I just finished the 8 episode series Little Fire Everywhereon Hulu and the message resonated with me in many different ways. The biggest being the different aspects of Motherhood it illustrates, each character brought forth weaknesses as they struggled to raise their children. As the audience we can quickly judge the decisions each Mother made in the series by wondering, “how could they” or even think “I would never,” but if we looked more closely at ourselves we would find a little of Mia, Elena, Linda and even Bebe within us. Let’s look closer at each Mom below:
The incomparable Kerry Washington acts as the character Mia Warren, an artist and Black, single Mother living a nomadic lifestyle with her teenage daughter, Pearl Warren. Together they move city-to-city only staying for short periods of time and we never know exactly why. They end up in Shaker Heights, Ohioa predominately white town outside of Cleveland where race and class is a subtle but huge factor there in the ’90’s. Pearl and her Mom seem to have a great relationship, this can be attributed to the many times they have relocated together. Later, we learn that Mia was hired as a surrogate for a couple in the ’80’s when she was in art school in NYC. She agreed to carry the baby when she needed money for school, but as her life took a turn for the worse she ran from her problems while still pregnant and told the couple she miscarried the baby. She used a different last name (“Warren” was her Brothers name that suddenly passed in a tragic car accident) and gave her baby girl that last name as well. So now we know why her and Peal moved so often, she didn’t want anyone to locate her because of her guilt of the past. She lives over a decade in fear that if found she could risk loosing her daughter. All the while Pearl is oblivious to her Mother’s past choices and was told that her Father just didn’t want to be in her life. While living in Shaker Mia and Pearl meet the Richardson’s, a well-off white family living a seemingly “perfect” life.
That brings us to our next Mom, Elena. She is played by the talented Reese Witherspoonwho is your typical “American Dream” type of Mom. She is married to a successful Attorney and together they have 4 children who are all in high school. They live in a beautiful home in an upscale suburban neighborhood and Elena comes off as if she is well “put-together” and has everything she has ever wanted, but she too holds some deep dark secrets that she struggles to come to terms with. Many events transpire as Mia and Elena go from friendly and cordial, to enemies ready to shatter and expose each others skeletons! Let’s dig deeper with Elena; although she lives a life that most may envy, once uncovered it’s revealed that she is miserable and wishes she chose a much different route instead of rushing to get married and becoming a Mother. You see, Elena had dreams of becoming a successful Journalist and desired to work for the well known New York Times. Instead she had to settle for a local, fairly unknown journalism job at Shaker Times, a newspaper company in her hometown. Even her position there was off-and-on due to her having to take maternity leave each time she became pregnant. Watching others get promoted while she had to constantly restart every time she returned to work was crippling to her ego. Her fourth and last baby she has grown to resent. She indirectly blames her youngest daughter because she was unplanned and she didn’t want to be out of work again to have another child. Holding on to this resentment causes it to spill over into her and her daughters relationship making it obvious that while her Mother may have truly loved her, she most certainly didn’t like her. Because of this “Izzy,” her youngest, was labeled as the problem child as she refused to conform to her family’s idealism of perfection. Watching their relationship play out was cringe-worthy! Elena works overtime to expose Mia’s secrets not recognizing that her own were just as grim.
Now, we can quickly judge Bebe for abandoning her baby that cold night in Ohio or we can sympathize with her recognizing that many of us Mom’s can relate to the sleep deprived, over-exhausted new Mom trying to do our best. Let’s explore Bebe’s character a bit further, played by an actress named Huang Lu. Bebe is a Chinese illegal immigrant in the U.S. and first time new Mom. The night she placed her daughter outside of the local Fire Station she felt she had no other option. This Mom was living in poverty, working as waitress at a diner making little to no money, she could not properly provide for her 2 month old baby and didn’t have help from anyone. We could assume she had no family or friends in America. She is shown trying to nurse her baby but looks as though she has a very limited milk supply and the baby continues to cry constantly from hunger. She has no money for formula and her baby hasn’t eaten in days. Bebe chose to leave her baby at the Fire Station in hopes that they would get her and properly care and feed her which is something she couldn’t do at the time and at her lowest moment in her life made a irrational decision. Mia and Bebe now work for the same restaurant and Mia quickly befriends Bebe and discovers Bebe’s deep dark secret. However, Mia doesn’t place judgement on her friend, she figures out how to help her get her Daughter back once she finds out who now has Bebe’s Daughter. It just so happens to be a good friend of Elena’s who hasn’t been able to conceive a child of her own.
