Growing up, I tried not to miss my mother.
When I fell in love with Jeremy in third grade, it was my older sister Jackie I confided in. She was the one who sat with me at the kitchen table and helped me with my homework. And when my father kicked me out when I was 16, Jackie gave up a scholarship to an out-of-town university so that she could get an apartment with me. She wanted to make sure that I graduated from high school.
But it wasn’t until I had my son last year that I needed my mother. After an emergency C-section, my son was born with barely a heartbeat and had to be resuscitated. Hours later he was rushed to NICU.
I remember sitting in the parents’ waiting room at the hospital with my husband and sobbing non-stop. I’d just seen my son’s tiny body hooked up to wires in the incubator.
I was in England, where my husband and I lived. Later, as I spoke to my sister from my hospital bed, all I wanted was my mom to be with me. She never came.
My mother left our family when I was 5 years old. Although my father was barely out of his teens, he stayed with the four of us. Whenever I saw a plane, I thought that my mother was on it, coming to get us. My father never told us that she’d left us for good. It was only later that I found that out.
I was 17 when I next saw my mother. My sister found out that she lived in Connecticut, so we decided to go see her. I couldn’t remember what she looked like, but I imagined that when I saw her she would hold me, all of the pain I’d felt all those years without her would disappear.
I thought that the memories of my father pushing me down the stairs and then trying to strangle me would fade away. Instead, I didn’t recall her face. She was standing with a woman and as I walked off the bus platform, I heard the lady say, “That’s your daughter? She looks white.” The woman was speaking in our native language, Luganda. My mother looked down and said nothing.
As young kids in East Africa, we were ridiculed for being mixed. People used to spit at us and throw stones at us and called us Mzungu. My mother’s brothers would say that when we grew up, we would clean their children’s homes and be their servants.
When my mother’s friend said white, she said it the way people used to say it to me as a child, before I was hit or spat at. My mother not saying anything felt worse than when my father punched me.
When my son was eight weeks old, my husband and I moved across the ocean to be closer to my sister and friends in Canada. Growing up in Kenya and Uganda, I knew that it took a village to raise a child. My mom didn’t come to visit me when I had my son. She told our relatives that she had.
I knew that ticket prices from the States to London were expensive and I hoped that once I moved closer to her in Toronto that she would come to visit. I couldn’t wait for her to meet my son. But she never came. She didn’t meet my son until he was 10 months old, when I went to visit my sister.
This past Christmas, my mother said she would come to Canada to spend time with my son. The day my sister was to drive with her from New England, she called me to tell me that our mother had a heart attack. I felt as though she was talking about someone we vaguely knew. I was worried, but I wasn’t sad or scared.
My sister, however, was very upset. She sounded disoriented. I told her not to come. I didn’t want her to leave our mother alone and I didn’t want her to drive.
Several hours later, we found out that although our mother had been to the hospital, she did not have a heart attack. She never ended up coming to Canada.
My mother has said she didn’t have a happy childhood. She never knew her own father and she had my older sister when she was 13. Perhaps she was never able to connect with us because even though we needed her, she didn’t need us.
I often wonder about what would have happened to my sisters and brother if our dad had also left. I imagine that we would have ended up on the streets begging for food.
My mother brags about our accomplishments even though she played no role in the people we are today. She still denies abandoning us and blames our father for her leaving. Now in her mid-50s, her priority is to secure her children’s loyalties so that she doesn’t end up alone.
I was terrified of becoming a mother because I thought that I would also leave my kids. It was easier to think that my mother had no control of what she did. My ego didn’t want to believe that she left because she wanted to.
People used to say to me that I would understand my mom more once I became a mother. Watching my son take his first step, I understand her less.