In My Nightmares I’m Theresa Wiggin

I’ve been trying to come up with good introduction, something punchy, y’know. But I can’t. Closing my eyes I can hear my son avidly discussing trains with DH and my daughter thumping her fork on a table as she eats her breakfast. A few moments peace in order to coherently gather my thoughts, nope, not going to happen . . . oh well. It could be worse. I could be Theresa Wiggin.

In My Nightmares I'm Theresa Wiggin, Image: White bowls floating in green fluid, art exhibit

If you don’t know (and unless you are a SF obsessive like me, you probably don’t), Theresa Wiggin is a minor character in the book Ender’s Game. (And possibly the movie, but I haven’t seen that yet – gasp). She is mother to the title character, Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin, and his two siblings, Peter and Valentine. She is married to John-Paul Wiggin, and is a former lecturer at a university (as established in the short story, Teacher’s Pest), who deliberately eschews having a prominent career.

“We were very careful not to have careers,” said Mrs Wiggin. “Not careers that we’d hate to give up. What we had was only jobs.”
Shadow of the Hegemon (SotH)

In Ender’s game, both Theresa and John Paul come off as slightly clueless adults who have no idea what their children are doing (particularly in regard to Peter and Valentine’s secret online identities, Locke and Demosthenes). And initially, it looks like the usual author-thing of  getting-parents-out-of-the-way-because-they-stuff-up-the-story. (Which considering the fact that all their children are prodigies is unlikely). But it isn’t. Though that doesn’t actually come out until the book, Shadow of the Hegemon, where we learn that Theresa and John-Paul deliberately didn’t interfere with their kids’ activities – while keeping very careful tabs on everything they accomplished.

“I don’t know how much you know about what Peter’s doing . . .”
“We read everything he publishes,” said Mrs Wiggin. “And then we’re very careful to act as if we hadn’t a clue what’s going on in the world.”
— SotH

Theresa is a forceful, intelligent women who has decided to follow her heart – to have a family with John-Paul. But life keeps getting in the way of these dreams. First her youngest, Ender is taken away, and then her only daughter leaves to be with Ender on an interplanetary voyage that won’t finish until Theresa and John-Paul are well into their graves.

“Graff knew Ender Wiggin at age seven and ten and twelve, years when Theresa’s only links to her youngest, most vulnerable child were a few photographs and fading memories and the ache in her arms where she could remember holding him, and the last lingering sensation of his little arms flung around her neck.”
Shadow Puppets (SP)

Her one ambition, to have a large family is taken away from her – first by the population laws that she had initially set out to violate, and second by the current social system. After Ender is taken away, she realises she and John-Paul can’t take Peter and disappear, as he has absorbed the rules of their society. If they keep having children, they would lose him, as he had become the kind of child who would denounce them for breaking the law. As a result, Theresa has a very low opinion of their society.

“That’s what parenting is,” said Mrs Wiggin. “Indoctrinating your children in the social patterns that you want them to live by. The intellectuals have no qualms about using the schools to indoctrinate our children in their foolishness.”

Even after the population laws are lifted, they are unable to have more children – because their three children are so famous (or infamous), that any siblings would immediately become targets for kidnapping, or worse.

“They’d have the babies out of the cradle, that’s how fast they’d strike. They’d be targets from the moment of conception, just waiting for somebody to come along and turn them into puppets of one regime or another.”

She also wanted to raise children in her or her husband’s faith, which was also never realised, because all her children were monitored from an early age and any attempt to raise them contrary to what the International Fleet needed would have been stopped – particularly when it had to do with beliefs contrary to the needs of the IF. Instead, they found themselves having to help their eldest son overcome his personal limitations.

“We had always thought that the big struggle in our family would be over which religion to teach them, his[John-Paul’s] or mine. Instead we had to watch over Peter and find ways to help him find . . . decency. No, something much more important than that. Integrity. Honor.”

She and her husband had to find novel ways to raise their kids, ways that gave their (at the time) two remaining children freedom to be themselves, while subtly guiding them towards becoming more compassionate and finding their own integrity, even if not innate, with an extremely intelligent, stubborn and almost pathologically independent eldest child.

