Some mothers never give birth, yet they give the same amount—if not more—of nurturing and love to the children around them. They provide just the right amount of caring, comfort, discipline, and healing to produce something beautiful in those who have been fortunate enough to be tended to by their hands and hearts. I’ve experienced this kind of love for myself.
I wouldn’t say that all I ever wanted to be growing up was a mother. But Sammy did. It’s all she talked about. And her mother was a little like mine, rough around the edges and not always present. Sometimes that made me think that a mother was the last thing I wanted to be. I wondered how, with all those experiences of her own mother’s imperfections, Sammy could still desire to become something so wretched.
I spent a lot of time at Sammy’s house when I was in middle school. Her mom would make us sandwiches and heat up leftover soup with grilled cheese. She’d laugh with us about our teacher horror stories, at times even sharing some of her own. I experienced a different version of Sammy’s mom than she did in private.
I didn’t know how to articulate or admit it then, but I sat in both amazement and resentment at how Sammy’s mom engaged us—even as she sat in her own brokenness and pain. At times I questioned why this couldn’t be my reality. In my life. In my home. I later learned that Sammy’s mom was in an abusive relationship. It was complicated.
Then, there was Ms. Lulu. She was my neighbor and she had 5 girls. I was certain I was her sixth. She made me feel that way, anyway—they all did.
Since I was an only child, I’d stay at Ms. Lulu’s for hours. I can still hear my grandmother reminding me not to “wear out your welcome” at other peoples’ houses, but I didn’t care about that. Ms. Lulu and her girls didn’t seem to care, either. They were my family. Her girls? My sisters. Ms. Lulu? Well, she was another kind of mama to me.
I learned how to drive when I was 13 in her daughter’s Ford Focus; I listened to N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew for the first time with them on 35’s as the words blasted through their screen door in the summer, and I learned what it meant to have your sister’s back no matter what. They were really good at standing up for each other and making sure no one got away with being the bully (if you know what I mean).
Ms. Lulu was the mama who loved long—and the hard way. She ‘said it with her chest’, but she was fun. She was a single mom who worked hard to support herself and her girls. Even at a young age, I saw her battle with the weight of all that openly and candidly. I saw strength in that. I still do.
There have been countless women in my life who helped shape my identity and form my ideas about what it looks like to be a mother. A host of aunties and uncles, greats and grands, have both intentionally and unintentionally communicated what it looks like to be a nurturer. For a long while I mothered my own children by riding the coattails of what it looked like for them.
Everyone else’s voice got a seat at the proverbial table of my life. And instead of those voices acting as guides that nudged and reminded, I let them overrule and reroute my decisions. I navigated the ups, downs, and stages of development for my own kids by discounting my intuition and consulting others’ past experiences. I fought so hard to avoid becoming what I most feared (being just like the worst of what my own mother had to offer) and, unbeknownst to me, it had become the focus in my relationship with my children.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them. Life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” Truth is, I never thought I could be a good mom. The other truth that I am now learning to accept? I get to determine what good is. It’s not determined by the women of my past, present, or future—or even by culture. No, this kind of good is akin to enough.
I can hold the beautiful truths of my past—the women who taught me as a young girl so many lessons of life and love, while also holding space for the woman I am today. The one who birthed into existence four amazing children. The one who gets to choose the good and has the opportunity—unlike her own mother—to navigate what good looks like WITH each of her children.
It’s not always fun, it’s always messy, but I’m so thankful for the journey. I’m thankful for the grace to hold onto the ideas that propel me into the woman and mother I want to be and for the wisdom to let go of those ideas and experiences that have not and will not serve who I desire to be—the mother I am becoming.
Who are the [m]others from your past that helped shape the person you’ve become?Leave a Comment