Holloway's portrayal of motherhood in Cowboy & Wills is both unique and universal. The story unfolds just after Holloway has received the diagnosis that her son Wills is on the autism spectrum, and follows their journey from that first guilty walk into a pet store to buy hermit crabs through their years with their beloved dog, Cowboy.
While I know I can't speak for all mothers, I can say that for me, I completely relate to that feeling of "how did we get here? And what am I going to do about it?" And without beating the martyr drum, we just get through it because there is no other choice. We will overcome whatever obstacle our child faces. And sometimes, we have to get out of the way and let them do it on their own.
Thankfully, Holloway had people in her life to remind her when to step back, and let Wills push through it. That's something I've really had to work on.
I don't consider myself a Helicopter Parent by any means, but I do wonder if sometimes, I don't give my girls the room they need to grow. Sometimes, I've been guilty of overindulging them to make up for the absence of a stable father in their lives. Sometimes, I've been guilty of putting myself deeper in credit card debt because I don't want them to go without, even though we're a single-income family. Most particularly, because of all the stigma associated with single moms raising "criminals," I've felt the pressure to ensure that my daughters are more than mere statistics. I want to prove that it's not about defying the odds, but that one involved, nurturing, and responsible parent can be enough. Especially when there's no other choice.
Holloway speaks openly about some reactions she receives when it comes to Wills' autism, and how it makes her feel: from guilty to angry to exhausted, the energy we waste worrying about how we're perceived would be funny if it weren't so tragic. Parents are told in a thousand different ways and everywhere we turn how we're doing it wrong.
We're either too involved, or not involved enough. We spoil them too much, or we don't give them enough. We're too strict or too free-range. The list goes on and on. And most of us are fighting for, yes, you guessed it, balance. Every day, we're faced with a million little decisions, and, just as Holloway struggles in nearly every page, we're constantly questioning what kind of impact each of those decisions will have on our children for the rest of their lives. If I say "yes," am I too soft? If I don't help with that school project, will she get a bad grade? If I tell her how to handle her friendship problem, will it work? Will she stop talking to me about it if it doesn't work? We treat every decision like it's life or death. And sometimes, it very nearly is.
I think all parents are just a little bit crazy. And the more obstacles in front of us, the crazier we get trying so desperately to be perfect; to get it right.
The beauty of Holloway's story is those moments of pleasant surprise. As much as we try to understand the impact of everything we say and do, I am just as taken aback as Holloway is when I have a moment with my children that says, they get it. They have been listening! They have been learning!
Every now and then, I'll overhear the girls in their room, and one of them is telling the other, "Mommy said!" They say "anyway" properly, instead of the popular but meaningless "anyways." My favorite text ever from Sylvia was the one that read, "Don't say I told u so, but u were right. As always."
I wouldn't go so far as to say we need to stop fretting. (And really, like that would stop us!) I think our fretting, even worrying what other people think keeps us honest. We are constantly having to re-examine how we're doing; if we've stepped too far in the direction of overbearing or if we really need to free our schedules and just snuggle with our child for a while. I've heard the saying that we shouldn't do anything we wouldn't want printed on the cover of the New York Times. (Especially us bloggers.) Still, I hope that through our journey, we can keep our sense of humor about ourselves, as Holloway so endearingly has. And while I still don't believe that love can conquer everything, a mother's love together with our village, can come closest of all.
Read more posts on Cowboy & Wills at the book club site, From Left to Write.
While I was given the book to read for free, I have not been compensated for this post.The link to the book is connected to my Amazon Associates account, and any purchase made from it will generate a small referral fee for me.