The Mouse-Proof Kitchen

I’m reading The Mouse-Proof Kitchen, a novel about a couple and their first baby, who is disabled. They’re Brits who relocate to the rocky, wild hills of France near the Pyrenees.

I think I expected the story to be rather magical, because despite their daughter’s special needs, Anna and Tobias decide to pursue their dreams anyway, moving to this romantic place and starting exciting new career projects. I felt that it might be a whitewashed perspective of what it is like to have a disabled child.

It’s not.

The story has the raw feeling that accompanies learning that your child isn’t normal. Anna’s isolation is spot on, not just in her remote home but in her ragged new emotional status as a mother of a child whose life will be limited in every way.

For me, reading this book is kind of like picking a scab. It’s uncovering memories of my own wrenching process of becoming Jack and Charlie’s mom. The wounds are old and more or less healed, but if you pick at them, they still weep.

Maybe that sounds melodramatic, but I feel an affinity for Anna and her shifting emotions. I do not live in the mountains of France in a crumbling house infested with mice. I do not have a resentful, distant husband. But I get how she feels.

Her life is out of her hands in so many ways, and she is figuring out how to move forward with the sea change of suddenly being responsible for a child who will always be dependent on her for everything.

And I sort of hate Tobias, even as I see the fear that drives his decisions.  He is the foil to Anna, who is rising to the occasion as she loves her imperfect little girl. She is selfless, yet conflicted. He is selfish and copes via escapism and anger directed at his wife and daughter.

It makes me extra grateful for Dutch, who is nothing like that. He read the back of the book, lying next to me on the bed, and said, “We have a Jack-proof kitchen.”

I do like reading fiction about having a special needs child. It’s another lens into the process of coming to terms with one’s completely different life. And, frankly, it makes a good story.

I like a book that takes me someplace new, yet speaks to me where I currently am.

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