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Category: Mothering

She’s gonna be nine

She’s gonna be nine

In just a few days time, my daughter will be nine years old. She is shy and hilarious; inquisitive and grumpy. She is a self-professed cynic, and she loves animals, sometimes, I think, more than humans. If you know her then you know she’s a little different. A little quirky, perhaps, and her independent streak is fierce. She is a highly opinionated feminist. I love watching her play- bedecked in sequin garments- as she violently crashes her cars together, wrestles with the boys, and sends her Barbie dolls to boot camp where they train to fight. Yet she is such a gentle soul; so gentle that she has difficulty standing up for herself because she doesn’t like confrontation. I think her gray-green eyes are beautiful, and this is the part of her body that I have memorized best. Nine years in and I never tire of watching her sleep (probably because in her early years it was such an anomaly) and I think maybe I never will.

For me, motherhood runs on this strange clock, like something out of a Roald Dahl novel. At times, I’m certain its hands aren’t moving at all, and other times it feels like everything is happening in just seconds. It makes me feel like a hypocrite because I just can’t wait for her to grow up, but I’m trying to stall the process. I’m so curious as to what the adult version of her will be like that sometimes I forget to really treasure her as she is now. Other times, like when I look through her old baby clothes, or when a beloved toy has started collecting dust, I wish I could go back in time, even if just for a day, to hear her tiny voice, or just have her fit in my arms again. I think of all the pictures I have taken, and continue to take of her, and I realize that what I’m really doing is trying to capture the loss that is happening right before my eyes.

And so here I am, nine years a mother. Nine years of impressing myself with how great I can be, nine years of scaring myself at how awful I can be. Nine years of being at odds with myself in a way that only motherhood makes possible. Nine years of wishing my own mother were here so I could ask her, “How in the hell do you do this?!?!?” I think if my mother were here, she would tell me to laugh hard and love hard…and avoid talking to my kid until I’ve had my morning coffee. I think I can follow those rules. And I think, probably, my girl is going to turn out OK. She will continue to surprise me and make me question myself, and she won’t know it, but I’ll just keep growing alongside her.

 

The Gift of Restoration

The Gift of Restoration

I am a reluctant groupie. I do completely nonsensical things, along with my best friend, in order to see our favorite bands live, and I have a hard time owning this fact about myself. About a year ago my friend told me she was going to make a trip to Seattle to visit a friend, but she was waiting for our favorite band to announce new tour dates so she could also catch a show while there. When the dates were announced, I decided that I might have to get in on it too. This would not be the first time we have gone to such extremes and it’s probably not even the craziest thing we have done.  As luck would have it, I had enough airline points to fly for free, and even luckier the concert was happening during a three-day-weekend.

When we made these plans, I didn’t yet know how much things would be changing in my life. I didn’t know then that I was on the brink of having my world turned upside down. When the time came for me to actually go, I couldn’t muster up my usual level of enthusiasm. I’ve been stuck in a loop of sad-mad-scared-stressed and this trip was starting to feel like a really bad idea. Did I really need to be flying across the country to go to a concert with everything else I have going on in my life right now?

The answer was most definitely yes.

My time in Seattle was completely restorative. I was without my kid so I got an extremely rare break from being Mom. I got to go to an incredible show, which is my most favorite thing to do in the world. I got to see Kurt Cobain’s guitars and read pages from Jimi Hendrix’s diary at the EMP Museum. (Where else would groupies go on vacation?) I got to sit on a rooftop patio with my bestie, sipping cocktails and gushing like high school girls over the musician we had discovered the night before. Going through with this trip meant that I gave myself something I wasn’t even aware I needed.

I thought I had been taking pretty good care of myself. I have been reaching out to friends. I’ve been trying to be extra patient with my kid, knowing that she is also hurting. I have been listening to music, making time to write, and treating myself to ice cream a little more than usual. I have been taking the high road even when it has hurt like hell to do so. What I haven’t been doing is giving myself time to just step outside of my world. It’s a hard thing to do when I’m low on resources on all fronts. This past weekend, though, I was reminded of how good it feels, how necessary it becomes to allow time for escape, to allow room for nothing but those things that bring me joy. Obviously, I can’t just board a plane whenever the mood strikes, but I’m going to commit to giving myself permission to “check out” more often. If those times happen to coincide with a concert, well, that’s even better.

