The Mother Characters in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

The Mother Characters in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

I dedicate this post to an analysis of the moms in Water Signs, Monica Rose and Paula Lockheart.

The character of Monica is based on my own mother, for whom I am more grateful to God with every passing day. The older I get, the more I realize how rare and precious it is to have had the experience of growing up with a mother who was dedicated to her children’s emotional needs, educational success, spiritual foundation and moral upbringing. While there is no perfect human and certainly no perfect mother (as is evident in my novel), my siblings and I never had to doubt her love and dedication.

The early days: Mom and Dad with my older brothers Ralph (on mom’s lap) and Mark.

This is a remarkable woman who, at the age of 28, gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome (her second child) and in response to highly suspect and astonishingly cruel medical advice (i.e. put the “stigma” in an institution), promptly ordered the attending physician to “stay away from me and stay away from my baby”. Then with her characteristic strength and determination, she devoted herself (with the support of her husband and family) to Ralph’s development, tenacious in her desire to see him reach his full potential. She also had the faith and courage to give birth to three more children — my sister Carolyn, my brother Paul and me, ultimately raising all five of us (brother Mark is the first-born) with the same amount of love, care and attention.

Paula Lockheart in the novel is based on a woman I’ve never actually met, but knew about through her son. Based on my remembrances of conversations we’d had, I created her be to be the warm, supportive and loving parental presence in Ken’s life — and a counterbalance to the aloofness of his father (although their relationship is renewed by novel’s end).

Ken and Madeline’s mothers are both strong influences in their lives, possibly due to that fact they they are the “babies” of their families, though in Ken’s case, much of that also stems from his innate passion for life, and his willingness to do whatever necessary to create a new and different existence for himself than the one laid out for him by his father and pursued obediently by his three older brothers.

The DiGiovanni Family at my brother Mark’s wedding, 1993.

When the story opens, we learn that two of the adult Rose children — Greg and Lori — are simultaneously leaving the nest to start their own families, following in the footsteps of youngest son Damian, who’d already taken a wife and settled into another state. Madeline has just been through a horrific break-up with a guy, and has relied on the ones closest to her for strength and comfort to work through the stages of grief.

As a mother, Monica wants nothing more than for her offspring to find happiness with the right spouses, yet at the same time she experiences the bittersweet reality of the children to whom she’s dedicated her life, leaving the nest. And when her “baby” Maddy appears to be moving too quickly with the new man who has entered the picture, it’s almost too much to bear. Yes, she wants her daughter to be happy. And no, she doesn’t want to let go just yet. So while outwardly, Ken’s lack of a college degree is the initial objection she expresses to her daughter’s suitor, deep within, the real struggle has to do with the acceptance of a new phase of life — one that involves adjusting to a home with fewer offspring occupants.

This is the portrayal I attempted to make when basing Monica on my own mother. Some have stated their intense dislike for the character, at least after reading that portion of the book, but my intention was not to place blame or hold onto resentment. Was my mom wrong to pressure me to end things based on such an inconsequential criteria? Yes. But it’s not that simple. While I couldn’t grasp it at the time, years later, I understood her motivations. She’d watched me over the years experience all kinds of hurts — from mean kids in grade school who teased me about my weight to stupid teen-aged boys in high school who were, well, stupid teen-aged boys.

My mother silently witnessed my first boyfriend says things like, “Yes, you do look kind of bloated today,” and prayed hard for the relationship to mercifully end. She never interfered, but would often tell me I was worthy of so much more than he was capable of offering. And the protective “Mama Bear” in her often stated in no uncertain terms, her utter disgust with the man known as Jake in the novel. So it’s only natural she’d want to shield me from further pain.

[Perhaps looking back, my mother’s intuition was also telling her that something wasn’t quite right with this new guy; perhaps she sensed he would eventually break my heart. Who knows? Even after everything that’s transpired, I still question his motives and wonder about his sincerity, although I prefer to believe that, in the moment at least, he meant the things he said].

But just as with Monica and Maddy, in the aftermath of my initial break-up with “Ken”, my mom also saw my downward spiral. Unlike in the book where Maddy at least has a full-time job to keep her busy, at the time I couldn’t seem to get any career traction and had been doing temp work as a result of a challenging economy. Having “Ken” in my life was a breath of fresh air, as he always made me feel good about myself and seemed to think that everything I did was wonderful. Once that was gone, I’d temporarily lost my own zest for living. So just like Maddy, the activities that previously had given me joy, i.e. dancing, had completely lost their appeal. And like the character based on me, I accepted my mother’s genuine, heartfelt apology.

