In Chapter 10 of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Cordelia is preoccupied with her impromptu visit from her grandchildren.
Cordelia’s grandchildren are amazing. Taura is my favorite. There’s nothing wrong with the rest of them, I just appreciate a person who knows a good hopscotch opportunity when she sees one. I’m ride or die for a tile floor. We’d get along.
The Vorkosigan clan is difficult to settle. Despite the presence of the nanny Ekaterin and Miles have brought along, children outnumber adults in this situation. This means the adults can’t use a man-on-man defense, and have to go to zones. Further, Cordelia notes, Miles is less helpful than one might hope. I’m shocked. I mean, last time we saw him actively parenting, he was encouraging Alex and Helen to throw food at the cat. I’m not gonna let that one go. The man deserves what he gets. Possibly his wife doesn’t deserve it, but she knew who Miles was when she married him.
Notwithstanding the exhaustion that putting children to bed against great odds inevitably creates, Miles announces that the confinement of his offspring means that the grown-ups can talk. Then he serves wine. I think he might have preferred fast-penta. But as we well know, Miles Vorkosigan doesn’t need fast-penta to conduct an effective interrogation. As we also know, Ekaterin and Cordelia know his little ways, and aren’t necessarily interested in giving in. Cordelia breaks the ice with some pleasant chit-chat about her garden, which Ekaterin designed. Ekaterin is away from work right now at a busy season. This trip has been very inconvenient. Ekaterin is, perhaps, excessively obliging. I think Ekaterin may be having a lot of thoughts about that right now. Married couples don’t have to do everything together. If a man is really committed to making an interplanetary trip to see his mother, unannounced and uninvited, he can do it his own damn self. Knowing Miles, there’s a risk that he’d buy a mercenary company or unwind the Cetagandan Empire on the way, but that’s why he has personal security.
Since Ekaterin has not pleaded out of this trip on the basis of seven children, professional obligations, or Miles’s ludicrous absence of tact, Cordelia is interested in having Ekaterin take a look at the site for the new capital in Gridgrad. It is obviously going to need a garden, and it’s in a different climate zone from Kareenburg. Ekaterin is interested in the project, but not prepared to work on this trip. Cordelia offers to rustle her up some local childcare. I’m so glad to see this scene! When I was in college, people were constantly talking about how women struggled to find work-life balance and it’s difficult to find time for a demanding career and children. I assume people still are talking about it—I just don’t show up for those conversations anymore. The struggle is real, and one answer is staff. Cordelia is prepared to find some for Ekaterin.
Having put the conversation that interests them first, Ekaterin and Cordelia allow Miles to dig into the issues that interest him. Miles has been doing his best to expand his mother’s biological empire. He did it mostly for himself, and they live on different planets. I’m feeling remarkably unsympathetic this week, even though I think Miles’s concern and confusion have a valid basis. It was hard for Miles to adjust to Mark, and now he’s having trouble adjusting to the idea of being a big brother again. This leads to a conversation about where Cordelia’s life is headed. I love that Cordelia has come full circle, and that she’s back where the story started. Miles assumes that she will come back to Barrayar, but Sergyar is Cordelia’s. It’s been the life’s work that she found time for when time could be found, and it carries her mark in so many ways. I’m thinking in particular of the reproductive clinic and the sex workers’ union, although that’s a very reductionist view of Cordelia’s work. With Ekaterin’s support—because you never know what experiences will spark a child’s interest—they agree to visit the reproductive clinic together. As a family. Fun, educational, and an opportunity to help Miles process this new situation. Cordelia undermines my efforts to think of Miles more kindly with her description of his reaction, saying “he seems to be less processing than, than storing it all up in his cheeks like a hamster.” This is a beautiful description of Miles’s investigative process.
Remember how Ekaterin needed staff? Jole brings her Frederica Haines. Freddie isn’t sold on babysitting, but she gives in when Jole reminds her about all the trouble she got into over her dad’s plasma arc. Jole also delivers an invitation for Miles and his assorted offspring to tour the Prince Serg.
Since he’s not inspecting any lakeside resorts with Cordelia, Jole is at loose ends for the rest of the day. And guess what? Kaya Vorinnis is still dating the Cetagandan! He needs a place to put up a Cetagandan cultural display. Local businesses have not been interested. Kaya is on the committee that’s planning Jole’s birthday, so they make a plan to include a Cetagandan sensory garden as a kiosk at an event that sounds like it’s getting a little out of hand. This is a metaphor for the rest of Jole’s life getting a little out of hand. He’s been pondering one small set of reproductive decisions, but when he goes through his mail he’s confronted with a career decision: Admiral Desplains wants Jole to take over for him as Chief of Ops. The job is his for the taking, but it’s not compatible with single parenting, and he could stall his military career by saying no.
This chapter is complex because Jole is moving towards more options, to complement the ones Cordelia has offered him. Tune in next week when some decisions get made, and a few more possibilities add more complications!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.