Martha Andrea Vasquez Castro. My mother, mi madre. My queen.
My mother would not consider herself a queen, not ever. I’m not so sure my mother considers herself strong, the foundation of her family, our family, the rock, but she is.
Hers is the advice we seek, the ear we bend, the hand we hold, the shoulder we cry, the back we know will carry us, the tongue we know will set us straight.
As a child, I feared my mother, but not because I knew if I messed up she would be the first to inform me and the first to swat my butt; or the tales she told to scare me into good behavior, like “if you stick your tongue out at me, when you die your tongue will stick out of your grave and everyone will know what a bad girl you were, sticking your tongue out at your own mother.”
I feared her because she ruled, in the sense she was the queen of her domain, her family, and how would I ever aspire to that level. Impossible. I was a skinny little girl with glasses and unruly hair who hid behind books bigger than me and felt sick to her stomach when she was the center of attention.
I would never be the woman with the too-red hands who fed everyone who entered her home, even if they weren’t hungry because magically, just stepping into her kitchen set their stomachs to growling. I would never be the woman whose siblings continued to seek for advice or to vent or to gossip or just to be in her presence because she was as familiar to them as their own skin, their own breath, their own beating hearts. I would never be the woman who cared unconditionally for her husband and children, as if her very life depended on it, sacrificing her time, her energy so they could go out into the world and live, and love, and conquer.
As a teenager I fought her strength. I denied the traits I’d inherited, pretended I was not my mother’s daughter, while unknowingly becoming more and more just like her.
As a young woman, I accepted my mother as friend, as mentor, and for the first time noticed she and I have the very same hands. Not one day goes by I don’t look down at my hands poised over a keyboard, grasping a dish towel, reaching out to a friend, folded in prayer and see her.
But I’ve come to understand I’ve inherited the best of both of my parents. I’m proud I am unafraid of voicing my opinion, of caring for my family. I’m not ashamed I put my family first, lose sleep worrying over them, unflinchingly bear their burdens.
I no longer see the skinny little girl with glasses when I look in the mirror. I see my mother’s daughter. And I am thankful. Thankful to the woman who quit school to take care of her father and siblings; who visited her mother in the Wichita Sanitarium/Tuberculosis Hospital, sometimes just through a screened window, clutching the hands of her siblings; who brought into this world a lifeless son, our brother we never knew, and unselfishly asked for him to be donated to science so no other mother would bear such pain; whose dream of a big family settled on the shoulders of just three, whom she said over and over “were enough, more than enough;” who learned how to drive after my father lost his job, even though she was nervous, so she could get a job; who stayed up late waiting for her children to come home, never sleeping until she heard the front door open and shut and continues to do so, even though they are adults and just visiting; who never missed Mass; who cried when I graduated from college; who faltered for the first time when she buried her granddaughter.
She is this and more. My mother is homemade tortillas hot off the placa; the sweetness of Mexican chocolate; the quick pinch on the leg during Mass; the warning smack on the head with a hairbrush ( I said, sit still); light pats on the back after a bad dream; the scent of baby powder, Ivory soap, and Aquanet; the famous frown in all those black and white photos; the firm hand on the top of my head as she blesses me; the best cook, no, the only cook in the world; the one person I have to call every day just to hear her voice.
I tease her that when she dies, which will be never, I’m going to insist her epitaph be “I should’ve order that,” because it never fails, when we go out to dinner she always likes what someone else at the table has ordered. And while this might be true regarding her appetite or ordering skills, I know it isn’t true in life. Not that she didn’t have every right to want another life considering all she’s been through, but that is not the woman I know, I feared, I admire and adore. She lives the life given to her and she lives it with greatness.
My mother, my queen.
Happy Mother’s Day.