Rebecca Stone desperately needs help with her newborn and Pricilla, a La Leche nurse from the hospital comes to her rescue. Pricilla, having mothering experience herself as she was a single, teen mom many years ago, leaves her job at the hospital to becomes the nanny for Rebecca’s baby. Rebecca feels close to Pricilla, confiding in her and voicing her fears, hopes and dreams while learning how to care for her child and what it means to be a mother; she looks up to her and relies on her stability and competence, and in some cases, due to the fact that Pricilla is black, she causes her to think about the world in a different way. After an unexpected turn of events, Pricilla becomes pregnant, has the baby and then is gone, and Rebecca volunteers to adopt the newborn. Rebecca feels this is the least she can do to thank Pricilla for all she has done. But there is a lot Rebecca does not know about raising a child of a different race. And she is blinded by her rose colored glasses when she looks at life.
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam brings up a lot of questions and it is difficult not to pass judgement and have an opinion on Rebecca’s thoughts and actions. Is she “saving” this black baby by bringing him into a white, wealthy family, or is she doing him a disservice by not allowing him to grow up with black parents who can teach him what it means to be black in America? She doesn’t know much about being black; how to take care of black hair and skin, and she doesn’t think much about what prejudices he might face as a black man. That Kind of Mother examines the challenges of motherhood, race and how family can be created without being blood related, but it is also commentary on selfishness disguised as selflessness, lack of understanding blinded by positivity and hopefulness for the future.
Rebecca’s view of her relationship with Pricilla is so much different than what I saw as a reader. She believes they are connected, the closest of friends, and she feels loyal to Pricilla because of what she has been taught about mothering and due to the support she has felt from her during the most stressful part of her life when she was responsible for her brand new baby. But my opinion is this: the relationship was one sided. Pricilla was doing a great job being a nanny, supporting the mother, teaching her how to care for her child, listening to her talk, and providing her with the time to be independent. But did Rebecca know anything about Pricilla? Her family? Her home life? Her hopes and dreams? Did she ever ask her? Rebecca may have been privileged – white, wealthy, recognized in her field, and able to provide an adopted child a financially solid home, but I believe this perceived friendship, combined with her own self centered outlook on life (regardless of race) misguided her and adopting this baby was not necessarily the best thing for him or for Rebecca’s family.
To give you something more to think about, this book was written by Rumaan Alam, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants, married to a white man and raising two adopted black sons in Brooklyn, NY. Alam does a great job writing from a woman’s perspective as he explores women’s friendships, describes giving birth, breastfeeding and articulating thoughts inside the head of a woman. He also shows how families are formed in many ways and can be very different, but they all have things in common too. Parenthood is a challenge no matter who you are, and acknowledging what you don’t know can be a good thing – often it takes a village. I highly recommend this book, and particularly for bookclubs as it has so much to discuss.
About the Author:
My stories have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Crazyhorse, Meridian, and elsewhere. I’ve written on design and other subjects for the Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, and other places. I studied writing at Oberlin College. Now I live in New York with my husband and two kids. I am very good at building things out of Legos and making overly-complicated dinners.