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Wednesday
Nov052008

Great Expectations

Years ago, I would look at myself in the mirror and feel completely... exhausted.

Because when I looked at myself, I saw my mother's eyes staring back at me telling me that I would never, ever be good enough.

Since becoming a mother, I've realized we all have hopes for our children.  Some of us simply hope that our children will become good people that make this world a littler nicer, maybe a bit more tolerable.

Others hope for much more.  They hope for fancy careers, big salaries, great achievements and valor beyond compare.  Somewhere along the way, I think some parents' hopes evolve into expectations.  And those expectations, to quote my least favorite author of all time, can be "great."

So for many painful years, I saw myself as an unmet expectation, as the embodiment of false hopes. In my heart, I believed that my mother wished that I would have been more like her.

Like her, the woman who was a neurosurgeon before 30.

Like her, the woman who moved to a brand new country with a husband she barely knew and managed to create a life.

Like her, the woman who became a successful businesswoman in a field that, in her time, was largely dominated by good ol' boys.

Like her, the woman who raised two children in a culture with which she was completely unfamiliar.

Like her, who is tough and smart and hardly ever cries.

I was not, am not, and never will be... like her.

As children, we absorb expectations and we translate them into a perimeter which represents our parents' approval.  Some people dash by that perimeter without a single regret.  I, on the other hand, have spent the majority of my existence trying to stand squarely in the middle of that space.

Just before I was blessed with a daughter of my own, I stopped and really listened to my mother's voice echoing inside my head.  I realized that what she was saying was not exactly what I was hearing.

When I thought I heard, "You aren't good enough."

She was actually saying, "You can be better."

Yes, there is a difference. And I know, now, that she was right.

I realized that she loves me.  She loves me and she's not wrong in her hopes for me, just as I'm not wrong in the hopes I have for myself.  Hope is not a condition to be set upon love.  It is just... hope.  I also realized, that more than often, I overemphasized the times when she told me to do better, and I swept all the times she told me was proud of me under the rug of convenient dismissals.

Much of my problems with my mother resided in the fact that I didn't view her as a real person.  She was Ammi (mom), all powerful, superhuman, above everything.  When I saw the human being, the woman with all the flaws, the guilt, the regrets, the loneliness, the sadness...

I stopped worshiping her and started loving her.

Despite those revelations, every now and then, I'll revert.  I question myself and I wonder if, maybe, I didn't just cop out of achieving anything of meaningful significance.  Of course, I don't think I'm insignificant.  But, I do wonder if I'm significant enough.

Everyone has their struggles, and that has been my greatest.

A few weeks ago, I was helping her clean out her garage and she put her hand on my shoulder.  She looked into my eyes and said, "You are the reason I asked God for a daughter.  I could not have been blessed more by you in my life.  You know this, don't you?"

"Shhhyeah, mom, I know.  But, thanks." I said that as casually as is humanly possible.  I think I may have even rolled my eyes.  Funny, no matter how much of an adult I become, she can magically transform me into a fourteen year old.

We grow up, we tell ourselves that it doesn't matter.  Our parents will not define our motives as adults.  They will not dictate who we are as adults.  We'll live our lives and be happy with our choices.  We think that their approval, although nice, is unnecessary.

But, that day, I went home and cried quiet tears of relief when I replayed her words in my head.  I was, after all, what she had expected.

It mattered, and I'm not ashamed to admit that.  I may not care much for what other people think of me, but, for better or worse, I will always care about what she thinks of me.

Now, I think of my daughter and I promise myself that I'll always hope the best for her.  As I see it, that's an important part of my job as her mom.  Hoping for my child, seeing her potential, and helping her realize it.  I will not underestimate her, nor let her underestimate herself.

This has been my mother's gift to me.

That doesn't mean I won't do things differently, though.  I'll try to be a little more human, a little messier, and a little less "perfect" than my mom tried to be when I was growing up.  I'll make sure I wear my imperfections proudly when I see even the faintest hint of worship in my child's eyes.

