By MJ Ali
This is the last post in our May series on motherhood, and I’m keeping it simple: Thank you to the mothers—and mothering men—no longer here.
Thank you for your strength, resilience and humor. For a woman from your generation who would have rather been a surgeon than a mom, you saw it through, bumps and bruises and all. Your ability to transcend perceived generational differences came from your inherent belief that age was a cage (or an illusion), and assumptions of generation gaps were self-imposed and imagined. After a successful career in business, you went ahead and obtained a BA in your fifties, MA and PhD in your sixties, and went on to become an expert in your field. Oh, yeah. You were also a wonderful artist, host, gardener and cook.
Many of the traits I admired in my mother I also admired in you. You broke some molds, assured me it really was okay to be both a tomboy (as were you) and whatever else I would come to express in my discovery-phase adolescence. You didn’t tolerate any kind of abuse from men, and passed that right down to your daughter, who passed it down to me (took me a while, but I finally got there).
You grew up speaking your own beautiful language as well as those of your colonists with grace and ease. You could read a 350-page book and recall from memory what was in the third paragraph of page 173. Your hands never stopped. Crafting silken treasures for the rich, picking berries for pies you would make and give away, kneading dough, turning the pages of a book. Those hands were a constant prayer, and the limitlessness of your spiritual beliefs gave me the freedom to find my own way.
A friend of my parents, you were brilliant, funny and quirky, always spoke your mind and celebrated strength and compassion as irrepressible traits. Working professional and mother of four, you guided your children with humor and wise counsel, always finding time for the important stuff. And woman could you cook! You had an admiring sous chef in your husband, who would sometimes weep at your creations.
You provided safety, unconditional love, nurturing, and a window into a world of self-acceptance and celebration. You taught by showing, so I was privileged to witness the art and effort in your transformations as well as your unwavering grace in the face of abject ridicule, hatred, and discrimination. You were the essence of beauty and strength, and even though you were taken so young, you were—and remain—mother to many.
Ya Ummi. I miss the honor given to an adopted daughter of rubbing your feet when a long day left nothing but pain. I miss oiling and braiding your hair as you shared stories and pearls of wisdom. I miss sitting under the grape vines and chopping greens together. I miss your singing. You were so gracefully fierce and infinitely loving, a peaceful warrior for whom life had been unrelentingly jagged and cold. So your smile, every day, was an infectious, defiant joy that you passed on to your children, both blood and adopted (which you said was the same thing). I miss you every day the sun rises. Ya Ummi.