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.