I have read and liked Fall On Your Knees, The Way the Crow Flies, and now Adult Onset. I would recommend any of them. But, Adult Onset is the one I can relate to most. Among the rewards of parenting, it is full of the chaos and angst of having children and trying your best to be a good parent.
Sometimes things need to get worse before they can get better.
Mary Rose MacKinnon (MR/Mister) is a 48-year-old stay-at-home mother of two young children. She is also a wife, daughter, and sister – all of which are relevant in every way to the story and how she sees herself as a person and a parent.
The book covers one week in the life of Mary Rose, as she parents her kids single-handedly while her partner/wife is away for work. A phantom pain in Mary Rose’s arm brings back memories of her childhood; her mother’s miscarriages and stillbirths and the resulting depression, her father’s role in her life, and her painful experience with bone cysts.
Throughout this book, her days with the children are the center of everything and the part I enjoyed the most. She captures their joys and sorrows, their frustrations and demands; the freedom of swinging in the park; the determination of a 2-year-old who wants her ladybug boots instead of her winter boots; the humiliation of a 5-year-old who didn’t quite make it to the toilet; hamsters getting loose; macaroni up the nose; spills to clean up; her own cracked and bleeding hands from so much washing. The depiction of the monotony and chaos of full days spent with children are bang on. Her guilt and struggle over her feelings as a parent and trying to get it right are something all mothers can relate to. Her attempts to control her anger, fear of her outbursts, and doubt of her abilities are heart-breakingly real.
Mary Rose has a lot to feel angry about; her mother’s depression when she was a child, and how her parents treat her when she comes out to them at the age of 23 (“I would rather you had cancer“).
How do you tell yourself what you already know? If you have successfully avoided something, how do you know you have avoided it? Land mines of anger left over from a forgotten war, you step on one by chance. Sudden sinkholes of depression, you crawl back out. A weave of weeds obscures a mind-shaft but cannot break a fall, you get hurt this time. A booby-trapped terrain, it says, “Something happened here.” Trenches overgrown but still invisibly from space, green welts, scars that tell a story. You press on.
As she tries to work out her pain of the past in an effort to move forward in a positive direction, she realizes that her life is her own and she can make of it what she wants.
It is possible to know all this, and yet have no place to put it. It is possible to be outside on a sunny day, but trapped inside a cave.
Ann-Marie MacDonald packs a lot of messages into this book that is partly autobiographical. I love what she has to say about parenting, family, marriage, depression, and aging. I think it is the kind of book that readers can take from it what they want and need.
We never thought we’d be able to get married. We thought we were out in the cold, so we made the cold into a party, but cold is cold and family is family and you guys are mine.
Reading through the Goodreads reviews, I was surprised by some of the low ratings. Those who gave it a low rating seem to be unimpressed with the day-to-day aspect of the protagonist’s life, and the fact that we are very much inside her head. These are the things I liked most about the book. This is what life is for most of us; the day-to-day routine; reconciling the past with the present; the relationships we have with our partners and family members. This is real life.
Read about how Ann-Marie MacDonald “mines her own life” in Adult Onset at The Montreal Gazette.
“Part of me thinks that people must have been hoping for some huge sweeping saga, and here I am presenting them with the view from the kitchen table.”
For a beautiful thorough review of Adult Onset, visit Pickle Me This.
“It gets better. But how does one heal from that, Mary Rose is asking in Adult Onset (which MacDonald herself asked in a Globe and Mail article last summer during Pride Week in Toronto)? Can we ever forgive our parents for the ways they failed us? And are we destined to repeat their mistakes with our own children, personality as much a part of our genetic legacy as everything? Can we forgive our parents and love our parents, but still seek out lives that are different from theirs? Is it possible to choose our own destinies? Are there lessons for us in parallel worlds after all?”
“… just as no mother is an island, neither is her maternity in relation to the rest of life. A mother is never just this one thing, even at the worst times when she imagines she is.”
The Globe and Mail article: Love, anger, and pride: How Ann-Marie MacDonald learned to let go of the past.
You can abuse a child without breaking a single law. All you have to do is fail to see them. Exile is hard; coming back from exile can be harder. Pride is symbolized by a rainbow, not just because it leads to Oz or a pot of gold or even because it signifies diversity, but because it spans the sky and holds us all. What matters most is not what’s over the rainbow but who is under it.