Tome of the Mommy: Runaway Moms

By Josie Brown


Not everyone is cut out to have children.

Is that a blasphemy to say?

No. Because we all know it’s true.

Admit it: Doesn’t your belly tighten with dread when you’re in the presence of some woman who is visibly annoyed with, or publicly derisive to, her kid, embarrassing the poor thing in front of you or others?

You wonder: “If you can’t find a way to say it to your child with respect, you don’t deserve him. And he certainly doesn’t deserve you.

You’re right.

Children deserve parents who are ready to take on the 24/7/lifetime responsibility to feed and nurture, to love and honor, to challenge and inspire them.

Most parents strive to honor this commitment.

But some don’t.

And not all of these are deadbeat dads.

Some are runaway moms.

Whereas many of us women act on the yearning to have children, and hold them dear until our dying day, for whatever reason their are others who have made the decision to leave their children, to move on in their lives without them.

One young sister and brother, based in India, is currently suing their mother to come home to them. She moved to Canada. They are being raised by their father, a professional music teacher, who “says the love and affection of a mother are important in the upbringing of a child and hence the petition aimed to bring his children’s mother back into their lives…”

True, that.

And yet, there are two sides to every story.

Not every woman is ready to become a mother. Not every woman wants to be a mother, even if she finds herself pregnant.

And not every woman who leaves her children — for a day, a week or two, or even a month or longer — regrets doing so.

But yes, there are some who are. Even if they can’t admit it to themselves.

Even if they can’t admit it to their children.

The consequences of the runaway mom’s decision is felt throughout the lifetime of the children left behind. Life-long resentment is to be expected. Wariness to get into adult relationships because of fears of abandonment is not uncommon. The decision to forgo have children themselves is, sadly, another outcome. Their own role models were awful. They, too, are afraid at failing at this momentous challenge.

Then their are those children, now grown, who use this life experience to better themselves. They become the kind of mother and fathers their own runaway parents never were to them.

They want to prove to themselves that they are not anything like their parents.

The proof comes in the the love and nurturing they provide their own children, and the joy they take in the process of parenting.

Having lived it the hard way, they know best that parenthood isn’t a right. It’s a privilege.

In this excerpt of my soon-to-be-released novel, SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES, my heroine, Lyssa Harper, happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Because she’s carpooling with her new friend, stay-at-home dad Harry Wilder, she witnesses the reaction of Harry’s soon-to-be ex, DeeDee, when her thirteen-year-old son Jake, erupts in anger at what he feels is her recent abandonment of him and his five-year-old sister, Temple.

Can there ever be redemption for the runaway mom?

I welcome your comments,



Game face.

We all have one. It takes your smile and sharpens it into a grimace. Rocked by an emotional earthquake, the gentle planes of your face shift into stone. The happiness once beaming from your eyes is now refracted inward: focused, with laser-sharp concentration, on the dark matter at hand.

Harry’s is one I don’t recognize.

I’ll admit it: for the past few weeks his dimpled smile and courtly manners have been the icing on the cake of my day. And while courting the league board, he was sweetness and light. Now, though, devoid of any joy, it has curdled into a snarl.

What I’m seeing now sends icicles through my veins.

He is ready to do battle with DeeDee the Ice Queen.

Temple won’t be the only collateral damage. In the side view mirror I see Jake. He sits silently in the back, just staring out the window, his damp red-rimmed eyes as wide as those of the ghoul in The Scream. I can only imagine what he’s thinking: that all of this—not just the lost game, but his father’s fall from grace, even his parents’ breakup—is his fault.

If I could, I’d reach back there and hold his hand. And yet, as the mother of one of his friends, the only place I hold in his life is that of an abstract acquaintance.

What am I doing here, anyway?

Almost as if reading my mind, Harry places his fingers on my arm and pats it absentmindedly.

That tells me what I need to know: I’m here because I’m the only friend Harry has in this gated, well-landscaped corner the world.

We pull up to the front of Paradise Waldosorri Pre-School & Kindergarten just in time to see DeeDee walking out with Temple and Miss Judith, the head of school. DeeDee’s silk blouse and cashmere slacks look almost militaristic next to Miss Judith’s gauzy flowing skirt and Birkenstocks. If Miss Judith’s attire isn’t the broadest hint that she is the community’s one and only hold back from the days in which Paradise Heights was a hippy commune (hence the first portion of its name, before being elevated into the economic stratosphere), her head scarf, tied over flowing gray curls, in a dead giveaway. Whatever DeeDee is saying has Miss Judith shaking her head in dismay. This causes the beaded fringe on her scarf to jiggle. She glances sympathetically at Temple, whose eyes are starred with tears, her pillowed lips bitten into a pout.

