“Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”
What does Mother’s Day mean to you? One doesn’t have to be a Mother or even have a living mother to appreciate Mother’s Day. Sure, having a biological mother to celebrate this day with is indeed a privilege. I am eternally grateful to my mother for all the love she gave and sacrifices she made for me to be the person I am. Yet, when I think back on my childhood, I also remember the village of people supporting my mother, my sister and me to provide not only financial support, but also the physical comfort of fresh, delicious and nutritious meals, intellectual stimulation, spiritual enrichment and a strong commitment to community service. In our family, the joy is in the giving.
In most African-American families there is a strong matriarchal influence, and this is especially true in The South. Grandmothers, great-grands, aunts, neighbors and teachers all take part in “raising” prepared, respectful and respectable children. Being a ‘stay-at-home” mother was not typically an option for women in my family, most of whom became teachers. The relatively short work days and summers off made teaching a career that was conducive to raising a family. Even those who stayed at home to raise their children typically had a side hustle that they did from home to bring in a little extra income, in between childcare, laundry, cooking and cleaning for their own families.
Community and collaboration were essential, and the church was an anchor. Friday evenings there was sign language class (to learn to interpret the church service to the deaf) and scripture rehearsal in the Wheat Street Baptist Church basement; teachers were volunteers from the congregation. It was also a time for children and parents to socialize at the end of the week. Sundays were long, starting with Sunday School in the Wheat Street Baptist Church Christian Education Building around 9 am, and then on to the church building next door for church service that started around 10:30 am and lasted until anywhere from 12:30 to 1:00. My cousins and I prayed there wouldn’t be a tea, dinner or other event after church, because that could mean another hour or two before we got to go home and change into our play clothes. Many Sundays we would go to grandmama’s house after church, where the adults would recap the church service highlights and scoop each other on the latest gossip. Sometimes we’d all have dinner together. When this happened, it could turn into a loooong day! One thing was clear about these women – they were a self-sufficient unit, and they ran their homes!
Then there were the neighbors. It was almost impossible to live in a community and not know your neighbors. Our next door neighbor, Ms. Burley never married and didn’t have biological children, but she took in several foster care children and treated them like her own. Parents didn’t have to worry too much about their children being away from home visiting friends, because they knew all the mothers were looking out for each other’s children. Your mama would hear about it from the other mamas if you misbehaved, and you would definitely get disciplined or admonished if you were out of line or disrespectful. Those ladies didn’t tolerate all the smart mouths and backtalk many of today’s kids give to adults. But they would also just as quickly give a hug and encouragement when needed. Extended family was a way of life.
Fast forward to 2018, as a mother of two daughters, living in NYC – a 19 year old who’s a Freshman in college and a 15-year old who is a Freshman in high school. My mothering journey has been quite different from that of my ancestors. The path has been somewhat lonelier for me and my children. With no immediate family in the area, we’ve had to create community in a different way. Playdates, school and sports activities brought new friendships, but many did not go much deeper than that. For better or worse, church has not been a huge part of my children’s lives, largely because it seemed we were frequently on the road to a gymnastics meet, soccer tournament or horse show. They are also growing up in a much more culturally and religiously diverse world than I did in the majority Southern Baptist African-American community of Atlanta, Georgia. So parenting philosophies and practices differ. I haven’t been able to assume that my children’s friends’ parents are going to have the same parenting outlook as me. So the challenge to instill certain values in my children without making them feel ostracized by others is a delicate balancing act. I still believe in curfews and don’t think young high school kids should be left at home for long periods of time without adult supervision. The affirmation is not always there from other mothers around me, many of whom work long hours outside of the home and have a different reality than mine as a stay-at-home mother and budding entrepreneur. That being said, I’m muddling through this journey (no instruction manual provided), creating my own mothering path that is not identical to my mother’s. (I have finally made peace with that). We may not get dressed up every Sunday and spend hours in church, yet I look at my daughters today and think they’re turning out to be pretty darn awesome! To all the mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, cousins, friends and caregivers who have helped along the way, Happy Mother’s Day! I couldn’t have done it as well without your help.
To all you mothers, whether you’re a new parent with an infant, in the thick of raising an adolescent, or an empty nester, take time to smell the roses this Mother’s Day and realize how far you’ve come! One of the hardest parts of being a mother is the sleep deprivation. In order to take care of ourselves, along with everyone else who is depending on us, we typically have to stay up later and/or rise earlier than the rest of the family. So this Mother’s Day, the greatest gift you can give yourself and the mother figures in your life is to let them sleep in and pamper themselves!
Treat your mother or someone special to breakfast in bed this Mother’s Day weekend with one of these:
Eggs Benedict (feel free to substitute salmon or sauteed spinach for the Canadian bacon and shave a few truffles on top to make it extra decadent)
Fluffy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Pancakes – My daughter made these for me one morning, and they were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted!
Top it all off with a Sparkling Rosé wine or lemonade that’s included in our “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” gift basket filled with epicurean and rose-scented treats to delight her senses for months to come!