My daughter wrote a haiku about birdhouses, about how birds get food from inside them, and of course how birds eat the food. It was nestled towards the end of her book of poetry where anything was allowed. Roller skates made in rainbow colors. Birds and their birdhouse. Puppies playing. Even her name and all it stands for, at least to her. To go through life fixing your mind on others, birds, brothers, puppies is freedom to me. Sitting under a moonlit sky is freedom too. To go through life, under a moonlit sky, with others, my daughter, her brothers, is the ultimate freedom. Keep this freedom for you.
I have been writing and deleting the start of an imaginary book yet unwritten. As if afraid to walk into my moonlight. Yet, fear is the last thing on my mind. So I keep writing. I call it ‘Black Mom Light.’ A coming-of age memoir for rising as a black mom from darkness to light. An anti-racist memoir on being a black mother in today’s America. I also call it ‘Brown Mom Listing.’ The second name is from Jacqueline Woodson ephemeral memoir in verse, ‘Brown Girl Dreaming.’ If her memoir were full of poems that were profound and moving, mine, are full of lists, a keep list, equally profound and captivating. I am obsessed with the style of her book that it inspired name number 2. I imagine my keeplists, what you read here every day as listing or the act of putting words, or stories into lists to keep. I also envision them as being focused on what truly matters and keeping that for myself, for yourself, for my people, for your people, for humanity. These lists span my days like a wide bridge, wild butterflies too, forever ready to spread their wings and fly, forever ready to move to new heights, to new places, so many wonders to see, in the words of my daughter, my forever muse.
The thought of what to keep, what to list each given day is a treasure for each passing day. They give me strength for days when none is left. They help me attend to other things too, like my other obsession, grant writing. Every lists carries my heart and my thoughts to somewhere. Maybe flowers. They are also my forever muse , forever brilliant, forever of use. Maybe trees. I have no names for all I see, but they too help me attend to all I need to do. Tall luscious trees and their graceful abundance are bound to make you dance as the make me dance. Maybe my children. My forever muse. Not a day goes by without being caught in their spell, their wants, their blissful gifts, that lift to new abyss. But hidden at the root of all I choose to keep is a desire for legacy, for light, for rising above what society says we should or must do as parents, as professors, as people. Yet for every thing I keep, there are some I still don’t share here. Some written even at the same time. Like the one written right before I shared this one. Those ones are part of what I describe as my extraordinary lists. We are all extraordinary people in the end. No one else exists as me, with thoughts like mine. I would rather I live life in extraordinary ways than ways destined to be ordinary. I wasn’t made of ordinary. So this list is my attempt at that. One keep at a time. The destination remains unknown. We are moving beyond the rigidness of your vision. If this is our first meeting. Welcome. The vision for this keeplist is extraordinary. Every list is in place of the vision society may have for women like me. A keep of sorts, of conversations we are not having, of refusals to be silent. This woman maybe black or brown. But her voice is shrouded in light and with each day, she walks out into moonlight to touch her power.
It’s time for new dreams, new stars to pursue, new light to seek out in this mysterious pulse we call life. I started to write a reflection piece yesterday. About auto-ethnography as lists and how it changed my life. Then I let the words speak and they spoke as they wanted too, highlighting unsuspecting dimensions, just as gentle as soothing breeze.
I did then and now still believe in the power of words, their power with pushing forward the highest in us, including all we inhibit inside our minds until they come to the surface. Starting this list of things to keep literally changed my life and for the better. It spoke to my joys and my hurdles with being a mother in academia. It also spoke to my doubts, and of course my fears, but mostly importantly circles of thoughts completed, many of which were like melodies from heaven for many unmeasured silences of being a mother, being black and being female in academia. In the end, these lists helped me to stay focused on what matters to me. The rhythms of life well lived on one’s own terms. Not the accolades, not the grants, and yes not even the papers or work. All of that is minimal in comparison to the blessings, the legacies that outlive what we do, long after we are gone. And we are all going to leave one day.
So this list is more so about that inner dialogue we all have within ourselves, I had within me, a private journey to my own truths of what matters to me, what I want to be known for, and how somethings, some people, some ideas, some hurdles, all of them combined, helped to restory my life one list at time. All of that combined helped to raise the possibilities of storytelling for me, hence why it’s time for new dreams. The talented and prolific author and poet Ben Okri is my guide and his profound and enchanting book of the same title is my inspiration. The destination, as with this lists, remains unknown. But I look forward to exquisitely crafted ideas that speak to the beauty and triumph of a being a black mom in light.
I asked myself today, a question most mothers ask themselves everyday. How the hell do you do this? Today was the first time in close to three weeks I had a day to myself. Not an entire day, more like four hours for me. I have been running a nonstop marathon even with kids in school. A little after they all went back to school in mid August, they all became sick, one after the other. We thought it was Covid, took a test and it wasn’t. Just a nasty viral bug that meant sleepless nights and restless days. It all finally cleared up over the weekend and today, even my one year old went back to daycare. Just as I left his daycare, I took a deep breath and asked myself those seven letter words, that many mothers ponder everyday. My eyes immediately greeted Dahlia’s planted outside the daycare. A symbol of best wishes. It was as if it wanted to offer some to me. To wish me well at this moment I called my own. How does it swirl in this way I asked, with finely carved petals, that hang together neatly, as if painted by hand. I stopped and stared at them for a brief moment, took in the air and said a little thank you. How the hell do I do it? By his grace. His sheer grace. I am nothing on my own. I shudder to think that I can go through life on my own. We are not meant to do this thing called life alone. That’s how I do it. By his grace and it’s truly sufficient for me.
