You would think that having a mama who was disabled would prohibit her from sharing intimate moments with me. Contrary to the obvious, she was there for me in the most critical times.
One thing in particular that stood out to me is how she would cry with me when I cried. Particularly, when I got in trouble with my daddy (which wasn’t too often, but it was enough to take note), I would break down in tears. A beautiful thing that always comforted me in this moment is when my mama would cry with me. I felt as if my pain did not go unnoticed.
Crying spells is a common symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. Randomly, my mama would cry time to time, but she wasn’t necessarily sad (at least to my knowledge). Even with her sporadic instances of tears, I was assured that she really did cry with me, as the timing was quite impeccable. I can still hear the bellowing moans of her voice as tears streamed down our face, serendipitously. Sometimes, it made me cry more because I felt safe to cry. Sometimes, it made me cry less because I knew that someone understood how I felt.
As much as it frustrated my daddy, I’m sure, he often mentioned how special it was that she would cry with me. A woman who is completely disabled was still able to emotionally comfort me. She made sure that I never felt alone.
I still feel her crying with me. Many ask why I choose to go through things without telling anyone. I do have someone who will always cry with me, and who will always feel my pain. My mama always reminded me that I am loved, forgiven, and that I am not alone.
Some of the most exciting memories from my childhood is when we were finally able to take mama on a trip. Even when I saw her in her outdoor chair or in her wheelchair, it excited me. Honestly, it was a moment of relief that my mama was as human as I thought she was.
We moved often as a kid, and when we did, there was one was question that challenged us all—
“How do we move mama?”
This question was quickly resolved in a unique way during our relocation to North Carolina from California. We decided that the most efficient (and fun) way to transport my mama was an RV trip across the country. My grandpa would drive, my daddy would take care of my mama, and I would play and chill for the next four days.
I can never forget the unique odor of wood and faint sewage covered in aged rose vehicle spray. Despite such, the entire trip is truly unforgettable. There were endless bellows of road songs, ongoing conversations about life, and many outbursts of directions from the nostalgic resource of MapQuest and an atlas. I made sure to stay awake for every driving moment so that I could indulge in all of the adventure of the long-legged highways.
During this trip, I was introduced to the greatest tunes of the 80’s. We had a recorded VCR tape of music videos from MTV. It started with “Diamonds and Pearls” by Prince, and highlighted songs like “I Do it For You” by Bryan Adams, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bob McFerrin, and “Head to Toe” by Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam. These became some of my favorite songs growing up as a 90’s kid living in the 2000’s. You could hear my mama’s faint hum’s to the song based on how much her nervous system would allow a sound to release. Daddy and I filled in the rest of the notes of each sound with our off-key bellows and jive dance moves.
The most special part about this moment is laying in bed with my mama. Because of her disability, I was never allowed to lay in her bed as it was restricted by law (it was a medical bed). So, imagine that for the first time since you were a gabbling, drooling, baby, that you could lie in bed with your mama. You get to personally smell her scent mixed with the scents of hospital pads, plastic of feeding tubes, and a hint of medicated creams. You get to feel her warm almond-cocoa skin on the side of your torso. You hear the pattern of her breath and feel the vibration of her heartbeat—for the first time at age eight.
I never got the chance to lie in bed with her again, but I closely treasured the moment that I did. The RV trip was easily a great idea, and the one opportunity I could bond with my mama in a way that I thought would never come.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) creates quite diverse body responses. One that may come as displeasing to most is that my mama was not able to control her muscles in her face as well, specifically with salivating. She would often aspirate on food because she was not able to chew well, or it would just fall out of her mouth. For some reason, this was what most difficult to take in as a child because she could not indulge in the simplest joys of eating.
I remember one time, my daddy asked me to feed my mama because he needed to finish cooking for us. As a five-year old without filter, I screamed, “eww, she drools!” With a wrath of disappointment and pain, my daddy scurried down the hallway to me and gently nudged me to step into the hallway and away from my mama.
Quite confused on duality of my daddy’s expression, he briskly asked, “why would you say that in front of her?” Again, confused on his obvious question, he then continued. “Do you understand that your mama has a disease? There are things her body will do that may not seem normal to everyone else or even us. But, we have to make it normal to us because she IS normal to us. She’s your mama. Imagine how she feels hearing you think that she is gross.”
