This is the fourth entry of “The Chip On My Shoulder Is A Boulder,” a series on the complex relationships between black women and their mothers. The series will run over the next two weeks. Previous entries include “The Adoptee,” “The Rebel” and “The Gypsy.”
It’s often said we don’t get to pick our parents.
Depending on what you believe, it was either divine intervention or pure happenstance, but you’re here and there she is, your mother.
The love is always there. You have it before you can walk, before you know your name. But it does not always come easy. Mistakes are made. Hearts are broken, but we are resilient. A mother can be redeemed and a child can learn to understand. There is what we can control and what we cannot, but in the end you recognize the realities and limits of this relationship and find solace in the fact she did her best.
I used to call her mommo when I was growing up.
I was addicted to the Patty Duke Show on Nick at Nite and she called her dad poppo. But I digress. I love my mom and she has always been there for me and my other 3 sisters.
She is black and was born in 1954 in Louisiana but does not know the exact month and day she was born. She was the youngest of 16 children, born to a single woman obsessed with the father of her children. My mother and youngest aunt were neglected as a result.
My grandmother (and I use that term loosely) left a 2 yr old (my mother) and a 4 yr old (my aunt) alone for several weeks in a house in rural Louisiana to chase after her babies’ daddy all the way in Las Vegas. Because of this, they were both adopted by my mother’s great aunt and moved to California. They were raised by this elderly great aunt who was overbearing and unaffectionate.
At 22 when my sheltered and naive mother met my charismatic father, I was the result of their paths crossing, born in Los Angeles in 1978. They were never in a relationship either before or after my birth. When my mother found out she was pregnant she decided not to tell my father and he found out only after seeing her several months later with a huge belly. From that day on she allowed him in my life but did not seek or encourage it.
Several years later she met and married my sister’s father, an Irish Catholic white man with anger issues who drank and used drugs. During this time my mom fell out of contact with my dad due to the lifestyle she and her new husband were leading. I remember him faintly but what I remember does not paint a pretty picture. I remember being scared of him and him beating my mother. He was murdered after two years of being with my mom before my sister was two years old and she doesn’t remember him at all.
We lived a hard life. When I was 11 years old we moved to Louisiana where it was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Despite the extreme weather changes, life in Louisiana was much easier to live. Once there my mother had two more girls back-to-back by different fathers — men that she as well didn’t encourage to be in her daughters’ lives.
To this day I don’t know the rationale behind the decisions she made in her life but it doesn’t matter because they cannot be changed. I have the utmost respect for my mother. She loved to say that we were the most prosperous dysfunctional family around. When I was younger, I was more resentful. I wanted my mother to be rich enough to buy me anything I wanted. As I have grown older, I have become wiser and able to put things in perspective.
I have now realized the valuable lessons that she taught me. She has been at the same job for the last 20 years. She sacrificed earning potential to work right next door to our home because she didn’t want us to be “latchkey kids.” She had a home cooked meal on the table nearly everyday of the week. She is hard-working both at home and at work.
We didn’t have the nicest home but she kept it as clean and orderly as she could. Because we didn’t have money for the extras, I began working at 13 and learned the value of a dollar. My mother was a great help with homework and projects, knowing history and math. She encouraged us to look out for one another at all times because she was determined to be a better mother than her biological mother.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I wish I were more understanding when I was younger. I tried to make her conform to what I thought a mother should be, but looking back I realize that she had it right all along. I had the best mother I could have and I will honor her always.