Friday, May 15, 2015

touch of gold

On Mother's Day, I dug through my boxes of photos to find one of my mom and me. I was looking for one in particular, but I never found it. In it, I am 17 years old, wearing an oversized flannel shirt and a big smile on my face. My arm is wrapped around my mom, whose smile looks happy if a little forced for the photo. My hair is pulled back and gold-ish in color from the home dye kit I asked my mom to apply to my hair, and she which she did, but only after bemoaning my decision to dye my hair. The subtext is her wish that I remain cautious and conservative in my appearance. Don't stand out too much.

I wanted to find this particular photo to post to social media on Mother's Day because my senior year of high school is what I remember as one of my favorite times with my mother. My sisters were out of the house and my best friend was on another continent. Without them, I felt lost and lonely. At the same time, I was applying to colleges and beginning to imagine life on my own - outside of my parents' home, my high school persona, my stale childhood. I felt eager to connect in light of this imminent emancipation (it was finally clear that I wouldn't be stuck here forever). Asking my mother to dye my hair is, perhaps, the perfect expression of what I experienced that year. I was asking my mom to keep loving me as my mother even while asking her to let me go.

A mother fixing her daughter's hair is one of the most intimate acts of love and service between a mother and daughter, I think. I remember so many warm summer nights of having my mom braid my wet hair before I went to bed so that, when I woke, it would wave along the creases of the braid. I sat on the floor in front of where she sat on the couch, and she would untangle the wet knots with a brush or comb. My head jerked back with each tug, and tears stung my eyes. Sometimes I hated the way it hurt, but I always loved her for doing it. It was a way in which I needed my mom, and a way in which I knew she loved me.

Part of me was glad I didn't find the photo to post on Mother's Day. I was thinking how I would caption it and felt conflicted, because while I love my mother, the warmth in that photo doesn't capture our complex relationship. Maybe that's why I love it. It doesn't hint at another time during my senior year when, after a youth leadership meeting for my church, I drove home feeling so overwhelmed and so lonely that I couldn't stop crying. It was everything: my best friend exploring life outside of our friendship on another continent, my trying to act like I didn't care about my GPA and class rank when, in fact, holding onto those two numbers felt like the only way I could be seen by my classmates, my feeling like the whole world was moving on too fast and I was being asked to move faster to keep up, when all I wanted to do was be held. I came home crying and my mom found me sitting on the edge of my bed, sobbing. She sat down next to me. It is rare to feel so broken that the truest thing comes out of your mouth, but that is what happened then. I asked her to hold me, and put my head on her shoulder. Touch was rare and awkward in our family, and so she made only the slightest moves to comfort me. I kept on crying, unable to explain why.

I know now that my mom didn't know what to do, and I think I get it. But I faulted her for a long time for not wrapping her arms around me and smoothing my hair or wiping my tears. I faulted her for not knowing how to hold me when I needed it. I still celebrate her love on Mother's Day, and I still love that picture. I realize that though she didn't always know how to hold me, or how to let me go, she really did the best she could. I will always remember that she dyed my hair, even against her own best judgement.


  1. I wish I had such vivid memories. Love this!

  2. this is fantastic. i can relate to this kind of relationship with my mom....didn't realize you were still blogging, thanks for sharing.