“…I know they bought a cottage
Just large enough for two.
My mother dusted it with love,
Baked sugar cookies, too.
I wish I’d been her neighbour
Who came for snacks and teas,
Who walked the back fence
I recall when I was small
She taught me prayerfully.
Sometimes I think my mother was
A little bit like me.
Of all the people in the world,
Much more than any other,
I wish I might have known her,
Before she was my mother.”
– By Brenda Leigh
In less than three hours, it would have been your 78 birthday. That sentence feels so wrong to me for many reasons. The first one is the “you would have been” part. I still don’t believe that you’re not here. It shocks me when I wake up every morning. Even in the middle of the night, I think it’s just the longest and worst nightmare I’ve been through. But then I have to face the truth each day.
It’s hard. I want to stay up until 12am and call you right at midnight like you did for my birthday last year. Better yet, I wish I could show up at your place, and spend the night so that we could celebrate together. I would watch Hindi movies, or eat samosas, or go to Walmart or Shoppers or even take you to Sha’s Video and James Street Grill if I could. I wish I could do all your favorite things with you to show you how special March 16th is to me, how special you are, and how lucky I am to have had you as a mother.
And this would be your seventy eighth??!! Really? Honestly, Mom, you never looked a day over 50 to me. And even then, your skin and hands, your innocent smile, and your warm heart were always so youthful.
Youth. I wonder what you were like when you were younger, before I knew you, like maybe on your Champagne Birthday. Oh my God, Mom, I never got a chance to teach you about Champagne birthdays! It was actually a term I didn’t learn until just a few years ago, when Renee had hers- her Champagne Birthday. She actually taught me what the phrase meant.
See, Renee’s birthday is March 29th, so the year she turned 29- that 29th birthday was her Champagne Birthday. Your birthday is on March 16th, so that means that your Champagne Birthday was when you were sixteen. Sorry I missed it. I try to imagine what you were like at 16 or younger. Sorry I missed what kind of girl you were growing up- what you looked like, what you dreamed of becoming, who you played with, and even your laugh or the way you wore your hair and what kind of boys you liked.
I know some little things about that time- things you told me like you liked to wear long maxi dresses, and wear anjern in your eyes to highlight them with a black line inside your lower lids. But what were you reading in this picture? How old were you? What was in the suitcases beside you? What kind of room did you have? When did you first start putting on make up?
There are so many questions, so many details I wish I had asked you, about the girl you were before you were my mother. I loved hearing your stories. They will never be the same coming from someone else. You always said I should write this stuff down. Well, now I can only write down the things I remember. There are a lot of holes- things I don’t know, things I was scared to find out about because I know you didn’t always have it easy. And I guess sometimes, we forget that our parents were not always our parents. You had a life before me. You ran around your own playgrounds, had your own parents who looked after you, you had your own dolls and favorite places to go to eat or meet friends.
I only have a few pictures of you when you were younger. But they are not as far back as when you were a child. I wonder if anyone has those. I think you all had to leave them behind when you had to leave Uganda. You lived in Uganda. That in itself is incredible to me. It’s like another lifetime for me, but it was during your life, a part of who you were. I wish I could have seen it from your eyes.
You were so beautiful and looked so free in the pictures I saw of you before you were a mother. I couldn’t have been there for that time in your life. I guess I should be grateful for that because I wouldn’t have had you for a mom then. So thank you for having me. You were definitely there at my Champagne Birthday! That would have been when I was three years old. I found a picture from that year, that birthday. Look at the way I was looking at you, Mom? You feeding me cake, my eyes fixated on you like you were my everything. You really were, and still are.
I hope that wherever you are now, you are being taken cared of. I don’t know if you celebrate birthdays up there, but this would definitely be a day to celebrate. Your birthday. It was the best day of my life, because it was the start of the journey of you becoming my mom. And you coming into this world- well, you touched so many hearts and lives, Mom, the way you cared so much. You always seemed to be buying gifts for other people, never thinking about yourself.
I can only buy you something now to hold onto myself, for you. It’s not the same, but I try to still pick things that I think you’d like. I loved buying you gifts. I still see things around at different shops and picture you wearing them or opening them as a gift, or I imagine what you would pick to buy or try on. Oh wait, you never liked trying things on. That’s right. You just saw it, bought it, and I hoped it fit so we wouldn’t have to return it to the store in time. And you were always grateful you didn’t have to spend time in a change room.
I hope that you are showered with the sweetest gifts now. Have lots of cake with Mama and Bapa. I hope that they are feeding you all your favorite flavors. And of course, that there is endless chai to go along with it.
Happy Birthday, Mom. You are so deep in my heart. I carry you with me wherever I go.
I am not into celebrating my birthday anymore without the woman who gave birth to me. It just doesn’t feel right. But I will definitely celebrate your birthday in the small ways that I can in hopes that you might feel me thinking about you.
You are never to be forgotten. You will live on in my memory forever. And everyone of your birthdays will be the most special day of the year for me.