The XX Factor

Joyce Maynard. Mother Again at 56.

Who would you rather have as a mother, Padma Lakshmi, Angelina Jolie, or Joyce Maynard? Last month we ran a ” Modern Love Revenge” by Maynard’s daughter , in which she disclosed the exquisitely manipulative letter Maynard had written her daughter to convince her that it was OK for Maynard to write about her.

Maynard responded to the revenge piece in one of her weekly update e-mail newsletters. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Maynard’s letters to fans, they are precious affairs in which she continues nearly 40 years of lyrical solipsism, updating on everything from health hiccups to yoga breakthroughs to fans she encounters at book readings to other fans she encounters at book readings who drove eight hours to get there.

In her Nov 6. letter discussing the DoubleX “Modern Love Revenge,” Maynard pulled a classic Maynard. She carefully and sensitively explained the line she walks when deciding to write about family members.

I have no right to tell anyone’s story but my own. Though sometimes-here comes the hard part-the story we have to tell, about ourselves, concerns the story of someone else (possibly someone we love), as well. This was true of my Modern Love essay.

Then she proceeded to give herself free license to write about anything:

For myself, I’m sure the decisions I’ve made as a writer and a mother are shaped, in part, by the experience of having grown up in an alcoholic family, in which the central fact of our lives-namely, my father’s drinking-was never discussed or even mentioned. To me, no topic or experience is so scary, when it’s talked about, as when it remains hidden, and a source of confusion, shame or fear. My children have lived with me long enough to understand this.

Thus, it was no surprise when she announced in a subsequent Nov. 28 letter that, ” I chose not to let myself feel rejected when one of my sons–hearing me make reference to something I’d learned from reading his Facebook page–explained to me (not unlovingly) that he needed to un-friend me.” No doubt he knew his Facebook updates could end up in the New York Times or in one of his mom’s letters to her thousands of “friends.”

So mom, we have a daughter who writes a revenge piece, a son who unfriends you, and what do you do? Well, of course, at 56, you adopt two Ethiopian girls!

Now I understand that adoption and fostering are unequivocally God’s work. And in all such acts of charity there is a balance between glory to others and glory to self, a subject much studied by places like the Templeton Foundation. That said, when a particular good work becomes trendy-Save Mumia, Feed the World, or, lately, Adopt a Child from an Exotic Country-that balance is likely to be off.

Given how deeply tuned in she is to her other children’s needs, it’s hard not to suspect that a large part of why she is adopting-whether she acknowledges it or not-is because she is running out of material.