Happy Mothers Day to my shero!
I always grew up believing that no one owes you anything in this life. You’re born into this complex humongous world and anyone who is brave enough to guide you through it with love, support and respect; consider yourself lucky. How lucky was I that 25 years ago, God and the universe decided to place me in the arms of my incredible mother. Growing up in a Haitian household usually means you’ll have tons of rules, overly exaggerated and dramatic parents and dinner for breakfast. With a single mother, consider those rules multiplied by 100. Yes my mom was that mom who would write hours when I could go outside on our front door (still suffering from the trauma of embarrassment), play either loud Kassav music or Country music while pulling up into my school driveway (yes some Haitians listen to country music…it may only be my mom) and always willing to debate why she deserves a discount on anything (a skill I have yet to attain). She is a rare species that I often disagree and bicker with but through all the drama, I love her tremendously!
When one often thinks of a hero, you envision a person who is strong, courageous and inspiring. My mother Irma is all of that with a sprinkle of sass, creativity and a powerful will to always fight for what she believes in. This bold, witty and unique beauty was born on the small island of Haiti. She arrived to America at the age of 17 with a little English under her belt, a huge family to support and an incredible love for American culture. Being the youngest girl of 10 children, she always had a “smart mouth” as my grandma would put it and never was the person to be afraid to speak up or get caught in the back of the line. A natural born leader, Irma explained to me that after two months living in Florida with her aunt’s family (a total of 12 people in a small house) and hating to depend on them for food, transportation and communication, she finally woke up one morning and had enough. “I got on the bus, got off at the local grocery store that I had previously accompanied my aunt to and went to the cashier and said, “Me want job.” The next day Irma was working full time. She explained to me that even though she didn’t know English well, she found a way to learn it. Even though she had no experience working as a cashier, she could count. And even though it was scary coming into a new world, she didn’t let that fear hold her back. Within a few months, Irma made enough to find her family their own apartment and even learned a few more words in English like her favorite, “What’s up man?!”
In a few years, motherhood would also be a new world for Irma. She made sure to sashay her way into that as well. As early as I can remember, my mom was always fierce, tough and my personnel super hero. When I would fall down as a kid riding my bike, instead of wiping me tears, she’d urge me to get back up, be tough and try again. Tears weren’t allowed. When it came to getting ready for school and work, she’d give me a speech every morning about the importance of being on time, getting the job done and asking questions. I tried to take this all in while dozing in and out eating my breakfast. After taking the time to apply her makeup, do her hair and apply sometimes too much perfume, she’d come into the kitchen, place an empty plate in front of me and demand where her breakfast was. “You can’ be selfish in this world Farah” she would exclaim in her thick Haitian accent. I learned how to cook my first whole chicken by the time I was eight. My mom’s parenting skills wasn’t limited to being strict; she was also a great expert when it came to medical advice. Any cut, scar, headache, physical pain was always accompanied with some castor oil aka L'huile Mascreti bka the Haitian treasure. When I was sick in the hospital with severe asthma as a kid, to make me feel better she would bring me ‘real food’ to cater to my soul assuring me she was the real doctor in the house. Those overnight stays at the hospital were tough and lonely but she assured me that learning how to be independent and strong during adversity would eventually teach me how to stand on my own two feet. She wasn’t lying. By the time adolescence entered my world, my mom already had the birds and the bees talked fully prepared. We would watch a marathon of Lifetime movies. Shaking our heads, eating friend plantains and reacting to every ridiculously dramatic scene with a chorus full of “oh ooh,” “Ki ca”(say what) and “eh hiens” for every plot. Irma made sure to remind me that she would kill me if I attempted any of those scenes. It worked.
She definitely had her own unique way at approaching parenthood but by the time I got to college, I saw that all of her craziness was necessary. Attending UMass or as some people call it the “zoo,” I was glad that my mother gave me a good amount of home training and preparedness and those Lifetime movies, definitely teach you a thing or two. I’m sure she’d be proud to know her threats or as she calls them “promises” had a strong affect on my decision-making.
When I finally became an adult, I saw how similar I was to this queen. When moments of adversity would come my way, I saw how quickly I would become so annoyed at the situation that the only way to get it off my mind was to resolve it. When relationships I once had began to dissolve or get messy, I saw how mature I was to be okay with letting it go on good terms and being sure to listen to my inner voice. And when it came to situations where I felt overwhelmed, I saw how okay I was with saving the drama for my lashes and not being ashamed to cry, feel human and seek help if I needed it. All of these characteristics I gained from my mother. The last one particularly, of being okay to show emotions is one I’ve recently come to terms with.
During my college career, I saw how depression affected my mother. The rollercoaster of emotions were real and for the first time in my life I witnessed my hero fall down. It was odd because I would often selfishly think to myself how come she couldn’t be strong? She was strong when she came to America as an immigrant. She was strong when she battled domestic abuse. She was strong during her seven surgeries. She was strong as a single mother for all of my life and she’s been strong since the day she was born. So why couldn’t she be strong this time, when I didn’t feel comfortable seeing her be anything but the adjective she portrayed so well? Mental health is so beyond important and often times, especially in the black community, we see it as a sign of weakness. No one wants to be labeled as crazy. No one wants others to know they take prescription drugs for mental health. No one wants to be seen as a fragile being. But the sad realty is, there are many of us that are suffering and suffocating from not feeling free to heal ourselves. Too often, when it comes to seeking aide, we can’t find that support in our own communities and sadly our own homes. We have to change that!
The realty of seeing the different stages of depression and having a fear that I could one day lose my hero was all I needed to put myself in check. Most importantly it reminded me that having this perception to always feel strong and not show emotion was inhuman. We're not born on this world to just survive, we must live. We must experience. We must feel free to be shamelessly ourselves and express our emotions. Most importantly we should have communities that support us. I’m very glad that I got that wake up call and even more grateful that my hero is coming into terms of fully taking care of herself; mind, body and spirit shamelessly.
Irma is the traditional Haitian mother with an American flair. She has her own wits about her, a strong personality, wisdom and good sense of humor that even through tragedies, one can always appreciate. She walks on her own pace, makes her own rules and someday I have a strong feeling she’s going to write a book about it. Everyday I thank the gods for this incredible being I’m lucky to still have active in my life. She’s cool, she’s dramatic, she’s funny; she’s my shero.