All I am

Tracing the story of my mom and me


Krish Dev and Sophia Ma

Exploring the effects my mother has had on me

Anushka De

The story of my mother and I begins with me watching her getting ready. 

I’d stand next to her, my head barely clearing the countertop, and watch her blow dry her long black hair in the mirror. She’d pop in contacts — “I’m putting my eyes on,” she’d say — and paint dark lines around her dark eyes using a Bobbi Brown eye pencil. The more glamor the better — I lived for the light dusting of blush, the swipe of glittery eye shadow, the smudge of rouge lipstick. 

A lot of my memories with my mom as a little girl are of us dressing up. I remember her combing through my tangled hair after showers and putting together my outfit before the first day of third grade. I remember stealing her sweaters so I could wear them to school and digging through her makeup and drawing on kajal on my waterline, thinking she wouldn’t notice. In a lot of ways my mom and I are extremely similar — eyeliner is our armor that gets us a little more ready to face the world.

As I got older, the story of my mother and I shifted to her getting me ready. Innocent conversations always seemed to devolve into fighting in the car because of something I’d said. In her eyes, I felt like I was always a little too loud, a little too sensitive and a second from saying something rude. She corrected my behavior and I got offended by her interventions. She believed she was preparing me for the world, I believed she was trying to change who I was. Our cycle became predictable — I’d say something rude, she’d get upset and our little spat would culminate in a TJ Maxx shopping trip. Because in a lot of ways, my mom and I are totally different. But the two of us being TJ Maxx’s most prolific customers gets us a little more ready to face the world. 

The story of my mother and I starts with her arrival in this country on a one-way plane ticket that transformed the only life she’d ever known into a memory. She entered this new life already jaded by the old one; hardened by living in a house that flooded for three months a year with a foot of snake-ridden water, sharpened by the hour-long commute through two trains and a bus that she used to get to school every day, calloused by the years of tiny sacrifices because there was never enough money. My mom also ranked first in every class she took in high school, attended one of the best universities in India and received scholarships for every bit of education she received in the states. 

I, of course, never explicitly saw any of her struggle or early success. But her story, her struggles, have appeared in small ways throughout the story we share. When we moved in fifth grade, she insisted that my brother and I attend public school and live close to our friends because she never had that. The people who were unkind to her during her career because they thought she was too loud or too sensitive made her fearful; fearful that I, with almost the exact same personality, would experience her hurt. I never saw my mom undergo a lot of the pain and joy that has shaped our story. But I love to indulge in this reconstruction of her life sometimes, of her teenage years in India and the young adult ones here. The gravity of her experiences remind me of the strength she had when she was my age. 

The story of my mother and I has culminated in me helping her get ready. We’re the same height now, so I seat her on a stool before I do her makeup. She watches in the mirror as I curl her hair and brush on concealer, dust her eyes with glitter and her cheeks with rose blush. Now, I use my own eyeliner to clean up hers. Now, our armor is shared. 

My mother is my picture of beauty, my example of strength. First, she taught me to take care of myself, to put my armor on before I faced the day. Then, she taught me to be tougher, kinder, a better listener — to hone the person under the armor. No one has critiqued me more than my mother, no one has ever been as proud of me as my mother, no one has had more faith in me than my mother. 

The story of my mother and I is the story of me getting ready for the world. As I stand on the cusp of a limitless future, I am grounded by her words and lifted by her faith in me. My mother is my armor, my strength and my ability to see beauty in the unknown. 

The story of my mother and I is the story of all that I am.


My mom and I — the original mirror selfie queens.