DO YOU REMEMBER when you first realized your mom was human?
Maybe you always knew that. Or maybe this is your rude awakening (surprise!).
My Eureka! moment came when I was home for the winter holidays during college. I must have just gotten into an argument with my mom (very likely). Or maybe our family had just had some tense moments – it was an emotionally fragile season for us.
All I remember is seeing something in my mom I’d never seen before: weakness.
Growing up, I thought of my mom as being in her own, one-person category. There were teachers, doctors, men, women… and then there was Mommy.
Mommy, the one who didn’t get sick. The one who always picked up when I called. The one who got me to piano lessons, violin lessons, swimming lessons, soccer games, and orchestra concerts on time – and packed me dinner-to-go.
Mommy, the one who forced me to drink a cup (8 fluid ounces – count ’em!) of warm water every morning. The one who always made me bring a sweater to the movies (how did she know!?). The one who won almost every argument, and if she didn’t, it was probably because she knew I’d admit defeat later.
Of course, I knew that my mother was a human being; she wasn’t an alien or a robot. At the same time, she wasn’t just a human being. She was Superwoman-Tiger Mom*. She was so efficient, so reliable, so strict, so intuitive. Even my childhood friends and their moms were a little scared of her.
So that day during the holidays, when my mom backed off of an argument and showed visible signs of grief, I was shaken.
And thus began a journey of discovering and embracing my mother’s human-ness. It was scary at first. I feared that recognizing my mom’s limitations would diminish my admiration for her.
Quite the contrary. My respect for her has multiplied. I have come to see her courage, her persistence, her generosity in spite of her limitations.
My mother is an ordinary woman who does ordinary things in an extraordinary way.
The way she lectures me? That’s the same honesty that keeps her writing and learning new things.
The way she nags me to blow-dry my hair? That’s the same tenacity that helped her survive those first years as an immigrant woman in the suburbs of Chicago.
The way she raised me and my sister? That’s the same pride that gave her victory over salespeople who tried, and continue to try, to take advantage of her.
The way she cared for her younger sisters during their childhood? That’s the same compassion she shows towards the women in her congregation.
When my mom reads this, she’ll probably say she’s made a lot of mistakes and she tried her best. True. That’s the point, isn’t it?
I realized that I was not going just because it seemed like a good idea, but because those who love me most sent me on my way with affection, support, and prayers.
– Henri Nouwen, ¡Gracias!
* Note: The term “tiger mother” was coined by Amy Chua in her 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she parodies her own attempts to follow the supposed strict manner of childrearing typically attributed to mothers in East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Chua says her memoir is meant to be “ironic and self-mocking”. Here, I use the term “tiger mom” not to generate controversy or to put my mom in a box but to describe my previously limited view of her and her way of raising me. Thankfully, I’ve come to see she is so much more.