Tag Archives: motherhood

Book Review: Moving Foward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo

 

05.05.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

moving forward sideways like a crab

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Shani Mootoo

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67622-9

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

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Summary from the Publisher:

From the author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Valmiki’s Daughter, both nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, comes a haunting and courageous new novel. Written in vibrant, supple prose that vividly conjures both the tropical landscape of Trinidad and the muted winter cityscape of Toronto, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a passionate eulogy to a beloved parent, and a nuanced, moving tale about the struggle to embrace the complex realities of love and family ties.

Jonathan Lewis-Adey was nine when his parents, who were raising him in a tree-lined Toronto neighbourhood, separated and his mother, Sid, vanished from his life. It was not until he was a grown man, and a promising writer with two books to his name, that Jonathan finally reconnected with his beloved parent-only to find, to his shock and dismay, that the woman he’d known as “Sid” had morphed into an elegant, courtly man named Sydney. In the decade following this discovery, Jonathan made regular pilgrimages from Toronto to visit Sydney, who now lived quietly in a well-appointed retreat in his native Trinidad. And on each visit, Jonathan struggled to overcome his confusion and anger at the choices Sydney had made, trying with increasing desperation to rediscover the parent he’d once adored inside this familiar stranger. As the novel opens, Jonathan has been summoned urgently to Trinidad where Sydney, now aged and dying, seems at last to offer him the gift he longs for: a winding story that moves forward sideways as it slowly peels away the layers of Sydney’s life. But soon it becomes clear that when and where the story will end is up to Jonathan, and it is he who must decide what to do with Sydney’s haunting legacy of love, loss, and acceptance.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo is a quiet and lucid narrative about a woman named Sidhanni Mahale who yearns to elucidate the truth behind the choice she had to make to abandon Jonathan Lewis-Adey, the son she raised and fostered with her former and long-time partner, India, of 10 years in downtown Toronto before their relationship abruptly came to an end.

In Jonathan’s personal search for the mother he lost as a child, he discovers instead that the mother he knew and remembered as “Sid,” has transformed herself physically into a man who now goes by the name, “Sydney,” and lives in his native birthplace, Trinidad.

Over a nine-year period, and then again, Jonathan returns to Sydney’s side in Trinidad as he lay aged and dying, trying to reconcile the truth of his mother’s original disappearance from not only his life, but also from her own gender from birth into a life-altering decision that ultimately changes and rectifies her sexual identity into a male one.

Much of the narrative is written in personal journal entries or letter correspondence between Sydney and his best friend and long time, secret love, Zain. The letters along with the journal entries reflect the longevity of their friendship and Sydney’s deep affection for Zain, as well as her repressed desire.

While the pacing of the novel in itself is rather slow, the narrative is sentimental and somewhat lyrical, returning often to the storytelling of a life-changing walk towards the clinic where “Sid” eventually began to undergo the process of physically changing into a man.

Much of the novel is dedicated to this journey, its struggle, its tension, its anticipation—its necessity for the main character. And in that explanation, though layered behind the backdrop of growing up and living in two very different cultural environments: Trinidad and Toronto; two opposing genders: female and male; the story which urges to tell itself is one of enduring love for a son that was let go too soon.

In this, Jonathan discovers for himself a “re-discovering” of the woman and the memory of the woman he was so attached to as a child, and the man that woman has become. Jonathan, too, discovers his own liminality, a white man who has grown up most of his life in Toronto, Canada, but whose love for his mother and her native country of Trinidad, has also greatly influenced him and has a special place for him culturally. He is of two places as much as “Sid” and/or “Sydney” is of two genders, once a woman who transitions into man.

While the plot is light with exception to the emotional trauma of Zain’s “unsolved” death by home intrusion for Sydney, much of the book is character-driven told primarily through journal reflections.

There is Sid, whose love and desire for Zain and later other women was only exemplified by what she felt was a betrayal of her own body, one that was born as a woman, but undeniably desired to be a man.

There is Zain, whose love and acceptance of Sid surpassed their geographical and cultural differences, while nurturing a lifelong friendship that perplexed, if also frustrated a number of people in their lives even though Zain herself, proclaimed by her relationships and through her marriage that she was a heterosexual.

There were Sid’s parents who were at most, perplexed by their daughter’s ambiguity, but tolerant and understanding of who she was, up until their own deaths.

There is Gita, Sid’s sister whose intolerance was made evident not only by their emotional distance, but by her inability in the end to attend her sister’s/brother’s funeral.

