma surgeon, a key member of the E.R. team at Hillview. She was an intelligent, accomplished woman, excellent at her job and committed to her work. But that’s where her success stopped.
Her apartment was a disaster zone. It was constantly a mess. She struggled to keep on top of the basics such as washing, ironing and cleaning. Her bills were consistently overdue and she’d had her phone and power disconnected on more than one occasion. She barely had time to shop, never mind cook and her diet consisted basically of take-outs and frozen dinners. And this for a trauma surgeon! She knew if she kept going in this vein she’d be bringing a major trauma on herself.
Then there was her social life. Apart from the occasional drinks with colleagues and the few times a year she met up with former friends from university, she didn’t have a social life. She didn’t do anything. She seemed to remember a time when she used to go for a run or a bike-ride but there just didn’t seem to be any time in her schedule anymore to do those things. And then there was her sex life.
Hmmmm… she thought to herself, I’m back to that old bogey. She simply didn’t have a sex life. Other than a fumble with an intern about a year ago, she had zip, nada, zilch.
No wonder I’m swooning over some guy I met in the woods, she thought baldly to herself.
How was it her life differed so greatly from her father’s? He had worked the E.R. all his life and had always been impeccably turned out, not slinking into work in yet another crumpled shirt and the same pants for three days in a row. He had eaten like a king and found time for a walk every day, his “constitutional” he had called it. His bills were always paid promptly and she never remembered a time when their phone or power had been disconnected. He had always had time to spend with each of his kids every day. She barely had time to herself. He had been her hero and she had grown up wanting to be just like him.
Hillview had welcomed her with open arms, delighted to have the daughter of E.R. legend Dr. Dan O’Brien on staff. And she was doing her best to live up to that legend. She’d always thought that was what she wanted and in the beginning it had felt great. She’d been totally buzzed up following in her eminent father’s footsteps but after a few years and the sheer grind of the E.R. the buzz had started to fade.
She loved her job but lately it didn’t feel the same. Was it the changing nature of many of the cases they dealt with such as the increase in stabbings, gun-shot wounds, and worst of all battered and abused children or was she burnt out? Did she need to go into a saner part of medicine, to specialize, and work scheduled hours, maybe even just during the day?
Her father had worked E.R. all his life until the day he retired, he could never have imagined doing anything else. Why then should she not be able for it? Why was she struggling to balance her work life with some semblance of a personal life? Why, for God’s sake, was she lucky if she had a clean pair of panties to put on in the morning!
The answer, of course was back in Bay Ridge in the perfectly maintained brownstone she had grown up in. But it wasn’t the answer she wanted. It was the answer, the truth of which, she refused to acknowledge. However, here she was in the middle of nowhere, a place she had driven over five hours to get to so she could have some peace and solitude to finally figure out exactly what it was that had been bothering her for months now. She had promised herself it was a time for brutal honesty, so there was no point hiding behind half-truths and fairytales.
The answer took the form of Kitty O’Brien her indomitable mother and a woman with whom she had a less than straightforward relationship. She’d always laid the blame for the type of relationship she had with her mother squarely at her mother’s feet but the thought had been slowly formulating over the past few months if that was strictly fair. And now, sitting here on this glorious morning, looking at the incredible scenery before her and actually spending time alone, sitting and thinking, she had to finally face the unpalatable fact she hadn’t been fair to her mother at all, not one little bit.
Kitty O’Brien had been a doctor in her own right and if any of the comments from some of her father’s colleagues were to be believed, had been a brilliant and gifted physician. However, her career had been sacrificed upon the altar of motherhood and domestic servitude. Maggie was aware her mother had kept working for a few years after she was born and even after the birth of her brother Patrick but had never gone back to work after the birth of Lucy. Maggie always assumed that had been her mother’s choice but now she wondered how much of a choice she’d actually had.
Even nowadays it was difficult to successfully juggle a career with a home-life, she was single with no kids and couldn’t pull it off. She could only imagine how impossible it would have been for a woman of her mother’s generation, who, after dealing with the general criticism for choosing to be a working mother, would have been expected to handle all of the child-rearing and housework as well. As much of a hero as her father was to her, she never recalled him once cooking a meal or vacuuming the floor, much less cleaning a bathroom.
She cringed as she recalled her unadulterated adoration of her father while at the same time all her mother had got from her was grudging acknowledgement at best and snooty disdain most of the time. No wonder, her mother’s response was a guarded prickliness. She had kept the cogs of all their lives running so smoothly for so long, none of them had even been aware of it.
The house had always been immaculate, a perfectly cooked meal was on the table every evening, impeccably ironed clothes were ready to wear every morning, homework was supervised every night, football games, swimming, drama recitals and school plays were never missed, bills were paid on time and holidays were planned with military precision and no special occasion went unmissed.
In later years her mother had even volunteered at a local women’s health clinic. Maggie had been vaguely aware of her mother being highly regarded by local women, obvious in the affection they demonstrated to “Dr. Kitty” whenever they’d met any of these women on public occasions. However, she had been too focused on her father as the hero to consider her mother might actually be just as equally regarded.
“Damn,” Maggie swore to herself as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat, no wonder her father had been able to pull off a thirty year career in the Emergency Room, he’d had the unequivocal, total and absolute support of his wife who had managed every aspect of his life.
All he’d had to do every day was get up, put his perfectly ironed clothes on, eat the breakfast his wife had prepared for him and go to work. He hadn’t needed to worry about where the food was coming from or who was going to cook it, how his dirty clothes were going to get cleaned and ironed and put in the wardrobe or who was going to pay the bills.
Of course he could just have fun with his children because the homework was already done and he’d never had to take time out of his busy day to carefully plan something as mundane as a family holiday, much less do all the packing for it. It was easy to go and be super-doctor every day when you had a whole other human being managing every aspect of your life.
And there was the problem, Maggie didn’t have the equivalent of her mother, or anyone remotely close, to manage her life. Disgruntled, she got up from the chair and went back inside the cabin. She had finally faced up to what had been niggling at her for so long but how to solve it? She was hardly going to find herself a wife any time soon…….”