Or a cub brought up by one?
The one enduring memory that I have of my mother is looking up from my bed late one night, delirious from malarial fever and finding my mom looking at me with concern. She kept cold compresses on my forehead and reassured me. Each time I woke up over the next few days, she was always there. I don’t remember her ever telling me that she loved me.
My brother sometimes refers to our mom as Hitler. In the era before washing machines, she made us wash our school uniforms. Clothes dropped carelessly on the floor were not to be seen in our home. Shoes were stacked, books stored away carefully after use and plates were taken to the sink after each meal. As we grew older and stayed out longer with friends, it was an absolute must to inform her if we didn’t plan to eat dinner at home. She didn’t talk about discipline.
Sometimes I was too tired to do my chores and she would ask my brothers to fill in just as I would have to do for them. She made us take turns to read books that all of us wanted to be the first to read. She would hold grandma’s hand as she negotiated the stairs and sometimes we would help grandma. I would go to my brother’s friends place to pick up schoolwork that my brother had missed due to illness. My brother would escort me home if I had to stay late at college. She didn’t talk about showing concern for others.
When my brothers started picking up filthy language from their friends, she quietly made it clear that it was not to be tolerated at home. When I started talking to boys, she asked me to invite them home. With three children of varying personalities, she knew who we hung out with, how far out of our comfort zones we had drifted, who needed to be reeled in, who needed a push. Very rarely did she praise us. If we didn’t do something well, she sat with us and made us do it till we got it right. I looked at other moms who were cheerleaders for their kids, afraid to correct them or advise them. The parents who thought their only job was to indulge. And sometimes I felt she didn’t care.
Love and care are two different things. For best results they must go together but one can exist without the other. What distinguishes the two is that they manifest differently. A parent who loves accepts the child as is. A parent who cares, shapes and influences each child uniquely. Love sometimes means glossing over the imperfections, care requires looking closely. Love binds, care releases. Love may create dependence, but when you take care of what needs attention, you foster independence.
My mom was strict, perhaps more of a disciplinarian than other moms but she was not a tiger mom, one who emphasizes academic excellence above all. I know she loved me because she was with me during what seemed like the unending years of growing up but also because she was with me in the delivery room when DQ was born, her eyes wet with tears, happy that I was now a mother. I know she cared for me not only because she stayed awake at nights to burp DQ and change her diaper in the early weeks of DQ’s life but because she encouraged me to make my own decision about staying in my unhappy marriage or moving on.
My brothers say that I sometimes sound like mom on the phone and I cook like her. I can’t say I agree with those observations. One thing I know. I learnt how to be a mother from her. I am a mother who cares. And that probably means, I might be nicknamed Hitler. On occasion, my children will storm into their rooms, unwilling to listen when I tell them what needs to be said. I will be called unfair and rigid for setting clear expectations of behavior and household rules. I will impose a curfew and confiscate devices if required. I will make them clean their rooms, apologize when needed and take responsibility for actions. They may even wonder whether I love them.
It may take years before they realize that I will be with them to celebrate their triumphs and also when their tears need to be wiped away. There will always be comfort food and a comfortable bed for them in my home as long as I am around. I will push them to do better and hold their hand while they do so. I will encourage them to soar and help them build their own nests. For their own good, I will tell them what many others may not tell them for fear of losing their love.
Because I am a mother who cares.