[row][span size=’3′][slab_h5][slabtext]”Our mothers always remain[/slabtext] [slabtext]the strangest, craziest people[/slabtext] [slabtext]we’ve ever met.” [/slabtext][slabtext]-Marguerite Duras[/slabtext][/slab_h5][/span][span size=’5′]I was born right around the time a typical American girl would have been graduating from high school. Except that mom was neither typical nor American. The story of how she found out she was pregnant, her pregnancy, and how I was born is long and drawn out, perhaps better left of a really long post later on. What I will tell you is that mom was very young, and no one really taught her how to be a mom. Still, she did her best and, if a tree is known by its fruit, she did great as a mom.[/span][/row]
No, I’m not patting myself on the back. I have two other siblings that have turned out to be good people. My younger brother has his master’s degree and is gainfully employed. My little sister is a good student, plays numerous musical instruments, and has been moving up her Tae Kwon Do rankings at a furious pace (no pun intended). It is because of those two that I think mom did a great job as a mother. I’ll leave it to people other than myself to judge whether or not I turned out well.
However, I will be the first one to admit that my relationship with my mother has not been the best. The reasons for this are varied, but it mostly has to do with extraneous factors in our lives. Dad was hardly around, so I saw it as my job to be the man of the house. This caused friction with my mom, who was the real man of the house. Then I became a teenager, and, well, we all know how awful teenagers can be on their parents. Not only that, but I started college at the age of 16. I felt and acted like I knew more than my mom. On top of that, circumstances in life kept mom busy and away from me during my college years. After college, I moved out east, very far from her. So I only see her about once a year since then.
Nevertheless, I remember each and every one of the lessons my mother taught me in person and from afar. It is because of her that I value education so much. Her education took her further than was expected of her by society (and, to some extent, her family). Her education allowed her to think about things critically and not jump to conclusions in times of stress. I learned from her how to suppress feelings as much as possible and act with a rational brain.
Mom also taught me the fear of God, but not in a humorous way. She taught me that none of us are the end-all, be-all of all things. We don’t live in a bubble, and there is ample evidence in our lives that something else is at work. (There are just too many coincidences, and I don’t believe in coincidences.) Mom took me to church and taught me to pray in private, away from the crowds, and to always pray not for myself but for others.
It was that caring for others, an unconditional love (i.e. compassion), that is perhaps the best lesson she’s ever taught me. Many, many times, without thinking it over a second, mom got up in the middle of the night and went to defend the indefensible and the innocent. Her work as a lawyer and advocate made her see human beings as failed beings but beings worthy of being defended tooth and nail from any harm, even if they brought that harm onto themselves. That’s why I’m in public health. There is a whole world whose health is in peril for all sorts of reasons, and we need to do something about that.
Even with that religious upbringing, mom encouraged me to be a scientist. She must have seen something in me that led her to be very supportive of my curiosity for science. She bought me a children’s encyclopedia set, then a microscope, and then a small computer. If I wanted or needed a scientific book, she would do her best to help me get it. When she worked and studied at the university, she made it one of her jobs to show me how hard work and dedication could turn out doctors, nurses, engineers, and scientists.
It was in that continuing support and care for my future that mom contributed the best of her gifts. She introduced me to Dr. Ricardo Ortiz Piñeru. He was the medical director of the school of medicine when she was a secretary there. (She was working for him when she found out she was pregnant with me. It was him who conducted the pregnancy test at his lab.) When I turned 15, mom took me to Dr. Ortiz’s laboratory. It was then that I became an apprentice to him and to the biologist working for him, Daniel Chavez Licon. Between Dr. Ortiz and Daniel, I learned a lot about laboratory medicine. That translated into a successful college education in medical technology and then a great job as a lab tech. That job led me to be curious about epidemiology… And the rest is history.
The love, education, care, and sacrifice that mom showed for me as I grew up, when I was a brat, and when I was alone and in trouble, are all reasons to thank her each and every day for being so awesome. Today is Mother’s Day in Mexico, and I’d like to tell mom that I love her… But she already knows that.
Of course, there have been other women that have helped raise me (when mom was in school or working, or just because they felt like meddling in my upbringing). But the story of how they shaped me, even if just a little bit here and there, is for another day.
Me and my beautiful mom.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.