An Ode to Inner City Mothers

It’s a little early for mothers day, but I have to do this.
When I first started teaching, I was only 10 years older than my students. When a few of them started calling me “Mom” or “Auntie,” I bulked and made it clear that I was not that old. Now I’m between 15 and 17 years older than my students and I still can’t swallow the idea of being any kind of mother. But when I meet my students mothers, they are my own age. And more often than not, they have more than one kid.
It stuns me every time. When I first heard that one of my 15 year old students was a father and that his mother had had him at 15–the concept of being a grandmother at the age of 30–I couldn’t fathom what that meant for a home life.┬áBut it’s a scenario that is all too common in the inner city.
This is not said to shame anyone. On the contrary, I want to honor the mothers that somehow provide for a family against so many odds.
One mother, in particular, deserves the praise. She can’t possibly be more than 30 years old, but wherever she goes, a trail of 7 kids follow close behind, complete with two sets of twins. With no husband to help her (or anyone else that I have ever seen or heard about), she somehow finds a way to provide for her small clan of kids. I can’t imagine how many hours at what kind of job she must have to do so.
But if that wasn’t enough, her tribe of children are not the most docile kids. Her oldest son is one I like to refer to as the mad scientist. With the right tools, he would destroy the world. He’s smart (ridiculously smart) but there’s no kind of trouble he won’t get in to.
The next two oldest in the family are twin girls, also highly intelligent. One is known as the angel and the other is clearly the evil twin. It’s important to be aware of which one you are talking to.
The rest of her kids are in elementary school, and I have not had the pleasure of knowing them. But my point is this:
This young mother not only finds a way to provide for all of these little mischievous geniuses, but always makes sure to come to every parent-teacher meeting, with her train of little ones behind her.
On open house nights, you will see her walking the school hallways, going from one class to the next and taking time to talk to every single one of her kid’s teachers, listening to them list all the horribly disastrous things that her kids have done in class, so that by the time she reaches me, her eyes are red with tears and her body slumped with fatigue. Her children, too, are tired and dragging each other through the door. Each one is responsible for taking care of the next youngest. The mother will drop into a chair tell me she doesn’t want to hear one more bad thing about her kids.
Nor do I want to tell her one more bad thing. I am in complete awe that she would even take time out of her day to come and talk to me, when most parents ignore us completely.
So I search earnestly for something good to say about her son. And when I manage to find just one kind word, she smiles and straightens up with pride for her family.
She makes my night. She inspires me. With the weight of so many things stacked against her, she puts in the effort to care about each and every one of her children and their education. And that is why I have to honor her.
But it’s not only her.
With this new school year underway, I’ve already spotted other mothers like her coming out to meet the teachers at open house with a small clan of kids in tow, each child looking after the next youngest in line. The mothers have a long night of meetings ahead of them, but they’re there.
They are symbols of strength and diligence in the community–working against the push and shove of adversity and hardship. Very few people acknowledge them and the exhausting dedication they exude. But someone should.


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