Deconstruction of “Terrific Mother”

Tyler Burke

“Terrific Mother” is a story with a really big twist. At first it has this super horrible scene where Adrienne is asked to hold a baby at the picnic party. She stumbles and rolls her ankle and she kind of thrusts the baby on her fall down to the ground. The baby hits his head on the wall very hard and dies shortly after. Obviously, Adrienne is really scarred by this event and basically cuts herself out of everyday life and interactions for a while. The next few months of Adrienne’s life she becomes super depressed and blocks herself out from basically everyone except for her boyfriend Martin. Martin suggests to Adrienne that they get married and that Adrienne should go with him on his academic retreat, to hopefully take her mind of the horrific scene with her friend’s baby. Martin and Adrienne end up getting married and the rest of the story takes place in the beautiful Italian countryside.  Adrienne is slowly but surely getting over the crisis of letting her best friend’s baby die while in her arms. In the end, women are supposed to be the rock and backbone for their children, especially at infant ages; this is when they learn who their mother is and know that they are safe with family so, in society’s eyes, Adrienne failed miserably.

Every little girl dreams of starting a family and having kids of her own and being able to watch them grow up into smart, caring and loving adults. “The best compliment you could get was: You would make a terrific mother” (Moore 3). Society has the image of women being “the perfect mother” meaning they do everything in their power to make sure their kids are fed, have good hygiene, are nice to people, and most importantly showing love. Moms do all of this while also balancing their own life and even their jobs. This can be very stressful for moms. This is where boyfriends or dads come into the picture to help with that “perfect mother” work load. In the book that is where Martin comes into play.

With Adrienne falling into a severe depression, Martin is practically the only person that is by Adrienne’s side throughout these depressing last few months of her life. Martin convinces Adrienne to marry him and to go with him on his academic retreat. At first Adrienne was not convinced, but Martin keeps saying, “I’m gonna marry you until you puke” (“The Books Birds of America’ – ‘Terrific Mother’). So, they get married and the rest of story takes place in Italy. Martin came in with the marriage card, in a way at the perfect time. This in my eyes was a distraction to get her mind off of things and slowly make her forget about what she did months ago.

In today’s society it is almost like people tend to forget that there is a such thing as stay at home dads or single dads that have kids. Fathers in a way take on the “perfect father” job, if they are single dads or stay at home dads. It is a gender role where normally mothers do most of the work with the kids while the dads work a lot to pay bills and provide for the family and the mothers would cook, clean, etc. Parenting is a rough challenge at the beginning of it. There is no manual on how to be the best parent, you just have to figure that out on your own. “This particular parenting experience has been like a large nuclear bomb on the small village of my life,” this was said by Lorrie Moore about her own parenting experience (Lee, 1998). This speaks volumes because sometimes being a parent is not planned and it just kind of sneaks up on you out of nowhere; you kind of have to try and be calm and prepare yourself. Even when you want to start a family, once you have kids you have to adapt to a new lifestyle, in a way. You have to make sure they’re fed, diapers changed, and the most hassle of them all is stopping them from crying at 3 in the morning while the rest of the family is sleeping. I think a great example of first-time parenting, I guess you would call it, is from Avengers Endgame: Tony Stark is reunited with his own father and Tony notices his dad has flowers. His dad says they are expecting a baby (Tony) and Tony tells him that he has a daughter of his own. Tony’s dad asks him if he felt qualified to operate his baby and if he was nervous. Tony replies with that he literally just pieced it together as he went along, which honestly is probably the best way to do it.

There is one other huge gender role in the story around the dinner tables at the academic retreat. Adrienne is talking to some of the men at the academic retreat, and the men, of course, just assume that Adrienne is one of the spouses. So, Adrienne asks Martin about the fact that all the spouses are women” “Why are all the spouses here women? Why don’t the women scholars have spouses?” (Moore 14). To me this was huge just because of how society is today with gender and their roles in society. In today’s society women wanted to be treated more equal like men. In that particular part of the story, Adrienne is wondering why women cannot be scholars and have spouses of their own. Today’s society is all about how women can do things that men can. To some extent this is very true; for example, a mechanic. If a woman can fix a car just as well or even better than a man can, she should be able to be one of best mechanics. Even this year with Kamela Harris being the first woman vice president, that was a huge statement for women all across the country that they can do anything they put their mind to.

Another part of society and relationships, relates to the last few pages of the story where Martin has been cheating on Adrienne with the masseuse. The masseuse is the one person that Adrienne has talked to, to try and relieve all this tension she has had built up since the horrible accident with her friend’s baby. “But in the middle of the meadow, something came over her- a balmy wind, or heat from the uphill hike, and she took off all her clothes” (Moore 26). This quote showed me that Adrienne was finally opening up and letting go of her guilt. The part about Martin cheating on Adrienne relating to today’s society and relationships is big because in today’s society it almost feels like nobody wants a legitimate relationship anymore. People just want to hook up and have multiple one-night stands with someone or if they are in a relationship, they just almost randomly “lose feelings” for someone they said loved or someone they have been dating for years. This is almost the norm of relationships in society today I feel like. Personally, I absolutely hate people who cheat in relationships. You seriously cannot just grow up and tell the other person that the relationship is not working out and that you think you should break up? Instead of going behind that person’s back and ripping their heart out of their chest making them wonder what they didn’t have that person did, or what they did wrong in the relationship that made the other person cheat. It honestly disgusts me that people do this in relationships. Especially in the case of Adrienne where she starts going to the sessions with the masseuse and relieving her tensions and she does not even know that her own husband has been cheating on her with the person she has been getting treatment with for weeks.

Society has many images of the way that things should be in today’s world: the perfect mother, gender equality, and relationships, to name a few. Adrienne feels such tremendous guilt with the death of her friends’ baby that she falls into a deep depression and in doing so she gets relieved by marrying Martin and going on an academic retreat with him only to find out that he was cheating on her with the masseuse. In my eyes, this raises questions about society and why some things are the way they are in today’s world.

Works Cited

Lee, Don. “About Lorrie Moore.” Ploughshares, vol. 24, no. 2/3, Fall 1998, p. 224. EBSCOhost,

Moore, Lorrie (1992). Terrific Mother. London: Faber & Faber.

The Books: ‘Birds of America’ – ‘Terrific Mother’ (Lorrie Moore).” The Sheila Variations,


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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