Getting Older

Getting Older

Tomorrow is my birthday. It will be 41 years since I was born, my birth being the one visible sign that my parents, at least at one point, really loved each other. It will be 41 years since my grandmother while away at a Baptist retreat, rushed back to town with equal parts joy and annoyance that I arrived early. It will be 41 years since my dad and grandfather made their peace with each other, my grandfather having to surrender to his immense love for me, whether my mom should have married that black man or not.

It’s incredibly heartwarming for me to think about how my family must have been at the time of my birth. I know how I felt when my own child was born and it amazes me to think that there were people who probably felt the exact same way about me once. I can’t help but feel loved when I think of what that moment must have been like, and it saddens me that none of those people are in my life anymore.

I know it is common for women my age to complain about getting older. (I’ll withhold my comments on patriarchy.) I do not, however, have a problem with aging. OK, so I do have more aches and pains than I used to. If I stay up past midnight I am a complete mess the next day. And the day after that. I don’t think I could lose weight if I was wrapped entirely in Saran Wrap for a week, eating nothing but celery and lemon water, permanently affixed to a treadmill. And even though I tell myself that I am going to accept the gray hairs because I refuse to be vain, I just can’t help but yank them out sometimes. The wonderful thing about aging, though, is that the level of just-don’t-give-a-fuck goes through the roof. (I hesitated to write the word “fuck,” but I felt like doing so illustrates the point beautifully.) I’m not sure why it took 40 years for me to get to this point, but I feel pretty confident in saying there is nothing better than feeling comfortable in my own skin.

I will admit that sometimes I think it’s strange that we celebrate birthdays.  I mean, is there anything more egotistical than throwing a party just to acknowledge the fact that we were born? Do we really need to feel that special? Then again, who doesn’t like a reason to eat cake? I realize, of course, that what birthday celebrations are really about are telling the people we love how grateful we are for their lives. It’s hard to take a curmudgeonly stance with that in mind.

It is true that for every birthday of mine, I feel a little pang of sadness. Birthdays make me miss my family pretty badly, and it’s hard for me to not think about what I have and haven’t done with my life.  This year, with the impending divorce, there is a whole different layer of sadness. I am again having to accept that birthdays are going to be a little different from now on. Tomorrow, though, I will spend the evening with dear friends, eating good food, and hearing live music. Saturday, Simi and her dad are going to attempt to make me a cake. I know there will be phone calls and Facebook messages, and I am going to feel like people are grateful for my life. Really, how could it not be a happy birthday?

Making It Official

Making It Official

In 24 hours I will be sitting in a stranger’s office, making it official. My marriage is ending, and this is how it begins. I guess, to be accurate, it began a long time ago, but I’m not really sure when because I didn’t exactly know this was coming. But it is here now, make no mistake about it.

I’ve been through the whirlwind of emotions; through all of the what-if’s. I’ve been replaying everything in my mind, trying to see if I can pinpoint the exact moment when my marriage ceased to exist. I’ve even tinkered with the idea that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t a completely bad thing.

I want to say that I’m OK with this. I want to say that I have wholly accepted it and have made my peace with it. I want to say with certainty that my daughter will be fine. I want to say that it doesn’t bother me at all that some people will see me with my kid, see the color of my skin, see the absence of a wedding ring, and then think whatever horrible thing it is that they think about single, black mothers. Who knew I would long for the days of being mistaken for the help?

It’s not that I haven’t experienced loss in my life. I’ve had so much of it, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. It’s just that it’s always so damn hard, no matter what I may know about it. Yes, I know I will make it through. I am strong (so everyone keeps telling me) and this won’t wreck me. But that doesn’t mean I want to face it, and it sure doesn’t make it any easier.

