ABW Disease

There is a condition out there quietly plagues many females of the Black community.  It is whispered of in hushed tones, and although it is easily diagnosed by anyone with an eye, most of the women who suffer from it are completely unaware they have it.  It is an isolating and restrictive condition, and if you know of it, the you try your hardest not to develop it.  it’s called Angry Black Woman Disease and every woman I know who knows of it bristles when she spots it.

There are varying strains, of course.  There’s the Rasputia strain of ABWD; the loud, brash, easily angered, unreasonable and irrational Black woman who Eddie Murphy forever immortalized in Norbit.  There’s the Deliver Us From Eva strain; the professionally aspirant, personally miserable, cut’ em off at the knees Angry Black Woman whose bitterness is her defining trait.  There’s the Celebreality strain of ABWD that is preoccupied with looking perfect and acting crazy, torn between being likeable and being “real”.  This woman’s temper is regulated solely by the perception of disrespect or lack thereof.  There are many, many strains and the whole world is very adept at spotting them all.  The Millennium Black Woman is very adept at avoiding the label all together.

Indeed, the Millennium Black Woman (at least this one) strives towards a different social archetype:  The Claire Huxtable/Michelle Obama Black Woman.  This Black Woman is perfect!  Words like, unreasonable, irrational, brash, and bitter don’t apply to her.  This woman is personable, relatable, likeable, and classy! She’s Every Woman!  Yes, Momma may not take any mess, but she uses convincingly subtle suggestion, not finger wagging and neck rolling, to make that clear.  THAT’S who I’m trying to be.  Okay let’s be honest; that’s who I am,…..right?

Thats what I thought, anyway, until Leila suggested otherwise.  We were sitting on the couch watching TV and a commercial of a woman yelling like a crazy person came on.  “That’s how you talk to Daddy,” she says to me offhandedly.  Aghast, I replied “That’s not true,” to which she very matter-of-factly replied, “yes it is”.  Because two wrongs of course make a right, I look for parity.  “Does Daddy talk like that to mommy?” I asked, waiting for her to say yes.  After all, she is just probably misinterpreting the way that we communicate.  Somethings kids misunderstan – “Nope”, she says before I can even finish rationalizing her observation.  “That’s how you talk to Daddy, but he doesn’t talk like that to you.”  Wait a minute….did my baby just diagnose me with – clutch the pearls – Angry Black Woman Disease!?!?!

Now I will say this:  I am not a yeller and I am not a disrespectful conversationalist.  But I do know two things: I have short patience and a sharp tongue and tone.  The two together can lead to some very tense communication.  Leila pointed out that the tone of my conversation – the sharpness of it, the one-sidedness of it – is not lost on her.  I have to acknowledge that for better or for worse, she might have a point.  And if she feels like I am speaking meanly to her Daddy…. how does he feel?  Oh dear me. Could it be that I am as unaware of myself and how I make people feel as those ABW’s I have cocked an eyebrow and shook my head at?  It is very possible that I have a slight case of ABWD, strain unknown.  It is also equally possible that I don’t have ABWD, I am just overworked, highly stressed, overly expressive and sometimes unaware of how my more pointed tones could be received.  Hell, nobody can be Claire Huxtable 24/7!  Even Michelle Obama gets criticized when she indulges in a moment of just being herself.  And that’s when it hit me:  Claire Huxtable, Postcard Perfect Michelle Obama (not FLOTUS herself), Rasputia, Eva, Evelyn Lozada, NeNe, all of these “personalities” are constructs.  They are reductive, two-dimensional boxes that fit none of us comfortably.  Instead of trying to be/not be any of those socially created jumpsuits that make defining me easier for other people, maybe I just need to be focused on being a better me.

So I recognize that maybe I do need to be more mindful of how I talk to folks, regardless of my intentions.  After all, Leila is watching.  I want her to understand that life and love is about respect, both receiving it and giving it.  I want her to know that you can disagree with people in a way that doesn’t leave them demoralized.   I am trying to be more mindful of how I talk to my husband and the tone I use, especially in front of Leila.  Because whether we are discussing something big or trivial, it’s the tone that turns it into an argument.  And in the words one of my favorite fab “Millenium Me” TV characters right now, Ms. Jessica Pearson of Suits, “Mother and Father should never argue in front of the children.”


Best Friends Forever

Last week my grandmother fell and she couldn’t get up, which was not funny at all, given her age.  My grandmother is 93 years old, and at that age, a stumble can be life threatening.  So when I heard that my mom had to call a family friend over and sit there with my grandmother in the floor while she waited for him to arrive and help move her, my heart jumped into my throat.  Usually for old people, a fall like that means hospital, then nursing home, then tears for those who love them.

Leila heard me talking about Granny to my sister.  Its funny; Leila and Granny  have such a cute relationship.  Granny has regressed, Leila has matured, and now they’re kind of the same age.  They laugh at the same silly things, have the same short attention span, they tell on each other, and they antagonize each other.  Leila reads to Granny from Dr. Seuss, Granny reads to Leila from In Touch.  It is absolutely adorable.  They are BFF’s, Leila and her great-grandmother.  So when Leila approached me with eyes wide and voice low, I knew she was worried.  “Did Granny die?” she asked.  “No, silly.  She just got hurt”, I replied.  “Is she going to die?” she asked.  Oh my baby.  Here she is, such a little girl, trying to resolve all these things that have happened in her world.  This summer has taught her that death is as real as Christmas.  She understands, maybe more than the average 6 year old, that people get infirm and then they die and they don’t come back, no matter how much we love them.  And she has noticed that my family is shrinking.  What do I say to this kid who keeps burying people  she loves?  How do I explain that, yes, mommy’s got a little family because nobody lives forever?  And how do I resolve with myself the shrinking of my nucleus?  After all, I want my children to feel connected to my whole family, but what if my whole family – one day – is gone?

