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

Wednesday Wise Woman

Frida Kahlo

1907 – 1954 | Mexico | Painter

At the age of fifteen, Frida was accepted into Mexico’s prestigious prep school where she was one of thirty-five girls out of 2000 students. At eighteen she was involved in a terrible accident that would leave her with pain and physical disabilities for the rest of her life.

DK Books: Women

In 1929, she married Mexico’s famous writer Diego Rivera, and theirs was passionate and stormy relationship.

Without any formal art training, her work was exceptional. She painted mostly self-portraits and her pieces explored sexuality, feminism and identity.

In the 1940s she began showing her work internationally and in 1953 she held her first major solo exhibition.

Although she became bedridden, she continued to work and could be found in bed with her easel on her lap, painting away.

Frida Kahlo

Source: Girls Who Rocked The World – Michelle Roehm McCann & Amelie Welden; Women – DK Books

My Book Wish List

Since my focus has been on reading more books by women, for women and about women, I’ve noticed how lacking my bookshelf is. It’s really not supporting my mission, so my collection is about to change. Some of the authors I’m adding to my wish list are popular and some I discovered through research.

Here are some of the books I want to add to my reading list.

Sojourner Truth

She was a women’s rights activist and abolitionist, who was born into slavery but managed to escape. The book I’m adding is The Book of Life.

“You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway”
― Sojourner Truth

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a civil rights activist, feminist, poet and essayist. Some of her titles that I wish to read are; Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, and The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
― Audre Lorde

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, essayist and activist. I want to read her famous book The Color Purple and some of her other works, Possessing the Secret of Joy and In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose.

“Resistance is the secret of joy!”
― Alice Walker

Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler was a science fiction author and from her list I’m adding, Kindred, Parable of the Sower and Bloodchild.

“I found that I couldn’t muster any belief in a literal heaven or hell, anyway. I thought the best we could all do was to look after one another and clean up the various hells we’ve made right here on earth.”
― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents

Nawal al Saadawi

She is an Egyptian writer, feminist and psychiatrist. I want to read God Dies by the Nile, Woman at Point Zero and The Hidden Face of Eve.

“She is free to do what she wants, and free not to do it.”
— Nawal El Saadawi (Woman at Point Zero)

Roxane Gay

She’s a feminist, social commentator, editor, professor and writer. I am adding Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body and Ayiti.

“I believe women not just in the United States but throughout the world deserve equality and freedom but know I am in no position to tell women of other cultures what that equality and freedom should look like.”
— Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist: Essays)

Betty Friedan 

Betty Friedan was a women’s rights activist, feminist and writer. I have always wanted to read her book, The Feminine Mystique and I am definitely adding it to my wish list.

“Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women’s intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love?”
— Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique)

Ama Ata Aidoo

She is a playwright, poet and author. I’m adding The Girl Who Can and Other Stories, Changes: A Love Story and An Angry Letter in January and Other Poems.

“Humans, not places, make memories.”
— Ama Ata Aidoo

bell hooks

bell hooks is a feminist, social activist, professor and author. I want to read Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, and Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood.

“No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough.”
— bell hooks (remembered rapture: the writer at work)

Virginia Woolf

Woolf was an English 20th-century author and I’m adding A Room of One’s Own to my list.

“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
— Virginia Woolf 

Janet Mock

Janet Mock is a transgender rights activist, director, producer and writer. I want to read her book Redefining Realness.

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. – Janet Mock

Zora Neale Hurston

She was a writer and anthropologist, and it’s definitely time for me to read her book Their Eyes Were Watching God.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
— Zora Neale Hurston

Margaret Atwood

She is a literary critic, essayist, novelist, poet and activist. I also want to hop onto that The Handmaid’s Tale train, and add The Testaments while I’m at it.

“I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.”
— Margaret Atwood

There are more authors I want to add, but as I keep reading and learning, I’ll keep adding more to my shelf. One can never read too many books. I’m excited and can’t wait.

What are you adding to your wish list?