In her novel “All Over Creation” Ruth Ozeki explores different family dynamics through her characters. The difference between the way Yumi raises her children and the way she was raised by her parents is striking. While her parents (especially her father, Lloyd) took an authoritarian approach to raising her, Yumi instead takes an authoritative approach to raising her own children. Although it is clear that her parents truly loved her, Yumi felt suffocated by their judgements of her. In her first letter to her parents, she explains that she was sure that their shame “was going to fill every crack in the house, seep into every second of the day, and suck the air right out of me.” (Ozeki 37). Therefore she felt it necessary to run away, calling it “an evacuation.” (Ozeki 37). The strict and judgemental atmosphere that Yumi was raised in influenced her to raise her children with a light, accepting touch.
Although Yumi clearly states how she felt poisoned by her father’s shame, it is clear that neither of her parents intended to do anything but help her. Ozeki clarifies this by illustrating the strong bond Yumi once shared with her father. As Momoko used to say, Yumi and Lloyd were “tsu pi-su ina pod-do” - two peas in a pod. This closeness dissolved as Yumi entered her adolescence. As she began expressing herself with fashion, makeup, slang, and her newfound interest in boys, Lloyd voiced his disgust and tried to put an end to these changes. He felt that his little girl, whom he loved so dearly, was disappearing as this alien version of his daughter flourished. It was like finding that his beloved potato fields had become infested with another plant that he interpreted as a weed. Momoko, too, was annoyed by the changes in her daughter. When Yumi recited a koan that Elliot had taught her to her mother, she replied, “‘Stupid. Make no sense.’” (Ozeki 20). When Yumi explained that koans are meant to “help you reach enlightenment”, Momoko said, “‘Never heard of it. Anyway, why you need enlighten when you got good Methodist church to go to?’” (Ozeki 21). Although Yumi knew that her parents loved her, she ran away because she felt that she could not handle their constant judgement.
As Momoko mentioned, the Fullers were Methodists, and devout ones. In their farming newsletter, Momoko and Lloyd often mention their beliefs and even quote the Bible in support of them. Yumi’s parents were against premarital sex and also strongly opposed abortion. Therefore, when Yumi aborted the child she and Elliot had conceived out of wedlock, she knew that it would be damning for her parents to find out. When the Fullers and Carl pressure Cassie to tell them what she and Yumi had been doing in Pocatello with Elliot, she refuses, and endures a brutal beating from her father. Interestingly, although her parents had seemed satisfied when Yumi answered that they had been getting milkshakes, she goes a step further and declares that it was to celebrate her abortion. She does this despite the fact that she probably would have gotten away with it. For Yumi, just knowing that her parents would judge her if they knew the truth was the last straw. It was their judgemental beliefs that made Yumi run away.
Yumi is much more accepting of her children than her parents were of her. This is because she knows how suffocated she felt under her parents’ thumb, and she feared that if she raised her children the same way, they would also leave her. She allows her children to have their own voices and opinions, and rarely tries to silence them. When Phoenix introduces himself to Cass as “Nix”, Yumi explains, “‘He’s in the process of rejecting everything his mother ever gave him. Including his name.’” (Ozeki 61). Phoenix then says, “‘Oh, Yummy, that’s such crap,’” which Yumi points out to Cass with a smile, saying, “‘See what I mean?’” (Ozeki 61). Her relaxed attitude in response to her son’s rebellion is carefully calculated to acknowledge his feelings while also acknowledging that these feelings aren’t uncommon for a teenage boy. In Cass’ car, Yumi hushes Ocean’s declaration that the car smells bad. However, when Ocean recognizes the smell of cigarettes and begins to scold Cass for smoking, Yumi lets her. Afterward she apologizes, saying that Ocean’s behavior is due to her age, and calling her a “‘Righteous little fascist.’” (Ozeki 62). Although she does apologize for Ocean’s behavior, she allows it to happen. This shows that Yumi allows her children to make mistakes, but accepts them and apologizes on their behalf afterward.
Later, when Lloyd comments on the children’s names, saying, “‘What kind of children have names like that?’” Yumi says that Ocean “stepped up to the plate” when she tells her grandfather, “‘We’re good children. That’s what kind.’” (Ozeki 73). Lloyd wouldn’t have allowed Yumi to speak to an elder that way, let alone condoned it. Then, Ocean begins a conversation with Lloyd, and she tells him that, “‘Mommy said we have to be nice to you because you’re dying, but I’m not going to… I’m going to be nice to you because I like you instead.’” (Ozeki 74). This shows that Yumi allows her children to make their own decisions, even if they contradict her own - which Lloyd and Momoko would never let her do.
The way Momoko and Lloyd raised Yumi resulted in Yumi’s decision to raise her children differently. Although her parenting style is questionably lax, she makes her decisions about her children based on how she wishes she had been raised. After all, children learn best from their parents’ mistakes.
Ozeki, Ruth L. All over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.