Warning – lots of sap ahead. If you are brave, read on.
I promised a post on mother’s day and I failed to deliver, I was busy being a mother – changing diapers, time outs, Trader Joe’s. I didn’t get a day off (although I did ‘get’ to go dress shopping, not my favorite thing in the world despite my love of heels and mascara) I didn’t get a massage or breakfast in bed. I got to be what I wanted to be, what I paid dearly to be, a mother.
As my four original, faithful readers know, I went through a lot to have these boys. Their conception was not sexy or hot, it wasn’t a drunken evening of lust. It involved a doctor of Indian decent, a few nurses, and an embryologist who came out of her dark lab with a tube containing three embryos and my babies first picture. Two of those embryos became my kids. One didn’t make it. I have one embryo on ice, and despite my incredibly pro-choice stance, I view it as my kids’ sibling and will be thawing it in the next year or so. We feel obliged to give it a shot at life. So, for me, motherhood was anything but a natural function of my womanliness. It came at a price, both literally and figuratively. Mother’s day for me is a reminder that this is what I wanted. This is what I signed up for. While it may be only a Hallmark Holiday, or, as my friend Jamison says, demeaning to the entire notion of motherhood, it’s a holiday I didn’t think I would ever get to celebrate so I welcome it as a time for reflection on all that is beautiful and awful about being a mom.
My mother wasn’t allowed to leave her house without her burqua after her tenth birthday. She was tall, tall enough for people to call a ‘woman’. She had 10 years of childhood and not a minute more. That’s more than a lot of Afghan girls got, but it still wasn’t enough.
My mother was engaged to my father when she was 17. I used to ask her if she was excited when she got the proposal. She would laugh and say “oh yeah, so excited”. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that she didn’t know who she was going to marry, just that a man had been chosen for her. My father was a well-educated man. He sent my mother to school in Kabul while he was finishing medical school there. She learned to hold a pencil, to read and write her name. She walked in the streets of Kabul without a burqua for the first time as an adult. Freedom was sweet.
My father left Afghanistan before I was born. My mother was to come to America alone, leave me in Kandahar. She couldn’t do it. She told him to move on, find another wife, she was staying with her daughter. He gave in – he’d married my mother for her sweet disposition and her good looks, I don’t know if he was counting on her determination – and I came to the promised land. An 18 month old girl with her 21 year old mom. Mom didn’t speak a lick of English, learned it all at the Chock Full of Nuts on the Bowery (she says) and watching Sesame Street with me.
My mother is not typical of Afghan women. She is cool and fiesty and raised her kids to be soulful, thoughtful and spiritual. She sent me away to college and I was the first woman in my family to do that. I lived in a dorm! I stayed in my apartment for summers! I backpacked through Europe for months! I became an attorney who kept her last name and I defended people accused of terrible things. Through all of this, I heard my mother’s voice “Zary, you can do it. Zary, don’t ever say you can’t. Zary, don’t quit, try harder. Be better.”
My mother told me that if I changed my last name, I would have to repay her every dime she paid for my education. (“If your husband is going to get the credit, then he should have to pay for it.”) My mother’s heart was the one that was broken when I told her I wanted to stay home with the kids and leave the practice of law altogether. (“What was the point of all that education? You think your kids want a smart mom who sits in the house all day?”)
A mothers hopes and dreams are wrapped up in her children, whether she’s a lawyer, stay at home, clerk or Supreme Court Justice. My mother’s hopes and dreams were no different. I let her down when I said ‘never again’. Now, when I sit in my little office in Hippieville, I know she is happy. Mom, I dedicate my next ‘not guilty’ to you.