t’s summer. I’m probably thirteen, maybe a bit older. It’s hot, and I can’t sleep. I toss and turn in my bed for hours, trying and failing to embrace the peaceful silence of nighttime, desperate for any breeze that might come in through the window. Eventually, I get up and make my way to the living room, my steps tiny, soft, impossible to hear.
But you hear them. Or perhaps you sense them, rather, the way a mother always knows when her child is struggling. Because when I can’t sleep, you can’t sleep either.
You come into the living room shortly after I do. You ask me what’s wrong and I say nothing. I just can’t sleep.
It’s past midnight, maybe even close to sunrise. You nod, thoughtful. You don’t tell me to go back to bed or get upset that I am wandering around, because you are not that kind of parent. You tell me, instead, that you know exactly the right thing to do. You pull up an old DVD set from behind the TV and tell me to get some snacks from the kitchen. String cheese and crackers, you suggest.
You tell me, instead, that you know exactly the right thing to do.
String cheese and crackers it is.
The sun is slowly rising, and we sit on the couch for hours, watching what would forever become our mother-daughter show, the ultimate mother-daughter show: Gilmore Girls. This is the first of many sleepless nights to come. This is the beginning of a tradition.
I’m eighteen. I’ve just had my first big heartbreak. I call you crying from the airport on my way home. You tell me you’re waiting for me, that it will all be fine. When I get home, you’ve gathered all my friends, got all my favorite pastries and even a cake that says “Happy First Heartbreak” on it. We celebrate, and as the hours go by I notice my tears have dried.
You are the only person I know with the capacity to transform pain into joy.
It’s a stressful time. I’m about to make a big decision about my life. Everyone is telling me what to do – everyone except you.
“I will only tell you what I think is right,” you say. “If you agree, you do it. If you don’t, you don’t. All decisions are yours. This is your life.”
All my life you have repeated the same. Even though you are my mother, you were the only person who never treated me as a child, even when I was one. You gave me the space to make mistakes, the freedom to make decisions on my own. You taught me to take responsibility and to trust myself.
Though you never imposed your opinion on me, your opinion remained the most valuable thing I could ever ask for.
I’m about 4 years old. I keep getting these attacks where my world starts spinning and I feel faint. I run to you as soon as the dizziness begins, and you hold me in your arms. Everyone is worried. The doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong. They need an MRI test and they suggest anesthetizing me because I am too young to stay still.
But you tell them no. You trust me. You and dad both.
For weeks, we practice. You build fake-MRI machines from pillows in the living room, and make me lay under them as we joke around and have fun. You make the loud noise the machine makes with your mouth, so that I won’t get scared of it when I’m in the actual thing.
When we finally do get the actual test it goes without problems. I barely move, or cry or throw a tantrum as expected. The doctors are all surprised – kids my age aren’t usually this well-behaved. They tell you about how good I was.
Little do they know that it’s not me who is good. It was all you.
I’m older now. And as my age gets bigger, so do my problems. I find myself in a stressful situation. I’m walking in circles in my college studio, talking to friends, all of us stressed, clueless about what I should do.
“Should I call and ask my mom?” I ask. They look at me with eyes wide open, disapproving glances all around. This is not the sort of thing you ask your mom, they all imply.
But they don’t know you.
I call and ask for your advice. You give it to me – calmly, without judgment, affectionately. And suddenly I wonder why we all got so stressed in the first place.
My friends, shocked, ask me how we manage to be so close, how come there are no secrets between us. They don’t understand.
Because, again, they don’t know you.
I’m learning to read for the very first time. Up until that point it was always you who read to me, usually right before bedtime. Choosing what book to have you read next was always one of the biggest pleasures, but now it is time for me to learn, so I am reading to you.
I’m holding the large Winnie the Pooh book in my hands, concentrating hard on the large print surrounded by colorful images of Winnie and his friends. Letter by letter, I pronounce each word. I make my way through one sentence in no less than five minutes. My slow reading is unbearable, and at times I feel you getting frustrated from sitting with me for hours as I try to read a single word over and over again. But you never leave my side, never tell me to do a better job or discourage me. You just listen.
When I get better at reading on my own we start to read our own books side by side. I see how excited you get whenever you start a new book – how you do research about it, devour it in one sitting, tell all your loved ones about the new things you learned or thought or felt.
You read books like you’re tasting fine wine. You find pleasure in the pages, and you teach me to do the same. You show me how beautiful literature can be, and you make me the reader I am.
You find pleasure in the pages, and you teach me to do the same.
Today, you get a year older. And you getting older means I, too, am getting older. All my life, all I ever wanted to do was to grow up, to become the adult you always treated me like. But now, growing up scares me because the more I get into adulthood, the more independent I am expected to be – the less I am expected to need you.
What if I always need you? You are everything to me.
But you raised me to stand up on my own two feet, so I do.
The more I grow up, the closer I feel to you. All the memories we share, all the things you taught me, all those sleepless nights, they are an enormous part of who I am today.
Mother, thank you for being you. Thank you for raising me this way.
You are sleeping in your bed as the sun rises over the city – uncomfortable, perhaps, because the heat kept you up last night. Your eyebrows are stiff in your sleep; maybe you are dreaming.
The sun continues to rise. That’s what you always tell me when I’m feeling sad: “The sun will rise the next morning. Life goes on.” It always does.
Istanbul is waking up. So are you.
Right at this moment, as you open your eyes and sleepily welcome the new day, I am sitting on my wooden desk in my Berkeley apartment, sipping coffee from a new mug that I got. It’s late, almost midnight.
As the sun rises for you, it is far gone for me. We are too far from each other, separated once again.
I miss you. And as I type these lines, I desperately long for the day I will see you again.
You are an incredible woman, a wonderful mother. You deserve the world, and I hope I can give it to you one day.
Happy birthday Mommy. I love you so much.