Dear Mama(s): Random Thoughts on the Most Complex Relationship Ever

Perhaps the most fascinating phenomenon of black mothering is the ability to impart an entire system of cultural norms, cruel realities, theology, and language with minimal communication and interaction.  I learned so much from my mother by observation: what she did not say, what was not done, where she did not engage. Black mothering is a riveting example of crisp, minimal response with maximum impact. Our history required that and now it is just how we roll.  While we are expressive, sometimes loud and other times just extra, the critical shit was straight to the point. Straight no chaser. Not subject to interpretation.

Just wanted to offer a note of thanks to those that mother (by birth, by commitment, or by destiny):

Carrie Mae Weems, Kitchen Table Series, 1990.

Dear Mama(s),

I don’t care what you think you did wrong, you did right. Your life was complex and painful, and some stuff you just don’t want to discuss.  And I don’t need you to pick at your scabs to prove you love me, or explain why you are the way you are.

No one inspires fantastic fear and boundless joy like you.

No one is invited to compare your mothering to anyone else’s.

You do what you have to do when tears are stinging your eyes and you’re sick to your stomach with fear or regret.

Your body. I learned about holding power in my hips. Sometimes I was reckless with that.  You cussed me out, set me straight.  Every inch of you is texture and longing.  Thank you.

Carrie Mae Weems, Kitchen Table Series, 1990.

Let that go because you grew a life; you built a human. And that is its own special brand of Black Power.

You are never ashy or musty.  So I am never ashy or musty. You’ve mastered code switching in the workplace.  You don’t muddle your mind thinking that assholes will suddenly transform into angels.  You are the ultimate creator of Club Unbothered.

The opportunities you created for me have spoiled me in some ways.  Sometimes I forget that reasoning with my children is not only ineffective but unnecessary.  I forget I am the law and require no rationale for my requests.  You remind me that my wrath is worthy to be unleashed.  Ass whoopins, sucking teeth, or a raised right eyebrow says more than any battery of well-intended questions aimed at “healthy” parenting. Thank you.

Carrie Mae Weems, Kitchen Table Series, 1990.

Discipline is not about breaking spirits but sometimes that happened.  And when I woke up from my humiliation, my mind was right sized and the seeds of home training took root.  Thank you.

I have an internal compass, a gut truth that is unshakable. Even though I don’t always listen to it, thank you.

Forgive yourself decisions made out of desperation or fear. You had your reasons. I love you still.  Thank you.




Letter to My Daughter

Hey Little Girl,
As I watch the world continue to make you promises it has no intention of delivering, I feel it’s my job to help. Not just to cushion the blow of what’s to come (because unfortunately, some hard lessons are inevitable), but to help you take in, process, and digest the world around you. I want you feasting on life. And mind you, some of that shit tastes gross, makes you sick, and gets stuck in your teeth. But don’t you pass up the chance to take a chance. Be uncomfortable. Act a damn fool. Walk where others were scared to, or where they couldn’t. Then come back and share your blessings with others who come behind you.

Here are a couple of things I know in no uncertain terms.
1. I love you. Unconditionally. Seriously, no mistake, decision, pregnancy, conviction, or stupid ass comment will change that. You may not feel you need to hear it now, but when it gets real heavy, just know that you are loved. You have den of “other mothers” that love you just like I do. And above all, God loves you already. Just as you are.

2. Nothing you wear, say, or do makes you a deserving victim of racism, sexism, rape, or oppression. Nothing. Don’t judge victims of these crimes. Rather, be their voice when you can, and call those in power to task. If your sisters and brothers are in struggle, so are you. Period. Read Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Angela Davis, Paolo Friere, bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, Cornel West, Marcus Garvey, . Take in what you are told, but ask questions. Read books. Ones with actual PAPER pages. Google does not equal an informed citizen.

Yep, that ends my list of certainties. Everything else, I’m winging it, kid. It’s a little known secret: MOMS DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. We lead with fear and love. I’ve been scared you’d fall, scared your fever wouldn’t break, scared your Dad would hurt you, scared you’d forget to look before you crossed the street, scared you’d take the wrong bus. There’s literally no end to it. However, the only real fear I have with you is that you’ll let fear lead you. Let it rip, little mama. Anxiety and worry have robbed our people of far too many opportunities. “What if’s” always become “I wish I had’s,” and you deserve better than that. So speak your mind, own your journey, and please don’t forget about your mother when I’m on a fixed income and need you to drive me to the store. I’d also like my liquor cabinet stocked, courtesy of you and BevMo.

I love you madly, and grow every day from knowing you.