Tag Archives: mothers and daughters

Walking in Circles

On the grounds of an interfaith center, the labyrinth is located a skinny mile from our house. I had never visited despite meaning to, despite driving by it at least twice a month on my way to somewhere else. You know how it is; we need out-of-towners to get us to experience life just beyond our backyards.  In this case the out-of-towner was my daughter, home for a long holiday weekend.

Driving home from the mall after a restock-the-basics shopping trip, I made a spur-of-the-moment turn into the interfaith center’s parking lot.  There were no other cars but ours.  The labyrinth sat empty, expectantly; its brick patterns complex and inviting. The afternoon was cool; the mist in the air absorbed much of the street noise, cocooning Emma and me in quiet. We got out and started walking.

Mazes never beckon me as appealingly as do labyrinths. They are destinations in and of themselves: off highways, tucked into out of the way places.  Designed to confuse with their high walls and nonsensical paths, mazes are for getting lost in. Labyrinths are spiritual spaces often laid out right in public areas. They follow a proscribed path even if it can’t be easily discerned. Meditative, they are designed to help you find yourself. Or at least momentary  peace and calm.

I entered the labyrinth first, Emma following at a slower pace. A quarter of the way in we laughed, realizing what a precise metaphor it was for our relationship.  Sometimes we walked side-by-side, close enough to touch fingers.  A few more paces and we suddenly found ourselves on opposite sides of the labyrinth, able only to wave and call out to each other. Then back again, passing each other face-to-face before continuing on in our own direction.  I tried to trace the path visually, trying to discern how we would end up in the center, but it just wasn’t possible.  There were too many turns and switchbacks.  The labyrinth offered up another lesson: keep your eye on the present; the future will take care of itself.

The mother-daughter relationship is complex, its path marked and marred with any manner of confusion; many times it feels more like a maze and we wonder how will we ever find our way out. It can seem like we do nothing but go in circles, ending up in the same place (again!) despite all attempts to the contrary. But we keep walking the path, head down, following our feet, hopeful that if we just keep going we will get somewhere eventually.

Emma met me in the center. We embraced. We jumped around, crossed the lines, played in the shadows and returned to center. All around us brick patterns spun out in whorls and waves.  Standing there with my daughter at the center of this brick universe, I felt a strong sense of the infinite. Sometimes going in circles is very best thing to do. Emma left the labyrinth first, leaving me to follow.

Comfort Me With Scraps of Paper

There’s a difference between keeping a journal and keeping a journal. The former requires discipline: showing up at the page each morning, to make sense of one’s world by releasing hopes, fears and passions word by word, one entry at a time. The latter requires brazenness –leaving the passion of these missives behind for others’ eyes. What if I get hit by a truck tomorrow? Do I want  really want to leave these words behind? 

One friend burns her journals as soon as she finishes the last entry. Another rips lined pages from their metal spirals and shreds them. So far I’ve held onto mine, daring fate to take me before I burn them. I suppose I could go through each one, culling insights into yet another notebook as I come across them.  But who has such time? One day I’ll take care of it. No one can read my handwriting anyway.

Former NYTimes Food critic and Gourmet Magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl knew that somewhere in the basement of her home was a box of her mother’s letters and notes written upon scraps of paper. The mother whose eccentricities she put on display as if they were petits fours. And eccentricities is putting mildly.  Reichl’s “Mim Tales” were legendery. One chapter into Tender at the Bone I knew Miriam “Mim”Brudno was bi-polar. Reichl would go on to write two more memoirs — Comfort Me with Apples and Garlic and Sapphires before summoning the nerve to venture into the basement. Not Becoming My Mother & Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way is a sweet and touching counterpoint to the tart fare of Reichl’s first three memoirs.

Ambivalent about finding her mother’s lost letters, Reichl is on the verge of leaving her quest behind in the  mustiness of  her basement, when she stumbles over a faded B. Altman’s box — the mother lode. The top of the box crumbles in the author’s hands, revealing “a huge collection of letters, notes and clippings. Looking down I caught sight of my mother’s bold handwriting and inhaled sharply…I bent to pick up a sheet of paper covered with her vivid scrawl. I could almost hear her voice.” The woman who reveals herself in these fragile pages is so much more than the hapless housewife and mother in the “Mim Tales” Reichl told for years.

It takes guts to read the words of your mother’s heart.  To confront the dashing of her dreams, to tease out the tender threads of her beginnings and realize how thickly and how tightly time twisted them. To come face to face with the sacrifices she made in order to to let you become who you needed to become.

 Reichl has guts and more. In this short and poignant book, she gives us a portrait of an intelligent and ambitious woman, born fifty years too early. Ruth Reichl meets her mother as “a little girl, hopeful young woman and an increasingly unhappy older one.”  One scrap at a time, Miriam Brudno comes alive as her daughter meets her mother for the first time. Pick up this slender book. Through Reichl’s eyes, Mim comes to have a Tale much finer and deeper than any before.