THIS FULL HOUSE


18 October 2008 THIS FULL HOUSE by Virginia Euwer Wolff, Harper Teen/The Bowen Press, January 2009, 478p.; ISBN: 978-0-06-158304-9; Libr ISBN: 978-0-06-158305-6

 

"She scoots for me,

I lie down next to her, scooting Goodnight Moon away,

she cuddles her head against my neck

breathing warm on my skin,

she whispers, 'Good night woom,

good night beohs, good night cheohs.

' We listen to Jeremy till I fall asleep,

after my day of too many notebooks and bus rides

and drizzling raindrops

and too many keys to unlock too many doors

and too many hydrogen atoms

and carbon atoms, which can form 4 covalent bonds

and those change the atomic size,

and too much worrying

about mothers and babies and misery and hope."

 

My mother was a 33-year-old bookkeeper when she had me. I am the oldest of three and Mom was a very involved parent who went on to simultaneously become a successful businesswoman. It is nearly a decade now since I lost Mom, and a significant part of me continues to struggle, trying to function without her love and encouragement. I cannot imagine how I could have grown up the same way without her.

 

I few years after Mom died, I learned from my father that I was not his first child. As a teenager at the end of WWII, he impregnated a young woman who worked at a burger joint. He never saw nor had anything to do with the baby who, it can be assumed, was, in due course, born without a father.

 

Parents involved and parents absent. Accidental pregnancies and teenage dreams. Mothers and babies; misery and hope.

 

"'You'll have Dr. Moore,' she says up at me.

'I never met a neurosurgeon like her,

you won't be the same after you get with her.'

She goes on typing.

 

"'How are you sure I'll have this Dr. Moore?' I ask.

'Because WIMS is her baby.

She started it,

got the funding for it by getting grants everywhere,

even convinced them to start the Foundation,

and she runs it. You'll see.'

 

"She watches me figuring out this new information.

'I was in WIMS for two years,

that's how I know, LaVaughn,' she says,

looking down at her screen.

'Wait till you get in a room with her.'

'How come?' I ask. Other girls are lining up behind me,

listening in.

 

"'Well, frankly,

she's a hometown girl who made good.

She invented WIMS fifteen years ago

with just five students,'

she leans forward and lowers her voice,

'to prove a point to the board of directors.

She believes girls in this city can make it into medicine

if they get some actual support from somewhere--

like she didn't have any of.

She had to push her way past the barriers

and she believes it shouldn't be that way."

 

In the final book of Virginia Euwer Wolff's MAKE LEMONADE trilogy, with LaVaughn now at the age of 17, Dr. Moore becomes a pivotal figure in her life, impacting LaVaughn's quest to make it into college and affecting her life outside of school which continues to feature LaVaughn's widowed mom, and Jolly, the teen mother for whom LaVaughn has been babysitting since the first book in the trilogy, MAKE LEMONADE (1993).

 

"The only thing that separates me from Jolly--

the only thing--

is my mom.

She did not throw me away."

 

THIS FULL HOUSE is a story of children and their parents -- both present and absent -- that caused me to be thinking about my own parents. There are LaVaughn and her mom; Jolly with the now six-year-old Jeremy and four-year-old Jilly; LaVaughn's classmate and friend Annie who becomes pregnant and gives birth; and the trailblazing Dr. Moore, around whom rumors swirl about a long-ago lost child.

 

LaVaughn's dedication to her goals of attending college and a future medical career lead to her applying for and being accepted into the two-afternoon-a-week WIMS [Women in Medical Science] program founded by Dr. Moore for women 16-20 years old. Thinking about the determination of LaVaughn to fulfill her dreams, and the struggle, decades earlier, of Dr. Moore to enter a realm dominated by men makes me, in turn, think of the award-winning piece of nonfiction that I have (in the wake of Hillary Clinton's near-success) been continually booktalking this fall. LET ME PLAY: the story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America, includes this factoid brought to light during the 1970 Congressional hearings that were so instrumental in achieving passage of the Title IX legislation:

 

"Quotas at many medical and law schools limited females to just five or ten students out of every one hundred. Consequently, just 7 percent of the doctors in the United States at the end of the 1960s were women."

 

It is true that today things are far better for women than they were during my childhood. My thrill over Hillary Clinton's near-success results from my memory of how bad things were for women in the Sixties. I well recall reading the daily paper back when there were separate job ads for women and men, with blatantly unequal pay being offered to women.

 

That women continue to have to work harder than men to achieve the same goals, and that there still are instances of unequal pay for equal work, has me thinking about Jilly. Considering that MAKE LEMONADE was published in 1993, Jilly could easily have been a preschool-age contemporary of my own real-life, now-seventeen-year-old daughter. These young people approaching adulthood are the generation for whom Wolff writes and for whom Dr. Moore's struggle will be an eye-opening American history lesson and morality puzzle.

 

"While I fold laundry I memorize things for school,

dates of wars:

French ones, African ones, Russian ones,

battles of all ugly kinds.

It's a shame to have us hopeful young students

learn these horrible things.

Exactly the kind of behaving

they have told us over and over again not to do

is what the history class is full of,

full-grown adults making these wars:

killing each other for land, for religions,

for greed and more greed,

Why bother to have children and educate them

and invent things to make their lives better,

just to send them off to war and get slaughtered?

This is my opinion."

 

Despite the missing parents, struggling parents, and the children-turned-parents, THIS FULL HOUSE is full of hope. It has had me thinking for days about my parents and of parenting. Those who have not read the first two books in Wolff's trilogy can easily begin here and then go back to the previous stories about the continuing tenacity of some stellar female characters.

 

Parents involved and parents absent. Accidental pregnancies and teenage dreams. Mothers and babies; misery and hope.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

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