Mama Duck

Sunday Spotlight

I think I must’ve been about four or five. It was Mother’s Day and as early as that age, I was already a professional procrastinator. I remember my younger sister putting the last touches of the card she’s been working on for days for my mom, while I stared at her and realized I hadn’t made a thing. I probably watched TV all day, while waiting for the fishball vendor to pass by our street with his cart (and so I can stuff myself). Those were my immediate priorities.

I rushed to my study table (where I keep all my books and notepads) to look for something I can write on before my mom gets home from work. I saw my favorite story book at the time (a story about a mama duck and her ducklings) and quickly grabbed it, hoping for some kind of inspiration to come.

As I leafed through the pages, I wondered if I can pull off drawing something from the book which would require elaborate pencil work and crayons. I didn’t know if I had the time. I knew it. Rrrrrip. As much as it pained me, I tore a page and decided I was going to use it as a card. There was a mama duck and her ducklings swimming in a lake on that page. It was perfect.

When my mom came home and read my makeshift card, I remember her tearing up. I remember feeling guilty that I didn’t have much time to spend on the card. She thought it was cute and funny, because I told her that the mama duck was her. She kept my card and showed it to her friends; I was surprised that she was even proud of it. Seeing my mom happy and beaming the way she did made up for the fact that my favorite story book was missing a page. Anything for my mama duck.

But she was my mom, and she knew. The next day, she whispered: “I’ll get you a new book next week.”

Happy Mamas Day! ♥

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Books for the love of mamas:

Awe at the undeniable fact that I will forever be the son of a fiercely beautiful woman. Awe at knowing just how exquisitely she prepared me to live and write my way into this world. And yes, her absence hurts, but her presence – and I feel it more and more each day – her presence moves me forward. (Saeed Jones)

 

Every time Mother’s Day comes around, I always think of the poet Saeed Jones. His essay Infinite Ache: My First Mother’s Day Without Her comes to mind right away, after I read it for the first time a few years ago. Maybe it’s the way that Saeed wrote about his mother, or his grief, or the beauty of what she had imparted upon him, or the familiarity of nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the Nichiren Buddhist chant) but her being and his  writing had left an indelible mark in my memory.

In his poem “Mercy” from Prelude to Bruise, he writes:

Her ghost slips into the room wearing nothing but the memory / of a song…

 

I’m also reminded of Ayana Mathis’s book The Twelve Tribes of Hattiea book I read three years ago. After reading the book, I remember taking a nap and waking up thinking of Hattie, finding it impossible not to. The book unfolds with the lives of Hattie’s twelve tribes, or children, as I try to make sense of her hardness and her husband August’s softness. I remember Lafayette, steely and inaccessible, Franklin, whose narrative left me at odds with what I knew as the irrationality of war.

…Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren’t already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones. (Ayana Mathis) 

 

Recently, I read Tracy K. Smith’s memoir Ordinary Light wherein I was introduced to the incredibly intimate and tender relationship of a daughter with her mother. In a previous post about the memoir, I wrote about how Tracy’s writing opened up a new language for me, one I haven’t had the opportunity to create with my own mother.

I was calm and safe beside her, right at home. I didn’t think to call it beauty but beside her, I felt what the presence of beauty makes a person feel. (Tracy K. Smith)

I am grateful to these writers for their strength and their will to write their personal experiences and stories, no matter how harrowing or joyful, about mothers. My own relationship with my mama is a work in progress, a bond that I used to despise for a multitude of reasons when I was younger. As I get older though, I’m able to see her in a different light — who she is as a person, and who she was as a young mother then.

While the work of Saeed, Ayana and Tracy have touched something in me that is equal parts painful and healing, I am aware of my experience only as an immigrant daughter, kind of assimilated and openly queer. I revere Black motherhood, of which I have no direct experience but aware of the mottled heartbreak it comes with, in struggle and in relation to living in the U.S.

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I cannot fully know and I cannot fathom the well of pain felt by the mothers of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Alex Nieto, Trayvon Martin, but I can surmise the depth of anger against institutions of state that have violently taken the lives of their sons.

What I do know is that it is the same institutions that have kept mother and child separate, an all too familiar scene at airports in the Philippines. The separation of the family is not an uncommon theme, as mothers leave their children in their home countries to care for children and families in the First World as recounted in this New Yorker article.

I think about struggles of mothers living abroad, the strength needed to withstand a foreign culture and the backbreaking work of minimum wage; the loneliness of an empty apartment after a day’s work buoyed by the promise of coming home one day; the daily misgivings of being undocumented, of being invisible and small in the face of the dollar; of the heartbreaking passage of time, of physical distance, of the increasing emotional distance, of being away.

Still, I see it — the smiles in spite of the callousness, joy in their eyes in spite of grief. I guess there will never be enough words, but always, an infinite ache.

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The featured image in this blog post, as well as the last two images are from Mamasday.org, a project of Forward Together, a multiracial organization for social change. Send a virtual Mama’s Day card using one of their beautiful creations!

Sunday Spotlight: Mama

Sunday Spotlight