This piece by Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine is the third and final one in our Mother’s Day series exploring how becoming a mother to daughters can change your view of your own mother.

Growing up my mom was always present. She was always there when we got home from school to chase us to our rooms to do our homework, or remind us to wash our uniforms or polish our shoes. Some days she would be parked outside the school gate in her little blue Mazda waiting to pick us up, or she would be at home, ready to receive us with a home-cooked meal.

My mom did work half days but it never impacted on her presence. Even when she was working, I never felt her absence. But I know she felt the pressure to perform both at work and be there for her family the same way I do – like all working mothers do.

As a single mom, raising two little girls, I don’t know how my mother raised four daughters. All those heads to plait each Sunday, all those homework assignments to assist with, all those meals to cook. My dad was not an absent father, but he was a workaholic – he had to be.

I get home from work sometimes and want to weep thinking: do these kids have to eat every night?

As I sit and write this, my phone keeps lighting up with messages from the two schools my daughters attend. There’s the reminder about the Mother’s Day celebration tea that we need to bring cakes or savoury treats for. And then there’s Sports Day this weekend and the girls must wear a green T-shirt”(Ruby doesn’t have a green shirt in her wardrobe, which means I’ll have to go and buy one), and then the raffles we’re harassed to complete and hand in asap because the “Grade 3s have already raised R4000 and the Grade 2s need to step up their game”.

When my phone is blowing up with “Noted” and “Thank you will do” and “Received” notifications from the 50-odd parents on the class groups, I think of my mother and how cool and calm she always was. I don’t remember her ever raising her voice. Except maybe the one time she chased my sister Zanele around the house with a wooden spoon threatening to give her a hiding. I don’t recall what Zanele did.

Me, I silently simmer while reading the messages. I refuse to acknowledge the Whatsapp moms – I skip over to Twitter or Facebook or my friends to whinge. But mostly, I just read the messages, and remember that my mom did not allow social pressures and soccer moms to make her do things she had no time, inclination or energy to do. From volunteering at the school tuck shop, to baking cakes for the class birthday parties (times four daughters, can you imagine?) to the buying of fabric and sewing of school-play and gala-cheerleading outfits. My mom would simply say, “I’m not available”. Not her exact words but that was she meant. This is how she maintained her sanity as a mother of four.

Motherhood means juggling all those requirements with the other parts of my life.  Writing stories at night before my nine-to-five starts in the morning and baking a cake for the class (I decided to buy it as my Mother’s Day gift to myself). One day this week I had two events to attend, two important meetings to prep for, a contract to lock down over Skype, and a birthday present to buy for a four-year-old’s birthday party, while making sure dinner is prepped in my absence.

I’m pretty good at saying no and not feeling too badly about it. But my eldest, age seven, sometimes gets a look in her eye – the one that says: ‘But why can’t you come to the Mother’s Day tea? Why can’t you buy me soccer boots (so I can try out soccer for one term?!). I wish you could be like the mom who hangs around school gossiping with the teachers or makes sandwiches at Sports Days.’ I used to give my mom the same look, I know, and now I understand why she’d say, ‘I’m sorry about that my little one, but no.’

And then I see the look of pride when we drive into school singing along to Once by Ngaiire on top volume and all her friends swarm around her as she gets out of the car. “Hello Maya’s mom!” they shout. Or when I’m getting dressed for an event and she says, “Mom, you look beautiful. Can I have those earrings when I grow up?” And when she finds me typing away when she wakes up in the morning and says, “Mom, I can’t believe you got up before me! Can I read your story when you’re finished?” One day, I will read them all the stories I have written about them – including this one.

By writer Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine.

The first piece in the series, by Cheska Stark of KimmyandBear, explores how becoming a mother radically changed her view of her own mother.

The second piece, by writer and editor Lynette Botha, touches on the unique nature of a mother’s love.