The essence of All the Numbers is rooted in the fears that every parent has, shoved as far below the surface as we can push them, but present nonetheless.
Its plotline came to me at my friend Patty’s lakehouse while we sat on the dock sipping wine, relaxing, and watching our kids play in the lake. As jet skiers buzzed just beyond them I thought: what if? What if one of the kids was out just a bit too deep? What if one of the jet skiers lost control? And, so it all played out in my mind, like memories unfolding as they happened. Even before I knew the whole plot, I had a clear image of the final painful but redemptive, scene.
So, I spent a year thinking and wondering and jotting down notes that would eventually turn into pages, but I never lost sight of that final scene.
For me, those universal fears of all parents first bubbled to the surface the night, four weeks before his due date, that my oldest son was born by emergency caesarean section. Up until the last twenty minutes of it, my pregnancy had been textbook perfect. I’d eaten cottage cheese by the bucketful and not a drop of caffeine or wine had crossed my lips. I’d exercised the appropriate amount, put my feet up when necessary, and taken my vitamins. But still, in spite of my care, with no warning, we both nearly died because my placenta separated from the uterine wall. Nothing could have prevented it; nothing could have predicted it. And I learned one of the immutable truths of parenting–no matter how cautious, loving, protective and concerned we are, no matter how long we breastfeed, how many books we read aloud, or how much we limit TV time, bad things can happen. And then what?
When I forced myself to imagine the worst, I always wondered if I would rise to the occasion or sink into the abyss. When I explored these possibilities through Ellen–who is sarcastic and impatient and cluttered–and madly in love with her kids, I tried to be as fair as I could. I wanted her to eventually rise to the occasion (as I hoped I would), but not until she had wallowed in the depths (as I knew I would).
No matter how mundane we think our lives are, many of us will face extraordinary events at least once in our lives. And when we do, it is easy to think, why me? I played by the rules, I’m not a bad person, so why this? Why the illness or the unfaithful spouse or the tornado? When I read about mothers who have faced catastrophe, I always wish I could get a six-month follow-up. How’d they get out of bed the next day? How long before they started making supper? Did they ever genuinely laugh again?
These were the questions I tried to answer for myself through Ellen.
About the author
For the past eleven years Judy Merrill Larsen has been teaching high school English in suburban St. Louis while raising two sons and completing a Master’s Degree from Washington University. ALL THE NUMBERS is her first novel.