Magda Gerber dazzled me. Growing up in Los Angeles acting and modeling, I’d met plenty of celebrities in film, music and politics, but none gave me the thrill Magda Gerber did.
A petite “pixy”, as Laura Huxley describes her in the video “Seeing Infants With New Eyes”, Magda radiated big, bold and bright. She was in her eighties when I met her and still sat cross-legged on a pillow on the floor during her Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) parent/infant classes, serving bananas and juice with great care and dignity… to babies.
I once read that the people we think of as charismatic are those who listen to us intently – as if we alone exist. Magda was an intent listener, but what mesmerized was her authenticity. She hadn’t an insincere bone in her body and saw beyond any pretense in others, too. She never smiled to please, only from within. She was the real deal — brilliant, eloquent and not one to back down from controversy. In fact, she seemed to delight in debate (and would usually have the final word).
I hung on Magda’s every syllable in her RIE I theory class and followed her around to her speaking engagements like a groupie. She enlightened me, and for once in my life I knew without a doubt that I was in the right place at the right time, hearing exactly what I needed to hear. I didn’t know then what Magda’s lessons would mean for my life, or what I would do with them, but I was certain this was the education for me.
I imagined that this was the same conviction the talented actors whom I’d always envied had about their chosen profession — still riding ups and downs in their careers, but never doubting they were on track. Their shoes fit. I seemed always to be squeezing into mine.
While I was working as Magda’s class assistant (the second level of RIE training), my father died suddenly and tragically. Shocked and grieving, I felt for weeks as if my world had cracked open, poured me out, and I was floating, transcending the earthly dimensions of time and space.
After class each week, Magda was there for me — my weekly therapist. She was the wise leader I deeply admired, and also the attentive grandmother I’d never had. Perceptive, non-judgmental, empathetic but never pitying, Magda cradled my broken heart with a gentleness that I will never forget.
I have never stopped being in awe of Magda, and I channel her often. When I’m writing, asked a difficult question, or having a problem with my children, I try to imagine, “What would Magda say?” And I’m grateful, beyond grateful for her guidance and wisdom, and more so every day. But what I treasure most are memories of Magda’s friendship, the times we spent just squeezing hands and giggling together, sharing a secret joke, so secret that half the time I didn’t even know what we were laughing about. Magda probably did.
Magda Gerber, RIE Founding Director, died at her home in Silverlake, California on April 27, 2007. She leaves behind a legacy of respect for infants which her students and colleagues will carry forth in her memory. -RIE.org
November 1st was Magda’s birthday. (She didn’t share her age.)
To learn more about Magda Gerber’s teachings, check out these resources:
Your Self–Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber
The RIE Manual
Do you have a mentor? Did you know Magda Gerber? If so, please share your stories and memories.