Does my mother know what I say about her…how I feel unmothered?
How scary it is navigating this world with limited support. How much emotional labor it takes to ante up before the next big endeavor. How I’ve always been my biggest cheerleader.
What will my daughter say about me? A woman who still hasn’t broken free of the questions from this script.
I cringe when people refer to me as a “good mother.”
I have an idea of what makes a bad mother, but being a good mother is an epithet I struggle growing into.
For the most part, motherhood is me aiming to be better than my mother: providing a soft space for my daughter; introducing her to luxuries typically outside the reach of Brooklyn kids, creating financial cushions so she could rival white counterparts. I do this and more, yet I still feel like I am falling short.
I operate using my mother’s template: the no nonsense tone. How everything must be neat and organized; how to hold your own. I have everything Lisa down to the ill Brooklyn neck roll.
While I am conscious of it and want to be better, some days I open my mouth and all I hear is my mother’s voice.
My mother is from Bushwick (Brooklyn area code 11207). A time where fires ripped through buildings and left entire communities in a thick smoke of trauma.
On occasion, usually after a drink or two, she becomes the 17-year-old Lisa who got her gold chain snatched from her neck, when chain stealing was in style. Or she’s the Lisa who went to Bushwick High School, carried scissors to school and stabbed a fellow student who wouldn’t stop bothering her.
I’ve always enjoyed BBQs with my family because they give me insight into who and what she was. You remember that time Crystal jumped out the window? Each sibling would take turns laughing and throwing in their two cents, while the person being talked about sat there fuming.
My mother was, and still is layered.
I grew up in a household where saying “I love you” was just as rare as seeing my father. I didn’t feel loved, but I was always taken care of. My sister and I wore name brand clothing, had gold jewelry, and got our hair braided by the Africans. Once I hit my pre-teen stage, I was able to get my nails done at the salon. None of it made me feel beautiful or worthy. It didn’t compensate for grieving the absence of my father or the lack of security I felt.
One of the biggest struggles I’ve had with my mother is her feeling safe enough for me to fall into.
I’ve conceptualized this idea of radical motherhood off and on for a few years now. What does it look, feel, and taste like? What makes it radical? Who is it for?
The radical step I took was breaking up with my daughter’s father and acknowledging I didn’t like him, let alone love him. The next, was breaking in the ugliest, most brutal way. I was disconnected. I was unkind. I was indifferent. In retrospect, it was all necessary.
My motherhood is radical because it’s authentic. It’s not the nuclear family, waxed smile plastered in mainstream. My motherhood is real. It’s saying “this shit is hard” and it’s okay.
What killed my mother emotionally over the years is the lack of space to be raw and delicate. To admit being hurt, and scared, and lost, and frustrated. Allowing myself to break was also giving myself permission to be human. How I was deserving of softness. I was deserving of a break. And of support.
None of which my mother received.
So yes, while I open my mouth and sometimes hear Lisa, I remember how complex and layered Shamecca is. How nuanced she is. She’s still beautiful…and that’s radical.
I haven’t reconciled being made into such a hardened person. How do you love and nurture in a world that constantly kicks your teeth in?
Thus far, motherhood has been mostly a frantic dog paddle to keep my head above water. I mean sure, my child has all of the necessities; she can boast about having traveled abroad, self-publishing a book, and having her own room.
But 20 years from now, what will she say about me?
Am I another Lisa?
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