Motherhood: an Intimate Portrait
1 boy (5), 1 girl (9)
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll make it through this. I can’t help thinking about the woman I met six months ago, who said she had three children, technically four, but one—her daughter—has been missing for so long that it feels like only three. Who would have thought that when her daughter asked her to keep the children for a while because she needed a break, that “a break” would mean twenty-five years. Who would have thought that the last person who saw her would be a neighbor, peeking through the blinds, watching as she tossed three packed suitcases into the trunk of a mustard yellow Camaro in the middle of the afternoon, and drove off into forever with a man that wasn’t her husband, the house behind them in the distance full of only the things she couldn’t carry or didn’t want at all.
I don’t know which is harder: to raise my daughter in a misogynist society that sees her—us, women in general, black women in particular—as nothing but flesh, deserving of abuse or servitude or both, always good enough to follow but never good enough to lead; or my son in the same society that urges him to be the macho misogynist; a low achieving, low expectation, low morale society that never puts its money where its mouth is; one that wants nothing from the black man but buffoonery, always putting black men in dresses and calling it entertainment or behind bars and calling it justice.
African American parents bear a burden unlike any other. There are so many layers we must dig through, analyze, inspect before we can ever get to the heart of a matter:
Did she not make the swim team because she’s black and better than half the children on the team, all of whom are white? Or was it really too late to apply?
Did they pass him over for the job because he’s black or is the other candidate truly more qualified?
Is the school failing because it’s predominately black and the expectation is low, or is it just a bad school with a bad administration and frustrated teachers?
Does he really have ADHD or is he being targeted because he’s black, misunderstood, bored in a school system that’s stuck in a time warp—a 24 year old inexperienced teacher’s daily target?
And when racism is the issue there is the work of dealing with that even before we can even get to helping our children. Not only does the work take time and sometimes money, it depletes the invaluable resource of emotional energy that could be better spent with our children—loving them, nurturing them, teaching them.
The Black mother rarely leaves the hospital nursery—newborn baby swathed in blankets, proud papa by her side—with this reality in her head. Somehow she envisions, or at least hopes for, a world better for her child; a world made better, now, because her child is in it. She has dreams, like all others, of her child being a business owner, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, an astronaut, a dancer, a writer—anything but another statistic. Anything but a caged bird behind wired bars; a body swinging from a pole in a dark, smoky nightclub full of salivating men waving wrinkled dollar bills. Anything but the name on a headstone, the bull’s eye target of a misguided bullet.
Never does she dream of the battle that it inevitably becomes, no matter what socioeconomic level she finds herself upon; never does she realize the switcheroo game she’ll be playing for the rest of her life—soft and nurturing one minute, battle gloves on the next.
We come from a tradition of excellence: of being better, expecting better, achieving better. We come from a tradition of community: each one, helping one. We come from a tradition of faith: we will survive. We are a people, and, as Alice Walker once wrote about her quest to find the burial place of Zora Neale Hurston, a people do not throw their geniuses away. Inside our homes, tucked in their beds, are geniuses in the making. Astronauts ready to make the next trek to the moon, engineers ready to design bridges and tunnels and roads, scientists ready to really cure diabetes, writers and thinkers and painters, ready to define what art truly is. That we are even here, at this moment, despite all the blows we’ve been given as a people, is a testament to the strength we have, to the champions we are; to that rod of steel placed in our backs from the very beginning, by our mothers and their mothers and their mothers too.
When I feel like I just can’t go anymore, I head to the corner, get a swish of water in my mouth through meditation, get my gloves tightened through prayer, even give myself a minute just to cry, to lighten this heavy load. Then I head back in, re-energized, re-focused and ready. Giving up is never an option. Not for me, not for my children, not for my ancestors, not for the generations to come. We are a people, and a people do not throw their geniuses away.