In this intimate memoir, the only child of aging parents describes her struggles to balance caregiving, marriage, and career, and to reconcile daughterly devotion with childhood wounds.
Mother, wife, and the founder of an international school, overachiever Shoemaker found that her need to please everyone was outmatched by the demands of her domineering mother, Mildred, and the physical ailments of an easygoing father, Jim, who developed Alzheimer’s. When both parents moved to a nursing home due to declining health, Jim was housed apart from Mildred, who bitterly withdrew from her husband and criticized Shoemaker. “I visualize my mother wrapping a long rope around her waist,” the author writes, “handing one end of it to me, and jumping off a bridge.” Flashbacks to life in Cairo and childhood pressures to compete helped Shoemaker decide to change this lifelong sense of inferiority. Simultaneously trying to draw closer to and assert more independence from a mother who still intimidated, Shoemaker felt inadequate and withdrew from her husband, whose own feelings of neglect were buried behind a similar childhood upbringing concerned with how a man should behave. By urging her mother to collaborate on this memoir, Shoemaker discovered the tender side of Mildred and uncovered secrets that more fully explain her mother’s seemingly heartless choices. Aside from black-and-white photos from her mother’s scrapbooks, five pages of questions for “Life Review” follow the narrative, though they’re rather generic and unnecessary. This memorable book’s real achievement is that much of it would be mundane were it not for Shoemaker’s gift for description. Also a poet, she crafts dialogue and situations to create scenes that can be funny, heartbreaking, or frightening. However, the more Shoemaker stands up to her mother, the more Mildred dominates the story, and the tales of Shoemaker’s pupils, fascinating in themselves, drop out of the text.
An honest, painful yet humorous account of seeking unconditional love.