How Vegas Changed the Way I Think About My Mom

“Well, I am sure I won’t lose you in the airport with the color pants that you are wearing today!” That was my mom’s way of greeting me – and my fuchsia pants – the day I met her at the airport to catch our flight to celebrate her 80th birthday in Las Vegas.

Don’t get me wrong. I took no offense. Us feisty women in the family have no qualms about teasing each other and poking fun of ourselves for a few moments of giddy lightness and laughter.

I kissed my mom on both cheeks, and pursed my lips to stop that defiant smile that was about to come across my face. “Oh. Just you wait until later today when I will wear my electric blue pants I have packed for our trip,” I thought to myself.

You would think most moms her age opt for some calm, relaxing get-away, maybe a trip to a nearby spa. But not my mom! “How about we go to Las Vegas again,” she suggested the week before. Yes, again…for the 7th year in a row that is.

As for me, Las Vegas is simply overwhelming. Who can ever relax with those bright lights, the throngs of people walking around from one hotel to the next, and the ever-present clink clink sound of slot machines? But relaxation is not what my mom is after. She wants excitement.

I remember one year, when we had all gone to Maui on a family holiday, she told us on the second day, “I am all done with this boring place. There is nothing to do but sit around. When can we head back home?” We were sitting in our bathing suits on the white-powder sand beach, in front the gorgeous turquoise water, thinking what is mom talking about?

So, it was no surprise that once again my sister, niece, and I found ourselves chasing after our mom at the Burbank airport this past February to catch our flight to Las Vegas.

“Hurry up. We will miss the plane,” she warned us.

All 5’ 1” of my mom was focused on getting to the gate as soon as possible. We had plenty of time, of course, but that was not the point. To tell you the truth, I have never seen my mom take a leisurely walk or a stroll…ever. She rushes from one place to another, even from the dining room to the kitchen with such determination and agility that you think she is training for a speed walking competition.

At the airport, too, she zoomed to her target location, her torso slanted 20 degrees in front of her, and there she went— armed with the most fashionable version of orthopedic shoes.

From the minute we landed and got into our limo, my mom was full of laughter and jokes. She played the slot machines, and by the way, we made her sit and play on one that had the image of the “Sex and the City” women plastered on the front. She willingly posed and we snapped pictures of her, joking which one of the women she most resembled.

We went shopping and I found her running toward me, waving her hands to get my attention. She came over to show me her wonderful find– a screaming-yellow pair of skinny pants. “Angel, this is so your style,” she told me. “Mom, I think I would look like an overripe banana with these pants,” I responded. And I guess that was enough for her to run back in the racks to look for another find.

We topped off our evening with a five course dinner and wine and headed for the Elvis show at Aria. There I sat next to her and marveled at my mom. She was clapping along with the music and by the end of the show she was up on her feet, dancing and swaying.

Some say people don’t change, but I disagree. My mom wasn’t always this way. She was serious and stern when she was younger. She, like most others, has had her share of ups and downs but what is remarkable is that instead of being bogged down and diminished by the weight of memories, she seems to have made up her mind to be happy.

I call her everyday early in the morning to see how she is doing. For the past few months, I even see some special sparkle in her tone of voice, a real vibrancy to her personality. When I ask her, “How are you?” She answers, “Just fantastic. Great. Even better than you!” She laughs and I laugh along.

But is there something I am missing here? With every year, she seems to bloom into a better, happier person.

“I am turning 80, Angel. Just remember, youth is fugitive. I have no time to cling to the petty stuff. I’ve got to enjoy everything while I can,” she proudly told me the other day when we were booking our flights to Vegas. Who says old age means lack of enthusiasm? Who says you can’t change your attitude about life, even after decades of behaving a particular way?

We had had a full day on our first day in Las Vegas. It was past midnight when we decided to head back to our rooms. This time around, I was sharing a room with my mom, while my sister was sharing a room with her daughter. As I was getting ready to go to bed, I realized that I had not shared a room with my mom for years. Come to think of it, the last time I shared a room with her was when I was eleven years old, and I had just emigrated to the U.S. from Iran.

Shortly after, my mom went back to Iran to help my father liquidate some assets to support the kids who were now living in the states. They ended up getting stuck in Iran for five and a half years, which my mom recounts as one of the most trying times of her life. When my parents finally escaped and made it to the U.S., I was sixteen and a junior in high school.

I went to college and married at age 20. So, in many ways our typical mother-daughter growing up years was cut short at an early age. Then life took over and we focused our attention on what life demanded of us: my mom looked after my father for many years when he was not in good health, and I looked after my own growing family.

Then, before I knew it, here I was—as a 44 year-old, having my first sleepover with my mother in Las Vegas after 33 years.

There was a lot I didn’t know about my mother. For example, I didn’t know my mother moves around so much in her sleep. Nor did I know how intimate it could be to listen to someone’s rhythmic breathing. I got up early in the morning and laid in bed listening to her breathe. The room seemed womb-like to me, and I wondered if this is how babies feel do when they are inside their mothers and the only sound they hear is their mom’s breathing or heartbeat.

By six in the morning, it was getting light outside and I saw that my mom was stirring in the bed next to me. She stretched out her arms and mumbled something in Farsi that caught me by surprise. I knew what she said was not rehearsed and in her daze, she wasn’t even aware that I was in the same room as her.

Even with her arthritic shoulder, her major back surgery, a torn meniscus in her knee and with all the aches and pains that old age brings, she still reflexively mumbled, “Khodaya Shokret”. It is hard to translate this in English, but simply put it means “Thank you God.”

The woman that she is came into clear focus—she is so deeply grateful for the moments in her life that she reflexively even says it before she opens her eyes.

On that trip to Las Vegas, I made a promise to myself that I would hold these precious moments with my mother close to my heart and use them to remind myself and those I love to live each day with gratitude.

About the Author

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Angella Nazarian, president of Visionary Women, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization in Los Angeles, is a successful author and noted international speaker. She has led panels at the Milken Global Conference and served as a delegate to Women in the World. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and Cultured magazine, and her book Visionary Women will be published this fall.

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