Universal Motherisms


My Mom is the beautiful one in the middle. Circa 1993.

My childhood seems really far away, like a place you have been but that fades the farther away you drive until you almost can’t tell if it’s real or just a mirage, conceived in the tender parts of your mind that will always long to return.

(That was a long sentence. I’m sorry).

If anything made my childhood a happy one, it was my mom. She fought to protect the golden walls of innocence that shield a child’s mind from the daunting, the dark and the disappointing. The weeks after we moved into the house my parents have been renting for almost the last two decades, we’d all sit on the kitchen floor and eat chips ‘n salsa for lunch. Mom would curl up next to us, sitting Indian style, as we made a mess of the kitchen floor and usually ourselves. Salsa is messy stuff if you do it right.

I never thought about who cleaned up that mess – I would just run off to play.

Many of our mothers, whatever their failures might be, were the most shining example of sacrifice and love in our lives growing up, and continue to be as we become adults or have our own children. (And can I just say that facebook is getting more and more cluttered with pictures of my friends’ babies. I love children. I’m sure I love your children. But, like… seriously guys. Seriously).

I couldn’t be home for Mother’s Day this year and it made me realize how much I miss my mom. It also made me realize how God has used other women in my life to temporarily step in and take care of me. Because, frankly, everyone needs a mom around.

Despite massive cultural differences and language gaps, I have noticed a few commonalities between mothers. In honor of my mom, my stand-in mothers, and every woman who has birthed and raised a child, here it is: UNIVERSAL MOTHERISMS.

1. “Are you warm enough?” I love winter in Prague because there is something so utterly delightful about watching dozens of children wait patiently at a doorway while their mothers tie scarves around their necks, pull gloves onto their hands and fit hats snugly onto their heads (because once you’re inside one of those ski jackets, you can’t put on your own clothes anymore). One of my friends came up to me one day and said his mother was worried I wasn’t warm enough at night. Next time I was at their house, Mrs. P. gave me three bags of second-hand sweaters, robes and long pants. Not all of it fit, but I was extraordinarily touched.

2. “Something for the road.” Whenever we went on long debate trips, mom would always pack us a cooler for the drive up and the weekend away from home. It, obviously, had all the unhealthy snack foods she would never have let us eat otherwise. The food was almost as good as the reminder that our mom loved us enough to risk giving us adult-onset diabetes. Here in Prague, I can never leave the house of one of my stand-in moms without being given chocolate or a container of home-made edible somethings. Right as I get to the door and say my goodbyes, they’ll pop it into my hand – a little something for the road.

3. “Not till you’ve had your dinner.” I got this one a lot growing up. Pretty sure all kids do. After two-ish in the afternoon, food was off limits till dinner time. Funny thing: I assumed that would stop once I … you know, grew up. Amazingly, I have been told this at least one Sunday a month for the last year. Whenever I try to dig into the leftover refreshments from church I receive a firm suggestion that I wait until after Sunday lunch. Nice to know there are still people willing to look after my nutritional intake. You’re the best, Mrs. F.

4. “How was your day, Sweetheart?” That simple question, accompanied by the necessary tone of patronization and pet name, is the best possible medicine for homesickness. Mrs. B. (who I affectionately call paní mamo, which means Mrs. Mom) does this perfectly. She’ll pet my arm and ‘ooooh’ and ‘awww’ when I tell her in my stumbly Czech how life is going. (She also scolds me with a firm crispness that is both terrifying and refreshing).

5. “When you’re older.” I was riding home from school one day and one of my sixth graders came up next to me on the bus. We chit-chatted conspicuously for a while (chit-chatting on public transportation is always conspicuous for me because it’s always in English and therefore… conspicuous). Then she pointed at my red fingernail polish. “That’s pretty,” she told me, bashfully. And then, “My mom won’t let me paint mine red until I’m older.” Part of me wanted to hug her, part of me wondered when I had started using red on my nails, because I too was not allowed to use that color at her age.

Mom, you’re a special person. You’re extra special for letting us rip apart two couches in the course of our childhood, always buying me Skittles when you get everyone else Snickers because you know I like them better, and for that one time you gave Russell and I a sleep-aid the night before our PSAT test so we would “get a good night’s sleep” (granted, I still find that slightly creepy, but if drugging your children into good grades and good colleges is how you show love, then I feel very loved).

No one here can ever replace you. And no matter how far away the memories seem, I will be able to walk the rest of my life knowing that someone truly loved me.


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