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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Did I Teach You That?

To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power." -- Maya Angelou

My mom was a single mother, before it was popular. In the sixties, being a single mother was a shameful thing. The only similar image on TV was the show Julia starring Diahann Carroll which was on from 1968 to 1971. She played a nurse who was a widow, so there was some honor there. My mom was an educator (professionally and personally). I benefitted tremendously from her instruction. Here are the three things that stand out when I think of her. She would have turned 86 this week.

Kiss Before You Leave the House

My maternal grandmother died from tuberculosis (TB) when my mom was just six years old. TB was the deadly communicable disease of its day and people were quarantined when they started exhibiting symptoms. How do you explain to a six-year old that their mom is never coming back? As a result of that experience, she taught us that life is precious and that the next moment is not promised to you. Every time we left or returned home, no matter how far we were going, we kissed her. It wasn’t done in a morbid sense (let me kiss you because it may be my last time). It was a way to be affectionate in the moment. It did make for some very happy hellos and goodbyes. I do the same thing with my guys, coming or going, it starts with a kiss.

Being a Mother Means Mothering the Village

The true definition of mother has more to do with the condition of your heart than your biological abilities. We grew up in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment. We were all able to very peaceable cohabitate there – 4 children and one mom. My mother had the opportunity to “temporarily adopt” a family of 3 young girls. My brothers were pretty much on their own by then so it was just us 6 girls. As a single parent, it was clear that her motivation to provide a loving environment for my sisters outweighed the extra work that was involved. When I think of the 5 heads of thick long hair that had to be combed every day – Yikes! I haven’t taken any children in, but I am always on the look-out for opportunities to love on other people’s children while still leaving plenty of energy for my own three. I am reaping the benefits of this when I run into them now as adults. It is so true that people won’t necessarily remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

Schedule Yourself a Quiet Nervous Breakdown

Parenting pressure is real and just like the pressure cooker she loved to use when she cooked, she found ways to release the pressure she was under. She would say that sometimes she would need to schedule herself a quiet nervous breakdown. We knew to leave her alone during these times…she just needed to be her. My mother would play her records (LPs) and sing her misery away. This music fest included the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick and Carmen Mcrae just to name a few. The 2 songs that I can hear her singing even now is “What’s it All About Alfie?” and “Who Can I Turn To?” I don’t know if she ever got an answer, but the older I get, the smarter she gets.

Do you have a favorite mom memory? Has your view of your mom changed as you matured? Do you understand the craziness better? Please share your thoughts.


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