*In honor of Mother’s Day, Parentology is sharing stories from people who have women that hold a special place in their lives. Someone other than their mother. Someone they cherish and hold dear. Other Mothers.
I know her as my khala. That’s the word for maternal aunt in my native tongue. But every so often I refer to her as my ma-si, which means “like mother.” It’s a term reserved for only the closest mother figures in one’s life and has always been an apt one for my khala.
My mom is one of five siblings. She and her sister are the only girls and the eldest two of the group. So they naturally had a very close relationship as children. When they grew up, got married and had kids of their own, they moved apart in distance, but not in bond.
My earliest memories of my khala are from our visits to her home when I was a little girl. In the evenings, after dinner, but before everyone went to sleep, the two sisters would spend time catching up in the guest room. They would plop down on the bed, facing each other, propped up on one arm each – the way I imagine they did as little girls.
I would always find my way in between the two and doze off to their voices. I do not remember what they would talk about, but I vividly remember feeling safe and cozy sandwiched in between them. Every few minutes one of them would pet my hair or rhythmically pat my back. And I would take turns nuzzling into one or cuddling up to the other.
When I call her my ma-si, it’s not entirely because of how similar she is to my mom. While there are values they agreed on, ones my mom imparted and my ma-si reinforced — a fierce love for family, and finding strength and faith during life’s hurdles — it’s the things that make her different that have impacted me the most.
While my mom is the reserved, genteel one who taught me to mind my manners and be polite, my khala, with her quick wit, colorful language, and infectious laughter, is the firecracker who modeled an entirely different personality.
My mom insisted that I speak softly, while my khala showed me, by example, the importance of making my voice heard. My mom emphasized the rules of religion and culture, while my khala told me it’s sometimes okay to push the boundaries a little — or a lot.
My mom instructed me to take my time and think things through before acting, and my khala encouraged me to jump in headfirst. They were the yin and yang of my childhood, each imbuing me with a different aspect of who they were as girls, women, and as individuals in this world.
At a place and time when I’d only observed a few facets of womanhood, my ma-si made me realize there were so many more. She had all the warmth and affection of a loving aunt, mom, sister, and wife, but she also had a spunk that was all her own and the confidence to fully live it.
I recently became a mother myself and my ma-si called to congratulate me. One of the last things she said that day was, “Raise your girl the way your mom raised you.” While I’ll undoubtedly draw from my mom’s teachings and example, I’ll also pass on to my daughter many of the things I learned from my other mother, my khala, my ma-si.