Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oprah, Maya Angelou, and Family Dysfunction- Sometimes I feel ...

 ...Like a Motherless Child.  Many moons ago I was humming this song, when my son asked me about the words. I explained that it was a song from slavery and I had seen it performed many times in dance by artists like Eleo Pomare and Alvin Ailey.  He found it very disturbing and asked me not to sing it.  I think he equated it with losing me or my mother, and felt it was bad vibes.  I have a wonderful mother so the song was not personal for me but it gave me a different perspective, and out of respect for him I refrained from singing it.

But the theme of motherless children is an undercurrent in the life of most African American families and this week it resonated with me for several reason.  It started when I watched Oprah's  Master Class on her new TV station OWN, where she interviewed Maya Angelou.  Ms. Angelou was so candid about her relationship with her mother. As she says, describing her early childhood, "my mother and father separated... and neither of them wanted me."  Fortunately, she had a paternal grandmother who was able to take her in and give her love.  Later, she was able to develop a relationship with her mother and forgive that early rejection.

The family drama continued with Oprah when she announced a surprise on her Oprah show, she had discovered that she had a half sister who she had never known.  This new sister had been placed in foster care forty odd years ago by her mother.  Oprah was open to the idea but seemed a little dazed.  Unfortunately, her mother was not able to fully embrace the child she left behind.  The story was so touching because it is the story of us, the story of America, the story of the world... secrets, surprises and family dysfunction.

In my own family, the stories of migration carry many stories of motherless children left or sent back to grandparents and aunties in Jamaica.  Then there are the stories of pain and resentment by grown children.  Just the other day my eighty something year old aunt told me, "my mother placed me in an orphanage as a baby but my father fought and got me out."  Several years later he passed away, and she was sent to Jamaica to live with her grandmother.  After all these years this was still a very significant part of her story, but now I finally felt she had an understanding and a forgiveness for her mother. This is a significant part of the healing that we need in all our families even if it takes decades.

Return to Children's Focus.

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