Adora may be a mother, but she’s no mom, if you know what we mean. Heck, even her own children call her by her first name. And the only maternal aspect about her is the fact that she gets a kick out of caring for her daughters when they are ill. Some moms may understand part of that: it can be sweet having a feverish child snuggled on your chest for comfort. But no normal mom would make their child feverish in order to get those cuddles. That’s how sick Adora is.
Aside from her MBP, Adora was a terrible mother in other ways, too. She’s cold. She’s distant. She confesses that she never loved her eldest because she was too much like her own mother:
“I think I finally realized why I don’t love you,” she said.
I knew she didn’t, but I’d never heard her admit as much. I tried to tell myself I was intrigued, like a scientist on the edge of a breakthrough, but my throat closed up and I had to make myself breathe.
“You remind me of my mother. Joya. Cold and distant and so, so smug. My mother never loved me, either. And if you girls won’t love me, I won’t love you.” (10.98-100)
In fact, the similarities just keep coming:
“Adora was … overly mothered. Never saw your grandma Joya smile at her or touch her in a loving way, but she couldn’t keep her hands off her. Always fixing the hair, tugging at clothes, and … oh, she did this thing. Instead of licking her thumb and rubbing at a smudge, she’d lick Adora. Just grab her head and lick it. When Adora peeled from a sunburn—we all did back then, not as smart about SPF as your generation—Joya would sit next to your momma, strip off her shirt, and peel the skin off in long strips. Joya loved that.” (13.101)
Um, ew. But that’s not the only story of the motherly devotion Joya bestowed upon her daughter:
Alan was undaunted. “Her mother used to come into her room in the middle of the night and pinch her when she was a child,” he said, eyeing the last slab of sardine pitifully. “She said it was because she was worried Adora would die in her sleep. I think it was because she just liked to hurt her.” (11.75)
It almost makes you feel bad for Adora. Until you remember that she kills her own daughter by slowly poisoning her to death.
Adora suffers from a syndrome referred to as MBP, or Munchausen By Proxy syndrome. (This isn’t made up. Actually, the little girl in The Sixth Sense died from it, too.) As Nurse Beverly Van Lumm describes it:
“Munchausen by Proxy. The caregiver, usually the mother, almost always the mother, makes her child ill to get attention for herself. You got Munchausen, you make yourself sick to get attention. You got MBP, you make your child sick to show what a kind, doting mommy you are. […] Like something a wicked fairy queen would do.” (15.62)
Doctors don’t really know what causes MBP. Maybe it’s because her mother pinched her in her sleep. Maybe it’s because she’s crazy. Maybe she’s just overly sensitive:
Every tragedy that happens in the world happens to my mother, and this more than anything about her turns my stomach. She worries over people she’s never met who have a spell of bad chance. She cries over news from across the globe. It’s all too much for her, the cruelty of human beings. (5.57)
Whatever it is that takes her down the path to murder, it defines Adora in ways we can’t even begin to understand.