I literally gave birth to my own joy. I didn't know that was actually possible until he arrived.
"The other night when you said they boys could stay home with us forever...I took issue with it initially but the more I thought about why you were saying it, I get it. I wish there was a way we could keep them safe throughout their lives too."
I choked back a swell of tears and simply said "Yeah."
What I remember about that night and my declaration is that Austin was once again fighting sleeping in his own bed and wanted to fall asleep in Mama and Daddy's. I don't remember what my husband was saying to try and convince him to go back to his own bed that made the words lurch out of me in a protective manner, but I remember how I felt as they did: terrified. Desperate. Lost. For a quick 4-5 seconds any hope for their future and safety was obliterated and in response I blurted out " YOU CAN STAY WITH MAMA AND DADDY FOREVER. You don't ever have to leave home. You and your brothers can just stay with us. You can."
Let me explain something to you. Barring some kind of circumstance that would necessitate it, I have never envisioned myself as a parent whose children live with them past the age of 18. Hell, moving back in with my parents as a single mother at the age of 25 was difficult for all of us except my oldest who was just an infant at the time. I am not one who fancies their children living at home. But as Austin was frantically making a beeline towards me on the bed with his blanket in tow, something in me snuffed out hope as I thought of him as an adult and it triggered a declaration rooted in panic in response to my husband's insistence that he go to his own bed...that he has to learn how to be on his own.
I know he's right. I believe it myself. I'm all for my kids being able to find their own way when necessary as they grow and develop into their own person. Hell, I'm only a fan of co-sleeping during the first couple of years because sleep deprivation is a devil I try to avoid. I'm not a fan of having my boys all up under me...and yet over the last few months especially, the rising tide of race based violence in this country has me secretly scrambling to grasp ahold of a false promise that if I just keep them with me at all times, they'll stay alive...that they'll live their full, best lives unencumbered by a "social" construct that deems them unworthy of simply being able to exist.
It's irrational to think or feel that way...but yet not unwarranted given the state of policing and violence toward Black and Brown bodies in this country. This is what it's like for me, a Black woman, to be a mother of Black and Latino children in 2016, and honestly since Trayvon was murdered for looking "suspicious". Despite knowing how racism and supremacy work, that was the event that as a mother, woke me up and transported me into this gravity well where I spend my days frantically fighting to hold onto hope that we won't die as a result of either...where I see my child laughing as he runs away from his father and towards me, mischief and a desire for comfort in his eyes, and I'm randomly, suddenly seized with fear that he will not live his full life.
We have three children. Black. Latino. Boys. Wild, dynamic, hilarious, clever, wicked smart, Black and Brown boys. They are 9, 6, and 2.5. Brennan has ADHD. Alex and Austin are labeled as "high functioning" autistic with speech delays. All three have some aspect of sensory processing disorder and out of the three, Alex's is the most severe.
If you've been following me online over the last 3-4 years, or are a close friend or family member you already know this. You know that since Alex was 3, and after Bren received his diagnosis in 2nd grade, our lives have revolved around specialist visits and physical, speech, behavioral, and occupational therapy sessions. You know that we advocate fiercely for them to gain the skills and tools they need to understand and enjoy who they are as well as navigate a world that will view and judge them based on how they look initially, and then later, how they might act.
What you might not know is that the 5 of us haven't been out to eat as a family in nearly 3 years. Restaurants tend to be sensory overload for the boys, especially Alex, so we've actively avoided dining out. But this summer we've been focusing on reintroducing it, trying out our local Chic Fil A (aside from Tyson's frozen chicken fries, CFA makes the only chicken Alex can/will eat) then Panera, and now IHOP, a fave Brennan and my husband enjoy eating at together.
This might not seem like anything significant, and perhaps if the current climate around race and policing in this country were different, it wouldn't be. Yet on a morning when I've read the news about behavior therapist Charles Kinsey being shot by Miami police while helping a Latino autistic youth who was playing with a toy truck, it is-at least for me. It's significant because the fear that grips me when I read that a man with his hands up while laying on the ground was shot anyway tells me to just stay home. It triggers my anxiety and panic and attempts to sell me the lie that just staying inside the house or telling my boys they can live in our home forever, where it's safe, will keep us alive...and some days I just allow myself to believe it and exist in that delusion to safeguard my mental health until I feel bearing the weight of reality is doable again. It's a gravity well there is no climbing out of, only existing in, and being at the mercy of, while also fighting to thrive in spite of dwelling there.
Last night fear paralyzed me as I heard Kinsey describe what happened to him, and watched the video. This morning it drove me out of the house to IHOP, more for something tangible and practical I could do to continue to empower my children and help them thrive and less for internationally famous pancakes. Fear tells me it's futile and that there's nothing I can do, but it also drives me to do something, anything, everything I can to protect them in ways that enable their self-sufficiency and agency, so I try to channel it into doing that. Even as my palms sweat and my heart pounds as we exit our house and buckle ourselves into the van. Even then.
“A toy truck,” Kinsey told the officers. “I am a behavior therapist at the group home. That’s all it is.”
“I was really more worried about him [the patient] more than myself because … once I’ve got my hands up they’re not going to shoot me, this is what I’m thinking, they’re not going to shoot me,” Kinsey said. “Wow, was I wrong.” (Read about it here)
Kinsey asked the officer why he shot him. He stated the officer responded "I don't know."
