A Black mama’s dilemma, or My private fears

It was a simple request and yet in asking my permission for what should be a natural progression, it triggered my worst fears on a week where news of Black and Brown girls gone missing in the nation’s capital is finally starting to get the media coverage it deserves.

After months of my parental nagging about getting involved in extracurricular activities at school, my daughter (who is now in middle school) wanted to learn about a possible activity but it required being at school a half hour earlier than the official start of school. Given our island residence, that meant getting up an hour earlier to take the earlier ferry to the mainland and rather than taking the school bus as usual, she and her friends would walk the mile or so to school at 6:35 in the morning. Her friends have done this trek before. Island kids before them have done this trek. Hell, it’s probably some type of rite of passage as an island kid. A chance to walk the city early, grab a doughnut and head to school sans the adults. A taste of freedom.  

Yet in my mind, all I could think about was the fact that at 6:30 in the morning, the city is just starting to stir as the street people start getting out and about; the same ones I have walked past who have made comments about my blackness. The ones who leer, the ones from whom I have made sure to keep my girl sheltered. In that moment, I was aware that her white friends don’t face the same challenges that she faces. Yes, there is the potential for leering and catcalls but there are the ones who also will single her out for her color in addition to her gender; the potential for people to single her out when they might not single out her other friends.

I reached out to the mom of one of the girls, who felt that with three girls making the trek, there would be safety in numbers. Also, her daughter, one of my girl’s closest friends, had done the walk before and knew the most direct route for avoiding the more unsavory elements that might be walking around at that early hour. I talked to my daughter’s dad who admitted that he had his concerns but that she is getting old enough to start being able to walk around on her own off the the island. I said yes, but not before giving a list of directives that including calling me as soon as she made it to school safely and that if she forgot, that would be a mistake she would not want to make.

In the end, the girls got up early, hopped the boat to town and the dad of one of the other girls gave them a ride to school, thus calming this anxious mama’s heart. Yet I know I cannot hold her as tightly as I have; I have to give her space to test her wings. In some ways, it was easier with her brother. The circumstances between his father and I demanded a trust that now seems naive in my middle age. Yes, I had fears for him but I always trusted that he would be okay. My son is my emotional and mental doppelganger. His warrior spirit was always present. My daughter’s warrior spirit is not yet present; she trusts in the goodness in the world and in people and until recently I have wanted to preserve that almost ethereal quality that has been present since birth.

Yet in a world that consumes Black women and girls with little regard for our spiritual, emotional and mental well-being, I find myself at the crossroads. As her mother, I must equip her with the tools to navigate this world but at times I fear that the harshness will be too much for her. At times the burden of Black motherhood feels to heavy to carry and yet my work isn’t only to love and nurture but to literally take her sweetness and stuff it down enough for her own survival. That is a task that no mother should have to consider but, for Black mothers, we do many things that our non-Black counterparts don’t have to do.

We live in a world that has little value for women and girls like us. I probably have written this more than a few times but with my daughter growing ever closer to the teen years, I feel a greater sense of urgency around just how undervalued we are in this society. I feel it in my own life, I see it in the lives of other Black and Brown women whom I know. Some days when I think too hard about how for most Black women our worth is only tied to our labor and what we can do for others, to quote Marvin Gaye, “it makes me wanna holler!” 

I want a better world. Not for myself but for the beautiful Black and Brown girls who deserve to stay cerebral and light throughout their lives instead of being forced into society’s roles and/or forced to adopt separate and unnatural personalities with which to protect themselves from the worst of society’s predations and oppression. I am not quite sure of how we get there but damn it, we have to keep trying. In the meantime, I will work on stuffing down my fears so that my daughter can start taking the baby steps she needs to make as she starts the transition to the teen years.
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Longing for Becky’s good hair, or hair and cultural occupation

Ever since dipping my toe briefly in the “mommy blog” waters a few years back and realizing it just wasn’t for me…plus things like increasingly bright spotlights on me as I became one of the “official” Black voices in Maine…I’ve begun to shy away from writing about my kids. But things eventually circle back on you and intersect no matter how hard you try to keep them discrete, and so let me talk about my daughter’s hair for a moment.

My recently turned 11-year-old increasingly tween girl had a hair crisis recently. I had let her take on responsibility for her own hair without my meddling (like braiding it at night before bedtime) and all seemed well, even if her desire for long hair almost always ended up with her making a big, uninspiring curly ponytail or letting her hair hang loose and long and coily once or twice a week when weather and such cooperated.

Some days back, she told me she had a knot she couldn’t get out. What she had, it turned out, were two large portions of hair that had dreadlocked, but not into organized locs. No, they were dread-clumps for lack of a better term. Turns out she wasn’t paying attention while brushing and when she thought she had all the tangles out, it turned out she had only gone halfway down her head.

I did some emergency deep conditioning but couldn’t loosen the dreaded hair. A couple days later, while she was with her dad for a few days, he went in with some products recommended by some of my Twitter followers and after more than three hours of intense work managed to loosen up most of the smaller clump and a very small amount of the large clump. The rest had to be snipped off, giving my girl the most asymmetrical look ever (and not in a good way) and an emergency trip to the hairdresser a couple days later to give her a short, bouncy bob-like cut to save what she had and set her up for a fresh start at growing.

She hated it. No matter how much me, her papa and one of her best friends told her how cute it was; how much it showed off her face and eyes and made her look older; how much easier it would be to take care of; and even that she didn’t have to love it, just accept that it was a flattering look she might not want to keep…she insisted on hating it.

