My parents are middle aged now and the thought never crossed my mind to ask until I became a parent. Who are these people?
I think you would be amazed by what you find out. I realized my mother, in particular, was three people. First, she was the woman who raised me. Second, she is the most doting, “my kids can get away with murder,” loving, and compassionate grandmother.
Lastly, before me she was a woman with her own LIFE. Can you imagine? I always thought her life started when she had ME. This is very selfish on my part considering I am the youngest of four siblings.
I am reminded of the book and movie, “ The Joy Luck Club” about the relationships of four immigrant Chinese women and their daughters that were born in America. The theme is universal; mother and daughter relationships are complicated. Can I get an Amen? The movie truly is a must see for anyone who is a daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend. It explores how life experiences shape not only you, but your children too.
Haitian mothers are no different. However, unlike in China, girls are held in high regard. We are coveted prizes; blessings from above. My mother tells the story that during her pregnancy with me (her last child and only daughter), an angel – yes the heavenly kind – telling her she was going to have a girl and to name her “Dina” from the bible which means “Vindicated.” True Story. So, girls are like God’s gift. I was (smile).
So much is made about every life event from the baptism, celebrating birthdays, communion, confirmation, hairstyles, the Easter dresses, graduations, wedding, birth of a child, etc. A huge “fete” would be thrown each and every time in our honor.
There you have the positives about being the girl in the family, however to whom much is given, MUCH is expected. Expectations for girls are high, very high, unattainable and designed that way.
As you got older, the rules and level of expectation increased exponentially. In my case, and perhaps yours, my mother had a group of friends that we will dub the “Joyeux Luck Club”. The group consisted of women with children, but more importantly a girl, that was my age. This meant that not only did you have these expectations, but now you were introduced to the “competition”. Like a boxer in a ring, you had to come out swinging.
Now, this has been my personal experience and may have been different for you. Growing up, there were two girls in particular, and we pretty much saw each other during parties or any other family functions. When we were young, our parents would compare school stories about how so and so made honor roll and lay out our mini resumes.
As we approached teen years, things got cranked up a notch. The level of expectation was much higher. I secretly hoped that my “resume” was comparable if not better than the “competition”. I didn’t want to hear “How come so and so is doing this and you aren’t?” on the ride home. By the way, it seems petty to me, but in hindsight it forced me to step up my game even as a reluctant participant. I remember once, I decided to cut my hair completely off without consulting my mother. This was during my rebellious, Public Enemy “ Fight the Power” stage. My justification was that I was grown, well I was 18, but 18 is grown when you are young. Do you know my mother refused to take me anywhere?!
That’s another thing. Haitian girls must have hair. Hair is status. Hair is liquid gold. You are nothing if you don’t have hair. I say all of that to say, The “short natural” look was not approved and totally unacceptable. My mother was livid. She felt it was the epitome of disrespect and I was forbidden to attend functions with her until I grew it back.
So what was it about my Mother’s past that she felt the need to place so much pressure on me academically and socially and was so hurt by a simple haircut? It was not until recently, that I sat down with my mom and this is what she shared:
My mother was born in the Haitian countryside in 1946. Her family was very poor. She lost both her parents within months of each other. Her father died in an accident a few months before she was born, and her mother passed away while giving birth to my mom. I always knew my grandparents had passed away but am only now did i know the circumstances. My mother was raised by a family friend who had no children and was beyond child bearing years but was given an herbal remedy which would allowed her to produce breast milk, thus saving my Mother’s life. She was an excellent student in school, Math was her favorite subject, but poverty did not allow her to continue. She was a fighter growing up. I mean literally, she would get into many physical altercations some due to anger, others to protect herself from unwanted advances. She once fell into a burning campfire and lost all her hair. As a result, her hair does not grow more than a few inches. She has tried different remedies, but to no avail. Remember, Hair is status, it is everything.
I share the story because it gave me insight into her life and how it influences my life. How many of you have had your parents react to something and you think to yourself, “What is the big deal?”.
I encourage all of you reading to engage your parents in a dialogue about who they were as children? Teens? How did their life circumstances shape yours? You may be surprised.
I now have a daughter and so I must instill in her the gifts given to me by Mother. My husband often tells me, “You never take ‘No’ for an answer” — that’s the fight in me, a gift for my mother.
What were your experiences growing up? Do you know much about your parents? What did you find out? How has it shaped you?