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Mother Daughter Me
Cover of Mother Daughter Me
Mother Daughter Me
A Memoir
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The complex, deeply binding relationship between mothers and daughters is brought vividly to life in Katie Hafner's remarkable memoir, an exploration of the year she and her mother, Helen, spent working through, and triumphing over, a lifetime of unresolved emotions.

Dreaming of a "year in Provence" with her mother, Katie urges Helen to move to San Francisco to live with her and Zoë, Katie's teenage daughter. Katie and Zoë had become a mother-daughter team, strong enough, Katie thought, to absorb the arrival of a seventy-seven-year-old woman set in her ways.

Filled with fairy-tale hope that she and her mother would become friends, and that Helen would grow close to her exceptional granddaughter, Katie embarked on an experiment in intergenerational living that she would soon discover was filled with land mines: memories of her parents' painful divorce, of her mother's drinking, of dislocating moves back and forth across the country, and of Katie's own widowhood and bumpy recovery. Helen, for her part, was also holding difficult issues at bay.

How these three women from such different generations learn to navigate their challenging, turbulent, and ultimately healing journey together makes for riveting reading. By turns heartbreaking and funny—and always insightful—Katie Hafner's brave and loving book answers questions about the universal truths of family that are central to the lives of so many.
Praise for Mother Daughter Me

"The most raw, honest and engaging memoir I've read in a long time."—KJ Dell'Antonia, The New York Times

"A brilliant, funny, poignant, and wrenching story of three generations under one roof, unlike anything I have ever read."—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"Weaving past with present, anecdote with analysis, [Katie] Hafner's riveting account of multigenerational living and mother-daughter frictions, of love and forgiveness, is devoid of self-pity and unafraid of self-blame. . . . [Hafner is] a bright—and appealing—heroine."—Cathi Hanauer, Elle

"[A] frank and searching account . . . Currents of grief, guilt, longing and forgiveness flow through the compelling narrative."Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle

"A touching saga that shines . . . We see how years-old unresolved emotions manifest."Lindsay Deutsch, USA Today

"[Hafner's] memoir shines a light on nurturing deficits repeated through generations and will lead many readers to relive their own struggles with forgiveness."—Erica Jong, People
"An unusually graceful story, one that balances honesty and tact . . . Hafner narrates the events so adeptly that they feel enlightening."Harper's

"Heartbreakingly honest, yet not without hope and flashes of wry humor."Kirkus Reviews

"[An] emotionally raw memoir examining the delicate, inevitable shift from dependence to independence and back again."O: The Oprah Magazine (Ten Titles to Pick Up Now)

"Scrap any romantic ideas about what goes on when a 40-something woman invites her mother to live with her and her teenage daughter for a year. As Hafner hilariously and touchingly tells it, being the center of a family sandwich is, well, complicated."Parade
The complex, deeply binding relationship between mothers and daughters is brought vividly to life in Katie Hafner's remarkable memoir, an exploration of the year she and her mother, Helen, spent working through, and triumphing over, a lifetime of unresolved emotions.

Dreaming of a "year in Provence" with her mother, Katie urges Helen to move to San Francisco to live with her and Zoë, Katie's teenage daughter. Katie and Zoë had become a mother-daughter team, strong enough, Katie thought, to absorb the arrival of a seventy-seven-year-old woman set in her ways.

Filled with fairy-tale hope that she and her mother would become friends, and that Helen would grow close to her exceptional granddaughter, Katie embarked on an experiment in intergenerational living that she would soon discover was filled with land mines: memories of her parents' painful divorce, of her mother's drinking, of dislocating moves back and forth across the country, and of Katie's own widowhood and bumpy recovery. Helen, for her part, was also holding difficult issues at bay.

How these three women from such different generations learn to navigate their challenging, turbulent, and ultimately healing journey together makes for riveting reading. By turns heartbreaking and funny—and always insightful—Katie Hafner's brave and loving book answers questions about the universal truths of family that are central to the lives of so many.
Praise for Mother Daughter Me

"The most raw, honest and engaging memoir I've read in a long time."—KJ Dell'Antonia, The New York Times

"A brilliant, funny, poignant, and wrenching story of three generations under one roof, unlike anything I have ever read."—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"Weaving past with present, anecdote with analysis, [Katie] Hafner's riveting account of multigenerational living and mother-daughter frictions, of love and forgiveness, is devoid of self-pity and unafraid of self-blame. . . . [Hafner is] a bright—and appealing—heroine."—Cathi Hanauer, Elle

"[A] frank and searching account . . . Currents of grief, guilt, longing and forgiveness flow through the compelling narrative."Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle

"A touching saga that shines . . . We see how years-old unresolved emotions manifest."Lindsay Deutsch, USA Today

"[Hafner's] memoir shines a light on nurturing deficits repeated through generations and will lead many readers to relive their own struggles with forgiveness."—Erica Jong, People
"An unusually graceful story, one that balances honesty and tact . . . Hafner narrates the events so adeptly that they feel enlightening."Harper's

"Heartbreakingly honest, yet not without hope and flashes of wry humor."Kirkus Reviews

"[An] emotionally raw memoir examining the delicate, inevitable shift from dependence to independence and back again."O: The Oprah Magazine (Ten Titles to Pick Up Now)

"Scrap any romantic ideas about what goes on when a 40-something woman invites her mother to live with her and her teenage daughter for a year. As Hafner hilariously and touchingly tells it, being the center of a family sandwich is, well, complicated."Parade
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 1.

