The invisible (to everyone else) load of being a black mom is overwhelming, to say the least. There’s motherhood then there’s black motherhood. Unbeknownst to some, those two are completely different crosses to bear. I am not sure how I thought I had a few more years before I had to deeply engage in this part of my motherhood journey but just 5 years in, my black motherhood card has been activated.
Raising a well-behaved child
As if there isn’t already enough pressure that comes with motherhood, I’ve already begun to feel pressure to have a well-behaved child. I mean… who doesn’t want a well-behaved child? I have always set out to raise a child that’s mannerable, one that respects their elders and respectful at all times. But as we know, children have minds of their own. They are like sponges, constantly absorbing things. They repeat what they hear and act out what they see. So, I have been careful with how I speak around the kid. Screen time is also closely monitored. Yet, because he’s human and learning and testing mommy constantly, he still “walks on thin ice” from time to time. I don’t think I would be so concerned or worried about correcting “bad” behavior if he wasn’t a little black boy. But…he is. So, I am. Black boys get a bad rap. Studies have shown they tend to be viewed as troublemakers at a very young age. Although there isn’t much I can do about how others perceive my child, I feel an innate pressure to raise a well-behaved son. I’ve noticed the anxiety that sometimes comes over me while we are out in public.
Vividly, I can recall an afternoon the kid and I were out having lunch on the shoreline. If the weather is nice, I usually choose to be seated outside. I know my child. He doesn’t use his indoor voice all the time. Sitting outside offers a reprieve from all the shushing I would have to do if we dined indoors. When we were first seated, there weren’t many patrons out on the patio. The hostess sat us directly across from a family with a small child. I remember laughing to myself, “this must be the kid’s section”. Their eyes were watching us, I could feel it. As I glanced over, I caught them gawking so I smiled. Why were they staring? Were they shocked we were on a mom and son date? Did I have a booger in my nose? Was it because we were black? I am not sure.
I didn’t pay much attention to them once we got settled in at our table. My son sat patiently, playing with a few small toys while we waited for our plates to arrive. He got excited and got a little loud at some point. Shhh, I whispered. As I looked up, I noticed who I presumed to be the dad at the other table, eyes glued to my son. His face said disappointment. Sir, we are not at Ruth’s Chris. Shortly after that, my son dropped one of his toys. I got up, reached under the table to grab it, trying not to scold him. Son, don’t drop this again. I knew this other family was still staring us down. Their son was focused on mine. But he looked like he wanted to play. The dad kept trying to get his attention, in efforts to get him to focus on their table and not ours. Of course, Alex dropped his toy again. This time it rolled right under this family’s table. Dangit! The mom nudges the dad, pointing to the toy, the dad ignores her, twice. She then takes it upon herself to reach under their table to get the toy. He stops her and grabs it. As he hands the toy over to me, I watched his eyes. It was as if my son was disturbing his entire dining experience. Maybe he was just having a bad day.
After we finished our lunch and paid, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How could I have been a better mother in that situation?” Adding unnecessary guilt and pressure.
Protecting His Innocence
At 5, my son loves fire trucks and police cars. Just yesterday, we walked to the toy section at our favorite store in the world, Target. Down the LEGO aisle, he bypassed tractors, trucks, airplanes, and went straight to the police car. He’s fascinated by sirens. He jumps up and down in excitement whenever he sees or hears a police car. When we’re out and see a police officer or fireman, they wave, they stop and say, “Hey buddy”. Some even give him stickers. Some times it takes everything in me not to be apprehensive and spill the unadulterated truth: “soon enough, you will be a target to them son.”
To protect his childhood innocence, I keep quiet. Is 5 too early to talk about the possibility of being on the blunt side of a police baton? Should he know that some instantly look at his skin color as a problem, now? Should he be privy to the truth this soon? I don’t think so. But, I am well aware there is so much I don’t have control over. I know that I can’t be with him every second of each day. Shielding him from things he probably should not see isn’t always going to possible. The older he gets, the more inquisitive he becomes. He asks questions. A lot of questions. He walks in during news converge and in split seconds I have to decide if he can remain in the room or do I need to escort him out or change the channel to something more appropriate. The goal is to find a balance between “he’s just a kid” and “Son, Tamir price was just 12”.
At what point do I tell him those same sirens and lights aren’t always a good thing? When do I break it to him that not all police officers are that ˆnice? When do I tell him that they’ll see him as a threat even at the early age of 12?
The Load of Mommin’ while Black
I was 9 during the LA Riots. Folks were looting literally around the corner from our duplex. There was no social media. I am not even sure there were cell phones. The TV stayed on the news channel. It wasn’t safe for us to play outside. We were forced to stay inside during the whole ordeal. I witnessed parts of our neighborhood board up and shut down. ⠀
And at 9 years old, I was afraid but not of the “riots”, not because of the burning buildings. I didn’t understand what was going on, but that video of Rodney King being beaten by LAPD vividly played through my mind regularly. Then, I thought about my dad, my god-father, my uncles, the other men we looked up to. Are they safe? Could this happen to them?⠀
28 years later, I understand the outrage so much more. The images that haunt me are no longer just #RodneyKing
. When I sleep, I am besieged by images of (and not limited to) #TamirRice
and now #GeorgeFloyd
I try to shield my 5-year-old son from certain things. But as he walked into the room while watching the news, he saw the fires in Minneapolis on the TV and asked, “Why are there fires mommy?” And at that moment, I had to decide if I glaze over the question or make it a teachable moment. “Because people are angry son. They are fed up”. He took one more hard look at the TV before he walked away, and it took everything in me not to whisk him away, to protect him.⠀
He needed to see it. Just like me at 9, I needed to see it. He may not understand it right now, but I know my son, I know how he attentive and observant he is. He will remember. Just as I remembered. Now I am just praying that he will be alive to recall this 28 years from now. ⠀