As children, we develop ideals around how different from our parents we will be, when finally we have children of our own. Everything that our parents did, we decide (in some fashion or another) we won’t do. Everything that our parents didn’t do, we will do. What we fail to realize, is that our parents were once children too. Throughout their childhoods, throughout the trials and tribulations they struggled with, they too, decided to do things differently than those who reared them. In the absence of reason and rationale, we bring forth the lives that we create, often unaware that the commonality we share with the generations that came before us is this; all that we wished we could have had might have made us better than we have become. Did we become who were in spite of our circumstances or because of them?
Armed with ignorance and ideals we go forth and multiply. Labor of Love: The Child Birth and Child Rearing Experience – was what I was going to title my first book. Throughout the pregnancy, I imagined all the things I would do differently. I colluded with those who chastised the “old school” ways of discipline and structure. I invited the opportunity to have challenging conversations around the subject, yet each time I looked my mother’s way, she said but this: “keep on living.” In my arrogance (or rather more plainly put, ignorance) I would think to myself, “you keep on living, and you will see how differently things can be.”
The adversity I faced in my childhood gave me the wherewithal to stand firm for my beliefs. It’s almost shaming now to say that I stood firm against the one who instilled in me the ability to do so. I see now that I was no more fighting for my ideals as I was to be taken seriously as a mother – to be seen as an equal. That was almost 17yrs ago. I have ‘lived” a lot since then. The book has never been written and is now simply referred to as “ a day in the life of a fool.”
I see things from a different perspective. I understand that what most parents start off wanting or rather believing is that if their children had the things they didn’t have, then maybe they might be “better than us.” Perhaps the hardest part of being a parent is understanding that “they” will never really be “better” than “us.” “They” were never really meant to be anything more or less than themselves.
Accepting “them” as “they” are and encouraging them along the way is exhausting, rewarding, challenging, fulfilling, terrifying, exhilarating, frustrating, and everything in between. As parents, we want to take credit or accept blame. In what way does that teach them to accept responsibility? We must let them find their way just as our parents allowed us to do the same. I understand so much more now – but to tell them would in essence be “giving them a fish.”
I was born and reared on the West Coast. After having heard many stories from my parents –who were considerably older when they had me – and watching the made for TV movie Grambling’s White Tiger – I made up mind that I was headed off to an HBC (Historically Black College) in the Deep South. I decided in the middle of the first semester that wanted to return home. I called my mother. I cried. I told her they were mean. I told her I didn’t like it. I told her they called me names. She said “that’s life.” I cried harder and told her that I wanted to come home. She said “Great, I’ll see you when return for your Christmas Break and not a day sooner.” I thought “she” was mean. I thought she didn’t love me. I have realized many times since then, that it was “because’ she loved me that she gave me no choice. As long as I thought I had I the choice to leave, I found only things to dislike. When I realized this would be the place I called home for the next four years, I found my way. It would become my training ground for life.
Years later, I found my way into a very abusive marriage. When I asked her to let me come home, her response was, “this is your family now.” I realize now how hard it must have been for her. She was in fact, (again) “teaching me to fish.” I had to find the strength and resolve, to go beyond my limits, to fend for myself and my children in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.
Those words – “this is your family now” sliced through me like a knife that day. Again, I had no choice. I viewed things from a different perspective. I took stock. I relied upon my undergraduate experience and made a plan. I pursued and obtained my Master’s degree, so that I could work and take care of my children when I left. Slowly I began to see the other half of the “this is your family now” statement. It was simply; “ take care of them.”
“You take good care of me” she says now. She has taught me to fish. The lessons she has taught and continues to teach to me will last many lifetimes. I see that what started off a strong vibrant independent strong willed intelligent highly educated woman, become frail and is now again almost childlike in nature. Is she who she is because her parents gave more than they had so that she could become better than they were? Or is she who she is simply because she was “taught to fish?”
The things I am most proud of, are not the things I have won, or of the things that I have been given, but the things I have accomplished, and/or strived to obtain. When you look back at your ability to walk through adversity (and survive) it builds character. My mother has been instrumental in that. I look back, see how far I have come, and no matter what I am going through, know that somehow, I will get through.
When we overcompensate, we take away our children’s ability to feel a sense of pride in their accomplishment/achievement. More than that, we fail to provide them with the bare necessities for life’s training ground. We send them into the world ill equipped to handle all the atrocities that life has to offer. My mother, in her wisdom, knew that sometimes the most powerful choice is having NO CHOICE. She understood, that I was best left in at the undergraduate – school of my choosing. In my marriage, she knew also that leaving before I was prepared to do so would have far -reaching consequences.
The lesson she prepares me for now is far greater than either she or I can comprehend. Having come to a point where I get the meaning behind “ keep on living” and having developed a true appreciation for each other, we have embarked on our final journey together. We spend late nights, long hours, and everything seems just a tad bit off (dementia has a way of doing that). We both know what’s happening, but only she has the courage to really say it. It breaks me, to point where even now, to imagine existing in this world without her, reduces me to tears. ( Of course listening to the music on the Soundscapes channel doesn’t help either). There will come a point when she will have taught me all she has and I will have NO CHOICE but to go on without her. This will be the true test of the lessons she has taught me, and the lessons I have yet to teach. ©