The way the car screeches as it comes to a halt undermines Harry’s attempt at indifference. Jake slumps down when he his mother comes into view. Either he’s hoping she doesn’t see him and ask him to recap his inglorious day, or he has his own bone to pick with her.

“Stay here,” growls Harry. I don’t know if he’s talking to me or to Jake. But in the mood he’s in, neither of us plans on disobeying him.

He’s out of the car in a flash.

Because he’s keeping his voice low and level, I can’t hear every word, but I do catch the phrases “very sorry” and “won’t happen again.” Miss Judith nods sympathetically, but tired uncertainty shades her pale gray eyes: it is obvious that whatever DeeDee has been telling her has colored her view of Harry.

Temple slips her hand into her father’s, but does not let go of DeeDee’s either. In fact, she squeezes it even tighter, as if to prove, if only to herself, that they are still joined in

Doing so only amps up their feelings toward each other—and their voices. “I’ve told you, I’ve got it under control,” Harry insists.

“My god, Harry! I wouldn’t be here now, if that were the case. And if Temple feels more comfortable going home with me . . .” The way DeeDee’s voice trails makes the offer seem so inviting. I’m surprised her daughter doesn’t leap at it. When it comes to their parents, all children possess innate neediness.

Not Temple. She knows a game is afoot. Her way to change the rules to suit her needs is brilliant. “No, Mommy, no! You can just come home with us,” she states matter-of-factly.

All three adults stare down at her, as if she’s just landed from another planet.

Harry’s game face, dampened by tears he can’t wipe away quickly enough, softens into doubtful hope.

DeeDee’s on the other hand, frosts solid with determination. Her teeth are tiny daggers, more a snarl than a smile.

“Damn it, Temple!” Jake’s eruption echoes with pain. Opening his car door, his yells, “Don’t you get it? She doesn’t want to come home. NOT EVER. Aw, just get in the car! NOW!”

All eyes now turn toward us.

Temple’s emotional Geiger counter has picked up on her brother’s anguish as only a sibling’s can. Unlike the adults, who patronize her with cheery half-lies that never pay off with the only golden ticket that counts—her mom and dad together again—Jake’s bellow tells her what she needs to know, even if it isn’t what she wants to hear:

Her parents will never love each other again, ever.

In Jake’s opinion, it’s all DeeDee’s fault. Can’t his sister see this too?

This sudden realization is too much for the little girl. As if letting go of all hope, a rivulet of urine runs down Temple’s leg, seemingly at the same pace as the tears streaming down her face. Despite this, Harry scoops her up into his arms and heads for the car, Miss Judith clucking soothingly beside him, hoping to hush her student’s heart wrenching howls.

All mothers break apart when confronted with their children’s grief, and DeeDee is no exception.

Fault lines of anguish transform her flawless veneer of a face from haughty to sorrowful. She runs after her child—

But stops cold when she notices me in the car.

DeeDee realizes this battle is lost. But the war is still to be won. Her eyes narrow and her frown inverts into a smirk. “You’ve hired some shopgirl from Nordy’s? Oh, now that’s rich! Why couldn’t she have picked up Temple? Doesn’t she drive?”

At first Harry doesn’t catch on that she’s talking about me, but Miss Judith does. Relieved at the chance to set something straight, she trills nervously, “DeeDee, that’s Lyssa Harper, Olivia’s mommy—”

After what I’ve just seen, I don’t expect a cheery hello. Still, even a stiff nod of recognition would certainly go a long way to clearing the air.

But no. DeeDee isn’t apologetic. She’s shocked.

Suddenly it dawns on me that hitching a ride with the soon-to-be ex is not the best way to reintroduce yourself to a woman who never remembers who you are, no matter how many times she runs into you.

From DeeDee’s granite stare, I am assured she won’t forget me, ever again.

I can’t help but watch her in the rear view mirror. She, too, keeps me in her sites.

DeeDee has a new target.

(c) 2010 Josie Brown, all rights reserved.


BestSLHW Josie’ s Next Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

Look for it in bookstores June 1, 2010

From Amazon

From Barnes & Noble

From Books a Million

From Your Local Independent Bookstore

From Powell’s