With no fault to my daddy, I felt like the lowest person in the world. I loved my mama so much. I couldn’t imagine hearing my daughter saying that I was gross. I couldn’t imagine watching her stand distantly from the bed because I didn’t understand her. The beautiful things about that moment with my mama is that when I commented on her drooling right to her face, she just looked at me and smiled. Such a motherly love—that perhaps in the midst of embarrassment, sadness, or pain, she made sure to bring joy and comfort to her only offspring.
I have also learned a space of forgiveness of a five-year old girl with very little development of emotional intelligence. I learned that this was not easy to process for such a young girl. I did learn, that even when she was “gross” to me, she was still a superwoman through it all in my eyes. The conversation with my daddy highly reminded me that her physical responses never deterred who she truly was. I learned to look at people past face value and celebrate what is within. The world may still see disable, but I saw all-able.
Amongst all the beautiful things about my mama, she had 32 beautiful and shining teeth. However, there was a 33rd tooth that served her well—a sweet tooth.
Mama loved her sweets, cakes, pies, and candies. It was quite fitting for us all as we love to indulge in yummy desserts. The favorite of them all was strawberry cake. Oh, how my mama loved a fresh strawberry cake, especially with real strawberries. It was such a treat to not only feast upon such a yummy delicacy, but to also prepare such a wonderful dessert!
My daddy was an incredible cook and baker. Therefore, he brought me into the kitchen at a very young age and taught me secret tips to pass along one day to my family. I was always quite excited to help with any of our meals, but there was a unique excitement about making something especially for my mama. I wanted the special opportunity for her to taste the love that I am personally giving to her. When the strawberry cake was made, I wanted to ensure that all of the warm, gooey happiness that she enjoys comes from my little brown hands.
I can never forget the intoxicating smell of fresh California strawberries filling the kitchen as daddy and blended spices and bellowed laughters of joy throughout the residential hallways. The spread of my biggest smile never left my face because I knew that I was making something that would bring joy to my mama.
Even when mama was permanently moved to the nursing home, we still made it a point to bring her strawberry cake. The floating aroma of our fresh pastry danced along the hallways and lightened the hearts of each patient. It was always the greatest joy to feed our strawberry cake to mama and see how delicious it was to her. I could feed her joy. This brought me joy.
When mama was no longer able to eat any solid foods anymore and was switched to direct tube feeding into her stomach, we often thought about the moments we shared in feeding cake to her. My daddy and I often thought about how she may feel about never tasting certain foods ever again, especially strawberry cake. Nonetheless, when we want to experience a slice of mama in our daily routine, we always know what yummy delicacy to turn to. As I bite into a piece of strawberry cake, the feelings of joy and the shine of her smile resonates within my soul.
As a true basketball player, mama had a favorite team that she would always follow -- the Detroit Pistons, specifically the era of "The Bad Boys". While there were a few transient players on the Pistons team during this time, they primarily consisted of Isaiah Thomas, John Salley, Dennis Rodman, Ralph Lewis, and Bill Laimbeer. They were known for being the dirtiest of dirty when it came to aggressively playing ball. And, my mama loved it.
Right along with her (and through pure irony), I was also a fan of the 2000's Detroit Pistons (as well as the Spurs, which is the complete opposite in personality). This team included Chauncey Billups, "Rip" Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and "Big Ben" Wallace. They weren't as bad as the bad boys, but they surely had a lot of aggression that I loved, just like my mama.
My daddy would make sure that every time the Detroit Pistons played on TV, my mama was watching it. My daddy was not a fan of them at all, but he was a fan for her. We would grin together from ear to ear cheering on all of the aggressive, dirty calls and the vulgar gestures from Rasheed Wallace, or the harsh pushes from Big Ben. Even when my mama was in the nursing home, we would make sure that her TV was set to the Pistons game. It was the greatest week every when we gathered in her half of a room within the nursing home to watch the championship series against the Lakers, ending their dynasty in Game 5. I remember how happy we all were, but my daddy and I were especially happy that mama could witness her bad boys winning again.
Moments like this often brought alive the idea that without saying a word, without dribbling a ball together, or without any signs, my mama was within me. When I played ball, I was shorter than the average forwards but I was strong in the paint. I knew that part of me connected to my mama and when she played basketball. It was such a unique bond as such that made it an honor to play basketball for her. Although the Pistons are not the teams that neither her or I loved anymore, I do hope to one day carry such a bond down to my offspring, without even saying a word, that we love the Bad Boys.