And also India, Jonathan’s birth mother and Sid’s former partner who had become exasperated with Sid’s slow and gradual change into masculinity and eventually decided to become partners with a man later on in life.

And Jonathan, a sensitive man whose attachment to Sid propels him to travel to Trinidad numerous times over nine years, ends up not only reconciling with Sid as a parent, but becomes the primary witness to the story behind her gender transformation, and later the primary person to perform the last rites for Sydney’s funeral.

It is overall, an introspective novel that spends a lot of time reflecting on the past, focusing on Sydney’s love for Zain and his desire to be a man. In listening to Sydney’s stories, Jonathan learns as much as made possible, the truth of Sydney’s complicated feelings as a person and her/his unrelenting love for him as a son.

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Characters: 3 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

Shani Mootoo. (c) Photo by Martin Schwalbe.
Shani Mootoo. (c) Photo by Martin Schwalbe.

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Shani Mootoo is the author of the novels Cereus Blooms at Night, which was a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the B.C. Book Award for Fiction; He Drown She in the Sea, which was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and most recently, Valmiki’s Daughter, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Mootoo was born in Trinidad and grew up there and in Ireland. She immigrated to Vancouver two decades ago, and lives with her partner near Toronto.

– From book jacket

Links:

To learn more about Shani, you may visit her page on Wikipedia.

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Do you know and love someone who is part of the LGBT community?

What do you think it feels like to feel “betrayed by one’s own body?”

If you read the book, “Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab” by Shani Mootoo, do you think Sid’s romantic love was reciprocated on some level by her best friend, Zain? Why or why not?

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zara cat stamp

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

 

04.04.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

light between oceans ***

Category: Fiction

Author: M.L. Stedman

Format: Trade Paperback, 346 pages

Publisher: Scribner

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3808-6

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

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Summary from Publisher:

This exquisitely written debut novel sweeps you into the lives of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne. After WWI, Tom returns to Australia very much alone and deeply marked by what he has seen and done. It comes as a shock when the beautiful Isabel finds him attractive. A proper courtship ensues and before long it is Isabel herself who boldly declares her love for Tom. She willingly leaves her comfortable life to join him on the remote island of Janus Rock in Western Australia where he takes up the post of lighthouse keeper.

Her only wish — and his too — is to have lots of children with whom to share their love. But life does not unfold as it should. Isabel experiences a series of miscarriages and most cruelly — a full-term stillborn. She is devastated and inconsolable.

And then, a small miracle: a half-destroyed boat is washed ashore carrying a dead man and a softly crying infant. Tom, ever the serious and honorable professional, wants to immediately report the shipwreck but Isabel convinces him that this was meant to be — that likely the baby’s mother has drowned and with the father dead, the baby is truly an orphan.

Reluctantly Tom acquiesces and they declare to their friends and family back home that finally they have borne a child. Baby Lucy lights up their world and they shower her with the love they so longed to give.

And then… the lie of Lucy’s birth begins to unravel and Isabel and Tom are forced to deal with moral choices that no parent should ever have to make.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

 

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman is an emotionally rich and fully engaged story about a couple’s post and isolation on the island Janus Rock in keeping and maintaining the much aged and beloved lighthouse of the small town of Partagueuse.

But the idyllic life of lightkeeping and the idealism between Tom Sherbourne, and his new wife, Isabel Graysmark, in their marriage, quickly disintegrates into devastation and madness with the number of consecutive miscarriages that befall them.

With each miscarriage, Isabel Graysmark, now Mrs. Sherbourne, mourns the deaths of her infants, internalizes her incessant biological failure, and becomes absolutely focused and obsessed with the compulsion of motherhood, which has adamantly eluded her.

Then with the unexpected arrival of a boat that washes up on shore with a dead man and a wailing baby, the Sherbournes stretch the line between morality and immorality with a life-altering decision that not only determines the fate of their family, but greatly deceives and disrupts the whole of the Patagueuse community.

Though the setting is in the 1920’s, the writing is not written with a heavy pen as usually expected in stories of that time, but rather an ease that showcases the depth of a character-driven novel and a story, which will not fail to grip its readers to it’s every word, if not every page.

The dialogue brings the book alive with its accurate-sounding accents and idioms especially from the characters, Ralph Addicott and Bluey, the men who steer the store boat, the Windward Spirit, out to the ocean periodically to provide the Sherbourne family with food, supplies, and current news from town.

