Thursday, June 19, 2008


At my last MAD (Mother and Daughter) Readers meeting, we discussed Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. It’s the first book in a series about a girl who falls in love with a vampire. It is not my genre AT ALL, but I did enjoy it and I am working my way through the second book. The series is immensely popular with teenage girls and their mothers, reportedly selling better than Harry Potter in some areas.

Some of the vampires in the book have special abilities, such as being able to see the future or to read the thoughts of others. I’m told the idea of super powers is common in fantasy stories, which I don’t know because I wouldn’t read fantasy stories at all if they weren’t so popular with my daughter’s friends and their moms. One of the questions that we explored in our discussion of Twilight was “What special ability do you have right now that could develop into a super power?”

My daughter, Somer, mentioned that she thought it would be cool to have the power to “shape-shift,” although she didn’t feel that she had any special abilities that would qualify her for that super power. She was quite sure, however, that my super power would be “mind control.” That got us all laughing, especially since we had just been discussing my extensive summer job list for Somer. I know I am a controlling person and I laughed as hard as everyone else about my potential for mind control.

How did I get to be this way? I think it is common for oldest children, especially girls, to be bossy. I think it is also common for some children with an alcoholic parent to strive for control because their lives with that parent are unpredictable. In my case, it may also be genetic. I am told that, as a four-year old, when I was asked to pick up my toys in the front yard, I sat on the front steps and told my neighborhood friends and sisters which toys they could pick up for me. My dad responded by saying, “Some people are roofers and some people are foremen. It looks like we’ve got a foreman.”

I found my abilities as a controlling person to be quite beneficial as a teacher and as a parent of young children. The children in my classroom and home had clearly-defined expectations, well-planned activities and predictable routines. When I am feeling defensive about this aspect of my personality; I defend it, arguing that I am not bossy and controlling, but rather assertive.

However, no matter what name I give it, I do not find my controlling personality to be at all helpful in parenting my adult children; who are now trying to find their own way and eager to distance themselves from my way of doing things. I struggle with this because I still want to be involved in their lives and most of the time I am not. I didn’t expect to find this stage of parenting to be the most difficult for me.

In Mistaken Identity, the book that I just read with my adult group (I hesitate to call it my “Adult Book Club” because that suggests a type of literature which we have not yet explored), the issue of control takes on an entirely different light. This is the tragic account of two young women who were mistaken for each other after an accident in their college van. One family mistakenly buries the other’s daughter, thinking she is their own. The other family cares for the first family’s daughter for five weeks, thinking she belongs to them. Some readers find this book overly religious, but I find the depth of faith of the parents and the sisters in both of these families to be truly inspiring.

The most poignant moment in Mistaken Identity occurs for me when Newell Cerak, the father of the daughter who survives, tells Don Van Ryn, the father of the daughter who dies, that he feels guilty because his family has had the happy ending. Don Van Ryn responds that his family has had a happy ending, too, but that they just haven’t gotten there yet. I had to read and re-read his statement, unable to fathom this father’s composure in such hellacious circumstances. Don Van Ryn has no doubt that his family will have their happy ending when they are all together again in heaven. I do not know when I have read anything that touched me more.

No one in Mistaken Identity has any super powers. This is not a fantasy story. No one in the book is destined for mind control. The parents and sisters of Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak are ordinary people sustained by the grace of God. They know that God is in control and they are not, and they are happy with that. I also know that God is in control and I am not, but I have a little more trouble keeping my assertiveness in check.


pete said...

Sue, you are a wonderful and beautiful parent. You have the courage to sometimes be unpopular with your children for the sake of raising them to be responsible, autonomous, and creative young adults. I am often in awe of your talents as a parent. Thanks for your intimate and honest blog!

ssd said...

Thanks Pete! You made my day!