Some time ago, my mother asked me whether I remembered much from my childhood. I told her that I don’t remember much — it having happened more than 20 years ago, but that I do recall many of our arguments and fights, over almost anything.
As you can tell, the relationship my mother and I have isn’t perfect. Or you could say that it’s as perfect as these relationships go. That is to say, it’s not. My dad spent most of my childhood working abroad, trying to make ends meet so they can afford to send me to this school and buy me those things I wanted. So it was mostly my mom and I, during these few formative years of my life.
Around the age of twenty two or so, I found myself taking a good hard look at myself, and I saw that there was much I needed to work on. I was too sheltered, having been exposed to life mostly through the lens of what was acceptable to my parents at the time. I graduated from university with top degrees, but with very few friends or life experience. I did the things I was told to do, even when I wanted to do something else, because I believed that they knew better. Theirs was the right opinion, regardless of how I felt about it.
I was filled with resentment, towards myself — and yes, towards my mother for having led me down that path. It didn’t help that when she would chastise me for behaving in a closed-off manner, I’d just say that it was all because of the way they brought me up. “You hate the fact that I’m embarrassed to talk to people? That I avoid these experiences? Well, you were the one who always took the lead and never trusted me with any decision. What did you think was gonna happen?”
I was a colossal shithead, obviously.
In the years since then, and as I’ve grown and taken on more responsibilities of my own, I’ve realized how I had it all wrong. We lead a sizable portion of our lives seeing parents as this infallible image; they are the ones who do everything, who make decisions, who direct our lives for many years. So when they make mistakes, it messes with us. How can they screw up? They did this to us. But what we fail to realize, at least when we’re younger, is that parents are just people. It’s as new to them as it is to us, and they’re terrified of every decision they make, because they can see the repercussions. So they just do their best, and try as hard as possible to do the right thing, but they have no way of telling how it’ll turn out, because — goddammit, it’s all uncharted territory. Everything they do, they do out of love. It might backfire, it might be misguided, but when you’re looking back at it, you have to see it through their lens. Not just yours.
So, I grew up to be reclusive, shy and often non-confrontational. So what? They’re things I can work on. I also grew up to be a kind, gentle, understanding and respectful person. I grew up to be a hard-worker and to appreciate learning in all its forms. I grew up to be a feminist, to support all those who suffer under the weight of an unfair world. All those things I can trace back to my upbringing, to the way my mom (and dad, of course) brought me up. I picked some of it up on my own, sure, but at the core of it, there’s what they taught me. And I have to appreciate that. I cherish it, and her, every day.
Through sheer coincidence, I ended up watching the movie Room last night. The movie deals with a mother and her child, who are made to live in a small shed for seven years, and how they try to cope with the outside world once they emerge. Brie Larson, playing the mother, shows this mixture of strength and vulnerability that felt so familiar to me. She tries to do what’s best for her child, but she makes mistakes, because she’s not perfect.
Near the end, in a quiet moment, she talks to her son with tears going silently down her cheeks,
I’m not a good enough Ma.
The son pauses for a moment, giving this imperceptible nod, and answers
But you’re Ma.
And that’s all there is to it; she’s Ma, with all that entails.
Happy mother’s day, Ma. I love you.