“My umi said shine your light on the world/shine your light for the world to see”

I was talking to Bushra on AIM several nights ago, and right before I signed off, she said, “You know, you never write about your mother.” On this weblog, she meant. Which is true, I know. Over the past year of blogging, I’ve made many, many references to my father, sharing stories about his quirky personality and silly habits, his sense of humor, the way he is intertwined with the countless memories of my childhood.

My mother has always been a teller of stories, but she becomes rather uneasy at finding herself the center of attention – unlike my father, who is always in the spotlight and is comfortable being there. My mother is not reserved, she’s just shy. My cousin, Somayya, always says my mother is the nicest person in the whole entire world, and just as often accuses me of taking advantage of her. She would be quite right on both counts.

This post, then, is for my mother, or my Ummy, as I call her. She is no less loved than my father, and what follows are some of the reasons why I love her. This is by no means a comprehensive list, though I’m warning you, it’s long.

My first clear memory of my mother is from when I was a toddler, the day I climbed out of my crib and painted my parents’ bedroom walls, the hallway wall, my clothes, and almost my entire face with my mother’s beautiful cranberry-colored lipstick. Instead of smacking me, she laughed and told my father to grab the camera – which is why I’m now the remarkably proud possessor of a series of photos showcasing my early artistic endeavors. I’m staring blankly at the camera in each photo, except for the one where I’m licking my lips as if to say, “Mmm, yummy.”

The second earliest memory is, again, from when I was very young, perhaps four. Our father was away on a business trip overseas, so we all piled into bed with our mother. My little brother and I fidgeted around, then started hitting each other. My mother yelled at me, and I silently cried myself to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night to find her wiping my tears away.

I always associate my mother with kindergarten. She used to help me with my homework, especially the time I had to create a collage for each letter of the alphabet. Most little children are taught that “A is for Apple.” Not so with me. My mother helped me cut out pictures of trains. “A is for Amtrak,” didn’t you know?

Once, I ran several blocks home from kindergarten to proudly present my mother with my plaster-of-paris handprint plaque, complete with my shakily scribbled name at the bottom. I made it as far as our back walkway before I tripped and fell. The handprint plaque shattered into numerous pieces on the bricks, and I sat there and sobbed my little heart out. My mother came running over, gathered me into a hug, and told me it was all okay. Later, we tried gluing the plaque back together. I can’t remember if it worked.

Once, she removed a three-inch-long thorn from my knee with a tweezer. She’s my hero.

I love my mother because she’s a sucker for soap operas. Sometimes, when I’m on break from school and really bored, she even manages to sucker me into watching soap operas with her, and enjoying them. Good Lord, save me from this melodrama.

I love my mother because when we used to drive home from Sacramento in the middle of the night during my childhood, I used to lean my head against her arm and fall asleep. Now I’m taller than her, admittedly not by much, but enough so that resting my head on her shoulder is out of the question.

I love my mother, even though she parted my hair down the middle and scraped it back into a tight braid for my third-grade school photograph. That is the one elementary school photo in which I don’t look like a cute kid. Well, I wasn’t so cute in fourth-grade either; that, however, was not through any fault of my mother’s, but because my two front teeth were still growing in.

My mother taught me how to cook when I was thirteen years old. The first thing I ever cooked on my own was potatoes, so I believe I’m justified in blaming her for my obsession with french fries, a mania that is well-documented on this weblog.

I love my mother because she sings when she thinks no one is listening.

I inherited her high cheekbones, her indecisiveness, the crinkles at the corners of her eyes when she smiles, and also – according to my father – her stubbornness, though I think it’s very likely I inherited that in equal measure from him as well.

My mother hates my loud rock music, and I hate her sappy Hindi songs, so whenever we drive anywhere together we compromise on Urdu/Arabic nasheeds and Sardar Ali Takkar’s Puhktu ghazals, and I love her because she beautifully translates for me line by line, infallibly.

My mother didn’t even learn to understand or speak Pukhtu until she married my father when she was twenty-one. But they spoke Pukhtu with each other all through my childhood, so it was the first language I learned as well. Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of it. We’re back to English and Hindku now.

