TODAY   |  April 04, 2013

Maya Angelou: My son is ‘my greatest gift’

The legendary author talks to TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager about her new memoir, “Mom and Me and Mom,” which candidly recounts her relationship with her mother, saying she knew what motherhood truly meant only when she had her own son.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we're back now, 8:37 with "today's" baby bump. maya angelou opened up about her complicated relationship with her mother in her new memoir "mom and me and mom." she recently sat down with jenna bush hager who, of course, is preparing to become a mom herself. good morning.

>> good morning, matt. people often ask dr. maya angelou how she became dr. maya angelou . her response, i became the woman i am because of the grandmother i loved and the mother i came to adore.

>> both large and small. and to the fabric of my psyche that i can hardly distinguish where she stops and i begin. the life lessons are highlighted in my memory. like technicolored stars.

>> it was a complicated relationship from the start.

>> you actually grew up with your grandmother.

>> yes, ma'am.

>> did you feel abandoned?

>> oh, yes, when i was 3 and my brother 5. my mother and father wanted to separate but neither of them wanted children. my grandmother said, send them to me. they put us on the train. me and bailey with tags on our arms.

>> your grandmother was like a mother to you, as well.

>> mama.

>> you called her mama?

>> yes.

>> so in some ways you had two mother figures?

>> i did. when i went to my mother at 13, i didn't understand, i didn't really like her very much.

>> and you weren't comfortable calling her mama?

>> no, i wouldn't call her mother .

>> but you did have another name?

>> yes, i called her lady.

>> and she asked me why. i said because you don't look like a mother . and you're very pretty. and you act like a lady. she said, all right. and she took that. and i liked her for that.

>> slowly, lady became more of a mom.

>> she sparkled. she seemed to give off and with her energy, she said she'd shake like that. she says i keep my motor running.

>> and her mom passed on lessons and words that would have a lasting impression shaping maya 's life forever.

>> i love when she said, baby, i'm thinking you're the greatest woman i've ever met.

>> that was amazing. i was 22 years old. i was 22 years old and i sat there thinking, you know, she's very intelligent. she says she's too mean to lie. so maybe, maybe i am going to be somebody.

>> maya learned what being a mother truly meant when she became pregnant at just 17.

>> she never made you feel bad.

>> ever. ever. my son was born, she said remember this, when you step over my doorstep going out, you've already been raised. you know the difference between right and wrong. baby, do right. that's all. and this, don't let anybody change you from that. you can always come home.

>> raising a son as a single mother changed maya 's perspective on life.

>> i found that it made me wiser and i had -- i had patience with him. the greatest gift i've ever been given was my son.

>> maya learned to be a woman from the generations who came before. and although she lost her precious mother to lung cancer , those lessons will live on forever.

>> i remember telling her you were a poor mother of small children. there's never been anybody greater than you as a parent from a teenager to young adult . it's time for you to go, i'm thankful to god that he let you give me birth and i have you for my mother .

>> and today is dr. angela's 85th birthday. she's celebrating with friends and still actively writing and teaching at wake forest university . she says she still thinks about her mom daily.

>> that's nice. and dr. angelou, happy birthday , you are a treasure.

>> happy birthday is right.

>> jenna, thank you, as well.