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.