Happy Birthday, Mami!

It’s been 9 months since she became gran’ma to the most perfect (yes, most perfect) baby boy who carries her husband’s name.
3 years since she and her husband gave their daughter away in marriage.
10 years since her daughter left the childhood home to find her path and build her life.
30 years since she had her first child. And last. That handful of a daughter was enough for her, and in spite of her husband’s pleas, they brought her up as an only child.
32 years since she got married to the man who’s still her better half and to whom she is the better half.
It’s been 53 years since she was born.

Growing up, birthdays were all about presents. Some practical, some less practical, always well-thought and carefully selected. I would put a lot of effort into preparing the best gift package, and my excitement would grow exponentially as the day approached, especially if the gift had already been purchased, sitting idly at the back of a drawer, or closet, or whatever nook I could find in our tiny apartment. I guess the emphasis on tangible gifts stemmed from our modest lifestyle; recently liberated from under the communist regime characterized by the absence of things, we had fallen into the snare of abundance of things but lack of monetary means to make any yours. It is then understandable that when celebrating a loved one you would go to the moon and back to offer them that one thing that they had been talking about for a while.

I have been slowly growing away from that tradition; although I still do buy presents, I am trying to gift more of myself – my time, my attention, my love, my gratitude. At the end of the day, that watch you spend your hard-earned money on will eventually break down, or get lost, or it will be replaced by next year’s model. But the joy you brought to someone on their birthday, the wonderful way you made them feel, the laughter and loud jokes you shared, the love given will be remembered and cherished.

I am not there to physically join my mother in celebrating her birthday, but from afar, I send her all my love, gratitude and unspoken appreciation for who she is and what she represents to me.

The thoughts flash though my mind too fast for me to make note of each one of them, and the landslide of feelings they trigger is overwhelming. I see myself walking home with mami when she spots one of my first boyfriends for the first time; I wonder what she was thinking at the time, cause I could not read anything on her expression (probably I was too busy with what I was thinking). Then we’re lying in bed, sharing funny stories from the day that had just passed, all the troubles my classmates and I were getting into in school, and mami tickling me to sleep. Fast-forward a few years and we’re sitting down the bench at Plosca, my head in her lap, mami caressing my hair as I cry because my grandfather would not allow me to take a sick cat to the vet, mami , like so many times, being caught in the middle. Going back to my elementary school years, I would have mami knit skirts and sweaters every so often and she would enthusiastically comply; how impatient I was for her to finish my lambada skirt! Older yet again, a teenager going out on the town, asking for my allowance with the hardly-ever-kept promise “I will bring the change back”, and my mother handing over one of her last bills. I see myself pulling the chair from under mami in a prank that was not funny, I feel bad about it till this day. Mami si tati taking me to the coach that would take me to my life outside of home: I could only feel excitement for the tremendous change, but I know for them the change was off-putting. A child again, mami waiting for me belt-in-hand, behind the door after I had been gone for hours visiting with a girl she had told me not to go to, without them knowing where I was; I don’t really remember what happened but by mami’s account she had not used the belt; it certainly impressed me though as I must have entered a state of shock since I do not have any recollection of what happened next. Mami helping me prepare every night for my tests at the Olympiad contests for the Romanian language and literature, listening to my reviews of poems, novels and other writings until she had memorized them herself.

There are so many other beautiful memories of wonderful times I shared with mami: one that I should not leave out is my wedding day; this woman was like a cat on hot bricks; she was so nervous, she even yelled at one of my bridesmaids! If anybody wonders, tati was no less of a wrack, especially since he had to stop smoking cold turkey to indulge me for the three weeks I was at home; at one point he was pacing restlessly outside the locale until someone told him it was ok to light one up.

I started writing this post highly confident that I can transpose all my feelings into words on screen/paper, but the truth is I cannot. I probably need a few more therapy sessions before I can accurately and eloquently identify and verbalize my emotions.

What mami is to me and to those around her does not fit in a linguistic description; she has given me everything, all her life, and when something is left over she will give it to her husband, parents and brothers, and friends. She comes last and if the effort is a challenge, you cannot tell because she always gives with an open heart, warmth in her voice and a big smile on her face.

She has taught me to be “nice”, to share and to think of others. She was able to translate the main teachings of ethics and moral using God as a reference, in spite of our family not being necessarily religious. This has worked for me. I still think that “God” sees it all and I should be good.

What I find most admirable, now that I am a mother myself and I can gauge the extent of this effort, is the freedom she had given me as a teenager and young adult. For that time and place, where my friends would have curfews 2-hrs shorter than mine, and most of them not allowed to even think about the things I was permitted to engage in, she was a mother ahead of her time. And only because of her trust and choice to give me this independence am I who I am today.

As hard as it was on her, she found the strength to let me go and watched my adventures around the globe with a lump in her throat, surely wondering when and where I would stop. Sadly for her, I settled across the pond, but she made peace with this idea, too.

If getting the Nobel prize for mothering was not enough, she is now close to getting her hands on the big prize in the daughtering category. For more than a year she has nursed both her ailing parents, she had postponed a trip to visit her daughter (who at the time had already been living in the US for three years) because of the bad shape her parents were in. After losing her father, she is now, together with tati, taking care of her difficult mother (when I say difficult I mean difficult, it is not meant to be funny). Very seldom does she complain, and only after being cornered with questions.

Mami is my superhero. I wish I can be half of what she is; for one, I would probably have a happier, well-fed husband; then I also hope I can teach my son all the life lessons she has taught me.

In this story, tati goes hand-in-hand with mami. His hard work, support and love have not passed unnoticed. They are a power couple who lived through a lot, good and bad, and have the wisdom to nurture their love for each other and allow it to grow each day. According to tati, he bought mami red flowers on her birthday, bright red like his love for her.

Thanks for making me me, mami and tati!

I love you both more than a bunch of words thrown on a piece of paper can say!

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