"Mummy, thank you for everything"SARA SALOO

“Can’t you speak in English?” I muttered, bitterly, “My friends are here.”

Growing up, my mother and I rarely saw eye to eye. It was not an unusual sight to find her shouting at me for one misdeed or another, whilst I slumped silently on the sofa and rolled my eyes.

Equally as stubborn, I never gave my mother an easy ride. My aunt often tells the tale of answering the phone to my teary mother on the other end of the line because, when I was two, she had turned her head for five minutes only to find I had taken a permanent marker to the fresh bedsheets. Aged nine, I had stolen my grandfather’s lighter and while experimenting with the flame, accidentally set the carpet alight. Aged fifteen, I spent a week sulking because my parents couldn’t afford to send me on the school trip to Iceland, where I guilted them for their refusal to indulge in FOMO and pay over £1000 in the process.

“I slowly realised that my mother’s trust and grant of freedom was something to be earnt, not expected”

I now recount these stories with shame, but as these things were happening, I lamented the iron fist of my mother’s traditional South-Asian parenting style. Throughout high school, my perpetual struggle was not being allowed to own a mobile phone. While my classmates bonded in group chats of which I was not permitted to be part, I spent my evenings doing homework or drying the dishes. I couldn’t understand why — other than pure unreasonableness — I was not allowed to attend parties, or go to the cinema with my friends, like everyone else. My mother, on the other hand, wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t be less difficult, like everyone else.

As I grew older, less rebellious and less self-centred, something began to shift. I slowly realised that my mother’s trust and grant of freedom was something to be earned, not expected. She wasn’t a dictator; she was just navigating raising a child in a world completely alien to the one in which she grew up. Though the conservative Indian-Muslim community to which we belonged was an integral part of her identity, time and time again my mother would make uncomfortable compromises with her cultural values to make room for my happiness. I now see how those seemingly trivial concessions would have constituted great leaps away from what she knew. In fact, having to prove my trustworthiness to be allowed the freedom and independence I craved taught me an important lesson about entitlement.

But it was only on the eve of my nineteenth birthday that I was struck with a thought unfamiliar to most nineteen-year-olds. I had now reached the same age as my mother when she gave birth to me. There I was, in my childhood bedroom, still immature in so many ways, relatively unburdened by any responsibilities besides to myself. At such a tender age, I knew I still had my youth ahead of me. I still had the freedom, independence and privilege to make mistakes and learn from them. I could grow into adulthood at my own pace. Meanwhile, my mother, married at eighteen, a parent at nineteen, arrived at the same milestone with a child to raise, for which she was completely unprepared. Mistakes were not hers to be made. 

“When I began my degree at Trinity as the first in my family to attend university, it was my mother who championed me”

I never truly understood what a remarkable feat she pulled off in raising me from such a young age. Last week, I watched the Queen’s College President, Mohamed El-Erian, speak to the Union, in which he highlighted the importance of having teachers or mentors to enable the progress of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“If you come from a disadvantaged background, you aren’t surrounded by people who went to university, let alone Oxbridge. You’re facing lots and lots of obstacles. If he or she [from that background] can be enabled, it can be truly transformational.”

I never had a teacher who told me I was capable of reaching Oxbridge. I didn’t have examples of great academic achievement in my network. Those “transformational” figures that Mohamed El-Erian spoke of were completely absent in my life. But I did have my mother.


Mountain View

Growing up Asian in a White Household

When I announced to my family that I had made it onto a Sutton Trust summer school with Trinity College, Cambridge, but refused to go because “Cambridge isn’t for people like me, anyways,” it was my mother who forced me to attend. A year later, when I began my degree at Trinity as the first in my family to attend university, it was my mother who championed me, despite the fact that doing so would shatter the norm for women in my community. When I reached the end of my first year, completely overcome with imposter syndrome, it was my mother who held me as I cried and gave me the confidence to continue.

Now, I am halfway through my degree. I have been afforded experiences and opportunities I would have never dreamt of as a girl. Without sounding hyperbolic, my life and my future has been transformed — by none other than my own mother. At just nineteen, my mother brought me into this world. She then spent her youth making sure I can now enjoy mine.

Today, I understand that I have my mother to thank for everything. I am beyond grateful that she raised me speaking Gujarati, that I wasn’t allowed a phone just because everyone else had one, and that I had to earn her respect rather than expect it. If I am going to do anything good with my life, it will be because of her.

So, if you’re reading this, Mummy, thank you for everything.