Stuff My Mother Never Told Me
With Mother’s Day quickly approaching, I decided to share a piece I wrote last year in “honor” of my mother and all she didn’t say.
My mother’s a liar. I love the lady; don’t get me wrong, but there’s some stuff she should have told me. And yes, I call not telling me things “lies” because as she pointed out many times to me in the past, lying by omission is still lying.
Let’s take this whole motherhood thing for instance. She never told me the truth. When I started my period in the sixth grade, I got the “You’re a Woman Now” speech. She talked about how I could get pregnant and, if I did, how that baby would be my responsibility because she “ain’t gon’ be raisin’ nobody else’s baby.” I got the “Your Body Is Your Temple” speech. She talked about how I shouldn’t let any boy take advantage of my newfound womanhood, and, if I did, and got pregnant, she “ain’t gon’ be raisin’ nobody else’s baby.” I got the “You Have Been Raised Better than That” speech, and, if I wanted to act like a hussy who had no home training and got pregnant, she “ain’t gon’ be raisin’ nobody else’s baby.” Never once, though, did she say why. Now, here it is seventeen years later, and I have two children (3 and 2 years old), and I know exactly why she never got into particulars. Motherhood is hard!
My mother, who I see now more than ever as a saint (albeit a lying saint), got up every day and cooked breakfast. More often than not, that breakfast consisted of grits, which to this day I bypass in the grocery store like the plague. Now, my mother has recently perfected her grits-cooking prowess, but when I was a child, she was still experimenting. Those grits were white balls with the proper grit texture on the outside and a grainy mess in the middle. One day, when I was particularly annoyed by the monotony of morning, my mother said, “Hurry up so you can clean the dishes before you go to school.” I looked at her as she sashayed toward the bathroom and mumbled, “I’ll clean the dishes when I get ready.” Like a ninja, my mother back-flipped over the kitchen table, slapped me hard in the back of the head, and levitated back to the hallway headed for the bathroom to get ready for work. When I was able to effectively extract my face from the gluey, grainy confusion that was my breakfast, she said, “I’m not going to tell you twice,” and slammed the bathroom door. I was left at the kitchen table, with steaming grit balls plopping down hard to the plate, thinking that the discipline I had just received was due to my flippant reply. Not true. My mother had probably been awake since three in the morning washing the dishes I hadn’t washed the night before, vacuuming the carpet that made me itch in an attempt to prevent me from breaking out in hives again, and packing my book bag, making sure I had my book report that was due. My smart-alecky remarks almost certainly just solidified her growing awareness that all she did for her family was vastly underappreciated.
Yesterday, I woke up at 3:15. I ironed clothes I was too tired to iron the night before. I washed two loads of laundry, folded them, and put them away. I graded a set of essays, swept and Swiffered the kitchen, and made breakfast. I woke the kids up, fed them, got them ready for daycare, and handed them off to my dad (beaming with the pride of grandparenthood), who drove them to school. I arrived at work at 6:30 in the morning (an hour and 15 minutes early) and didn’t leave until 5:30 in the evening (3 hours late). I picked up the kids from daycare, came home, and started dinner. While I cooked, I entertained the kids with my hip-hop versions of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “The Wheels on the Bus.” When that got old, we turned on the radio and danced to the oldies. I woke my husband up from a nap (no comments) and sat the family down at the table to eat. Before fork one entered the mouth, my oldest daughter looked at me and said, “Mommy, I don’t like vegetables.” I remembered my own mother and her lies and decided to tell my daughter how I had only peed twice today because of all the things I was doing to secure a comfortable and enjoyable future for her. I told her about the private moments I used to have but now never do because I’m responsible for her and her sister. I told her about the sleep I never get because their little coughs in the night keep me up wondering what disease I allowed to infiltrate their lungs. Honesty, right? That’s what they needed. As soon as my speech ended, my baby looked up at me with seeming understanding and said, “I still just don’t like vegetables.”
I got up from the table threw my uneaten dinner in the trash and headed straight for the bathroom. There, looking in the mirrored reflection of my mother’s face with my eyes, everything became clear. This is the most thankless job on earth. Even to a teacher, kids every now and then say “thank you” without being prompted. As a mommy, there is virtually no consideration of me, my time, or my efforts. Gathering myself and wiping the last stress tear from my face, I headed confidently back to the kitchen. I looked at my youngest daughter licking the cheese sauce off her empty plate, my oldest daughter making a broccoli forest in the center of her plate, and my husband trying in vain to get them both to stop their poor table manners. “Girls,” I announced. “I just have one thing to say to you before I leave you with your father for the rest of the night.” My husband, looking pleadingly at me for a reprieve, had terror laced all over him. “If you get pregnant,” I said, “just know I ain’t gon’ raise nobody else’s baby.”