fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

Category: love of a mother

my mother, my country

by nikki meredith

I had my teeth cleaned last week and while my mouth was rendered unusable by me, the dental hygienist started talking about her husband. He works for a Bay Area police department and had just returned from some kind of law enforcement conference in Florida. At one point her conversation veered to the political and I held my breath or as much as I could hold my breath with someone’s hands in my mouth.  I braced myself for a right wing rant.  But that’s not what happened.  She said when her husband returned home from his trip, he walked in the door and flopped down the living room couch.  He looked at her and said,  “I don’t recognize this country any more.”



While he was in Florida he saw campaign signs – apparently many of them – that freely, openly and unapologetically, used the n word in their anger-relled declarations.

“Can you imagine,” she said to me, “what it must be like for African- Americans to drive around and see those signs?” Read the rest of this entry »


the mother of my grandaughter’s mother: a grandmother’s quest to find the right name

by nikki meredith

old russian grandmotherWhen my older sister announced her pregnancy, my mother announced, shortly thereafter, that she didn’t want to be called grandma, granny, gran or any variation of grandmother.  I assumed it was because grandmother meant old and my mother, who had always shrouded her age in secrecy, didn’t want any clues to her age. She’d been grappling with the age thing since she became a mother herself at the age of 16.  Her solution as a teenager was to tell people, at least people who didn’t know better, that the baby was her sister not her daughter.   (The implications of this lie are vast and, possibly, the subject of a future blog or two, or two thousand. Fierce attachments indeed!)

After my sister learned to talk, the jig was up. My mother was forced to come out of the mother closet. She may have been willing to lie to strangers but she was not, thank God, willing to lie to her daughter.

When, at the age of 47, she became a grandmother, she didn’t try to claim that her grandson was her little brother but she still saw no reason to advertise her demographic. At least I assumed that was her aversion to being called grandmother. I never actually asked her about it. (There were some topics one did not raise with my mother. My attachment to her also had its share of fierceness.) Read the rest of this entry »

the path not taken: a mother and her aid worker daughter

by nikki meredith

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 

And sorry I could not travel both…

 Robert Frost

“Mom, please tell me….if it’s going to be too hard on you, I won’t go.”

Caitlin and I were sitting outside at Emporio Rulli, our neighborhood Italian Bakery drinking tea on a shimmering fall day. She was scheduled to leave soon for Darfur where she’d be working as an epidemiologist with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The news from the region was dreadful.  In a pitched battled against settled farmers, an armed militia group known as the Janjaweed were on a rampage, burning down villages, killing men, raping women. Children were starving.  The year she was scheduled to go, the fighting had reached a peak and the conflict was then considered one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world.  I got a knot in my gut every time I thought of her embarking on that particular journey but there was more to the story. Read the rest of this entry »

fierce attachments: difficult mothers and the daughters who love them

by nikki meredith

A few years ago I was at an all women dinner party and we started talking about our mothers. Because it’s Marin County — an area saturated with shrinks of all stripes —  there was a lot of shrinkish  vocabulary circulating the room.  At one point when I talked about my mother and my complicated relationship with her, one of the women said,  “She must have been a narcissist.” No, I said, she was not a narcissist and I tried to back up my claim with examples of her non-narcissistic behavior. Another woman opined that my mother must have had boundary issues. Yet another, diagnosed her as borderline. I changed the subject. These terms, as applied to someone I cared about, were not only off the mark, they were offensive.  Where, I thought, is a novelist when you need one?

And this brings me to Vivian Gornick and her book, Fierce Attachments, a memoir structured around her walks with her aged mother in New York City and after which we named this web site. Gornick is not a novelist and it is not a work of fiction – I’ll get to that issue in a minute — but if you’ve read it, try to imagine someone affixing Gornick’s mother – an exasperating woman who could be petty and narrow-minded but who was also smart, courageous, and funny – with a label from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  Imagine how much of the power and the intensity would be lost. Read the rest of this entry »

it’s true, all men are bastards: when your dog falls in love with a fickle partner

by nikki meredith

Alice is in love. The object of her affection is Jasper, a hefty Labradoodle who looks more like a bear than a dog. They are both shaggy but otherwise they are a picture of contrasts. She’s a creamy 25 pounder; he’s chocolate and weighs 75 pounds. Every day when we pass Jasper’s house on our walk, if he isn’t home or if I don’t have time to stop, I have a mutiny on my hands. Alice emits a doleful cry and like a stubborn donkey in a cartoon, she puts the brakes on and no amount of cajoling will get her to move. Since I don’t want to drag her little butt along the sidewalk, the only way to keep going is to pick her up and carry her far enough away that she loses his scent. According to Jasper’s owner, Fran, when we have a scheduled play date and she announces it to Jasper, he posts himself at their front window and waits. As soon as he sees her, he literally jumps for joy and the two of them fall into each other’s forelegs.

They jump, they run, they twirl. They lick each other, they play tug-of-war, but even with all the rough and tumble, the boy is gentle with her and has been since she was a tiny puppy. It’s like watching Gérard Depardieu make chaste love to little Gidget. Read the rest of this entry »

a douche, a baseball bat and judge judy: renting my house to a delinquent tenant

by caitlin meredith

In April of 2008 I quit my job at the local health department in Austin and flew to Nigeria to help track and treat a meningitis epidemic with my on again, off again employer Doctors Without Borders. It all happened so quickly that I was barely able to pack my bag for the summer, much less rent out my house. Fortunately I had a couple of pro bono property managers willing to take the case: my parents. From their home in Northern California, they tried to allure a summer tenant through Craigslist. After several flakes and false alarms, they finally found a renter that seemed perfect.

Penny needed a place for her and her college-aged son to stay for the summer while the house she had just bought got work done. She happily agreed to pay the rent, the security deposit and the utilities. Over the course of the summer she and my mom exchanged countless e-mails all with some small business purpose but that more often than not drifted into more personal terrain. She sent a photo when a large branch fell off of one of the pecan trees and broke part of the fence and told of the condo they had found for her son where he would live during his third year at college in Flagstaff. My mom asked her about the rent deposit and sent her detailed instructions about how to retrieve your voicemail when you don’t have your cell phone with you after Penny told her she lost hers. Reading through them you see two empty-nesters sharing tips and observations about this chapter in their lives. There’s a real warmth there – both expressed the desire to meet in person one day. Something about this relationship confirmed all of our best feelings about Austin, reminding us of the kind of kind hippies that used to live in Marin. When it got closer to my return from Africa, Penny even offered to pick me up from the airport. That’s good people.

A few weeks after my return, however, the touchy feelies turned to touch and go. Read the rest of this entry »

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