Today is Mother’s Day, a day that usually creeps up on me, a day I have a tendency to forget until the day before. This year, however, Mom saw it fit to remind me last weekend:
Mom: Can you believe these people who can’t dress appropriately for Church? It’s like they would never buy their mother flowers for Mother’s Day.
Me: (note to self: Mom expects flowers this year) Yeah, those people. Ugh.
And so began the search for a basket of flowers for Mother’s Day (btw, why is a basket of carnations $60? They’re carnations, i.e. the sad flower, the flower of cancer, the flower of the hospitalized. Never give anyone carnations unless they’re almost dead.) Mom knew that those two concepts mentioned in the same sentence had no relation to one another, rather she was expressing a not-so-veiled want. She told me explicitly what she wanted. She taught me that and much more.
Over the past few years, there has been a push to raise strong girls. Articles like this and this try to give parents advice on how to develop bravery and strength in girls—and they’re mostly bullshit. As someone who has been raised by a strong, independent, loving, deep woman, allow me to articulate what she did to raise a strong, independent, loving, deep woman.
Let me begin with a disclaimer: my parents are not “old-stock Canadians”, i.e. they are not “Canadian” for generations. They are immigrants from Guyana. Why is this distinction necessary? It means that my upbringing was not “old-stock Canadian”-esque and was free of established cultural norms of feminine behaviour that has restrained the orientation towards the greatness of women in the larger society.
Firstly, Mom is quite an intelligent woman. She always thinks a couple of steps ahead of anyone else. This is particularly obvious in conversing with her: when asking her a question, she will sometimes give you the response to your next question. Let me give an example:
Dad: Your mother made macaroni and cheese (this is usually accompanied by hearty laughter. My dad likes to troll me with Mom’s menu)
Me: when are you coming to visit?
Mom: Just make sure you have the right ingredients when I come. They should be easy to find since they’re in their prime.
Sounds disjointed, right? Let me just explain to you what happened there: my dad trolled me about Mom’s cooking (which is spectacular, btw) and my question pertained to when she was going to come and cook this dish. She already knew what my next question was, which would’ve been, “are you going to make your mac & cheese when you visit?” She already answered that question and told me that she’s coming sometime during late summer/early fall. Suffice it to say, I’m good at reading between the lines.
Mommy Wisdom: intelligence goes beyond what you learn in a book or in school; there’s no fool like an educated fool.
This is one of my favourites. Actually, I learned about outspokenness from both my parents who made sure to raise me to have a voice. This is where many parents lose the plot. In order to raise strong women, one must give them space to have a voice for their opinions, thoughts and emotions. If this is not done in the home, it’s going to be even harder for them to develop this elsewhere. From about age 10 or 11, my parents have included me in discussions on family, life, politics, economics, race, etc. Conversely, that doesn’t mean I could interrupt grown-up talk, which in my childhood, was a no-no.
Many Canadians aren’t used to opinionated, outspoken women. (I know this because I am one and therefore can speak with authority on the subject.) I have been in spaces where women will stay silent on topics such as sports, politics or business and let the men talk. Once the men have spoken, they are there to support whatever nonsense this man says—a man who may or may not be linked to them personally. This happens more than you think and especially among young people who grew up with the idea of feminism. I have seen young women (20s and 30s) dumb themselves down to appear more attractive to men. It’s sad, but it also means that they did not have the same ideas of womanhood instilled in them that I had. And I’m grateful for that. Every.Single.Day.
Mommy Wisdom: the weak can never handle the strong
Mom is strong, which means she is resilient. This is a woman who lost her mother at 11 years old, put herself through nursing school on her own; she couldn’t afford to go to high school, so she sat her O-levels, (now known as GCSEs) by buying the book and studying without the requisite formal training. She never gave up on herself. That’s a fucking winner. From this introduction, I knew that she didn’t just expect me to develop scholastically, but as a whole human being who can contribute something more than tax dollars to society.
