HPEF presents Infinitus 2010, a Harry Potter conference            TEXT  MENU

July 15-18, 2010
Orlando, Florida

The Mother Who Lived  
Lorrie Kim

What does the Harry Potter series say about mothering? Lily's self-sacrifice was magic because it was universal: any mother would die to protect her child. But what about the rest of us -- the caretakers who do the daily drudgework of keeping a child alive, and keeping the self alive for the child? Whether it's about Snape protecting an enemy's son, Petunia and her unwanted nephew, or a suicidally depressed single mother, Rowling permeates her series with stories about how it feels to be the Mother Who Lived.  Through Snape, we feel the rage of caretakers who are saddled with a child when they don't even have enough for themselves. In Dumbledore's family, we see the distortions caused by resentment and guilt. Through Petunia, Rowling works out just how little – a cupboard, a used pair of socks – it takes to keep a child's soul intact. Merope's story permits depleted mothers to envision what might happen if they did give up – and perhaps to remember that, if they have ever had more than Merope did, they are equipped to survive. And Wormtail's vain plea to baby Voldemort for a break is a wickedly funny twist on the tyrannically helpless infant and tired caregiver.

Dumbledore's priority was to keep people alive, even if imprisoned. Why? If we read the child in the cupboard -- or the soul fragment taking refuge in a scar – or the dream of becoming a writer -- as the life force in times of duress, surviving until it's safe to emerge for a second chance – we see the courage of the suicidal mother recognizing that even in her destitution, writing her story was the only way to stay strong enough to parent her baby.

There are stories, too, about easing the caregiver's burden. Humor helps: the fatal cry of the baby mandrake is a cheeky joke from the woman whose writing time was limited by the duration of her infant's naps in the pushchair. Shame has its place: the Hogwarts letters addressed to the cupboard or “The Smallest Bedroom” help the Dursleys to behave. Most powerful of all, though, is the surge provided by staying alive to protect another. Snape accepts the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa partly because it sustains him to be valued, for once, for himself.

Caregiver work is often thankless. But when the rewards do come, it's magic.  Harry's illuminating rage at Lupin's proposed abandonment, his comforting of Dumbledore in King's Cross, and his recognition of Snape's bravery speak to every caregiver who has been unable to forgive herself for being an imperfect parent, but has found answers or guidance in the wholeness of the child. For everyone who has ever wondered if what they've done for their child can possibly be enough, the series says: Look at your child. Nourish the child through your gaze. And see who you become in their eyes.

Lorrie Kim (drinkingcocoa) has presented talks at Azkatraz and Potterdelphia, including “The Fully Knowable Severus Snape.” She is an erstwhile journalist and editor who has found priceless support from J.K. Rowling's books in her current work as the middle-aged mother of small children. Her Harry Potter-related essays can be found at http://drinkingcocoa.livejournal.com.
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