Ellen’s Magnificat

This is my mother in her 20s. We definitely looked alike. They didn’t call me “little mama Brown” for nothing.

I’ve been gone a long time, long enough to almost skip my second trimester. I am, praise God, still pregnant and healthily so. Even my mood is in a better place.

But before I get too deep in the details of the past two and a half months, I have to acknowledge what it means to me to be pregnant today — May 3. Having only recently accepted that I’m going to be a mom, I did it just in time for my late mother’s birthday. She would have been 70.

Five years ago, coincidentally a month before she died, I’d written “The Year Mother’s Day Mattered” as a brief reflection on what life was like with my mother and in preparation for her passing. No one predicted she would die, but I just knew it was inevitable. I also knew then somehow that I’d likely have trouble having children — either because I’d remain single forever or because I would have inherited my mother’s ovarian cancer.

In 2007, I wrote:

“We tended to celebrate her birthday in an equally understated way, which is always a week a half before Mother’s Day. She usually counted May 3 as two-fold. Three years ago [2004], I made dinner at my apartment. She teased me, calling me uppity for having hors d’oeurves – vegetables I cut myself, made me overcook my tender porterhouses because of the pink and turned her nose up at the portabella mushrooms. I think she even asked for steak sauce. Another year, I took her out to one of my favorite Charlotte restaurants, where the service was unfortunately awful. I guess the server forgot that black people still carried green money. It sucked to be him: I left a dollar tip and gave the rest of the 20 percent to the manager. My mother, meanwhile, braced herself and chastised me in advance of me cursing the poor guy. I didn’t, but she’d already worked my nerves. …

“The woman who produced me was not the mother of poems read aloud. She wasn’t one who you’d turn over to your best friend as Jesus did Mary. I was incensed that the pastor even preached that [as a Mother’s Day sermon]. She wasn’t even Big Mama or Madea, who cooked for the grandkids and maybe she wouldn’t ever be. My mother was at home dying slowly. … I’m sorry that this is the year Mother’s Day matters and that it matters for the wrong reasons.”

The wrong reasons included my rush to appreciate my mother before she would die, fear that motherhood would escape me, and premature nostalgia for the mom I didn’t have. It’s amazing, though, how life uses time to right it own wrongs. I couldn’t have predicted the kinship with my mother that I’d feel just by carrying twins as she did. Nor could I have predicted the peace in our desire to have children contrasted with her initial dread of having us. Mothering from a dark place, she still wanted our lives to be different from hers in the best way possible. I’ll forever be sad that she’s gone, but I’m happy knowing that my happiness in life is what she desired most.

Happy birthday, old woman.

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2 thoughts on “Ellen’s Magnificat

  1. This is beautifully written, and I’m sure you’re right about your mother just wanting you to be happy. I’m glad you feel connected to her now in a way that is so special.

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