Happy Mother’s Day, mom

mom + me

The television was on low but took over the very quiet room. The curtain prevented me from knowing whether the patient was intently watching or had fallen asleep. I had been sitting there for over an hour. Though I tried, I was unable to fully immerse myself in my book.

I heard a rustle and immediately placed my book on my lap. I smiled but did not say anything, giving her a chance to gain awareness of her surroundings.

She blinked a few times and her eyes slowly gained recognition. I was about to initiate conversation and ask how she was doing, how she was feeling, if she was hungry, did she want a sip of water? She beat me to it with an opening remark.

“Oh, hi.” Pause. “Do you want to talk about him?”

I was caught off guard. After an intense and exhausting four-hour surgery, the first thing that came to my mother’s mind upon seeing me was my broken heart. I had arrived a week earlier — late at night, and she had picked me and the broken pieces of my heart up at the airport. I had come home to help her, but instead she had been my shoulder.

My mother’s life experiences vastly differ from mine — we were raised in different countries on different continents, generations apart. Yet I’m in awe of how well she understands things that she has never experienced firsthand.

. . .

My mom grew up in small town in India called Shahabad. The streets are rarely quiet; during the day there is too much activity to absorb everything at once. Not only are your ears trying to understand every noise — the honking, children playing, the knocks on doors for deliveries — but your nose is also trying to understand every smell — the scent of samosas, rotis, and pani puri. If you desire the quiet, you have to wake before the sun begins to rise.

My mother spent most of her childhood with family, friends, and at school. The days easily blended into the warm nights and the concept of needing “alone time” was foreign, even in her teenage years. She was the youngest of four children, and her parents adored and spoiled her. Her free time included lots of playing and she was accustomed to getting what she wanted.

She pursued a Masters in Economics, though she never used it much in a work setting. She had an arranged marriage at the age of 21. She never dated and didn’t expect to; everyone was arranged when it was time. After a brief meeting with my father, she said yes to a life with him. They moved to the United States and had three kids by the time she was 31.

the early years

I often think of how she moved to a different country with a man she barely knew at a time when communication was more difficult and tools such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and texting were not available. Phone calls back home were unreliable and handwritten letters would take weeks to arrive. I am in awe of the tenacity and courage of my mother and all immigrants like her.

In a world that often values external attributes such as career, title, status of school — all of which can be discovered by a quick search on LinkedIn — an outsider might at a quick glance simply say she’s dedicated her life to being a mother. She certainly has.

But her resume reads much longer than that. It’s one of the best resumes I’ve ever seen.

She’s a nutritionist: After my dad had a stent, she became an expert on creating healthy meals. If you ask her for health advice, she’ll have full-fledged answers on appropriate portion sizes and the right balance of vitamins and protein. Any meal is transformed into a nutritious delight under her supervision.

She’s a financial guru: She predicted the amount of savings I’d have left post grad school to a standard deviation most licensed financial professionals would be jealous of.

She’s a jack of all trades — a seamstress, fixing things one would think were a complete loss, a gardener, and an artist.

She’s a psychologist: She listens attentively to all of our fears, concerns, hesitations, insecurities. She helps me and my sisters navigate the murky waters of life, love, and careers. When it comes to love, she has never dated so she learns the nuances along with us.

“He didn’t call you back?” She’ll ask in surprise.

“He’s not interested in something serious?” She’ll say, confused that anyone would waste their time not looking for true love.

“You didn’t connect?” She’ll repeat, wondering if we really gave each other enough time to try.

Though shocked, she quickly shakes it off and reminds me to stay focused on the facets that truly matter when it comes to choosing someone to spend your life with. She emphasizes it is good to care for others, but never at the expense of caring for yourself. She’ll also remind me not to take myself too seriously and that life is supposed to be fun.

When I was a young adult, we were headed to a doctor’s appointment. I had parked on the wrong side of the building, and a gigantic hill of wet mud stood between us and the entrance.

“Should we drive around?” I asked, hesitant to plunge forward.

“Don’t be wimpy,” my mom said, pulling me along. With each step we took, we sank further and began to laugh hysterically. Our legs were half covered in mud by the time we arrived at the office. The doctor asked if something had happened. I shook my head and smiled; it wasn’t something bad as she was suggesting but instead it was something wonderful.

My mom and I have lived very different lives yet she never pushes her own concept of what life should look like based on her lens. Instead, she guides me to stay true to myself and move forward with my head held high — to go down my own unknown path and discover my future, one step at a time, one day at a time.

“Keep going, Monika,” she always says.

“I will, mom.”

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