I was once a child, and it seems like it wasn’t that long ago. I remember ages 5, 10 and 13 quite vividly, in fact. Because those emotions and memories of childhood are so intense…nearly tangible… I find that I have a great deal of empathy for my own children as they navigate this phase of their existence. I know what they are thinking and what they are feeling when faced with scenarios that most –if not all – children must go through:
- The disappointment of being sent to bed before your favorite show is over.
- Being compelled to eat your broccoli/spinach/tomatoes before you can have a cookie.
- Controlling your impulse to talk back to your parents after they’ve informed you that you smell and must re-take a shower, when they don’t smell quite so rosy themselves.
I get all of that, and I have tried to demonstrate that I understand their plight and that I commiserate with it. That is why I CANNOT understand why my eldest daughter came into the room and spoke to me in the manner in which she did last night.
My body was aching from a morning spent dropping freight at my part time job. I also had some errands I had to run, a task which is stressful enough on the body when that course is the maze that is North Fulton. By the time I picked up the kids, I was battered, exhausted, hungry and irritated. By bedtime, I was completely undone. It was at this point that Nadjah, freshly showered and clothed for bed came into the room and nestled her long body next to mine. She sighed.
“Mommy?” she squeaked. “I was just thinking to back to when I was a kid and well…I…uhhh…squeak squeak mumble mumble…”
I sat up.
“Heh? What did you say? I didn’t understand what you said!”
Her voice was barely a whisper as she repeated herself and continued to masticate her words. Somewhere in the midst of that auditory mess, I deciphered that she was reminiscing about when she was a little girl and pining for the days when we visited the bookstore and played at the YMCA. She wondered if we could revisit those days again…maybe in the summer?
I was confounded. Not so much by her request, but by the manner in which she was asking it. Ah, ah. Does she not know who I am?
“Nadjah. When you are talking to me and asking about these things, talk to me from your CHEST, you hear?”
“No! I’m dead serious! Have I not spent nights working so that I could spend our days taking you guys to the pool, or send you to summer camp, or all of the activities you’ve named?”
“You know you will go, don’t you?”
“Then ask me from your CHEST! What is this squeaking, mumbling noise you’ve come to bring to my ears? Eh? Talking as if you don’t have confidence! Now, here’s what you need to focus on NOW. For the next 8 days, what needs to be your focus?”
She thought about it a little before answering, “The Georgia Milestones tests.”
“And when those are completed and you’ve passed, you can ask me about summer activities. But when you do, how will you ask me?”
“From my chest.”
I kissed her goodnight with a scowl on my face and sent her to bed with a terse “Love you.”
This girl. These children! Behaving as if she is not the daughter of Abena Owusua Malaka Gyekye; sliding into my room like a phantom, as though I have not spent her whole life conjuring ways for her to enjoy it. My children cannot name a single thing that they’ve ever needed that we haven’t provided. They can’t name a single attraction in this city that I haven’t taken them to. How many of their friends can say that their parents have taken them to the other side of the world? And then you want to mumble-mumble squeak-squeak to me about the YMCA? Herh! The disrespect! I was livid!
Did you ever watch those old movies starring the likes of Peter O’Toole or Richard Harris set in medieval England? The King would always have a son who was a valiant daredevil, and then there’d be the other son who was quiet and cowardly? The King could never stand the sight of the soft, unobtrusive son and the Queen would always have to protect him from the King’s wrath. I never understood why a monarch would revile his own offspring in such a way, but I halfway get it now. You are a prince. The son of a King. Act like it.
Speak with authority! Communicate with clarity and confidence! Rest assured that when you take bold steps, your mother/father will be there to catch you when you fall! What is mumble-mumble squeak-squeak? You think Oprah got where she is today with mumble-mumble squeak-squeak? You think Toni Morrison became Toni Morrison with mumble-mumble squeak-squeak? You think Serena Williams conquered the world with mumble-mumble squeak-squeak? Or are you saying that the daughter of Abena Gyekye is so low that she must only speak in mumble-mumble squeak-squeak? What an insult to me!
Yes, I know. When Black women speak up for themselves and make no compromises on their positions, they are labelled as “angry”, “aggressive” and “bitter”. Better that my daughter should be labelled as any of those things over “invisible”, “insignificant”, and “expendable”. I am not raising little brown doormats.
Ah. What do I look like?