Mama Did Her Best

Mama was so beautiful. She did her best.
Photo Source: Vexteo Media Group, LLC. Anna Leary.

Anna Leary – Now, like I said before: I come from a long-line of untouched greatness, untapped potential, and unrecognized royalty. And because of that, I have edited/rewritten this piece — the first round was the stuff I really have processed in therapy now and it was just *mean* as my spouse put it.


My mama may not have been “book smart”, but she had so many street smarts. She was insanely crafty. She was so resourceful. She had a shitty start to life and she pulled herself up in all kinds of really brilliant ways. She never stopped hustling.

Her birth parents couldn’t raise her, so she lived with foster parents. Her foster parents wanted to adopt her, but her birth parents wouldn’t allow it. They were just cruel. As a parent of an adopted child, I cannot even imagine my son just out there lingering in the “system.”

I need to stop and process the weight of this right here. That I am actively raising an adopted child. My oldest sister is raising an adopted child (after losing her oldest son to gun violence). And we are paying forward that love and full-inclusion that Mama always deserved but didn’t receive.

(Sidenote: I just noticed that I used past tense for my mom above but she’s still living. We don’t really talk much anymore, but more on that another day.)

I’m the baby of my mom’s three children and don’t remember her foster parents, Jimmie and Toad. All I know are the stories that Mama told me. Toad was a barber and Jimmie was a big lady who liked to cook. Jimmie would warm bricks on the stove and wrap them in foil and put them under the covers at the foot of the bed in the winter to keep Mama’s feet warm when she slept.

She once told me that her birth mother once tried to get her to drink bleach. That story always broke my heart and as a mother myself now, I quite literally can’t even imagine having that much hate and hurt in my heart to want to harm my own child that way. Mama knew that her mother was trying to kill her, even as a small child.

My mom and I have a really complicated story. It has so many layers, deep deep deep layers. It has a lot of years and hurt and pain and betrayal and role reversals and lack of understanding. I think I can see my mom more clearly now as a parent of two kids.

She never felt as if she truly belonged. She lived her entire childhood in limbo. Her foster parents were wonderful, from what I’m told. But there just had to have been a still, small voice that told her that no one REALLY wanted what was best for her.

Mama then had two marriages that failed. She has three daughters and we’re all our own sort of emotional struggle-bus riders. But, I think it can all come back to that single moment in time: when Little Mama wasn’t loved and held and accepted and truly fostered and protected.

My sisters and I have our own strained relationships amongst ourselves as we weren’t really raised with the most healthy relationship role models (if you’ve forgotten, please see above about Mama not having any love as a foundation as a child and then failed marriages). I do know that we are raising our kids with a fierce kind of love and protection because even if we can’t adequately put words around it, we’re paying an homage to Little Mama and trying to heal the rip in time when that little girl in the 1940s was left standing alone, chased with a high heel shoe brandished as a weapon, enticed to drink a lethal dose of bleach, and quite literally left out in the cold with nowhere to go.

We can heal the past with our futures. This I know as truth.


This can apply to everything: wealth inequality, racism, climate change. We are our own Future-Saving vessels. Our children can truly save the world — we just gotta love ’em and show ’em the way.

We’ll come back to Mama later, I’m sure. She’s a fascinating lady and I want you to understand her and learn from her too.


Anna Leary is a mom to two amazing kids and is thankful each and every day for redemption and the opportunity to say, “I’m sorry. I messed up.” She also brews her own cold brew *gallons* at a time. Did she mention she’s a parent to two small children?!