18 years old

This is the kind of post that when it first popped into my mind, I thought it too personal to write but I think it needs to be shared. If only because as a Black woman raising kids, I hope another sista can find encouragement. 18 years ago today I gave birth to my son, its been a long crazy trip and that is a understatement.

I was barely 19 when I gave birth to him which meant I was 18 when I learned I was pregnant. I was a married high school dropout having decided when I turned 18 that school sucked and that since I was an adult I was free to make my life choices. To say my parents were mad was a understatment but they understood they could not force me to go back to school, instead saying if I chose to live under their roof I needed to at least work since I refused to back to school. Well I agreed to that and for those first few months of being an adult, it felt good to work, well long story short I fell in love, we ran off and got married and just as the dust settled I discovered I was pregnant.

Um….having a kid was not part of my adult fantasy but as anyone who has been an adult any length of time knows, life happens. When I first got pregnant, I didn’t even have health insurance instead having to go to a free clinic on the south side of Chicago where I will never forget how the staff treated ame as if I was just another statistic. Young uneducated Black girl, most likely looking at a lifetime of poverty and a flock of babies presumably by many men. After all even though I was married, surely such a union would not last.

It was those experiences that on some level I am sure made an impression and led me to the work I later chose but that is another story. I remember the day that I gave birth, I was overdue and anxious to give birth though scared as hell…after all I didn’t know jack about babies. Obviously I learned about them quick fast and in a hurry since my folks had made it clear that even then it did not look like my fledgling marriage was going to survive but that they had no desire to be raising babies. So going home was never an option. Regular readers and folks who have known me in real life in later years are aware that my son has lived with his Papa for a while but in the early days it was him and I. Even with his Dad, I have always been around so never have I not been in his life and mothering is a job that can still be hands on even if you are not in the same physical space.

Today though I reflect on the past 18 years as my son officially enters what we call adulthood in this society and think about how in many ways we have gone against the odds. He just submitted his last college application and at the last moment decided to audition for several prestigious drama programs, we don’t yet know where he will be in the fall but I do know where he won’t be. Locked up. See, the odds say that based off where I started this journey my son who while technically biracial is considered Black in the eyes of many should not be on the journey he is on.

Recently my son shared a sad tale about one of his boys, a kid he met a couple of years ago when he moved out to the Midwest who got caught up in some bullshit. This boy was one of the first friends my son made, a good kid who life dealt  a rough hand and now he sits in a cell. My son as he shared this story was visibly shaken wondering how a kid could end up in such a place. As I reminded my son, it’s all too easy it seems for Black boys to end up that way which is why his father and I have always been hyper vigilant in raising him. Hell, just a couple years ago here in Maine my boy had his first run in with the police coming home from the local sandwich shop. Cops stopped  him and thought he fit the description of a suspect who turned out to not look a damn thing like my boy starting with the fact the suspect was white and my son is not. It was a scary few moments but after the cops brought him home and talked to the Spousal Unit, it was cleared up. Of course not before my son had to endure his first and I pray only ride in the back of the cop cruiser. We have often talked about how when you are a young Black man even a simple walk to get a cheese steak sandwich can take a wrong turn.

No, in this society raising a young Black man who can reach 18 and have his head on straight and direction in his life is not something gets nearly enough attention. Instead we hear about the cats who do bad or we think Drake and Lil Wayne are examples of young Black manhood. I know there are plenty of boys like my son at 18 but we just don’t hear enough about them. Young men raised in a variety of ways who don’t end up in jail cells or as rappers which seems to be the most common media perceptions of young Black men.

I am reminded that just because we start this race in last place though does not mean we will continue the race in last place. In some ways I am still the same girl I was 18 years ago today but in many ways I am not. I have grown, my son’s birth and presence in my life was the initial flame that made me reach for more. I had to choose did I want our lives to be the  prophecy many thought it would become? Of course not.  On the other hand I also know we did not get to this place alone, despite the ups and downs of our relationship, I strongly believe the presence of his father in his life has been a key ingredient. My own father was the one who told me he needed his Dad and I do think its true. I know his father loves hom and while not always right has tried to do the best he can.

Anyway enough of the personal ramble, as a Mama I am in full weepy mode today but I know this is only the beginning of a new journey for my son. I look forward to what I am sure will be an evolving relationship filled with its own ups and downs for him and while as Mama I never want my babies to hurt, I know its part of life.  But for today we see joy and happiness.