My Mother and I

Flawed, imperfect, sisters, almost best friends.

My mother and I in 1994. Ibadan, Nigeria

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” — Mitch Albom

One of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood was my mother pregnant and in tears. She was talking to me, and while I do not remember what she was saying, I remember putting my hands on her head and saying sorry. I do not recall how I remember this image, but it is one memory that has refused to leave my mind. It is funny how when you are young, you see and take in everything.

I remember how sick she was when she was pregnant with my sister and how often she vomited. I was almost five years old and would run down the street’s alleys to buy her some food. We were all we had, and I took care of her. I felt the responsibility to take care of her. She was all I had, the only parent I saw present. I remember how she ran two businesses and still had so much strength to supervise my school homework and my sisters’. In my eyes, she was a superhero.

I remember the first time I was caught by my neighbors at age six, making out with a boy. I was dragged by my ears to her, and while I cried my eyes out, she simply pulled me into herself with grace and said, please don’t put me to shame. I hear those words in my head often, and from that moment, my sole desire was to make her proud. My mother never parented me until I acted up or wanted to show I was grown. Those were the only moments I got the lecture; listen, young lady, I am still your mother.

I never understood the gravity or the depth of her scars until I became a young adult. I never understood her loneliness until I started to crave love from the opposite sex. I never understood the weight of the responsibilities she bore until I became financially responsible for the household. I never understood the shame she carried until I saw how patriarchy policed women into thinking being with a man beats being single even when he remains unavailable to you. I never understood her relationship with God until my soul needed an inner guide. I never understood her vulnerability or took the time to carefully acknowledge her humanity until I became consciously self-aware of my frailty and imperfections.

My mother and I in New Jersey, United States, spring of 2018

At every phase of my growth, she would say to me, I am your sister. You can talk to me like one. I never truly believed her until I had my first crush and heartbreak. I never wanted to tell her such stuff because of how conservative she appeared and the environment in which we lived, but she opened herself up by telling me stories of her first heartbreak, love, crush, sex, and fears. She let me in on her humanity. So when I had my first heartbreak, I turned to her and wept my heart out. Our relationship surpassed the usual mother-daughter relationship because I realized our stories were more similar than different.

Our stories were more similar than different.

My father’s absence affected me, but I hid that from her. I never wanted her to feel my pain was her fault, but I knew she cried in the corners of her room, away from my eyes. My mother raised herself because she had an estranged relationship with both of her parents. They were never in her life as parents or nurturers. They simply existed. When I think about it, it hurts me to my core that she never got the love of her parents or a partner’s romantic love. The burden of that weight still crushes me. So I made her a promise to change this narrative in our genogram, this narrative of absent parents and lovers, this cycle of unavailable men. I told her mother, “It stops here. With you and me. It ends with us.”

But even in a relationship as dynamic as ours, we have established boundaries, and one of the things I adore is how we respect our boundaries. We needed boundaries because even unconditional love needs conditions to fully thrive and stand the test of time. I refused to drown myself in her and helped her understand it was unhealthy to depend solely on my sister and me to bridge all of her emotional needs. Somedays, we still gently argue about this truth.

As an adult myself, who now understands the complexity that exists in maternal relationships, I realize what I needed from my mother was her humanity, frailty, and a softness that showed me that she had traveled the roads I was about to journey and that she would be there at every turn to hold my hands in grace. I needed a parent who would always be there, even in the most uncomfortable moments of my life. I didn’t need a perfect parent, just one who showed me she was present and was learning too.

In many mother-daughter relationships, the mother is usually harder on the daughter because she is trying to prevent a repetition of her mistakes but really, what every daughter needs is a safe space, a safe landing, a sanctuary away from the brutalities of the world. What every daughter needs is the presence of their mother’s grace and not the projection of her pain.

“what every daughter needs is the presence of their mother’s grace and not the projection of her pain.”

My mother and I in 2019, Ibadan, Nigeria. She had just turned 60

One of the most attractive qualities of my mother is her teachable spirit and her willingness to unlearn. Now she jokingly calls me her teacher, and I learn a lot from her humility. We have very tough conversations, and we remind ourselves of our commitment to growth and keep doing better. My mother has been present for all the firsts in my life, and her non-judgmental character has been the glue that holds the love we share. Through her mistakes and triumphs, she has shown me the woman I can aspire to be and the woman I should never become. I have learned from her silence why my voice needs to be loud and unshaken. I have learned that while you could never choose your background or choose from where you came, you can always decide where you can go.

I call her my sister, sometimes iye mi (in my native tongue), sometimes maami (in my native language), and when I act super grown, she says, hey young lady, I am still your mother and this is why she remains my almost best friend.

I write about personal growth, mental, emotional health, and shared human experiences. My first book, stirredbylife is out on amazon.

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