I'm curled up on the floor; quietly typing in a room darkened but bathed in the warm glow of sunlight burning through rosy curtains listening to the hushed whiffles of a napping two year old. She tried so hard to go to sleep by herself, squeezing her little eyes crinkly-shut but left alone her crooning lullabies turn to raucous playing. So "stay," she asked, "stay Täti." And I sit on the floor next to her crib turned big girl bed, savoring the sweet joy of a child's love: simultaneously content and hungry for a little girl of my own. But these moments, these please stay moments are not the whole story. Just as often I hear "NoooOOOOooooo" and "No help, Täti." All her life this little girl will push away and draw back the women in her heart: her mommy, her grandmas, her täti, and her friends. This dance of negotiation, security versus independence, will continue.
I think that may be what touched me in The Mother Daughter Book Club, this exploration of the female dance of friendship. My local library (bookstores are not an option right now) had the first three in this series by Heather Frederick Vogel: Mother Daughter Book Club, Much Ado About Anne, and Dear Pen Pal. As you would expect the series follows a book club of middle school girls and their mothers who all know each other from yoga class.
Since in my experience middle school girls are drawn to drama like paparazzi to red carpets much angst ensues. The friendships are very fluid as well as tempestuous. Megan may start off disliking Emma, and then become her friend only to not be friends again after a fight; confusing but realistic. I remember this, H not liking me only to become my best friend and then suddenly mad at me again. Navigating middle school relationships was akin to riding a roller coaster on roller blades. Much of the fluidity in these books is aided by the narrator switch with each chapter. Each girl gets to share her point of view. What a great way to show that in every conflict there are as many sides as there are participants and what seems clear cut when looked at from one point of view may still not be correct.
Learning this skill has helped me to develop more compassion and acceptance. I also find it refreshing that the conflicts between the girls aren’t always tied up with a neat little bow. There are a couple of mean girls in the series and while putting forth an effort to understand them does reveal possible friends, those newly transformed friendships can still be unstable.
I thought this was pretty true to life. I want to teach my kids that compassion, kindness and understanding can go a long way but the truth is that many of the people they meet are hurting and will lash out regardless of their actions.
Friends aren’t the only complicated female relationships present. Each daughter comes with her own history and emotional baggage which often complicates the relationship with her mom. Cassidy has lost her father, Sarah’s parents are separated for a time, Megan is the polar opposite of her granola crunchy mom and each of these scenarios offer up much angst. Although the main conflict in each book is usually neatly resolved, like the friendships, the mother-daughter conflicts aren't perfectly wrapped up, at least not from the middle schooler point of view. Though the books are written for young girls and from their perspective it is clear that there is a different story going on in the adults’ lives which I only glimpsed as it affected the daughters. But the moms’ stories definitely impact their children. This element, the rhythm set by the generation ahead is a part of the dance.
There is another group of women who dance their steps in these books as well: the authors who wrote the classics the Book Club explores. Their lives and their art have a voice here. These books- Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Daddy-Long-Legs-provide plot parallels and speak to the characters about both their circumstances and the roles they play in them. The conflicts and joys present where two or more women are gathered together are not new; they‘ve been explored and described by gifted women whose tales layout choreography for generations to come. This is a very old dance that the Book Club daughters and mothers, sweet little Tea and I all twirl within.