I promise we didn’t plan this, buuut this video comes just in time for Mother’s Day in the US! We each talk a little bit about what motherhood/parenting means to us, and of course, each is different based on our own background.
For the past 18 years, I’ve straddled the hard and fine line of motherhood. I’ve guessed and second-guessed each and every decision because, unlike other relationships, you never really know if you did the “right” thing until years later.
Swim team is a perfect example. In 2008, my oldest daughter, Kesi almost drowned. She was nine. Consequently, we decided she should learn to swim. A few lessons later, she joined the swim team. I thought they’d be swimming once a day and training for light competition. Turns out they had two-a-days all summer, with weekly competitions, and a culminating all-state competition at the end of August.
“This is going to be a lot of work,” I announced after day one. “Do you think you can do it?”
Her raspy voice whispered from the backseat “Yeah. Do you think I can do it?”
That’s one of those think on your feet parenting kind of moments. And being myself, there was only one answer.
“Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”
And she did. She worked her ass off training twice a day. She went from being the slowest, only African-American little girl swimmer in that pool, to having an amazing backstroke at the end of the summer competition.
So I did what we do here in the States. I signed her up to “train” during the fall and winter. Surely, if she worked through the winter months, she’d be even more awesome for the following summer.
By May of the following year, she quit. She was tired. She didn’t want to do it anymore.
Because Dwight and I firmly believe in not making children do what they don’t want to do, we allowed her to.
And I’ve always wondered if I should’ve made her do it. Have I lived up to my role as her mother? Was I supposed to teach her work ethic by making her swim? Was I supposed to give her some speech about not giving up just because you don’t feel like it?
Years later, will she tell her therapist that she wished her mother would’ve pushed her harder? Will her whole life hinge on if I made her pursue swim team a second year?
Eventually, I always come to the same conclusion. I…don’t…know. Parenting is a careful dance of allowing your child to be his or herself, while still being yourself. To do that, you have to know who that is. My role is to guide her. I’m here to show her how to stand confident in making decisions that are aligned with how she feels. I’m here to tell her that it’s okay to change her mind about something, even if she’s knee-deep in it and doesn’t see a way out. Like my Grannie says, “If you made your bed hard, then get out the bed.”
Today, my daughter is an 18 year-old senior on the cusp of high school graduation. Three years ago, she intended to complete a Cosmetology license at a trade school so that she could fulfill her then dream of doing hair. At that time, I felt just like I did when I watched her competing in that backstroke.
“That your daughter?” a passerby asked.
“Yep,” my husband and I proudly replied.
Just like swimming, somewhere along her path, she decided doing hair wasn’t for her. She changed her mind, and consequently changed the direction of her life. Now, she wants to go to college to be a Cosmetic Chemist.
Although she hasn’t asked, the question still floats in the air, “Do you think I can do it?”
My answer is the same, “Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”
And I hope she believes it. Because for me, that’s what mothering is all about. It’s parenting the person I see before me. It’s parenting an individual, not an identity. My daughter isn’t me. She’s her own person with her own experiences. In my mind, being a mother is helping her cultivate her self and her dreams, no matter how many times that changes.
On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to remind everyone that mothering looks as different as we do. Subsequently, I’m sure we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment. What do you think? How do you see motherhood? How do you think your mother saw her role?
My first public blog post…
A few years ago, I attended one of my former high school student’s baccalaureate graduations. Also in attendance was her mom, a single mother of three young adults. She had literally arrived just in time for this commencement, which was 706 miles away from home. She donned a black, sequenced matching shirt and pants. Her luggage was in tow. This scene was typical; she wore her challenges. As Langston Hughes might say, life for her ain’t been no crystal stair.
But still. No matter the situation, this lady was always there for her daughter and her other two adult children. She might be the loudest one in the crowd, but that was because she was supportive. She might have snuck some popcorn into so-called prestigious events, but that’s cause everybody knows that concessions at large events cost too much.
I watched her quite a bit that weekend. She snapped 27 pictures on her disposable camera. Tossed the throwaway in her bag and snatched a new one. She did this four more times. I watched her “save” the graduation chicken because essentially, nobody else there really knew how to grill it. And I noticed how she loved her children, the best way she knew how, given her experiences. By Sunday, Mother’s Day 2013, something dawned on me; this mother is no different than I am, a mother of two daughters, or any mother for that matter. So I posted this: The longer I am a mother, the more I understand that each mother just does the best she can, given her circumstances.
Then, something else happened. I thought about my own experiences as a daughter. Many times I felt embarrassed because my mother carried a terminal illness that would lead to death, kidney disease. A lot of times, I wished my mom were someone else. So much so that she had offered to take me to see Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour, but I declined. As much as I loved MJ, I didn’t want to be asked if this was my grandmother, again. It wasn’t until years after my mother’s death that I realized how much of a gem she really was.
In between dialysis treatments, she led a fearless life. She was deeply involved with NAPHT (National Association of Patients on Hemodialysis and Transplantation), volunteered as a Sunday school teacher, worked part-time, supported anyone she called family and friend, and all the while actively chose to raise me, this daughter she had adopted. My mother had ensured that I attend the best public magnet K-12 Chicago schools, which provided me with rich childhood experiences. In fact, I attribute my spirit of service, advocacy and motivation in part to observing my own mother do the very same things. So while there were moments of adolescent shame due to my mother’s physical appearance, there’s now an adult appreciation because I recognize and honor her for doing the best that she could, given her circumstances.
Now, I’m the mother of two fairly quiet teenage daughters, who would rather I remain silent than speak out about small infractions. These daughters turn a side-eye with every picture I capture and every post that “tells their business.” My oldest claims that she won’t tell me anything because I’ll tell everyone (guess this blog partially proves that). My youngest daughter would rather become invisible than to watch me dance in public. I’m often met with a lot of, “Are you wearing those shoes with that?” when leaving the house. But I hope that one day they’ll understand that it matters less if my shoes match my shirt. I hope that they’ll understand the reason their mother took a 320-mile commute every now and then for a career she felt called to do. I hope that they’ll remember family trips, game nights, healthy food, and movie dates. And when they’re feeling as if I could have done more, I hope they’ll remember that I too, did the best that I could, given my own circumstances.
Happy Mother’s Day!