“You didn’t try to simply block him from what he was doing?”
She laughed harshly. “Oh, now, you’re supposed to be the smart one. Could someone have blocked you? And Peter failed to get into Battle School because he was too ambitious, too rebellious, too unlikely to fulfil assignments and follow orders. We were supposed to influence him by forbidding him or blocking him?”

Through all this, Theresa Wiggin lives with the sorrow of losing two of her children, and the fear of losing her third, as his life is far from safe. But she will do whatever’s necessary in order to keep him safe.

“If you have a low opinion of my mothering, please keep in mind that whatever you know, you know because I told you, and I told you because I think that someday Peter’s future may depend on your knowing . . . how to help him. . . . I bared my heart to you. For Peter’s sake. And I face your scorn, Julian Delphiki, for Peter’s sake as well.”

There is a fierceness to her character – which in no way reflects the usual tropes of the loving, doting mother, nor the at-a-distance Tiger mother, that makes her appealing, tragic and very human.

“Until you’ve had a child of your own and sacrificed for that child and twisted your life into a pretzel, into a knot for him, don’t you dare to judge me and what I’ve done.”

Of course, her acid tongue helps with that appeal. She is by no means a perfect mother – and tends to revert to acid (as do we all at times) when she is feeling defensive.

“You are always so thoughtful, giving me such interesting things to do. Touring the colony worlds. Staring at the walls of my nicely air-conditioned apartment. You do remember that your birth was not parthenogenetic. You are the only person on God’s green earth who thinks I’m too stupid to be anything but a burden around your neck. But please don’t imagine that I am criticizing you. I am the image of a perfect, doting mother. I know how well that plays on the vids.”

But her heart is in the right place. Even when it is torn to pieces by her circumstances.

“Excuse me if I’m missing something here,” said Bean, “but as far as I can tell, marrying and having children has brought you nothing but grief. You’ve lost Ender, you’ve lost Valentine, and you spent your life pissed off at Peter or fretting about him.”
“Yes,” she said. “Now you’re getting it.”
“Where’s the joy? That’s what I’m not getting.”
“The grief is the joy,” said Mrs. Wiggin. “I have someone to grieve for.”–SotH

For me, Theresa Wiggin’s story is both a triumph of spirit over adversity and a beautiful tragedy. She longs and is unable to have her ideal of a happy family, yet creates her happiness with the family that is left. And she dares to dream that her children will one day grow into adults that will not only be happy and fullfiled, but have that which she found so hard to grasp – a family.

So as I sit here, listening to my children, thinking, worrying about their everyday struggles and triumphs, I am reminded to cherish these moments, forgive my occasional snarky lapses and be happy that, for this moment at least, my children are happy. And in this moment, that is enough.

Gifted in Reel Life, GHF Blog Hop Images: Camera, book TV, head with cogs, newspaper, laptop

This post was part of the Gifted Homschoolers Forum Blog hop, ‘Gifted in Reel Life’. Go check them out, they’re awesome.

10 Replies to “In My Nightmares I’m Theresa Wiggin”

  1. I always thought she was a tragic figure, too. I'm really glad O.S.Card grew her character in the Shadow books instead of leaving her the clueless parent of the gifted stereotype. And I love that instead of writing about the obvious choice for these books for this series, you chose someone people don't think of. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing; I love Ender's Game, but I have not studied the rest as thoroughly as you. The part of your post that haunts me most is that a child can be a target, just because of anticipated abilities.

  3. Worth a read, definitely. But I find myself rereading the sequels more often than the original. For a parent with gifted or 2e children, they may give you a few sleepless nights. They aren't perfect (what is?), but they do a great job of creating believable gifted characters. Though in places a bit more self-possessed than many gifted kids I've met, but not implausibly so. My favourite part in Shadow Puppets is actually when one of the kids is catastrophizing and his parents come in and tip him out of his bed, douse him in water (after he's been a foul-mouthed brat) and give him a dose of parental wisdom to help him through it. <3 FYI when I read these BC, I thought – yeah, good books but there aren't kids like that, it's a little reality-stretched (particularly the character of Bean). Then, well, life threw me a curve ball for my doubt 😀

  4. I do have a tendency to fall in love with minor characters :). Maybe it's because I can't help but flesh them out into full characters in my head. It's nice when the author does that too, it makes me very happy!

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