The 8 Most Surprising Things I Discovered About My Nigerian Mother
10 May 2015
In my first year at Howard University, I not only discovered a new-found sense of independence, I also learned more about my mother while we were apart than I did all those years she raised me at home. During our time apart, I learned that:
She’s just like me.
I’ve always been reluctant to admit our similarities throughout the years, but when it boils down to it, most days I see myself in her. Even worse, I hear her voice in me. Although it shocks me at times and still catches me off guard, it’s not such a bad thing. My mother is not only a mother, she is a strong, independent, Nigerian woman who loves to have fun and dance to the beat of her own drum. Yet when it’s time to settle down and be serious, she knows her responsibilities. Through it all, she still makes time to pamper herself in true queen fashion, and makes it all look so easy.
I’ve been holding her back for all these years.
While I was worrying about moving away to college and breaking my parents’ hearts by leaving the nest, I had no idea they had all these plans up their sleeves. Expanding their work, transforming a hallway in our home into their fitness center, converting the attic into a fully redesigned space, excursions across the country, casual dinner outings… I see you parents! Believe me, your parents had lives before you, and when you’re not there, they just so happen to resume. My parents are still quite “hip,” and they make sure that my siblings and I know it. It’s a beautiful sight to see that without us there, they’re still one another’s best friend and are enjoying living their own lives after 27 years.
She has dreams and aspirations that are still yet to be tapped.
Like many of us, being a mother and a wife were not the two main goals my mother set for herself. Now that she has the time and decreasing responsibilities, my mother is inching closer and closer to the top of her list of priorities. Each of the concepts that she casually spoke about throughout my grade-school and high-school years are one by one becoming reality. She may not even talk about it—she’ll just go out and do it! True Mama O style. I used to wonder where I got that trait from, and now I know. After tying the knot, bearing children, and working diligently, she has never stopped living out her personal dreams.
She respects me.
It was a long time coming. I didn’t see it, she didn’t see it… We could barely survive in the same household, let alone endure a conversation without a lecture or an argument. I wasn’t the typically obedient Nigerian child she were accustomed to—I was (am) very much my own person. The beauty of that is that it taught us to respect each other’s differences and actually brought us closer together. Although it took some time for her to understand what shapes me—the parts of her that were born in me—I also learned to see things through her eyes. I am still myself, authentically, as is she, but am now more unapologetic than ever.
We’re on the same page.
What I go through, she’s already gone through. And because of that, we have shared experiences. I came to this realization one Saturday when I stayed in to write, and Face-timed my parents. As I practiced tying Gele (our traditional Nigerian headwrap), and played the new Afrobeat hits, there we were: bantering with each other, chatting about our days, and laughing together. I realized that our conversations were now less argumentative, and more agreeable. At that point, it wasn’t as much about the lessons she has to teach me, but instead, her relishing it all. The gratification of, “Hey, I didn’t do too shabby on this last one!”
She will always have my back.
I may be slightly outlandish, and a little hard to understand at times, but she gets it now. I’m an unorthodox non-meat eating, Yoruba speaking, Igbo woman who’s not in the medical or law field. Although I’m sure she wishes it wasn’t the case, the support I get from her has never felt stronger. She gets where I’m coming from, and understands where I’m trying to go. No matter what the situation, she takes my side first. But don’t get it confused, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong…and she’ll make sure that we all know it.
Although it took a long time to finally hear it, I know she is proud of me.
Ah, at that moment it was as if the heavens unlocked their gates… Sometimes, it’s those little phrases like, “You did a good job tonight,” “You look dashing!” and comments about your intelligence that are better than “I love you’s.” I occasionally have those moments where I wonder if everything I do is truly worth it. When we were on the phone, and I heard those four words—“I’m proud of you”—I froze. I thought I misheard. At that point in time, it felt as if everything in the past; all of the trouble and headache I caused, our disagreements…everything washed away. That second was everything. It came sooner than expected, but if it had been predictable, then it wouldn’t have been us. It clicked. I made sense, and she made sense. And I was just as equally as proud of her for being the resilient woman that she is, that I aspire to be at least half of one day.
As old as I am at heart, I will always be her baby. (and that’s still my Day 1 Mama O)
“You’re __ going on 40!” my mother chides me. I came into this world 70 years old, she says. During my younger years, as everyone took pleasure in in their youth, there was always me, displaying the unenthusiastic, unimpressed McKayla Maroney expression. Even then, my mother always worked to ensure that I lived at least some semblance of a childhood. Now that I’m in college, my mother reminds me to be young sometimes, and…that I’ll always be her chubby-cheeked infant.
We may be separated now, but somehow, we’ve never been closer.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Photo: The author with her mother
What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever learned from your mother?
Uju Obianwu is a student at Howard University who aspires to use her degree towards becoming a sports analyst, and playing a vital role in women’s advancement in the predominantly male world of sports, as well as, using her aspiring platform to be a champion for those whose voices fall upon deaf ears and those who may not look like the typical faces in today’s media.