Portrait: Teta

Teta doesn’t really like that nickname, it reminds her of her own teta, an old lady, a lovely one, granted, but one who loved fitting into the teta cliche, with her cross around her neck and her labneh making and her kebeh labanieh and her sheesh barak, and her permanent black attire. She loved her, but she hated the teta concept: as soon as you become a grand mother you all of a sudden seem to have to make jars of jam and mouneh and be exclusively devoted to you children
and grandchildren. Teta has always been an active woman who fought at great lengths to keep her job and her family, both of which she loved dearly and struggled dearly with, and all of a sudden, because she became a grandmother, she was supposed to act as if all those years never happened and start behaving as if nothing mattered more than the perfect baking of her home made bread.

Er, why?

It seems even her daughter frowns at her when she says she can’t look after her child, as if Teta’s sole purpose in life now was to be full time super nanny, because of course, what else should she be doing? She’s old!
Teta mutters to herself, seated on her lovely balcony full of fresh flowers, and looks down at her wrinkled hands: when does it ever stop? I got judged when I was young for having my own mind and saying loud and clear what was on it, I got judged when I grew older for loving my ridiculously badly paid job instead of staying at home with my kids and now that I’m old, I’m getting judged for not acting the part.  Teta doesn’t look the part: she loved her husband more than anything else in this world, but would never dress only in black ad vitam eternam, the az3ar would never stop laughing from above. She’s not been to a surgeon to keep her features from testifying her age and chose to grow old gracefully. She’s neither the self effacing older woman nor the grandmother who’d rather die than say she actually has four grandchildren. 
The other grandmother doesn’t help, either. This one, she’s like the walking cliche on the Teta with a capital T: ya 3omri, to2borneh teta ana, let me make you some impossibly complicated dish in my quaint old kitchen with special mouneh that I brought from the mountains! Yi 3aleynah heyde, she makes me feel so bad.
Gloomily, Teta sips her delicious orange blossom flowers coffee, thinking of the so-strong-it-aches love she holds for her family, how crazy she’d go is something happened to them, how unfair society has always been, asking her to define herself only in relations to them, to choose, all the time, all these choices. Her own mother told her all these years ago it was every s woman’s lot, that suffering was something that came with the female condition. Teta never believed it and now she’s punishing herself, feeling bad when she should not.
Today, Teta’s available to mind her grandchildren, and, while she starts tidying up her place, she immerses herself in her life, in her role.
If a mother is a role model, then a grandmother should be an even bigger one.
Role model. I like that. I like that my granddaughter will retain a sense of self until the day she dies, I can teach her that. I might not make sheesh barak, but I will develop her curiosity, read with her and always tell her to hold her ground, no matter the circumstances.

Now humming gaily, Teta puts the hot chocolate cup down and prepares the sahlab ice cream. The little devil will come home hungry from school, and she needs her energy for the women’s cooperative Teta’s taking her to today.

To Read: Teta, Mother and Me, By Jean Said MAkdisi

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