Nia Vardalos described the role of a mother best in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding when she wrote, “the man is the head, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants”. My mother, born Donna Marie Farah before she married Salem, my father, was the epitome of “the neck”. She was the epicenter of our world; the nucleus of our nuclear unit. In fact, the hierarchy in our home went God, Mom, then Dad, but the poor guy had no clue. He found himself relying on her more than he even knew. In fact, the words, “I don’t know. Go ask your mother,” became his mantra. However, make no mistake about our very Arab American home. True to our culture, it was patriarchal, but like the wizard behind the curtain, Donna ran the show.
Having received numerous degrees, undergraduate and graduate, throughout her life and having my two siblings and I all by the age of 27, my mother was anything but bored. In fact, boredom would probably be welcomed on a good day. She was the quintessential superhero, never failing at her life. Although, to me, as the oldest of three, I saw one area she failed in everyday and I had no clue how to help. Very much a product of my birth order, I wanted to “fix” this problem for my mother, and I couldn’t. She didn’t even know it existed. You see, my mother, this epitome of perfection, this paragon of motherly devotion had done the unthinkable. She lost herself. Everyday, I watched my mother neglect herself just a little bit more than the day before. Raising children and a husband, maintaining a career, and running a diner left no room for private time throughout her life. She put her identity on the proverbial back burner by constantly putting her needs last or not taking care of them at all.
There are only three men that my mother has ever truly loved in the following order: Jesus, Elvis Presley, and my father. Since Jesus and Elvis weren’t options for her, she settled for Salem. Make no mistake about it. Elvis was very prominent in my childhood. Do you know any 2 year olds who could quote Elvis movies? However, her “Elvis is Life” mentality started with her first trip to Graceland, Elvis’ home in good ‘ol Memphis, Tennessee. She came back from that trip truly transformed. From that point on, she immersed herself in The King. Elvis was on the television, on the radio, in her car, in her room, all over the house, etc. She read Elvis, watched Elvis, and decorated with Elvis. In the beginning, it almost seemed as if she was a woman obsessed, but it made her happy, and that was the point wasn’t it? For her to find some sort of relief outside of her responsibilities? For her to discover something that was just hers alone?
Over the years, her love of and for Elvis has grown and matured, much like a school girl crush develops into an appreciation for not only the novelty, but the human being behind the novelty. One time, I heard her say that is was through Elvis that she kept her connection to her father, even though he was no longer living. When she was growing up, she would watch Elvis movies with my grandfather. It was something that they shared, and it was through her renewed love for The King that she was and is able to tether herself to my grandfather’s memory. I get that. I get needing to keep something you’ve lost so close to you that is can never escape again, such as memories. Sometimes, they are all we have to cling to, and so it is through Elvis’ hip thrusting, jailhouse rocking, blue suede shoe wearing self that my mother is able to do just that. So, I let her have it. All of it. The trips to Graceland, conventions, showings, collector’s items…all of it. Because she deserves it.