Time to Love and Learn

A Profile of My Mom

For working single parents:

Who take extra shifts to keep the family housed and fed.

Who don’t have time or money to participate in social justice activism in a traditional sense, but practice it through the unconditional love you share with everyone.

You are your own form of social resistance, and your work fuels generations to come.

And to my mom in particular, who still asks me to explain what I do for a living every time we speak. Hopefully one day soon, we’ll have time to figure it out together.

At the bottom of my mom’s to-do list she writes, “make up for lost time”. That thought watches her move through life, a weight that reminds her today is never enough. Sand drips loudly through the hourglass when I visit, punctuating every word and every silent pause, reminding us the present will soon pass. She’s held together by God, work, and family, but just like that flowing sand we hold her too tightly, and she spills away. Though I don’t see her often, she never ages. Only her worn hands give away that months or years push our family forward relentlessly.

The double restaurant shift rarely offers her kindness or comfort. It drops coins on the peel and stick vinyl floor, and demands she picks them up immediately. One day she will place those coins on her eyes and rest, but until then she moves them from one pocket to another cheerily. She sleeps in order to work, and works until sleep to provide the bread and water that sustains her family, loosely defined and mostly chosen. A miracle worker, she turns water into soup and ladles it out to any stray friend or second cousin that wanders through the door and finds themselves lucky enough to spot her before she melts away.

The double restaurant shift rarely offers her kindness or comfort. It drops coins on the peel and stick vinyl floor, and demands she picks them up immediately.

She doesn’t know about feminism, at least not in the way I was taught through crooked politicians, queer Black writers and theorists, and teenage human rights activists.

She wants to learn from me. But, I want to learn from her, a quetzal that flew the coop and landed in LA largely on her own. She tells me to pray. We’ll have time to talk about it one day.

My mom once told me and my sister to look up at the moon at night if we ever felt alone. She said my brother, while protecting us and serving our country, could also see the same moon. That no matter where we went or how far we ended up, we could look up at the same glowing orb together. She told me to pray quietly when I was happy, and be hopeful in song through tough times. Her sky must be pure silver linings, because she only sees good. Her back bent under a low bar when she crossed the border. She knows clean water and takeout food are blessings. Her new country told her it was not enough, and we ran through a checklist of all her needs - SNAP, Section 8, Medicaid, Survivor’s checks, the list goes on. She keeps a written calendar, but misses a mark periodically. Once she forgot to reapply for SNAP, she lost food. Once she forgot a doctor’s appointment, she lost healthcare. Once she forgot a social worker appointment, she lost me.

She doesn’t know a lot about human rights and welfare, she wants to learn from me. I want to learn from her.

She tells me to pray. We’ll have time to talk about it one day.

The restaurant often insists she wakes it up in the morning and tucks it into bed at night. My mom rises first before the sun, but just as full of hope and fire. She’s up too early. Her doctor said she needed to rest more, the shadows under her eyes were beginning to conspire against her, dragging her lids down with them. She could surrender, but she stays awake long enough to add a splash of coffee to her cup of cream and sugar. First thing in the morning, she clasps her hands in prayer and puts her faith, her time, her family, in God’s hands. Prayer runs her day because she wants to know more about moving forward in humility and finding her way to heaven. Prayer runs her family because she hopes to find time for us together in heaven. But today, she tills the soil, toasts a piece of bread, gets ready and heads to the restaurant to start her first shift.

She doesn’t know about time poverty, she wants to learn from me. I want to learn from her.

She tells me to pray. We’ll have time to talk about it one day.

When she leaves for work I’m reminded that the time I have to make signs in sharpie doodled witty protest is borrowed from another forced smile serving plates and washing dishes. At work she takes on the properties of syrup, saccharine and slow. For the regulars a dose of her makes any day sweeter, they ask her to brag about her kids. The newcomers skeptically gossip as they watch her every move-- waiting for a mistake, customers that need lemon in their water. I visited her at work, and she made time to tell me not to be so depressed. That life wasn’t just forms and deadlines, to take time to enjoy the feel of fresh masa on my fingers when making homemade tortillas with my abuelita. She said life was what we had now, watering the roses and enjoying a greasy tamale. Let the politicians argue, we would sing birthday songs in the garden or else scream if my brother’s pet snake, or worse the mice we fed it, got loose. She stays hopeful and bright. Now that her birds have left like she once did, she thinks she might be a teacher one day, if she ever finds the time and money.

She doesn’t know about political parties, sects of Christianity, or internalized oppression. She’d rather not learn today, she has no time or energy. She tells me to pray. We’ll talk about it one day.

She gave up justice for love. The kind of love that sometimes sounded like a chancla striking the wall or a broken mug slamming the floor. The kind of love that gets lost in translation, and ends up floating unspoken in the quiet morning cafecitos. The kind of love that trades personal time for her family’s freedom. The kind of love that exists and resists silently. Her stress lines came to terms with it years ago. She scorns politics like she scorns the devil, amid the bills, appointments, and work she hardly has time to care to understand that her private life will always be political. She lives in an endless cycle, but if everything is uncertain then know one thing: she will rise again tomorrow, way too early. She is not angry, but she burns hot, and heat rises.

She gave up justice for love. 

She doesn’t know she has to fight for feminism, human rights, and time to love and learn, because few with the time care enough. She doesn’t know she deserves the same choices as anyone else. She wants to learn from me about it one day, but for now I am learning from her.

She doesn’t know, she wants to learn. We are still learning. She tells me to pray that we’ll talk about it one day.

I finally get to see her when she sets and ask her how her day went. She’s given so much energy to the world she smiles and repeats as always, “Good Nena” before becoming the moon.

This blog is part of Caffeinated Commentary - a monthly series where the Millennial Fellows create interesting and engaging content around a theme. For February, the fellows have decided to respond to this quote from Dr. Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Author:

Roselyn Miller is a Millennial Public Policy Fellow for New America’s Better Life Lab. Miller, a Long Beach, Calif. native with roots in the Bay Area, holds a bachelor of arts in anthropology from Stanford University.