Mom & Me & Mom

Maya Angelou starts her conversation book by mentioning something people often ask, how it is that she became the women she is, a question she says she has been tempted to respond to using lines quoted from Topsy, the young black girl in Uncle Tom’s Cabin who said, “I dunno, I just growed.”

Mom Me MomInstead, Angelou has written this thought-provoking tribute, sharing a slew of matriarchal experiences among the many others already shared in her remarkable series of autobiographies, to highlight a little of how she did become that brave, sensitive, adventurous and caring women she is, in part due to the grandmother she loved and the mother she came to adore.

It is a story written with utmost compassion and forgiveness, for this is a woman whose mother admitted when she and her husband separated that she could not mother young children, so sent them to live with their grandmother for ten years. Angelou closes the prologue reminding us that love heals and throughout the book will prove that kindness is the greatest gift we can ever give and foster in others.

Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the word love, not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins.

Vivian Baxter, Maya Angelou’s mother, was the eldest of a large family of mostly boys, for whom threats, intimidation and violence were a part of their way of their life and this petite force was often at the forefront of their skirmishes. Their father encouraged tough boy talk and tasked his daughter with ensuring the boys didn’t soften. Little wonder that after falling in love, marrying and realising that it was a mistake, they were also unable to agree on who should raise their toddlers, they separated and sent the children to their father’s mother in Stamps, Arkansas. Maya was three and Bailey five-years-old.

Ten years later, when their grandmother felt that Bailey had grown too old for Arkansas, when he had reached a dangerous age for a black boy in the segregated South, it was arranged for them to return to their mother in California. Bailey was enthusiastic, Maya much less so. It would be difficult, but for all her flaws, their mother knew how to communicate with her children and didn’t push her mother status on them. Maya decided she would call her ‘Lady’ and her mother’s response to this is one of many small pleasures Angelou offers up in her book.

Maya has a baby very young, without the foundation of a loving relationship, however with the love and support of her mother, this event in no way prevents her from pursuing her life’s dreams and ambitions.

I thought about my mother and knew she was amazing. She never made me feel as if I brought scandal to the family. The baby had not been planned and I would have to rethink plans about education, but to Vivian Baxter that was life being life.

Some years later deciding to marry Tosh tested the mother daughter relationship, Vivian didn’t try to stop her daughter from making what she thought was a mistake, but she chose to leave San Francisco, not wishing to witness the fallout. Like any young women living off the heady ambiance of newly married love, Maya wished to prove her mother wrong.

To begin with she continued doing all the things she loved, the things that made her Maya Angelou, seeing her friends, attending a dance class, going to church and speaking freely about God. However her activities slowly became issues between the young couple, so she stopped them in an attempt to maintain peace between herself and her husband.

At first the dimness is hardly noticeable but not alarming. Then with a rush, the light is vanquished by darkness.

This gem of a book, complete with gorgeous photos, is a wonderful addition to her already masterful collection of autobiographies and chronicles that one relationship that runs through our entire lives, that with our mother. It may not always be easy, but Angelou shares those moments that tested and ultimately strengthened the love and respect they had for each other. She accomplishes it with incredible honesty and selflessness, something that shines through in the brief interview I have linked here. What a wise and loving soul she is.

Interview – Learning to Love My Mother: Maya talks about her mother with a BBC interviewer.

“Exercise patience with yourself first, so you can forgive yourself for all the dumb things you do. Then exercise patience with your children.”

Note: The book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

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22 thoughts on “Mom & Me & Mom

  1. Maya Angelou is one of my favourite authors. I have read every one of her books. I have read them over and over again. I have seen her speak here twice. Cannot wait to read this one.

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  2. This sounds like a book to read. I dare say every woman has a story in her relationship with her mother. I’m always in awe how you so eloquently write your reviews. I’ve yet to master this skill. I read constantly, but I only managed to put up one review on Good Reads. 😦

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    • I am sure we all do Brenda and reading about mothers and daughters is something we never tire of. I like that she has waited to tell this story, it seems appropriate to appreciate it from a distance, when she is as her most wise. Food for thought. Like waiting for the fruit to ripen before picking. All the sweeter for having waited.

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  3. I absolutely love Maya and had the privilege of hearing her speak at my University as an undergrad which influenced my decision to focus on African America literature. Absolutely adore Zora Neale Hurston as well. Fabulous post! I have been trying to catch up on reading as I near the end of my hellacious semester. Say hi to Aix for me 🙂

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    • I can well imagine how listening to Maya Angelou may have changed the course of many young people’s lives and even some older ones too. I hope you steal time to read this one Jesse. Your spirit has been here with us recently and the postcard will provide you with the evidence 🙂

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  4. 1. Was there ever a more inspiring woman? Her voice is soft and gentle and her words full of power and strength. I look forward to this read.
    2. I could not agree more with Brenda and her comments about your reviews. 🙂

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    • I’m hard pressed to think of another example of a voice whose words are so soothing and whose vision is so embracing and accepting. Rather than being abandoned, I feel sure she was rescued for those years – evidenced by the dreadful experience she did have when she returned to her mother prematurely.
      Thank you to you and Brenda for your own kind comments, it’s all the more pleasurable to write knowing it is being shared with like-minded souls around the world, that’s a magic of its own.

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  5. Although in European time it was April 5 when I wrote this, it may still have been April 4 in the US, where Maya Angelou was celebrating her 85th birthday!

    Happy Birthday Maya Angelou! Thank you for the gift of your words.

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  6. For some reason I don’t read much autobiography, or non-fiction for that matter, but this sounds like a wonderful book. I love the writing in the quotes you’ve used – very honest and beautiful.

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    • I think Maya Angelou is one of the original memoir writers, there’s a purity in what she writes and it gets better with every book she pens. She also keeps it short and succinct, making one appreciate every word, word by word 🙂

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  9. Hi
    I’m just halfway through Maya Angelou’s Mom & Me & Mom. Curious to read what The Guardian thought when I came across your link, so, Hi! Definitely,it ‘forces’ me to look at my own relationship with my mother, and making me to realize that there are issues still yet to be solved. But I hope, just like Maya, I can forgive her and realize that she is a ‘bag’ of contradictions and a product of her environment. It’s not totally her fault!

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    • I think it is amazing that Maya Angelou has shared how her perceptions and feelings towards her mother have changed since she first wrote about her years ago. She certainly had reason to feel angry, hurt and disappointed, but she shows us that with years, with love, compassion and wisdom, all hurts can be overcome and the person doing the forgiving benefits by receiving a wonderful feeling of peace and lightness I am sure. Carrying any kind of hurt or grudge is a burden and I find her example inspiring. Her message to us all to love our children no matter what is especially poignant. Putting ourselves mentally in the shoes of the other helps us to get there. Thank you so much for leaving your comment and I hope you enjoy the rest of the book. She is a gifted woman indeed.

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  10. I call this your prophetic review, Claire. A warm and lovely tribute to an icon of the ages. She has just taught me to exercise patience with my children, all boys in my case. And so God help me. I will. 🙂

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    • Did you listen to the interview Celestine? The first time I watched it and listened to her speak of exercising patience with children it made me tear up, it is so true, it is the only way to teach them kindness, tolerance and empathy. She was such an altruistic soul, we are so fortunate she has left us with so much in her words alone. I still feel very sad though.

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