Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thank you 29 times. Lessons from the ladies who loved me (Part 2)

My mother taught me so much in such a short time. We only spent 12 years together, but I hope she knows that I valued every second of it. From the tough love to the long walks in the snow. I am…because she was….
12: Trying ain’t doin: This was one of my mother’s favorite phrases. It was how she motivated me. Now it’s how I distinguish mediocrity from excellence. My mother taught me that while effort is important….excellence was the goal.

11: No White Bread: My mother grew up in the racially divided neighborhood of Collinwood in Cleveland Ohio. Both her and my aunt told me stories about race riots in their high school.  But her negative experiences with whites did not make her ashamed of her black skin. Instead she was even more proud of her blackness. On the outside looking in, it probably appeared that my mother was racist (as a child, I wasn’t allowed to eat white bread) but given her history it was understandable. She wanted me to understand that no one was better than me a no one had the power to make me feel inferior simply because of the color of my skin. My mother was the first person to teach me that MY black was beautiful! *I still don’t eat white bread…but…well…wheat is healtier*
10: If you can’t wait for marriage, wait for love: When I was young,  I was a fast. Too fast for my own good. So fast, that at 12 years old I had a boyfriend that was almost 17! So, even though I was 12, she didn’t hesitate to have the “the talk” with me before she passed away. I remember her looking into my eyes and telling me that what I had was precious and that I didn’t have to wait for marriage but that I should wait until I was in love to have sex. She told me that once; I gave myself away I could never get myself back, so I should be sure to give myself to someone who wanted to keep me. I carried her words with me for a long time.  And I kept my first boyfriend for 5 years!
9: Who you calling a bitch?: My aunt and my mother were best friends as sisters should be. When I was a little girl, they would try to sneak and have grown up conversations with me in the room.  If they wanted to say a bad word, they would spell the letters so that I wouldn’t repeat it. On one occasion, my mother was talking about one of her coworkers and she spelled the word B I T C H. I had no clue what that word meant, but I liked the letters. In fact, I liked the letters so much that I thought it was a good idea to make them into a picture and show it to my mother in front of all of her coworkers. I was proud of my picture. She was embarrassed. At 6, I made the mistake of drawing the picture but at 11, I made the mistake of directing that word at my mother. It was the first and only time she ever hit me. Needless to say it was by making the second mistake that I learned... “bitch” is a bad word!
8: Modesty is the best policy: Believe it or not, for the most part, I had the body that I have now when I was 12 years old. Furthermore, my feet, hips, behind, and breasts have been bigger than my mother’s since I was 10.  Noticing how quickly I developed, my mother made it her business to teach me the proper way to dress and carry myself. She told me that a woman with a nice body can wear a potato sack and look good. Meaning there was no need to expose myself just to get attention. She told me that a lady leaves something to the imagination, and that one could be sexy without being trashy. Some people may call me conservative, but I call it self-respect, dignity, and class.
7:  A pretty girl on the bus?: One day, I made the fatal mistake of coming home and telling my mother that someone at school told me I was pretty. I can remember being, all smiles and poked- out chest until I saw the look on her face. Her jaw got tense and she sat me down.  “Kenya,” she said, “being pretty and $1.25 will get you a ride on the bus.” Here I should mention that at that time it cost $1.25 to ride the bus. Then, I didn’t understand her lesson, but over time I saw the significance of what she said.  My mother never missed an opportunity to tell me I was pretty, but to her it was more important that I be smart. There are hundreds of pretty girls but without their looks what do they really have. She wanted me to more than a pretty face and nice body. She taught me that my mind was my greatest asset. From her I learned the importance of intelligence.
6: By any means necessary: Even though, I am convinced that my mother was a Black Panther in a former life, this lesson is not about her ethnocentricity.  It is about her remarkable resilience. When my mom and I moved back to Cleveland from Columbus, we didn’t have a car. So every morning, my mother walked for 30 minutes to take me the babysitter. Then she took the bus to work and did the same thing again at night. At not just some nights….every night…for almost 8 years!  At some point, I was old enough to walk by myself , but my mother wouldn’t allow it. She was always with me, holding my hand. In the snow, in the rain…no matter what.  She did what she had to do. She always did what she had to do, but she did it with grace and with class. My mother was the first person to teach me that love is an action and that it is a mother’s job to protect and guide her child…by any means necessary.
5: Addiction kills: (She told me) she was 17 the first time she took a drag on cigarette, 25 years later she was lying in hospital dying from lung cancer.  Because of my mother’s death, I devoted the first half of my career to understanding the disease of cancer. I learned that the incidence and mortality for lung cancer is almost 1 to 1. Meaning, if you get it, more than likely you will die from it. At 10 years old, I watched the cancer eat away at her body, mind and spirit. It was hard to watch. And for many years after, I hated the cancer for taking her from me. But, now I understand that it was not cancer that took my mother at all, in the end… it was addiction. Because, even after the cancer was consuming her lungs, and she was watching all that she loved fade before her, she couldn’t stop. I’d like to believe that it was the spirit of my mother that motivated me to overcome my addiction 60+ days ago.  Lung cancer literally took away my mother’s breath, but seeing her die from addiction gave me a reason to live. Now I breathe…deeply

