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Chasing Children and Memories: One Single Mom’s Story

22 May 2012 One Comment

Ihotu Jennifer Ali

Ihotu Jennifer Ali
United States

My mom suffered, struggling with depression, fatigue, lack of savings and health insurance, and I’m sure at times she was certainly isolated. But that’s not her story in its fullness. It is one, but not all, of the pieces I will gather and reassemble when my children and grandchildren ask me to tell stories of my childhood.”

***

A colleague of mine once mentioned in passing her curiosity about what it would be like to be a single mother. Newly a first time mom herself, she said she thought it would be “isolating.” I wasn’t quite sure if, at that point in our relationship, she knew much about me. She certainly knew that I was not a mom myself, although moms are central to our work. I couldn’t tell if I had already told her my mom’s story, that mine was in fact a single mom with three children – girls – one of which had special needs and would spend her life in and out of hospitals, and all of which were various shades of brown skin and black hair in contrast to her ivory skin and red curls, as it was a West African man who she loved and who had left us many years ago. And I know that my mom suffered, struggling with depression, fatigue, lack of savings and health insurance, and I’m sure at times she was certainly isolated. But that’s not her story in its fullness. That is part, but not all, of the pieces I will gather and reassemble when my children and grandchildren ask me to tell stories of my childhood. What I will tell them is this.

Ihotu and family

She never told us to go “have fun” – which was, ironically, counter to her nature, as she was constantly joking, dancing, or chasing us around as if the small apartment was a giant playground in the sky. She didn’t say “make mommy proud” or “be good.” Instead, she told us to make memories. Memories, like our cherished picnics every summer – the most notorious one being on a cramped playground one early spring day when our cabin fever after a long winter led us to disregard the chill in the air. As soon as we had sandwiches, juices, fruit, and shoes sprawled around us, the winds shifted and it began to snow. Shivering, and shoveling down the rest of lunch, I remember her laughter: “Well, at least we made memories!” What a memory it was. Whether it was my sweet sixteen birthday party where she organized a public display full of my naked baby pictures, or when she arranged for the whole family to pick me up and throw me into an ice cold lake, my mother was always scheming and laughing, and it is those terrible, excruciating moments of my childhood and adolescence that I remember and smile at today.

To be fair, I’ll also tell my grandchildren that despite all our child’s play (and perhaps because of it), I was an ultra quiet, serious kid. I was the eldest, and burdened early with expectations from our father about succeeding in school and supporting the family, being an obedient-helpful-nice-sweet-pretty girl as his culture preferred, and if I were destined in some parallel universe to become just another American Dream Holder with my degrees, my house and husband and kids, and to spend my days consuming and planning for some future attainment of “success,” it was my mom who shook loose this oppressive strategic plan. At times, I blamed her for not understanding the pressures on me to hide my poverty from wealthy classmates, to seek a life away from home that was more sophisticated, more worldly, more racially diverse. But as I neared those worlds I so desired, I also saw they were more somber than her world. More self-important. More about scrunched brows and complex sentences, fancy things and false senses of security, and less about laughter and embarrassment and love thrown out into a wild wind like a boomerang that may not return.

I will tell my children that I grew up playing in dirt, having ice-down-your-pants fights and tickle tournaments, and making videos of booty dances. And although I hope those videos never make it to YouTube, I do hope my children find all my stories slightly boring because they’ve already done those things themselves. And they may cling for a while, as I did, to the lures of wealth and success and fame, but eventually I hope they find their way home. Because I’m thankful for a mother who gave me an option of freedom, of chasing squirrels and authentic dreams and getting dirty and smearing whipped cream on the kitchen floor for New Year’s Eve dance parties. Of course, my single mom’s story is one of survival and strength. But really, it’s about silliness. It’s about laughter. It’s about “making memories.” My grandchildren may seek many things in their lives, but my mother and I, we will tell them to chase after that which really matters.

A Poem for my Mother

Your fiery hair hides
brokenness
yet still you dance.

Your movement enters my own;
your footsteps, blueprint,
your shadow, not restrictive
as I dance
beyond where you began.

Thank you, mother,
for fiery hair,
dancing shadows,
humble shoulders,
on which i stand.

***

See more of Ihotu’s work on her website.

The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

 

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One Comments to “Chasing Children and Memories: One Single Mom’s Story”
  1. Tanya says:

    Gorgeous!

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