My parents are moving
back to Bangladesh this year, reversing their migration
to the United States thirty-odd years ago. A forty-foot
container loaded with sofas, dishes, mattresses and
knick-knacks is on its way around the world to help
them adjust. They are leaving because my mother wants
to be there for my grandmother as she deals with my
step-grandfather’s dementia. I feel like I am
being abandoned. I want to shout, “Hey, what
about me? Toddlers are demented too!”
My relationship with my mother isn’t
flawless, nor has it ever been. I was an indulged
and precocious child and a dramatic, moody pre-adolescent
with a stunning run of teenage turmoil that may or
may not have ended well, depending on how you gauge
it. My mother worked full time and was inconsistent
in matters of discipline—generally, if it made
her laugh, you were off the hook.
As adults, we are extremely different.
She is Muslim and though I was raised a Muslim, I
do not practice Islam. My mother buys
Photo by Ali Husain
large zucchinis and eggplants from the Chinese grocery
store and cooks them immediately, while I buy tiny
organic versions and allow them to go soft in my refrigerator.
She is an it-will-all-work-out parent—the guiding
principle behind her parenting is if you feed kids
regularly, they will grow up—whereas the stack
of parenting books at my bedside started when I found
out I was pregnant with my first child and has grown
And yet, resentment over our differences has dissipated.
I have only just begun to appreciate my mother as
a person and a friend. In many ways, our relationship
is returning to the pure state of mutual admiration
and love that it was when I was a preschooler. I just
want to be near her. I want to spend time with her
and make her smile and inspire her to be proud of
me. I still get angry with her, but the flares of
my temper are brief and I am immediately contrite.
I have forgiven her parenting mistakes. Really.
I no longer muse that if she had pushed me harder
or navigated America more deftly, I would have been
Something Great. My mother did not train me to be
a great athlete, did not instill a brilliant work
ethic in me and did not enroll me in music and art
lessons to uncover my potential. She didn’t
tell me to never give up—giving up is one of
her key strategies for coping with life. Instead,
she encouraged me to seek peace, remove stresses from
my life and be happy with what I have. She gave me
the lessons she thought were most important. She did
her best but refused to poison her life with worry
and regret. When I call her, freaking out about having
no time to sleep, about my days slipping away into
dishes and laundry and cleaning up myriad unidentifiable
messes on my floor, she advises me to do what she
did: choose what keeps you sane and take on only what
allows you to be patient.
Her life hasn’t been perfect or easy. She has
struggled financially and emotionally. She moved across
the world, away from her family when she was twenty
years old with an infant daughter and a husband she
barely knew. And yet people who have much more than
she does, rely on my mother and envy her. She finds
something to love about everyone and sees a bright
side to every phase of her life. She doesn’t
understand ambition that extends beyond the basic
needs of oneself and one’s immediate family.
But true to form, not understanding is okay with her.
She supports me as I struggle under the weight of
my own judgment, gently steadying me however she can
when I begin to wobble. Along with my mother and her
forty-foot container goes a version of myself that
is never too old or too obsessed with minutiae or
in too big a mess to recover from. From her perspective,
my life stretches ahead of me and I will be fine.
With my mother so far away, carrying a burden of
her own, I will have to carry my own load or drop
it. I won’t have her to tell me that everything
will be okay and that I will be fine. When I feel
the familiar guilt and uncertainty seeping from my
gut, I will have to whisper to myself that my children
are loved and they too will be fine. They may not
achieve everything I want them to achieve or have
everything I want them to have, but hopefully they
will know that I did my best. And hopefully they will
forgive my mistakes.
Seema Reza is a freelance writer, graphic designer, elementary school art teacher and painter based in the Washington DC area. You can view some of her work at http://seemareza.wordpress.com.