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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Ode to Ibu Endang: “Ibu” (Mother)

You really felt like mine
Packing me mango slices in a lunchbox
Washing dishes side by side after the house grew quiet
Teaching me to make sambal
With a mortar and pestle and extra spicy chillies
I hear the oil sizzling and popping
At 4 am
The soft clinking of woks and spoons even before the chorus of roosters begin their daily song
“Motherhood,” you say
“Is my choice.”
I see the tiredness in your eyes
See you working from dawn to dusk
without even a hint of bitterness
“Everything,” you say
“Everything is for my children.”
4 am wakeups, homemade meal after meal, market trips, the business, the hours and hours of teaching
Every day you’re moving
The family nestled in your arms

You are strong and unshakeable
Your children look at you
With sparkling, adoring eyes
In which I see the sproutlings
of confident, grateful, grounded adults
Your daughter has a bow and arrow strapped to her back
The encouragement to sing, read, learn
play outside and get dirty
follow her heart
You push and nurture with tenderness

Looking up to someone so strong
I know I can be strong too
Femininity can mean being
soft and sweet
creating and caring for new life
But it’s more than that
“Jenny, you say no and slap him in the face.”
You whisper with intensity
“You don’t owe men anything and
you don’t have to be nice.
Accept nothing less than
respect and love.”
A tear drips onto my shoulder as we hug

I stand a bit taller now
Motherhood is your superpower
Under your light
we learn to open our petals
even if storms try to stamp us down and stifle our voices
We defy, say no, continue to grow
Ibu, look now, at this beautiful garden