Mothers are tricky human beings. You grow up with them, and you think you know everything about them, rarely paying heed when they tell you that the opposite is true: they know you better than you know yourself. Yeah, right, you think, rolling your eyes in futile resistance. After all, you know just what to say to get yourself out of trouble when she’s on a roll; you know just when and how to push the sweet-little-me button when your latest fad looks like it might not be a big hit with the rest of the family. So you think you know it all, and there she is; Allah has given you your very own fairy godmother.
Then, as you start to grow up, you begin noticing things about her. You wonder how you missed that she has a love for cotton candy that would put your need for it to shame. You wonder how it escaped you that sometimes, correcting every mispronounced word she ever utters gets her down. You wonder how it can possibly be that she will make sure that you have the most comfortable shoes for Eid, no matter the cost, even it means that she will not have time (or money!) to hunt down something suitable for herself. All these little things start adding up, and suddenly you realize she is not your fairy godmother, but there is a reason that Rasulullah صل الله عليه و سلم said, “Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.”
People who are intellectually and academically inclined often look at little old ladies (well, not really that old…) who sit around discussing food and clothing in a somewhat demeaning way. They say things like, “How can it be that all they discuss is recipes? Don’t they realize there is a whole world of topics they could be talking about? Like the impoverished people of the villages of Appalachia? And the war-torn region of Abkazia? But no, all they know is food! How boring and empty their heads are! What a waste of their lives!” Well, Miss and Mrs. Academia, you don’t know my mother! She definitely could out-talk you about food (and Appalachia and Abkazia, as well)…and by the time she is done with the topic of food, you’ll be wondering if she has a degree in Food Chemistry. Because, she is one of those women who knows why copper pots are good for some foods, and aluminum pots are better for other foods….while Miss Academia thinks copper pots exist because they look good hanging on a rack above her head in the middle of the kitchen. Let’s just say that, for my mother, copper pots are the farthest thing from status symbols! She can also look at a recipe and predict how badly or how well it will turn out by examining the ratios of the ingredients. In addition to that, when you give her a recipe that is new to you, she can tell you why the baking soda is on the ingredients list, and what will happen if you recklessly omit it. So, the next time you think that food is a topic for intellectually-challenged women, I beg you to keep your ignorance to yourself. As they say, “Better to have everyone think you’re a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!”
On first glance (and maybe second and third, too), my mother gives the impression of being simple-minded. I think it has something to do with the innocent and unassuming look of utter gullibility that she naturally has. Every time we go somewhere, whether it’s shopping, a craft class, or a party, people talk to her in the loud and slow tone that is commonly used for people who might not know English, and who look like they might be from another century. My mother, who normally has quite the temper when she has been wronged, will respond back to them in a way that is polite, calm and cultured–21st century cultured, of course. No Olde English for her, fear not! They will usually be so shocked that she speaks, and in English too!, that they’ll momentarily lose their ability to comprehend English. I always get a little irritated with these people, but my mother will say, “Don’t show these people their stupidity. Let them realize it for themselves. They’re not your family…you don’t have to spell everything out for them!” And then she’ll find a Hadith or Qur’aan aya on the importance of patience and politeness to calm me down properly.
Yesterday, I got another glimpse my mother as more than just my mother, and at the same time, undeniably my mother. She was sorting through the pile of recipes that she obsessively and compulsively has been collecting over the past few decades, wondering which to keep, which she’ll never try ever in her life. She goes through this recipe pruning process once a year, and more often than not, she only disposes of a couple of them. I think the ones she actually gets rid of are the ones where the Xerox machine chopped off a quarter of a page, or something. Then, she came across some recipes for natural homemade skin-care treatments, and turned to me, saying, “I think you’ll like these, here, take them.” And I suddenly saw her as a cosmetics-conscious younger version of me.
It made me flash back to the day when I was 12 years old, and we were walking through a department store. There was a saleslady at one of the many beauty counters, and she managed to get my mother’s attention, telling her, “Would you like me tell you your skin type?” My mom paused for a second, with that quizzical look on her face, and said, “My skin type?” And the lady reached out to my mother’s face, stroked her forefinger across my mom’s nose, forehead, cheeks and chin, and pronounced mother to have “Normal skin!” She then recommended a moisturizer that my mom had already been using all her life, and my mom walked away with a fresh bottle of moisturizer. Which she promptly turned around and handed to me as soon as we got home. At the time, I didn’t make much of it…but yesterday, I felt like my mom actually does understand my own compulsive addiction to all things cosmetics. She doesn’t just tolerate it because she is my mom; she gets it, because she’s a woman, and always has been.
I got to imagining what else is in her head, what other things has she thought, and felt, and wished for, that I have never even imagined. For example, one day, she surprised me by saying that she wants one thing in Jannah: to be able to swim; what would it feel like to be submerged and surrounded by water? We don’t swim, the women in our family, and I never thought it was something worth thinking about, let alone missing. I certainly didn’t think of it in relation to Jannah. Another time, because I don’t eat meat, she said, “You’ll be eating it in Jannah. And fish too. So, it’s ok if you don’t eat here. It’ll be better there, anyway.” Where everyone else usually tries to force it on me or make me feel like a complete weirdo, she found a way to make peace with it. Alhamdulillah.
I could go on with anecdotes that describe the Muslim mother that I’ve been blessed with. Indeed, this blog is peppered with random anecdotes. But there are not enough bytes on WordPress for that. Nor is there enough time, for either you or me. And if there is one thing my mother has taught me, it’s this: Don’t waste your time on things that are futile; it is simply too precious! So, I’ll let you go now, and inshaAllah you can share with me something awesome, amazing, and inspiring from your mother.