Before the mind and body-wracking trip of 24 continuous hours of flying with five children (including a two-month old), I spent months accumulating passports and various needed official documents for seven people; researching vaccinations and how to combat traveler’s tummy; browsing rental apartments online with the aid and frustration of using Google translate; trying to figure out what to do with my mail and how I would get a new driver’s license without a physical address in the US; sorting, packing and weighing clothes and other essential items aiming for exactly 840 pounds total; and even writing a 10,000 word feasibility report for university credits on moving my family of seven to Morocco.
While tending to this endless to-do list, I decided not to tell my mom that I, her only child, and her five grandchildren were splitting town and moving overseas, for good.
It’s not like she didn’t know that I would ex-pat at some point. Before marrying my Moroccan husband, I had agreed that it would be “cool” for my someday kids to be “exposed first hand” to half their heritage and “live for a while in Morocco,” which I had only recently looked up on a map. With two kids in tow, the husband and I finally visited his birth country and I realized that I would love to live there long term and returned home to prepare to do so.
I finished my degree, had three more kids and somehow became estranged from my mother, my only parent; during the few years it took me to get ready for my big move. We were living in the same town for the first time in a decade and what could be characterized as a major misunderstanding, a problem of culture differences really, as this was the first time my mom and I had been around each other much since I began practicing Islam.
I didn’t want my kids to decorate her Christmas trees (yes trees, one is never enough), which she had been giddily looking forward to doing with her grandkids. We argued, it was ugly, we stopped talking.
This was not typical stuffs for me, the only child of a single parent. I talked to my mom on the phone daily (maybe twice or thrice daily) for most of my latch-key to adult life. But it was too much for me to grit through our passive aggressive and even hostile phone conversations, hang up and then literally return to my full-time mothering duties without traces of lingering hurt and anger. I wanted counseling for us, but my mom “just doesn’t do that” so I finally had to put the relationship aside and hope for that time-healing method stuff.
The no good-bye weighed heavily on me. I’m a bit of a fatalist and often think about conflict in terms of “Would I want to leave it like this? What if I die!? What if they die?”This being anything from an argument with my kids to a snarky comment I couldn’t resist leaving on some blog I happened by.
Many of my non-Muslim friends agreed. “This could be her last chance to see all of her grandchildren!” they guilt-tripped me.
Flying from the West coast of the US to Morocco with all my kids costs about 10,000 US dollars, not exactly something I am prepared to do annually or maybe not even every decade. Was I handing my relationship with my mother a death sentence?
My Muslim friends were much more sympathetic. All had heard horror stories of non-Muslim family members interfering in other friends’ or even their own lives. My BFF was living under stifling radar after receiving an unwarranted visit from Child Protective Services on behalf of her sister-in-law, another friend's parents had been pushing her to divorce her husband for the entirety of their marriage and a third friend had an ex-husband trying to legally prevent her from raising their kid Muslim or moving out of state. Interfaith families can get a special kind of weird.
I wanted out, literally to leave the country possibly for good, and feared that my mother might do something to prevent it.
All those "Not Without My Daughter" scenarios I had been warned about when I married my husband, I was now seeing in reverse. Would she, could she keep us here? Though I have never seen my mother act vindictively or even harshly, I was justifiably paranoid. If she, or any "well meaning" friend of hers or other family member pulled something to keep me from going, I wouldn’t be able to afford this excursion again anytime soon.
“Call her when you get there,” was the consensus of my Muslim friends.
Several months after moving to Morocco, my mom sent me a brief email.
"Uh, where are you living now?” she queried.
Apparently she had driven by my old house and knew I was no longer there. I knew how she felt -- I flashed to the horrible afternoon I had driven by her home and knew from the missing BBQ and perma-Christmas lights that she no longer lived there. In a panic I made a questionable U-turn and pulled into the driveway, oblivious to the whiny small children in the car who knew this was no drive-thru. I was concerned with only one thought: What if she’s dead?
A woman on a cell phone answered the door, or rather opened it and waved a finger at me to wait while she made arrangements with her veterinarian. My nerves were feeling less and less controllable as her conversation and finger waving continued until just as a scream began ascending up from my gut she finished her good-byes, turned to me and asked “Brooke?”
The headscarf must have given me away as my mother’s Muslim daughter. She began to call my mom for me, but “No thank you” I insisted, “I just wanted to know if she moved.”
The friend of my mother, now living in my mom’s old house, was confused and even seemed a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be the one to place an olive branch between us. She confirmed that my mother was still in town, just on the other side now. I thanked her and quickly drove away, relieved that my mom was still alive, but I didn’t initiate any contact with her.
After confessing to my mother that I (and her now five grandchildren) had moved overseas, the conversation oddly but easily began to flow. My mother picked up the e-conversation as if we had never left off -- filling me in on her health and requesting current pictures of the grandkids, as well as their names and dates of birth.
A few months ago, she surprised me with her plans to come to Morocco this October. This is something I had hoped for -- even fantasizing about her having a little retirement home here in the African-Mediterranean -- but I never expected it to happen.
Friends have been asking if mom will be here for "The Big Eid," the holiday in which nearly every household will slaughter a sheep in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice. Considering our history with cross-faith holiday traditions I avoided checking the dates until this week.
Yep, mom is going to be here for the annual DIY home butchering fest. When I told her about our holiday plans and what to expect -- an enormous carcass hanging in my foyer and copious amounts of grilled meat -- she sounded delighted by the idea of a family BBQ, but insisted on continuing with our new family tradition of keeping our hands off each others' holiday artifacts.