In The Kite Runner, protagonist Amir’s mother dies during childbirth in pre-war-torn Afghanistan. With the one-sided perspective of his father (physical strength! business prowess!), Amir’s childhood has the potential to be nightmarish. But Amir finds the role of “mother” filled by a male business associate of his father, a man who encourages Amir to write stories even though Amir’s father doesn’t approve. In the end, the support of Rahim Khan, the mother-figure, drives Amir to find redemption and fulfillment. Like most “mothers,” Rahim Khan saw Amir’s potential and helped him find ways to grow into that potential, nurturing him and directing him.
For this Friday’s post—and in honor of Mother’s Day last Sunday—I wanted to write a tribute to mothers and mother figures everywhere.
I invited my mother to my house on Sunday. The plan was to go out to lunch and then grab some ice cream. While walking around my yard, Mom saw a pile of weeds I’d recently pulled—I was battling a climbing vine-beast that was threatening to kill a lavender bush. Of course, in typical mother fashion, Mom spent most of the day pulling weeds from my garden. I never asked her to—she just kind of started in a matter-of-fact way: there are weeds to be pulled, so I am going to pull them. At one point, she asked to borrow a t-shirt and sunscreen. That was the extent of her request. Mom is petite, but I watched as she pulled tenacious vines and hauled large branches across the yard. I often think of myself as tough as a tiger. Now I see where I get that from. It was such a beautiful day that I realize Mom wouldn’t have wanted to spend Mother’s Day anywhere but outside. The ice cream was well-deserved by all that evening.
When I was at Giant early Sunday morning, picking up groceries for the week, the place was packed, but there were really only two other grocery shoppers. Both were women, both had carts full of food, and both shopped at an “efficient pace.” The rest of the shoppers were men—many with young children in tow—who walked around the store slowly, uncertainly. They didn’t know which aisles contained which items. It was clear that grocery shopping was not a familiar activity for them. Most of them ended up in the greeting card aisle—after flocking to one of the many flower displays around the store. At the speedy checkout line, most of them had three things: a card, flowers, and a dessert.
At first I thought: I’d much rather have my husband actually do the grocery shopping for me than pick up flowers and dessert. But then I thought: how much would I have to explain to him about the types and amount of groceries I normally buy? Watching some of the men stumble around the store, I realized it might be the same for many. The men buying flowers were simply looking for a way to recognize their wives for all they do and have done.
I’m not saying all women are “good” at shopping for groceries and all men are terrible at it. During normal grocery visits, I often see men with loaded-up carts of food. “Mother figures” are not limited by gender or age. Mother figures are those who somehow manage to keep everything together for everyone else, regardless of what happens. They make sure there’s food on the table. They make sure there’s a hug to be given—literally or figuratively. They know which strings to pull, which strings to tighten, which strings to cut or to tie. They offer the right encouragement at the right time. Like Rahim Khan, they can literally change the course of someone’s life.
Like the men fumbling around in the grocery store, I often find it’s difficult to find a meaningful way to thank my mother—and all the teachers and friends who have acted as mother figures from time to time. Mothers do so much for us. Like my mother demonstrated with last week’s weeding, serving others just seems to be in their blood. They look out for their loved ones unprovoked. I’ve always told Mom that a bouquet of flowers simply could never do justice to the gratefulness in my heart. The flowers and cards and desserts are just symbols—superficial things that barely scratch the surface of reciprocating the ways our mothers and mother figures have touched and shaped our lives.
Even though I am a writer, I feel that these words are not much different from those flowers and those cards and that colorfully-decorated cake. They reflect the right sentiment, but there is depth these words cannot capture, and I think many of us feel the same way.
And so I’ll leave today’s post with this: to all the mothers, mother-in-laws, mother figures, moms to four-legged fur-children—thank you for all that you do. You change the world in ways that words simply cannot express, but know that the world is better for your presence. And that’s something to celebrate.
There are just some concepts in life that language cannot capture. And the gratefulness we feel toward our mothers just happens to be one of them.