I Was All That and A Bag of Chips

I wish I had helped my mom more.

Success for my mother was keeping her six kids safe.

She wanted to continue living indoors, eating every day and paying her bills on time.

When I was growing up, I was a shy, thin, introverted child. I spent most of my time in my room reading. I was smart, the oldest of six children. I was good at school. I was terrible at sports and social interactions.

My mother was a high school dropout. She dropped out of school at fifteen when she had me. Her side of our family produced few high school graduates.

My mom loved me, but her version of encouragement was horrific. When she drank, my mother often told me I was a follower and not a leader. She wanted a leader as evidenced by her admiration of the attractive, popular “street-smart” girls.

My mom was conflicted. We lived in on the South side, the toughest part of Chicago. While she was pleased with my success in school, she was not impressed.

“You are book smart, not street-smart,” she would say.

A street-smart person beat a book smart person every time in her opinion.

Everyone knew this. I proved my mother was right by following in her footsteps by getting pregnant at fourteen.

I proved she was wrong by running away with a pimp at seventeen and not coming back as a whore.

After I returned home, my mom’s view of me changed.

“You need to be strong to escape a pimp,” she said. ” I was wrong about you; you are not a follower.” Those words made me prove her right. They echoed in my mind at tough times in college and career.

When I graduated from college and could help out at home, I became a daughter she could be proud of and brag about to anyone. I wish I had helped my mom more.

Once I had a big house in California, I urged her to come and live with me. She would not. She lived with my sister for a year or two but insisted on returning home to Illinois. She said she had “business.” I think she was homesick.

When she got ill, I moved from California to Wisconsin to be near her. I changed jobs and visited her nearly every weekend. I should have told her I loved her and that I moved to be with her. I did not.

I begin paying her phone bill each month. I would drive down on the weekends, pick up my grandmother on the West side of Chicago, then head over to my mother’s house. Me, her, and my grandmother would sit around watch television, eat and talk. My brothers and sister would stop by. Ma loved that.

I was busy during the week. Deep in my life with a treacherous new boss and free-wheeling career. Too busy. I wanted talk with her about what I could do to help more. We never had that talk. Instead, she unexpectedly died that week leaving me sad.

For a time, I was all that and a bag of chips to my mom. I wish I had helped her more.

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