When my two daughters were in pre-school, I was a single mom and worked full-time in San Francisco, an hour’s commute. Erika, a middle-aged Romanian woman, would pick up the girls from school and care for them until I got home. I prized Erika for her reliability and her willingness to play Go Fish thirty times in a row, but if I wasn’t home by six o’clock on the dot, she’d give the girls their dinner, no matter how I implored her to wait. Every night I raced to catch the bus, to make the train, to sprint from the station in hopes my daughters hadn’t already finished Erika’s rolled cabbage containing more salt than the Red Sea. Of course the real problem wasn’t the cuisine: I wanted to feed my children myself.
I also wanted to be the first to see their daily art projects, to hear the lowdown from the teachers, to hang with other parents while our kids ran circles around us. I wanted to be there when my elder daughter graduated from kindergarten, but couldn’t get the day off. After I put her to bed that night, I cried, but only a little, because my pint-sized graduate was happy and well.
As hard as it was to be out working when my girls were small, I was thankful to be at home during their teens. I’d remarried and had the luxury of working when I chose. I defended family dinnertime as if we might never eat together again, and I didn’t miss any milestones, except perhaps the ones my daughters were determined to keep from me. It’s an age-old game, parent-teenager hide-and-seek.
Geneva, the main character of my debut novel, is a veterinarian—a working mom—and I bestowed upon her two teens, an alcoholic mother, and, for good measure, a husband with a lax parenting style. Sixteen-year-old Ella helps tell the story, so I was privy to the secrets she keeps from her mom, like the weed she stashes in her Build-A-Bear. Geneva has a hunch her kids are up to no good, but don’t we all. Like the rest of us, she balances trusting her kids and getting blindsided, and does so within the swirl of work and marriage, with her combustible mother under her roof.
Although the details are different, Geneva’s struggles are as real as my own, or, indeed, as those of any parent who wishes to do their best for their children. They grow up too fast, and not fast enough, and we never know what would’ve happened if we’d done things differently. We are lucky to have our children, and to let them go, and blessed beyond measure if we manage to get some of it right.
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For veterinarian Geneva Novak, animals can be easier to understand than people. They’re also easier to forgive. But when her mother, Helen, is injured in a vodka-fueled accident, it’s up to Geneva to give her the care she needs.
Since her teens, Geneva has kept her self-destructive mother at arm’s length. Now, with two slippery teenagers of her own at home, the last thing she wants is to add Helen to the mix. But Geneva’s husband convinces her that letting Helen live with them could be her golden chance to repair their relationship.
Geneva isn’t expecting her mother to change anytime soon, but she may finally get answers to the questions she’s been asking for so long. As the truth about her family unfolds, however, Geneva may find secrets too painful to bear and too terrible to forgive.