The first time I broke Mama’s heart I was only four.
It was my first day of kindergarten, and when I saw the room full of kids my age playing with books and toys, I turned to her and said, “You can go now.”
“You can go now.”
A simple statement that carried a lot of weight.
Mama promptly drove to the nearby Winn-Dixie where she bought a dozen fresh glazed donuts and sat in her Monte Carlo and ate them, then proceeded to cry and chain smoke Virginia Slims until she could pick me up at noon.
She told me this tale years later, and at the time, I thought it was funny.
“Why in the world did that make you cry and eat a dozen donuts?” I asked. “And why didn’t you save me one?”
“It was the most upsetting thing you could have said to me ever,” she replied. “You just pushed me away and didn’t even look back.”
“Mama, I had been home with a bunch of adults up until that point. The only time I saw other kids was at church and since Granny ran the nursery, I thought I was second in command. I wanted to be a kid.”
I wanted to be, but was still like a bossy little mini-adult thanks to my environment.
“Why did that bother you so badly?” I asked.
“Because you didn’t need me,” she said.
“I was at school,” I stated.
“You didn’t need me.”
I thought she was over-reacting, as she sometimes can do.
There had been plenty of times I had needed her.
Whenever something happened, Mama was the first one I went to.
All the way through school and then college, I needed my Mama.
After I was married, I needed my Mama, even though there were times she was maybe not the happiest with my choices.
When I divorced, I definitely needed my Mama, but didn’t move home like she wanted me to do.
And after I remarried and later had my own child, I desperately needed my Mama.
Needing her didn’t mean I always agreed with her, or that things were always sweet tea and sugar cookies.
We’ve had some heated exchanges over the years, sometimes during the moments I needed her the most, usually brought on because we both have stubborn streaks.
One such occasion, I mentioned it to Granny, who was not surprised in the least.
“You know, she does the same thing to me,” Granny commented.
I was confused.
“When I try to help her, she gets all ornery and belligerent. Can’t tell her a dadblamed thing. Your mama knows it all. All of it.
“And to make things worse, if she was as smart as she thinks she is, she wouldn’t get in half the fixes she does. I’m gonna show her one day,” Granny declared.
“I’m not being ornery or belligerent,” I said defensively. Truthfully, I probably was. It’s kind of my default persona at times.
“You was most certainly being that way,” Granny said. “Just like your Mama can be. I’m gonna show her one day. Bobby, too.”
This was the second time she had made that threat so I knew she wanted me to notice.
“What are you gonna show them exactly?” I asked.
“That they are worthless without me and can’t function on their own. If it weren’t for me, none of y’all would know what to do.”
This was a familiar refrain that Granny had sung over my lifetime, that none of us would know what to do without her.
She wasn’t too wrong, either, but at the time, she thought she was going to take her old people money and live high on the hog in some assisted living center, free from having to tell Mama and my uncle what to do each day.
Despite her blunt and harsh way of expressing it, she just wanted to be needed.
And maybe for us to know we needed her.
Granny wasn’t the best communicator, expecting us to read her mind the way she could ours.
Mama needed to be needed that first day of kindergarten.
Since becoming a mom, I get it myself, feeling that loss of self now that my own child is a teenager who knows everything and only needs me when money is involved.
Suddenly, in perfect hindsight -- God forbid I say 20/20 though -- I realized why my Mama sat in that parking lot and ate a dozen donuts.
It just didn’t hit me until now.
We always need our mamas.
But we need to remember, they need to know they are needed too.