Mother's Day

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Here's a blog post from  April 26, 2012 in celebration of Mother's Day.

When I was young I would stare into the mirror at myself and imagine what I would look like when I grew up. I was a chubby kid with a black bowl cut and soft effeminate features. My ear lobes were fleshy and hung down away from the sides of my face, like pieces of gum stuck to the edge of a desk.
“It is lucky,” my aunt would say. 
My ear lobes were a sign of luck.
I looked at the roundness of my face and judged it against the faces of the actors I saw on television. They had light skin with slim and chiseled features, deep set eyes shielded beneath a prominent brow; their rectangular faces framed by soft wavy brown hair. I tugged at certain parts of my face, and sucked in other areas to try to find these qualities within myself.
"Not so lucky at all," I would think.
My lips were too pink, my cheeks too portly, my eyes too bulging and creased at the corners. I would look down at my belly which stuck out past the waistline of my pants and pull my shoulders back, stretching the fabric up over this soft hump of mine.

Sometimes very early in the mornings, while the rest of the world was still asleep, I would climb up the stairs to meet my mother outside of the bathroom. It was barely 5:30am, the time she would get ready for work. She would stand with her back to me, flicking her wrists above her head, her comb teasing and scraping over and over until those black locks grew fuller and softer with each wrist snap. I don’t remember exactly what we spoke about, or if anything was said at all. I was just curious and mesmerized by her actions.

My mother is a simple woman. To some this may sound insulting. Who would want to be described as simple? To be simple means being obvious, plain, and boring. There is so much complexity within the world that we live in; so many choices and options available. So much advice on how to live,what to eat, how to look, what opinions we should have. We can become thin if we believe that we’re too thick. We can look strong, and even feel stronger, if we’re too skinny and weak.
We can become anyone.
So how could anyone be described as simple?
And how dare I use this word to describe someone - anyone, especially my mother?

I grew up in a very modest home, with modest parents, who raised modest children. When we moved to Canada all we had was each other, the help of our extended family who sponsored us to live there, the clothes on our back and whatever money we were permitted to carry away with us. My entire family was born in Mozambique, Africa: my parents, myself, and my older brother and sister. We left in the mid 1970s because the country was on the brink of civil war. Chaos at a political level trickled down to ordinary families. Our bank accounts were frozen. Police terrorized us in our home. Soon we found ourselves part of a mass exodus.  Many moved to Portugal and other parts of the world. My family was fortunate enough to be sponsored by my Aunt and Uncle. We traveled first to Lisbon, then to Toronto. All we had was what we could cram into a few suitcases. 

 

Photos from our time in Mozambique show my mother wearing thick-framed Nana Muskouri glasses that match her dark hair. Her hair is cut short, tapering towards a fine and delicate neck. She dresses in a sixties style American Bandstand shift that falls so softly against her slight body, accentuating the slimness of her shoulders, and the length and leanness of her form in a self-effacing way. Sometimes she is standing in front of a wall of flowers. Other times in a random city setting, with suggestions of a building behind her or off to the side. I imagine it’s my father who is taking the photos of her. There’s a kind of care about how the picture is delicately composed as if it’s been taken by someone who loves her dearly, who wants to show the rest of the world how beautiful she is.  There is no indication of impending war; there are no signs of trouble. These photos lay bare a playful side of my parents’ youth. My mother doesn’t talk much about her past very much. For as long as I have known her she has never remembered out loud, nor has she fondly reminisced about any past moments in her life when memories can blur softly into the next, and then the next, and then the next again.

~

 

I would sometimes crawl into the bathroom near my mother’s feet and sit beside the box of colored pencils and blushes and lipsticks that rested on the edge of the open cupboard underneath the sink, where she kept her makeup. I would examine each one, attentive to their opalescent brilliance mottled against each other on the floor and the insides of this box like romantic graffiti. The colored pencil tips mixing together to create new colors and new qualities.  Sometimes as I sharpened these pencils, I would study their iridescent shavings as they curled out and fell from the sharpener’s blade into my hands. They left traces of color along the edges of my fingers. My mother carefully lined her eyes with these pencils and I would watch fixated, wondering whether it hurt her to do this.

 

This morning ritual lasted forty-five minutes or so. In my mind, it was mother putting on her lipstick that was the denouement. With the process complete, she would stand before the mirror like a movie star bathed in Edward Hopper lighting. Her hair brushed into soft curls that kissed the tops of her shoulders. Her cheeks slightly blushed. Dressed in an almost sheer grey blouse marked with pretty floral shapes of color, tapered and tucked neatly into a narrow navy skirt, which grazed just above her knees. She left the house every morning looking this way; elegant in her simple and modest way. She went to a job that required her to enter numbers into a computer over and over again; a task that sounded deadening to me. I wondered if it felt the same to her as well.