4: Natural Beauty: The kids teased me in elementary school because my mother made me wear braids. She told me that young girls couldn’t get relaxers in their hair until they were women. And being a woman meant getting my period. Grrr…how long is that going to take?, I wondered.  I didn’t have to wait long because I was 10, when I “become a woman” and got the “privilege” to get my hair permed. EPIC FAIL. It fell out.  And 13 years later, I nearly had to shave it to get the creamy crack out of my system.  My mother always told me that my natural hair was much more beautiful than the broken dry disaster that the perm would cause. I didn’t believe her then, but now I have grown to appreciate the beauty of my natural hair.
3: What is a Delta: A Delta is, what an AKA ain’t . What a Zeta wanna be, What a Sigma can’t…  I pledged almost 9 year ago and most nights the only thing that kept my feet glued to their spot on that cement floor and my eyes locked on the “star” in the sky ceiling was the thought that one day, I could be dedicated and distinguished divas of DST.  My mother was the first woman, I ever looked up to. The first woman, I ever wanted to be like or emulate. So for me, becoming a Delta was always about so much more than the colors, the reputation, or even the programs. Having lost her so young, I didn’t have the benefit of asking her about her college experience when I was in college. The only thing that I had was the promise that this sisterhood would last forever.  In Delta, it didn’t matter if she was living or dead, it was a bond we could share for a lifetime. Becoming a Delta was about my having an opportunity to share something timeless with a remarkable woman. A Delta is timeless! OOOOOO-OOOOP, Big Sister Mommy!
2: Survive:  it was over 16 years ago, when I buried my mother, but her memory and her lessons thrive within me every day. I’ve been told that I move like her, that I cross my legs like her and have an old soul like she did. I have her sense of humor, her way with words, her creativity, her complexion and her shape.  It makes me proud that people can see my mother in me, but more than that it makes me humble. I know that cancer took my mother’s physical body, but what it couldn’t take was her spirit. That still lives within me. Through me my mother breaths, laughs, cries….creates. In me…she survives.
1.Life really is too short…. She was only 42 when she died. I am sure she thought she had much more that she ended up having. But losing my mom at such a young age taught me that you never know how long you have, so its integral that you live your life to the fullest…everyday…until the last one. Pursue your goals. Chase your dreams. Love your partner. Drink too much. Sleep too late. Make mistakes. Change lives. Love yourself…cherish you family.
…And on your birthday, honor your mother….

Below, I have posted the lyrics to my mother's favorite song. Being a single mother, she always told me that it was about me and her. I love mommy, I hope you're proud.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL! She is SO PROUD of you! Happy Birthday, my dear. Sweet cousin, sister and FRIEND!