American Life, Egypt, Family, Holidays, Syria

Listening to Mothers

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad: here’s the latest of your daily democracy wake-up calls. It’s at your own peril, this not listening to mothers.

When Syrian mothers, wives, and daughters marched in the city of Banias, demanding the release of men in their families who’d been arrested during demonstrations, 100 of the men were released the next day.

Nice sound bite for the media, but you know perfectly well that’s not nearly all of those you imprisoned, maybe less than 10% (and you’ve arrested 8,000 people to date). If you thought this would appease us, you didn’t listen very well.

Had you’d asked us, here’s what we really wanted for Syrian Mother’s Day, March 21st:

No more killing. No more brutalizing. No more justifying.

Because you know better, Bashar. We’re ashamed of you.

(Some of these men were released with injuries worthy of this sober Facebook observation: “This (photos attached) is what can happen to you in custody of the Syrian secret police for less than 24 hours.”)

Mothers took to the streets of Damascus again on Monday (despite being attacked by Assad’s security forces in Arnon Square on Saturday). Because we know once Mom gets an idea in her head, there’s just no stopping her.

Particularly when it comes to protecting her loved ones and making sure they keep on the straight and narrow, goals that aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sometimes the worst threat you can make to criminals is not that they’ll go to jail. It’s that you’ll tell their mothers ‒ or grandmothers ‒ about the bad things they did.

Because, I’m telling you, Ma’am: that there is a fate worse than death.

Questions mothers ask, even if you’re in your 30s and 40s: are you dressing warmly (take an extra fleece)? taking your vitamins (here’s a year’s supply)? being careful when you go bungee jumping, night diving, and ice climbing? (please spare me the details)

I’m not going to stop you from building that kit airplane (and test-flying it afterwards with your equally worrisome brother), but I’m going to worry about you the whole time, and that’s my prerogative.

I told you a million times growing up: Because I’m The Mom.

When you’re the mom or dad, you’ll worry, too. My dearest wish for you is that you’ll have kids exactly like yourselves, and then you’ll see why all that worrying was justified.

Mom Herting, we love you for it, despite your dearest wish probably coming true. Starting soon.

Although there are people I’d rather be a little less related to than others, I know I’ll hear from readers who lost the family lottery and have chosen their own families from among friends, colleagues, and extended others.


Bravo to my mom, who was a “chosen mom” to 11 kids who were at our house for various periods and reasons over the past 35+ years. I counted: we’re still in touch with 7 of them.

Bravo to a friend of my sister’s and mine, who recently posted some new family photos on Facebook that included a teenage girl I’d never seen before. (She and her husband are parents of toddlers.) Turns out, this teenager is the child of a child our friend’s parents took in years ago.

They’d staged an intervention and the biological mother agreed it was the best thing.

Catching kids about to be casualties of adult-created disasters, and caring for kids almost grown up, having never learned the meaning of that word, continues in our friend’s family to a 2nd generation.

Which reminds me of another mother’s funeral I attended a few years ago. When I arrived, I was ushered up to one of the front rows. Since I wasn’t family, I couldn’t figure out why.

Until I looked at all the other people sitting in those rows and realized that none of them were family, either.

We were all friends of her children, and their children. Cousins many times removed. Kids she’d taught in elementary school. One boy who’d come over for a weekend sleepover and whose mother just never came to pick him up.

So he stayed. For the duration. Come to think of it, he gave one of the eulogies.

His mother, not in quotes, had specified this seating plan in her funeral arrangements.

Then there are some loving mothers who, tragically, have to bury their sons. Like Khaled Said’s mother, Laila Marzok.

Khaled Said, whose brutal, senseless murder at the hands of Egyptian police so enraged Egyptian youth that they launched a peaceful pro-democracy revolution that successfully ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak in February.

On the last night of his life, Khaled had encouraged his mother to go out and visit her sister, and she had. She came home around midnight to find him not there.

Uncharacteristically, he didn’t come home, or call. His mobile phone went directly to voice mail. Sensing something was wrong, she went down to the cafés along the seaside to look for him.

There she found his friends. She asked them whether they’d seen Khaled. They looked at her strangely.

You didn’t know? they said. He’s in the morgue.

…and she screamed and screamed, not believing.

The Egyptian police had dragged Khaled out of one of those cafés, beating him mercilessly before carrying him away. The business owners nearby had tried to intervene and in doing so had been attacked themselves.

Mrs. Marzok then went to the morgue to identify her son…and hardly recognized him. (Good news today: Dr. ElSibaei, Egypt’s top autopsy and forensic specialist, who fabricated the results of Khaled Said’s autopsy to favor the police version of events, has just been fired.)

It’s difficult to believe in a cause when you’re the one who has to lose a loved one in its defense, yet still she believes. She thinks of her son every day, and the life he could’ve had in a democratic Egypt, but she knows it’s what he would’ve wanted.

So, on Egyptian national TV, she put her arms around a young man her son’s age who will have that chance.

…and she demonstrated in Tahrir Square for 2 weeks with Khaled’s friends and peers. “I will stand with them,” she told BBC (with an English voice-over), “and be their mother.”

This is Mother’s Day season around the world. American kids, heads up: Sunday May 8th is this weekend. I’m bound to get testy emails from people whose mothers live far away and didn’t get those cards and flowers in the mail already.

Thanks for nothing, Jeanette, for posting this reminder too late.

Hey, I’m not your mother.

For expatriates in France, remember that Mother’s Day is May 29th this year and La Fête des Mères follows quickly afterward on June 7th.

No, a single gift, bouquet, and dinner will not cover both events. Do not offend your future French mother-in-law over this.

Then there are mothers who shouldn’t be mothers to anyone…like Ms. Mixon, name unknown. (There’s a good reason why she might want to be vague about that.)

In 2009, her son Lovelle shot and killed 4 Oakland, California police officers and injured a 5th…and raped 2 young women…all on the same day.

Afterwards, she marched in a vigil in his honor, at which he was called a “hero” and his killing “genocide.” Police shouldn’t have shot him because he was a good boy.

Face it, Ms. Mixon: your son was a monster. He was a one-man crime machine.

How fortunate he was stopped, permanently, before he hurt anybody else. (After his death, he was implicated by DNA for several other felonies.) Because he would’ve, and in your heart you know that.

And I think so did she.

My freshman year at university, this kindly older lady worked in the admissions office. A mothering type to students who needed help navigating the mysteries of enrollment, which turned out to be almost as difficult as getting a degree itself.

I heard that some of the staff had donated money to her son’s defense fund. He was in prison for some terrible crimes, but because everybody loved this secretary, as she called herself (although that job title had already served its time), they gave willingly.

No way could that sweet lady have a child who did any of the awful things he was accused of. Surely her son had been unfairly targeted in some cruel miscarriage of justice.

That lady was Louise Bundy. Her son’s name was Ted.


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