Like a comet
Blazing ‘cross the evening sky
Gone too soon… (Jackson, 1991).
My mother left this physical space at age 61, far too soon. On March 4, 2019, she would have celebrated her 69th birthday. It is not ironic, but cosmic that she was born during Women’s History Month as she exemplified the women deemed beautiful, bold, brilliant and worthy of the status of heroines. Mom in her short years on this earth taught so many lessons by virtue of being an educator for more than 40 years. However, the lessons she taught me that resonate loudly are specific and ongoing, especially as I grow older and hopefully wiser. To honor my mother on her birthday, as well as for Women’s History month, here are some lessons that I learned from my mother Clover in her life and also in her death:
- Either You Have Brains or Brawns, But Either Way Use it!
My mother became an educator when she was 18 years old, a few months after I was born. She earned a reputation of being meticulous, strict and no-nonsense. Those characteristics were not only demonstrated in her classroom, but also at home where my two brothers and I were held to a (sometimes ridiculously) high standard of excellence. In motivating us to do our best, she would often utter “it is either you have brains or brawns.” As an adolescent, I was unsure what she meant, but I knew with certainty that she was inferring that I should push harder academically. As I grew older, I then realized that I had brains more than brawns and eventually it became crystal clear that I needed to use that, my brain, as my hustle.
- Deferred Gratification is Critical to Success
Both our parents used higher level conversations to engage and motivate us, especially our Dad. Mom more so engaged “Dr. Do Good,” the belt, for our physical punishment/motivation. We were quite knowledgeable of Maslow’s Hierarchy and Sigmund Freud’s theory of child development before we were teens. Accordingly, one of Mom’s favorite phrase to teach us discipline in orchestrating our goals was etched in the concept of “deferred gratification.” She believed in delaying momentary pleasures for more substantive goals and that she perfected and modeled for us with precision. At this stage in my journey, I appreciate that lesson as I have had to defer almost everything in the last 2.5 years to complete my doctoral degree in a timely manner and I think she would be so proud of that, as in her perspective, I did not always do that, defer that is LOL.
- It is Not How You Start, But How You Finish
My mom was born in a poor community and as such started out socio-economically from the bottom. Additionally, she had a child (me) at 17 years old. For many, this additional challenge would break their stride, not my mother. She hastened to college immediately after my birth and moved up the ranks in record time, becoming a school principal in her mid-twenties. She died at 61 years old having impacted thousands of children’s lives and achieved all of her goals. She was successful by being strategic and consistent, never allowing any insecurities to limit her for too long
- Sometimes Your Wrong Turn is Your Road to Self-actualization
My greatest moment with mom was during my first week as a High School Principal. She bought me the beautiful grey dress with flower petals around the neck that I would wear on that first day. She visited my school, met my staff and hugged me in my beautiful, yellow office in Kissimmee, Florida. It was the first time I heard her say “I am proud of you.” I had earned three degrees prior, worked in a Fortune 500 company in NYC, bought two houses, married a great man and she had never uttered those words. In fact, with each degree and socio-economic progress, she would state “everyone knew you could do it.” However, on that day in July 2011, she uttered those unfamiliar words and it would be the only time I would hear them as she died four months later. My Dad in his wisdom analyzed that through me, Mom had self-actualized in that moment. I would further add to the analysis that because Mom witnessed that her “mistake” (as I was labeled) had emerged as the one carrying the torch of her legacy of being an educator. In so doing, she submitted to a heightened realization that her conception of me was no mistake and a such self-actualized in the knowledge of a greater purpose of our intertwined destiny and purpose on this earth. Or at least, that is my prayer.
