I believe in mothering mostly because of my own mother. How can you not believe in a woman who made up her own birthday? Apparently my mother’s mother was far too busy trying to keep up with my granddaddy, Buster, to remember what day and year her baby girl had been born.
And so it began: a little ageless girl named Nina Babe who got renamed Katherine decided, at age 14 that she needed a middle name, “Laverne” and a birthday on April 6. Even now, fully some 66 years later, my mom still reads her horoscope daily. It’s hard not to believe in a woman who believes that much in herself?
I believe in mothering because my mom never stops believing in it.
When my brother came home one day in his early teens beaten and threatened by gangbangers to either join or die, it was my mom who marched him right back down to the corner and with a resolute face and without benefit of weapon (or stature: she is barely 5’2″) made it perfectly clear that her son was not a candidate for either membership or further brutality.
And, when our family moved to Chicago from Tennessee in the late 1950s, it was my mom who took a whole day off work and a whole day’s pay to tell my new fifth grade teacher that I was expected to know my times tables all the way up to 12 no matter what was expected of the rest of the class.
And in high school, when all the smart black kids at neighborhood schools were offered spots at more prestigious schools in white neighborhoods, it was my mom who said “thanks but no thanks” to Hyde Park High School when they suggested that I was not smart enough to take their honors classes, and marched me right back to Wendell Phillips High School where I took all honors classes.
And even now, as Commissioner of one of Georgia’s largest state agencies serving our most vulnerable and needy residents, it is my mom who flies in from Chicago to Atlanta and irons my sheets, sews on my buttons and leaves me a plate of hot food on the stove when I finally get home from what is almost always 10 hour work days.
This I know and therefore believe: I have lived confidently for most of my 56 years of life because my mom made the same deal with her kids that the unicorn made with Alice in “Through the Looking Glass:” If you believe in me then I’ll believe in you.
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