- He just kept repeating, “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He hugged me. I melted into tears and was immediately filled with shame and regret. What have I done?
This year I spent my Mother’s Day in Spain along with my husband and son. My daughter stayed back as she had already spent six months in Spain during her study abroad. My poor son got caught in the Covid aftermath and had his study abroad get canceled three times. So he decided to tag along with us, which was not ideal for an active, adventurous 23-year-old. My husband who is usually the most chill dude on the planet gets into a “Vacation Nazi” mode as soon as we embark on a sightseeing trip. I felt like I was in an AP Euro history tour, packed with activities all day long. In addition, we were moving constantly every day. Between palace visits and museum visits, we also had to pack our stuff, move it into storage lockers, sightsee, rush back and board the next train. My son who would have rather spent his time lazily walking the streets, club hopping at night, and enjoying the beaches during the day was, needless to say, very unhappy with this itinerary and was getting crankier by the day.
On the eve of Mother’s Day, we found ourselves in the city of Granada at about 10.30 pm. The cab driver who picked us up from the train station was not very sure about the location of the Airbnb apartment. The streets were so narrow, paved with cobblestones, dark, uphill, and he abruptly dropped us in the middle of nowhere saying that the car wouldn’t go any further. Of course, language was also a problem for us as we spoke no Spanish. My son could manage a few sentences. None of us had eaten in many hours because we were hoping to find dinner in Granada as many restaurants in Spain remain open until 2 am in the morning. But on this particular night, we found ourselves in this little village with barely any street lights, trying to figure out our apartment. Tired, hungry, and irritated, we lugged our suitcases up and down a flight of stairs and somehow managed to find the apartment. My son who was very tired by then decided to shower and go to bed. We walked around trying to find food but alas nothing was open. All the restaurants were closed. Exhausted, we walked back to the apartment and tried to sleep. But the air conditioner was not working either and we were hot and uncomfortable. Tired, hangry, and hot, it took every ounce of my mindfulness training to not explode at my husband.
The next morning was no better. We had to vacate our apartment once again and rush to the storage locker before making our way to the world-famous Alhambra palace. My son woke up hungry and was keen on finding something to eat. I wondered if he remembered that it was Mother’s Day. This was the boy who cooked a Mother’s Day lunch for me, from scratch, at nine years old. So the bar was high for him. But the poor kid now needed some caffeine and food. In the daytime, everything looked a lot more benign to me. We realized that the location was very near the center of the village with lots of eateries. This was not too obvious at night with deserted streets and no light. After about an hour or so, I gently reminded my son that it was Mother’s Day. He was shocked and wished me. I asked him to take a picture with me but the poor kid was hangry by now and just brushed it off with “later.” With a 10 am appointment at the Palace and very few options, all I could have was some coffee and a pastry. By now it was more than 18 hours since I had a proper meal.
Alhambra Palace is huge and it took us 4 hours to walk all around. My feet were aching and we were also tired and hungry. I had not had a proper meal in hours. My son took off on his own because he found me too slow. I had to read everything and he thought that I was moving at a sloth-monkey pace. So, he took off to find a lunch place for us. By the time we were done with the palace, both I and my husband were exhausted. We were now trying to find a place for lunch. We are vegetarians and my son is not. So finding a place for all of us to eat had been another challenge. We usually split up so he could eat wherever he liked. But today was Mother’s Day and I was hoping to be treated to a joint lunch. So far it had turned out quite dismally. No flowers, no card, no selfies, no food. I always prided myself in declaring that I did not believe in bullshit Hallmark holidays. So why was I feeling so unseen and unappreciated right now? I had the most loving and amazing relationship with my son. I knew that he adored me and that I was his favorite person in the world. He always showered me with love and so why did this stupid day matter so much? I was irritated at myself for caring and falling into this Hallmark trap.
Finished with the tour, we struggled to find our way out and locate ourselves. In the meantime, my son found a vegan restaurant for us and texted us the location. Both I and my husband were not so great with Google Maps for walking as we hardly used them. My son had been navigating for us and now he was not there. My feet were killing me and I was exhausted, hungry, and my rage was slowly building up. Google Maps said that the restaurant was another 20 minutes of walking. Having not eaten for hours now, I refused to budge. By now I was livid with my son for leaving us alone and rushing off by himself. I told my husband that I was done walking and that we needed to get an Uber or taxi.
