Sometimes I marvel at how much I learn by keeping my mouth shut and just observing.
I thought I had my parents figured out by my teen years. I had both their personalities pegged; I could tell you what they’d each laugh at, how far I’d be able to push it with each one, what key words to use with whom, and what their respective consistencies and limitations were. It’s only recently that I've learned just how wrong I was - well, maybe not wrong, just premature. I now liken my parents to excavation sites - what you hit near the surface is usually only a glimpse at the treasures you’ll find if you just keep digging.
Lately, my new found observational skills have enabled me to soak up some new lessons from my mother, and they couldn't come at a better time.
One day, my mother and I sat in a park in my hometown, and she opened up to me about parts of her life - both blissful and painful- that I had no clue about. This was when I first started to recognize the excavation site that was my mom - and when we walked away from our park bench, the woman standing beside me seemed so familiar and yet so different. I was just like her and nothing like her at the same time, and I knew that investigating the various parts of her would teach me so much about myself. I couldn't have been more right.
My mother is a true Virgo. Exact, critical, and sensitive, she's hard and soft at the same time. When life gave her lemons, she persevered by using superhuman strength to pulverize those suckers into sweet lemonade. I've never thought I was as strong as her. It was easy to take her strength for granted until the tides turned and she was brought to tears by an offhand comment or tough love from someone close to her. I've never thought I was as sensitive as her. With Black women being constantly prided, upheld, and revered for their strength, we often forget about the underlying strength in vulnerability. We expect Black women to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and turn a setback into a setup for a comeback - and my mother is a master at this. However, her openness to be vulnerable and sensitive reminds me of the human essence of Black women. Sometimes this focus on Black women's strength hurts us; the world believes we can shoulder more and more and more, rarely stopping to see if we're OK or if we can manage - because, hey! We're always OK! We can always manage! My mother's ability to wear her emotions on her sleeve has taught me just as much about strength as her ability to endure life's struggles. Her hard and soft parts make sense to me in a way they never did before. MC Lyte said it first, but my mother is the living, breathing icon:
Do you understand The metaphoric phrase 'Lyte as a rock?' It's explainin' how heavy the young lady is
When it comes to being brave and taking risks, no one does it quite like my mom. Stepping out on her own with 3 kids to raise after leaving a marriage that wasn't serving her? She did it. Daring to fall in love again and risking possible heartbreak? She's done it. Choosing to challenge herself with a new job after 20+ years of comfort and familiarity? She's doing it. My mom may not skydive or bungee jump, but quietly watching her take these life-altering risks and express sincere bravery at being OK no matter what makes me proud to be cut from a part of her cloth.
If my mother's cloth is a quilt, one of the patches would read "Boss." Much debate has ensued over the word “bossy” and what it means for young girls and women since Sheryl Sandberg launched her new #BanBossy campaign - but as shy as I've been for the majority of my life (I can see y’all who know me now rolling your eyes!), being called “bossy” was never something I really had to contend with. In recent years, I’d like to believe that I've grown in my boss-ness, and that is definitely due to my mother. Her flavour of bossin’ up has never been related to power grabs and lording over others - instead, it's rooted in knowing your shit, being assertive, and not allowing anyone else to walk over you. It took me a few years (read: a couple decades) to get comfortable with exercising these tenets, but now that I've started, I'm not prepared to stop. I think that part of her legacy is embedded in this - she never sounds more proud than when I've proven to a non-believer that I knew my shit, or when I've stood up for myself, or when I've stiff-armed an attempt by someone else to railroad me. The more she encourages, the more I know I can develop this boss muscle that I was given in birthright. I see now that the best way to honour her is to honour myself.
I'm thankful for the opportunity to see my parents in a new light. The blinders that block you from realizing that your parents are actually people serve to protect you when needed, but must be removed at some point. Little by little, those blinders have been lifted, and I welcome the light.