Behind the Book
For three months, I’d been faithfully taking my pre-natal vitamins, avoiding all unapproved foods and keeping my heart rate safely below 140 beats a minute. Yet, preparing for pregnancy felt more like an innocent diversion, a charming hobby. I didn’t really believe that my body would work—when called upon—the way health class had assured me it would. But it did, the very first month we tried to conceive. And so there I stood in my squat, bathtub-less bathroom, a positive pregnancy test pinched in my already puffy fingers. And all I could think was: my God what have we done.
I’d always known that I wanted a family of my own, but in my fantasies, my big brood always included college-aged children. I imagined us gathered around a picturesque Thanksgiving table in a beautifully restored farmhouse having spirited discussions about politics and art. The first eighteen years of child rearing seemed something it was best not to ponder too deeply. I’d never been able to relate to small children, even when I was one of them, and I was positively petrified of babies. The first time I held one was a month before I became pregnant myself and I’d considered it a rousing success that the child survived.
But once I got over the initial shock of being pregnant, I did convince myself that parenting would come more naturally with my own child. I’d always been a quick study, and I wasn’t afraid of a little hard work. I’d been a lawyer and a writer and had traveled all over the world. I’d climbed a mountain and run a marathon. I’d learned to speak Japanese and taught myself to bake. If I could do all those things, then surely with enough time and effort, I could learn to properly care for a child. Surely.
And I did, eventually. I learned to care for two, in fact. I consulted books and wise friends and doctors, but mostly it was trial and error. It certainly has not been easy. There have been countless sleepless nights and voluminous tears—theirs and mine. So far, we have survived endless colic and reflux and trips to the ER for stitches. We’ve held our breath through first steps and first days of school and first best friends. I’ve changed countless diapers, bandaged endless scraped knees, assessed the severity of numerous head wounds and have been thrown up on more than I ever would have thought possible.
Of course, the physical demands—aggravating and exhausting though they sometimes may be—is actually the easy part of parenting. It’s being a mother
that’s so very hard. Just the idea of being that
to another living being, forever
, gives me vertigo. And then there are the actual responsibilities. I’m supposed to help my children grow into happy people. But what makes a person happy? Success, love, freedom? If I’m still trying to figure that out, how can I possibly teach my daughters? What am I to do when their fears terrify me? How can I make them feel loved unconditionally and completely in those dark moments when I’m not sure I like them very much?
And how on earth—in a world so filled with dangers, big and small—will I ever keep them safe?
More than once, I’ve turned a corner on the way to pick up one of my children and seen an ambulance parked in front of one of their schools. Or at least that’s the way it looks, from several blocks away, down a busy Brooklyn avenue. Every time, I tell myself that my child has not accidentally eaten one of those cashews that she is so allergic to or fallen off the monkey bars or choked on a carrot. No, my child is fine.
And yet, I always walk a little faster, eyes locked on the ambulance, until I can confirm that it’s actually just parked, off-duty. Perhaps, I worry because I’m especially fatalistic. But I don’t think so. I think I worry because, deep down, I know the truth: that there is only so much I can do to protect my girls.
That’s what I thought a couple years back when I read about the star student and athlete who committed suicide by jumping out a window at Dalton. It’s what I thought about when I first heard about Tyler Clementi’s tragic leap from the George Washington Bridge after being surreptitiously taped. And it was brought back to me again when New Jersey teen Lennon Baldwin hanged himself allegedly in response to bullying.
My novel is told from the alternating perspectives of both Amelia and her mother Kate, to show how children—no matter how well-adjusted, no matter how well-loved—can be so easily singled out for abuse and suffer its inevitably heartbreaking consequences. Reconstructing Amelia
explores how our children can get so terribly lost, despite the fact that we’re trying our best to keep them found.