A mother is uniquely defined in my family on so many levels. When someone is given the title of Mother, Mama, Moms or Mommie, it is not because they carried you for nine months and “brought you into this world.” Yes, a birth is the biological definition and many women have participated in that obvious process. That is not the process for which my family and I have experienced the meaning and evidence of who and what a mother truly is.
When I look back over the years, a mother has been defined by the amount of love, sacrifice, lessons taught, safety and joy they poured into me. The Webster definition works too, that woman is in relation to that child.
My earliest memories of my being mothered was with Nanny, my paternal grandmother. She was the person who made sure I was never cold, alone, scared or sad. When I cried as a child, I remember her warm embrace comforting me, wiping away my tears and restoring joy in whatever way was needed. Nanny was my rock, protector and provider for the first 16 years of life, the solid foundation I needed to navigate this world as a sibling of 15, a child of parents in addiction, African American, and a person from a low-income community that would be viewed as less than by the wider world of critics.
Nanny taught me how to trust God, treat others, have faith, put family first and work hard for what I want. Now at the youthful age of 44, Nanny’s words of wisdom still guide me in many ways. At the tender age of 5, Frederick came along and I became my brother’s keeper because Nanny had a house full. I was responsible for protecting Frederick “Mar” in ways that no one else could. Feeding him, finding clothes, dressing and caring for him throughout the day, weeks and years ahead and offering the same support Nanny gave to me. If Mar cried, I was there to wipe away his tears, provide comfort, clarity and reassurance that the hurt would not return.
Since I don’t have any biological children, this would be the closest I’d come to being a mother. My brother was tucked carefully under my wing for 22 years where I babied him, annoyed him, laughed, cried and celebrated many of his life hurdles and victories. I poured all that I had into his wellbeing and believed in him more than words could say. He was my reason for being from the very start and until his death in 2006. He gifted me an opportunity to continue the role of “mothering” though his two sons – my nephews ZyiShaun and Frederick Jr.
In recent years with the rising popularity of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging workshops, how one defines something or someone can cause controversy, disconnect and even harm if the intention isn’t clear. The role(s) I play in my family is a unique one and won’t fit neatly into the categories of this world. There is a sign that hangs in my home that reads, “The Layne Family: a little bit loud, a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of love.” Our deep affection for each-other, the desire to remain as a group that stays together through it all, and our refusal to let anyone slip through the cracks is all that I need to be happy in this world, even if it can’t be defined.
Happy Holidays from my crazy and love-filled family to yours, Silena