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Warrior Mothers

August 25, 2021

We did a family camping trip last weekend, and I felt like a warrior mother, sharing my tiny borrowed tent with my two children, weathering a thunderstorm one night, loosening up routines that ordinarily bind our hectic life together…and letting go to discover, find joy in simple pleasures and to celebrate being together with the minimal every day comforts (often invisible, taken for granted). The fun my children had, at this mini break, was familiar to me from my own childhood, as I watched them exploring the surrounding nature, make new friends and even make do without their toys and routines. 

This familiarity stems from my own mother taking my brother and me out to a water reservoir in the desert, when we were children in Iraq (ثرثار), where with several other families, we spent days swimming, cooking and eating together, playing with friends, making new ones, almost always falling asleep outside, only to wake in the car the next morning. The discomfort of that sleep was counterbalanced by the excitement the next day offered. 

The challenges were different -swap thunderstorm, mud and damp clothes for scorching heat, lack of natural shelter and sun burn- but the spirit of adventure, of a mother not playing it safe as a single parent, modelling strength alongside vulnerability (she was always discovering alongside us, avoiding the Super Hero role some parents cling to). To this, I am grateful to my mother. 

One week ago today, my mother won the highest award her profession has to offer. Whilst this was an honour, what has taken us all by surprise, is the public response she has had. People she knows well, old school friends she hasn’t spoken to for decades, former students, to complete strangers, poets and artists, eager to share their joy, the pride they feel as fellow Iraqis that one of theirs has shone on a global level. I believe this has touched my mother’s heart more than the award itself. 

What this award fails to acknowledge is how this woman built and rebuilt her life as war, sanctions and political unrest dictated much of her life’s trajectory. Her career has been the one constant, perhaps a refuge, from all the unknowns, anxieties, fear and anger. Whilst some turn their anger and sadness inward to starve themselves, smoke or exercise to vent, others transform these powerful emotions into ambitious drive, a determination of the same intensity as someone escaping a frightening predator. This is my mother. 

To take pleasure, to lose herself, to escape, she reads, she writes, to connect and feel, she teaches, to energise and create, she designs. The line between personal and professional, pleasure and work, friends and colleagues, is thin, if invisible. My mother’s career became her backbone, what kept her up and alive, to strive and keep a sense of normality amidst the unpredictability that infected her life, our life, as this continues in our MENA region and globally. Those inspired by her, project onto her their own successful future, a determined optimism, an escape from yesterday’s pains and today’s unknowns. 

I want to acknowledge my mother’s other role, which is rarely deemed worthy of an award; that of being a mum. I was aware from a young age that my mother has a life beyond me, my brother and our home. She has students, colleagues, an office, conferences and late nights facing a drawing board. Bedtimes were at 6pm, which I bitterly resented as a child, to make space to continue working into the night. I knew this work was important, and as a child, felt equal measures of frustration and pride. 

Back to my own family camping trip, this was exclusively with a group of single mothers- some separated from life partners, others bereavement and some by choice- as I watched these woman, all smiling, supportive, playing, cooking, telling off, I wondered at the invisible pain and sadness that intruded on their lives and the coping strategies that have been put in place. I know from my mother, her hard work and determination sit alongside the pain, loss and fear she has experienced in her life.

Did I ever wish I had the Middle Eastern mum who greeted me home after school with freshly baked treats and cuddles? Or the mama who visits me in London, as a young adult, to cook, stuff my freezer full of food and clean my flat before returning home? Did I envy those with mothers busying themselves with matchmaking, closely followed by pressure to produce grandchildren? Sometimes, yes. And today, as a mother myself, I take comfort in the belief that if I was to go full force ahead to pursue my passions, realise my talents and adventure alongside my children, I know that they will grow with a sense of their own power, dreams and strength to find what sustains and revitalises them. And, if like me, they don’t settle on one profession, choose to wander and discover, then to know their mother would love them unconditionally, and besides, she has her own life to pursue without the need to live theirs. 

  1. syndish permalink

    Your mother is one of the most amazing women I have met. You carry her spark.

  2. Jaya permalink

    What a beautiful way to honour and acknowledge your mum! I’m sure she will treasure this as much as her much deserved award 🙂

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