Mom taught me at a young age that the world is not fair and that I am not entitled to receive the gifts of this world without struggle, wisdom and sacrifice. These characteristics are not echoed in greater society, where we are led to believe that people who are successful (as defined by North American standards) are just innately more talented and hard-working than everyone else, and moreover, that these gifts are bestowed upon those most deserving without any sort of struggle. Bullshit.
Mommy Wisdom: we are not perfect, nor expected to be so, therefore any growth comes with struggle.
Femininity & Beauty
Mom is a fan of femininity in which her definition is one where beauty and strength merge—they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they feed off and reinforce each other. The idea really is that women as natural nurturers need to take care of themselves, physically, mentally and spiritually. There is nothing wrong with trying to look attractive, even to the opposite sex, because it’s natural and normal and is part of the dance that men and women do. In greater society, we have done everything to remove the occurrence of that “dance”. It’s unfortunate because that is where femininity specifically, sexuality in general, can be tested and enjoyed. It’s also unfortunate because that is where you learn of the power of femininity—it’s beauty, loveliness and fun.
Mommy Wisdom: I would never let anyone disparage my femininity, especially with the way they look.
Yeah, Mom can dish it out. I wouldn’t want to mess with her. I’ve seen others do so and it didn’t end well for them. When Mom is ready, she’s a damn warrior and If I had an army, she would be the general. That being said, never has she uttered the following asinine words:
“There’s never a reason for violence” —various idiotic people
These seem like great words of a civilized society, but they’re trash. Sometimes violence is the only language some people understand. Let me give you an example:
When Mom was 16, she was under the care of a family friend (her mom had been dead for five years at this point) who had a neighbour, an old man. This man cornered Mom at the top of the stairs and attempted what would gently be described as sexual misconduct; before this man could’ve gotten started, howver, she kicked him down the stairs. That’s violence. There was a good reason for that violence. Unfortunately, in our society women are expected to just grin and “be polite/nice” towards men under any and all circumstances. Had my mother adhered to this type of thinking, she would’ve been a victim of sexual assault
Fast forward a generation and I was on a double date with my friend and her boyfriend. His friend is not someone I have met before, but we got along well enough. There was a point in the evening where we were alone and I was sitting on the driver’s side in my car. He was leaning against the open door. All of a sudden the look in his eyes and on his face changed. At that point I knew this man was a threat to my safety. He grabbed me and attempted to pull me out of the car by my pants. Luckily, I channelled Mom and started kicking him—with heels (thank you Mom for my love of heels). We fought (he was much bigger than me), and all of a sudden his face changed back to the “nice guy”, at which point I ran. I could’ve been a victim too, so yes, there is a time and place for violence, especially when it comes to protecting yourself. Stop telling girls this garbage.
Mommy Wisdom: so what am I supposed to do, lay down and take it?
Mom loves her Guyanese culture and she should: it’s a culture rich in warmth of spirit, history, food and laughter. Her love of her culture helped to anchor my identity. I am a Canadian by birth, but feel more Guyanese, in some respects, than I feel Canadian. My own personality is not very Canadian: it’s loud (which in Canada is a cardinal sin, especially for a woman. See #2), provocative yet joyful and I love to laugh (I grew up in a house full of laughter). My personality is not flat and hackneyed because that’s not who I am—I am an original. I was not born to be mediocre and that’s Mom gave me the permission, and encouragement, to find out who I am and to celebrate her.
Mommy Wisdom: if you don’t define yourself, people will define you and it won’t be as complimentary
Love is not a feeling, rather it is a continuous series of actions. One of Mom’s most affecting statements is this:
Mommy Wisdom: how people treat you is what’s in their heart.
Boom. Mic drop. Like a POTUS, “Obama Out” mic drop.
As I write this post, #BlackMomsBeLike is trending on Twitter. Black mothers are notorious disciplinarians because they raise black children, who become black adults, whose world will be multiple times more difficult than their white counterparts. A black mother’s job is to make their daughters resilient, strong and ready to face the racism and sexism that they will face. Black mothers do not shirk this responsibility and so discipline has been the way in which they get us into formation. Mom was no different, but instead of me telling you how this manifests itself in terms of upbringing, I will let Black Twitter do that job:
Mom: *says something*
You: *talks back*
Mom: What was that you said?
