July is the month in which my mum was born, smack dab in the middle of the month. Usually on her birthday we have a family lunch followed by cake. Given the current lockdown status, that did not happen. Either way, we as her children still commemorated the day the best way we could.
My mother and I have a relationship that is a bit odd. When I say odd, I do not mean negative. It is just different.
Growing up, I never really knew my mother. We lived under the same roof, and she was physically present. Being a stay-at-home mum, she was home with us throughout my childhood. It was guaranteed that she was the first face you saw when you got up, the first person to welcome you home from school and the last face you would see before you slept. Her face was also the one you met when you were in trouble. But that is as much as I can remember of her in this period. I can tell you nothing of her interests or even how she spent the day when we were not at home.
I have a very vivid memory of a time my cousins and I ventured to play in the next estate. This was something my mum did not permit because getting to the next estate meant you either climbed the wall dividing the two estates or you walked out the main gate and went around the wall and walked on the main road. Anyway, we ended up across the wall, got carried away playing and forgot to go back home for lunch. When we did not show up for lunch and none of the kids we played with regularly had any idea of our whereabouts, my mum figured we must have crossed over to the next estate. I still remember very well the sight of my mum standing at the gate that day. We had those gates that had a smaller one for people to pass through, so she did not have to open the gate in full. My mum was standing on the outside of the gate but the small one was open so we could see into our compound. We were in so much trouble. Seeing the pipe she held in her hands erased any doubt in our minds over the fate that awaited us. No words were spoken. Each of us stood by the gate and took our beating in silence before being let into the house. But because she is Mum, her anger was short-lived. After a hot shower we were fed dinner and put to bed.
This experience pretty much sums up the relationship I had with my mum until I turned 10. Her solution to everything was the cane. Is it safe to assume that that is how most of us were raised? Hands up those of us over 30; you feel me, no?
She stopped caning me when I got to Standard 5. Grade 5, for you young ones. But she still gave us the Mum look. You know the one. Where you don’t need words to tell you you fucked up and had better make things right. Yeah, that look.
As a teenager, being away at boarding school and coming back to a house with a million other relatives meant that we did not develop a deeper or more meaningful relationship. Conversations with my mum were very cordial, but only had when necessary. Whether it was school supplies I needed or a message from my dad that I needed to pass on, or chores that needed to get done that day. My moving out of the house immediately after high school did nothing to help our relationship.
Strangely enough, the distance and my experiences as an adult have introduced a whole new dimension into our relationship. I view my mother in a new light.
We were raised Catholic. My dad was a prayerful person, but my mum was like a spiritual guide. She put us into catechism classes, taught us to do novenas and made sure we received all the sacraments. Back then and up to now, my mother’s world begins and ends on her knees, in prayer. No matter the event or the gathering or the crowd, everything that my mother does begins and ends in prayer. Her world may be crumbling but she remains unshaken in her faith and the solution lies in prayer. It’s admirable. I am not religious myself but a lot around my spirituality has been influenced by witnessing my mother’s prayer life.
We were raised in a polygamous family. I never understood why my mother stayed. Let no one lie to you, even in the most harmonious of polygamous marriages it is not all smooth sailing. As a teenager I had so much anger and indifference to the step side of the family. My mum, in comparison, was always welcoming, loving and dutiful. It drove me nuts!! In my head it didn’t make sense. Nowadays, I believe that it is her demonstration of compassion, unconditional love and sense of servitude that really shaped how I deal with people, even those that I don’t like. Don’t get it twisted, I won’t be outrightly nice and yes, I can be a bitch, but there’s always a voice at the back of my mind reminding me to treat everyone with a modicum of dignity and respect, even those I think don’t deserve it.
When I witness mother-daughter relationships where they are close and tell each other everything and are consistently in each other’s business it feels like I’m watching those Hallmark Christmas movies. I find it entertaining. I promise I am not throwing shade, and in all honesty I think if that is the relationship you have with your mum, count it as a blessing. I have lots of love and respect for my mum but it is also very clear for me that the Hallmark thing will never be the nature of our relationship. We have established a way of communicating that conveys the message without getting all into it.
Let me explain.
Sometime last month I was in a really dark place. I was struggling mentally and emotionally and all I wanted was my mum. If we were in a Hallmark movie I would have run to her distraught, in tears, and she would have made me hot chocolate. And we would have sat on the couch as I cried out my feelings and shared my worries. Then she would have given me some sound advice and all would have been right with the world again. We ain’t in no movie. That day I drove to her place of work and sat in the parking lot for a good half hour before going in. Maybe it was knowing she was close by. My mum works in the church, so maybe just being in that space was cathartic. I don’t know what triggered it but I sat in the car and bawled my eyes out. I had a very long, ugly cry. And when I was done I sat in the car for as long as it took to clear the redness and puffiness from my eyes. There was no way I was going to let my mum see me like that! How now?
Usually when I go to see her at work I just follow her around making small talk as she goes about her duties. For some reason on that particular day she made me tea and made me sit in the lounge. And she just sat with me humming some songs and said nothing. I finished my tea and we said goodbye and I left. Maybe I imagined it, but it felt like she hugged me tighter than usual. Maybe she sensed something was amiss or maybe she saw me crying in the car or maybe my eyes were not quite clear. Maybe it was her Mum instinct that kicked in. I don’t know. Either way, I felt way better by the time I was making my way home.
I love my mum. Just the way she is. For who she is. In how she is open to love and is welcoming to everyone. Her kindness and compassion know no bounds. Her faith in God is relentless. My sisters and I are always laughing at how she picks the most hideous of sweaters for her grandchildren. That sweater is bought from a place of love and care and it is her way of reminding us that we are still her children and she still prays for us and wants nothing but the best for us. So our kids wear them. For sure, she will not read this blog and know how I feel. But I hope I can live up to her expectations. To consistently be the kind of person she would be proud of and maybe, just maybe, I will work up the courage to tell her all this to her face.