As for Ken, Paula remains the one person he can turn to when he needs advice and a comforting presence. While she prays for father and son to eventually mend their differences, Paula manages to walk the line between being a good mother to her son and a supportive wife to her husband. She’s able to see both sides of the coin, though she thoroughly admires and respects her son for making the difficult choice to join the Navy and forge new territory in the Lockheart family. When Ken is torn between the two women he loves, she never tells him what to do; only listens and promises to be there for him whenever he needs her. And when father and son at last come to a new understanding and embark upon a revitalized relationship, it’s her fondest wish come true.

With Mom and my nieces Sophia and Julianna.

I will delve more into the motherly relationships in terms of the theme of reconciliation in another post, but will end by noting that as an author, in order for your characters to experience a joyous renewal of their relationships, you must take them through some of the lows of human behavior. Otherwise, what’s the point? When I borrowed from real life in retelling the story of my mother’s influence on my relationship with “Ken”, it was not done to hurt her, nor to tell the world I had a bad mother. Rather, it was created as a testament to the power of love, understanding and forgiveness.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for my mother, the one person who has always loved me unconditionally. I am also incredibly thankful for her continued good health and presence in my life. I know how blessed I am, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for being a woman of faith and character, a worthy role-model and most of all, an endless source of emotional support through all of life’s ups and downs.

Preview and purchase Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal on


The Nashville Flood, Self-Reliance and the Mainstream Media

Published by Parcbench, May 7, 2010:

Judging by the inexcusable lack of coverage of one of the most devastating non-hurricane weather events in American history, the mainstream media apparently rates self-reliance, the quintessential American virtue celebrated in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay, somewhere between capitalism and Christian on their list of most despised things about the United States. What else can explain the paltry 15 minutes of reporting about a storm that killed several people and caused billions of dollars in damage?

If not for the fact that one of my brothers is a longtime resident of Music City, along with his wife and four children, I might not even have known about the 500-year flood as it unleashed its devastation in real-time. And as I followed his reportage in links and photos posted on Facebook, I read and saw the unimaginable: Famous landmarks, including The Grand Old Opry and the Opryland Hotel (site of Paul and Angela’s wedding reception) were basically ruined. Motorists died in their cars sitting in traffic on the interstate.  Entire areas of the city were underwater. And yet, barely a peep from those self-ordained purveyors of all the news that’s fit to print or broadcast.

So why exactly is that?

Well, as this excellent We Are Nashville post so eloquently explains, middle Tennessee residents are a resilient sort, embodying the characteristics that have helped shaped this nation. Rather than whine about the unfairness of Mother Nature or point the finger of blame at the White House or any government entity, they channeled their inner American Pioneer. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Neighbors helped neighbors. Volunteers flooded the Hands On Nashville phone lines to sign up to help with emergency food-relief efforts (when Paul called to offer his services, he was asked to call back, as all slots had been filled).

What didn’t happen?

Unlike what transpired in another southern city hit by a crippling storm a few years back — a city deemed by the media as worthy of ad nauseam coverage — there was no crime spree. In the aftermath of heart-wrenching destruction and chaos, there were zero reports of looting, assault or rape. Oh, and neither the mayor, nor any elected official in either Nashville or Davidson Counties got on national television and shrieked about how it was all Barack Obama’s fault (although the least the President of the United States could’ve done was issue a statement of support). They were too busy actually doing their jobs and fulfilling their responsibilities to the locals who elected them.

Funny, but the residents of middle Tennessee bear a striking resemblance to Louisiana’s neighbors, Mississippi and Alabama. Parts of those states were hit just as hard as New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, yet they barely merited any mention on the nightly news either. And instead of looking for a scapegoat, these American citizens also went to work. Side-by-side, neighbors of all colors, races and creeds rebuilt their homes and their lives. They also had competent governors who executed well-planned disaster recovery procedures, in fulfillment of their obligations and responsibilities as CEOs of a state.  And in stark contrast to the myth perpetrated in the media and in pop culture, southerners proved that they are for the most part, decent, caring, generous folks — not wild-eyed, Bible-thumping, card-carrying KKK racists.