— Clarkisha Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) May 8, 2016
Don’t think you can keep her hard earned money as “change”.
— Clarkisha Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) May 8, 2016
I never had an allowance. All of my Canadian friends did, however it was not up for discussion at my house. As Mom said, “I won’t pay you for what is expected of you”. Damn. Can’t even get your hustle straight.
— Harriet Thugman (@Wicked_Womanist) May 8, 2016
You: I don't wanna eat that, I want–
Mom: YOU GONNA EAT WHAT I PUT ON THIS TABLE
— Clarkisha Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) May 8, 2016
I see children who won’t eat the food that’s served to them at the supper table and the mother’s response is to make a separate dinner for the child. That’s some entitlement bullshit. If the child is hungry, the child will eat. Like Mom says, starving people are never “picky eaters”.
The fastest way to cause your mom grief is to walk out the house looking "raggedy" or "anyhow" #blackmomsbelike
— The Dinner Table Doc (@dinnertabledoc) May 8, 2016
Because of the aforementioned job specific to a black mother, it is impressed upon us early that how you carry yourself matters to how people see you. If you are Black, that teaching matters more than if you are White. A black mother will always comment on the appropriateness of your appearance. That’s the reason I dress well now.
— Erica (@wickdchiq) May 8, 2016
This is a big one. I’m not a good liar. I don’t know how to lie about what I want or what I think or feel. I don’t know how to lie about who I am. That lesson comes directly from my mother and I am eternally grateful.
I see many people who walk around this city pretending: they pretend to like you and themselves; they pretend to embrace the choices they’ve made when they were really just too frightened to go for what they want; they pretend that everything is great all of the time. When you’re used to authenticity, you can spot these people easily and they’re not real. They are not authentic. They live their lives according to the expectations of others and fear what others would think if they stray from the already-established markers of success. These are the people who strip a little away from their souls each and every day because they have, and continue to, sell themselves short. I was a victim of this myself until those markers did not come easily to me. I finally figured out that they weren’t mine to begin with when Mom asked me these simple questions: who is the person I want to be and what does that life look like? In other words, she taught me not to settle for other’s ideas of what my life should be like.
Mommy Wisdom: The problem with “should” is that it is setting you up for feelings of inadequacy. Never choose on the basis of “should”
Affection & Emotions
Mom taught me one of the most underrated pieces of self-empowerment: the ability to feel. Feelings and emotions have long been stigmatized in Anglo culture, which is the basis for both Canadian and American culture. People have long been encouraged to suppress their emotions as some sign of strength—it’s not strength, it’s cowardice. The ability to feel on an emotional level is one that separates us from our primal cousins and it is very human, as well as very humbling. Emotions are part of identity, part of knowing yourself; however what they provide is an ability to connect with other people. Affection is the vehicle through which those connections are communicated and displayed. I would say that this is one drawback of Canadian society: the ability to connect with people on a deep level. I would hazard a guess that this is because people are not able to connect with themselves for fear of feeling something real.
Mommy Wisdom: is being emotional not being human?
This is another way in which my upbringing greatly separates me from most “old-stock Canadians”: I have faith in God. I know that coming out and saying this in Canadian society is a no-no because it’s unpopular, but them Mom taught me not to give a fuck.
Faith is what you have when you have nothing else. Faith is what keeps you from giving up on yourself. Faith is necessary for hope. Hope is necessary for spiritual survival and growth.
Mommy Wisdom: the mind, body and soul are all connected. You can’t have success in one, without success in the others.
Instead of teaching girls to be brave or strong, we should teach them how to be multidimensional human beings who are present for more than just accessorizing humanity. We also need to teach boys that strong women are valuable.
You have to know the rules to break the rules
Before I leave this post, I want to extend a special Happy Mother’s Day to these beautiful, powerful and inspiring women whose pain has been on display and have handled it with grace.