I will not be spending Christmas at home with my mother this year. I had the conversation with Mama explaining my change of heart and she sent me an sms which began with the sentence “I want you to carry on with your life...”.Being designated the baby in the family, I finally felt like I was being given permission to grow up (this is significant now that I’m finally moving to anoher province). Granted, this process began when I left home and moved into hostel and later to varsity. However the apron strings had never been fully severed. And spending Christmas away from Mama means some confirmation that it is possible for the apron strings to be cut.
Amongst the strange conversations I have had with Mama, the most vivid in my memory was about gratitude; where she was expressing how grateful she is that I chose her to be my mother. Amongst Mama’s ideas about the world, she believes that before we are born our souls are always alive and view the world from a celestial or spiritual realm of the unborn (I never asked if this is where the ancestors are as well). While watching the world, our souls are looking for wombs to be born through and the kind of woman we would like to raise and mother us. I chose my mother. It’s quite unsettling to think that I could make such a choice before I was physically born. And that amongst all the women in the world I would choose someone like Mama. Perhaps she is the only woman who would have been able to show me what compassion, empathy, resilience, fragility and vulnerability really mean.
Mother-daughter relationships are possibly the most complex relationships especially when they are fraught with an intimacy that leads to both pain and joy. Much of who I am has been shaped by what Mama has taught me and the values she raised me with. These have made me umntu, a person. However, my darkest moments where the carpet has been ripped from beneath my feet have also been a result of being raised by someone like my mother. The shattered pieces and insecurities still remain but being my mother’s daughter has taught me the importance of forgiveness.
I have never walked in Mama's shoes, yet I have been her golden child and her worst critic, which makes me wonder if I really want to be a mother. There are no guarantees when a mother (like mine) gives birth to a daughter (like me) into a world she does not trust nor feel can be a place for her to claim, but she is expected to teach a child how to “be” in the world. In spite of the unwritten loyalty between parents and children, there are no guarantees that the rules will not be broken by both the mother and the child; shifting the expectations where the mother should be the caregiver and the child being cared for.
Ukuthwala umntwana, ukuba nzima (to carry a child, to be heavy with child) is both biological and sacred; a moment and journey that is fraught with the legacy and shadows of grandmothers, great-grandmothers, ookhokho (ancestors), the living dead who raised children in difficult times. Before my grandmother passed away I listened to Bhele (my grandmother) tell me about her step-mother (Ma’Radebe,my great-grandmother’s clan name. It is common practice for people to be referred to by their clan names rather than their first names amongst Xhosa people ).Bhele and Ma'Radebe had a fraught relationship as some step-mothers and daughters do. I couldn’t believe that Ma’Radebe was the same woman who had raised my mother as both Mama and Bhele had contradicting memories about what my great-grandmother meant to both of them. According to Mama she was wonder-woman and according to Bhele she was the villan. This has always intrigued me while watching the relationship Mama had with Bhele, and the relationship Mama has with my sisters and I.
Being my mother’s daughter, I sometimes wonder if there’s a wretched soul hoping to be born and whether I will be their chosen one. My eldest sister seems to think that there’s a child-shaped space in the psyche of all women, that we all have to have children otherwise we will spend the rest of our lives feeling like something is missing. I don’t think this is a compelling argument for me to have a child, but the truth is, into zangomso asizazi (we don’t know what the future holds). I might be as lucky as Zeus, and Athena could pop out from my head any day!