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I’ve had a book idea rummaging around in my head for about a year now. I even went so far as to create a book proposal (grueling work!) and send it to four Christian literary agents. The two agents that responded to me said, Important topic, excellent writing, tight market, please don’t give up. Translation: no. Yet, God didn’t remove the thoughts from my head. No, She (God, that is) moved things around a bit and kept the call to write the book on my heart.

“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input.

"Migrant Mother"  Florence Owens Thompson with her three children during the Great Depression, 1935. (Photo credit: Dorthea Lange)

“Migrant Mother” Florence Owens Thompson with her three children during the Great Depression, 1935. (Photo credit: Dorthea Lange)

It’s an unwritten understanding that everyone seems to know. No direct lesson required. Not a soul ever sat me down in a chair for a good reckoning, making sure I got the foundational rule of the South through my thick skull. But I knew.

Don’t mess with Mama.

Mama is an institution. She even has her own sayings.

~~ “You kiss your Mama with that mouth?” Translation: Mama is so pure and perfect, you risk defiling her by kissing her with lips that speak profanity.

~~ “That’s so good, it’ll make you slap your Mama!” Translation: The quality of whatever you’re eating, drinking, or experiencing causes you to do something you’d never do. It’s that good.

~~ “If you wanna get in good with your man, get in good with his Mama.” Translation: A girlfriend, fiancée, or wife must always know her place — second to her man’s Mama.

~~ “Step on a crack, and you break your Mama’s back.” Translation: step, jump, take a running leap — do whatever you must to avoid the cracks! As silly as this childhood rhyme might sound, why take the chance at hurting Mama?

Mama is, quite undeniably, the most important person in our lives. We knew her, and she knew us before anyone else was aware of our existence. Her availability to us (or lack thereof) makes an indelible imprint our lives. A loving, attentive, and nurturing mother shapes a secure person who is able to love self and others, empathize, and play. An unemotional, neglectful, or even abusive mother shapes a person who is a shadow of who she or he is meant to be. Fear, self-doubt, and an insatiable craving for love consume the undermothered.* And of course, there is a range of functional and dysfunctional mothering and healthy and impaired children and adults. Whether she desires to have it or not, Mama has much influence on the lives of her children.

Country, Jazz, and Gospel music, all born in the South, each croon about Mama in their own way. She is the bedrock of the community, the one who keeps the family together, kids on the straight and narrow, God in the home, and her husband in line. Somehow bleeding stops and boo-boos (including hurting hearts) heal at the touch of her kiss. Her kindness is like that of no other, her voice more beautiful than a nightingale’s when she sings her children to sleep. Mama’s smile is a warm blanket, and her nurturing heart is the comfy bed that you curl up into.

A mother bear and her cub (Photo credit: Beth Fields)

A mother bear and her cub (Photo credit: Rachelle Fields)

And yet she is fierce as all get-out when someone fiddles with her cubs. Teeth bared, eyes on fire, claws swiping, standing to full height, and unleashing her growl. Stand back, because Mama Bear is on the loose. And if it’s her own cubs who have gone and done wrong, Mama growls at them.

Only God deserves more respect. It might just be a tie between God and Mama who you’re supposed to fear the most. Priests, pastors, and Sunday school teachers wax poetic and use lots of feeling words to describe how our sins break God’s heart. People just shake their heads when someone makes their Mama cry — speechless, except for the “shame on you” spoken in sighs, and “sucks to be you” transmitted eye to eye.

You don’t talk bad about Mama. You just…don’t…do…it. No one’s Mama is perfect. We all know that. But discussing Mama’s imperfections beyond blowing off a bit of steam is strictly taboo. If someone goes off on a rant against Mama, an awkward tension fills the air. Listeners can only take so much. Feet shuffle. Necks suddenly need rubbing. Eyes search for anywhere to gaze other than the speaker. “Alright, give it a rest,” someone will say. “You know you’re talking about your Mama, right?”

It’s just the way it is. As some Southerners say, “Nuff said.”

Admittedly, I am a white, middle class, Gen X, Southern woman. (Well, actually, I’m Texan. I don’t hail from the Deep South. Texas is sort of a world of its own.) I wonder if this Mama reverence is the same in other parts of the United States, and within other cultures. I wonder if the sacredness of Mama is an international phenomenon. I honestly would love to know.

Questions for y’all: Have you noticed Mama reverence in your community? Is it universally understood and followed? What unspoken values, rules, or even taboos surround Mama within your culture? Sound off in the comment box!

*More on insufficient mothering/being undermothered in upcoming posts.