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From Confused to Confident

By Seema Reza

Letting Go

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

improbably 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 steadily since.

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

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