Yesterday, I was thinking of Mother’s Day, and was reminded of my own deceased mother, Hne Datedor Mary Williams, of my deceased stepmother, Nnano Mary Morrias Jabbeh, of my Aunties, my father’s struggling sisters in Liberia, my mother’s sisters, who all died too early because of the struggles of women around the world, often, the house-keeper, provider, mother and childbearer, wife on whose shoulders all life must rest in an African household, the patient one who sits there as her husband cheats and cheats on her with other women, often, the one who is tossed aside for another woman in the the cities, and often, with nothing to live for, she dies earlier than other women around the world.
I was not thinking of myself as a mother, hardworking woman, who having lost everything continues to work hard and better myself and take care of my own children.
I was instead thinking of other women like many of my women friends still in Liberia, in the US, both African, African American, Asian, white American, friends who are women, with that culture of nurturing their children, their husbands, working hard to help bring in the meal, supporting their husbands for ages, and then afterwards, many of these are like their African counterparts, tossed aside.
I was not emotional at all about all the things that we are teary about on Mother’s Day. I was on the other hand, teary about a few of my friends, African women who in the last five years were tossed aside, after childbearing and nurturing, having given all their life to a husband they thought would take care of them in their old age, and after that, they called me to say that it was over. They had exhausted all attempts to save their marriage, and were allowing their husband to go ahead and divorce them.
This is where our mothering comes in. As a mother, I keep asking myself whether or not I am bringing up the old African son like our fathers or the new one who is able to transcend the old culture of relegating women to lower roles, to not caring about their wives after they grow old or am I bringing up sons that will know that it is not only the woman’s place to be the cook and housekeeper, to be the one looking after the children, and yet the one helping to bring in the household income. I want as a mother to bring up sons that can take the best from both the Western culture and the African.
We should aim to bring up new men. Many mothers are alone in their old age not because they cannot live with their husbands, but because of an older culture. I wrote a poem to one of my good friends during my time of reflection, a poem that I will send out to a journal and include in my fourth book. I do not feel it should be posted here, but the poem helped me put into words how Mother’s Day can bring mix feelings. Many of us are happy mothers because we were the lucky ones to have husbands who care a lot about us as women. But there are millions of women who are in tears on Mother’s Day because life was not fair to them or because another woman’s son destroyed their life.
Our mothers were hardworking and dedicated, and taught many of us their children how to be dedicated to family and to our children.
Last year I spent some time with my childhood friend, Marietta Freeman Johnson, and was amazed at how much our memories of our two mothers inspired in both of us. Our mothers, Auntie Mary, as she was called, and Auntie Vic were best friends when we were very young children in Monrovia. The night I stayed with Marietta on my way from Colombia, South America, stranded in Atlanta after one of my poetry reading trips, we talked for hours into the morning about what our mothers have left with us, their love of hard work, their commitment to their children, their struggles to overcome Monrovia’s difficult existence, their ever-enduring love even in moments when our fathers were not there for us.
But I remember my younger friends also. There are younger women who in their dedication to family and to God, have been great mothers, even examples to some of us who are a bit older. My friend, Lola Audu comes to mind. In my early years here in the US, Lola and I had younger children, and at that time, it was difficult to see where we would be in five, ten, fifteen years. A couple years ago, I was in Grand Rapids to read poetry as a guest of Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing, and had the pleasure of being honored in Lola’s home when she threw a girls’ party for me. This was fifteen years after our first meeting, and our friendship began. At that get-together of Christian women friends of Lola was her mother, a woman who inspires love and dedication in the younger woman who simply will take a moment to get close to her.
That day, I was looking at Lola however, not at the older motherly woman, I call “Mama” since I already knew what she was as a mother. But I was delighted to see my friend, Lola, now a mother of a high schooler and a near teenager, a professional woman who owns her own realty and is the broker in her firm, a dedicated wife and an inspiration to all of those who know her. What was important to me that day was how Lola had grown not only as a professional woman, but also as a woman of God, a mother of her children, a dedicated wife, and a community person.
Every woman does not however have to be a woman like my friend Lola or like myself, whatever people think I am or and no woman has to be an angel of mercy. Every mother ought to be herself, to live within the grace that God has given her, to enjoy her life, and to continue to nurture their children to become good citizens. Those of us in the Diaspora, the new immigrants know where we have come from, how much the struggle is to become what we want to be, and knowing this should inspire us to be true mothers to our children, and most particularly, to our sons.
I will conclude this blog today on several poems by some of my favorite poets and with Prince Nico Mbarga’s beautiful song, the popular and eternal, “Sweet Mother.”
All of the poems are credited to the Famous Poems and Poets.Com
Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
“From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
if there are any heavens my mother will by E. E. Cummings
if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)
standing near my
(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
This is my beloved my
(suddenly in sunlight
he will bow,
& the whole garden will bow)
Nature — the Gentlest Mother is, by Emily Dickinson
Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child —
The feeblest — or the waywardest —
Her Admonition mild —
In Forest — and the Hill —
By Traveller — be heard —
Restraining Rampant Squirrel —
Or too impetuous Bird —
How fair Her Conversation —
A Summer Afternoon —
Her Household — Her Assembly —
And when the Sun go down —
Her Voice among the Aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest Cricket —
The most unworthy Flower —
When all the Children sleep —
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light Her lamps —
Then bending from the Sky —
With infinite Affection —
And infiniter Care —
Her Golden finger on Her lip —
Wills Silence — Everywhere —
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station,
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle–‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.
And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life–
And I see us meeting at the end of a town
On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.
O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us — eternally.
Nigeria – Tilda – Sweet Mother