When I started off writing this thing, it was as though I verbally threw up all over the page. It is mostly because my mother and I share such a complicated relationship—we are not that mother/daughter you see on Summer’s Eve commercials having deep conversations about feeling fresh. Our communication is fraught with unspoken words and assumptions, even as it is tempered with laughter and love.
If I can call myself the Queen of “tell it like it is”, I learned from the Grande Dame of “get you straight”. My mother has never, not ever, bit her tongue on account of somebody’s feelings—certainly not mine. In fact, mine have been the least spared, since my mother’s personal goal in life seems to be keeping me from making any mistakes at all. Which entails her reading me left, right and sideways regularly… And since I am the most sensitive individual on the planet (I know, you read my stuff and say, “What the hell is she talking about, sensitive), I have endured a lifetime of agony, all in words, from my mother.
Don’t get it wrong—I am not trying to denigrate my mom or all of the mother’s out there like her. I love my mother. I would kill for my mom without blinking an eye. I dare anybody (my husband included) to say SHIT about my mother. That’s not a fight you want to start with me. My world begins and ends with my head in her lap as she reads the local newspaper. Her approval is everything to me; no one else can raise me up or knock me down as effectively as my mother. I love her like water for chocolate.
So what I am trying to convey here has been difficult, not the least because my only desire is to honor my mother—my mother, who has been my personal champion; the person who has always forgiven me; the one soul who can hear my heart through my tears; the only one (after all these years and people) who sees my stubborn, aggressive approach to life for the fear of failure that it is.
So I’m writing this not to tell you all about how horrible my mom is or how hard she was on me—I’m writing this to share her heart for me. Because, no matter the sting of her words, her love for me is apparent in every go hard moment. That is not to say that I have always recognized it—I’m soft, after all, and I am just now learning to appreciate the forest of her wisdom instead of running into the trees of her often painful words.
The problem I hit was figuring out how to share her love without telling all the business that I’m simply not willing to tell. Then I remembered…
My mom and I have a prolific letter life that grew out of her working nights. I would leave her notes, and when she came home from work, she would respond to them and leave them in the bathroom. With that little sticky note system, we found a way to communicate that wasn’t as painful as our face-to-face confrontations always seemed to be. So I looked at the things she’s written to me over the years—in letters, notes, text messages (yeah, I keep my mama’s text messages in a document file)…
Here’s what she thinks, in her own words (no particular order).
“I worry about you a lot. You don’t ever think about what’s going to happen next. I am not trying to keep you from doing new things. I just wish you would think first.”
“Do you know what you’re doing? You can’t stay in school forever. At some point, you’re going to get a real job and have a life.”
“I don’t know where you got that lying from. I don’t lie like that. But you not going to get far in life if people can’t trust your word, so you need to change that habit.”
“I know you are expecting me to be happy about you being pregnant. I just can’t right now. I wanted so much more for you than this. But you’re going to do what you’re going to do, so I am going to help you as much as I can. I just wish you had waited. And I didn’t even know you were dating someone. You never tell me anything.”
“He is old enough to be your father, and you are telling me that you want to be with him? I just can’t believe that anybody his age would want to be with you for any other reason but to have somebody he can control. You mean to tell me he can’t find anybody his own age?”
“I am proud of you for finishing school. You have always been so smart. I always knew you would be a teacher even though you fought me on that. Ha! ha! We will be there for graduation. I will see if mama’s going to come, you know she don’t like to leave home for long but she will probably come to since it’s you.”
“I know you been down. I been praying for you. You need to get up and dress up and comb your hair and go out and do something for yourself. It will be alright, but you have to take care of you and the girls first. Let [my husband] take care of himself.”
“Sometimes you gotta make a stand for what you want. If you put your foot down instead of letting him lead you, he will have to listen to you. You are my child, you need to act like it. Straighten yourself up and tell him what YOU want.”
“I will never understand why you do whatever [my husband] wants you to do. I guess you don’t have that kind of women sense that I got. I would tell him no just as big and go on about my day. You don’t have to follow behind him all the time.”
“You do what you wanna do. I’m not getting ready to worry myself to death over you. I have prayed for you and gave you over to God cause I can’t no more. You will kill me.”
“How is my pretty daughter? You looking good in that pic that you sent me.”
“He’s a grown man. I know you want to be with him, but you need to let him do what a man is supposed to do and stop trying to do it for him. He don’t need you to take care him. He can take care of himself. He supposed to take care of you. You stand your ground, if he loves you like he say he will do what you want if you make him.”
“The girls look good. You did too. I want you to dress up like that more often. Your smile is all pretty again.”
“I just don’t know about your brother. He’s so slow sometimes. He ain’t like you-you just go ahead and do stuff, make adventures for yourself. You always been the brave one in the family.”
“I’m not trying to get in your business but you need to get a job for yourself so you can feel good about yourself. I know you are bored to death sitting in that house all the time. Even if you just get you a piece of job it’s better than nothing at all. Then you have money for yourself to do what you want.”
“I miss you, too. You need to stay a few more days the next time you bring the girls. You can get some rest before you go back. I know them girls running you raggedy. Mama wants you to go to church, too.”
“Where you at? I haven’t heard from you in a while? You okay. Call me tomorrow morning while I’m at work. Don’t call tonight, getting ready to go to bed right now. Kiss the girls for me.”
“You are too smart and talented to be sitting around doing nothing. You need some good insurance so you keep yourself looking good. Go get you a job doing anything, just go do something.”
“You always did keep your hair together. What’s going on now? You looking throwed away.”
“Happy Birthday! I love you. I hope you have a great day. Don’t forget to smile and be proud of yourself. You have accomplished much and you have a lot more to go.”
“If you not going to do it for yourself, do it for the girls. Don’t let them see you be sad or down. They know when you aren’t happy and they worry about you.”
“I love you too. Be sweet and take care of yourself. You are all you got.”
I’m not getting ready to preach one here—unlike my mom, I’m an over emotional nut so I’m sitting here crying like a baby. What I will say to this:
Your mother may not always be right. She may not always be kind. She may not always be fair. But if you take a minute to look at yourself through her eyes, you may be surprised to know how much she loves you — no matter what.