My Mama and Me

This Mother’s Day was a bittersweet one for me, as my relationship with my mother can best be described as “complicated.” And at worst, we are estranged — indefinitely. Last year for father’s day, I left my dad a you’ll always be the best man I’ve ever known message on my parents’ answering machine. My mother replied jokingly, but more seriously than she meant to let on, that I “never say that kind of stuff” to her. I never thought much about why I didn’t. In my mind, the bottles of perfume, and the iPod, and the shoes I’d bought over the years, meant the same thing I’d said to my father. But it didn’t to her. And in all honesty, it never occurred to me that she was receptive to sincerity in that way. As a matter of fact, when it does occur to me to describe my mama’s character, sincere just doesn’t come to mind.

Lest I seem too critical of the gorgeous woman that gave me life, I do acknowledge the sacrifices my mother made early on so that I could be anything and everything I dreamed I could be. I appreciate that she pushed aside her personal ambitions to ensure that I had the chance at a better life than hers. My parents nudged me gently, but unmistakably in one direction — up. They encouraged aspiration as opposed to complacency, and brilliance when good enough would do. I knew with absolute certainty that I was my mama’s “pride and joy.” I was her greatest accomplishment and her biggest investment. And I’m pretty sure she cheated on something to get me into Head Start early. But such is life — early bird catches the worm, right? Even if said bird is shady than a mug…

When I was little, my favorite books were The Cat in the Hat and Ferdinand and the Bull. My mom read one or the other to me every night. And although by about time 20, she was over Dr. Seuss and all his carryin on, she kept up our nightly ritual. In part because I was her little girl, and you can’t deny your little girl. And I mean, have you seen my little girl eyes? They really were undeniable. But also, my mom got a kick out of me memorizing the words, and “reading” to her like I knew what I was doing. I think she really just got a kick out of me too. She used to tell me that I used words way too big for someone aged in single digits. So you see, I talk fancy in spite of myself. I’s bo’n this way; can’t help it one bit.

My mom was always so proud of me. She cheered hard and loud at my basketball games, and boasted the way parents do when I excelled at the academic stuff, too. I know my mama loves and cherishes me. Because at 30 years old, I still have trouble saying goodbye at the airport without choking up. In fact, I usually lose my inner gangsta completely on the final embrace, just before we part ways at the security check-in. She may get on my nerves when I’m home, but that last look into her eyes before I leave gets me every. single. time.

But love and pride were never our problem, mine and my mama’s. Since I left for college, we’ve been stuck at acceptance. It’s been difficult for my mother to accept that I grew up, that I’m not the snaggle-toothed kindergardener on her wall anymore. And since I came out, we’ve really just been stuck. Now, I love women in a way that my mother doesn’t, and I’d be frontin with y’all if I pretended not to understand the massive weight of such a revelation. But my degree of gayness is merely part of our overarching issue, which can be defined quite simply. Fundamentally, my mama and I are completely different types of women. While I accepted that fact long ago, and although I suspect that my mother has always known it too, “coming out” as the polar opposite of who she is, has emblazoned our differences. And every day since August 17th 2010, she can’t understand them; she can’t overlook them; and she won’t accept them.

One of my very good friends often challenges my anger at my mother’s stubbornness. I may be oversimplifying his point, but it seems to me that he thinks it permissible to be “disappointed” and to lash out because the morals we cherry-pick are compromised in some way, or because of the romanticized aspects of our heritage. But I’m from the same place they’re from, and I managed to pull my head out of my ass. Is it really too much to expect that others could do so also?

But let me not pretend that “others” are who I really even care about. This is about my mama. And me. And why I didn’t call on Mother’s Day. I did send a card because, despite all that’s happened over the last year, I’m grateful that my mama still lives and breathes, and smiles a beautiful smile. However, I cannot escape the hurt and anger I feel that she can’t accept me as I am. And in my understanding of family, “home” is the one place where acceptance isn’t subject to if-then equations. If you are who I want you to be, then we cool. Home love is supposed to be unconditional, save some really exceptionally foul shit. And for me, being gay simply does not rise to that level.

It hurts that I haven’t spoken to my mama in nearly two months. I know she misses me because I miss her. The reality is, however, that she has dug in, and so have I. I can’t rationalize the things she’s said, the callousness she’s shown, and the choice she’s made to step out of my life. I am her only daughter — her only child. That alone should curry enough favor to get me a ‘I don’t understand, but let’s see where we can find common ground’ conversation. I mean, shouldn’t it? Life is short as fuck sometimes. It is a pity to waste time over issues so small. And we don’t get this time back. And we can’t take the words back.

This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had to stand up for me — in opposition to the folks who created me. I didn’t ask to be born into our family. And, as another very good friend would say, “but I got over it.” I didn’t shun my family fuck-ups. I don’t speak of my own disappointments with family folks who turned out to be, or to not be worth a damn. In my view, being in the world everyday offers enough criticism. My job is to provide support, to exist among the roots and branches of our family tree.