I have been excavating other ways of being lately. Other ways of being together too. Other ways to imagine interior lives seldom shared. This unending murmur is part of the noise I narrate. Of motherhood, for example, for mother’s that are black, mothers in academia, mothers with little children, mothers finding themselves still, while being nurturing, as we navigate this space we find nourishing, note-worthy too.
Sometimes, my desire to write about my experience is clear. Inspirations come from all angles too. Like my children, or flowers, like Dahlias and their thick opulent petals, that unfurl, ever so softly with every swirl.
Sometimes, I am moved by the scent of life, the power of meaningful experiences etched in my memories. Like my baby’s first crawl, or his first steps. His first words too, in repetition, over and over again, like da da, or ma ma, unlocks feelings that I have to air in some way, of the multitude of ways learning with life occurs, especially when you stop and kiss the ground, like babies do when crawling or walking.
Sometimes the words come to me, like a whisper. I am obedient to the power of language. Words are supposed to be useful, supposed to move you. So I listen, and dig deeper, down to the hole where the message resides, where the sightings of water, like in a deep well, becomes clear. I listen to tell you about this interior life, full of knowledge that flows through me with words I put together. Though I have no time to tell you everything, I am an overflowing oasis, open and obedient to opportunities, that are opulent, like Savannahs after rain, opportunities that offer to help me move onward in ways that are truly outstanding. So we move and organize possibilities way beyond our abilities. The sound and action of all the possibilities I have, my silence transformed to action, my survival taught as strategies, my stories in the making, those told and still formulating, all of them is so you hear me differently, see me differently too, beyond the spaces you choose or the mirrors you use to shape what you think I am becoming. I need not respond to anything. For my fears are not new, they are not old, even though they are not told.
This constant state of remaking, restorying too, is so you see and feel the story I am becoming. The stretching of my mind, the injection of creativity, of flowers and birds, of trees, and their hidden stories, all help to tell the stories that rally, stories that sustain, stories that oppose all you think about black mothers in light. To be one, to become one, to clear the path towards light, in the middle of darkness is an audacious task. Even if what I write, what I say only touches your soul one time, I have won. For to transform this silence, to use words to bring it out, and pour it in a space, not constrained by others is transformative. I am transformed in process. You are too.
Hence the purpose of this keep. To help you, me, express what I already know but may fail to say. That to be silenced is not without voice. To lack funds to is not without will. There is a way. Another path exists, however muted the path you wanted may seem today. The potential for light, the potential to rise from darkness to light resides in you. It is in you and always has. So keep rising. Your words, your light is the first opening of possibilities. You are important. You are valuable. Your light is inevitable. Keep creating art and words with your life.
I saw a image on LinkedIn. An image focused on the invisible load of motherhood. Invisible load of mothering black children. I froze because I knew the image was talking directly to my soul. I saved the image. I didn’t want to read it at first because I knew it would be to heavy for my mental health. I looked at it after awhile and all I could say to myself was yes, yes, and some more yes. The load is heavy. From protecting our children’s innocence to feeling pressured to have well-behaved children, all 9 statements spoke directly to my soul that all I will do know, for now is keep this year. Black mothers have a lot to deal with. Keep us in mind every time.
The four top stories on NPR this morning were on gun violence. Three of them were on police violence on minority lives, black lives, black men, a teen, Adam, who was only 13 and in 7th grade. Despite what they say, his last acts where his hands up in the air. Then in an instance he too became a name we add to the air. A familiar stance. We have been here before too and once again we say his name not for fame but because his life, like the lives of all God’s children mattered despite the trauma another mother, another family, another community encounters.
There is a virus that is spreading as fast as wildfire. The name is racism and the victims are minorities, black lives, black men, black boys in the hands of those sworn to protect them. It sickens me as a black mother. It keeps me hypervigilant even though my black boys are only babies. I see their smiles this morning, all three of them. I listen to their empty banter about food on the floor and whether it’s still safe to pick it up and eat. I watch as they play with each other, while eating and shudder for what tomorrow holds, whether their future would be whole. It’s the same helpless, restless thoughts that continues to consume and frighten every black mother I know raising black boys in America today. This virus has left all of us vulnerable, all of us helpless, all of us restless, all of us ready to become resilient, and all of us in desperate search of ways to usher healing from this vicarious racial trauma that inflicts its trauma in our lives in a continuous manner. Healing is the only thing that we want. Not because we can bring an end to exposures from racism or racial traumas but because we can and want to take ownership of the future we want for our children. One where they will be free to be and live as children, as boys, and men, with black lives that matter. Its an ambitious ask. I know. But we have to become bold for this transformative healing. It’s may also seem trivial our hope for healing but it’s the only thing that seems to matter so no mother feels a hole for their child who deserves to be whole. It’s my ask for today. Keep demanding for healing from this trauma for us by us.