Last month, I went to Earth, Wind & Fire’s 40th anniversary concert. I knew when I bought the tickets that I was going to offer myself up as a background vocalist and showgirl right from my seat. I mean, come on—it’s Earth, Wind & Fire; Emotions, Fantasy, Let’s Groove, Boogie Wonderland Earth, Wind & Fire. That’s a guaranteed party.
There were people in my section I would’ve never pinned as EWF fans. Jim from accounting; Skater Guy Bill; the white lady who frowns at you when you have too many items at the express check-out. They all came on out. There was another, more important person there I never would’ve expected: my mommy. And she was right next to me, hollering out all the lyrics like Phillip Bailey was going to call her onstage for a job well done.
The tickets were her gift for Mother’s Day this year. Even the thought of going together was a sign of our new, fabulous relationship–the best thing we never used to have. From the time I passed into the 6th grade until I moved out of her house as a 20-something woman, my mother and I were masters of the beef.
There’s a special place reserved in chaos just for mothers and daughters. I don’t know what it is about that certain age when, all of a sudden, we go from wanting to be like her to just wanting her to leave us alone. Maybe I shouldn’t generalize. Not every girl is drafted into a period of combat with their mamas. My best friend and her mother have been close without incident for as long as I’ve known them. But alas, me and the senior Miss Harris weren’t cut from that kind of happy-go-lucky cloth.
We went toe-to-toe about everything. Laundry loads; social issues; how tight I was braiding my daughter’s hair; who left the cap off the ketchup. Any subject, no matter how seemingly trivial, was good enough to be argued about.
For one, we are classic opposites, me and my mom: she, ever the level-headed, always-on-time, clear-thinking rationalizer and me, her only child, the book smart but super flighty, head-in-the-clouds big dreamer. She is, for the most part, shy and introverted, and I’m only quiet if I haven’t brushed my teeth yet and don’t want to piledrive innocent bystanders in the morning. She is a bona fide country girl straight outta Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania (find that on a map) and although I appreciate my family’s rural roots, I’m a cab-hailing, public transportation-riding, wake-up-to-somebody’s-car-alarm-in-the-morning city chick.
Even the commonalities that Mommy and I share are a reason why we couldn’t just get along. We are both incredibly strong-willed and fiery in our opinions. And because I didn’t have any brothers or sisters or a father to act as a buffer, our disagreements were wild. I am so ashamed of it now—it’s one of my biggest regrets in life—but I am part of that very small collective of black children who can say they had a physical fight with their mama and lived to tell the story. Now that I’m a mother myself, I can only imagine how hurt she must’ve been, but it also helps me understand that I am in fact blessed to be alive.
Our personality differences fanned the fires that flared up every now and again, true. But my mom also struggled with undiagnosed depression for much of my tween through young adult years, and that made everyday like tiptoeing through a field of hornet’s nests. What kind of mood she would be in when she came home from work? What would piss her off that I did or didn’t do while she was gone? What I needed to not bring up because I knew it would ultimately lead to an upheaval? I wasn’t a bad kid, but I had plenty of times where common sense completely left me hangin’.
At the same time, I wanted my mother’s approval something fierce, but I was intimidated by her. See, there was the wrong way to do things, and then there was the Marie way. I’m the first in my family to go to college, so I when me and my fool self got pregnant barely through my second year, Mommy was the last person—the last person—to find out. The baby knew her own due date before my mama even knew I was having the baby. She didn’t even know I was getting it in, much less had gotten knocked up, so telling her ranked right up there with walking through a kennel with Lady Gaga’s meat dress on.
I can’t pinpoint when we started getting along, but I know I wasn’t living at home anymore. It was like she became a different person once my address changed. I know for a fact she was calmer, more receptive to me being me instead of who she thought I should be. Little things didn’t tick her off like they did when I was under her roof. She missed me—that much was obvious—but she was rooting for and supporting me, which was something I never really felt like she had been doing before. My biggest critic had suddenly become my loudest cheerleader.
Now I’ll call her for no reason a couple of times a week and we’ll laugh and talk. It’s amazing, this transition we’ve made. My grandparents have got to be slapping each other high fives and hip-bumping one another up in heaven. They used to promise that once I got older, my relationship with my mom would get better. I accepted their enthusiasm, but I had made a firm decision that once I was gone, I was gone. I was going to be one of those children who only visits on Christmas and Easter.
Chile please. I’ve probably been home at least twice a month since I moved out five years ago, and I live an hour and a half away from my mother.
My daughter is 12 now, and I remember vividly what it was like to be in her spot. I stay conscious of being open and receptive to her, so she doesn’t see me as an adversary instead of an advocate. Plus I hope, somewhere in the future, we’ll be dancing and acting the fool together up in somebody’s concert too, just like old friends.