    August 2009: North on I-5

    We the globe can compass soon,

    Swifter than the wandering moon.

    —Oberon in William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Whenever I arrive in San Diego, the first thing I want to do is leave. It's the sun, which shines without mercy. At the airport, I'm surrounded by happy travelers streaming in from sun-deprived cities, their compasses set for the beach and SeaWorld. I want to stop them and ask if they'll take me home with them—to Minneapolis or Des Moines, Seattle or Detroit. San Diego is stingy with its shade, and the ever-present sun makes me feel not lifted but low, unsure of my footing.

    The summer sun, of course, is the worst, and today, in late August, it's already relentlessly bright at 9:30 a.m. To my relief, I've arrived with plans to stay no more than a few hours. I'm on a mission. I've flown to San Diego to help my mother carry out her plan to leave after nearly forty-five years.

    A seasoned mover (some would say a compulsive one), I've spent weeks helping my mother with the logistics, even recruited my favorite moving man—a burly and jocular Irishman named Kieran, who specializes in transporting pianos but hauls around entire households, too—to drive his truck down from Northern California and collect my mother's possessions. And now it's time for us to get on the road and start the drive to San Francisco.

    I take a taxi from the airport to my mother's house, and when I arrive, Kieran and his crew are already there, loading the truck with the possessions my mother has chosen to bring with her. Among them are two pianos—one Steinway grand and one Yamaha upright. I pull up just as Kieran and two of his guys are rolling out the stunning Steinway, my idea of perfection embodied in a single musical instrument.

    Cheryl, the professional downsizer my mother hired a month ago, is directing the movers and making a few last-minute additions to the contents of my mother's Honda sedan, which Cheryl has packed expertly with several boxes of legal files, a Waterpik, various driving pillows, a couple of large exercise cushions held together with duct tape, paper bags filled with a month's worth of various vitamins, medications, Metamucil, and at least a dozen rolls of paper towels. I notice right away that my delicate, birdlike mother, for years reluctant to venture much beyond a ten-mile radius from her house, is surprisingly calm, and I guess that Cheryl is the reason.

    A large woman in her early sixties who towers over my mother, Cheryl gives the car a final inspection. Then something happens that's completely out of character—not for Cheryl, I gather, but for my often skittish and always hyper-cerebral mother. Cheryl folds my mother into a lingering hug, then stands back, sets her large hands on my mother's shoulders, looks deep into her chestnut eyes, holds her gaze, and takes several deep inhalations. "Remember to breathe," she says, like a football coach sending a nervous freshman onto the field. My mother nods obediently.

    I climb in behind the wheel. We wave goodbye to Cheryl and the movers and pull away from the house. Pretty soon, we're zooming north on Interstate 5. With nearly five hundred miles to travel, I hope to reach San Francisco in nine hours, a calculation trickier than your average Google Maps reckoning, as I've had to figure in frequent restroom breaks for my mother. Once we're out of L.A. and heading inland, we hit the southern Central Valley and long, monotonous stretches of I-5. But the miles aren't boring to my mother, who sits in wide-eyed wonderment at towns with names like Buttonwillow and Lost...
About the Author-
  • Katie Hafner is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, where she writes on healthcare and technology. She was has also worked at Newsweek and BusinessWeek, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Wired, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, and O: The Oprah Magazine. She is the author of five previous books covering a diverse set of topics, including the origins of the Internet, computer hackers, German reunification, and the pianist Glenn Gould. She lives in San Francisco.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 13, 2013
    In a curiously optimistic but ultimately doomed experiment in communal living, journalist and author Hafner (The Well) invites her 77-year-old mother, Helen, to share the household she and her teenage daughter set up together in Lower Pacific Heights, San Francisco. All three have high hopes (“How Chinese of you!” exclaimed one friend, in admiration), despite some intergenerational emotional baggage: namely, Helen’s drinking and inability to take care of the author and her sister as children; the death of Hafner’s husband, Matt, eight years before, which left their only daughter, Zoe, with intense fears of abandonment; and the grudges and resentful interdependence to which all three women are prone. Old patterns swiftly reemerge. A pianist and former computer programmer, Helen voices subtle but insidious criticism of Zoe’s musical intonation, and secretly harbors suspicion that her daughter asked her to live with her only because of Helen’s money. Meanwhile the author is frankly appalled by her mother’s frostiness and efforts to exert control, especially over the men Hafner dates. And 16-year-old Zoe displays shocking brattyness and ill manners toward her grandmother. Their year of living together elicits enormous spiritual growth, though not necessarily the way they envision. Sadly, the narrative is tedious, but some well-intentioned familial reckoning emerges. Agent: Jim Levine, Levine Greenberg Literary.

