By: Sheana Ochoa
In my family of five siblings you can imagine all the trouble and worry we put our mother through. She has always provided for us, bailed us out, and held us together. Without her forcing us kids to be there at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don’t know if I’d see my older siblings as much as I do.
I’m the youngest and because my parents divorced when I was seven, I think I had the least direction and stability growing up; consequently as an adult I lack self-discipline and have needed my mother for direction. In the process, she has become my best friend. She’s the only person I gossip with, whose feet I massage, watch old movies with; she’s my favorite travel companion because, like me, she’s game for anything –from bathing with elephants to tasting questionable food. She’s been my champion throughout my life, and without her, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
Case in point: I graduated high school at 17 and planned to backpack across Europe with a girlfriend who ended up reneging at the last minute. I was inconsolably disappointed. My mother found me on my bed crying when she came home from work. I sniveled, “Now I can’t go to Europe.” She sat on the bed and asked the simplest, most obvious question: “Why not?” She was the reason I went solo and became a fearless feminist in the process, experiencing the world on my own two feet. And, many years later, when I failed to find Mr. Right and my bio clock was ticking and my mother and I were traveling in Thailand and I broached the subject of having a child on my own, without a thought, she pulled out a pad of paper and started writing down the pros and cons to see if my idea was even viable. My mom is not a dreamer; she gets things done.
I knew as a girl that I wanted to be a writer and there was never a time that my mother discouraged me from following my dream. She never suggested majoring in something more practical (translation: lucrative) than comparative literature. She never hinted that I have a Plan B. I had learned to be self-supporting by her example; I was young, with boundless energy and so she never had to worry about me taking care of myself financially while I pursued a writing career. I put myself through college and graduate school working and with scholarships. But in my 30s, I contracted a baffling disease and ever since I’ve been struggling with not being the superwoman I was. Still, I continued working till I collapsed, and it was my mom who would nurse me back to health, sometimes for several weeks before I could work again. Those were precious and scary moments: a mother and her temporarily disabled daughter barely able to lift one foot in front of the other. Before it got too dark, she would take me outside and hold me up and we trudged down the driveway and back to the house. By the next week we’d make it all the way to the end of the block. Then all of the sudden I’d be better, skipping out of her house and back to my life. There is no way to thank her for those moments of healing in the dusk.
Back to my mother’s role in my family: perhaps other families have the same phenomenon, but there’s an expectation of my mother to be perfect. I imagine because my mom has always been there to bail us out and listen to our woes, it seems we siblings expect my mother to be a sort of savior and when she doesn’t live up to that status, resentments abound as if she’s fallen short. My father is not subject to these expectations. I’ve participated in this patriarchal exception of the father’s role, which invariably comes from an American, puritanical view of an aloof, breadwinner who’s not to be bothered, and the hearth warmer whose day is never done cooking, cleaning, coddling. But in my family, my mother was the breadwinner. The question begs what came first, the chicken or the egg? Do we expect mom to be perfect because moms are supposed to be perfect, or because she herself has perpetuated this myth by striving for perfection, bordering on martyrdom?
Now that I’m a mother, I know how imperfect motherhood is. I planned and fanatically researched the birth process and babyhood to the extent that when things didn’t go as planned, I took it out on myself. The failure and stress of breastfeeding compromised my already delicate health postpartum. I became bedridden the first year of my son’s life. Again it was Mom who came to the rescue, caring for my infant those first few precious months of life as I healed.
I’m getting married next weekend and it must be a relief for my mother to know that I will have a partner in life, other than her, whom I can turn to. (She would say she misses me, but I know it’s also a relief.) Still, it is she I cry to when life gets me down. She’s the one I call to share a new, funny thing my two-year-old, who we absolutely idolize, did that week. We went wedding gown shopping, and afterward, we stopped at our coveted bakery to gobble down our favorite chocolate cake. We have fun, like two girls laughing and joking and holding hands. I never had this with another woman in my life, and I don’t think I will unless, perhaps, someday I have a daughter of my own.
I could end it here, but there’s a coda. I adore my father. He’s quirky and eccentric and generous and sensitive. But he lives to the beat of his own often-egomaniacal drum and after telling me he’d come to the wedding rehearsal dinner, he has changed his mind because something better came up. I almost want to have my mom walk me down the aisle. Still, after all the disappointments, I’m still daddy’s girl. The thought of hurting his feelings and not letting him walk me down the aisle feels wrong, because I know he’s looking forward to it. So, I’ll be holding on to my dad’s arm, but in my imagination, to my left, my mom will be holding my other hand.