NOVEL APPROACH: Tree of life

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First Posted: 7/29/2013

At one point in a young woman’s life, a fear comes over her that she may one day become her mother. It is not until later that she realizes that such a fear is her best asset. As Alice Walker once said: “Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.” In Katie Hafner’s latest memoir, “Mother Daughter Me,” she demonstrates that flaws are better than perfection.

The work follows Katie who, in raising her own teenage daughter, Zoë, is soon tasked with becoming a primary caregiver to her aging mother, Helen. Under one roof, their lives intersect and erupt before each other, as the three very different women come to find that they represent a tree of life — body, branches and leaves — distinctive, but only vibrant as a collective.

Often challenging, the women must manage to respect their differences, even if that means forgiving decades of hurt. After all, Katie, who spent much of her childhood growing up in Florida, did so with an absent father and nearly absent mother. A child of divorce, she faulted most of the neglect to her mother. Moreover, as a result of Helen’s questionable maternal skills, she continues to blame her mother for the loss of custody over her and her sister.

In her more formative years, Katie feels an absence and resentment towards her mother that only seems to amplify following the birth of her only child, Zoë. Even though she attempts to be the best mother she can, she cannot escape all of life’s tribulations. Katie’s sadness is compounded following the loss of her beloved husband. However, all grief considered, this event leads Katie to make amends with the past.

“With each day, her desire became clearer: She wanted to live not merely near me but with me. […] We’d need a bigger place, which would cost more, but she could help pay for it. These pragmatic advantages were nice, but there was something deeper: This was finally my chance to have a real family home — with my mother in it — making up for many years of lost time.”

The memoir deepens as readers come to know each of these women and their hopes to not only define what family means to them, but also resolve any past transgressions. Katie does not filter her emotions, and, as a result, there are portions of the book that are heart-wrenching to read. Even considering the flaws we may come to notice regarding our own family, Katie teaches readers that there is always time for forgiveness.

‘Mother Daughter Me’ by Katie Hafner Rating: W W W V