But, the heart of the novel is not only its characters: Tom Sherbourne, Isabel Graysmark, Bill and Violet Graysmark, Septimus Potts, Hannah and Frank Roennfeldt, and Lucy-Grace, Ralph and Hilda Addicott, and Bluey—it’s the moral injustice in the book that will drive readers to vehemence and outrage.

I was so personally affected by the reading of the book, so greatly disenchanted by Tom Sherbourne’s yielding submission to his wife, and Isabel’s unreasonable demands and delusions that I simply seethed with hatred for her character and had at many times dropped and/or threw the book down in contempt, needing to turn away from its unfair implications.

I was so moved to anger by this novel, I had at times almost decided not to finish it—but, my curiosity, my yearning for justice, truth, and reconciliation was so severe due to the devastation of the novel, that I was, in the end, glad I had decided to change my mind.

I also found the lyrical prose about the interrelationship between the stars, the ocean, the lighthouse, and the biology, and isolation of Janus Rock, sentimental and beautiful.

Though imperfect, the conclusion of the novel moved me to tears. Though the reading of the book was emotionally gruelling while I struggled to reconcile with the maddening choices made by the desperation of a woman obsessed with her own loss, the novel does well in exploring the internalized conscience, the magnitude of the rippling effect of one’s choices, and a re-examining of the definition of true motherhood and family.

Regardless of your response to this novel, a strong one will be required of you. Either from the vehemence towards one character, disappointment in another, or love and compassion towards its victims. The Light Between Oceans will not only signal the danger of poor choices, the desperation that can be associated with loss and even love, it will prove to be a shining light that bridges the gap between right and wrong, and those drowning in its current.

 

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 Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 4 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada on behalf of Scribner for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

ML Stedman

M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia and now lives in London. The Light Between Oceans is her first novel.

– From Goodreads Author Page

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Sometimes desperation can have terrifying consequences. How far should one go in fulfilling one’s own desires before it becomes an unhealthy form of obsession or a question of immorality?

Have you ever felt this kind of desperation before?

If you’ve read the book, who do you think Lucy-Grace should have stayed with? Belonged to?

What do you think is the true definition of motherhood and/or parenting? Is it biological? Relational? One or the other? Both?

The lifestyle of a lightkeeper is a unique one. Could you see yourself as a lightkeeper? Why or why not? What about its lifestyle would you find most interesting/enjoyable? Most difficult?

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zara cat stamp

Making the Headlines in “Mom’s Gazette” – Mother’s Day Series: Part 3

Making the Headlines in

“Mom’s Gazette”

Mother’s Day Series: Part 3

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Ever since I first read the book, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, it compelled me to want to study horticulture to acquire the ability to grow an indoor garden or out. (You can read my review here.)

I have four favourite flowers:

The Butterfly Orchid

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The Calla Lily

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The Sampaguita (The Philippine Jasmine)

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and Sakura (Cherry Blossom)

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I received none of those for Mother’s Day—contrary to what I was expecting, I received no flowers at all!

Or breakfast in bed (my husband isn’t in agreement with the possibility of crumbs on bed sheets, so this isn’t a treat I have ever experienced yet—oh well, maybe next year…)

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I did, however, receive an all-weekend-pass to:

“You can do whatever you want, Mommy, May 2012.”

So, my Mother’s Day tribute began on Friday at 168 Sushi Japan Restaurant, a favourite spot for my husband and myself.

168 Sushi Japan Restaurant

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The restaurant crowd was filled with the social buzz of culturally curious youth, interracial Asian couples, and corporate business men and women, prestigious enough to eat slowly, laugh loudly, and not clock their corporate lunch on corporate time—and us, a small, young family of four, having an impromptu treat to sushi.

The celebration of Mommyhood was in full force as my husband and daughter happily chomped down their beef teriyaki and gin-zake, while my eldest son was slow and cautious, begrudgingly swallowing food as if the raw sushi itself would resurrect right into his throat and nip at his tonsils. My son was always given to drama.

And so, while I multi-tasked between cutting chicken and kalbi pieces for my two-year-old, I also flagged down the waitress for a large order of fries. And that’s when my son sat up straight, perked up his ears at the change in menu, and happily clipped his chopsticks together like an alligator practicing intimidation before his next meal: chomp, chomp!

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Much of my Mother’s Day weekend was like this; my husband and children surrounded me with their daily nuances and needs. But that’s motherhood, its crux and its joy—the necessity of who you are and what you lovingly provide for them.

