I like to imagine that I have a remarkable long-term memory. While I struggle to remember the names of people I’ve just met, or the particular date of a friend’s birthday, I remember many distinct, poignant moments from my childhood. I may just be kidding myself, though, because what is childhood if not a collection of short, vivid memories?
I’m five years old. I’m standing at the edge of a field of wild strawberries. They’re leafy plants that grow close to the ground and for every large handful of leaves you can find 1 or 2 pea-sized red fruit dotted on the outside with yellow seeds. I’m tentatively looking on the outskirts of this field when my mum takes me by the hand and leads me fearlessly into the centre. She shows me how to lift the leaves to find the berries. She says that they like to hide from the sun under their leaves like I hide under my bandana. For the next little while, as my clumsy baby fingers bring one berry at a time to my mouth, my mum, with her experienced, sure fingers picks a heaping handful. She tells me to open my mouth wide and stuffs every last berry into it. When I try to resist the second handful, she tells me that it’s good for me and picks a third. She doesn’t eat a single berry. What a selfless thing it is, to give everything you’ve got to a child.
Flash forward two years. I hated crying when I was a kid, but I did the night my family left our home in Ukraine. I don’t remember many details of this journey, but this specific moment I remember quite poignantly. It started either very late at night, or very early in the morning as all travels to the airport seem to begin. I remember how strange the experience was for me. We all piled in a Scooby Doo-like van with the cheap checkered bags that I saw old ladies with at the market, but that now contained pots, basins, books, cutlery, clothes and toys. As we were getting into the ancient van-taxi, I began to cry. My mother asked me why I was crying and I told her I was crying because I wouldn’t ever see my grandma, her mother, again.
In my short 7 years, I had come to love my mother’s mum in a pure childlike, innocent way. She took care of me and loved me and in return I tenderly called her “babulya.” I was a skinny kid who hated to eat. Every morning my babulya would cut up a piece of chocolate and add a tiny piece of it to every spoonful of oatmeal so that it would taste better. I know where my mama learned to be a mama.
On that night when we were leaving, my mother told me I would see my babulya soon enough. Alas, tickets overseas were expensive, my family was poor and even the best of people couldn’t live forever. And so my mum gave up her family in order to ensure a better future for me.
A collage of fond memories exists in my mind… a push on a swing, a special birthday cake, a handmade doll’s dress, a bandaged up scraped knee. Although these images are typical of childhood, a mother’s love resides at the heart of each one and makes it precious. So on this mother’s day, I thank the wonderful mothers in my life and I’m inspired to someday be as good of a mama as mine.