While I now have a great relationship with my mother, it wasn’t always the case. While I know I could always do as Martha is now doing in the case of an emergency, growing up I felt like I had to keep most of who I really was bottled inside. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel like I had the common black girl-black mama relationship with my mother, where children should be seen and not heard, where mothers don’t talk much about sex except to say keep your legs shut, where tears are not tolerated and often met with threats of “shut up that noise or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
At the time, I admit that I felt unloved. It’s strange because on one hand in my head I knew my mother loved me, but in my heart I didn’t always feel it because I had to hold so much of who I was inside. To me, being able to be all that I am, allowed to have that space, is the truest expression of love. And I didn’t have that. I played the good girl all of my childhood. I wasn’t allowed to express anger or any negative emotion, so it all got bottled up as sadness, and eventually, depression. I never got into trouble, except to play in my mother’s makeup, which was a very bad idea, or to lose things, which was even worse because we didn’t have much to lose. At school I eventually learned to rebel in a good girl kind of way, using my intelligence as a weapon against my teachers, constantly challenging them in a way I was never allowed to at home. I would watch the television dramas of white girls yelling and screaming at their mothers, truly believing that if the thought ever crossed my mind, I should probably die because once my mother found out, I would.
But now, I have my own little girl. And let me tell you, she is nothing like me. Or maybe she is everything like me, but not yet “changed” like I was, having had the rebel forcibly removed. She’s two, and terrible. She throws ten minute tantrums when she doesn’t get her way, and she is very particular and specific about what her way is. She does not want her food cut, and insists on eating her food hot out the oven with no time to cool off. If cookies are in her line of sight around dinnertime, the tantrum must just run its course before she will even entertain the idea of eating dinner before dessert. Bedtime is sometimes smooth, other times consists of high pitched yells of nonsense for upwards of 30 minutes. She prefers her curly afro and resists the comb, but she likes to look “pretty” with ponytails and oftentimes demands it. She will kick and hit her brother if he bothers her or takes her toys, and if that doesn’t work, a high pitched scream will do the job. Once she’s done being spicy, then its all sugar again, and the baby in her comes back, all hugs and kisses.
When I see this in her, I’m amazed. My mother laughingly says that I was never like her, and I almost believe it. I say almost because on the inside, I’m a lot like my daughter. I get indignant at the smallest slight, believing that people should treat others nicely and getting angry when they don’t. I like things a particular way; I spend a good amount of time getting things in order the way I like them before I can start doing any other productive work. People tend to like me, I can be sweet and am a good girl, but I am also spicy and people tend to be intimidated by me because I am sharp and opinionated and rarely back down. I will argue about anything and everything.
But as a child, I was nothing like my daughter. But I hope my daughter will be nothing like me. As much as sometimes I have to tell my husband to remove her from my presence (like last night when she threw a cup of water off the table because she wanted juice – yeah, not a good look for her), I want her to maintain her feisty-ness, even as a child. She will have to tone it down, but of course she’s only terribly two. I like that she feels comfortable challenging me – I was never allowed to have a separate opinion, or to be angry, or to truly express being sad. I want her to know that it’s okay to have a full range of emotions, even as a child. I don’t want her to bottle up anything. She’ll need to learn appropriate ways of behaving – throwing water ain’t one of them – but that all emotions are okay, not just the good ones.
I want her to know that she really is sugar and spice and both things are nice.