Editor’s note: It’s very important for me to mention that I have two mothers. I was largely raised by my black mother, but my white mother was ever present in my life and obviously had a significant hand in shaping who I am as a person. God saw fit to gift me with two mothers to help shape me into the person that I am, and I’m very thankful for and love them both. This piece is about my white mother.
Not to bring up old shit, but almost a year ago, I wrote an article that traveled further and wider than I expected. What was, for me, unloading some personal feelings I was having about what amounted to one of the most annoying and personally hurtful episodes with my mother turned into a larger discussion about self-care, self-preservation, and the role of dissent and discourse within families. I’m not going to pretend like I’m out here changing the world or anything, but the response to it indicated that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through or dealing with. A lot of people were going through things.
Since then, I’ve been stopped by numerous persons when in public, emailed by strangers and, when participating in panels and discussions, asked about how I’m feeling and granted sympathy (and empathy where possible) on a very personal level. I’ve had people want to give me nothing more than a hug because they can’t imagine what I’m going through. And I appreciate that.
On the other end, some folks are absolutely savage. In comments sections and very tentatively to my face, there have been people who have absolutely gone after my mother and her views, asking how somebody with black children could be so detached and ignorant about the issues her children face daily, especially in light of the constant barrage of news that exists to prove just how much being-while-black is a crime to white people.
I read most of the comments. I realized when I wrote that article and it was published that while many people were going to feel for me, many other people were going to take aim at my mother. It was conflicting for me: At the end of the day, that’s still my mother.
Mother’s Day is Sunday. My typical Mother’s Day routine is filled with phone calls to both of my mothers (and texts to all of my sisters—my family is huge and full of lots of mothers). I make sure my daughter has all she needs to celebrate her mother, and I have a fiancee at home who is a loving and caring mother to all of our children and whom we will celebrate and make feel special on this day. That’s my typical Mother’s Day.
This year, though, my mother and I aren’t really talking right now. And that’s more on me than her; she’s called, but I wasn’t ready to talk. According to my text messages and my sister, she read the article about her and was less than pleased. She was hurt. She was upset. She was angry. She couldn’t believe I’d do such a thing to her and air out her personal business.
And you know what? While I feel comfortable with what I wrote and that I published it, I can understand how she might feel this way. I get it; she isn’t painted in a flattering light. While that piece was 100 percent honest and from the heart, the truth can hurt.
Let me back this up a bit: I’d started to get over it. My mother just read the piece maybe a month ago. Funny enough, we got her an iPad for her birthday, and that unlocked the keys to her finally seeing and reading it. Anyway, before then, I’d had her at a distance.
While I was fine on the outside, on the inside, emotionally, I was very hurt. And I didn’t realize it until we spoke a few times about what happened and both times I got off the phone and cried. Real tears. I didn’t feel like she understood why I was so upset about what happened, and our discussions proved that point, and it just hurt.
But it’s my mother. I love her (and still do and always will) and I knew that, basically, the only way for us to have a relationship was for me to do the work of pushing past everything, on my own. So I tried.
A cousin of mine passed away in December, and my sister and I went to Michigan and stayed with my mother, and I pretended like it was all a thing of the past. I did know, however, that looming out there was this piece she hadn’t read. I’d toyed for months with whether I wanted to send it to her or, better yet, read it to her with my sister on the phone.
But I never did; I was afraid. I felt like if I read it to her, she’d respond how she eventually did, and that would put me in a place where I’d have to make some real decisions. If she couldn’t see the hurt that would make me write something like that about a woman I love, choosing her own feelings of being publicly undressed over the humanity I felt she was denying me, then we’d have nowhere to go from there.
That’s what I was afraid of, so I opted to assume she’d never see it, which was very likely. But she set up a Facebook account, and on the “people you may know” (after adding one of my sisters), it took her to another sister who hadn’t updated in a while, and the last thing she’d posted was the article. Which my mother then read.
I haven’t spoken to her since, save for a brief text exchange where she unloaded some venom toward me about it. I expected it, though. At this point, I’m choosing distance in a very clear, level-headed manner. I’ve decided to focus on myself and my sense of peace. And my family’s.
So let me put some things out there. I do not hate my mother. I never will. I can’t. Bullshit or not, my mother is my mother, and that will always be the case. Not only do I not hate her, I love her. I want for her peace and happiness (though there’s some irony here, since I know that this ongoing situation has provided her neither). I know that one day we will get it together.
My issue is that it requires everything of me and nothing of her. She isn’t changing. She feels persecuted for her beliefs. Which means that in order for us to move forward peacefully, it’s entirely on me to stuff my issues and my concerns and keep politics off the table. I want her to have great relationships with her grandchildren because I think grandchildren are a gift, and in order to do that, I’m going to have to be the one who relents. And that pisses me off.
As I wrote in that original piece, to me (and probably not to her), we’ve been having issues for years; Donald Trump was lighter fluid on a long-simmering fire. While our issues are rooted in race, the nation is dealing with this great political and moral divide. It just hit home because our relationship often represents the closest possible one that can exist, and if that shit can go to dust, anything is possible.
But again, it’s my mother. Watching people be critical of her and attack her has been difficult at times. I feel protective. Sure, she’s problematic, but she’s my problematic mother. But the nature of public discourse is that anybody can speak their mind, and I also put that information out there to begin with.
I’m still hurt by it all even if I pretend I’m not. But I’m also very clear about the fact that I’ve made decisions that were best for me and my mental health. I feel good; sometimes I don’t.
But at the end of the day, that’s still my mother. That was God’s plan. And take it from me, someday we’ll all be free.
I will always love my mother. But for now, Mother’s Day will feel a little different this year.