When Kimberly Meyer was a senior in college she thought she was about to embark upon "a Bohemian-explorer-intellectual kind of life". As often happens, life had other plans. Kimberly found herself pregnant, and soon enough her duties as a single parent forced her to put her Bohemian-explorer-intellectual dream aside. She raised her daughter, Ellie, and eventually married and had two more daughters, but Kimberly's wanderlust remained intact -- if untapped. When the time came for Ellie to head off to college, Meyer made a decision. Mother and daughter would take a journey together--to bond, to heal old wounds, to create new memories--and then mom would write a book about it.
"To me the trip was a lens to look back on this complicated relationship, and myself as a mother," explained Meyer. "If you leave something in your head it can feel overwhelming and chaotic. Writing is cathartic; it helped me put things in order, and give it meaning."
Meyer, a professor at the University of Houston, will appear at Brazos Bookstore at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14, to present The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage.
In addition to helping Kimberly quench her thirst for adventure, she also hoped their trip would help ease Ellie's fear of abandonment. "So many times I'm trying to recall what it's like to be at that age, to offer perspective or comfort," said Meyer. "And Ellie's big issue is this fear of abandonment--a fear I had in having her. I was afraid I would never find someone, never have that connection because of that, 'I have this kid, who is going to marry me?' idea."
The path they traced was based on the travels of a medieval Dominican friar named Felix Fabri, whose writings Meyer discovered while doing research for her dissertation. As Kimberly and Ellie make their way through Venice, Greece, Israel, and beyond, we follow their journey (and Fabri's)--and like most mother-daughter stories, it's complicated. "The image I had in my head of the phrase bohemian-explorer-intellectual kind of life, when I first wrote it in my journal, was of me out in the world--alone, solitary, with everything I needed on my back," said Meyer. Eighteen years later, with a grown daughter along, the trip was quite a different endeavor.
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"Ellie had her own interests, and as it turns out they didn't have anything to do with history!" said Meyer, laughing. While mother and daughter didn't share identical visions of the journey, as the trip continued they were able to find common ground. "It took a bit of figuring things out, but the further we got into our journey--and the further away we got from any sense of our known, familiar world--the more we had to turn toward each other. And the further away we got, the further everything [familiar] seemed to fall away." So how does Ellie feel about the memoir in which she features so prominently? And how does she feel about the trip itself?
"She gave me her journal after the trip, which signaled to me that she was excited about the project, or at least wanted me to have this perspective," said Kimberly. "This was really helpful, and comforting to me, that she would trust me enough to give [the journal] to me." As she found on their journey, however, Ellie had opinions on how she wanted her story told. They worked it out--as they did during their travels--by learning how to share their respective visions.
"At some point I showed her some [pages] and something I had written felt wrong to her, so we talked about it and worked together to make it more accurate," explained Meyer. "There was some resistance because I'm writing about her, but not writing 'her story'--I'm writing my story of being her mother. Through some of our conversations, she was able to embrace and feel good about it--she understood that I was going to be careful with her story."
Mothers and daughters will recognize themselves and their relationships in Kimberly's and Ellie's travels and conversations, their conflicts and adventures, which makes The Book of Wanderings an ideal Mother's Day gift. Throw in a two-day road trip for your own mini-pilgrimage, and you might just win Daughter of the Year.