the determination of the relative position of something or someone (especially oneself).
"the child's surroundings provide clues to help in orientation"
the sport of navigation—often held in unfamiliar terrain—using a map and compass.
When my middle sister, the first of the three sisters to become a mother, was expecting her first baby, I spent as much time as was practical and borderline-appropriate speaking directly into her navel, addressing the future beloved human and shamelessly currying an aunty-advantage. I’d read the books. I knew that voices carry.
In our talks, I introduced myself as “Aunt Candy” and promised the little child I’d be providing abundant treats. Once they became conversational members of the tribe, these children informed me that I had misrepresented things. In their opinions, I panned out to be more of an Aunt Broccoli than an Aunt Candy.
This did not mean that they went without; a truly abundant source of cane sugar in all the little cousins’ lives turned out to be my mom. And not in the “only if you finish your lunch” kind of way that many grannies employ. I found this maddening, especially once I became a mother, because of my acknowledged broccolism and also: moms!
Some time after everyone’s well-sweetened childhoods, full as they were of eye-narrowing and -rolling about her liberal hand with the treats, my mother told me the story of the soda shop.
She was the older of two children of a doctor, a man who was determined that his daughter’s obvious IQ would not be stifled under the blanket of manners and ladylike behavior that my grandmother was determined to swaddle her in. While her mother tried to make a lady of her, her father worked busily on amplifying her brain.
The currency of love with her dad was ideas and achievement, and this did constant battle with my grandmother’s determination to shine her up for success in society. My grandfather sent her to the Lab School of the University of Chicago, where something well beyond the scope of a mid-century high school education for a girl was crammed into her brain by the time she was 15, but my grandmother insisted she be transferred to a regular school for proper finishing as a non-weirdo. Being bored out of her mind by what was repetitive and what was inadequate in the curriculum and already looking like she was 22 as a ninth grader did not place her on an easy path to social glory, so my grandmother, really using her bean, got my tender little mom a charge account at the soda shop near school so she could make friends via ice cream. No charges on the account at the end of the month? Trouble at home. The obvious move here, as my mom figured it, was to eat enough ice cream herself that the monthly tally would make the right impression, thereby cementing an indelible, if somewhat cattywhompus, cellular connection between cane sugar and love.
My mom was not a careful and accurate historian; that job falls to my dad, who can tell you every phone number he ever had and all the dates of everything that ever happened anywhere to anyone. You could get the sense of a thing from my mom, though, a picture of how it felt or what it meant to her. This liberty with reality was sometimes maddening, but in this case especially it gave me the central takeaway. Sugar and love, mother-love in particular, all taffy-twined themselves together into one important point on her personal compass.
My mom died in February. She was old and lived a very full life, with lots of good things in it: children and grandchildren, and a long marriage, and plenty of professional achievement, and service to the communities she called home, and extensive travel all over the world, and lots of food and music and friends and reading. A much richer life than either of her parents imagined for her, I reckon, particularly when she disappointed them both in one fell swoop by leaving, after only two years, her ivy league college to marry my no-account father.
That must have been some kind of something, to sweep both parents and their expectations off the shelf and turn squarely to my dad, at an astonishingly young age. When I think about my parents’ lives, I always forget to think about myself at the same age. Parents are just older than us. It’s basic math. But 19! I remember being 19 and having utterly no clue whatsoever. Thank goodness for all concerned that I did not marry the boyfriend of that era, which is another story entirely.
My mom and I had periods of rough water and of smooth sailing, and though she was not in great health or an easy human at the end of her life, we were more sailing than we were not, so I thought that all in all her death was something I was prepared for.
That, of course, is the kind of big old lie that gets told to the self by the self in order to get the self through the average Tuesday, and has approximately zero relevance to the actual thing when it arrives. Grief is hard, and losing your mother, whatever kind of mother she was, or you may have wished she was, or even if you never knew her: a very hard variety of grief.
We orient ourselves around our moms, whatever kind of connection exists in real time. Who she is and where she is and how she is, and how much you know (or don’t) about those things, define the map in some way that defies translation into the clumsiness of words. “You three grew under my heart,” she wrote to me in the note she tucked into my pocket when I left for college. She fought to become a mom, through a hard storm of infertility during a time where no support groups or chat rooms or technology to address it existed. That’s another thing I forget to contemplate in terms of my own age and station as I began life as a parent: the loneliness and determination of her path at that point.
She was sometimes clumsy at motherhood but not for lack of effort or intent. She set a mighty example of life-living and devotion. And she was a big believer in treats, which sounds superficial but in fact has some deep resonance.
My takeaway is that she believed in acknowledging the survival of hard things with soft and sweet rewards.
So here you go! Have a cookie.
These particular cookies are so loaded with health-giving ingredients as to be better for you than not having a cookie—broccoli-adjacent, I dare say!—and as a result, I have my doubts that my mother would have loved them. But I think they are the bomb and so do other people who are not me. You can mix them up in about five minutes with no preparation outside of stocking the pantry (no butter to soften, for example), so they are as close to instant gratification as you can likely get with a homemade cookie. Tahini is not an inexpensive ingredient in the average grocery, but Trader Joe’s has it (and the almond flour called for) at a nice price.
chocolate chip tahini cookies
Eaten on the day you make them, these have a dreamy, chewy texture. Unlike other cookies, these get softer as they sit, so if you plan to need them later than immediately, which is when they tend to disappear here, you can either freeze the dough and bake as needed, or bake them an extra minute until they are slightly more golden all over, which will give you a cakier cookie but one that will wait more patiently. The cookies are very purty when you make them with chopped chocolate (I took some lovely photos of cookies made that way, and then I lost them, so you will have to trust me); whether chips or chunks, just be sure to use a nice dark chocolate, 70% or so.
Makes 18-24 cookies
1 cup tahini
1 large egg
½ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1 cup almond flour
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 tablespoons chia seed
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
3-6 ounces dark chocolate, roughly-chopped, or a generous 1/2 cup chocolate chips
Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line your sheet pans with parchment paper.
Using a wooden spoon, beat the tahini, egg, maple syrup, and vanilla together in a medium-size mixing bowl until smooth.
Add all remaining ingredients and stir well to combine, then stir in the chocolate.
Use a scoop or two spoons to portion the dough into 9 equal-size lumps on each sheet. Bake 9-12 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and back to front at the midpoint, or until cookies are barely golden on top and around the edges.
Remove to a rack to cool. Best eaten the day they are made (see note above) but they will keep a couple days stored at room temperature.
And please have a look here to see if any of the upcoming book events are happening near you! Then come say hi, and have a snack.