I'm trying desperately to think of a story about my mother, one that stands out above all the rest. It's surprisingly hard. My mother is a fascinating woman - she's a twin, one of seven children who grew up dirt poor in the Cape Town projects known as the Cape Flats. She never graduated high school, never went to college, got married at 21 and had her first of two kids at 22.
Except that to make that her story is to do her an unbelievable disservice. My mother also managed to become an associate at the architecture firm she worked at in Boston, and is an incredibly successful accounant in Cape Town now. She's turning 60 years old next week, and still looks 40. She's smart, loving... all the things you want in a mom. My mom went through a hell of a lot to get where she is today... hell, she went through a lot to get me here today.
Let's put it this way - after my mom had my sister, she had a miscarriage next. Doctors told her she was risking her life if she go pregnant again. And yet, here I am. My mother is almost overwhelming, she loves me so much.
I'm 33 years old, and she still grabs my hand when we cross the street. I'm completely serious.
Ah. Now I've got the story. It's a short one, but worth telling:
My parents moved back to South Africa in 1996, the summer before my senior year in college. It was probably the hardest time in our lives as a family - my sister moved to New York, I went to Wisconsin, and they were in Africa. It wasn't easy. Needless to say, a couple of years later, I went to visit them with Mrs. TK (who was not yet Mrs. TK). It is a brutal trip, the flight to South Africa. 22 hours from New York to Johannesburg, no stops except for a refuel in the Canaries - where you can't even get off the plane. Coupled with the fact that I am not what you'd call a small person, and the seats are designed for pygmy marmosets, it's not fun.
But one of my favorite things in the whole world is when I visit my family in South Africa, everyone comes to the airport to meet me. EVERYONE. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, you name it. And I've got a big-ass family, so there are, at times, around 40 people literally screaming when they see us come out of the tunnel. I feel like a rock star.
So Not-Yet-Mrs. TK and I get off the plane after this long, grueling, frustrating flight, and we've got to get our luggage first. The baggage claim area is clearly visible from the waiting area, but there is a rope and a gate separating them, and armed guards standing there between the two rooms. I mean, guards with machine guns. For real. We see everyone, and Not-Yet-Mrs. TK gawks at the number of screaming crazies (I think this was her first trip), and my mother... she just can't handle it.
So, with tears streaming down her smiling face, she busts through the gate, shoulders the armed guard aside, and wraps me in perhaps the biggest hug I've ever received. The guard looks absolutely stunned. Another armed guard walks over and firmly puts his hand on my mother's arm, and she shrugs him off without even looking at him. Finally, I look at him over my mother's head and whisper, "just give her a minute, OK?" They back off, and finally, once she's convinced that yes I really am there, she makes her way back through the gate.
My mother. She risks her life just to have me, and then breaks past armed men just to hug me.
She'll be here, for the first time in 10 years, in three days.
Happy Mother's Day.