'Rachel in the World'



"If I can’t get a placement for my daughter by June 2005, I’ll leave her on your doorstep.” Jane Bernstein’s words, referring to her then-20-year-old mentally retarded daughter, Rachel, were dramatic, certainly. Did she really mean them, though? Could any mother?

At least one mother did. Around the same time Bernstein delivered her threat on the phone with an administrator at the Office of Developmental Disabilities and Mental Retardation in her county and then put it onto paper in a follow-up letter, another woman abandoned her 22-year-old daughter at a police station.

“I knew I never would,” Bernstein writes in her new book, Rachel in the World. “At the same time, I fully understand it”—“it” being the exhaustion and frustration that might drive even a loving, well-intentioned parent to such an extreme.
This ambivalence runs through Rachel in the World, a continuation of the story Bernstein, who teaches in the creative-writing program at Carnegie Mellon University, started in 1988 with Loving Rachel: A Family’s Journey from Grief. The first memoir chronicled the family’s efforts to come to terms with Rachel’s visual and intellectual impairment (caused by injury or trauma, perhaps viral, in the womb) and their effects on her family, which included Bernstein, her husband and Rachel’s older sister, Charlotte.

Rachel in the World picks up when Rachel is 5 but is mainly concerned with her passage into adulthood—a more complicated and difficult time, in many respects, than early childhood, when Rachel’s small size and cuteness helped to mitigate her weaknesses, and her general dependency was more or less age-appropriate. As Rachel grew older, Bernstein realizes, “I was confronted with something I had lacked the foresight to understand years before: cute is a dreadfully short-lived and risky condition.”

As Rachel grows older, meeting her demands becomes more exhausting for Bernstein, who captures the weariness of the day-in-day-out with surprisingly good humor. She paints early-morning scenes—“Ma! Can I have cereal? Ma, I’m up! Can I put on my robe? Can I have cereal? Ma, I’m hungry.”—that are frankly maddening just to read, let alone to contemplate living through every day.

The larger issue, however, is that as Rachel grows older, the services available to her and her family become fewer. Day-long programs are replaced by individual caretakers whom Bernstein often has to pay out-of-pocket; school must be replaced by work—and not all jobs for the mentally retarded are created equal. Then there’s the fact that Rachel wants desperately to live apart from her mother—and vice versa—but, they hear, the only spaces opening up are for people over 60. (Hence Bernstein’s dramatic threat to drop her daughter on someone else’s doorstep.)

Here, Bernstein deftly balances the personal and the political, using her and Rachel’s story to illustrate what’s at stake. Especially interesting is an interlude in Israel, where Rachel lives on a kibbutz for residents with developmental difficulties—no such program exists in this country.

Ultimately, in her quest to find the best life possible for Rachel, Bernstein leaves no doubt that, although she frequently
confesses herself “a bad mother,” she is exactly the opposite—even if she did once threaten to leave her daughter on someone else’s doorstep.


Rachel in the World by Jane Bernstein; University of Illinois Press, $26.95

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Affordable Housing Part of Civic Arena Site Redevelopment

Affordable Housing Part of Civic Arena Site Redevelopment

The Pittsburgh Penguins and a St. Louis developer hope to eventually build 1,000 residential units near PPG Paints Arena.
Watch: Phil Kessel has a Mini-Me – And He's Too Cute

Watch: Phil Kessel has a Mini-Me – And He's Too Cute

Have the Pens have found their new meme for the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Pittsburgh Will Be Home to 22 NCAA Championship Events

Pittsburgh Will Be Home to 22 NCAA Championship Events

The ’Burgh scored more events than any other U.S. city.
Beginner’s Guide to Pittsburgh Craft Brew Week

Beginner’s Guide to Pittsburgh Craft Brew Week

A guide to PCBW for local-brewery newbies.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Affordable Housing Part of Civic Arena Site Redevelopment

Affordable Housing Part of Civic Arena Site Redevelopment

The Pittsburgh Penguins and a St. Louis developer hope to eventually build 1,000 residential units near PPG Paints Arena.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Scratch Food & Beverage Has a New Executive Chef

Scratch Food & Beverage Has a New Executive Chef

Brandon Blumenfeld introduces an American gastropub menu at the Troy Hill bar.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Dive Bar & Grille Expands to South Side, Remains Charming

Dive Bar & Grille Expands to South Side, Remains Charming

The latest outpost of the small, Wexford-born chain isn't flashy, but offers good beer and grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A Life Well Lived: Dan Rooney's Humility and Humanity

A Life Well Lived: Dan Rooney's Humility and Humanity

Delivering the Homily at Rooney's funeral, Cardinal Donald Wuerl acknowledged a longstanding Rooney philosophical belief: “You can get anything done if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Refreshing Action Flick and a Redundant Thriller

A Refreshing Action Flick and a Redundant Thriller

Reviews of "Free Fire," "Unforgettable" and "The Promise," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Planning Proposals: The Element of Surprise

Planning Proposals: The Element of Surprise

This couple’s proposal story really takes the cake.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
PPG Paints Unveils New Store Concept at Bakery Square

PPG Paints Unveils New Store Concept at Bakery Square

The revamped retail store in East Liberty, the first of its kind for PPG in the country, was created with DIYers, architects and interior designers in mind.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Alex Rodriguez also is one of the league's more controversial stars.

Comments