Matriarchy in the Black community has often been out of necessity for contrasting reasons almost since the arrival of my ancestors into this country nearly 400 years. Through all of the trials and tribulations, it has always been apparent that the very rock of our family units have been the mothers.
She is the first teacher, the first healer, the first comforter and the first protector. The bond shared while still in utero grew exponentially stronger as we shared her meals, her joys and endured her stresses while in the womb. As we grew within her, the world boiled and seethed like a cauldron, waiting to gobble us up as part of some nefarious ritual. It is our mothers who shield us.
For Black boys, it is the mother who provides the tools that are needed to survive. Oftentimes, we look back on some of the cautionary advice she gave us as young boys and scoff on them when we became a little older, stronger and bolder. The mannerism, the insistence upon education and even her admonishments of our choices in mates were for a purpose. She is the difference between a full life and one filled with pain and strife. Society’s cynical shaming and blaming were not enough to dissuade her. Young mothers grow into better mothers, but there are no blueprints.
It’s curious for me to recall days that I pouted and carried on due my mother’s advice and discipline in days long ago. Little did we know that it was this discipline that would shield us from our own shortcomings in the years and decades to come. Indeed, how I wished to never leave my mother’s side as a young boy. The very definition of a Momma’s boy.
Oh how painfully it was when she first forced me out the front door on a windy autumn day, untied shoelaces flapping this way and that. Five dollars in my hand, running behind the neighborhood kids downtown to the arcade, your worry for my safety would grow exponentially more powerful with every moment I was gone. When I would burst through the door hours later, five dollars lighter, one pocket filled with penny candy, a frog or turtle in the other, and smelling like “outside”, it was you who ran my bath water and prepared a hot meal for me.
It was you who taught me the importance of hard work. For most of my childhood I believed working two and three jobs was what everyone did. When I was sickly, as was often the case, it was you who nursed and doctored me back to health with a homemade cough syrup recipe, an old school chicken noodle soup recipe that was handed down through the generations.
But it wasn’t just the chicken noodle soup, the Vics Vap-o-Rub, the orange juice supplements and the hot tea that sustained me through the shivers and sweats, but it was her love and warmth that healed me. It is easy for a child to look upon the actions of his or her mother after the fact. Oh, the number of foolhardy offspring who judge their own Mother Earth with the benefit of time bolstering their blaspheming. They have no idea of the pressure or the consequences. Parenting does not come with an instruction manual.
I can remember my mother, young and fiery, coming to my kindergarten class at Monument School to admonish my teacher for trying to force me to write with my right hand instead of my left. You were the first protector of my person hood. Because of you, I’m not a drone or clone. I am an original.
Wise are the ones who understand that her every action was in the pursuit of food, clothing and shelter for her children. I can recall my mother when she was young and vibrant. Her Afro bobbing back and forth as she swayed to Steve Wonder. We were the sunshine of your life, but it was you who was the center of all things. We revolve around you.
It is your influence that keeps us in our respective orbits. It is your love that first warmed out tender, tiny bodies and it’s your wisdom that is our first armor in a society that is antithetical to our very existence. It is you who was the first teacher.
I can’t help but chuckle at the memory of thinking my mother was the smartest, most beautiful person in the universe. In the pursuit of some celestial life-giver, the actual givers of life are often taken for granted and even purposefully marginalized in some instances. But it is no secret that any measure that benefits mothers ultimately benefits us all. Mommy, I love you so much. Black mothers, I appreciate so much. Thank you for everything.