One of the greatest gifts that age can give you is perspective. Things you once disliked, others you had a huge affinity for, all change in the light of 1, 2, 5, 10 years in the future. I always knew my Nana was different, but I never could quite put it into words. Not as a child, not even as a young adult. Nana – Vera Mae Evans – was born on February 14, 1925. I always loved that her birthday fell on Valentine’s Day. As a young bucket-head teenager, especially, I was lucky to never associate February 14th with grand expressions of love or getting gifts from your significant other. I associated it with Nana – and she was love. Nana was not a woman who yelled. She was not a strict disciplinarian. She reasoned, she talked, she listened. We never “acted up” anyway, because why would we? There was never an instance where she might babysit us while my mom worked and have a bad report upon my mom’s arrival. Everything was easy with Nana. And she was my first great example of what a mother (and a grandmother) should be.
One of my most vivid memories of her was one I thought was trivial when I was 25, but at 35 I see it a lot differently. I had just broken up with some boy, I think it was sophomore year of high school. And as is usually the case with teenage breakups the world was, in effect, over for me. I cried – like one of those deep, ugly, sobbing cries. But I didn’t like crying in front of other people, not about things that had hit me so close to home. I can’t remember if she walked in on me or if I went to her, but I do remember the both of us, just sitting there on her couch, while I sobbed inconsolably. I just laid my head on her shoulder as she put her arm around me and rested her cheek against my hair. She didn’t say anything. She just sat there. She held space for me, before “holding space” was a term people would come to use often. She didn’t tell me to get over it, to dry my eyes, that no boy was worth shedding all these tears over. She just sat there and let me feel. You have no idea how important that is, not just to any person, but especially to a 16-year-old girl.
When she died in 2013, my whole family was hit pretty hard. We had all seen her eventual decline – she’d suffered two mini-strokes and had senile dementia. Visits to the nursing home toward the end of her life were usually us talking over her while she slept. There was no interaction, and even though we were robbed of her long after her true spirit left her body, the loss was stabbing and heart-wrenching all the same. After I spoke at her funeral, we all went up to view the body before the casket was closed and I was flooded with the scent of her perfume – Red Door, Elizabeth Arden. I closed my eyes and I remembered all the times we would sit and talk, watch an old movie or listen to Frank Sinatra, read stories, cook, eat, make little trips downtown to go shopping. It’s funny how the sense of smell can make memory that much more vivid and impactful. But I was grateful for that moment. It reminded me of all the love Nana had brought to my life. And even though I don’t recall her saying “I love you,” I realized that her expression of love was in everything she did for us. Every meal prepared by her hands, every conversation, every time we ever sat together. Anything she ever did said, “I love you,” in unspoken ways. Born on the day designated for St. Valentine, she was the true expression of love. And how lucky was I to have experienced it.
Part 2 – Lisa Ann
If I could liken my mother to any animal, it would be a lioness. Growing up, Ma was fiercely protective of her three cubs but never overbearing. It was almost as if we all had an implicit understanding – there were certain things we could not do, not out of some antiquated sense of limited agency for children, but more for our safety. Any other issues we had were always discussed. We might’ve gotten hit with the, “Because I said so,” but I always understood that my mother had my best interests at heart, and she still does to this day.
My mother often trusted us with conversations and content that others might have thought were too “adult” for young children. No matter. We had the hard conversations and she trusted us to come to her whenever there was any issue. I always felt support and love from my mother, even in the hard times, and for all three of us throughout the years, there were plenty of those. But because she was that lioness, her stance on an issue was never mistaken and never wavering. She was able to see other sides of a situation, but her own perspective was crystal clear. She expressed it – we knew it.
To this day, I still don’t understand how my mother did what she did. The fact that she raised three girls, in Brooklyn, NY in the 90s – single mother, working and getting an advanced degree at the same time, on a city worker’s salary no less. We say the superheroes are in the comic books? No. That’s my mama. My mom is a superhero. Every day she left the house, she put on that cape, scaled the tallest buildings, put the bad guys in jail, finished her assignments and made it home in time to make dinner for us. And I can’t imagine what she must have been feeling, on the heels of a failed marriage and learning to navigate life as a newly single mother. My heart aches for the things she couldn’t express, the things she couldn’t show because she had three little women in tow, watching her every move and learning from her example.
My mother taught me about being incredibly strong – digging deep down into those reserves, testing your mettle, pushing, applying pressure, and coming through the other side a diamond. Her example is so blindingly bright to me, how dare I not work to be my absolute best with the example that she’s given me? She taught me to acknowledge other people’s stories, but to never lose the through line on my own. That my feelings are valid and deserve to be felt, whether other people would agree or not.
