Growing up is hard, thatâ€™s for sure. Iâ€™m not talking about those magical years when you get to skip out on college and bum around Europe or work some crummy dead-end job. No, I mean the day when you realize that you are irrevocably on your own for better or worse.
When I was 29, my mom died suddenly, from complications of an arthritis drug. She wasnâ€™t exactly healthy beforehand but her death came as a shock. I got the call at five in the morning and we piled in the car and drove east for 12 hours with the radio off. I remember grasping for thoughts, for anything to make sense of what had happened. I tried to imagine a world without my mom in it, and I couldnâ€™t do it. I was 29, about to turn 30, and I knew without a doubt that I was an adult.
I remember walking into a rest stop, and out of nowhere I heard a voice. â€œI love you,â€ the big warm voice said. â€œItâ€™s going to be okay.â€ I looked around. No one was talking to me, but I wasnâ€™t scared. I just imagined this voice belonged to my new â€“ Hispanic, I imagined â€“ mom. My new Hispanic mamÃ¡ didnâ€™t have to talk much to let me know she was there. She could just give me a word or two here, a hum or two there to let me know that things were all right. She calmed me down and showed me how to trust myself.
I know itâ€™s silly and more than a little crazy, but I still think of my Hispanic mamÃ¡ pretty often. She always knows just the right thing to say when Iâ€™m feeling bad, and she is always there with a smile when things are going right.
Today is my favorite nieceâ€™s birthday. Sheâ€™s turning 29. She isnâ€™t looking forward to her birthday or to the year ahead. She actually said that she canâ€™t remember the last birthday that turned out how she wanted it to. She canâ€™t remember the last birthday that was fun.
I love my niece, and Iâ€™m worried about her. She is a truly beautiful person who canâ€™t seem to see that. Sheâ€™s dealing with the fallout of having a mom who never knew how to love her. Sheâ€™s struggling with health problems, with anxiety, with a comically bad living situation. I wish that I could do more for her than I can. Iâ€™m far away and ill-equipped. But I do love her very much.
Iâ€™ve been thinking of what to send my niece for her birthday. Cash is on the list, and music. But that doesnâ€™t seem like nearly enough for a girl who is on the brink of adulthood and needs a lifesaving infusion of love. How do you love a girl from afar enough to make a difference?
Iâ€™m packing up a box to send to my favorite niece. Iâ€™m putting lots of little things in it that I hope will make her laugh, but I have one more gift for her and it wonâ€™t fit inside the box. Sarah, Iâ€™m giving you my Hispanic mamÃ¡. Sheâ€™s yours now. Do you feel her inside of you? Sheâ€™s sweet and kind and a little tough.
â€œTe amo, chica.â€ Can you hear her? â€œTu eres hermosa.â€ Listen to her, itâ€™s true. One more thing: She gives the best hugs.