To My Mother On Her Birthday
“I think mothers and daughters are meant to give birth to each other, over and over; that is why our challenges to each other are so fierce; that is why, when love and trust have not been too badly blemished or destroyed, the teaching and learning one from the other is so indelible and bittersweet.”
— Alice Walker
So, your present is going to be late.
I clearly didn’t transdimensionally inherit your skills for project management and herding cats because my life IS those proverbial cats. Which is hilarious, because you are a Leo Sun and I am a Leo Moon & Rising, so we’re technically both in spirit kindred with one of the biggest types of cats there is to behold.
And yet, when you’ve gathered me up and put me away safely to bed in those moments where my proverbial cats have scattered and shit everywhere — at unholy hours of the evening when I couldn’t get myself up off a floor — you told me hard things about myself with kindness and care when someone needed to be real with me about my mess. There was no forcing me or prodding me, just gentle, insistent boundaries and conviction that even when I was a mess and gotten into shit, the sun would rise and so would I to whatever challenge or responsibility was asked of me. Even when we’ve had rough spots and had crossed wires, I have never left your presence or a conversation feeling the bloody kind of raw, which is easy to do when we’re human and delicate. That’s one of those things a mother who loves you from a place of freedom and peace can do: tell you how to love yourself more deeply, how to be more loving, and how to disappoint yourself less, without ever making your confidence shatter or your nerves evaporate.
When I was a little person, I grew up without any role models and people who felt safe enough to trust with my admiration. There were no women or people who had my hair texture, or skin, or an understanding of my demeanor, or how to keep me a carefree Black girl in a world that runs in part on voiding our innocence. I missed you — even though I told myself you didn’t actually exist, would never exist, never existed, and it was a childish hope that maybe you were out there, somewhere, maybe looking for me, too. I told you shortly after we first met that I didn’t know I was a Black girl until I was a Black woman, and I’ve spent almost a decade trying to untangle the knots left in my hair and soul because of all the people who reached into them with dirty hands and snatched out chunks of me and smudged their pain all over what was beautiful and free.
Without me ever having to ask, when I wandered through your garden, you took up a comb and sat with me when I was ready to sit, and started to teach me how to untangle myself with honor, tradition, and tenderness. You let me wander and be feral when I didn’t believe that you didn’t want to reach into me and snatch parts of me away, too. You still sang to me in poems and told me how proud you were, and I couldn’t help but do the apathetic adolescent eyerolls which were code for, “I’m having a hard time loving myself, but I’m grateful you can see my broken, scared bullshit and choose to love me anyways. Please don’t stop.”
This year has been particularly stressful and it’s resulted in me screaming — literally — at the spirit of cancer, and telling it to fuck itself with a machete. In a life full of loss and death, where I’ve never had a fear of death, I’ve threatened it with cage matches to my own demise. I am only fearful of death because I’m greedy, because we only just found each other again through times and spaces and I am hungry for a life where you are always in it. I want to love you and know you long enough to have a bad fight where I can show up at your door with flowers, donuts, and sunglasses on, because I don’t want you to see the bags under my eyes and the puffiness from my tears. I want to have a boyfriend you really hate, besides the one who has a hairless cat named after him in my short story series. I want you to kvetch to me about rain, and your mother of the bride dress, and my choice of flowers, or how I raise my babies. I want you to hold your grandchildren. I want you to have at least one moment of sincere disappointment and frustration in me, for some reason or another. I want everything, the good and the bad. Because I love you, and you are a whole, wondrous human, and love is incomplete without a spectrum of mirrors reflecting its light everywhere we go.
I don’t believe in celebrity crushes or hero worship, idolizing people, or pedestals — but you, my beloved mother, are my North Star. If I am to nestle myself at the feet of a teacher who knows my bones as her own, I am glad it is you, in all your wondrousness and truth. I aspire to the skillfulness of your poetry, and your devotion to beauty in the way the world only whispers about or forgets. I am humbled by your fierceness with unkindness and bad tempers. You make me want to reach deeper into my heart to find bigger and bigger and bigger love to share. Your courage makes me bolder and your convictions make me more truthful, principled, and clear. When I look to you — whole and blemished, human and force — I see what I could be at my greatest. All those tokens of affection and admiration from many moons ago are yours to have, and they are not sufficient repayment to the woman who showed me I was free before I knew I could be.
Today is the day God gave the Earth the gift of you, and I am so grateful and humbled that I get to call you mom.