- Enjoy The Things And People You Love, You Cannot Take Them With You
Mommy demonstrated herculean efforts at becoming solidly planted in the middle class with all its trimmings: Big house, closets filled with unworn clothing, mothballed drawers with new sheets, comforters, towels, unused glassware and crockery etc. However, in her last few days, she forcefully insisted that she did not want to go to her house, (the big house), she instead wanted to go to the studio apartment in Kingston where she would sleep away with us her loved ones breathing in her last breath. Whether she made that request because she knew the memories would be too difficult for us if she had died in our family house, we will never know. However, the house of her dreams, that she spent her life building and decorating meticulously would not house her lifeless body
- Displays of Strength Often Mask Layers of Vulnerabilities
Most people would venture to say that my mother was a pillar of strength. Indeed, that she was; she was a survivor, resilient, disciplined and strong-willed. However, on very rare moments as her daughter, I would glimpse the vulnerabilities that she had so expertly masked in her life’s journey. I recall in July 2009, when she was told that the cancer had returned and this time it would claim her life, I reached out to hold her, she quickly wiped one tear from her eye and warned me not to start crying as she was “not giving up.” I have never seen my mom cry, I have witnessed a few vulnerable moments when tears threatened. For example, at the first birthday party she ever had, where friends and family gathered in Queens, NY and gave her gifts, she remarked “I did not know that they loved me so much” and wiped that one tear. In the hospital room as she transitioned her last days, I questioned if she were bothered by too many visitors, she shook her head and uttered “no, that’s when you know that you are loved.” My mom’s calloused shell housed pains, vulnerabilities and oceans of unshed tears like so many other women who must navigate life’s treacherous paths to reach the summit. On the other hand, I have always been a big baby, I cry at the drop of a hat quite like my grandmother, her mother, she considered both of us dramatic DWL. Upon analyzing my mom’s journey, I have decided to continue crying. Coincidentally, since her death, I now cry so much less as I realized that tears were not even enough at her death.
- No Matter How Loved or Powerful You Are, When You Die, Life Continues
It was upon my return to the United States after my mom’s death that I realized what the impact of her death meant. As I laid in my bed the morning after returning, crippled with grief, not wanting to take the covers off, I heard her voice clearly commanding me, “get up and go to work, you know better than that.” Over the years, as different life events magnify her absence, her pragmatism would interrupt my grief. In different ways, I would be reminded like her prayer card that I carry with me every day says “don’t grieve for me, for now I am free…” As much as we loved mom and we mourn continuously, our lives must continue in harmony and purpose as that is what she would have wanted and that is what life’s seasons demand. “For everything there is a season…”
- Life is Short. Live it Well, With Purpose
My mom lived a somewhat short (less than three score and ten), yet purposeful life. Every person who has ever met her can share a story that speaks to her character, strength and high expectations. As evidenced by the thousands who attended her funeral and to this day continuously speak of her contributions to their life, my mom’s life was well lived. In death, I have learned more about her than I did in her life. As her only daughter, and oldest child, we did not always have a synchronized, harmonious relationship. Like her, I am strong willed, so we clashed in those hormonal teenage and early adult years. As she tried to hold me close and safe on a traditional track because of her own fears and insecurities, I resisted conformity. I sought to forge my own colorful track, not wanting to be like her and as such, we often disappointed and hurt each other; albeit, not an uncommon mother-daughter relationship. The irony is, I am like her in so many ways, especially professionally. With age and a smidgen of sagacity, I can proudly acknowledge the similarities and affirm them as the highest compliment I could be paid. I am just more comfortable letting my tears cleanse my palate of vulnerability, insecurity and pain, and as one of our mutual friends said I am “more outgoing” AND, I must emphasize, I choose NOT to be as meticulous!!
.Thank you my Mommy for the nine months you carried me.
Thank you for always expecting more of me.
Thank you for your fighting spirit and resilience.
Thank you for your DNA of brains and brawns.
Thank you for your legacy of servant leadership.
I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL TO BE YOUR DAUGHTER.
Jamaican born and raised
Dr. Nadine L. Leblanc, PhD is an Educator and Cultural Critic residing in South Florida.