I wrote this many years ago for a contest in a newspaper. I remember that the story was one of the winning ones, and the prize was something to do with a spa treatment or pampering package. I don’t remember if my mom and I used it together. I don‘t even remember if my mom read through this whole piece. Or if she did, I wonder if she understood all of it. Maybe I just briefly told her about it out loud.
But now that I found this, in my mother’s storage locker with some other course work and writing I had shoved away in a box there, I feel I owe my mom an apology. For any of the times that I might have seemed embarrassed about something you did or said, or any of the times I might not have stood up for you or seemed as proud of you as I was, I am so deeply sorry. It was me who was actually the embarrassment in those moments. I had the greatest mother in the world. And I wish I had told you, and showed you, every moment, every day when I had the chance. Mom your really were and still are THE WORLD to me.
My mother sat at the window seat of my narrow dorm room, her small feet dangling just inches off the speckled carpet. Her curly brown hair, and the thick, burgundy shawl draped over her shoulders blocked my view of the other students milling about on the college grounds.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said, patting the cushion underneath her, “I’ll just sleep here.”
I was supposed to spend my first week at Lancaster University participating in orientation activities, meeting my flat mates, and taking in the gorgeous greenery that blanketed the English county. Instead, I rolled my eyes as my mother unpacked one of her bags. What looked like a pharmacy rolled out of it- packets of tylenol, multi-vitamins, cough syrup and hurder (tumeric)- a chalky, mustard yellow Indian spice which my mom swore was the ultimate cure for any illness. I am sure I argued about how it was just going to weigh me down.
I tried to remind myself that she was only staying for a couple of days. And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. We had never really traveled together, so we could get up early and tour around town. But all I can recall seeing of Lancashire during those few days were endless grocery store aisles. My mother dragged me out to buy fruits, vegetables, and cleaning supplies so that she could sanitize my room. She even set up the kitchen for me- a kitchen that was shared between fifteen other college students, none of which were being followed by their frantic mothers.
I collapsed on my bed, looking up at the ceiling. When my mother asked me, for the third time, if she could make me a cup of tea, I threw my arms up in the air and stomped out of my room. I don’t remember what it was that I said to her at that moment, but her watery eyes stuck with me for a long time afterwards.
For the next couple of days, my mom sat in the kitchen alone, warming her hands with a cup of tea, while I was out spending time with strangers who I never really ended up keeping in touch later.
One afternoon, one of my flatmates Lydia, knocked on my door. While licking her chocolate covered fingers, she said, “Your mom came over to my room this morning.”
Panic struck my face as I wondered what my mom had done this time.
“She’s so sweet,” said Lydia, “She gave me these delicious chocolates, and then asked if I would take care of you. You’re really luck to have such a thoughtful mother.”
A sudden knot gripped my stomach. It was different this time. Not embarrassment towards her, but complete shame at my own behavior towards her.
I don’t even remember saying goodbye to mother, but I won’t forget what it felt like to sit in my room alone, once she was gone.
I looked around me- the bed my my mom had made, the sink she always waited so patiently to use after me, and that bench where she slept. How did she even squeeze herself onto it, and how could I have allowed her to? Though I could now see clearly out the window, I didn’t feel any desire to. Instead, I sat down at the bench, hugging my knees to my chest.
Over the next few months, Lydia became one of my closest friends. Even though we didn’t have much in common, we had a connection between us- the promise she had made to my mother. My mom and I kept in touch while I was away, and one day, she sent me a package. I gagged as I opened the box- the pungent stench of more Indian concoctions, combined with Vicks Vapo Rub and Tetley Tea -wafted through the air. “You sent me TEA in England, mom? What were you thinking?” I remember asking her.
But shortly after, many of us in the dorm fell sick, and I ended up using all of the contents of that package. My flatmates were impressed at how quickly the cold remedies kicked in. And somehow, none of the British teas compared to the tea bags that my mom had sent.
Since then, I have traveled, moved out on my own, and have become a teacher. Nevertheless, it is my mother who has been the most important teacher in my life. She has been a mom, a dad, a friend, and an inspiration to me.
She came to Canada, after being kicked out of her home in Uganda, with nothing more than her baby boy, her family and her traditional Indian values. My mom had never ridden an escalator, was unfamiliar with the city of Vancouver, and had only worked at her father’s shop in East Africa.
How my mother managed to get a job, find her way around a new city, with new customs and new cultures, raise two kids, and completely readjust the lifestyle and patterns of thinking that she had grown up with, astounds me. But most of all, her strength to still enjoy each day and keep smiling, even after the loss of her own mother, reminds me that my mother is the strongest woman I know.
My mom possesses a particularly motherly magic. She can sense what I’m feeling and protects me from any distance. Even the cheesy Hindi movies she brings me, despite their Bollywood bombast, are carefully chosen with messages of guidance and comfort. It amazes me that my mother knows the exact story lines in the movies I need at various times in my life, without either one of us having to say a single word.
Last fall, my mother and I finally went on our very first trip together- to Harrison Hot Springs. During the car drive there, my mom revealed some childho
od secrets, and we laughed at memories of my brother and I fighting for her attention. At the resort, my mother and I pampered ourselves with massaged and pedicures, a
nd relaxed in the steamy whirlpools. We also slipped on sequined tops and high heels for the dinners in the elegant dining hall. And at the end of every night, we made sure to sit near the window and share a warm pot of tea in soothing silence.