It took me a long time to understand why it was so difficult for my mama and me to connect. The compassion and reason that I give so freely has never really been reciprocated from my mother when I needed it most — when shit was hard, and when compassion was challenged by reality. When I totaled my first car; when her favorite photo from her first cruise flew out of my car window; and when I told her that I was gay. For this reason, I know for sure that my spirit is my father’s. He gives of his time and attention, and his talents because he believes doing so is the right thing to do spiritually, humanly, and universally. He is a good man — not just a great father, but a genuinely great guy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve recognized how difficult it is to be genuine and sincere and decent in a world that thrives on something else. I respect my father’s ability to remember to extend a little grace. He isn’t perfect, and he’s certainly had his share of asshole moments. But who hasn’t? I’m not still mad about when he snapped, “don’t nobody care about your bullshit phone calls!” when I asked him for a pager in 9th grade. Yes, I am. He aint hafta say that shit like that.

So yeah, Mother’s Day was bittersweet for me. I can’t not love and appreciate my mama. But I can’t sacrifice my dignity, or my self-respect, or my confidence in the woman she taught me to be either. I’m so comfortable in my own skin. I won’t give that up. I can’t be who she wants me to be because that’s not who I am. My hope going forward is that one day who I am is enough for her. My work going forward, however, is accepting the possibility that that day may never come.

So yeah, this Mother’s Day was a bittersweet one for me.

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About moniquealicia

M.A.G. is a doctoral student at Howard University. She resides in the Washington, DC metro area, and is passionate about her love of family and friends, politics and conversation, and the exceptional meal. View all posts by moniquealicia

7 responses to “My Mama and Me

  • Val

    Heartbreaking read Gamble…though I can only imagine that experiencing this is much worse. I hope you and your Mother can reach some sort of middle ground. Sooner than later…

    Take care,

    -Val

    • moniquealicia

      Thanks, V! Writing this was a therapeutic step. It was the first time I’ve really been able to articulate it with few “fucks” and “shits”. I’m in a better place about it. I’m hoping my mom and I get better too. Thanks for caring though babe!

      M

  • linda J Tucker

    love the articulation of this the feling the spirit the feel of this the opening a bloom that must tell a story that is hurtful but helpful to tell. Each mother and daughter has to go thru pass over or move into a stage that allow both to grow and let go of the idea that one is the controller of all and the other is the controllee of all. As women with daughters and daughter of womens the changes are so diffcult and challenging, but hold on tight to each other buecause what is on the other side is a woman that is creative, gorgeous, sexy, educated, a giver , a keeper, a reader of books of all that matter to her, and most of all that her children see the excitment in her eyes when they enter the room. The acknowlegment of them just being them. She loves and cherishs you despite the anger, the loss ( real or imaginable). There are many more Mother’s day let in this world you will celebrate the life of her and see will so that excitment when you enter the room again.

  • Antrellis

    Let go and let GOD; this may be a little cliche but it’s all we can do sometimes. You’re not going to change who you are, nor should you, because Monique is an awesome individual. So that only leaves what your mom thinks. And that’s out of your control. All you can do is let her know that you’re open to talk whenever she’s ready and willing to listen.

    Keep that chin up
    -Antrellis

  • YB

    I haven’t spoken to my mother in over two years now. The last time we spoke was a week or two before Thanksgiving in 2009. You, at least,can pinpoint a reason as to why your relationship with her is the way it is. I’m not intending to trivialize your situation, just saying I wish I had that…a reason. I have no damn clue why her or my father dropped off of the face of the Earth and it’s not even something I talk about with people. Guess it’s easier to comment on a blog than answer my sisters questions about why I don’t think about them or how can I be so cold hearted as to not give a fuck anymore. *sips more wine*. I’d say something encouraging like “maybe one day she’ll come along” but shit, if I don’t believe that for myself I can’t say it to someone else. Shit just be’s like that sometimes. Asi es la vida <–That's life. Sorry for semi-venting but it was a great post that elicited emotions from me that I usually let lie dormant. *refills glass*

    • moniquealicia

      I’ve been meaning to reply to this for months. First, thank you so much for reading and identifying with my struggle.

      I think when other folks view our interactions with family members who haven’t lived up to their familial responsibilities as “cold-hearted,” they don’t get how much we’ve had to endure to get to that place. It’s about protecting your heart and your spirit. Nobody gets to break you. Nobody gets to hurt you over and over just cause they’re related to you.

      I STRUGGLED with how I felt about my parents; i struggled with seeing them as man and woman, as opposed to mom and pop. When I finally was able to see them for who they were/are in this moment, I didn’t like what I saw. And I wouldn’t tolerate the bullshit they gave from anyone else, so I couldn’t tolerate it from them either. It is what it is. We cope the best way we can in this life. Fuck having to prove yourself to the people who are supposed to have your back regardless.

      *fills glass and raises it to you* Cheers to being “cold-hearted” to the bullshit.

  • Some 2012 Resolutions « Cognitive Promiscuity

    […] to the previous resolution, I resolve to seek therapy for my mama situation. You can see here, here, and here that it’s been a struggle. When I think I’ve got it, I realize I don’t. […]

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