I will also be absolutely certain not to wait too long to tell my daughter that she's already better than anything I could have expected.

Reader Comments (25)

You are already so awesomely perfect - I don't see how you can improve.
But I get what you mean completely. This was beautiful.

November 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

I've felt like this growing up (oh heck I still do). Being an only child growing up in a household where both parents didn't go to college I had it drilled into myself that I had had had to go and become something. I felt that if I didn't become something great I'd let them down.

I know it's not true...but sometimes it's hard to see it.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Great post!

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterB.E. Earl

I'm glad you're the Faiqa that you are and not a carbon copy of your mom. My jokes notwithstanding, you're pretty damn awesome.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

I love this post.

And I think that all of this is natural. I think we can't really see our parents as people until we grow up. I think that's something our children are bound to learn on their own as well - no matter what we do differently.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I was just having this discussion with Pete yeaterday. I did something that I was pretty sure would go no where. I called my dad, and told him the reasons I was voting for whom I was voting for. I sent him links to important (to me) news articles to back up my decision. I don't know who he voted for. I don't think I changed his mind. But I could hear in his voice that he was proud of me, and that meant everything. I have grown up kind of the black shhep of the family, but I think my father is starting to see me as an adult who has her own mind, and uses it.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson

Beautiful. But I am still waiting for you to write a book that will make us MILLIONS!!! :)

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTariq

@Sybil: Awww. Thanks. You, too. Now, will you please update your blog. Hee hee.

@Sarah: Exactly. Logic and emotion...seldom the two shall meet.

@B.E. Earl: Thanks. I know it's not Heidi Klum dancing in her underwear or discovering the most sexist pizza joint in NYC, so I appreciate that.

@Avitable: And this is why I like you so much. Not because you think I'm damn awesome, but because you seem to know exactly when to tell me that I am. And when to tell me I'm not.

@Miss Britt: Right, it is unavoidable. But, I'm not try to do it differently to keep her from going through that, I'm going to try to be different because I feel like it's the more compassionate choice... for myself and for her.

@Allyson: Good for you and I'm glad that you got that feeling of validation. But... who *did* your dad vote for? No, I'm kidding. ;)

@Tariq: I need a ticket to Tahiti and three months off. Can you swing it? You'll have your million within three months of that. And...thank you. If only I could look at myself the way you look at me, I'd never have to worry about anything.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Faiqa, 3 months in Tahiti is a little difficult...will longwood do?

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertariq

No. It will not do. At all. Unless... do I still get the 3 months?

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Greta post, growing up I always remember my Dad telling me to be better than he was, not to follow in the trade he works in and go onto better things.

Luckily they never told their kids "You'll never be good enough."

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMik

@Mik I'm sure that creates another sort of pressure to some extent? I suppose the temperament of a child factors into it, as well. But my parent's never said that I'd never be good enough, that's what I *heard*... just wanted to clarify, you know, in case they're reading this. Which they aren't. Because I'm sure it's not good enough. ;)

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

dearest faiqa, this was a tremendous post. i have no doubt that your mother is incredibly proud of the wonderful woman that you are. i am thankful that i had the opportunity to spend time with you and tariq.

i have to tell you, this brought huge and happy crocodile tears to my eyes:

She looked into my eyes and said, “You are the reason I asked God for a daughter. I could not have been blessed more by you in my life. You know this, don’t you?”

please hug your momma extra tight next time you see her. extra, extra long.

xoxo,

becky

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhello haha narf

@Becky You know, I think I will hug her extra tight and extra long. She's been a good momma.

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Faiqa - this post made me cry.

We come from similar backgrounds (i.e. parents immigrating here from other parts of the world) so your mother's words to you particularly struck a cord with me. I always felt (and still do feel) that I will never be good enough for my mother. It hurts like crazy. And I am not at the place where I have reconciled what I was hearing from what my mother was saying....but your post helped a little bit.

Hopefully I will get to that space someday....but thanks for the push. :)

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

::hug:: @ Bella... I'm not always in that place, either, we just have to remind ourselves that they do love us, you know?

