Study Guide

The Usual Rules Abandonment

By Joyce Maynard


For a while she asked when her father was coming home, but then she stopped. The picture that used to be on top of her mother's special treasure case in the living room had disappeared—the one with her mother in the long fairy dress, and flowers in her hair. Can we call him? Wendy asked.

I don't know where he is anymore, her mother said. His phone got disconnected. (2.9-10)

When Garrett leaves his family behind, he really leaves. Wendy doesn't even have a phone number where he can call him, which is devastating for a little girl who doesn't know why her dad doesn't live with them anymore.

You've got to be kidding, her mother said. No, come to think of it, of course you're not. You haven't seen our daughter in a year and a half and you want to go out and see friends. Wendy wondered if this was the voice she used when she was being an executive secretary. (2.42)

Although Wendy is too young to understand just how disappointed her mom is in Garrett, she can see that he's not being as present as he could be—especially considering this is the first time he's seen his daughter and ex-wife in over a year.

I want you to write to me, he said. He didn't know she couldn't write yet, except for Mom and cat and love. If you send me a picture, I'll hang it on my wall, okay?

You can come to visit me once I know where I'm going, he said. I'll teach you how to fish.
Then he was gone. Later she realized they didn't have his address. (2.77-79)

Garrett doesn't even leave an address for Wendy to write to him… not that she can write yet anyway. He doesn't know anything about her life and what she can and cannot do now that he's living away from them. He's not exactly a hands-on dad.

Sometime before lunch, they had all their stuff packed up, and they loaded the bags in the trunk and the backseat of Kate's car. They stayed at Kate's apartment for a long time, while her mother found their new apartment.

At first she didn't ask any questions about her father, but finally she asked when they were going back home again. Never, said her mother. (4.95-96)

Poor little Wendy doesn't understand why they're going to stay with Kate or why they have a new apartment. She just wants to go back to their old life when they were a complete family with a father, mother, and Wendy.

Wendy hadn't realized it until then, but up until that moment, she had believed that Josh would stop her from leaving. She might tell her teachers she was going away, and take her clothes out of the closet and pack them into suitcases, pack up her drawing pencils, take her Madonna poster off the wall. (12.68)

Wendy may be the one leaving her family behind, but she feels abandoned because Josh isn't trying to stop her. He's just letting her walk out of their lives and move all the way to California.

There, her mother said. You satisfied now? Here's the guy you want so much to get away from. Your own father walks out on you flat, and along comes Josh, who hadn't exactly been in desperate need of some seven-year-old daughter. He was having a pretty great life without us, as a matter of fact. And all he wants to do is spend as much time with you as he can. So you kick him in the teeth for it? (19.91)

Garrett may be the dad who abandoned Wendy, but Josh is the one she lashes out at. It's no wonder Janet is frustrated by Wendy's treatment of her stepfather—she can come across as insanely ungrateful to a guy that's only ever shown her love and acceptance.

Maybe he will, maybe he won't, she said. It would be one great day if he did. But I don't kid myself. I'm not his mother anymore. I was for nine months and a day, but that's all. His m other's the one who raised him. Best I could be is someone like a caring friend who might happen to look a little like him. (20.115)

Because Carolyn gave her son up for adoption, she knows she can't expect anything from him. She doesn't deserve to be treated like his "real" mother; she hasn't been there to see him grow up, after all.

But sometimes, Violet said, I just wish I could run away. Sometimes I want to be my old self again. Walter Charles won't shut up, and I just want to turn him off, only with a baby, you can't. (21.60)

Violet isn't exactly having an easy time with this whole parenthood. Even though she loves Walter Charles, there are times when she doesn't want to be a mother anymore; she just wants to be a regular teenage girl again.

Sometimes you just want someone to put their arms around you, Carolyn told her. Even Garrett, who grew up never getting that kind of thing and sometimes has a hard time giving it—even someone like him needs it. Sometimes I think a person could give up food more easily than affection. (28.156)

Carolyn helps Wendy understand that Kate being with Josh isn't a betrayal. She needs to see just how lonely they've both been since Janet's death and recognize that they need some kind of solace and comfort in their lives.

The surprising thing was how he took it. Wendy might have thought from the way he was with his mother back at Thanksgiving that it wouldn't be that bad when she died, but he sank into the chair, weeping. Now it'll never be any better, he said. As long as she was around I could always hope things might change someday, and now I know they never will. (28.163)

Garrett may not have the best relationship with his mother, but he's still devastated when she dies. He's always held out hope that she'll stop being so emotionally distant and actually accept him as he is. But that's over now.