How Heavy Is the Burden You Carried Mother?
What my mother taught me
If you meet my mother today, she is a little old lady. At first glance, she looks very much like the other little ladies in her senior residency.
Looking closer, you might notice that she keeps to herself. That she tries to avoid conversations with the other residents in the common areas. She doesn't like them, you see. My mother has little patience for most people. She finds them boring. Their horizons are limited, and they have nothing in common with her.
Because what you can't see is that this little old lady was a rebel in her time.
She's the woman that ran away from her abusive home when she was 16. She took off in the middle of the night. She, a friend and a suitcase went to the big city. Not sure if Vienna in the 50s was a cosmopolitan, but it beat the small town in Lower Austria where she grew up with her mother, brother, and violent father.
She fled to the big city and shared a bed in a one-room apartment with an older woman while she did an apprenticeship at a deli. I remember that my mother's sandwiches always looked like works of art.
Not that she wanted to work at a deli, she wanted to be a nurse. Had she been born today, she would have been a doctor. But in her time, a woman aspired to be a nurse, no more. I know how intelligent my mother is, and my heart bleeds when I think about how she missed out.
But at 16, she was too young to train as a nurse - 18 was the minimum age - she had to earn money until she was old enough. She wasn't going back home. She bridged the time until she could fulfill her dream by learning how to make beautiful sandwiches and slice ham very thinly.
She taught me to work hard and do what is necessary to progress in life.
She's the woman who went to the African parties with her nurse friends at a time when hardly anyone in Austria had seen an African in person.
Here is where she met my father. He was one of the African students sent abroad to get an education at a foreign university. He and his friends were idealists. They came to learn what they needed to go back and build the new, budding African nations.
She taught me that everyone is equal.
She's the woman who got pregnant at 20 by an African in the 60s of the last century in a completely white, conservative society. She had a little brown boy in 1965, and she didn't stop there.
She had 4 of us, two boys and two girls, And proudly paraded us through the streets of Vienna - not literally, but four kids are sort of a parade. People would stop and stare, and people would try to touch our hair. I imagine it must have been not easy though she never said it was.
She taught me it doesn't matter what other people think.
She's the woman who packed up her four small kids and went to Africa in the 70s. She had never been to Nigeria; There was no money to visit and test the water. There was no internet, no way to access any information about that strange place she was moving to.
She didn't speak the language either. I still have the memory of the little notebook where she conjugated English verbs in preparation.
She had no idea what was going to happen. She took her children, trusted that my father's stories were solid, and went on an adventure. I'm awed by the spirit of adventure that young woman must have had.
She taught me that taking risks makes life more interesting,
She's the woman who built a life in Africa with her kids and a husband who fancied himself an entrepreneur and chased one business opportunity after the other. Some more, some less successful. She is the one who made us feel safe even if it got complicated because there was no money.
She never let us know there were issues. She never discussed problems in front of us. I learned much later that my charismatic dad was not good with money and chased other women.
She taught me that a child's emotional safety is important.
She's the woman who had to watch her two younger children become ill, their minds tormented, dependent on her forever. She knows she will remain their main point of focus. They are unable to disconnect from her and build their own lives.
She struggles with this pain and this burden. Torn between the need for some peace and guilt, she needs more space from them, her children.
She taught me that we must care for those weaker than us.
She is the woman who has read thousands of books and sparked my love for reading and thirst for knowledge.
She is the woman who has lost most of her eyesight and has to watch blurry silhouettes on a TV screen instead of reading her beloved books.
She is the woman who has traveled the world but can no longer go anywhere because she can't see where she is going.
She is the woman who spends these last years of her life in a senior residence full of people whose lives have nothing in common with hers and whose petty grievances and limited horizon hold no interest for her. They have no idea who she is.
She is my mother. She taught me to be a strong woman.