On Mommas

Leslie Moncada-Lewis with her four children. (Instagram)

“On mommas, I’m not lying.”

As a kid, those words were the purest thing you could say on the playground. It was the elementary school equivalent to placing your right hand on the Bible. It epitomized the art of telling the truth, and communicated the value you had for the person who brought you into the world, all in one statement: On mommas.

In my mind, that term was almost, if not equal to, swearing to God.

The only difference between my mother and the higher power was that I saw my mother every day. And the main thing they had in common was that neither the power of the Almighty nor the power of my mother could be completely understood.

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From an outside perspective, motherhood can be appreciated and admired, lifted and loved — and although it can be interpreted, it cannot be understood, no matter how hard we men try.

Regina Jackson and family.
Regina Jackson with students at UCLA. (IG)

I often question what it’s like to be a mother. Not just in the sense of bearing and birthing a child, because I'd never understand that. But what it means to “have your heart living outside of your body,” as one friend once told me; especially given the context of current societal circumstances.

I mean, as a father, I get a taste of it. But I don’t fully understand. After all, I didn’t carry this being in my body for months, only to have it pierce my flesh and enter in this world screaming for the resources — the food, the warmth, the love — that only I could provide.

I think about my mom, Dolores, and the beautiful woman she is. I think about the things she’s overcome, including cancer and lupus, and how she's able to remain optimistic, hug her grandchildren, and hook up delicious meals made of fresh veggies from her garden. How, when I was a teen, she let me run the streets with my friends, while she watched the 10 o’clock news, nervous, just hoping my name wouldn’t be mentioned during the telecast.

Now, the news doesn’t wait until 10 o’clock, it’s readily sent to your phone with updates and notifications that ping or vibrate with disconcerting information every so often.

There’s tales of families being separated by immigration laws, and reports of constant cuts to education. You pile that on top of housing prices, the cost of gas, and groceries. And you multiply that by sexism in the workplace and unequal pay, and you’re left with a big question.

How is anyone able to be a mother in 2018?

Rocky Rivera, in the studio.
Rocky Rivera, in the studio. (IG)

I started thinking about different mothers I know.

Folks like the dynamic educator, writer and emcee, Rocky Rivera, who’s already the mother of one awesome kid and, with her artist and activist husband, pregnant with another — and she remains active and creative, evidenced by photos of her in the studio and a recent featured on Ruby Ibarra’s song, “Us,” empowering Filipina women.

I thought about Regina Jackson, mother of two, who's probably worked with more kids in East Oakland over the past 25 years than anyone; and how she texted me earlier this week, spreading the word about her organization's latest video. Evidence of her ever-forward mentality.

And Leslie Moncada-Lewis, who’s an entrepreneur, married, mother of four, and keeps an immaculately curated, family-focused fashion page on Instagram; it features photos of her family dressed to a T.

There's Gaila and Antionette, my friend’s mothers, and how they worked to protect a group of boys from a cruel world—while taking the brunt of the blows. And my sister, Erikka, and how she fell victim to the fast life, grew beyond that, and raised two amazing children.

And of course Tanara, my partner in raising a daughter, and how she combats systematic oppression daily, only to leave work and walk into an absence of understanding, on my behalf, of what she goes through as a woman. A Black woman. A Black woman who’s a mother in 2018.

As I thought of example after example, it only furthered my bewilderment.

Leslie Moncada-Lewis and family.
Leslie Moncada-Lewis and family. (IG)

How do you manage to live without debilitating worry about your kids’ grades, your bank account, our healthcare system, global warming, cyberbullying, the long-term effects of vape pens, the lyrical content in music, mental health, the future of humankind, rapey celebrities, mass shootings, dumb tattoos, and the police?

I went as far as to send a handful of messages to some people who are mothers, simply asking, “What is it like to be a mother in 2018?”

Fittingly, the majority of them were too busy to respond.

Earlier this week, my mother and I were in her backyard garden, playing with my daughter. We discussed turning over her garden this upcoming weekend and planting some veggies. After developing a plan of action, which involved getting a tool from the library and a hose from Home Depot, I asked her about what it’s like to be a mother nowadays.

She said it’s no different than being a mom at any other time, there’s always something to worry about, as she picked up my daughter and continued to play with her.

I just watched in amazement.

Pendarvis Harshaw is the author of 'OG Told Me,' a memoir about growing up in Oakland. Find him on Twitter here.

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