Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan is a book about choice. Elizabeth is a former war journalist who chooses to stay closer to home after her daughters are born. She is not happy — her husband is working all hours, she’s passing out at odd times, and she becomes obsessed with a first grade classmate, April, whose mother committed suicide and killed her two daughters — April included — with her. Elizabeth forces the issues of her husband’s distance her and unhappiness as she interviews people who knew April and her mother, Adele.
By making this a story about two women, Copaken Kogan shows how far and how far we have to go in terms of women and motherhood. Post partum depression wasn’t a recognized illness in 1972, which is when Adele committed suicide. Adele saw a therapist, yes, but one who gave her valium to calm her nerves and zonk her out. Even PMS wasn’t considered and excuse for being moody or depressed. Neither was giving up a career to stay at home with her daughters (Adele had been a nurse pre-marriage).
Elizabeth’s world is different, but not so much. She sees a therapist, yes, but she’s still responsible for her children and their care. She’s responsible for the home and hearth while her husband does whatever he wants (while she’s on the road working on her story, is becomes enraged that she didn’t pick up his dry cleaning). Childcare in the U.S. is a joke, which prevents Elizabeth from really going back to work and producing celebrity TV show short instead of things that matter to her — until she delves into what really happened to Adele and April.
It’s a well written, moving read (though not perfect — the end is odd). And it’s one of those books that had me thinking about it long after I’d put the book back on the shelf.
My sister got married last weekend. I was the older, unmarried, sister and maid of honor who just broke up with her boyfriend. When my sister got engaged, people assumed I was jealous because the younger sister was getting married before me.
Um, no. My discomfort with her getting married young had nothing to do with me. Would it be nice to be married right now? Sure. I’m heartbroken about breaking up with Bill. I’ve spent the last week on the couch watching hour after hour of Law & Order and Bones reruns. I think about him more than I should, and random reminders — a t-shirt he left behind. a song we both enjoyed, a letter he left me one morning — have me breaking out in tears. It hurts, even though I’m the one who ended up (He moved to Minneapolis for a promotion without factoring in what it would do to us. After two months apart, I realized I needed more than that).
But in this week of post-break up, I’ve taken a good hard look at my life. I like my life. I like what I do, where I live, and what I could be. About five years ago, I set out on my own to become a writer. Two and a half years later, I bought my home and wrote a book, and since then, I’ve created a career I enjoy. It’s not the perfect job, and sometimes I want to throw in the towel (boy, has this recession been tough), but I choose this career. I can choose to do something else, live somewhere else, become someone else if I want to. I can lie on the couch and watch hours of TNT if I want. I can train for a marathon if I want (which I am doing, by the way). I could go to Florida for a month, move to Florida, become a professional dancer and no one could tell me no.
I wasn’t jealous of my sister. No, I was happy for myself and annoyed at people assume the married-with-kids-before-30 track is what I want. Because it’s not. Not only has that path not presented itself, but I’m not even sure I want kids. I like my career. I like my life. I’m open to change, but I know that no matter what, I can stand on my own two feet and take care of myself. It took work to get myself to that point, and for that I’m proud.
Elizabeth’s struggle is not one I want. I don’t want to feel trapped by marriage and children. I want to be a thousand percent sure, too, and marry someone who will support me and help me grow, not provide an “answer” to my problems. I know too many people who did that and are already divorced (one of my college roommates just this month).
I’m not writing this post to judge anyone who did get married young and have kids. We all have a different path. Mine is one way. My sister’s is another, and neither one of us would be happy on the other’s track. But I wish this pressure to get married and have babies would go away, and everyone would stop assume that’s what all women want. It didn’t work out for Adele, or Elizabeth. And it wouldn’t have worked out for me. For THAT I’m thankful.