Mother Is Not At Home
A little girl and her cookie
Mother Is Not At Home
When we become aware of our unboundedness, we will always have the feeling that Mother is at home.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Teacher Training Course
University of Massachusetts, July 1971
I’m standing on a stepping stool in Aunt Cissie’s kitchen holding a large wooden mixing spoon. It is heavier than my four-year-old hands can manage, but I grip with intense purpose, forcing it through the dense cookie dough laced with chocolate chunks which, despite my earnest attempts, seems determined to stick to the sides of the Pyrex mixing bowl on the counter. Aunt Cissie tells me it’s her turn now and she finishes off the job. My mind, now freed from this most vital task, returns to its obsession of the last few confusing days, and I ask: “Where’s my mommy?”
Cissie has been mute on this topic. She has, each time, deftly redirected my attention. Her one son long grown and gone and no grandchildren yet to have visit, her house is decidedly lacking in toys. A master baker, she has occupied me in the kitchen turning out the “Aunt Cissie Classics:” pinwheel cookies, coconut upside down cake, and her signature rugala. In truth, though, she doesn’t know what to say. My mommy, you see, is busy burying my daddy.
I smell it before the silver timer shakes the stovetop with a harsh jingle. Aunt Cissie takes her hot pads and makes me step way back from the oven as she opens it and gingerly draws out the cookie sheet with its treasure on top. I feel the heat of the oven as the presence of melted chocolate and hot sugar engulfs me. “Can I taste one?” I anxiously ask. “In a minute,” my aunt responds. “It just needs to cool a bit.” Having been put off for the moment, my mantra returns: “Where’s my mommy?”
Many years later, as a young adult, I would learn a new mantra – one that would open the world of Transcendental Meditation to me. I would flirt with the idea of becoming a TM teacher and, in the summer of 1971, would attend, with my husband of one year, a rare month-long introductory training course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, then famous for being the guru of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. There I would meet up with the sister of Mia Farrow (Prudence Farrow of Dear Prudence fame), Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and Charles Lloyd, the soulful jazzman. Maharishi was the purveyor of stories and metaphors that brought clarity to the subject of the manifest versus the unmanifest – the material versus the absolute. But the one that resonated with my sub-conscious the most was the allegory of “Mother is at home.” It goes something like this: When Mother is at home, the child feels safe, that all is well. She doesn’t need to see her every moment. She just needs to have reassurance in the background to maintain that inner calm, allowing her to play, crawl about, explore. But if Mother is not at home, there is a sense of dis-ease. She is tense and her play is stilted. This dichotomy was best captured by a cartoon drawn by one of the meditating participants – an illustrator by trade. Imagine a contented baby with an image in its head of Whistler’s Mother sweetly rocking, seated next to a miserable child with a note tacked to its forehead, “Out to lunch. Mom.” My mom had gone out to lunch and had forgotten to leave the note.
Aunt Cissie takes her spatula and lifts the cookies one by one, laying them on a flowered china plate. My eyes wide, I wait with anticipation. The aroma is strong and I long to match the sensation in my nostrils with one on my taste buds. When she feels sure I will not burn the lining of my mouth, she lets me pick one off the plate. I take the first bite and crush the thin, crispy outside to release the warmth of the soft dough within, and the still-melted chocolate spreads slowly over my tongue filling my mouth with what would become throughout my life the ultimate comfort food. I firmly believe that it was that precise moment when my sugar addiction was born. I finish my cookie and ask for another. When I’ve finished eating, we wash the dishes. The cookie-baking project now concluded, I turn to my aunt and say, “Where’s my mommy?” because Mother was definitely not at home.