She went out of her way to put her short hair into a ponytail one night and then let it loose when her daddy tried to talk her down from her hatred again, then fluff it out purposefully and claim she looked like Larry from the Three Stooges. Admittedly, she kind of did when she forced her hair to look that way but otherwise, she was a cute girl hearkening back to some of the short, cute, classy cuts of models in the 1920s but with a modern twist.

In the days since, she’s calmed down and, even if she might want to grow it out a bit still, she admits it has advantages and she likes it a little now.

That’s good, but it brings me to a place of remembering how much white standards of beauty drive us Black women…and our daughters…to places of self-loathing and hair choices that sometimes burn our scalps, leave us with early-life hair loss and more.

My daughter has always dug long hair. No matter that her hair isn’t that so-called “good hair” too many Black people still covet; she wanted it to hang long and not to have to go through hoops to keep it from dreading up. She always liked herself more when her hair was loose and long, even though shorter cuts and buns and pony-poofs and such were often much more flattering. Even her grand-dad (her white grandfather) has commented to my co-parent how he likes pictures of her with her hair down more.

This is a subtlety of white supremacy that too many of us, white or Black, don’t notice often enough. Black girls and women are reprimanded or punished at schools and workplaces still for things like dreads or afros, even though those are natural ways for their hair to grow when chemical straighteners aren’t involved.

I think my daughter wants long hair not so much because it’s a true desire, but because it’s a desire to fit in and adopt the prevailing cultural norm of society. Long hair, straight hair, etc.

It’s an insidious and real threat to the self-worth and self-images of ourselves and our daughters. How many of us truly want to have hair like white people, and how many of us just don’t want to stand out or be ridiculed? How many of use alter our hair to fit something unnatural to us just to be seen as more attractive when we’re already beautiful as we are and should be demanding to be seen as such?

I’m glad my daughter is beginning to like her shorter hair. I hope she begins to love it. More importantly, I hope that she soon embraces letting her hair be what it should be and helping it to stay there, rather than trying to force it into an unnatural mold.
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A rare reflection on almost 25 years of mamahood

I started this blog back in the golden era of the “mommy blogger” (way back in those ancient times of 2008) and despite achieving some recognition as a mom blogger, it was clear early on that writing about my kids just wasn’t a sustainable gig for me. I owe this in part to the fact that my kids were almost 14 years apart in age and my son was well into high school when I started blogging. Meanwhile, my daughter was a toddler and frankly there are only so many ways to spin a day in the life of a toddler so that it’s entertaining.

Over the years I have shied away from writing about my kids because really, their stories are not mine to share even when they affect me. Everyone is worthy of being allowed the space to shape their own story and to decide whether or not it is for public consumption; though occasionally I do share tidbits about my son’s music career and my now-tween daughter’s zany moments (right now Taylor Swift and Beyonce play on loops in my head thanks to her incessant need to sing their songs…Calgon take me away!).

However a recent visit with my adult son reminded me of just how fleeting our time is with our kids. Our culture dictates that for eighteen years, we provide material, emotional and mental support and guidance and then we send our precious children off into the world. Yet that supposed end is really just the beginning, what we are really doing in the first eighteen years of their lives is laying the foundation for the relationship that we will hopefully have with our kids for the rest of our lives.

In recent years, I have seen my own relationship shift with my father as sometimes it seems that I have become the parent as I guide him toward making what I hope will be the best decisions. And, at times, I have used my legal authority to make decisions on his behalf. Last year when my father was ill, many people asked if I felt put upon and truthfully, while I was frazzled at times, never once did it dawn on me to not be there for my father. I admit, there were some aspects of his hospital time that I really would prefer to forget forever!  Looking back, I attribute it to the fact that while my parents weren’t the best parents…they were young and broke; sometimes a tad too gruff…at the end of the day they laid the foundation that I carry with me everyday of my life. No matter what, there was love and care. It wasn’t perfect but it sustained and nurtured even in in the hard moments.

Over the past six years as my adult son has navigated early adulthood, I have come to realize just how important the foundation we lay with our kids really is and how little of it depends on any of the things that so many of us get wrapped up in, including yours truly. In the end, the latest gadget, shoe or trendy item is fleeting but the time and the love we give is what is often going to be remembered. They aren’t going to remember or really care that you co-slept, nursed or used cloth diapers but they will remember how you showed up and whether or not you were just going through the motions.  So many times I have felt that I have fallen short as a parent because I didn’t do XYZ but both as a parent and an adult child, I realize that the love we give and the respect and support that we give are the most important tools of parenting. They are the glue that keeps the relationship together as our kids go out into the world and form their own lives. It is often what we will be measured by when our kids grow up and decide if they want us in their lives. Space can always be made for the imperfect but rarely for the toxic and harmful.

At times, I feel like I have lived many lives in a scant 43 years, I have been twice married, buried a parent and seen most of my family die on me, thus becoming the matriarch of our little branch before the age of 35, I haven’t run  Fortune 500 companies but I have been responsible for several organizations nonetheless. Despite a less-than-privileged start in life, I eventually hit the adult “milestones” and as I grow older, I realize that so many of the trappings aren’t what make this life and this journey. Granted, the trappings can make the ride a bit more comfortable at times.

Watching my son, the man, navigate the world and looking at my daughter grow, I am reminded of just how fleeting this time is and how as they grow, we grow. It is that continual growth that hopefully keeps us all connected. Parenting is not for the rigid; it is never-ending and while the early years may be when we put in the physically grueling tasks that at times interfere with our core functions, one day those moments and actions will be blips in the grand scheme of things. Hug ’em, love ’em and cherish even the small tedious moments, as cheesy as it sounds. As for me, I might even try to sing along with one of these Beyonce songs but I am sorry Taylor Swift. Your music, I just can’t accept.
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