“Your mother, your mother, your mother”. That was the premise of one of my favourite Islamic children’s books as a kid, referring to a hadith (kinda like the gospels) where the prophet responded to a follower that mothers take not only first place in our hearts but second and third also, with fathers coming in fourth. I may have been 8 years old but I believed in those words more than I appreciated at the time. I simply did not have a relationship or bond with my dad, I couldn’t understand the point of him to be honest but I clung to my mother and she favoured me out of the four of us, her right hand Sam, always eager to please and whip the rest of them into line.
I can’t remember exactly when we drifted apart, it was more a collection of events that drove a wedge between us until we were so estranged from our relationship as mother and daughter, we forgot how to speak to one another. I was determined to fit into the white western ideal of acceptable behaviour and presentation which at the time translated into wearing very little and getting wasted and of course this would actually frighten my very traditional mother from a village in a remote part of Kashmir, especially when daughters who go bad are often attributed to a mother’s loose morals, regardless of the actual circumstances – violent father, violent household, cultural and religious demons and attitudes, societal pressures and expectations of brown girls in a white world.
To preserve her own honour she had to reject my behaviour by turning her back on me. She was probably disgusted by me to some degree. I did fry up a load of pork sausages in her kitchen once, out of defiance which made her promptly throw up in the sink. I felt hella guilty as the severity of what I’d just done dawned on me but I had a point to prove that I was an individual with the right to self-expression, however much my mother’s stomach flipped at the thought I was destined for hellfire.
The cause of the rift between us was largely down to the society we found ourselves in. These days I see you coming, suss out your intentions within the first few sentences but as a young person, microagressions had a different effect on me. I bought into them and believed if I was more like my white peers I wouldn’t be targeted for the colour of my skin. I wore a cross, I did goth, changed into hipsters and crop tops on the bus into school or town, joined in with the paki this, paki that, keen to make the distinction between them and us but it meant denying my very being, the people who brought me into existence and the way we are perceived by the ‘natives’ of this island. They tolerate us as long as we toe the line.
In the process of rejecting all the labels required of me, and finding self-love I remembered what it felt like to feel close to the woman who had given birth to me, 2 months premature, having carried my twin and me carefully in her 5ft frame up until then, and how I could still love her after so many years apart. I reverted back to using my ‘mother tongue’ with anyone who could understand it. For years I struggled to communicate effectively in my first language, perhaps because I didn’t have the comfort of just speaking without being judged on my grammar. Like anything, you become rusty without practice and of course I was busy showing off my English language skills to demonstrate how much I really belonged here. It’s like riding a bike though, as I discovered when I sat down with my mum, for the first time in almost decade, neither of us expecting the other to apologise for abandoning one another, just two women with an understanding of the lives we’d been forced to lead; violence being a feature whether in the home or on the streets.
It was nice. She was older but less stressed and receptive to me, as me. I felt as if we’d glued together the gap in our relationship, and we could continue from this point forward without having to look back; an unspoken understanding that there was no agenda only life reminding us how painfully short it is. I was thrilled to feel at home and close to her once again. She seemed genuinely proud of every little thing I could do, without the usual expectations one has of an individual in a white western patriarchy. She doesn’t care about my lack of a job or mortgage or husband. I had surpassed her expectations by coming back to her and apologising for choosing this country over her.
When I was a kid I sneered I had no idea how I had come from her body and was composed entirely of her and my dad. I looked down upon them, thought them unintelligent and unrefined. Whilst I cannot say this has changed about my father, I take back the judgments I made about her. I judged her through the White Gaze™ and it doesn’t treat women like my mother very well. It considers them weak and unattractive, an easy target, and she was targeted, even when she had four under 5s in tow. I blamed my mother the victim for the abuse white people subjected her to. I am ashamed I put her through this.
My mother is a highly intelligent individual. She has a self-awareness that is missing in most people. She taught herself English by reading our textbooks over the years. I wasn’t even aware of her level of comprehension until one day she flipped at me for lying about my whereabouts, because she’d actually been reading an email I’d sent to my friend over my shoulder and I hadn’t bothered to cover it up assuming she didn’t have the first clue.
Never underestimate a woman of colour. We haven’t had an easy ride of it so we’ve gotten good at adapting to our surroundings. I know where I got these skills from now and it was a joy to talk politics with her over a cup of tea. I wondered what she could have been if she wasn’t a housewife and mum of four at the age of 21. What could she have achieved if she hadn’t been abused by my father and abandoned by her own family who lived thousands of miles away? They thought they had done their best by her, 1 of 8 daughters, by marrying her off and to a young man living in England too. They hadn’t anticipated the power and control that would govern her life.
This Mother’s Day, the first for me in almost a decade is a special one. I’ve bought her some comfortable shoes, biscuits for diabetics and a posh card to make up for all the ones I never sent. I’m excited about it, and looking forward to wishing her a happy one. For a while it was a day of triggers and self-hate, because under the defiance and stubbornness of underlining my grievances I actually felt unworthy of her love. I felt abandoned. I had burnt that bridge by rejecting who she was for some fake promise of acceptance if I assimilated with the white people of this land.
I was wrong and I am sorry. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (I’m a Brummie by birth, alright?) x