“Your mother has been so helpful to me, thank God for her”. “When everyone turned their backs on me, she was there. Bless her”. “You mother is a great woman and you children are very lucky to have her”. These words from strangers are often followed by tears when they speak of my mother. I am constantly in awe. And though I am often tempted to say: “I know, my mom rocks”, I realize that it’s deeper than that. My mom is not only a mother to me, but she is a mother to so many others. At work, they used to call her ‘Na- meaning “my mother” in Malinke. Wherever she goes, she is not only respected but quick to gain people’s trust. She protects others as if they were her own children.
Growing up, we often spent summer vacations in the Ivory Coast and we got to hang out with my cousins (mainly from my dad’s side). My mother treated us all the same. It didn’t matter that they were not “her blood”; my mom treated them as she did us. No favoritism whatsoever. When my older sister locked my cousin in the closet and we found her 30 minutes later (yes, she had a funny way of getting back at people), my mother gave her a nice whooping and told her she’d lock her in there if she ever pulled a stunt like that again. My cousins knew we’d always be treated the same and they knew they could tell my mom everything, even things they wouldn’t tell their own parents. She was tough but she was always there to listen and protect.
Growing up, she was not the mushy kind. So my sisters and I used to go to my dad when we needed to cuddle (i.e. cover his face with kisses or just lie in his arms :)). My mom had not been raised that way, so cuddling wasn’t something she was comfortable with. She was the disciplinarian. She couldn’t afford to let us go down the wrong path. And yet, she still tucked us in every single night and for us, just sensing her presence was enough to make us feel at ease. When we were sick she was right there by our bedside, prayer beads in hand, asking God to help us get well soon. And when we did get better, she had a special dance she performed, which consisted of jumping up in the air, stomping, arms flying around, while she created her own drum beat with her mouth. To this day, my mother’s presence is one of the only things that can appease me.
My mother came to the US when she was in her late teens. She spoke no English (she hadn’t bothered to pay attention in English class because in her mind, she would never move to the US but to France after high school). She managed to raise 5 kids in NYC, and I must say, we all turned out pretty well (although I still wonder if my brother was adopted. Just kidding!). My mother is my inspiration. I feel that sometimes I tend to think she’ll be around forever, or at least longer than my dad (perhaps because he is older) but after everything she has been through, life has taught me never to take her presence for granted. She always fought to give us everything she could, balancing it out beautifully with a few “hell no’s” so that we’d never be too spoiled. She always made it a point to remind us where we came from and God help us if we started having an attitude with her. She’d often ask us if we thought that just because we were born in NY, we were “American”!
And yet, she never wanted us to lack of anything. She insisted that we participate in Christmas festivities every year in spite of my dad’s complaints. She saved up for months to send us to camp when my dad refused to let us go away, pretending to be a single mother to get us a discounted rate. She fought for us to attend the best schools in NYC by going to meet with the school principals and demanding they put her on a payment plan so that her kids could attend. One thing my mother taught me was: “if you don’t speak up, you’ll never get what you want” and OH is my mother good at getting what she wants. I think I got that from her ;).
She is there for us whenever we have a problem. She can somehow sense it from thousands of miles away. If one of us is having a bad day, she’ll call or send an email to cheer us up. I still have no idea how she does it. She’s always there. She would literally hop on a plane from Guinea to NY just to see how one of us is holding up or to come fix a family issue, the way only a mother can do. She always has just the right words. We are all over 30 now and still, I feel my mother will never stop worrying about us. She literally stays up all night to pray for her children. We are blessed. Even though she’s always pushed us to be independent, I know she still sees us as her babies and probably always will. Independent, strong, fearless, religious, caring… I could continue for days!
I guess you are wondering why I just made this whole spiel on how great my mother is… Well, it’s because she is! I wrote about my dad briefly in 2010 so this piece was long overdue ;). I pray that someday I can be even half as good a mom as she continues to be for us. As I read stories from this blog, I realize how nice it is to share a platform with strong women who are not only intelligent but who are sharing their points of views with the world (Don’t be jealous guys, you are also great!). I am glad to be a part of such a great team!