The Gregorian Calendar or rather the commercialization of it, reminds some and forces others, to offer gratitude, confront difficult truths or mourn mothers on the second Sunday of May.
Mother’s Day or guilt season, depending on your religion and culture, is upon us. We are inundated with ads reinforcing a need to purchase cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner, and even Broadway shows. Capitalism and popular culture has created an atmosphere of adulation, real or faux. Our favorite actors, athletes, singers, rappers are called upon to share their Mother’s Day rituals for us to emulate. Mother Playlists are abundant. We reminisce with Tupac’s “Dear Mama,” John Lennon’s “Mother,” Boyz II Men’s A Song for Mama or The Intruders “I’ll Always Love My Mama.” We plan brunches, make coupons and assemble collages. We re-watch family footage. We steep ourselves in memories and work to create new ones. We are encouraged to worship and aspire to motherhood.
I never wanted to be a mother. Motherhood held no wonder, mystery or promise for me. It would never appear on my wish or bucket list. I am no misopedist. But I instinctively knew, even as a pre-adolescent that I was not about that life and would never be. A fat and quiet child, I colored inside the lines, read voraciously and loved playing handball and volleyball. When my peers were having children, I applauded them and I remained steadfast on my course of independence. In my thirties, my mother slyly asked if I had reconsidered having a child, warning that soon it would be too late. Though educated, independent and financially stable at the time, I could not image bringing a child into the world or raising one.
My only sibling came into the world in my twelfth year. I often took him to my grandmother’s house in the morning before school. Walking on my Brooklyn streets pushing his stroller or running after him, I would receive jeers, leers and blasphemous taunting presuming he was my child or lustful looks assuming I was easy prey. For me the world had always been difficult, I lived in spaces that moved me like a ping pong forcing me to be strong in public and collapse only in private. Immigrant, black, female, fat, introvert, independent thinker… As the world pushed me into invisibility, I gravitated towards its inviting solitude. Motherhood had not eluded my grasp. I never reached for it. Why would I? It requires an ignorance and hopefulness I could never muster.
Motherhood brings its own brand of invisibility. Pregnancy chips away at your identity until there is a woman left who is only expected to nurture and sacrifice for another. I could not imagine myself in that world. I could never be the kind of mother I had. My West-Indian, first generation American mother is a kind, brilliant, hard-working, generous woman who held commitment and obligation close. Though independent she would not break away from tradition and expectations. She got sucked into matriarchy and generously shared of herself. With far too few opportunities, she still spun straw into gold for many, instead of finding and fulfilling her own desires. Sacrifices not often appreciated or understood, she marched on regardless.
The best mother song is BB King’s 1972 “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother.” In this simply complex song he captures the mother child relationship. In the song’s only line, he tells his lover, “nobody loves me but my mother and she could be jivin’ too. I know my mother, Mami, isn’t jivin’ and for that no card, flower, meal or extravagant gift is sufficient. But I know she would appreciate my commitment to go shopping with her for a month of Sundays…
These words are my flecks of gold for her today. I could never spin gold though she thinks I am worth more than she and gold. In this one thing she is wrong.