Every week when I sit down to write my blog post, all I ask of myself is that I write from my heart. Sometimes something happened during the week within my family or with my patients, that inspires me to write about a particular topic. And sometimes I sit down at the computer and start typing, with not a clue as to what will emerge.
This week, what has been on my mind and heart is the topic of mothering. On January 14, my mother will turn seventy years old. As an amazing side note, her own mother, my grandmother, is also still alive. My mom visits India several times a year to spend time with her, especially in the years since my grandfather passed away. It is crazy to wrap my head around the idea that my grandmother has lived to see her own daughter turn seventy years old; I cannot even imagine what that must be like. And how blessed is my mother, to have lived seventy years of her life, with her mom present for all of it.
As a mother now myself, I can’t help but have a deeper respect and love for what my own mother provided for me. Although truth be told, I don’t think I have ever told her that in so many words. My mother is a phenomenal woman and role model. She immigrated to this country with nothing but a couple of suitcases in the early 1970s. She was a new physician, as was my father, and they came to the United States so that my father could pursue training in Neonatology, training which was not available at that time in India. They left my older sister back in India with my grandparents, so that they could familiarize themselves with this new home, before bringing her over.
I cannot imagine starting a second life in a new country, with new customs, new people, new language, not to mention having to re-do years of medical training and test taking in order to practice. Eventually, my mother became triple board certified within her field of Pathology, and went on to create a career that made her immensely proud and fulfilled. I honestly think she is the hardest working woman I know. She retired about a year and a half ago, and is now searching for what comes next. For the first time in her life, she is learning how to relax, how to do nothing, how to simply be, without the structure and momentum of her career to drive her.
When I was a junior in high school, living in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, my mother took a job out of state in Oklahoma. At the time, I was angry and resentful that she would leave us like that. I refused to accompany her to the airport on Sunday evenings when she would leave our home and head back to her apartment in Oklahoma City. I mistakenly believed that she was prioritizing her career over her family. I now understand that it wasn’t about the job opportunity. It was a sacrifice that she was making in order to contribute to mine and my sister’s eight years of college and medical school educations, allowing both of us to start our professional and family lives debt free.
I subsequently realized that my mother is an incredibly principled, disciplined woman. She holds herself, and everyone around her, to a high standard–which is the standard of doing the right thing, at all times, no matter what. No excuses. Looking back, I realized that she viewed her job as a mother as an immense responsibility, and took it very seriously. She was less concerned about how much we liked her, and more concerned with making sure we were on the right track, growing into people who would also hold ourselves to highest of standards in our lives.
For example, in my teenage years, there was no space for make up and boys, because it was seen as a distraction from studying. Even as we transitioned to college and medical school and were starting to settle down into long term relationships, my mom would frequently warn us, “Forget this ‘I love you, you love me-business!’ Make sure you are talking about what is important.” With a sometimes painful honesty and transparency, she told us what she thought we needed to know in order to be properly equipped in life.
For reasons I can’t fully understand, random moments stand out in my memories as particularly poignant. My mom reading my first biology textbook out loud, amazed at the beauty and perfection of our school books. My mom conducting a make shift pathology tutoring session for my friends, all of us sitting around our ping pong table with microscopes and slides, furiously scribbling notes. My mom spending hours cooking my favorite foods, aromatic and elaborate preparations of rice, lentils, and vegetables, all the while insisting that nothing could be easier.
My mother never professed to be perfect–only to always do and try her best, and she has done that. I don’t know how to thank her, because no words, no gift, no party, can be an adequate compensation for a life of leading by example and sacrifice for one’s children. As a psychiatrist, I work every day with patients who struggle with reconciling what they needed from their parents, with what they received. And so I don’t for one second take for granted the blessing I have been given, a foundation of love and strength upon which I can continue to build.
I hope I can pay it forward in the only ways I know how, which is to lead by example for my own children now.
Happy 70th Birthday Mommy. We love you.
With gratitude, Monisha