Beth Groundwater (Guest Blogger)
The relationship between mothers and daughters is one of the strongest and most loving of human connections. At the same time, it is fraught with conflict as the push-pull of adolescent daughters “leaving the nest” chafes both them and their mothers, rubbing emotions raw. The daughter needs to separate from the mother to become a self-sufficient adult. It’s very difficult to accomplish this without the two becoming estranged or at least strained as they find new ways of relating to each other.
I wanted to explore this tug-of-war between mothers and maturing daughters in To Hell in a Handbasket
after writing about the husband-wife relationship in A Real Basket Case. Both books are mysteries, where the plots focus on who-dunnit, but a significant subplot in each is the relationship issue that the amateur sleuth, Claire Hanover, must resolve. In both books the relationship issue is entwined with the mystery plot, so the resolution of one affects the resolution of the other.
This scene where Claire and her college-aged daughter Judy argue about clothing, one of the issues that mothers and daughters fight over the most, is a good example.
When Judy appeared with bleary eyes and tousled hair at the breakfast table the next morning, Claire asked her what she planned to wear to the memorial service.
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it yet, with all the turmoil around here.” She plopped a ladleful of oatmeal into a bowl and started slicing a banana.
Ignoring the barb about the previous night’s argument, Claire asked, “Do you have a dark-colored dress?”
“On a ski trip?” Judy stopped her knife. “Are you kidding, Mom?”“What about black or navy pants and a subdued top?” Most of Judy’s tops could be described as lingerie, though if Judy had a dark-colored ski turtleneck, that might do.
“All I’ve got is ski clothes, jeans, and some strappy tops that I know you won’t approve of. But why’s it matter what I wear? What’s important is that we’re there to honor Stephanie.”
“And part of honoring her is showing the family that you care enough to dress respectably.” Claire mentally reviewed the clothes that she had brought with her. “Maybe I have something you can borrow.”
Judy tossed a skeptical glance over her raised spoon at Claire. “C’mon. All your stuff would hang on me.”
I wrote To Hell in a Handbasket while my own daughter was taking steps toward independence in her senior year of high school and freshman year of college. While I hope I wasn't as neurotic as Claire was over letting go of her daughter, it wasn't easy! I had nightmares about my daughter being abducted, raped, tortured, ensnared in the white slave trade, and whatever other horrors my fertile imagination could devise. I told her when she left for college that I needed to hear her voice at least once a week so I knew she was still alive.
Some of my critique partners, especially the men, didn't particularly like Judy, saying she was too cruel to Claire. But women who have gone through this stage with maturing daughters nod their heads and say, “been there, done that.” These emotion-fraught, struggling young women have to take their anger and disappointments out on some target, and they usually choose the safest one—their mothers. Our job as mothers is to absorb the onslaught with a wry sense of humor, while wiping that sly smile off our faces, knowing where the anger comes from, remembering doing it ourselves as adolescents, and realizing that this, too, shall pass.
Beth Groundwater’s first mystery novel, A Real Basket Case, was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha Award. The second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, To Hell in a Handbasket, has just been released. Between writing spurts, Beth defends her garden from marauding mule deer and wild rabbits and tries to avoid getting black-and-blue on the black and blue ski slopes of Colorado. You can visit her website at http://bethgroundwater.com.