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Random Family

A good friend recommended repeatedly (and over the course of several years) that I read Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and I finally did this spring.  My husband, who read the book last fall, warned that I might not want to read Random Family during my commute because so much of the material can be heartbreaking.  I ignored my husband's advice and plowed straight ahead.  While I was waiting for the R train to take me home a few weeks ago, I finished reading it, and there I was, on the platform at Rector Street, finishing Random Family and starting to cry.

Apparently, my husband was right.  But the reason my eyes welled with tears that day was that LeBlanc had done something truly amazing at the end of her book -- she gave her readers the gift of a happy ending.  Random Family follows the lives of two women for eleven years through their multiple teenaged pregnancies, their varied relationships with men and with the criminal justice system, and - most importantly - their even more varied relationships with the members of their families.  After having chronicled an eleven-year series of substantial parent-to-child disappointments, in the end, LeBlanc gives us a brief scene of joy and love between a father and his daughter.

In the ordered and comfortable world of baby books, mommy blogs,  and parenting education, the starting point is always a celebration of the relationship between parent and child with the underlying assumption that each of us is the best parent for his or her baby.  But can that simple notion withstand complex circumstances?  Is a teenaged mom who goes out to clubs, bribing her own mother to watch her small children in exchange for cocaine, the best mom for her baby?  The answer is yes.  Heartbreakingly, yes.  There are many lessons from Random Family, but the one that has serious lasting power for me is that no matter who you are or what you do, your baby will still need your love and support more than anything in the world.  And so it will be my life's work to remember that fact and to honor it.

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