In Search of Home(s)
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Mama, you’ve been on my mind

My mother was 40 years old when she had me.

This was in the periphery of Greece in the 1980s, before Madonna was conceiving children in her mid-40s, before Barbie turned 40 herself, before pre-natal screening reached that corner of the world. On my father’s side, there had been no daughters born for generations. When I came into the world and received my grandmother’s name, I came into a family of love.

As the first decade of my life drew to a close, loved ones grew old. Some of them became sick, some passed away. I experienced grief and loss and the injustice of feeling alone at a young age. It was not in moments of sadness that I missed my family the most, but in moments of joy. Graduations, handing in my thesis, receiving a fellowship to do the work I love, meeting a person who has changed my life on my first day in Egypt — those were the times I felt the universe smile on me and I wanted to share the utterances of joy with those who loved me so dearly when I was a chubby little girl.

A couple of years ago, my friend Liz and I were having brunch at Aquitaine, my favorite sunny pocket of Boston. It was Father’s Day and the hostess asked if our fathers would be joining us. My father had passed away and Liz was a child of divorce. That could have been a sad and uncomfortable moment at the doorstep of Aquitaine, but it was not. Over the years, in Liz, in Elijah, in Emily, in Tara, in Meghan, in Cooper, in Tais, in everyone who has loved me, I have found family. And so on Mothers Day and Fathers Day and Fifth-Cousin-Thirteen-Times-Removed Day, I now see the opportunity to celebrate a family just as intertwined, dysfunctional and and loving as the one I was born into.

Marianne Elliott acknowledges that there is room for more than our biological family on Mothers Day by teaming up with Epic Change to launch the To Mama With Love campaign. This campaign invites us to, as Marianne put it, “celebrate our love for anyone who has been part of the great chain of mothering that has kept us afloat.” Marianne celebrates Suraya Pakzad, the founder and director of Voice for Women in Afghanistan. Suraya has committed herself to serving and supporting Afghan women through initiatives that range from literacy and education to shelters that enable women to leave violent homes or forced marriages. You can read more about Suraya and ways to support her here.

I am too far from all those who have loved me and supported me in becoming the woman I am growing to be to send flowers and baskets. Instead of those gifts, I will be donating to the To Mama With Love campaign to support Suraya and her initiatives for Afghan women.

My writing and financial contribution are in the name of Rebecca, Elijah’s mother, who wraps up every phone call to us with “give each other a hug and a kiss from me.” We do, every time, and we feel wrapped up in her love. Rebecca’s food has nourished my soul. Her laughter makes the dogs bark and my heart smile. Her loving example gives me faith and hope.

I am also supporting Suraya in the name of Enid, who mothered me as I embarked on my very first field projects in conflict zones. She emailed to remind me to eat and sleep and that life is short and I should be living every minute of it. She emailed to remind me I am loved.

I am supporting Suraya in the name of Sophia, the mother who brought me into the world. In Greece, we celebrate name days. Most first names correspond to a day in the year that bears a special significance. My mother’s name day is September 17th, which is the day we celebrate Sophia, Pisth, Elpida and Agaph — Wisdom, Faith, Hope, and Love. I am thankful to my Sophia for having endowed my life with these very gifts.


  1. Rebecca, thank YOU for making me feel so loved. I cannot wait to see your garden, pick vegetables together, cook a meal and make more wonderful memories. I cannot wait for your wonderful hug

    Brandee, what sweet words — I am so grateful for them. I do like the notion of celebrating those who have loved us, not just our biological mothers. I have loved hearing your parenting stories, be they about driving into the sunset with your kids or watching Bridesmaids with your daughter. Thank you for sharing them.

    Kim, thank you — it means a lot. I am not a mother myself, but I was drawn to the acknowledgment of maternal service in the #ToMamaWithLove campaign. I cannot take credit for its thoughtfulness; @zenpeacekeeper, @StaceyMonk and @EpicChange on Twitter worked all the magic.

    Kyle, I hope you know that your encouragement keeps me writing and I could not be more grateful for that.

  2. I can’t belive I missed this last week. It was so beautiful. And endearing. A treasure to read. Thank you, Roxanne. You have such a gift.

  3. Beautiful post. I love your notion of family being fluid and evolving, not something that is finite–these are the people you get and that’s all.

  4. What an amazing tribute and amazing gesture on their behalf Roxanne! You are so sweet.

    And I feel like I say this with every post, but you are SUCH an incredible writer. I really don’t have the words to do your writing justice, but I enjoy every single blog post that you put up.

  5. This is wonderful to read. And I think this is a perfect way to commemorate Mother’s Day, by honoring the work of a strong, committed woman. I’m sure that if I asked, plenty of people on this planet would do good in your name in honor of the influence you’ve had on their lives.

  6. Roxanne,

    What a beautiful tribute to some lovely women. You are right…motherhood is not limited to the act of actually bearing a child. It extends to those that nuture and love us through the years, with no boundary and no limit.

    Today is the day that we officially celebrate mothers, but the celebration should extend to every day of the year. The seeds of their love continue to grow, regardless of sunshine or rain, whether near or far.

    Today, I am grateful for the women that have loved you, as you have become such a treasure to so many of us.

    Wishing you a peaceful, sunny day, safe in your travels.

  7. Rebecca Plymesser says

    My dearest Roxanne,
    There are days I feel as if my heart will burst out of my chest with joy when I think of how blessed I am. G-d and the universe have been so generous to me. You know that to my core I believe that everything is bershecht(divine providence), Elijah in Cairo was just that,it brought us you.
    Thank you for making me feel so loved.

    This mother’s day my heart will be filled with memories. Memories of my mother who taught me compassion and unconditional love in the short time she was with me. My grandmother who gave me the gift of food. My great grandmother who would wrap me in a towel as I emerged from the ocean and laugh joyously as that simple act filled her heart and mine with love.
    My heart will be filled with thoughts of Sophia and my gratitude to her for bringing you into this world and sharing you with us.
    In honor of all of these wonderful women, this mother’s day, I will plant my garden. When you are here we will pick these vegetables and herbs, create a meal, and fill our souls with memories and hope for the future and the gift of mothering that we all have blessed to receive.

  8. Akhila, I find great strength and comfort in the love of others and am most grateful for it. Thank you for your kind comment.

    Marianne, I love the phrase “the great chain of mothering” — thank you for planting a seed, and for spearheading such an important campaign.

    Marjory, if Sophia spoke English or wear internet-literate, she would smile at your comment. I know it.

    Much love to all of you, your mothers, and all your loved ones this weekend.

  9. I hope you feel your mama rejoice in your joy dear one. Thank you for your gift of wisdom, Sophia.

  10. What a beautiful, beautiful post Roxanne – I feel like you have given perfect expression to what I was trying to say about that great chain of mothering. Much love and gratitude to you.

  11. What a lovely post, Roxanne. I am sorry you had to endure such loss growing up – cannot imagine how that must have felt not to have your loved ones with you through the happiest moments of your life and through all your accomplishments. But truly, family is something we all build up throughout our lives. Friends and loved ones become family soon as they provide support and true unconditional love. What matters is that you have a group of people who love you, and that you can love back 🙂

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