Sending my daughter out into the world without me is proving to be the greatest trigger of my anxiety, and yet every day I must do it.
When the universe returns her to me, every single day, I instantly look her over to make sure that she is not bruised or beaten; that she is the same happy, magical Black girl I dropped off at school, at camp, at a birthday party, or any other place it should be normal and worry-free to leave her. After I’ve examined her, scanned her physical body for pain, I hug her tightly and begin to ply her with questions. I ask her about her day, happily, to hear her of daily adventures—what she has discovered about her favorite comic book hero, or what she learned in science class—but also to ensure that she has not been bruised on the inside, because I fully understand that this, too, is our story.
Once I realize she is safe, I do the same things most mothers do when reunited with the children they have had to leave. I fuss with her about picking her things up from her bedroom floor, I cook dinner (or at least try to choose a meal for her that will help her body, brain and heart develop), I push her to do her chores and take her bath and get herself in bed. And I don’t let her go to sleep without telling her that I love her.
Because I do.
I mean, I love her like I could not even imagine loving another person or place or thing. I love her so hysterically, so frantically, in fact, that my family and close friends often have to remind me that I have to let go a bit in order for her to use her wings and all the things I’ve taught her about herself and the world we live in.
I’ve taught her a lot.
As someone whose job it is to chronicle Black pain (and Black joy too, thank goodness), I do not hide my daughter from our Black collective reality. Even with her being a flighty and whimsical ten-year-old, she is regularly reminded of our story as a people; how far we’ve come, and how far we still must go. So I was excited when her Pan-African centered summer program announced its 27th tour through many historic and landmark civil rights sites found throughout the southern United States, rightfully named “The Freedom Tour.”
Because, as parents, her father and I believe in the sacredness of the Akan concept of Sankofa, which tells us that we must reach back to fetch our past in order to prepare for our future, I joyfully signed her up to visit the home of Medgar Evers, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Edward Pettus Bridge, and Little Rock High (to name only a few places they’d stop on the tour). But as I packed her bag for the week-long trip, my worries about her safety began to overtake me.
The more I packed, the more sullen I became. The more excited she was about leaving me for this new and independent experience, the more tears I fought back. And on the day I took her to the bus to leave me, I could not stop crying. I cried like those referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, as though I had no hope. I could not wrap my mind around how I would survive six whole days without checking my baby, my greatest love, for bruises on her body and soul. And it was in this moment that I realized that we, Black mothers, are experiencing our own kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), that mothering Black children in 2016 should not mean preparing for the very worst while the hoping for best. The best being, maybe, that our children are returned to us alive, and not physically or mentally broken.
My anxiety, my PTSD, is warranted. It is made credible each time I look into the eyes of Samaria Rice (the mother of Tamir Rice) who opted out of the Mothers of the Movement segment at the recent Democratic National Convention, because she believes that no candidate running for president (including Hillary Clinton) is speaking her language about police reform. My fears for my daughter’s safety is affirmed, more, by the mothers of the slain Black children, men and women who did attend the DNC—Maria Hamilton, Annette Nance-Holt, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, Wanda Johnson, and Lezley McSpadden— in knowing that those mothers only gained space on the stage because their children have been martyred. And that no one would have listened to their irrational fears about raising Black children in America before those children were killed.
The message was clear: Black mothers are given a stage to speak about the worries and pain and stress and anxiety of raising Black children when they are facing the unimaginable—trying to piece together a life without the children they birthed and carried through the world for as long as they could, doing the best that they could. And there is likely not one Black mother who doesn’t believe that one day she might have to speak up, during the incomprehensible mourning that is only experienced through the death of a child—to assert her child’s humanity to those who refuse to see it.
It would seem that mothering while Black might be a different experience in 2016. That Black mothers would be saved from wailing in pain like Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till. But here we all are, collectively, praying our children make it home to us alive, and hoping the bruises we can nurse will someday heal.