Part 3 – Cathy Marie
My mother-in-law was a very particular woman. Not overly emotional or sentimental, you knew that she cared through her actions, not her words. A fresh, delicious meal, a space in her home, a gift that had been chosen with care - this is how she showed her love. When I first met her, I was convinced that she didn't like me. I was taking her only son on a journey through marriage and partnership, out of her home and into the world that hold so many unknown variables. Over the 14 years that I knew her, our relationship grew closer. We came to a mutual understanding, one that as a mother of boys, I can feel at my core: I just want to be sure that you are good for my son, and that your future together holds more joy than pain. Her life was about her children and grandchildren. The sacrifices she made and the devotion she had to each of us (because I felt like one of her own) is something I hope to emulate in my time as a mother.
When she passed in June of 2020, in the weeks leading up to it, we knew that her decline would be swift. We were hopeful that maybe things would turn around, but in dealing with her preexisting conditions and the limitations that COVID brought along, we couldn't help but feel that we didn't have much time. The last time I saw her, I bought flowers (as I often did, just because). I always made it a point to honor her because she had given me my husband and by extension, my children - a large chunk of my life that I am forever grateful for and couldn't imagine any other way. She was still awake and present. She introduced me to the nurses as her daughter and told them how thoughtful I was. I hung up pictures of the boys where she could see them and just sat near hear, as she drifted in and out of sleep. I got a new phone some time last year, after her passing, and to my surprise, one of the most important pictures I had was transferred over: a screen shot of a text message she'd sent. It was a few days after my birthday and she told me that she did not forget, that she was searching for just the right thing but it still wouldn't be good enough. She told me not to worry, that she loved me and she wasn't going anywhere. This message has a special place in my heart because she hasn't gone anywhere. She is now my guardian angel and I feel her presence, especially on my hardest days.
Part 4 – Yvonne Alexis
Of course, still a work in progress. Nine, almost 10 years I’ve been a mother, from the first day of the first pregnancy up until today. And every day has taught me something new. And every day has felt like going into a battle, getting ready for school, preparing for a love onslaught from three boys all at the same time. My life is crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is my beautifully imperfect mess. Constantly learning and constantly growing as a mother, this past Mother’s Day I thought about the things I’ve learned from each of my children as the years have passed. I think about what living in the midst of a pandemic and dealing with grief and loss has altered what matters and what doesn't.
Christian Jr. (Boogie) has taught me presence. I know this sounds weird but having him first really forced me to figure out how to integrate him into all facets of my life. Don’t get me wrong – I still have time for myself, and I treasure it. But Boogie showed me that including your children in your every day interactions – allowing them to have a presence and not just be silent observers – helps them learn and understand the world in ways that aren’t possible when you hold them small and imagine that because they are children, they are not able to see the world for what it is. Is there a better word for that? I’m not sure. But that idea really gets my point across. He has grown and taken on responsibility in ways I didn't anticipate. Fiercely independent and protective of his younger brothers, one who will stand up for himself and voice his opinion even if, in the moment, I don't find it so endearing.
Tyler has taught me to express my feelings and be free. He loves so hard and so much, his emotions flow from him without filter. It’s refreshing to see a body so small hold so much inside and fight to express it in ways that are constructive and productive. We are working with him through this, but it also teaches us to pay attention to how we express our feelings, what we hold on to and what we can let go. His energy and his zest for life, his imagination and his loud voice - they are all ways in which, especially Black male children, are told they cannot be. I will always protect him from those opinions that would choose to hold him emotionless and detached. He loves big and he loves hard, and teaches me to do so every day.
Owen has taught me to be joyful and keep a smile on my face no matter what. I am blessed that he is a happy baby with no ailments to speak of and is in good spirits so long as he is fed, changed, and has someone to keep him company. And isn’t that really what life is about? Good food and good people to share it with. He is spoiled (because he is the youngest), but he is also fearless. He is more adventurous than his brothers were at his age and I think that's because he knows he has people to protect him. Not just his parents, but his brothers, who are always rushing to his rescue and giving him whatever he needs. To live life knowing that no matter what, you'll be okay? The best gift I could give him.
This long and winding road of motherhood has been unpredictable, to say the least. But it has been overwhelmingly rewarding. I’ve found that I am a mother who listens to her sons, holds space for them to express their feelings (no matter how silly or trivial I might think they are) to make sure they are seen and heard in a world that is most times not concerned with either. I am a mother who expresses love, not just through word, but through action. I am a mother that fiercely protects my own cubs and does anything to provide what is necessary, to make sure they are happy, comfortable and want for nothing. I am a mother flexing her voice and establishing boundaries for myself to show my boys that this is also an important part of the process. Self-care isn’t selfish, and the sooner they understand that, the better.