Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan

glitter Glitter and Glue: A Memoir
by Kelly Corrigan

To a great extent, women will not appreciate or understand their own mothers until they themselves are mothers – it’s just a fact of life.  In this new memoir due out in February (I read an advance copy), Corrigan recounts her trip around the world as a young adult during which she landed a job as a nanny for several months to a family in Australia, and how being thrust into the role of caretaker to two young children who had lost their mother gave her pause about her own mother.

“Things happen when you leave the house.”  That was Corrigan’s motto, and she was determined, upon finishing college, to see the world, have many adventures, and become interesting.  So she and a girlfriend buy round-the-world tickets and set off – only, part way through the trip, they start running out of money and realize they need to find temporary employment to pay for the rest of their trip.  Corrigan lands a five-month stint as a nanny for a widower and his two young children, whose wife/mother died from cancer six months previously.  Suddenly, Corrigan hears her own mother’s voice everywhere, and a longing to know her better – the woman, the person – grips her.

Soon enough, her nanny stint comes to an end, and Corrigan resumes her adventures, and the longing for and connection to her mother that she felt while caring for the Tanner children fades.  It isn’t until years later, when she becomes a mother herself, that those feelings resurface.  This book is, in its way, Corrigan’s tribute to her mother.

There were so many passages in this book that struck a chord with me – so many nuggets of truth, so many dog-eared pages.

” The thing about mothers, I want to say, is that once the containment ends and one becomes two, you don’t always fit together so neatly.  They don’t get you like you want them to, like you think they should, they could, if only they would pay closer attention.  They agonize over all the wrong things, cycling through one inane idea after another: seat belts, flossing, the golden rule.  The living mother-daughter relationship, you learn over and over again, is a constant choice between adaptation or acceptance.

“The only mothers who never embarrass, harass, dismiss, discount, deceive, distort, neglect, baffle, appall, inhibit, incite, insult, or age poorly are dead mothers, perfectly contained in photographs, pressed into two dimensions like a golden autumn leaf.”

Referring to the little girl she nannies for in Australia –

“For better or worse, I’ve latched on to Milly’s ecosystem.  What happens to her happens – in some weird, refracted way that seems slightly dangerous – to me, too.  And it occurs to me that maybe the reason my mother was so exhausted all the time wasn’t because she was doing so much but because she was feeling so much.”

Reflecting on a skirmish with her own daughter over homework in later years, and the dark thoughts that surface in the night –

“After Georgia storms off, Edward says, ‘When I first met you, you didn’t drink coffee, and you were so mellow.’  How can I tell him that I was a dog in show, high-stepping with my shiny hair and sparkly striped collar?  Twelve years and two puppies later, I’m an ungroomed bitch who barks at flies.

“Beneath my frustration is real fear.  What if my kid lacks a handful of the critical Life Skills we’re always reading about in the school newsletter: Persistence, Coachability, Curiosity?  What if there’s iceberg hardening right now beneath this defeatism?  If a child can’t find a single word online about cheetah propagation, what kind of future can she hope for?  That’s why I snap and storm around and then spend long night thinking of the most damaged adults I know and wondering if my particular brand of maternal fuckups are how they end up like that.”

More than making me long to understand my own mother, this book has me longing for the day when my own daughters might understand me – and I realize that it won’t happen until they are mothers themselves.  The mother-daughter relationship is so fraught.

I love Kelly Corrigan.  I loved The Middle Place, her memoir about her battle with breast cancer that took place simultaneously with her father’s battle with bladder cancer.  She’s funny and honest and real, and reading her books feels very much like sitting down over coffee with a close girlfriend.  All through this book, I laughed and cried.  I only wished that her stint in Australia had lasted longer.

I’m sure this will be another best-seller; it’s good stuff.