In return, I received some time to visit a local bookstore and bought myself a paper stand (all the better to see my written reviews or content for posts with) and a new weapon of choice: Maybelline Super Stay 14-Hour Lipstick in Timeless Crimson. Plus, a new pair of Geisha chopsticks for my ever-growing collection of Asian products! BAM!

My lips in Timeless Crimson, Maybelline Super Stay 14-Hour Lipstick. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Maybelline Super Stay 14-Hour Lipstick in Timeless Crimson. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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My new pair of geisha chopsticks—perfect for the renovation of my home office and its Asian theme! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And of course, I was presented with a personalized gift made by my son, which always makes the gift more meaningful. Its medium was also coincidently fitting: a cover page headline in the newspaper, Mom’s Gazette!

M&M presenting me with my Mother’s Day gift: a headline in “Mom’s Gazette.” May 2012. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And though my son broke the rules of his assignment by not drawing only a picture of the two of us, he drew instead, a view of his bedroom from an open door–-because it’s the place he loves spending the most time in and the place that I “clean up the most.”  (Makes sense!)

The room in the picture is clearly recognizable to me: a lamp, his bunk bed, his laundry basket, desk, computer, his toys, and a picture of us together while he “reads a chapter from his book for his school’s RAH Program (Reading at Home).

My copy of “Mom’s Gazette” for Mother’s Day, May 2012. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Close-up of my Mother’s Day Gift, May 2012. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Here’s a translation of the article’s content:

World’s Best Mom!

One mother breaks all records to be named Top Mom.

When asked about this honour, her child had this a response:

My mom rocks! She is funny.

When she hugs me, it makes me so happy.

I love doing things with her, especially dancing.

She is so good at singing.

She really is the best!

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I remember the day when my son  first came into my life and made me a shocked and frightened mother with a child no more than 2 lbs. and 18 oz.— and then when my daughter dispelled this fear by giving me a second chance at empowerment by labouring in preparation and without fear.

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Becoming a mother…again… (c) Photo Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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During my pregnancy with her, I studied the labour-coping and life-saving book, Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills: Proven Pain-Management Techniques for Your Labour and BirthFor those of you who are pregnant for the first time or need more confidence in facing the pain of labour, this book is brilliant! It has real techniques that you can learn and choose from for pain management in better coping and understanding labour and birthing. I highly recommend it for any woman on her way to bringing another baby into the world.

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And years later, here are my two little monkeys posing for the camera in presenting me with my Mother’s Day gift, the Mom’s Gazette:

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No, I didn’t receive breakfast in bed. Nor did I get a bouquet of my favourite flowers. I did, however, receive what is always best on Mother’s Day: unconditional “Mommy” love, a platter of sushi, some laughs, and quality time spent with my kids.

M. at Gage Park in celebration of our Mother’s Day weekend! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
X.M. on swings at Gage Park in celebration of Mother’s Day 2012! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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How did you celebrate Mother’s Day? What was the best part of your celebration?

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Holy Mother! I’M a Mother!: Reflections on Motherhood Part 1 (Mother’s Day Series)

Holy Mother! I’M a Mother!

Reflections of Motherhood Part 1

(Mother’s Day Series)

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

As a young girl, I was fiercely independent. Unlike my younger sister who secretly misinterpreted “apron strings” as “Siamese twins.” She was on my mother’s hip for a large part of her early years. Unlike me, who was content and unafraid to experience the world on my own. It’s not that I didn’t need my mother—I just didn’t need my mother.

Independent little me. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.

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Later, my ambition, which was sparked not only by my very first “academic award” found in my compassion to “share my crayons” with another child sitting at my table in Junior Kindergarten when I was awarded with The Apple of the Day Award from Miss Sherry, my beloved teacher—was further embedded by my parents’ generous praise of my work and my intelligence.

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I was four.

And every picture that I painted or drew was hung up on the walls of our townhome laundry room, which was on the second floor.

Pictures of a crude, shaky hand: the ever-recognizable yellow-circled sun with straight lines for its rays of light; green scribbles of grass, over-exaggerated stems of tulips of varying colours and sizes (since I had no idea how to draw any other kind of flower); blue clouds, tiny m’s for flying birds, an apple tree with far too many apples and obvious stems; a box house with an attempted roof; and anatomically bare stick people who were taller than my boxed house.