“Sooner or later everybody goes to heaven”, I tell my baby.  “But Granny’s so old, she’s probably going to go to heaven soon, right mommy?”  she asks, with all the seriousness in the world.  “We can’t know that, muffin.  All we know is that we have to show people how much we love them and have fun with them while they are here with us”, I say.  After all, it is all I can say.  I wish kids could learn some of the tougher lessons later.  But since life has dealt us some different cards, I guess all I can do is try to cushion the blow.  Kids, however, are surprisingly resilient.  “Yeah mommy, Granny’s my precious partner and I’m gonna show her all the time.  Besides, even if she dies, she’ll still be in my heart, just like Poppop”.  She’s so strong and smart and insightful and amazing.  When I grow up, I wanna be just like my baby.


What Would Jesus Do?

One of the things that I am learning about being married to someone of a different culture is that the small differences between you culturally can almost be a bigger deal than the big things.  It’s funny how that works:  you get over the big things pretty quickly, but the stuff that you thought wouldn’t matter that much slowly begins to, well, matter.  Take, for instance, religion.  John is Catholic, I am Christian.  Not that different, right?  After all, we both believe in God, we have the same reference point for creation, the fundamentals are in alignment.  But there are some real differences in our beliefs also.  In spite of those differences, though, we are two people who know how to get along and we quickly found a happy medium.  After all, church is church and God is God.

But then we had Leila and broader questions popped up.  Should she be baptized by one church or both?  Her Catholic church godparents have to be Catholic?  What if my choice for a godparent isn’t Catholic?  What if I’m not Catholic?  What does that make me?  Does she pray to God or to Peter, Paul, Mary and Joseph?  How do I ask these questions without offending John?  How does he stand his ground without offending me?  An easy answer is still nowehere in sight.  And while we try to figure our stuff out, Leila has started figuring things out for herself. Before I know it, she is differentiating between “Mommy’s church” and “Our (read her and John’s) church”.  All of this leaves me mulling a much bigger question:  where am I in all of this?

It’s a selfish question, really.  My mother says as long as she believes in God she’s fine.  But I associate my relationship with God with my relationship with my mother.  After all, she dragged me to church, Sunday School and VBS (Vacation Bible School) religiously (pun fully intended).  She helped me memorize Bible verses for summer camp, she slammed me in the youth choir that taught me songs whose lyrics would pull me through life’s toughest times.  Being spiritual without being dogmatic, knowing the word for myself, appreciating a well-timed Bible verse, being able to praise without making a spectacle, recognizing the difference between Christians and “Christians”, seeing God everywhere and in all things (including other religions), all this I learned from watching my mother.  My relationship with God is defined, in large part, though my relationship with my mom.  Simply put, God reminds me of my mommy, and my mommy reminds me of God.

Now if Leila develops that with John, I think that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.  But on this east coast, so far away from the only five other people I call my family and in a neighborhood with approximately only three African-American women to speak of (including me), Leila’s only reference point for me, is…me.  To the extent that I do not clearly define myself to my baby, do I, in some strange way, disappear?  And heaven forbid anything happen to me, what left around my baby would make her think of me?

I guess what I am realizing is that in many ways, we are defined not as much by what we believe, but more by what we practice. Religion creates the many of the traditions that are the very fabric of the ties that bind.  And what I have come to realize is that when you feel so far away from all that you are, strengthening that fabric becomes very, very important.  So last night, when Leila finished a prayer with “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” and the sign of the cross, both against and compelled by my better judgement, I corrected her.  “When you go to church across the street, you can say that when you pray”, I said, “but in the house we just say, ‘In Jesus’ name, Amen'”.  I’m so conflicted here.  I don’t want to confuse my baby, but I don’t want to disappear to her either.  What I believe matters too, even if it’s not that different from what’s all around her, right? God, this is hard!  What would Jesus do?  It’s just so hard to know…


Time Flies

Last week, my baby was in a wedding.  Actually, I’m wrong; my baby wasn’t in a wedding.  My big girl was.  It seems as if over night, my baby is gone, and what is standing in her place is this kid that is more mature than I am prepared for.  I watched her interacting with the other kids in the wedding and I realized that she isn’t just my baby anymore, she is a person.  And not just any person, but her own person!  She has a sense of humor, a sense of style, she holds conversations and – clutch the pearls – even throws the occasional side-eye!  She is definitely not a baby, not anymore.  She is now a big girl, and she got here quicker than I ever expected.  I am thinking that every mom goes through the shock of this realization sooner or later.  All I could think about as I watched her stomp down the aisle, eyes cast down, not even throwing the petals that were her charge, is just what a big girl she has become….and what a mother I had turned into!  Here I was at a wedding, about to cry not because of the ceremony, but because of how taken I was with my own daughter’s growth.  I am all caught up in this motherhood thing, and it crept up on me so quietly I didn’t even know it was happening.  It feels like only yesterday I was holding her in my arms while we both stared at each other skeptically, neither one knowing what to expect from the other.  But all this time my baby has been growing, I guess I have been too.  She is turning into a big girl, I am turning into a bona fide “momma” and we are both turning out okay.  We are growing up together, my baby and I,  and it seems like the time is flying.