I never thought I’d say it, but there are days when when I long for the simplicity of exploding diapers, hostile tantrums and 2am feedings.
The same is not true for every mother, but I couldn’t wait to hold conversations with my kids. I would respond to their earnest, incoherent babble with seriousness and equal earnestness. When the two eldest girls were very small, I bought each of them a toy laptop so that they could sit with me and “work” at the dining room table. This was before the Nabi tablet era, so they dot matrix-ish screen only held their attention for so long before they turned their attention back to Nick Jr and pulled me away from my work with their demands for snacks; but for the briefest of moments (usually about 10 minutes) they had participated in mock adulthood.
Strangers have always commented on how “articulate” my children are – a compliment I have always received with a pinch of salt (any Black woman/mother knows why this commendation can be problematic) – but even I found myself pleasantly surprised by the depth and vastness of the vocabulary within my kids’ possession. Behind their lexicon was deep thought. I enjoyed answering such philosophical questions as: “Who is God’s mom?”, and “Why doesn’t the sky stay the same color every day if it’s blue?”, and “If I breathed through my belly button when I was in your stomach, why can’t I breathe through it now?” Some of these answers could be accessed from my knowledge bank. Some were available on Google. No matter what the question, it would never go unanswered.
#WinningAtParentingOn a streak, baby!
So I should’ve been ready when many, many came-too-soon years later, one of my children would ask me a question that would leave me so stumped that the uber cool modern Black mom persona I’d been crafting for 15 years would abandon me (again) and leave belligerent African mum to pick up the slack. After all no one can win 100% of the time, a lesson God sent my children to teach and humble me with.
Last year, we had already discussed the futility of boyfriends at such a tender age. The 2020 version of the question got remixed like this:
“How can you tell if a person likes you? And how do you let someone you have a crush on know you have a crush on them without embarrassing yourself?”
After considering the question for what felt like an eternity, I provided the Child with the most coherent response I could muster:
“Ah. Do I know sef?”
Because it’s true; and for several reasons, topmost being:
1. Because there’s no way that a person can ensure that declaring their romantic interest in other will not be met with ridicule, disinterest or disgust.
2. Because the Child asking identifies as queer, I feel/felt out of my depth. Just like the usefulness of Boomers dispensing job-seeking advice to Gen Zeders, this mother’s input was equally useless (if not more-so). I know nothing about the rules, mores and conventions governing dating in the queer world.
My hope was that the Child would sense my confusion and defeat and be kind enough to leave me the hell alone, but as I mentioned recently: God sent these pipo to humble me. She held my gaze with such sincerity and seriousness that I was compelled to put more effort in my non response response. I had to try.
“Ugh. Ok. Well, keeping in mind that I haven’t had a crush on anyone in years, I guess – man. I don’t even know what that feels like anymore. I think there are butterflies?”
“Yeah. Like someone is punching you in your gut when you think of them or when you see them…”
Herh? Who is spiritually punching my daughter in her emotional gut?!?
“Yes. That. Well, the first thing is to acknowledge that what you’re feeling is perfectly normal.” (OMG. Could I be more clinical and lame?) “And if the person you like likes you, they’ll be feeling the same way.”
“So HOW CAN YOU TELL?”
Why was this so HARD? I’ll tell you why. Because we’re talking about emotions. If this was a conversation about the mechanics of sex, I would handle this baby like Maya Angelou scripting rhyme and verse. Talking with your kid about practical issues is easy. However, delving into emotions with someone who is the walking embodiment of a ball of emotions… Just rub me in oil and dip me in lava; it’d be less painful.
“Unfortunately, there’s no definitive way to tell if someone likes you or not. Girls have been trying to figure that out forever. Even grown women still struggling to figure that out. The person you like may give you cues: like trying to hang out with you more, expressing interest in the things you say, try to be in your space…but the only way to tell for sure is if one of you says something.”
“Well, that ain’t gonna be me!” the Child snorted.
“Then I guess you won’t know.”
The next few moments were punctuated by groans of frustration, eye rolls, a hug and finally, “Thank you, Mom.”
I was stunned. I did it? I did it!
Whether you’re a parent or not, let me ask you the same question. Advise us: How can you tell if a person you have a crush on fancies you or not? How can you tell them without risking embarrassment? What advice would you have given?