I sometimes carry old photographs of my mother in my bag.
There is a always a sense of nostalgia whenever I come across them on my cupboard, something that urges me to take a piece of her to wherever I am going that day.
I’m not in any of the pictures but still my heart latches onto them with some misplaced sentimentality.
I suspect I keep them with me to always remind myself that she’s her own person first before she ever belongs to us as our mother.
In all the pictures she does not resemble the woman she is today…
Besides being younger and slimmer, she looks a whole lot more reserved, like someone who does not readily express her opinions and feelings. I want to say she looks carefree and full of life but instead she just looks a little grim.
Her pictures now are of a very confident woman, she smiles widely and almost always has her hands on her hips and sometimes (to my amusement) she directs a youthful pout towards the camera.
She believes she is a beautiful beautiful woman, I know this because she tells us all the time.
Her confidence extends to everything; her cooking, her dress sense and how she parents, even though the jury is still out on the last one.
For as long as I can remember she has always been very sure of herself.
I think this intimidated me a lot growing up, because she was the person who’s roof I lived under, the one who never let any opportunity of exercising full control over my life pass her by.
I don’ think I ever felt I had any authority to question or disprove any of her convictions.
However, growing older (and maybe wiser) afforded me the emotionally taxing and burdensome luxury of interrogating how I was being mothered without any reservations.
Over the years, I’ve had to constantly confront our truth, especially that of our laborious relationship as mother and daughter.
I’ve had to invest a lot of introspection disentangling, differentiating and redefining my own truth from hers. Picking hers apart to reassemble mine together again. To rebuild some parts of mine according to my specifications and abandoning some of hers.
The sole purpose of all my reflection is to gratuitously administer forgiveness, patience, empathy and love to myself and especially to her unfeigned but misshapen attempts at mothering me.
And still in even those moments, I have to remind myself, she is more than just my mother, she is her own person too.
One morning, I walked into the bathroom while she was bathing. I knew she was very unhappy at her job and I’d witnessed how that misery had taken over her whole entire life. She always came home angry, abusive and crying from all the work stress.
Fiddling with my hair, facing the mirror and deliberately avoiding eye contact, I asked if she had ever considered going back to school?
I was already working by then and could afford to take over her responsibilities as the breadwinner. My inquiry was met excitement of joyfully reclaiming her individuality out of the suffocating clutches of motherhood.
She was 18 when she had me. When a parent has you that young, it’s inevitable that you’ll always guiltily question how much of her own life she’s given up to give you yours.
Since the day I was born she’d worked at the same factory for over 20 years. Surely she had aspirations that went beyond providing a roof over our heads or worrying about taking us to the best schools in town?
That conversation lasted an hour with both of us never looking at each other, I’m not sure what exactly we were afraid of finding on our faces.
She spoke openly and shared her deepest desires and my role was to guarantee that all that she desired was within reach.
A year later she resigned and enrolled for a degree at UNISA.
She finally got to the business of allowing herself to be more than just the woman who mothers three daughters but a woman who finally mustered the courage to pursue all her secret ambitions.
For the first time in my life I got to see my mother as her own person. A role completely detached from being a mother but served only one purpose, to do something that didn’t benefit any other member of her family but herself.
When she eventually got over the anxiety of resigning into the world of becoming her own person, she dominated most of our WhatsApp chats with updates about meeting assignment deadlines and upcoming workshops she had to attend as part of her syllabus.
It’s been five years since that awkward conversation and in two weeks time she graduates as one of the top students in her class.
Going back to school in her 40’s has unraveled an advanced side of her we respect and thoroughly enjoy.
For the first time in my life I was relieved of feeling like a burden that smothered the life out of my young mother’s life.
Photo By: Lonwabo Zimela