  • Kirkus

    May 1, 2013
    Technology journalist Hafner's (A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano, 2008, etc.) one-year "experiment in multigenerational living," which forced her to confront her past and understand its impact on her present. After her 84-year-old companion unraveled, the author's mother, Helen, made it clear she wanted to live with her daughter and granddaughter, Zoe. Thinking that she and her mother were "as close to the mother-daughter ideal as could be," Hafner agreed and rented a house in San Francisco where all three women could cohabitate. It was only when they all came together under one roof that she realized she had totally misjudged the situation. In a narrative that skillfully moves between her present predicament and her difficult childhood, Hafner offers a compelling portrait of her remarkable mother and their troubled relationship. Helen was the product of two brilliant but narcissistic parents who grew into a woman hungry for attention. When Hafner's father didn't give it to her, she had ill-concealed affairs, which led to divorce. Then Hafner and her sister Sarah watched as her mother "ricocheted between involvements with various men," drowned herself in alcohol and lost custody of her daughters. The "lucky one" in her family, Hafner eventually found true love. But when her husband died suddenly, she and Zoe, who was the first to sense "the emotional energy of unfinished business" that tied the author to her mother, became traumatized. Desperate to bring peace to a feuding household, Hafner engaged the services of a family therapist, and their sessions revealed the extent to which both she and her mother denied the reality of their situation. It would only be after Sarah's sudden death, however, that both women would finally solidify the bonds they had forged anew in the painful fire of truth. Heartbreakingly honest, yet not without hope and flashes of wry humor.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    June 1, 2013
    When Hafner's octogenarian mother, Helen, is no longer able to care for her ailing life partner in her San Diego home, Hafner hatches a brilliant plan: move Helen to San Francisco to live with her and her teenage daughter, Zoe. It seems like an ideal scenario. Hafner will have a chance to mend the tears in the fabric of her prickly relationship with her mother, whose years raising her daughter were marked by alcohol-fueled bouts of rage. And Zoe will become better acquainted with a grandmother she's never really known. But immediately Zoe has concerns, namely, what will happen to her strong bond with her mom. (Since Zoe's father died of a heart attack at 45, Zoe and her mother have grown remarkably close.) Zoe doesn't simply tell me everything, says Hafner, she entrusts me with her fragile heart. Veteran journalist Hafner writes with compassion and wit about the often uneasy alliances between mothers and daughters and the surprising ways in which relationships can be redeemed even late in life.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • Erica Jong, People

    "The most raw, honest and engaging memoir I've read in a long time."--KJ Dell'Antonia, The New York Times "A brilliant, funny, poignant, and wrenching story of three generations under one roof, unlike anything I have ever read."--Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone "Weaving past with present, anecdote with analysis, [Katie] Hafner's riveting account of multigenerational living and mother-daughter frictions, of love and forgiveness, is devoid of self-pity and unafraid of self-blame. . . . [Hafner is] a bright--and appealing--heroine."--Cathi Hanauer, Elle "[A] frank and searching account . . . Currents of grief, guilt, longing and forgiveness flow through the compelling narrative."--Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle "A touching saga that shines . . . We see how years-old unresolved emotions manifest."--Lindsay Deutsch, USA Today "[Hafner's] memoir shines a light on nurturing deficits repeated through generations and will lead many readers to relive their own struggles with forgiveness."

  • Parade "An unusually graceful story, one that balances honesty and tact . . . Hafner narrates the events so adeptly that they feel enlightening."--Harper's "Heartbreakingly honest, yet not without hope and flashes of wry humor."--Kirkus Reviews "[An] emotionally raw memoir examining the delicate, inevitable shift from dependence to independence and back again."--O: The Oprah Magazine (Ten Titles to Pick Up Now) "Scrap any romantic ideas about what goes on when a 40-something woman invites her mother to live with her and her teenage daughter for a year. As Hafner hilariously and touchingly tells it, being the center of a family sandwich is, well, complicated."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Brilliant . . . Mother Daughter Me is a beautifully written, intimately provocative, and courageous unpeeling of the deep rhythms of love, hate, fear, and redemption in three generations of females. I love this book!"--Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain "An emotional whodunit that uses brilliant journalistic acumen to crack the code of old family secrets."--Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize--winning author of Uphill Walkers "Heartbreakingly honest . . . In a narrative that skillfully moves between her present predicament and her difficult childhood, Hafner offers a compelling portrait of her remarkable mother and their troubled relationship."
  • Booklist "Hafner writes with compassion and wit about the often uneasy alliance between mothers and daughters and the surprising ways in which relationships can be redeemed even late in life."
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A Memoir
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