Yes, these were the products of great praise. And so, I kept on drawing. I kept on painting. I kept on reading. And I kept on writing—I kept on.

As I grew, I became a scholarly and serious student, often, if not always at the top of my class. I even graduated as Valedictorian, winning a Brampton Rotary Award of Excellence that drove me to believe I could someday conquer the world (okay, not the world, but maybe a good two or three countries).

Needless to say, my drive for success propelled me into an accepted solitude with a focus only on a strong career and vocation, extravagant travel plans, a nomadic lifestyle, a few adventurous lovers, dependable and like-minded friends, along with a house full of cats (I later found out that I’m anaphylactic to cats and put myself at risk of death in ever being near them!)

(c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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Marriage or having children were not part of my long-term plans—or even part of a short-term one.

I had nothing against children. Or even men or marriage. I just had other plans. (And we all know how plans usually go…)

My husband and me on our wedding day. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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I’m not complaining. Some of the best things in life derive from spontaneity and surprise. And poof! I met someone who didn’t make me forget my plans or myself, but helped me acutely remember.

Two years into our marriage, “we made plans” to try for a baby.

The actual stick that changed my life. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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Unlike some women (and my previous academic success), my pregnancy and that surrounding childbearing was not in any way, “textbook.”

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I was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, a terribly insulting term, which alluded to the idea that my cervix was somehow wilful and unwilling to succeed in its primary function, which is to carry a child. And just as insulting to my very nature, which was not used to being called “incompetent” at anything I had set my mind to.

And so, I carried my child for as long as I could until my firstborn was born too early—the mere size of a pop can, born at six months gestation instead of the anticipated nine.

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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That’s how my personal experience of motherhood began. Not the wistful, flowing ebb of sentimentality usually associated with Hallmark cards, perfectly colour-coordinated baby showers, and gushes of congratulatory hugs, handshakes, and bravado cigars. No.

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I had panic and pain when I should have been ethereally glowing. I had Level- Three-priority hospital care with the subjugation of pity, awe, and scientific wonder and study. I had worry, anxiety, and fear—first of labouring, which I had never experienced before, and second, of the potential death of my unborn and then “born-too-early” child.

It was an intensive time of postpartum hormonal change with the heightened stress of death banging on my son’s isolette incubator door. He was 875 grams when he was born. He was fully intubated, depending on the life source of CPAP machines, strong antibiotics, a strict visitation code, a revolving shift of surrogate nurses, and the grace of God.

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I had missed my prenatal classes by two weeks! My son was born before I could attend my first session and so when the accompanying nurse told me to breathe, I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, nor did I know what it was to enjoy a baby shower.

I had one—an impromptu gathering of my mother, a few of my aunts who had thrown a few gifts into some gift bags, and a buffet of food I didn’t feel like eating because all I could do was worry about whether or not my baby would live or die.

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Dramatic? Yes. True? Absolutely.

And rather than tell you in detail of the four years of frequent hospital visitations, medical appointments, tests, studies, and other forms of my son’s near-death experiences and medical scrutiny—I will say, that we had by no means, any plans to have another child due to the extensive care our son required and the fear of surrendering a second child to a similar fate.

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But, you know how plans go.

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And so, five years later, we put our faith into the possibility of having another baby…

Now, I have a seven-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter!

M & M, my two “kidsters!” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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What’s the moral of the story?

There isn’t one—but, it is my story. And that of my children. And in reflecting back, Mother’s Day isn’t a day to merely celebrate what it is to be a mother—but also to celebrate the children themselves who have made us so.

I know I will most likely be receiving a similar drawing to the one I drew as a child, on Sunday from my kids. The crude and shaky lines will most likely inscribe,

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mama! I love you!”

And yes, I will most likely post it our fridge door.

The yellow-circled sun will most likely be replaced with the steel mask of Iron Man and the straight lines will become its rays of light-beam weaponry. The green scribbles of grass will most likely be the bludgeoning green of Hulk, while the over-exaggerated stems of tulips will become the varying colours and sizes of enemy ships. The blue clouds will stand as Captain America’s shield and the tiny m’s of flying birds will most likely become boomerang discs.  The apple tree will stand firm as the tree from Black Panther’s forest. And the boxed house with an attempted roof will most likely become a testament to the Superhero Squad’s secret headquarters!

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And of course, the anatomically bare stick people—will now include two more!

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How do you celebrate your children as a mother?

If you’re not a mother, how do you celebrate the children who are in your life?

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