In honor of Mother’s Day weekend, I dedicate this post to an analysis of the moms in Water Signs, Monica Rose and Paula Lockheart.
The character of Monica is based on my own mother, for whom I am more grateful to God with every passing day. The older I get, the more I realize how rare and precious it is to have had the experience of growing up with a mother who was dedicated to her children’s emotional needs, educational success, spiritual foundation and moral upbringing. While there is no perfect human and certainly no perfect mother (as is evident in my novel), my siblings and I never had to doubt her love and dedication.
This is a remarkable woman who, at the age of 28, gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome (her second child) and in response to highly suspect and astonishingly cruel medical advice (i.e. put the “stigma” in an institution), promptly ordered the attending physician to “stay away from me and stay away from my baby”. Then with her characteristic strength and determination, she devoted herself (with the support of her husband and family) to Ralph’s development, tenacious in her desire to see him reach his full potential. She also had the faith and courage to give birth to three more children — my sister Carolyn, my brother Paul and me, ultimately raising all five of us (brother Mark is the first-born) with the same amount of love, care and attention.
Paula Lockheart in the novel is based on a woman I’ve never actually met, but knew about through her son. Based on my remembrances of conversations we’d had, I created her be to be the warm, supportive and loving parental presence in Ken’s life — and a counterbalance to the aloofness of his father (although their relationship is renewed by novel’s end).
Ken and Madeline’s mothers are both strong influences in their lives, possibly due to that fact they they are the “babies” of their families, though in Ken’s case, much of that also stems from his innate passion for life, and his willingness to do whatever necessary to create a new and different existence for himself than the one laid out for him by his father and pursued obediently by his three older brothers.
When the story opens, we learn that two of the adult Rose children — Greg and Lori — are simultaneously leaving the nest to start their own families, following in the footsteps of youngest son Damian, who’d already taken a wife and settled into another state. Madeline has just been through a horrific break-up with a guy, and has relied on the ones closest to her for strength and comfort to work through the stages of grief.
As a mother, Monica wants nothing more than for her offspring to find happiness with the right spouses, yet at the same time she experiences the bittersweet reality of the children to whom she’s dedicated her life, leaving the nest. And when her “baby” Maddy appears to be moving too quickly with the new man who has entered the picture, it’s almost too much to bear. Yes, she wants her daughter to be happy. And no, she doesn’t want to let go just yet. So while outwardly, Ken’s lack of a college degree is the initial objection she expresses to her daughter’s suitor, deep within, the real struggle has to do with the acceptance of a new phase of life — one that involves adjusting to a home with fewer offspring occupants.
This is the portrayal I attempted to make when basing Monica on my own mother. Some have stated their intense dislike for the character, at least after reading that portion of the book, but my intention was not to place blame or hold onto resentment. Was my mom wrong to pressure me to end things based on such an inconsequential criteria? Yes. But it’s not that simple. While I couldn’t grasp it at the time, years later, I understood her motivations. She’d watched me over the years experience all kinds of hurts — from mean kids in grade school who teased me about my weight to stupid teen-aged boys in high school who were, well, stupid teen-aged boys.
My mother silently witnessed my first boyfriend says things like, “Yes, you do look kind of bloated today,” and prayed hard for the relationship to mercifully end. She never interfered, but would often tell me I was worthy of so much more than he was capable of offering. And the protective “Mama Bear” in her often stated in no uncertain terms, her utter disgust with the man known as Jake in the novel. So it’s only natural she’d want to shield me from further pain.
[Perhaps looking back, my mother’s intuition was also telling her that something wasn’t quite right with this new guy; perhaps she sensed he would eventually break my heart. Who knows? Even after everything that’s transpired, I still question his motives and wonder about his sincerity, although I prefer to believe that, in the moment at least, he meant the things he said].
But just as with Monica and Maddy, in the aftermath of my initial break-up with “Ken”, my mom also saw my downward spiral. Unlike in the book where Maddy at least has a full-time job to keep her busy, at the time I couldn’t seem to get any career traction and had been doing temp work as a result of a challenging economy. Having “Ken” in my life was a breath of fresh air, as he always made me feel good about myself and seemed to think that everything I did was wonderful. Once that was gone, I’d temporarily lost my own zest for living. So just like Maddy, the activities that previously had given me joy, i.e. dancing, had completely lost their appeal. And like the character based on me, I accepted my mother’s genuine, heartfelt apology.
As for Ken, Paula remains the one person he can turn to when he needs advice and a comforting presence. While she prays for father and son to eventually mend their differences, Paula manages to walk the line between being a good mother to her son and a supportive wife to her husband. She’s able to see both sides of the coin, though she thoroughly admires and respects her son for making the difficult choice to join the Navy and forge new territory in the Lockheart family. When Ken is torn between the two women he loves, she never tells him what to do; only listens and promises to be there for him whenever he needs her. And when father and son at last come to a new understanding and embark upon a revitalized relationship, it’s her fondest wish come true.
I will delve more into the motherly relationships in terms of the theme of reconciliation in another post, but will end by noting that as an author, in order for your characters to experience a joyous renewal of their relationships, you must take them through some of the lows of human behavior. Otherwise, what’s the point? When I borrowed from real life in retelling the story of my mother’s influence on my relationship with “Ken”, it was not done to hurt her, nor to tell the world I had a bad mother. Rather, it was created as a testament to the power of love, understanding and forgiveness.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for my mother, the one person who has always loved me unconditionally. I am also incredibly thankful for her continued good health and presence in my life. I know how blessed I am, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for being a woman of faith and character, a worthy role-model and most of all, an endless source of emotional support through all of life’s ups and downs. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!