i’m about four years old riding in the back of my mom’s white datsun station wagon. we were, as usual, stuck in the traditional mexican traffic. i had just opened my mouth to take the first bite of a delicious taco for which i had pleaded for the past hour when out of nowhere my mom reaches back and yanks it out of my hand to give it to the old woman begging at her window. she, the woman, has a tiny child nestled on her back – wrapped tightly in a colorful reboso. the child reaches out and eats, no, devours every bit of my taco. i was stunned. i had been starving for hours and i finally *finally* had something to eat and my mom decides at that precise moment to give my food to some old beggar sticking her filthy hand in our car window. i begin to cry. the dirty child gets my taco and i get nothing. i begin to scream. why would she take it from me? it was mine! why?! my mom looks straight ahead, turns on the radio and drives on through the mess of cars and street people. that is my first memory of my mother. it shook me to core and has changed me forever.

my mother, mami, as i like to call her, is the fourth out of five children. she’s not the oldest favored brother. she’s not the funny, prankster brother. she’s not the responsible, kind older sister. she’s not the playful, brilliant baby sister. she’s the one that sometimes goes unnoticed. she’s the one on her father’s lap flicking bread at her other siblings while everyone else discusses politics. she’s the one you’ll find smiling out the window while everyone else is taking a family picture. she’s the one swimming in the ocean – laughing with glee – while all the others make sure their swimsuits aren’t getting too wet. she’s the one cutting class to have some fun with her bunch of giggling friends. she’s the one who’s homework is being completed by some admiring, younger schoolmate. she’s the one the boys will chase, the boys will flatter, the boys will stand outside her window with ten mariachis roaring out love songs into the clear night air – in hopes that she’ll change her mind, turn on her light and perhaps even become their wife. that is my mother. my mother. no one else’s. i was the lucky one – the chosen one – to be hers – to be the object of her affection. the one to feel her hugs, her kisses, her “munequitas”. i am hers. my chest swells with pride even just to mention it.

my mother is also the one romancing my father – luring him into her dreams of love. she’s the one winning him over with her smile, her alluring eyes, her open heart. she’s the one resting her head on his strong shoulder as they stand on a pebblestone path in the middle of spain. she’s the one choosing him for the place so many covet. she’s the one in whose womb i am cultivated. but, she’s also the one he cheated, the one with which he masqueraded, the one he leaves alone with a child and broken. she’s the one who forgives, moves on and allows her heart to grow and run unhindered.

my mother is the one applying shimmer green shadow over her eyes and deep rouge lipstick over her lips. she’s the one spraying hairspray over her tall tinted hair and applying bright red polish to the tips of her fingers. she’s the one who i watch walking out the door with him – another one – wanting her love, her life forever. i say a soft prayer hoping she will remain mine.

my mother isn’t just that. she’s also the one working as the assistant to the director of the public children’s hospital. she’s the one taking me (begrudgingly) along to go up and down the halls of the hospital where i stare in shock as parents wait, sleep and pray on the cold floor in hopes of seeing a doctor, any doctor to cure their ailing child. their gaze will brighten as my mother reaches down to hug them and ask about their child by name. she’s the one crying with the anxious mother and assuring her everything is going to be fine. she ‘s the one wiping off her tears, turning on her cheerful charm and convincing the nearby nurse to move the child up on the waiting list. she’s the one who’ll later receive many gifts in forms of food or handmade clothing from the parents who walked miles and miles from their small town just to show their gratitude.

my mother is the one watching me swing by myself on the playground of the new school in this new land. my mother is the one working the evening shift at the local mall department store. my mother is the one anxious about my future, my life – hoping i will find God and joy in the same measure. my mother is the one holding me at night when i am scared of the mean girls, of my heart breaking, of my own failure, of my own daughter hurting. she’s the one i lean on when i can’t breathe, when i can’t scream that i am hurting. the one in who’s embrace i find peace, i find compassion. she’s the one who whispers hope into my soul – promises the sun will shine again tomorrow – the one i allow myself to believe. she’s the one i call my truest deepest friend. the one to whom i feel eternally tethered. and the one for which i will never ever be able to sufficiently thank for what she’s taught me, for what she’s sacrificed, for her unconditional promise to stand beside me from day one until forever.

i love you, mami. este dia le doy gracias a Dios por ti – por cada paso de tu vida – por ser la afortunada de ser tu unica hija. te quiero con todo mi ser.

happy birthday mom. 🙂