Maternal Shortcomings: An Essay

When I was four years old, I had an almost inappropriate obsession with Lauryn Hill. At the time, she was singing with The Fugees alongside Wyclef Jean. They had this popular video filmed in Haiti for the song “Yele”. I still remember butchering the lyrics, desperately trying to stay on the beat. I was mesmerized by the hairstyle that Hill was sporting at the time, called Bantu Knots. I now know this, for at the time, I used to beg my mom to do “food-jeez” in my hair. There began my admiration for natural hairstyles. My later obsession, when I became an adolescent and moved to the United States, was dread locks. In Haiti, dreadlocks are frowned upon for a number of reasons. My mother, however, opposed my desires for a particular reason.

 

“You’re too tall and too big for dreads. You’re intimidating enough as it is.”

 

Bantu Knots

We’ve had “the talk.” We’ve seen the signs of fear that our mothers furtively hide, every time we walk out the door alone. They smile and wave, but the vise around their heart tightens. They’re afraid that this might be the last time. For those mothers who are on foreign soil, the anguish is even grander.

Because of the high level of corruption in the Haitian government and the non-existent measures of protection for journalists, the choice of journalism as profession is highly discouraged. Upon graduation, my mother wanted to become a reporter. Her aunt who raised her after she became an orphan at fourteen begged on her knees for her to reconsider. And she did. She became a lab technician.

 

When I announced that I was switching my focus from medicine to law, the tension in the room was palpable. She asked “Why?” I answered, “I love writing, history, politics, and law, and this career is a combination of all of these things.” What could she say to that? She knew how it was to want that. She knew how it was to not have that.

 

But she is scared. She knows how proud I am. Now that I had an outlet for my thoughts, I will become arrogant. But she knows. You can be proud or alive. You’re not allowed to be both as your melanin count augments. You can’t be too tall, too big, too smart, or too loud. Before everything, you have to survive. And that means to turn your pockets when asked to, to take off the hat when ordered to, to keep your hands in sight, to not make any brusque movement.

 

When I started discussing my doubts on religion with my parents, my mom shook with fear. At first, I couldn’t see her point of view. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood. Thinking that God was looking over me was her only illusion of control over what happens to me. How could I take that away?

 

I admire her strength. Just devising hypotheticals causes the feeling of helplessness to cripple me. I chuckle at the me in the past who once mentioned desiring three sons. As if I don’t know enough black men to cry for. I wouldn’t want them to know fear. I wouldn’t be able to prepare them adequately for a life of choosing to survive over your ego.

 

And daughters… Could I teach them to not react when their bodies’ rights are treated as negligible? How about guidelines on how to tolerate being often undesirable, unseen, and unheard? How to repeat each day that they matter just as much their male counterparts when senseless murders of girls like them do not hold more than 48 hours of national attention at a time?

 

All of the mothers of little brown boys know it’s their responsibility to make sure they know what lies ahead. And they pray that it’s enough, that he knew that he’d do whatever he had to do to see her again. They hope that he knows not to walk around with a hoodie on at night, and to politely turn his music off at gas stations, that he knows better than to walk around Walmart with a toy gun in an open-carry state, and after putting his hands up, to, for Pete’s sake, NOT run.

 

So safe sex takes a whole different meaning for me. Becoming a mother is not an option. Am I eternally too busy for serious commitment, have a secret family, am I a superhero by night, or fly way with a blue box doctor to explore other worlds on my spare time? I will use whatever excuse will allow the most distance between my lady parts and anyone my parents would approve of.

 

My mother is my role model but I wouldn’t want to be who she is or feel what she feels. I don’t think I’d survive it. This self-centered cowardice would not please her for more reasons than me denying her grandchildren. She would ask me “What about the future?”

 

Then I understand. It doesn’t matter how many valid reasons I have against procreation. Whether I personally actually procreate in the future isn’t the point either. I want a better future so no daughters have to feel like I do, where no son has to compromise his principles and make himself smaller to survive because of the color of his skin, and where no mother has to teach her child not to die, like the mother of a deer before hunting season.

 

Where no woman has to birth a target.

 

 

By the way, I did get my locs!


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