When Cristian’s mother visited, he hadn’t seen her in years. They had drifted apart. But, in Cristian’s words, these “15 days in Portugal, helped me reconnecting with my mom."
My roots, our shared history
In Latin America, we say: “Quien no ama su tierra no ama a su madre.”
You don't love your mother if you don't love your land.
My homeland is Colombia. It's been three and a half years since I last visited, and ten years since I lived there. I haven’t wanted to go back. And of course, the pandemic.
I grew up not to miss it.
My country, or them, my family.
My mother finally made it to Portugal last May. In the 15 days that followed I learned so many lessons, and ended up reconnecting with my mom.
At the airport, the long and traditional first hug. Her head touched my chest due to her short height. At the metro, both of her hands held mine as if she was trying to convince herself that I was real. I recognized all the rituals, and I felt at home.
But also, I felt anxious.
The last time she visited me in Brazil, she couldn’t help changing the organization of my kitchen, buying items I didn’t need, and bombarding me with existential questions such as when I was going to stop traveling and set up a real home for myself.
Planning our 15 days in Portugal
We had planned a 2-week holiday together, taking trains from Lisbon to Porto, walking the historical district of Braga, and enjoying the beach along the Cascais train line.
I had a pack of anxious thoughts with these travel plans. My psychotherapist had been encouraging me to focus my thoughts on the present moment. Try to address every situation when it comes instead of trying to prevent or be prepared for it in advance, she said. Science confirmed her advice: a recent study discovered that 91% of our worry thoughts never come true.
So why should I spend so much of my time and energy with these intrusive thoughts of my mom making our 2 week holiday into a nightmare?
Things went very differently on our trip than I had imagined
This was to my surprise, but in-line with science. I realized that neither my mom nor I were the same people since we had last seen each other.
I started to understand the beauty of time and growth. And how important they were for me reconnecting with my mom - as they can be to so many estranged people.
All these little things that used to annoy me about her suddenly weren’t that important anymore:
I came to internalize that she can’t stand strong dark coffee, so whenever we sat for a break I had to order an Americano with hot water on the side to dilute it. (If you ever go to Colombia, you’ll be shocked by the way we drink coffee).
Or that now she has to avoid the stairs and we have to slow down uphill.
That she can’t stand still for too long, so spending a whole day lying by the beach didn’t happen. That her mind is always working on something.
And that all her questions about my future plans of fixing myself in one country instead of moving around every 3 years, were based on her worries about my well-being. Because that’s what moms do; they worry about their children - all the time.
We also found our meeting points.
She finds it amusing that I behave like her more than she ever imagined:
I preferred walking through cities to visiting museums, and if I see a show I want to see, I immediately stop everything to make sure I don't forget to buy tickets, as she does. We both laugh hard and loud and are normally surrounded by like-minded people. We dislike sushi and seafood equally. We both have more energy than our bodies should contain.
Well, I have to admit: I was the one asking her to make a quick stop to stretch my lower back while visiting Porto.
And like me—she talked. The minute she stepped her foot out of the airport, she started speaking and never stopped for two weeks.
Maybe my mom hasn’t found the beauty of silence, as my sister and I have in the last few years, I thought.
But as the days passed, and with the long hours of talking or just listening, I came to understand why she had stopped sharing with me her daily life since I moved to Portugal—why it had always been my sister and not my mom who told me the details of their last argument or the newest scam my mother was falling for that required intervention.
She had saved all her stories for the moment she could share them with me, face to-face, walking down the street, or having dessert after lunch, as we used to do back in Colombia. And sometimes I wondered if she had someone that actually listened to her back home.
Maybe my siblings or her friends aren’t as attentive to her stories as I am.
Maybe they don’t have our connection.
Or maybe they don’t have the patience.
And this is when it hit me.
Isn't it required to live one day at a time? Patience is key to enjoy the present moment. And it was vital in reconnecting with my mom.
I thought of all the things my mom and I lived through together. All the ups and downs she faced in her abusive marriage with my father, the years of work, distance, tears, and joy. All the things she gave up and did for us.
How patient is a mother's heart?
I realized in two weeks with my mom that now I was relating to her as an adult (whatever that word means nowadays), as two mature people, and that any time soon the roles are going to swap and I’ll be the one taking care of her.
I learned to be patient (a bittersweet lesson that Portugal teaches you one way or another) with her little details and with my own anxious thoughts and emotions around our relationship and my own life. I've come to make peace with the fact that my siblings relate to her in a different, maybe rougher way, and that that’s not my responsibility to fix.
If there’s even anything to be fixed.
At the end of our trip together, I took my mom to the airport so that she would return to Colombia.
For the first time in our many airport goodbyes, we didn’t cry
We hugged one last time, and I noticed the inner calm in my chest. A sure sign that I was finally reconnecting with my mom.
I felt mixed feelings about saying goodbye so easily and not missing Colombia. It’s been such a long time. I thought of the Spanish saying again: “Quien no ama su tierra no ama a su madre.”
It’s not that I don’t love the land I was born in. Maybe I never agreed with the saying because I always felt that no matter where I was, my friends and my family were always close to my heart.
This time we didn’t cry. But it wasn’t because we weren’t sad about parting ways once again. It was because we had found trust in this renewed feeling of being connected on a deeper level.
A level where our hearts are never separated, as there’s no other way it could be.