I just don't know how to NOT be afraid for my sons...or my husband, or myself. I just don't anymore.
My feelings on Mother's Day and my relationship w/motherhood are messy and complicated, so accepting recognition or special gifts for being a mother feels weird to me 95% of the time...and I'm pretty upfront about that. This makes it a bit difficult for my husband and kids to know what to do on days like these. But there's that 5% of the time where being seen and appreciated for being fully myself and part of my family feels like the very best thing I could ask for. I think that's because it's a reminder that I'm not alone and that I am loved unconditionally-regardless of my struggle w/motherhood as a defining identity.
Today is falling under that 5%. My heart and thoughts are with those of you who for whatever reason, struggle with this day and all that's wrapped up in it and in this identity. I see you. I hear you. I get it. I celebrate you and your truths around this, whatever they may be. ✊🏽❤️
When you can't beat 'em...
Be it a brayer I've abandoned for a brush as I work on a piece, or my favorite matte purple lipstick ("Shameless" by Revlon), this one is mastering the art of imitation at age two. He's my constant companion in the studio, quietly underfoot, his little hands searching blindly along the edges of my work tables for something to grasp while I work. Nothing is safe or off limits no matter how far I think I'm moving it beyond his reach-he finds a way to deftly, and swiftly get paint, brushes, spray bottle, brayer, palette knife, paper towels, water in his hands when my focus is elsewhere. I've begrudgingly begun to accept that if he's awake, there is no working in the studio without him next to, behind, or underneath me silently watching or working just as diligently as I am. He watches, then imitates both in the studio and around the house, spraying the walls, couch or television with water from my spray bottle he grabbed off my table or tagging his brand new shirt or wall with my lipstick.
His brothers enjoy drawing and sometimes playing in paint (Alex always always always uses a brush, no fingers, because tactile aversion), but he's the first of my children to show such an affinity for it...an intense focus on it, which intrigues me as I watch him.
Come to think of it, I painted quite a bit while he grew in my belly those nine months. A lot, actually. Maybe that's why it seems so flow out of him so effortlessly, in a way that it doesn't with them. He studies my movements and attempts to replicate them on his own. I've often looked down to see him foam brush or brayer in hand, quietly painting a corner of a piece in progress, mimicking my movements and strokes with whatever tool I'm using.
I think it's time to get him his own easel, brushes, apron, and paper. Perhaps his own brayer as well-that seems to be his favorite, which has me smiling as I type this because it's mine as well.
Oh you beautiful, mischievous, joyful, getting into all the things all the time boy.
What an explosive and intricate work of art you are.
I took this photo yesterday, and here's what flashed through my mind as I did.
Everyone keeps telling me that when they get older, managing their lives will get easier and the daily grind of mothering them at these ages won't feel so overwhelming or consuming. Independence and self-sufficiency as they age will make it easier they say. You'll have more breathing room. You'll be able to have more time and more of your mind to yourself again.
I don't doubt that there is truth to this-people are living it, and experiencing it for themselves, so I don't deny them that. It's true for them and I understand the desire to encourage other parents in this way, by telling them it gets better, by showing solidarity in saying "I've been there, it won't always feel like it's your undoing."
But...for me, there are moments/days/weeks/months/years when I don't know if I believe that this will be the case for me. I'm watching my own mother parent me and my siblings at 33, 25, and 20, and it doesn't look...easy. I don't know if I'll be able to say when they are 15, 12, and 9 or 25, 22, and 19 that mothering my boys, who are Black, Brown, and not neurotypical, will get...easier. Less overwhelming. Less worrisome. Or that working to ensure the tools they need to navigate living will feel any less urgent than it does every time my eyes open to greet a new day. Or that I'll be able to escape how crushing the weight of trying to empower them to navigate a world that marks their intersecting identities as Other is.
I mean...what exactly is supposed to get easier about being their mother while living and navigating the intersections of my own identity? (Identities?) I'm a Black woman living with bipolar disorder and anxiety working hard to overcome the impact of trauma in my own life...and live out the lessons of consequence from my own choices, good and bad...in a society where I am an Other too. How does any of that become "easy"?
I think I've been holding onto a false, idealized promise here, hoping it gets me across the Jordan to the other side.
I don't think easier is the right word. Maybe it's not about getting easier at all. I'm wondering out loud here that it doesn't actually become easier for most of us...perhaps we really just learn to adapt, adjust, and approach this parenting gig in ways that help us meet the challenges and shifts in their needs and our capacities as they grow. I'm thinking the other side is really just us learning how to function with the weight and chaos of living and parenting in a f*cked up world.
It's never going to get easy or easier, this process, this living out our lives while parenting others. Maybe instead...we change the language we use because language matters. So tell me instead that somehow, we'll get through this thing called life. Tell me instead I'll learn what works and what doesn't and that hopefully, I'll just manage to keep us alive and thriving in spite of. Just help me find the joy in the cracks and crevices. Help me hope that love is enough to carry them through what they'll face as autistic and neurodivergent Black and Brown boys who will eventually be men. Help me hope that bipolar disorder doesn't rob me of the chance to give them the best of me that I can as long as I can. Help me work to make this world one that doesn't steal their humanity from them.
Don't tell me that it gets easy. Tell me instead how to manage the fact that it won't. Ever.