Of A Mother

Today, my thoughts turn to my mother.

Today, my thoughts turn to the woman I spent my teens trying to fight. She just didn’t get it. She disapproved of my friends. She forced me to keep my bedroom door open, to lower the volume when I was listening to music, and watched all the TV shows I did, and sat through every make-out scene I pretended to be grown-up enough and confident enough and big girl enough to watch, even though I was cringing inside at the awkwardness. I didn’t know why she did it, but one thing was crystal clear: I was determined not to be like her. It was a daily mantra in my head – I do not want her life. I do not want to be what she is. I will be different. I will not be my mother.

Today, my thoughts turn to the woman who gave me my dreams. I always said I wanted to wear a suit to work like my daddy, but my mother taught me to stand with my shoulders straight, to hold my head high, to own my mistakes and learn from them. She insisted I do well at math, because “if you understand math, the rest of the world makes a little more sense”. She insisted I read, and relentlessly read everything I did, so that she knew what I was learning, what was forming my thoughts and encouraged me to cut the crap (sadly, that was the Mary Kate & Ashley Too Little Time series – my pre-teen self wept). As I grew older, I found my voice, and developed a sense of opinion. From lashing out angrily at the patriarchy present in my society, to devouring books on feminism, debating gender equality, and participating in social movements, I sought to become the woman I wanted. What I didn’t know was that that woman was my mother.

Today, my thoughts turn to the woman who showed me my dream was possible. I’ve spent years of my tiny little life arguing that women can indeed “have it all” and “balance both” with a conviction I could never shake, and always with surprise that others couldn’t feel the truth in the idea, but as I look back now, I realize she never shook her head at it. Other family members spoke to me of my “female responsibilities” or my obligations to my family and my society. My mother never said a word about that. She took me to work meeting and to Disney World, bought me books, played computer games with me, taught me to cook and criticized my cleaning till her throat was sore.

Today, my thoughts turn to the full-time working mother and academic who raised me, went to grad school, brought home a salary, and developed and maintained lifelong meaningful friendships. She didn’t preach to me about equality and freedom and everyday injustices (like manspreading). She dragged my butt out of bed in the mornings, kicking and screaming to study, to pray, to wake up in the mornings like all young people should. She made me apologize when I was wrong, called me out on all the “cool kids” that were bad influences, and listened to me yell every time I didn’t go to a a party or buy a new dress. She taught me to stitch & knit, emailed me articles on qualitative research, and sent me to Europe to explore the world. Without ever saying a word, she lived her life un-apologetically, with no whining and overt demonstrations of overcoming hardship, she was the woman who “had it all” and “balanced it all”, living right there in front of me.

Today, my thoughts turn to the woman who did the impossible that so many women around the world do every day. She birthed three babies. She raised three children. She loved three disobedient, difficult, passionate, and at times, lost young adults. And without missing a beat, she pursued her passions, taking oil painting classes, and learning the ins and outs of gardening. She supported her family, working full-time for years to bring in an income. She built on her own strengths, going back to grad school, graduating top of her class. She worked on her weaknesses, studying Arabic. She provided with her heart, and her mind, and her body for herself and for others.

Today, my thoughts turn to the woman I hope to be. I spent years fighting the thought of it, and it is clear now that I was a fool. What do I want from my life? An education, a promotion, a family, a career, respect among my peers and loving friends? She built it all, all on her own, and never made anyone else carry her burdens. Instead, she took on mine – knocking me down when I got arrogant, holding me up when I had no strength to do it on my own, whisking me away from the world when it was too harsh, and forcing me to face it when I was acting cowardly.

Today, my thoughts turn to the woman who spent years helping me grow into the woman I hope to become. She heard me when I spoke of rights and justice and society. She taught me to keep my voice down (a still-daily struggle), to reach out with love rather than mistrust, to give because I can, to try because I can, to follow my dreams because that’s what you do with dreams.

Today, my thoughts turn to my mother, and today, I am grateful beyond measure.