Now, what?

Week Four: Now, what?

I hear this very often these days.

I think this very often these days.

I built my identity around being a strong Black Woman and a single mom. Each identifier is a source of pride for me.

But they are liabilities as much as assets.

So, what do I do? Do I ditch how I view myself? Do I start from scratch? What kind of mother will it make me if I change any of these variables?

And the hole goes deeper.

The hardest part is the start, so I picked a place to start. Motherhood.

Motherhood felt like a good starting point because I openly laughed at my struggles. I was unashamed to ask questions. I wanted to protect my children from me. It is completely natural to feel compelled to protect every Vestige of Innocence my children have. Not only from me but also from the world.

The world is on fire. The world that I knew, For Better or For Worse, is no longer. There is no denying that a new world order will emerge. The map of Europe has changed in my lifetime. I saw the end of Apartheid and voted in the election of Obama. I came of age with the world wide web. I can speak to a time before cell phones, computers in most homes, and even CD players. I remember airports before 2001. Gas prices were under $1 when I learned to drive. My generation has experienced a rapidly changing world many times over. The winds of change are upon us yet again. What is frightening is that no one knows exactly what it will look like.

So what do I do?

I have feelings about this. I have many feelings about this. But I am also exhausted. I’m exhausted talking about it. I’m exhausted reading about it. I am exhausted watching the news about it. I am exhausted writing about it. I’m exhausted. I am beyond exhausted.

But I have black children.

So what do I do?

Some things, many things, are truly outside my purview. In every other arena in my life if I don’t know something I search, diligently, for the answer. I am a tunnel-visioned nightmare when I have a bee in my bonnet.

Learning to parent requires learning, like real-life reading. I thought it was all instinct and trial and error. I was certain this journey was solely a hands-on experience. Those parenting books were for white people that didn’t have control of their kids. Certainly not for me. I’ve been working with kids since I was a kid. That was all the learning I needed. I would make it up along the way.

Oh the arrogance of youth.

I drive myself and my loved ones crazy when I wing it. The chaos of disorganization frustrates the people who truly wish to see me succeed. Disorganized parenting breeds unstable circumstances for kids, and that is a definite no-go.

I want to be strong for my children. That is circumstantial and internal. They deserve stability and opportunities. I do whatever I can to provide that. I am damn proud that I can without financial assistance. I acknowledge being caught in that trap. The only way I can think to break the cycle is to teach my children to think differently about Black women.

How can I model activism and advocacy while keeping my children safe? How am I going to begin having conversations about race and gender? How am I going to adapt my parenting practices to explicitly teach values like justice, creativity, humanity, and empathy? How am I going to teach my kids to value the arts? How am I going to raise intellectual warriors for the conceptual wars ahead?

This is what happens when a historian becomes a parent. With a simultaneous cynical and hopeful outlook on human behavior, I mother with intense urgency. I parent with my adult children in mind; with my future grandkids in mind. Like the Haudenosaunee, the people whose lands on which I was born and raised, I seek to parent and live to protect the seventh generation after me.

I’m definitely in the long game.

Step One: Know Thyself

Identity is personal. I think we have learned that in recent years. Culture can influence identity, but individuals are far more effective when allowed to be themselves.

The generation raised on reality television and social media is quite familiar with the concept of identity. The only problem is a nasty habit of disassociating with actual reality to achieve the perceived reality on screen.

Generations with no concept of technology, interestingly enough, have interesting concepts of identity. Some believe it should be shaped by the state, others by family, and others, by race. The biggest problem is a complete disregard for self. Self is part of a larger entity when considering identity.

Strong Black Women exist throughout these generations. Thousands of them. All with different definitions of strength.

I admire those that can articulate their strength and their vulnerability. Confidence in one’s flaws seeps of authenticity when balanced with consistently strong actions.

I have not thrown away my Strong Black Woman title. I have and continue to admit my mistakes. I have and continue to, ask for support when I need it. I provide for my family and I serve my community. I check all the boxes.

But I do it for me.

How could I possibly know that?

I spent a great deal of time getting to know me after I had kids.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it?

I took every opportunity I could to try something. Maybe something new. Maybe something old. I just kept trying different things until my heart burst with joy or my spirit was released in peace. As I found these activities or rediscovered passions I created space in my life. The things I tried made me feel good so I kept doing them.

For some reason, my friends and I continue to do things that don’t make us happy, but we are confused about the origin of our misery. I hear it in so many of my conversations. We work to meet this expectation or obligation which takes away from the thing we really want to do.

I reject that.

I reject it because I don’t want my children to have conversations like this with their friends. I don’t want my children to feel like they never had the opportunity to know themselves because of the version of them I require them to live up to.

I totally reject that.

So, what do I do?

I read. I pray. I talk to other parents. I talk to my parents. And then I form an opinion based on the information available to me, based on me, compiled by me. It is out of this that my parenting practices were born. They evolve with new learning and progress with every understanding. I act from a place of understanding.

And then I ask my kids for feedback. There is oh so much input that is tangible, those impacted by my parenting are all under the age of eight. But it is a practice for our future. I want them to be in the habit of telling me when something isn’t working for them. I have let go of needing to be in control of their identity. My job is to give them safe spaces and opportunities to explore.

The world is on fire, and what do I do? I create new experiences. Just to see what sticks.

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