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Mama: A love story (with a happy ending)


When you consider the starting point of the love affair between mothers and their children, and the length and breadth of it, Mother’s Day hardly seems adequate as a celebration of your role in my life. Whether a mother is biological, adoptive, symbolic or ceremonial, one is bound to have some strong feelings about a mother’s contribution to one’s being.

Report by Thembe Khumalo

They say that when a baby is born, a mother is born too. And I suppose the mother is born over again every time she births a new baby. I try to imagine what you felt when you looked at me in those first few hours of my life — where you overwhelmed by that fierce and protective love for the tiny creature that barely acknowledged your existence, but was to be the centre of your universe — at least for a little while? Did you gaze at me sleeping and wonder who I would turn into and what I would become, the way I do with my little ones?

Well, here I am, Mama. Finally fully grown. I have become she who I was to become, and the net result of all your efforts and errors is the woman we see today. You must have wondered so many times over the years if we would ever get to this place. Finally we are here — ses’khona!

It’s taken a long time to appreciate the full force of maternal love, and the impact it has on the mother’s life. I guess I had to become a parent to understand; to experience the days when I would be overwhelmed with multiple responsibilities, only to come home to a muddy carpet or a lost library book. More bittersweet still is coming home to someone who has been waiting all day to show me a wax crayon drawing of a person with four teeth — and the person is me! My favourites are the prayers written to God about cross mothers or mean best friends.

I imagine that when you were raising me you had your fair share of poignant homecomings. Children are so relentless in their pursuit of what they want, they can so easily wear down one’s well-constructed and well-meaning boundaries. Every mother knows that sinking feeling that comes after giving in when one shouldn’t have. And I hope that every mother has someone to tell them that it’s not the end of the world — that we can start again tomorrow.

We can pick ourselves up from where we have fallen.

Do you remember with the same fondness I do the moments when I would watch you getting ready to go to church or to work?

Catsha! you would say, asking me to hide so I wouldn’t see you unclothed. Then I would gaze with wonder as you put away your bottle of Oil of Olay, did your hair, arranged your pearls and slipped on your heels. I believed then, as I do now, that you were the most beautiful woman in the world, and I would run my hands over your stockinged shin in awe and wonder at the silky smoothness of it.

Today I have my own bottles of Olay cosmetics, my own stockings, and pearls, and heels.

But they are not really my own. Quite apart from the fact that they have been claimed already as inheritance by my children (at this point they would rather have my red shoes than a portfolio of Delta shares!), these items are not my own because they are a product of my history — my story with you.

I know now that wherever I go, I take you with me. I take my sister, my grandmother and my aunts and cousins with me also, because I am a creation of all of you. The threads of our lives are woven together in one fabric that is the story of African women.

They cannot be separated without violating this precious cloth.

I know today that when I bring myself to the table, whether a boardroom table in business, or a dining table socially, I bring all of you with me. You and your mother and all her mothers before her.

I bring the richness of your laughter and the sweetness of your singing, the fire of your rage and the wonder of your many talents.

I no longer wonder whether the world will figure out that I don’t know everything and throw me out. I know now that while I don’t know everything, what I do know is sufficient for the task immediately ahead of me. What I bring to the party is more than I will consume. I know also from watching you in your insatiable thirst for knowledge, that learning is a lifelong process. My last lesson will be on the day I die.

The other day I told my daughter that I was very tired and she wondered why. I told her that just being me was a real full-time job and a very tiring one at that. She seemed to understand. What I forgot to tell her was that it’s a job I love, and that even though it’s very tiring, there are some things about it that make it easy — like her, and her sister, and you, Mama. Being me is my favourite job because it started with a love story between you and me — and the story continues in them.
lThembe Khumalo writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to

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