My mother is a pretty awesome lady. She completed medical school, had two kids while in medical school, completed her medical internship in radiology, and even practiced and was published along with my dad and another prominent researcher in Boston. As with many immigrants, my dad came to the United States months before my mother, leaving her to pack up their lives in the Philippines, fly across the globe with two small children to a country she had never visited, and trust that life would be okay. She spent the early years with three small children living in Boston. She tells of stories of riding the train for the first time and finding herself in the middle of a gang fight, barely 90 lbs and desperately finding safety with her children clutched in her arms. The next time she rode the train was in 1999 when I was living in New York City and I refused to take a cab from 11th street to 42nd street.
After moving to the suburbs, my mom stopped practicing medicine to help my dad get his private practice up and running. As a young doctor, my dad knew he needed my mom’s assistance. “Just for a few years,” they promised each other. “Then you can go back and practice medicine.”
Two more kids, and more than 32 years since that first promise, my dad finds himself on the edge of retirement and my mom still has not returned to practicing medicine. She instead raised the five children, shuttled us to soccer/basketball/CCD/Girl Scouts/piano lessons/doctor’s appointments/etc., began her own travel agency and has been able to live ethically by approaching travel as a human right, not as a way to make money. She made all of our lunches at night (yes, we all liked 5 different sandwiches) and wistfully negotiated our weekly allowances: $3 for me, $5 for Grace, $10 for Mary. Each evening, she cooked an entire dinner; called for us to do our chores of setting the table and getting drinks for the family; and then cleaned it all up.
Our laundry was magically done.
Our refrigerator somehow restocked itself.
Our house was always tidy.
I think that’s why I struggle now as a full time working Mom. I keep thinking some magic gnomes are going to clean my house while I’m at work, make the dinner while I’m shuttling children between after school programs and karate, clean/sort/fold the laundry, and just know when we are out of milk.
I can barely find enough time to heat up chicken nuggets and boil water for Mac-n-Cheese.
Growing up, my mom taught me valuable lessons about financial independence, commitment to a career, importance of family dinners, and the ups-and-downs of marriage. I’m still completely unsure how she did it all. Maybe she didn’t. I mean, maybe she did DO it all, but at what expense?
I wouldn’t use the word “happy” to describe my Mom as we were growing up. I used to feel angry about that — I felt like my parents owed it to us children to be happy, loving, affectionate, and warm. And, though I knew deep down inside that they loved us unconditionally, they were not ones to show it. Now that I have my own family, my own stress, and the stress of a family of five, I know how intentional I have to be about showing my kids, and my husband, that I love them. I have to actually remind myself to be kind. Not to snap. To smile. And to hug them. Because, the truth is, life is stressful. Everyday. I wake up each morning and re-tie the knot at the end of my rope, just to give me something to hang on to each day. I feel guilty when I try to carve out some “Me Time” and even cringe at the words “Me Time.”
This year, my mom decided to go on a cruise with one of her best friends. She knew she would be gone over Mother’s Day, and that was just going to have to be okay. She has been gone for over a week, and we only got to wish each other a Happy Mother’s Day via text messaging. Oh, technology.
Naturally, the temporary absence of my mother reminds me of the many, many people who have lost their moms. In the Marathon B4 Mastectomy journey, I heard from so many adults who had mothers pass on from cancer. They thanked me for giving this gift — my mastectomy — to my own children.
While I remember each Mother’s Day, particularly the ones around the time of the births of my children, this one is particularly poignant. I think, “If I had waited, would I have had cancer?” or “If I had waited, would I be celebrating a Mother’s Day in chemotherapy?”
Today, we celebrated life. We had a wonderful breakfast by Jorge, a celebration of Mass with my mother-in-law and the kids, and opened a few sweet gifts. But, the best gift was being able to go for a short run with my girls in their new sneakers. That was my Mother’s Day gift. The gift of health. The gift of running. The gift that, for many more Mother’s Days to come,
I’ll be here.
Peace, love, and props to all the Madres out there,