When you don't know where you are going, look where you come from.
This morning, I wake up long before the first ray of sunshine passes through my shutter. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I hear whispers and mouse footsteps in the hallway. I sketch a smile, closing my eyes, I pretend to be in a deep sleep. So predictable, the door to my room opens, two wild beasts throw on me, howling with joy:
Happy birthday, Mother. You are 50 today!
I jump on my feet, wave my arm in the air, and with my fist raised, I exclaim:
50 is the new 30!
Lou and Jolie break down laughing and join in my madness. We jump on my spring mattress, trampoline effect guaranteed. I am a single mom. We are one for all and all for one. Why do I say that 50 is the new 30? Am I refusing to grow old, or am I looking for my lost youth? Not at all. It's just because I like the number 30. I could choose any other number, for example 36, which is a very good number. At the dawn of my 50th birthday, I realize that aging is a privilege that is not accessible to everyone. I am happy to be 50 years old. A half-century. Five decades. 18,250 days! Jolie hands me a package nicely wrapped in homemade Chinese rice paper.
Mother, we made a present for you.
I tear the packaging.
Oh, a salt dough frame, and a photo ... I pause, take a deep breath, before continuing. A photo of my parents and me when we arrived in Belgium.
I feel my eyes starting to sting.
Do you like the photo we chose?
Lou, 13 years old, 1.76 m of sweetness slips between my arms.
I nod my head and bring it closer to my face. My eyesight has gone down, it's in tune with my new age.
Forty years have passed in the blink of an eye. My family and I had just arrived in Brussels as political refugees. Belgium had assigned us a social housing, next to the Gare du Nord. From my window, stretching out my arm, I could almost touch the trains. In this photo, taken in front of our new home, I was posing proudly with my parents. It was winter. And I was wearing flip flops made in Vietnam. The cold sawed through my feet like a lumberjack's saw. And yet, I had never complained, because I knew that my parents were poorer than poor. They barely had enough to pay for the groceries. I didn't ask them for clothes or toys. All these things were inaccessible to us.
Dad stood straight, as if he were still a mandarin at the imperial court when he had become a dishwasher in a Greek fast-food restaurant near the Grand-Place. Mom, true to herself, showed a discreet smile, but so elegant. On one side, she held the caddy and on the other, kept my hand in hers. She was my age now. At 50, my mother was starting a new life in a country culturally so different from hers. She only spoke Vietnamese, whereas in Brussels, for any job, you had to be bilingual: French and Dutch. I don't know where she drew her strength to succeed in making me the independent woman I have become. My mother was the generous trunk of a tree on which I grew. I would like my branches to grow the rarest of flowers.
Lying on the bed, pressed against each other, we stare at the photo.
When you don't know where you are going, look where you come from, I tell my daughters. Let's take a selfie! And you will show it to your children.
We strike poses like stars, kisses here, grimaces there. Outside, the sun is shining. A new day begins with the bursts of our laughter echoing over the rooftops of Paris.