There’s a saying “being a mother is to have your heart walking outside your chest”. It speaks to the bond between mother and child, the biological and spiritual connection between the two. Scientist have determined early in pregnancy DNA is shared between mother and child. I believe wholeheartedly, even after birth you are one. It’s the energy that allows mothers to feel something isn’t right even in their absence. “My heart’s” name is Jaiden. I am the mother of a beautifully-melanated, Black boy. I’ve always considered myself an activist; a champion for the causes of the unheard, forgotten, and oppressed. However, becoming a mother repurposed my focus and my fight. The paralyzing fear of “my heart” interacting in a society unconcerned with is life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.
Today “my heart” and I climbed a mountain. It was an exercise we’d done together at least once in life. When we began the journey my motivation was simply to accrue steps on my Fitbit and have a nifty outing with my son. I was unaware of the many lessons and “truths” this journey would birth. This particular mountain has an East Summit (known as the “hard side”) and a West Summit (the “easy side”). Being the tough yet fun mom I am, we took the “hard side”. Armed with our bag containing 3 bottles of water, 2 Slim Jims, and Frito Lay Sunflower Seeds we began our journey.
Being the normal, energetic, and competitive 10-year old young he is, Jaiden starts up the mountain ahead of me. As I’m breathing heavily, struggling to keep up, and allowing him to only go so far till I catch up, I began to think and take in my journey. I recalled the first time we traveled this mountain. I was so very afraid to allow “my heart” to climb this large, rocky, and unfamiliar structure. I traveled ahead of him to show him where to step. I traveled ahead of him with the rationale that if something fell it would hit me first and protect him.
All parents are a child’s first teacher. The biggest lessons are non-verbal. They are in what you do. As a mother/parent we must lead with integrity. We must be aware of our steps because they will follow. We must be mindful that our risky choices are possibly their consequences. Metaphorically, when we make a bad decisions as an adult we see consequences heading toward us like a train in the night. Quickly, we jump and roll off the track. Now, remember children step where you step. So when you jump they jump, right? However, anyone that has ever walked with a small child knows they are always one step behind. Even if you are holding their hand, will they make if off the “track of consequences” before the train of your decisions annihilates their future or worse their life?
Inevitably, the further we went the harder the climb. Still struggling behind my prince I realized something even more precious than his leadership, tenacity, and perseverance. He was climbing in front of me and I was unafraid.
I remembered we’ve done this before and I’ve shown him where to step. I was confident that if he couldn’t recall my steps that he could make his own. Most importantly I understood the amazing asset he had behind him if he fell, me. I realized how important it was to allow him space and autonomy even on a mountain somewhat unfamiliar to him. I can catch him if he falls.
The thought was so powerful to me in that moment I needed a minute. I looked up at my growing Black son and saw him anew. This beautiful creature before me was an entity all his own.
So often we remind our children how similar they are to someone be it ourselves, their other parent, a relative, etc. “He/she got it honest”, “he is just like his…”, “well I did the same thing”. They hear and absorb those things. While we can acknowledge similarities, let us instill in them the truth that they are a brand new creation, never before seen by this Earth. As parents we are guides, endless ethereal tethers, ensuring they fly as high as they want while keeping them grounded in character and wisdom. Allow them the opportunity to be an entity all their own.
Midway up the climb my prince looks back and admires the view. He offered me the same. I declined and responded, “I’ll wait”, and he laughed heartily. I could see my strong Black son getting weary, and slowing in his step. He has given so much so fast he was winded and weary. My charming son agreed to carry our bag of resources up the hill when we began. I imagined halfway up it must have felt like bricks against his back. I’d asked my prince several times, “How are you?” as we walked and talked checking on him physically and each time he said “I’m fine”. We went only a little way further and I stopped. “Give me the bag my love, I’ll carry it.” He looked so relieved. It was time for a quick life lesson. “Take a seat son”. I advised him that asking for help is a sign of strength. It is wise to realize the brevity of your knowledge, skill, or will. “You will hear many things about who you should be as your grow. You’ll be told how to be as a man, a Black man, a boyfriend, etc. Never let the expectations of who people think you should be deny you the standards you know of yourself.”
We often trap ourselves and teach our young in the cultural, societal, familial expectations that have been set for us or by us. Pushing ourselves or our offspring to succeed is necessary. However, so is learning to ask for help. “No man is an island.” We are all connected and greater together. “E pluribus unum” Out of the many, one.
Now close to the top, our ambition renewed, MLK excerpts playing in my head, we have victory in our eyes. I stumbled and cursed a rock. “Are you ok mom? Do you need help?” “Not this time.” I was impressed by his gesture, and it made my mind wonder. I advised him that when climbing to the top it’s natural to look back. Behind you will always be someone needing help. It is important not to sacrifice your footing pulling weight you are not strong enough to carry.
Sitting on top of the world with my son was breath-taking. However, I was so exhausted I didn’t even want to sit up! I laid down on the longest, flattest rock I could find, and informed my son we should rest and soak up this free vitamin D. “Wont we get black if we lay in the sun?”, he says. “And if we do?!?!?” I exclaimed instantly. First my heart stopped from hurt. Then it raced with anger at the words falling out of my beautifully-bronzed son’s mouth. The self-hate programming hit me like a ton of bricks as a dark-skinned woman. I remember similar thoughts from my youth. I took assiduous effort in choosing my next few words. With a stentorian purpose, I reminded my son just how beautiful black is! Unbothered by the additional company atop the mountain, unashamed of my pride, and undeterred by odd looks, I continued my impromptu monologue, “Black is beautiful”. “Son, It wouldn’t matter if we sat here till we are the color of my tights, or that spot on your basketball shorts. Scientifically, black is the absorption of all color. It is from black in which all colors originate. black is powerful, therefore Black people are powerful. NEVER let anyone tell you different!! You are beautiful. WE are beautiful.” He appeared intrigued by passion, but ensorcelled by my boldness. As stated in Truth 1 WE (parents) are the first teachers, and I do not take that lightly. I did not make it a point to talk so loud I made others uncomfortable. I simply continued a conversation with my son about who HE is. I did not demean, decry, or disparage anyone else’s race or culture, or contribution to diversity while acknowledging my own. I was able to share love without hate.
Often times we, especially people of color, make ourselves small to accommodate the people around us. We fall victim to hiding our pride and whispering our appreciation for ourselves. Truth is history sometimes an ugly absolute we cannot change, or correct. It is necessary to hold the information without hoarding and hauling its pain. If a bulldozer came to knock down my house I have every right to be angry. However, what I do next is imperative to survival. If I sit in the rubble angrily shouting my injustices it will be tantamount to death. If I only go to leadership and government pleading my case, waiting on my judgement, and hoping it covers my cost failure or success is then removed from my hands and given to chance. However, if I mourn my house, acknowledge my pain and prepare to rebuild or start anew, I’ve decided my perseverance outweighs my persecution, and a dream “un-deferred” is my destiny.
As we headed home life was back to normal. As the intoxicating thrill of our climb faded like the perspiration from our backs in the air conditioned vehicle. I grew quiet and pensive. It dawned on me that even though I’ve climbed that mountain countless times before that this time was brand new. I saw a completely different path and I was aware more prepared for the difficulty and distance this time.
I hold this truth to be self-evident: I may climb the same “mountain” multiple times before I understand it all, but sometimes the lesson is worth the wait.