I vowed never to be like my mother, and I meant it. She was mean, unpleasant, and sometimes unkind. I wasn't crazy about her, even into my 20s. I loved her, but I also tolerated her. My mother had plenty of reason to be mean, but I wouldn't come to terms with why she'd made my life so hard until many years later.
My mother wanted to give me a chance at a better life, and she did it the only way she knew how — she ruled with an iron fist. She was the only child born to a 13-year-old single mother in the 1930s. She grew up during the Great Depression in rural Oklahoma and was literally dirt poor. She dropped out of school in the 8th grade, married a soldier, and started a family. By the time she was 21, she'd been married five years and had five kids. She'd eventually have three more.
Mom never wore a wedding ring. It never occurred to me that my parents probably couldn't afford one, and when they eventually could, it probably didn't matter anymore. My dad was a career soldier who saw combat in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. As a result, Mom lived as a single parent much of the time.
Mom mourned the deaths of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. She marveled when men walked on the moon, she was thrilled when she got her first colored television set, and she endured the civil rights movement. She was “colored,” “a Negro,” “Black,” and “African American.” But before that — as you might imagine — she was called far worse. She was the mother of eight children and wife to a U.S. soldier, but she was still refused service at restaurants, denied access to public pools, and not allowed to use a public restroom in Tennessee.
When I think about all she did for me and multiply it by eight, I don’t know how she did it. When I was 15, I was in high school, not pregnant, and not married. At 21, I was in college, not raising kids. I didn't have my first child until I was almost 30. It never occurred to me that many of the things I experienced during those years — high school and college graduations and a wedding — she was also experiencing for the first time.
My selfish perspective has changed through the lens of maturity. Now I see my mother's heart — a heart whose compassion was sometimes stifled by fear. I now realize that because of her, I don't have to be the same kind of mom she was. She sacrificed to set me up to be any kind of mom I want to be. She put Jesus first in her life, and she moved her desires to the back burner.
My mom might've wanted something different from her life, but she took what she got and made it her dream. And she realized that dream by giving me a better life than the one she had.