The Power of One Mom: My Mom

Christine Koh

This time last week I had just started to pack for Ethiopia. And while I was rifling through my cosmetics drawer, looking for travel sized samples, at the very last minute I grabbed a Clinique lipstick. I bought this lipstick last year and have rarely used it, but for some reason felt a strong urge to bring it with me. I didn’t know why at the time. It wasn’t because I was overly concerned about my lip color in Ethiopia and/or had plenty of packing room; every ounce counted — I managed to pack for 8 days carry-on only.

It wasn’t until I was freshening up after arriving at our hotel in Addis Ababa that I realized why I brought the lipstick. It hit me when I opened the cap and that distinct Clinique smell wafted out at me. I immediately thought: Mom. When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was play with my Mom’s cosmetics. My mom was a dedicated Clinique user and every time I opened the lid of her Garfield-etched wooden cosmetics box (a gift to her from one of my siblings…thank you, woodworking class) that delicious Clinique smell wafted out. It smelled so pretty. So classy. So my Mom.

Apparently, I needed to have a piece of my Mom with me in Ethiopia.

On Wednesday I saw my Mom for the first time since returning from Ethiopia. We hugged, I gave her a gift, and we talked about the trip. She listened intently to my stories about the people, their struggles and progress, and their incredible joy and generosity. She shared stories about what her church is doing to help orphans in North Korea. At the end of the conversation, she said simply, “You did a good thing, Christine.”

And similar to the feeling that washed over me when I opened that tube of Clinique lipstick in Addis Ababa, I was immediately enveloped by comfort and warmth. I was amazed by the fact that even at 39 years old, the support of my Mom meant so much to me.

Maybe it’s because I know that at some level, she wasn’t the biggest fan of this trip (given that it was taking me away from Jon and my babies for a long stretch). Maybe it’s because I’ve been a bit raw around the edges since returning home – everyday thinking about the people I met and the things that I saw. Maybe it’s because I ruminated so much during the trip about what it means to be a mom when you have so very much and so very little.

But there’s one thing about which I am entirely certain: that one mom can make a difference. Thank you, Mom, for unknowingly embracing me while I was away, and for supporting me when I returned. I needed that.

ONE Mom Christine Koh traveled to Ethiopia with ONE this October. This piece, originally published on Pop Discourse, is part of our ongoing coverage of the trip.