When George Floyd Called For His Mama, I Felt Pain — Because I’m Someone’s Mama
By Vanessa Magic
PHOTO © Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images
Jun 10, 2020
In George Floyd's final moments, he said my favourite word.
Like many of you, I watched the video of George Floyd, with a knee pressed against his neck, telling the police officers he couldn’t breathe. My emotions overtook me when I heard him cry out for his mama before he died. My son uses this word every day. He says, "Can you read this, Mama?" Or "Will you dance with me, Mama?" And my favourite four words ever put together: "I love you, Mama."
"Mama" is not formal like "mother," which adorns the cards I’ve been receiving for the last four years. It’s not whiney like "mommy," which often gets used to define childhood issues. To me, "mama" is a word that makes the sun shine through the darkest storm.
When my child calls "Mama!" in the middle of the night, I bolt up, my heart races, I rush to his room and I ask him what’s wrong. Sometimes he’s too hot, or he’s thirsty or he’s had bad dream. Whatever it is, I hold my baby in my arms and I make sure he knows, he will be OK.
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My heart swells with pride and adoration when he says, "I love you, Mama." I reflect on the moment I took my final push, and I saw his full head of hair, heard him cry and watched him breathe for the very first time. I knew my world would never be the same.
"The idea that I could receive a call from someone saying my son was murdered by the very people who swore to serve and protect him is beyond devastating."
I think of the sensations that run through my body now, when my son falls off his bike and scrapes his knee. Or when daycare calls to say I need to pick him up because he isn’t feeling well — how my heart stops, and my stomach gets queasy wondering if he’s all right.
I worry a lot, it’s a huge part of motherhood. I know there are things I can’t control or anticipate. I know that I can’t protect my child from every potential threat. But the idea that I could receive a call from someone saying my son was murdered by the very people who swore to serve and protect him is beyond devastating.
I know my son won’t call me "mama" for long. He is going to get older, grow bigger and start saying "mom" — because that’s what I did, and that’s what kids do. After watching that video and seeing George Floyd’s photo plastered on social media feeds, I think about how defenseless this six-foot-four, 46-year-old man must have felt, unable to breathe, handcuffed, face down in the street, calling for the person he wanted most. And my heart breaks. It breaks because it just keeps happening.
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I cry more than I ever did in my life now that I’m someone’s mama. I cry harder for all the moms who have had their children taken away unjustifiably over simple things, like $20 bills, or wearing hoodies or having broken taillights.
Then my sadness turns to anger. It’s hard for me not to be angry wondering when the next death will be the last one. It’s hard for me not to be enraged thinking about all the mothers unable to help their children when they’re forced into situations they can’t escape. It’s distressing to think after they die, you have to see your child in every newspaper and on every news station. That you will never be unable to escape the trauma of not being with your baby as they took their last breath.
"These days when [my son] cries, I hug him a little tighter."
I start to spiral, wondering if people would be kind to my child. If they would reach out their hand when he is in trouble. If they would film what’s happening, so my child will be believed. If they would take to the streets and march every day and night until his name was not forgotten.
My child will be starting kindergarten this year. I feel anxious and concerned, wondering what the world will look like for him as he grows up. Will the world make him feel safe or will it remind him that his skin could be deadly? Will other mamas teach their children to stand up for those who can’t because it’s the right thing to do? Will they have conversations about racism? Will my son be able to feel like he can grow up to be anything he wants?
These days when he cries, I hug him a little tighter. When he asks me for help, I try to be as present as possible. And when he says he loves me, I make sure I look in his eyes and tell him "I love you more." Because the thought of my child dying unjustly in the street, without knowing the feeling of my love surrounding him, is a pain too hard to bear.