If you are alive and reading this, at some point in your life you had a mother. You would not be alive if someone did not give birth to you…this is just a simple fact. Now, your mother’s presence in your life may have been long or brief…but at one point in time you had a mother. If you had a mother or mother figure in our life growing up, you likely laugh or roll your eyes when you think about her overused sayings. Growing up, my mother’s three mostly used sayings were “it takes a** to get a**”, “you start running now, you’ll be running your whole life”, and my personal favorite “if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.” She would say one of these any time she gave my sisters and I a lecture. In my younger days, I never quite understood what they meant…but as an adult the meanings are crystal clear.
Now, I have previously shared that my mother was a boxer in her younger days, but that description gives little insight into the woman that gave me life. While my mother trained to box as a teen, she too was a born fighter. See, my mother never met a fight she didn’t like. She is 5 feet 5 inches and 98 pounds (when soaking wet) of pure venom. She will go toe to toe with Mike Tyson…and I think give him a run for his money. She has the heart of a lion and will not back down from anyone…not even God himself. She is the type of person that would look God square in the eye and say “you know I really didn’t appreciate you sending all that rain when you knew I had to go grocery shopping on the bus. Don’t do that again!”
I would imagine raising my sisters and I was extremely frustrating for my mother because none of us shared her love of fighting. While my sisters like fighting far more than I do, and always have, none of us enjoy fighting. Growing up, we did it out of necessity…survival. Now, to be fair, I don’t want to paint that picture that we were some docile wall flowers growing up. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, while none of us enjoyed fighting, it took me far less encouragement than everyone else. We were very attractive girls, outspoken, rough, mean, and would absolutely fight if the situation required it. But, the willingness to fight was something we developed over time. We actually had to learn the hard way that my mother’s overused sayings were right. Specifically, she taught us the hard way that sometimes running is not an option…because you will never stop.
In my late elementary school years, my mother ran our house like a military operation. Every night before bed, we would take our baths or showers for the next day. My mother would iron our clothes and hang them neatly in our closets. We would then eat dinner, watch about an hour of TV, and then go to bed for the evening. Every morning, my sisters and I woke up at 6am to eat breakfast. After breakfast, we cleaned our plates, straightened up the kitchen, got dressed, packed up our backpacks, and headed off to school together. Our school was only 2 blocks away so my mom felt comfortable with us walking alone…I mean it was the 80s. But, also, she was able to catch up on her sleep before her night shift once we were out the door to school.
Well, what my mother didn’t know, as she peacefully slept, was that every day we were chased to school and home by a gang. See, we wouldn’t dare tell her that the daughters she spent time teaching to protect themselves, refused to fight. So, every day we had to outrun over 20 kids to and from school…until one day we couldn’t run.
One rainy afternoon my sisters and I started our daily run to our house after the final bell rang. Like usual, we darted out of the school building, with our arms locked holding onto one another. This particular day was a horrible day to outrun the neighborhood gang because it was raining which made the concrete slippery. But, also, it was picture day so my mom had sent us to school VERY dressed up. Lord, I remember it like it was yesterday. My sisters and I had on matching outfits. Black stretch pants, these black and white long sleeve tops wth a black and white kitten on the front, and black riding boots. Yes, in 1987 riding boots with stretch pants were EVERYTHING! We begged my mom for 3 months for these boots…but picked the absolute worst day ever to wear them.
Locked arm and arm, my sisters and I carefully started our run home sliding down the street as we ran. Normally we outran the gang with no problem, but because of those stupid boots, the gang of 20 kids were right on our tails. At the very last minute, and in an effort to ditch the gang, we decided to take a short cut through the alley behind our house. We hit the corner to the alley so fast that to this day I am convinced I saw a spark from our shoes as they hit the bricks in the alley. I also think we had smoke behind us like in the cartoons…but it is entirely possible it was the smoke from our breath because it was a frost fall day…but I digress.
Breathing heavy, but with the gang right on our tails, we made it to the back door of our house. We hit the wood porch with a hard thumb and each bent over to collect our breath and check the distance between us and the gang. Unable to see them, but still able to hear their quick steps, my older sister started digging the door key out of her pocket. Shaking, my older sister put her key into the lock and gave it a hard turn. The lock loudly clicked, but unlike most days, the door did not open when we turned the knob. Immediately, we knew, my mother had locked the bottom lock and we were locked out. You don’t know fear until you are locked out of a house with danger right on your tail.
Scared to death, we started screaming and pounding on the door. We each yelled as lout as we could “Ma, open the door.” Our hearts were racing, and we were yelling as loud as we could praying that by some off chance my mom was still home and had overslept for work. Frantic after seeing no movement in the house through the curtain, we started kicking the door with our boots. As we kicked, we pounded on the door with our fists and yelled “Ma, open the door. PLEASE. Open the door”. I could hear the feet of the gang getting closer and closer, but saw no movement in our house. Just when it sounded like the gang’s feet were literally right behind us, the curtain to the door flew open and there was my mom in her flannel pajamas and robe, with her signature scowl. As she snatched the curtain back, she barked “what the hell is going on”? Unable to speak, we pointed behind us to the now assembled crowd in our backyard.
Fully aware that we had been chased home, my mother quickly opened the door. As she stepped through the door, she pushed us back onto the back porch as we tried to hurry in past her. After pushing us back onto the porch, my mother rolled up the sleeves to her robe, stepped in front of my sisters and I, and said to the crowd “now you MFs have some nerve, think you gone come to my damn house and run my kids up in here.” She then turned to us and said “I don’t know how long this has been going on, but this stops today. You start running and you will spend your whole life running.” My mother then said to the crowd, “since y’all so tuff, I tell you what. You pick which one of my daughters you want to fight, and one by one you can fight her. But, this will be a one on one fight. So if anybody else jumps in, yo parents gone pick you up from here in a body bag.”
My mother then made my sisters and I line up next to each other, shoulder to shoulder. Several members of the gang huddled up near the steps to our back porch, and started talking amongst themselves. After what seemed like forever, one girl finally stepped forward, walked in front of my mother, and said “I’ll fight first”. My mother flashed a quick smile, that can only be likened to The Joker from Batman, and replied, “well which girl you want”. I knew in my heart she would pick me…I think my mother did too. See, my younger sister was known as the mean one. My older sister was the cool tom boy…I was the skinny nerd. So, of course, the girl stepped directly in front of me and said “I want her”. My heart immediately sank. I quickly turned to my mother and shook my head no. My mother looked at the girl and said “OK”, then turned to me and said” remember, it takes a** to get a**. Also, if you lose, I am going to beat your ass myself”. That last statement, dear friends, was a game changer. It sent chills through my entire body…I knew she was dead serious.
I will spare you the details, but I will say that I did not lose that fight. In fact, my mother herself had to pull me off the girl. See, I was fighting for my life. But, I also unleashed months of frustration. I was mad at myself for every day we ran to and from school. I was mad about every night I spent worrying about the next day, and the hours I spent picking outfits that were conducive to running. That day, as my mother snatched me of that girl, I made a promise to myself. I would never run again. As long as I had breath in my body, I would always show up for the fight. I knew I wouldn’t win every fight, but even the ones I lost my opponent wouldn’t walk away unscathed. If they chose me for a fight, even if I eventually lost, they would pay for that choice. Why? I think you get it now.