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I am an African Mother. Why Don’t My Children’s Friends Fear Me?

“Stone! Come and pick up all these strips of paper from my floor. Who did this?”

“Argh! I told Castillo not to do this, but he said he was Sharp Boy. He was using his head to cut pieces of paper.”

I paused and looked at my son, in order to process what I was hearing.

“On my bedroom floor? What in the… You know what? Never mind. Just put it all in the trash.”



Image source: food.com

Image source: food.com

When my children are hungry, I give them rice. When I need to throw on something quick to collect the mail or answer a knock on the door, I throw an enormous bubu over my head. It’s purple and is embroidered with silver thread on the borders. I make it a point to inconvenience my children by calling them from downstairs to hand me something at the foot of my bed. I have all of the trappings of a “real” African mother…and yet I am lacking in one thing: the awestruck fear that washes over my children’s playmates upon encountering my presence!

I don’t understand it. My husband and I are not small people, and as a pair of Big Black People, there is a certain level of trepidation we ought to expect from people smaller – and infrequently, less black – than we are. And yet, when it comes to the snot-nosed, trilling little urchins our children have selected as friends, we are denied that satisfaction. These people do not fear me at all! This is distressing, because we’ve skipped over an essential step in the African parent/friend of the African child dynamic. They are not my co-equals, but they have already assumed the benefits of co-equality. They are comfortable in my presence, and I am not comfortable with that.

There are two children that my kids play with on a daily basis. Castillo* and Carmen* are from Columbia. Castillo is Stone’s age (5/6) and Carmen and Aya are in the same grade. Sometimes the other girls play with them, but Stone and Castillo have made it abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with the sticky, glittery, cardboard universe that the girls recreate day after day on my poor hardwood floors. About six months ago, I got tired of stepping over dolls, bits of cut out paper and rubber bands, and decided I would be safer (and saner) within the confines of my bedroom, watching Crackle. I don’t know what motivated these people to follow me into my sanctum, but a sanctuary it is no longer. Just two days ago, I realized a pattern had emerged because I had failed to be vigilant. Castillo was in my bedroom…and he had brought all of his toys.

Don’t be alarmed. I would never allow a neighbor’s child and I to be in private, secluded company with each other. This is America! Castillo was in my room, and so was Stone…and so was Liya…and so were Aya and Carmen. I was watching Star Trek and Worf had just engaged in battle. Covering his ears and closing his eyes, Castillo declared that the Klingon was scaring him! I picked up my remote and changed the channel to Sesame Street.


I did this while leaned up against my headboard in MY room. He made this declaration while sitting on the ottoman at the foot of my bed. And for the next 20 minutes, we all watched Sesame Street until the collective decided they had had enough of Abby and Elmo counting and went to play in other parts of the house.

Dude. This is really scary.

Dude. This is really scary.

Why don't I stretch out while I make your moms watch Sesame Street? Awww yeah.

Why don’t I stretch out while I make your moms watch Sesame Street? Awww yeah.


Now, I don’t know about you, but as an African child, it would never even occur to me to enter the bedroom of a friend’s parent. As a matter of fact – and depending on the friend – it would never occur to me to try to gain entry into their house. And yet, Carmen and Castillo feel perfectly fine coming into my house, eating my popsicles and leaving a trail of Lays chips on the floor without a hint of hesitation. They don’t even call me “auntie” in deference. They don’t even call me “Miss Malaka” in mock politeness. But they are consuming my food like I birthed them.  How did this happen? When did this happen? Do you know how bad it is? Listen to this:

Marshall often gets home around 6 pm. His A/C in his car has been out for well over a year. He hasn’t bothered to get it fixed. We live in Atlanta. People do not live in Atlanta without A/C. By the time he gets home, he is a sweaty frustrated mess of a man. The house is destroyed from where six children have been playing for hours. He takes it all in stride, stepping gingerly over the mess to make his way up the stairs where I am hiding in my bed. Except I’m not “hiding”, because Stone and Castillo are in the room with me. Marshall walks to my side of the bed to salute me with a kiss. Then he turns to greet the boys.

The boys have not greeted him ooo… My husband is greeting these two impudent small boys.

“How was school today, Stone?”

“Fine, Daddy.”

“Castillo…how was school? Do you like your new class?”

Castillo looks at him as though he has asked him to define and explain quantum mechanics. Like Dude. You know I don’t know the answer to that, and you’re a douche bag for even asking me that.

Eventually though, he takes a break from sucking on the popsicle he has retrieved from MY freezer to answer with a single, sullen word.


What is this?!?!?

My sister says I am entirely to blame. She cannot imagine sitting in her bedroom for some kid from across the road to perch in her bedroom and inform her that Matlock is boring, with full expectation that she will change the channel. She says Marshall and I have gone mad.

“It’s not that we are mad,” I reply gloomily. “It’s just that we are tired.”

My sister is disgusted with my explanation and summarizes her feelings with “Humph!”

No, but seriously. Even amongst the many Americans who are reading this now: Could you ever see yourself just chilling in your friend’s parent’s bedroom with your little Hot Wheels and racetracks and doll clothes like it was YOUR house? Like you belonged there? No! You cannot! I only recently got comfortable entering my BFFFL’s mom’s room two years ago, and we’ve been friends for 21 years. Na you 5 year old boy?

I have accepted that these people will never fear me. I have accepted that they consider me their co-equal. By the time they are taking your wrapping paper from your craft box in order to execute the pretend powers of Sharp Boy, it is futile to think otherwise, isn’t it?





This article has 5 comments

  1. Sangima

    I agree, you are to blame. I am the mad African mom even when they have company. They even whisper “Dang, your momma is no joke”. You get comfortable in my house, I get comfortable to tell you a few rules.

  2. Wesi

    LOL, My sympathies.
    But its never too late to draw boundaries with kids. Yesterday, my fifteen year old son was talking to me in an impatient and harsh tone, and i had to remind him that it was not acceptable to speak like that, as we say in Nigeria, “i am not your mate”.

    I dont actually approve of the scary African Mum stereotype, its rather obsolete in my opinion

    There are lots of options that actually have nothing to do with being a scary African mum.

    1. A designated play area for your kids and their friends, you are entitled to your privacy and mental space.

    2. Constantly remind you kids, and their friends who is the adult around the house, who is in charge and who decided who watches what and where.

    3. Remind your kids before their friends come over that your room is no go area, how ever you might not be able to stay in your room when they have friends over as you need to watch them….

    Ok enough with my lists LOL, my point it just cos you dont want to do the scary African Mum thing, means you have to roll over and do the over indulgent Western Mum thing, neither options are healthy me thinks 🙂

    WHew! sorry for the long post!


    Much love to you and yours.

  3. Toksyk

    OMG I have died of laughter! Cos I can seriously read the indignation and frustrations even in the satire of the write up. But have to agree with the general consensus that you allowed this to happen but as the adult and OWNER of said house it’s not too late to put your foot down and reclaim your space. Firstly having that conversation with Stone that your bedroom is not play area for when he has a play date and then when the terrorist returns putting the fear of God into that CHILE African mama stylie!

    I am unapologetically an African mama don’t get me wrong I go out of my way to be BEST Auntie to any child that steps into my fortress but I don’t play when it comes to laying down the law. My house my rules and you are lucky I even bother to give you any explanations! Ba shikena

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