I was my Momma’s hardest child to raise. I was the one to always push the limits, to do the opposite of whatever my Momma said, and to add levity and joy to almost every classroom I entered as a student. That ended in 11th grade. Mrs. Fields, who had taught both of my older sisters, called to tell Momma she didn’t think she’d approve of the way I was cutting up in class and making everyone laugh. She was right. Momma didn’t approve. That was the last phone call Momma got about my behavior at school. She made it simple. Stop or you will not play basketball. No threats. Only promises. I knew that, and because of it, I made sure Momma didn’t get anymore phone calls.
Momma never compared us to one another. We all had different interests, talents, gifts, abilities. She connected with us on an individual level that allowed her to nurture each of us in just the right way. Whatever we were interested in, and as long as it was positive for developing us into self sufficient and independent young women, she encouraged it. Momma had one rule: Always do your best.
I get it. Lots of parents have that rule and yes, it is cliche, but here’s where my Momma differed. She always followed that with, “whatever YOUR best is,” meaning that she understood clearly that everyone’s best is different. That’s why when I told my Momma I wanted to be a teacher she responded, “That’s great. We need great teachers.” My older sisters chose business and engineering as their career fields. Momma never steered us in toward any particular career. She simply asked that we do our very best at whatever we chose to do. It wasn’t about being the best. It was about doing our best, whatever that was. There’s a difference.
My Momma is the most unselfish person I know. She never brags about how much she does for others, but when it comes to servant leadership she’s at the top of my list. I think that’s why I find it a tad bit irritating when folks self describe themselves as servant leaders. Shouldn’t other people be the ones who decide that? I digress. My mother’s unselfish acts have always been an example of what unconditional love looks like, sounds like, and feels like. More importantly, Momma’s example has taught me how to love others and what it means to know that if you need help, support, or just a listening ear, you have someone you can consistently depend on for that.
Momma has always valued belonging over fitting in, and here’s what I mean by that. She never pushed us to be a part of certain social networks it put pressure on us to engage in certain social circles. Some parents feel an enormous pressure for their children to be a part of certain social groups, and struggle with disappointment when they are not. My Momma just wasn’t wired that way. Momma encouraged us to select friends who accepted us just as we were, not because of what we could do for them or what they could do for us, whatever that might be. For Momma, belonging was key, and she taught us that there was no criteria to belong. If God put you on this earth, you belonged and were good enough (not better than anyone else), with or without other people’s endorsement. Because of that, I’ve always been comfortable with not fitting in, and in many cases I haven’t cared to fit in anyway. My goal has never been to be like everyone else. Momma used to tell me, “I want you to be who you are and do your best,” and those words have given me comfort and security throughout my adult life.
When my sister had her second child, I was blessed to be in the delivery room. I count it as one of the top two miracles I’ve witnessed, my niece’s birth and my Grandma’s death. I apologized to Momma for how hard I’d been to raise after that. Momma knew she had a strong willed child on her hands when it came to me, but she taught me to use it for good, and today I attribute that to my determined spirit. It has helped me get through tough situations and given me a sense of confidence knowing that if there’s something I wish to accomplish, I’ve got the tenacity to endure whatever may be required.
I imagine the world to be a much kinder and loving place if we were to love each other for who we are, accepting one another, not because we fit in, but because we all belong. There would be a lot less group think and we wouldn’t see those who think differently than us as contrary. Instead we’d value the diversity that life can offer us when our hearts and minds are attuned to people being just who they are and not who we think they should be because that’s the beginning of unconditional love.
Y’all be easy,