During a hot summer day, a cheerful game of soccer was being played on the school field when my stomach turned in a way that was scary but not foreign. At the tender age of ten, I knew what that meant — I was going to be sick. Without excusing myself, I ran to the washroom just in time for my stomach to empty its contents. I felt out of my element and lonely that I was suffering this way without my mother present. Weakened, I dragged myself to the school office to call the one person who would instantly make me feel better: Hooyo.
She picked up right away and after I told her what had happened, a heartbeat of silence filled the phone and she ended the call with the promise that she would be right there. With just a few words, the edge of being without her softened and I could finally fully breathe again.
As a kid, I assumed that silence was disappointment because I hadn’t heeded her warning about running after eating. But now, I know that heartbeat was my mother’s silent resignation. An inadvertent way of her letting me know that deep down, she wished that I didn’t call.
Despite her disappointment, she rushed me home and got me into bed. As she pulled the covers over me, I could smell the uunsi wafting off of her and then I spotted her henna. It hadn’t even crusted over yet here she was, cutting the desperately timed appointment she had set for herself after canceling three times…just to take care of me. The henna was a love letter from my mother to herself and its sacredness was swallowed by my insatiable hunger for my mother’s limited time. “Hooyo’s home now,” she said in the voice I’ve come to associate with safety while rubbing circles of wellness against my stomach.
As a child, I felt at ease that my mother was by my side when I was sick but as an adult? Guilt weighed heavily on my chest. Guilt for the panicked mess on my covers that wet henna left behind, a mess that shouldn’t even exist. Guilt for not allowing her the time to do anything besides cook, clean, and nurture. Guilt that I didn’t know the identity of my mother as a person — a human being with goals and dreams. I just knew her as my mother.
What was her favourite colour? What food did she prefer? What did she want to be when she grows up?
Did she spend her days daydreaming like me? Did she sit and read her favourite book until the birds started chirping? Anytime I asked these questions, her answers remained the same: I’m not sure, I don’t know, let me think about it. Frustrated with the lack of answers, I dove inside my own head to create an image — my mother sitting in front of a mirror, doing her makeup as friends surrounded her. Her shoulders, usually heavy, shook with laughter as if not a stone weighed them down. Her eyes, often muted by darkness and grief, were bright and lively, filled with clouds of happiness that I had yet to witness in person. This image that I so perfectly curated made me mourn for a version of my mom that I never met.
Too many questions and not enough answers but that perfectly encapsulated the enigma that is my mother. Throughout the years, as my siblings and I grew older, my mother found herself with empty time. A sea of options waited for her but she sat still, not knowing how to approach the shore.
The comforting smell of maraaq digag filled the air as I waited for my mother to return to my side, to protect me from feeling the loneliness that being sick brought.
The maraaq tried its best to heal me with a few sips but what healed me more was my mother’s voice in the background, sharing stories of her as a kid. They felt more like tales as I could not believe my mother was someone before she birthed me.
The limitations of childhood have passed and now I find myself wondering how I can help my mother create her own identity, experience the things that will put a smile on her sullen face and make her excited about experiencing life as a person and not as a mother.
I only have the honour of being a Somali woman’s daughter but I find that a lot of the same threads that weave motherhood and daughterhood together can be found in vast cultures around the world.
One thing is clear and remains consistent — mothers give up their identity as a woman so they can raise us. They sacrifice much that we perhaps wouldn’t so they can be the thankless backbone of our communities, of our homes. Their lives become a whirlwind of children and husbands and messy houses, leaving little time for self discovery. They become the person we run to when we get hurt or when we’re hungry yet they have no one to run to themselves.
So, with Mother’s Day around the corner, I urge you all to spend extra time appreciating the woman who brought you into this world.