Mother by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

When I told my mother

I wanted to be a veterinarian

when I grew up, she told me

that vets kill puppies and kittens

and stick needles into horses

and bunnies with cancer.

When I told my mother

I wanted to be a zoo-keeper

when I grew up, she told me

that animals in captivity

are still wild animals, and hence

could attack even the friendliest

of caretakers, usually tearing them

to shreds and eating their remains.

You see, my mum and I

had a lot of time to talk

about these things: I was the last

of the Aptowicz brood.

Always too young and too small

to go on the backpacking trips

and nature hikes that formed

my brother and sister: the scientists.

Mum never liked my career choices much,

but I knew I was on the right track

when one day, over a bowl of alphabet soup,

I asked her:

Hey Mum,

how come there are such things 

as bad words?

And she said:

Honey,

there is no such things

as a “bad word.”

Only words that aren’t 

appropriate for all situations.

For instance,

you should never say

the word “shit”

in front of a nun.

You see, she gave me that:

she gave me the gift of words;

she gave me the power of words,

and I never considered it a privilege.

But my mum grew up in a time

when words were being redefined,

words like gender, power, class,

and revolution.

So though she was top of her class,

editor of the school literary magazine,

editor of the school newspaper,

the National Merit Scholar with

the three-newspaper-a-day habit,

she still had to hear them tell her:

The scholarship

is not going to be for English

If you want to go to college at all,

it’s going to have to be for science.

So my mother, the biologist,

met my father, the chemical engineer,

and together they produced three beautiful kids,

one of which my mum would make sure

wouldn’t feel the burn she was forced to feel.

People always ask me

why I make such a big deal

correcting them, saying:

No, it’s not

Cristin Aptowicz.

It’s Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz.

It’s just one word, they say,

it shouldn’t make that much difference.

But I know the differences words make.

It is a gift my mother gave me.

And I honour her

every time I put pen to paper,

every time I put word to lip,

and every time I sign my name,

My mother says she’d never trade

any of us kids in for a novel, or

a job at the New York Times,

though the way we behave sometimes,

she says she’d consider it.

But I know she’s only joking,

because I have never seen her

look so proud, or smile so bright,

as when I finally told her

what I wanted to do,

and she said:

You know what, honey?

I think

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

is the perfect name

for a writer.

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