All things considered, it’s no wonder why Nashville’s unprecedented flood went purposely unnoticed in the mainstream media. Because if it’s one thing they cannot abide, it’s the American spirit  of resilience, generosity and self-reliance in action — particularly when demonstrated by Christians who happen to live in the land of Dixie.


Is Professionalism Passe in Cyberspace?

Published by Parcbench, April 18, 2010:

Alright, so this is not a necessarily a political rant (although there are a few thinly veiled references to the current White House occupant), but nevertheless a topic of cultural import in the age of social media marketing. It’s something that has been bothering me for quite some time, after having read some pretty idiotic twitter updates and blog posts from allegedly professional, busy and successful members of the business community. It doesn’t seem to matter how educated, knowledgeable or hard-working some people are; in their minds technology, unlike real life, simply does not demand a certain set of standards.

For example, why is it that we’d never purposely spell a word incorrectly in a business correspondence, personal letter or even an email, yet some of us think it’s cute (or worse, cool, as if middle-aged men should still be concerned with such things) to do so in a 140-word character status? I am not quibbling with the necessary use of abbreviations when limited to such a low word-count — I am talking about deliberately misspelling common words.

For example, a guy whom I know for a fact to be a full-grown adult, constantly uses werkin instead of working to describe what he’s doing at that specific point in time.

Perhaps he’s attempting to be humorous; perhaps he’s going through a mid-life crisis, but whatever the case, it’s not an appealing use of language. Why not abbreviate as workin if hard-pressed for characters, instead of presenting yourself as an immature surfer dude pretending to be a formidable businessman? Maybe it’s the English Major in me, but in an age when we’re already dealing with the consequences of a dumbed-down electorate, the least intelligent people can do is set a good example.

Which leads me to another quibble with another supposed grown-up, a woman who describes herself as an advertising professional and award-winning graphic designer. While I understand the valid point she’s attempting to make when discussing the importance of a logo for branding purposes, somehow titling a post “Don’t Screw with the Logo” seems to negate her purpose and detract from her character. Why not something along the lines of “Don’t Mess with the Logo”? It makes the same point without being crude and insulting.

But judging from the lengthy tirade she launches against a competitor in the body of her post, perhaps that was her intention. While the author of the blog probably believes otherwise (and I do credit her for not actually naming the competition), she comes across as petty and petulant — hardly someone with which any reputable organization would want to do business. There’s a fine line between promoting one’s own talent and skill, and presenting oneself as an entitled recipient of clients, based solely on one’s own subjective opinion. Thus, the legitimacy of her premise is an unintended casualty of the snarky tone of her piece.

Or is it just me?

I had a discussion with another adult professional, a friend for over 15 years, who told me about the use of the word “dude” in a marketing email she’d received. Since the product had been aimed at both a male and female demographic, she took issue with being addressed with a term typically reserved for males. When I questioned the credibility of “dude” for marketing purposes even for males over a certain age, she felt it was still appropriate, that her only problem with it was the gender factor. I respectfully disagree, believing that “dude” is a juvenile title best reserved for kids under the age of eighteen. It’s also a symptom of the larger cultural problem of an over-extended adolescence. No wonder style trumped substance in the 2008 presidential election!

Other inane twitter updates I’ve seen include such gems as “getting ready to strangle mom in law” (wonder how that went over with the wife?), descriptions of the number of times an owner’s dog did his business during a walk and the urgent need for holding a beer in one hand while grilling with the other. Ok, the latter two are lame attempts at humor, but really, the mother-in-law comment? Very bad taste, no matter how justified (if at all) the author might be.

And in an especially egregious status update given the state of the economy, a small business owner with pressing deadlines laments about being summoned for jury duty when so many others are unemployed, implying that those “lucky” souls should be the ones inconvenienced by civic responsibility, not important people like her. Pardon me, but if you’re a  busy entrepreneur during a difficult recession in which nearly 10% of Americans are out of work, I’d say a little gratitude — not to mention tact — is in order. Yes, jury duty can be a detriment to the bottom line, but creating a status update bemoaning a minor obstacle and simultaneously taking a potshot at others in retaliation is just plain rude and insensitive.  As is the case with real life, there are times when silence — or in the case of modern technology — a silent keyboard, is golden.

Or is professionalism passé in the world of social media?