Indulge In A Great Read

REMEDIES--IMAGEWe have so many terrific writers who contribute to Parents, and it’s always a thrill when one of them publishes a beautifully crafted book. Once I started reading Kate Ledger’s Remedies, I couldn’t put it down. (Keep an eye out for her fascinating article, “The Test That Saved My Baby’s Life” in our March issue!) I recently got the chance to chat with Kate (the mom of a 6-year-old girl and twin 3-year-old boys)  about the book.

Remedies is a page-turner with such rich characters. In addition to making it a compelling story, were you hoping that the book would convey a broader message?

The idea for the book arose from wondering: What kind of person would come up with a medical treatment that he believed in, and that he would give to his patients, even if he had no other proof that it worked? That kind of character would need cajones—right? So I began writing, simply, a story about a doctor who comes up with a new treatment for chronic pain. At a certain point it occurred to me that maybe the character’s desire to heal others was motivated by a need to attend to his own pain. That pain, it seemed, would involve all kinds of things that plague us and make us vulnerable individuals: Am I a good person? Have I lived up to my potential? Have I done right by my family?

It’s very gratifying when people tell me they stayed up until 3 a.m. reading because they had to find out what was going to happen! I wanted to tell a good story. I thought it was very important, too, to write about characters who are flawed in the ways that living people are flawed: fearful, regretful, sometimes obtuse, and always struggling to communicate well with each other. But I think the book has several broader messages, too. One is that often we have to learn to live with the difficult things that have happened to us. Our wounds become part of us. We grow and heal and gain distance and perspective, but we don’t leave those wounds behind. Another important message is that we do better when we find ways to help each other through times of hardship and heartache, even though sometimes sharing the pain seems harder than just dealing with it alone.

What does the book say about the challenges of parenthood?

Parenting takes work! We’re used to talking about how our relationships with our spouses take work, but we don’t often talk about the “work” that goes into a relationship with a child. The characters in the story are people who’ve mastered their professional worlds. Simon Bear is a doctor who’s well respected in the medical community and beloved by his patients. Emily is a public relations mogul who can restore the reputations of corporations and CEOs after they’ve made embarrassing and costly gaffes. But they’re characters who didn’t imagine—maybe because of their own childhoods—that they would have to give themselves to the experience of being parents. They didn’t imagine they would have to change themselves in order to meet their daughter’s needs. Now that their daughter Jamie is 13, she’s suffering from their inattention.

The book says that being parents can require using new muscles, developing aspects of our personalities that we’ve not had to use in other relationships. That means being an authority figure, even when we know there are going to be repercussions. That also means keeping promises to our children, even when we might explain or rationalize a change in plans to another adult. What’s very hopeful about the book is the idea that these relationships aren’t carved in stone. They’re flexible and they change. So a relationship that hasn’t gotten enough attention isn’t damaged beyond repair. It can be remedied.

How did your own experience as a parent (and wife) impact the book?

What became clear to me as a mom is how important it is not to back off when relationships with children get challenging. It mght be hard, when a child is having a hard time, to hang in there and be present and deal with the emotion. My daughter was very young while I was writing the book, but I could see how helpful it was to give words to what otherwise was a tantrum. I learned to say, “Wow, I see you’re really angry at me. Do you want to talk about it? I want to listen, if you want to tell me about it.” I imagined that Emily in the story would run away from confrontations with her daughter—to disastrous effects. But if you’re going to have a relationship, you have to let people be angry. You have to be willing to listen to that anger. I think this is true in a marriage, too.

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