November 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I never knew about that kind of parental pressure at all until I married an Indian woman. My parents had no expectations of me and my younger brother; I think that is because there had been 4 siblings before us and we were both "accidents" who just happened to come along when they were both already tired out from the whole parenting thing. I drifted through school. I was naturally good at some things and got better at those but did not put any effort into the things I was poor at. I did not go to university which I will always regret.
But when I met Laundry Fairy I soon found out that parents of Asian kids do pile on the pressure. That is just the way it is. Some rise to that pressure and others are left feeling like failures. We have been together almost 20 years yet I still do not totally understand her relationship with her parents and siblings. It is complex. Scars run deep.
She pushes our kids very hard and upsets herself and them. Our first born did very well and is now at a good university. But as the others were born we had less time to spend with each and she feels they have slipped through her net. Sometimes Laundry Fairy even cries when they do not get the grades she expects. She gets angry with them and also me as if the white blood is letting the side down.
It as if some strange process is making her more Indian the older she gets. I made the mistake once of telling her she was becoming her mother.

November 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjames

@james what an insightful comment. My brother is married to a wonderful and amazing white American woman, and I can see the same emotions you've expressed coming from her when my brother and I discuss our parents, or even when my husband (Indian) discuss our daughter's future. My SIL has been a great influence on me in terms of just helping me calm down when I get "bent out of shape" over my own daughter. The fact that I already feel expectations rising within me with respect to a three year old just scares the hell out of me, though. It's a fine balance, I suppose... and I'm beginning to understand that the best we can do is simply to do our best. IOW, I'm going to mess up, it's just a matter of minimizing *how much* I'm going to mess up.

November 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I don't think that's something that's only common with your ethnicity, though. My mother is the same way. The expectations I faced were (and are) extremely high, and it's not a matter of making my mother proud but just avoiding disappointing her. Shit, I'm happily married, own a nice house, own my own business which is doing very well, and make more money than both of my parents, but she still manages to work in the fact that I decided not to practice law into any real conversation.

November 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

Avi, that's a very good point. High expectations and pressure to perform are certainly not limited to a particular ethnicity.

November 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Nice internet fasting!

November 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

Why do we only remember the times when we let our mothers down? The story that I remember my mom telling me the most was "After my first day alone with her, Mike [my dad] came home and as he came in the door, I handed her, screaming, to him. I cried, 'Take her back to the hospital. I don't like her and she doesn't like me.'" I just heard the part where she didn't like me. But it must have been agonizing for her that she couldn't comfort me. She must have felt like a failure.

I remember when I was about 13, it was summer and I had cleaned the house all day. She walked in the door and said, "You didn't take the garbage out." I thought, "she still doesn't like me."

I know now that she loves me dearly. Sometimes, though, I still feel like I'm not quite enough.

Anyway, I loved your post and sorry I left a novel as my first comment. I just could relate so much.

(Followed you over from Dawg's.)

November 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShelli

@Shelli I remember a couple of incidents that mirror your examples almost exactly. I think when we're children we process everything in terms of our own perspective, but, part of becoming an adult is understanding the perspective of other people, too. Which explains how we can both look back and realize that they do love us... but, yeah, it's hard to fully reconcile not feeling good enough. No need to apologize for the novel...as you can see, I'm not exactly spare with *my* words... Thanks for coming by!

November 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

This post was breathtaking...that's all I can say.

November 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGinger

Well, this post certainly got the tear well flowing, Faiqa! What a beautifully written post. I feel (and know) exactly where you are coming from... all I can say is, as children, we oftentimes get messages from family, friends, and others, what I term LIT (lost in translation). If there is one thing I do know, is that your mother is extremely proud of you, in every aspect. She praises you constantly, holds you closest to her heart and, loves you with all that she has.

I never knew you were a writer. I have enjoyed my time visiting and reading your blog.

Tariq, please give her those 3 months. I am certain she will make y'all a mill or two!

Peace.

February 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJust Me

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