Daughters eased their mothers’ burdens – helping with the spinning, the grinding of grain, and the endless task of looking after baby boys, who were forever peeing into the corners of the tents, no matter what you told them. But the other reason women wanted daughters was to keep their memories alive. Sons did not hear their mothers’ stories after weaning. So I was the one. My mother and my mother-aunties told me endless stories about themselves. No matter what their hands were doing – holding babies, cooking, spinning, weaving—they filled my ears. Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent
So, I took this blog’s title from my godmother who seems to always know the right word to use to convey a thought, “Fallon, the word you are looking for is palpable or the word you are looking for is verdant or the word you are looking for, little one, is yearning.” And, yes, the right word for this blog is “yearning” . . . a type of yearning that is at times “palpable” and at other times unquenchable creating a constant drought lodged in the middle of my throat longing for a thunderstorm.
Yes, I am quite thirsty for a “present” mother. You know the type, the ones who are living. The ones you can share your secrets with even though sometimes you wish they would mind their own business. The ones you lovingly tease for their archaic notions about sex, love, rubbers (yes, condoms), and men. The present ones . . . but this blog is not specifically about present mothers, but more about the expectations that both mothers and daughters have of each other.
I recently had a conversation where I was trying to explain to this old black woman why she should talk about what daughters give mothers and daughterless women. Of course, at this suggestion the old black woman said, “There you go. Daughters always want equal time with the mommas . . . organize your own conference.” Yes, to say the least, the old black woman is quite cantankerous on occasion, but her immediate reaction got me to thinking about the expectations mothers and daughter have of each other. The issue is not about demanding equal time—“You get to speak then I get to speak” syndrome. No. It is about recognizing what it means to live in a patriarchal society where men stories and lives are automatically valued because they were born men and where women both mother and daughter yearn for presence, acceptance, and remembrance.
In particular, daughters yearn for the ideal mother, while mothers yearn for remembrance meaning we both have expectations of each other. Black daughters say, “I expect for you to be here for me. I expect you for you to nurture me. I expect for you to sacrifice for me. I expect for you to be the ideal mother—yes, Claire Huxtable.” While black mothers say, “I expect for you to know me. I expect for you to remember me . . . the sacrifices, the pains, the joys. I expect for you of all people to know my story, black daughter.” We have expectations. And this is not to say that expectations are bad, but it is to say that they can cause tension . . . deep . . . deep . . . yearnings when they are not met. And I know some of you reading this blog are saying, “I do not have children.” Okay, even if you do not have children you’re someone’s daughter so this applies to you too. You got expectations of your momma.
Whether the expectations are selfish or noble, we want them to be met. Even though my mother’s presence growing up was sporadic and inconsistent at best, she expects me to know her . . . to remember the lessons she taught me . . . “It is my job to raise three independent girls have your own stuff and do not depend on a man” . . . to remember herstory . . . her sacrifice. So, I pretend I know her when we are on the phone even though we are worlds are a part because there is an expectation that I must do this as her daughter.
And don’t get me wrong, I understand why we have these expectations and it has everything to do with women’s stories not being valued and remembered and the rules we force women to play buy and the rules they choose to play buy. This is not to say that our expectations are simply in response to living in a patriarchal society, but it is to say that it definitely shapes how we connect with each other as mothers and daughters. We expect feats of grandeur. We expect for mothers to be forever present. We expect daughters to always listen to us. We expect mothers to make us their world. We expect godlike behaviors from women and girls who are human . . . who bleed . . . who are likely to disappoint us . . . who will fail to live up to our expectations. But, yet we still expect.
Once again, I must reiterate that expectations are not a bad thing, but it is to say that both daughters and mothers have them. And so when I tell the old black woman she needs to talk about what daughters give mothers and daughterless women, I am saying that daughters at the bare minimal fulfill expectations of remembrance and help with daily tasks of women’s work.
Yes, I have an expectation a yearning for a “present” mother.
If you want to read more about how black women are thinking about Mother’s Day, please read Dr. Weems’ Mother Day’s Blues at Somethingwithin.com.
So on the eve of Mother’s Day, What about you? Do you have expectations of your mother? Do you have expectations of your daughter? Do you have expectation of your mentor? Do you have expectation of your mentee?