Cocoa Mary Poppins?

My mother is Mary Poppins. Instead of the wholesome, semi-Technicolor British version in the form of Julie Andrews, think of a five foot, shrill-voiced, 50-something East African native with more energy than the Energizer bunny, more sass than Madea, and more financial savviness than a working stiff on Wall Street. All these things are ok because my life as an estranged wife, disorganized mother, harried grad student, and disgruntled teacher needs fine-tuning and my mommy is the woman—has been the woman—who has worked wonders in getting my life in check.

In May 2008, after getting my master’s, my kids and I moved back to New Orleans, Louisiana where I was born and raised so that I could complete my graduate education. I made a conscious decision to apply to only one of two schools (the one closest to my town) that offered a PhD in English literature because I wanted my children to be with their grandmother, my mom, who still lived in the orange-shuttered home we moved into when I was 13, while I toiled the hours away teaching and researching and becoming an academic tool. My mom, who retired post-Katrina, has been a godsend not only to me but also to my children. She’s right there waiting to pick up my daughter at 2:15 when I have an afternoon seminar twice a week. She’s right there taking the clippers from my hand because I’m worried I will hurt my son’s scalp when I give him a haircut and proceeds to cut his hair with nick-free precision. She’s right there in the backyard tending to her plants while the kids are next to her blowing bubbles, and I’m peeking from behind curtains watching them as I write a 20-pager. There is no better assurance than to know that my children are in great hands. And this does not mean that their father is a complete absentee. Our divorce and child custody proceedings have made things less than amicable between us (yeah, that’s an understatement), and he travels a lot. But we are absolutely committed to working as co-parents—that’s our joint New Year’s resolution for 2010.

Going through a divorce while attending grad school and teaching, in addition to trying to be the best mother I can be, has been the most difficult thing I have ever done (and I have gone through two C-sections, ladies and gents), and there are plenty of days where I swear I cannot do it, and on these days, I think about my children, and how healthy, happy, and brilliant my rugrats are, and I push forward. And I absolutely could not do it without my best friend, my rock, and my mommy—my very own Mary Poppins—in my corner.