Motherhood, in ‘Mom & Me & Mom’ by Maya Angelou

“My mother’s gifts of courage to me were both large and small. The latter are woven so subtly into the fabric of my psyche that I can hardly distinguish where she stops and I begin.”
― Maya Angelou

I’ve read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and A Song Flung Up To Heaven, two of the seven books of Maya Angelou’s autobiography series. This one, Mom & Me & Mom still tells her story but with her mother as the backdrop.

After a failed marriage, Vivian Baxter and Bailey Johnson sent three-year-old Maya and her five-year-old brother Bailey Junior to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. At thirteen she moved back to California to live with her mother.

Mom & Me & Mom takes from Maya’s journey to appreciating her mother, and how their relationship grows. Vivian Baxter may have been a terrible mother to toddlers but she was an exceptional mother to this young woman, Maya. When her brother wants to know why she left them, her honesty teaches us something about parenthood and its struggles:

“I would have been a terrible mother. I had no patience. Maya, when you were about two years old, you asked me for something. I was busy talking, so you hit my hand, and I slapped you off the porch without thinking. It didn’t mean I didn’t love you; it just meant I wasn’t ready to be a mother.”

This is one of my favourite parts of the story, this honest explanation. There’s this general belief that once one becomes a mother, she automatically connects with her child, and being the best mother will come naturally. That’s far from the truth. Eggs may be ripe, the machine may work right, the womb might be warm and cosy enough but motherhood is not for everyone – some shouldn’t be mothers, some learn along the way, some struggle to even connect with their children for a while.

One also has to appreciate how she re-enters her children’s lives. She doesn’t use her title as a mother to reclaim some ruling spot in their lives, by forcing the relationship or forcing to close the gap between their time in Arkansas and when they return to California. She just begins to mother them, as best as she can.

The story is so moving in how her mother becomes her rock through everything. At the different stages in her life, from when she went to live with her, Ms. Baxter was there and when she wasn’t physically there Maya could always pick up the phone and her mother could straighten things.

However, things don’t turn out as wonderful for her brother Bailey Junior, as they do for Maya. The maternal neglect doesn’t go away for him no matter what efforts their mother puts in. He goes through a troubled journey, drugs, and for him, the wound doesn’t seem to heal.

Things turn out differently for Maya. You can tell from their journey together that her mother played a pivotal role in shaping the Maya Angelou that the world got to know. If you think Dr. Angelou was a phenomenal woman, then read this book and meet Vivian Baxter, a mother a lot of us need.

“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.” – Vivian Baxter to Maya.

The autobiography:

  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
  • Gather Together in My Name
  • Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas
  • The Heart of a Woman
  • All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes
  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven
  • Mom & Me & Mom

Review: A Song Flung Up To Heaven by Dr Maya Angelou.

Before reading A Song Flung Up to Heaven, I had only read the beloved I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This was after I had found her poetry online, seen her in movies and watched her beautiful poetry videos. I read this right after watching her Netflix documentary, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise three times. Yes, three times. This book is the sixth in her autobiography series.

A Song Flung Up to Heaven begins with Dr Angelou returning to the States from Ghana, where she is leaving her son behind, and a husband she is separated from. She’s returning to work with Malcolm X at his foundation, the OAAU, but not long after her return and before she’s even had the opportunity to meet up with him, Malcolm is killed. Dr Maya shares her pain and grief, and the disappointment she had at people for their inaction.

Malcolm X. Image: This is Africa

She takes us from San Francisco after hearing the news, to Hawaii where she realises that singing for convenience does not help. She then leads us back to LA where we see how the American system seeps into the lives of black folks. As her story progresses we discover how her writing journey unfolds and we meet all the incredible people who helped her along the way, such as James Baldwin. Another tragedy finds her when just as she prepares to move to New York to go work with Martin Luther King, she receives the news that he has been killed.

Martin Luther King. Image: Brandeis

It’s Dr Angelou’s openness and honesty about her life that makes for such as wonderful read. I love her stories because of how they leave me when I’m done. She was a black woman, who had so many obstacles, tribulations, grief, and disappointments but she chose to confront the world with a different attitude. It’s inspiring. Her story also lets us in on the American people and what they went through, but not in a depressing fashion. Her intelligence and exuberant personality shine through in this account of her life. It’s incredible. It ends with her starting the first sentence of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Perfect!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: A Song Flung Up to Heaven

Author: Maya Angelou

Published: 2002, Random House

Genre: Autobiography

10 Books I’ve Read More Than Once

“There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become a part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.”
― Gail Carson Levine

These are books I loved so much I just had to start again from the beginning and read like it’s my first time. Some of them I read at a young age when I didn’t fully understand and got to enjoy them even more as I got older. Others I consult, I carry them around for a while and when in need of help, I go through specific chapters or start from the beginning and read through to the end.

10. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This is a masterpiece. One of the greatest gems in African literature. I’ve probably read it five times or more. It is the only book by Achebe I’ve read and I recently got two others which I look forward to reading.

9. Manuscript Found in Accra and Brida by Paulo Coelho

I read it twice and that was probably the last time I read any of his work. I’ve read a few others and I started finding a lot of repetition in his work. His work is phenomenal but once you’ve read six or more of them, it’s okay to explore other authors.

8. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

I don’t know how many times I’ve read it. I keep going back to it because some of the poems are so therapeutic and I can use some of them as a form of counseling.

‘do not look for healing
at the feet of those
who broke you”
― Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell

I must have read this five times. It’s an excellent book, it teaches a lot and it’s so real, in that what it talks about still exists. It’s also short and very easy to read.

6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I was moved by her story and also enjoyed her style of writing. I read it three times. It was so raw, honest and not self-piteous at all. She was truly a phenomenal woman.

5. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

I have read it three times. I don’t agree with a few things in it but most of it has a way of getting me back on track and helping me find a sense of direction.

4. Maru by Bessie Head

I’ve probably read this one more than ten times. It was the prescribed reading in my eleventh and twelfth grade so I had to read and master it. I got a copy, years after high school and read it four times. Give me a copy now and I will devour it like it’s my first time.  

3. Mhudi by Sol Plaatje

I borrowed this book from my friend in 2013 and I still have it. I know, I’ve committed a crime in the bibliophile community constitution. I will return it. I just love the book because it’s so close to home – South African book and my people, Batswana, are in it. The writing, as well as the story, is exceptional. I read it twice.

2. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

1. Marabi Dance by Modikwe Dikobe

My absolute favourite. One of the books that made me fall in love with reading and start thinking of writing. I must have read six or seven times, and that was at a young age. I’d love to read it again now and see how I understand it, and how I enjoy it.