Rosemarie DeWitt plays Linda, a married, upper middle class, white woman longing to have a baby of her own. She’s had countless miscarriages over the years and has been living in complete despair as she struggles with infertility. Linda was the Woman who has been raising Bebe’s abandoned baby for a year now. This baby has given Linda her joy back and she finally feels complete as she has attained her ultimate goal, to be a Mom. Her happiness is short lived when Bebe is demanding her baby back and they find themselves in an intense custody battle over who is the more “fit” Mother to raise the child. It becomes a battle of race and class as they compare the two Mother’s during the court proceedings leading up to the verdict, where Linda wins and is able to continue her life as the legal adoptive Mother of this beautiful little girl. Sadly, in the last episode the baby was stolen out of her crib, and we can assume is was Bebe who came back for her baby.
I will be the first to sing the praises of Motherhood and why I often refer to it as “Magical!” Most times I prefer to write about the positives in Motherhood while still being real about the whole thing, because even on bad days there is still some good to find in seeing your child and the unexplainable love you have for them. While this is also true there can be a dark side to being a Mom. Whether it’s in your past or maybe even how you live your life as a Mom presently, most times we bury those feelings deep inside of us never wanting them to resurface in fear of being judged, or labeled a bad or incompetent Parent, or maybe even our own guilt that can hold unbearable weight. Whatever it is, it is more normal than we think. What I’ve learned from this series was that while all of these women were so different, they were more often the same. I found pieces of myself in each of the characters and could somehow emotionally connect to how and why some of these Moms made the decisions that they did. Whether it be how we embarked on Motherhood through being dishonest, on the run (physically or emotionally) scared to face our dark past mistakes like, Mia. Or could it be waking up each day living a lie trying to hold things together to maintain a perfect image in front of others, when knowing we wanted more for our personal self or career before becoming a Mother. Being forced to face that it’s too late to go back and change that like, Elena. Could we relate to Bebe at all by the inadequate feeling of not being able to provide for your baby the way you feel you should. Have you ever thought about doing something so out of character during a low point in your life, or maybe even experiencing postpartum depression after giving birth? Have we, like many women experienced infertility issues in our journey, longing so badly to conceive a baby, carry it to term and safely deliver it. Only to face negative pregnancy tests, miscarriages and stillbirths over and over again, like Linda.
You see, I couldn’t place judgment on any of the characters because they are Moms who felt they were truly doing the best they possibly could at that moment for the sake of their child(ren). Isn’t that what we are all trying to do each day anyway? We love our kids so intensely that we are willing to do anything and everything to ensure they are happy, healthy, and safe! Sometimes love can be a complicated thing, even for a Mom. When we become Mothers we don’t magically become perfect decision makers, or the sins of our past suddenly eradicated. We take what we know and what we’ve experienced and be the best that we can be with what we have. Each of these Mothers biggest flaw was that they loved too hard, causing them to make what some would describe as, unacceptable choices. Yes, there was some selfishness there, but if we were all totally honest with ourselves, we are guilty of loving so strongly and one risky decision away from starting our own little fire. We can come from all different walks of life, different social backgrounds, and different races. However, one thing is the same and that is we are raising little humans hoping to send them out into the world to make their mark. If nothing else, we can relate in that. Laying down all of our differences that separates us when we are truly more alike than different. We love the same, feel the same, and many times react the same given the circumstances. Let’s remember that we are all in this together!
Be well, judge less, and stay Magical.