The Truth About My Mother

I was the child of a difficult situation. I write most frequently about abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and survival. However, I take care to infuse everything I write with the glow of hope that I learned from the first person who decided to interrupt the cycle: my mother.

It may seem strange that I can write about physical and emotional trials and gratefulness in the same breath, but the truth is I am grateful. My experiences helped create who I am today. I am strong, full of courage and I know my own beauty. This is in no small part due to my mother’s insistence that change happen–that the world as it was did not have to be the world always.


In fact, it was my mother who shaped me as a writer. My mother who catered to my curious gifts such as early reading, puzzling and later, synesthesia. She was my champion at every bend in the road, often appearing in my classroom to argue with teachers after hours, such as Mrs. Dill, a true pickle of a woman who repeatedly tried to fail me for being left-handed and creatively circling (correct) answers. I’ll never forget the sheets she returned to me marked 100% and then F in red with a note saying I was not circling my answers correctly. Nor will I forget the sight of my furious mother shaking the paper at her and shouting, “She’s bored! Can’t you see she’s bored? She’s the first one done, I bet, and she still had time to use her imagination while marking the CORRECT answers.”

Another time, I was disciplined for reading along with a teacher during story time when she was reading what was meant to be a more advanced text to us. It was a book I had already read twice and adapted as a multi-person puppet show with puppets. I followed along with my finger, looking at the words to learn correct pronunciation as the teacher read aloud. Until the teacher snatched my book and snapped at me in front of the class that I need to pay attention to HER. She then took my apple off the Behavior Tree to let everyone know I was a “bad apple.”

Again, my mother showed up to shake a finger in the teacher’s face. “What’s wrong with her looking at the book silently?”

The teacher didn’t want everyone to think they could read while she was reading. It was a fair concern, but unfairly expressed. My mother made her point and I listened in class compliantly after that day.

People assume The Letter No One Wrote My Mother is to her. The truth is, my mother taught me how to write that letter. She wrote it to me, to my father, to all women.

This isn’t to say that I am exceptionally intelligent. My advancements in particular areas were largely due to my mother spending hours engaging me at home. When I was ready to read but was gregarious about being taught, she motivated me with reverse psychology. She grounded me off of books. When I was bored of puzzles, she flipped them over and got me 100 piece and 1000 piece and sat with me to “race” in putting them together. She appealed to me visually when I was stumped, orally when that didn’t work, and created Montessori-style tactile tools so I could stay engaged before school started. And she patiently recorded my poems and stories for me until I could write on my own. She told me they were excellent, that I was a born writer. Never to stop. And even when I have written words that hurt her, she has never told me to stop.

These are the minor moments in a life of turmoil when my mother showed up. People assume The Letter No One Wrote My Mother is to her. The truth is, my mother taught me how to write that letter. She wrote it to me, to my father, to all women who are in situations where the scales have tipped past healthy toward danger. No, she was not a perfect mother, but she did her best. She effected the change I seek to inspire with my writing. She taught me to write so I could do this for others who share our early situation. And she has sweated bullets as I publish my truth for the world to read knowing she is being judged harshly.

I am an adult now, a mother to three children. My mother still shows up. When I had four surgeries in quick succession this last year, she was here for every one. She cared for my children, kept my house, fed and clothed me (literally), flew me to California and nursed me for one of the procedures, and always with a smile. And when we came to those uncomfortable places where my writing hurt her, I encouraged her not to read. Because I can’t not write. Because she will never tell me not to write. And I understand how difficult it is to separate now from then.

Not every selection I publish will show all the positives. Not every one will show the negatives. I cannot give a complete picture in a slice of memoir or even in 300 pages. She is a complicated woman. We have lived a complicated life.

What I want to say is that I am not wanting. When Mom and I butt heads, we genuinely agree to disagree. I want her in my life. I love her. She wants me in her life. She loves me. It won’t be all fairytales and rainbows, but it is good. In fact, it is great. My mother has worked hard to be a fantastic mother to me as an adult. I wish all adults could have this type of give and take with their parents, this pillow of affection that never loses its fluff. My mom is the good kind.

Whether your life has been filled with hurt or happiness, I hope you have a person to celebrate this Mother’s Day, even if that person is yourself.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I’m proud to be your daughter.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

13 Discussion to this post

  1. Angie Mc says:

    Lovely. Captures the complexity of human relationships.

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  2. Reblogged this on On The Verge and commented:
    This is so touching. Please read on.

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  3. You say so beautifully what many of us wrestle with in our own writing: humanity and humility.

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  4. Reblogged this on Kim Jorgensen Gane and commented:
    @shawnamawna illustrates so beautifully what so many of us wrestle with in our own writing: humanity and humility.

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  5. […] My addition (@shawnamawna) was this post on the complications of my relationship with my mother. […]

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  6. I enjoyed reading your work. I want to learn more about your writing through trauma.

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    • Thank you! I would love to talk more with you. Would you be comfortable emailing me? shawna.ainslie at gmail dot com.

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      • Hi Shawna! Thanks for responding so quickly. I just started blogging yesterday so it’s pretty exciting to hear from you!! I really don’t have any specific questions about working through trauma via writing but it makes so much sense. As both a journalist and a therapist, trauma writing seems like it would be quite curative. Where do I start inhaling??

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  7. […] The Truth About My Mother Not everything I write about mothers is about my mother. Still, she’s been run through the mill on my site. She and I have grown into an amiable relationship, and I wanted to express that to the world. Mother’s Day passed this piece around far and wide. I’m not sure if you were just curious about my mom or if you shared the sentiment. Either way, thank you for reading. […]

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