My mother grew up very poor in Pakistan, with literally no formal education at all beyond learning to read the Qur’an in Arabic. She enrolled in English courses and had private tutors once she married my father and moved to Canada and the U.S., but her English reading and writing skills are still halting at best. In order to write out the grocery list, she removes items from the cupboards, drawers, and refrigerator, places them on the kitchen counter, and carefully, hesitantly, copies down the names printed on the labels. Her painstakingly-executed handwriting never fails to make me smile.

My mother is frugal, though alhamdulillah we’ve rarely had reason to watch our spending. She makes me strictly account for nearly every cent she loans me, and she orders groceries weeks before those specific items even run out. This is all related, I think, to her impoverished life before she married my father, and I love her for her frugality, because it makes me conscious of the manner in which I spend my money.

Once my mother starts laughing, she can’t stop for minutes on end. This is especially true at the dinner table, for some reason. She’ll start laughing silently for several seconds before we even notice. This invariably makes the rest of us giggle out loud. By the time we start the full-fledged guffawing, no one besides her even knows why we’re even laughing in the first place.

I love my mother because she always says to me, “Do what you will. You’re going to do what you want anyway, so why should I waste my breath?” She’s too nice, which is why I get away with all my rebel-child antics.

My mother makes me laugh and then flinch in turn whenever she says to me, “May your children be just like you!” after I frustrate her with my rebelliousness and aforementioned stubbornness.

My mother has a soft heart, and can’t stay angry for long. During tense mornings after an argument, I’ll attempt to head out the door with a gruff “Fi aman’Allah [in God’s trust/protection], Ummy,” but she’ll stop me with an affectionate “Don’t be angry with me” and then give me a hug.

My mother gives the best hugs.

My mother sometimes gets her y’s and j’s mixed up, and I’m sure you realize why this infuriates me so. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times she has pronounced my name as “jaasMEEN.” And all through my childhood, she called me “Thooree,” which I hated. It was short for my middle name, which means “the hidden” or “the veiled” in Arabic. For the record, I love my middle name; it was the nickname that I couldn’t stand, because “thooree” also means “squash” in Hindku – as in the vegetable, yes. As in the vegetable I hate, yes.

Whenever I trip or bump my head or something suddenly goes wrong, my instinctive reaction is to curse, whereas my mother, in the same situation, will reflexively exclaim, “Bismillah!” [in God’s name]

I know (vague outlines) of my family’s genealogy thanks to my mother, who told us countless stories of her and my father’s childhoods while we sat enthralled at the dining room table, asking many questions. She related all the funny stories of my father’s boyhood, such as the time he went over to the next village without telling his mother and along the way got chased by a cow, and the time he got into a fist-fight with an older boy (who, interestingly enough, grew up to marry one of my aunts). To this day, my father insists these adventures never happened, but his own mother gleefully told me the very same stories, so they must be true.

I love my mother because her wants are simple. The way to her heart is through Tupperware containers. I’m serious. Buy her Tupperware, and she’ll love you forever. For multiple sets of teacups, she just might even consider adopting you.

I love my mother because she loves tea and I hate it, but she still loves me, no matter how often I disparage her tea.

I love my mother, and I take her for granted.

[p.s. So, peoples, tell me stuff about your mothers.]

5 thoughts on ““My umi said shine your light on the world/shine your light for the world to see”

  1. What a sweet post. Dont we all take our mothers for granted?! Their unconditional love, forgiveness and sacrifices. I know I do.

    May Allah grant our mothers long lives, health and happiness and may He enable us to take care of them when they are weak without compromising their dignity. Ameen.

  2. aamena, knicq bhaiyya, and hmm…,
    thank you all so much for somehow finding your way back to this post and reviving the comments here!
    it’s hard to believe i wrote this piece almost 5 years ago – and that i still often struggle in my relationship with my mother, and that i still take her just as much for granted as i did then.

    ameen to your beautiful dua, hmm…. may it be so, inshaAllah. thank you.

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