I recognize that as far as these things go, I’m not in bad shape. I didn’t marry an asshole, and my daughter will still have an incredible man for a father. I am surrounded by so much love and support, that it is truly overwhelming. These are the things that I try to remember. For the amount of love that I have had to say goodbye to in this life, I feel like I have gotten back double that amount in friends. And not to brag, but I have incredible people for friends, the kind that will make sure, unequivocally, that I am taken care of. I am humbled and grateful, and it is their love for me that will make this path a little less treacherous.

(OK, I admit it, I have wine and ice cream too. A girl needs reinforcements.)

How I Learned I Wasn’t White

How I Learned I Wasn’t White

When I was two years old, my parents divorced. It was an ugly divorce, and it wasn’t too long until my dad decided he really couldn’t do the dad thing at all, disappearing from our lives almost completely. Growing up, I did not have very many memories of him, but I had a vague recollection of what he looked like.

I don’t know the first time it happened, but at some point, another child asked me why my skin was dark and my mother’s was light. Until being asked this, I don’t think I was even aware of the differences in our skin color. I certainly did not pay attention to it. I didn’t know why we looked so different and I said as much. This question did not stop coming up, though,  so one day I asked  my mom about it. She told me, simply,  it was because my dad was black. At that moment something clicked. I knew my dad had dark skin, I just didn’t know it was called “black.” And my skin was brown because of his…it all made perfect sense.

The next time it happened I was in second grade. One day, after school, one of my classmates asked me the question that I had become so used to. This time, I was ready, and proudly told her, “Because my dad is black.” No sooner had the words left my mouth than I realized I had made a horrible mistake. I feel certain I could have told her I had a lunchbox full of shit sandwiches and she could not have been more revolted. “Your dad is black and your mom is white?!?!” I don’t know what happened after this. I don’t know if she went and told everyone else. I don’t know if she fainted from the shock of it all. I just know that I was horrified at what I had done. Why didn’t my mom tell me this was such a bad thing?

My skin color was a problem that I didn’t know how to fix, but I knew I could never tell anyone else about my dad and his blackness.  (Fortunately for me that same classmate ended up moving, making it easier for me to keep my secret.) With the awareness that my dad would never show up at school or be in my home, I just decided he wasn’t my dad anymore. That part was easy. Explaining my racial identity was not.

My mom’s boyfriend at the time was a white guy with dark wavy hair and dark brown eyes. Would it be possible to convince people we looked enough alike to be related? I obsessed over pictures of him and pictures of us together, making careful note of our similarities. To be extra safe, though, I began pestering my mom about our lineage.  She shared with me that she thought maybe we had some Native American blood somewhere in our family line. Even better. I could definitely work with this.

As a child, I did not know that I was doing what so many biracial individuals have done throughout history. I did not know that “passing” was a real thing. I didn’t know the “one drop of black blood makes you black” rule. I did not know that my being light skinned would give me far more privileges and advantages than those with darker skin. I did not know that had that second-grade classmate expressed anything other than disgust and horror, my entire childhood would have been different.

By the time I got to middle school something had changed. It was a revelation. For the first time in my life, I was not among a sea of white faces. There were even kids in my school that looked like me, and those kids didn’t seem to have any problem owning their black parents. Everything I knew had been flipped upside down. I could just be a mixed girl and that was OK?  I couldn’t believe it, but in what was probably my most courageous move at the time, I stopped pretending to be somebody else’s child.

Owning my identity changed my life. There was something so powerful in that self-acceptance, even though it did mean I was willingly making myself a target of racism. What I had not realized, however, was that for years I had made myself my own target, believing the worst about myself and my skin color.

I think of the years of my life that I spent denying my race and it shames and embarrasses me, although logically I understand that I was just a child trying to figure out a way to protect myself. I never told my mom what I was doing; I was trying to keep her ignorant of the fact that my skin color made me unlovable. Now, as a mother, it pains me to think my daughter could be made to feel so unworthy. I know because of the community that we live in, and more so because of how she looks, she will probably never be judged on her skin color. I do wonder, though, what other things in this world might break her? What parts of herself will she try to hide from the world just because someone made her believe she should? Someday I will share my story with her. In the meantime, I will continue to love her entirely, hopeful that she will always feel safe enough to just be who she is.