We couldn’t find a taxi or Uber for a while and when we found one, he refused to take us because he didn’t know where the restaurant was. Again, language was a problem that hindered communication. There was no other taxi in sight. By now, I was livid. Mother’s Day was turning into a nightmare. Miraculously, suddenly the taxi driver had a change of heart and said he would take us. We found ourselves in the restaurant and got a table. My son was on his way to join us.
Sitting at the table, I worked up quite a rage. I was building a story about this ungrateful, entitled, brat of a boy who could not bother to honor his mother who had showered him with so much love for 23 years. “The ingrate,” I thought had to be taught a lesson. Sitting at the table, fuming and cooking up the choicest of the words to hurl at him, I heard my husband thank me. He said, “My God, you have come a long way and evolved so much. Last night, you did not say an unkind word to me. A few years ago, you would have completely lost it. Thank You.” I was taken aback. Well, I did not feel very evolved at that moment. I was plotting, scheming, and waiting to destroy my son. And that too on Mother’s Day. What an evolution!
My poor unsuspecting son waltzed in and sat at the table, happy to have found a great restaurant that his mother would like. Little did he suspect that he was sitting next to a raging inferno. And then I let him have it! I unleashed my complete fury on him. I have never scolded my son like that in his entire 23 years. The sight of him always brought me joy. Heck, he was loved so dearly by everyone who ever met him. As I unleashed on him, I could see the shock, surprise, dismay, and hurt in his eyes. He didn’t know what to say. He just kept repeating, “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He kept repeating it again and again and after a few minutes put his arm around me and hugged me. I melted into tears and was immediately filled with shame and regret. What have I done?
At that very moment, my phone pinged with several text messages. The Divine timing is so impeccable. It was Mother’s Day greetings from several beloved clients of mine. Each one wished me, showered me with praise, called me awesome, amazing, and wise, and thanked me for guiding them with my wisdom. Is this a cosmic joke? I felt so small right then and wanted to text back “Care to share with me what I taught you? I feel like a mean monster right now.” By now, I was so filled with regret that I could not even make eye contact with my son.
Well, the universe was not done with me. Within a few minutes, I received another text. This time, from my daughter who wished me and added “I hope the boys are taking good care of you and treating you well today.” I let her know that I was currently feeling like the worst mother in the world and that I had unleashed my fury on her poor brother. To which, my wise 25-year-old daughter responded “I am sorry to hear that. Don’t let this one incident take away from the fact that you are an awesome mother and celebrate your motherhood today.”
Rumi said it right. “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, or some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all.” I realized that this is what feels like to be human — an evolved wife, wise therapist, loving mother to one, raging mother to another, feeling joy, pride, gratitude, shame, disappointment, regret, and exhaustion, all at once. This is the rawness of life. This is what wholeness feels like. Wholeness is not perfection. It is inviting all of it and holding it with kindness, compassion, and understanding.
Suddenly, I felt a deep level of humility and compassion for my clients, some of whom were working so hard and still struggling so much, making progress and regressing. One step forward and two steps back, sometimes for years. It is not because they are not trying hard. It is because this is what it means to be on the human journey. I realized that as much as I adored all of my clients, I was still holding some trace of judgment and I needed a lesson in humility. I needed to be reminded of my frailty and humanness. I needed to be reminded to not judge others. I was not above it all. I was and am right in the muck with everyone else. I remembered the final sentences of that poem by Rumi. “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Indeed, this guide made me face the fragility of being human and never hold a second of a superior view of oneself. Humility is the doorway to empathy, compassion, and connection.
As the story goes, that evening, my son came to me with something in his hand. He had got me a small silk pouch with “Granada” inscribed on it. “I just had one euro with me,” he said. “So, I could only afford this. Happy Mother’s Day.” He hugged me. This poor child. After having been a receptacle for my rage, he had only responded with empathy, understanding, and loving-kindness. Once again, I apologized to him profusely for my outburst that afternoon. To which he simply said “It’s okay. It happens sometimes.” And just like that, he let it go and never brought it up again. Now who was the mother and who was the child?
Vinutha Mohan is a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in trauma. Before her avatar as a therapist, she spent over 15 years in the corporate world.