Many years ago, when I was a young mother, there were two women whose paths crossed mine, the first when my son was one and the other a year or so later when he was two or three. If I were to see either of the women right now, I wouldn’t recognize them. I can’t recall why they chose to share their stories with me and until today, I’ve never given much thought as to why they’ve stuck with me over the years.
For the ease of storytelling, we’ll call the first woman Mary. Mary lived in the Trinidad neighborhood of DC. She was a petite woman, probably around 5’2 and 130 lbs. She was a married mother of adult children. When Mary’s son was a teen, he began hanging with the wrong crowd. She described him as tall and strong. One evening after arriving home late from work to an empty house, Mary began canvassing the neighborhood in search of her boy. She found him on a street corner. And here’s the remarkable part of Mary’s story — she walked over, put her fists up and began beating him off the corner without any regard for who she may have been offending or the transactions she may have been disrupting. Clearly, Mary’s son respected her because given their size difference, her fist thumps probably weren’t hurting him; yet he got off the corner and back in the house. And according to Mary, that was the last time he was on the corners of Trinidad.
The second storyteller’s narrative was about her best friend who we’ll call Sheryl. Sheryl was a strong woman — in stature and personality — whose daughter was married to a man who physically abused her. Sheryl’s daughter used to seek refuge at her mother’s home. During one of her daughter’s respites, Sheryl got a baseball bat, went to visit her son-in-law and beat the you know what out of him. Before leaving him in the floor of his home, she told him, “From now on, every time she comes to me, I’m coming for you.”
Not until recently, roughly 20 years later, did it dawn on me why I was so awestruck by Mary’s and Sheryl’s stories. They embodied something that was acutely visceral to my motherhood and the motivation behind all of my parenting decisions — Love and Fear.
And here’s my interpretation of Mary’s and Sheryl’s stories. Love motivated them to enter into dangerous territory to save their children without any thought for their own lives. And fear of losing their children to the evil of this world caused them to literally fight to save them.
My son was not yet two weeks old. It was some time in the middle of the night and he was wide awake. I had to pace the hallway of the apartment to keep him calm. Movement kept him quiet. Otherwise, if I sat down he would cry and I couldn’t bear to hear him cry. My husband was working a 24-hour shift at the firehouse so I had to go it alone. After over an hour of pacing, thinking my son had fallen asleep but afraid to stop moving for fear that he may awaken if his routine was interrupted, I had the idea to walk by a mirror and slightly turn so I could see his eyes. To my horrid chagrin his eyes were wide open. I burst into tears, eventually crying with such force that I began to hyperventilate. All the while he was calm. It was at that point that I seriously began to wonder if I had made the biggest mistake of my young, 23 year-old life. I felt an overwhelming burden (though my son was 9 lbs at birth, it wasn’t from his heft). I was likely delirious from sleep deprivation, but more than that I think I was confounded by the monumental responsibility of having to successfully raise our Black baby boy in a world that doesn’t value Black boys and men.
During our 23 years of marriage, my husband has said things like “you think too much” and “you want things to be perfect”. If there is a tad bit of truth in either statement, imagine the magnitude of my thoughts and dreams for my newborn baby boy colliding with the reality of life for Black males in America and in Washington, DC, in particular. The emotions from this mother were intense love and fear. I wanted to protect my child.
Over the years, friends and numerous acquaintances have asked what’s our secret to raising two successful Black children – top students, academically and socially, and leaders at two of the nation’s best prep schools; one a graduate of Yale and the other at Wash U in St. Louis – two of the most competitive universities in the country; confident, humble, and both having a strong sense of what is honorable and right. I’ve never answered the question because I’ve always been dumbfounded, believing that it just sort of happened.
What I readily accept and admit now is that almost from the time of his birth, and my daughter’s four years later, we (my husband and I) have planned and sacrificed to ensure their lives reflect all the hopes and dreams we could imagine for them and all the blessings and protection God offers his children.
I love to see Black children succeed. My fear of what the future holds for the Black community if they don’t compelled me to write this blog.
This is the first monthly post about our philosophy of raising socially and academically successful African American children. We hope this blog motivates, encourages, and inspires those who are on the journey.
Next month, it’s all about instilling Confidence.