“Are you ready to have a good day?!” I ask my baby girl in the morning, while en route to school.
“Yeah!” she yells with no shortage of enthusiasm.
My brown-skinned toddler is the one who twirls in the middle of her room right after putting on a dress. She makes me smile as she grins at herself in the mirror, boldly stating “I’m so pretty!” as if we didn’t just have a battle to get her hair combed and styled. This child is truly the embodiment of the self-confidence I didn’t gain until adulthood.
Being a Black woman raising a Black girl takes a level of dedication that is both frightening, yet magical. Those who identify as Black women and girls don’t always get space to simply just be. As I consider the ways I raise my daughter and what she is exposed to, I’ve also had to be introspective about my own life experiences and how they have shaped me as an adult and mother. It has required dealing with some hard truths, while at the same time, respecting the fact that I was chosen to lead her in life and that I have to let her fly when the time comes.
In reflection, I’d describe my childhood as solid. All of my needs and wants were met. I did struggle with my own self-confidence and not feeling like I was cute. I can recall a pivot moment towards achieving self-confidence: finally being able to ditch my glasses for contacts during my sophomore year of high school. In addition to my eyesight, the negative messages, both direct and indirect, about my skin complexion were top of mind and I wondered why I inherited the darker skin of my father and not the lighter complexion of my mother.
I was also the tallest girl in my class with big feet, acne and as mentioned earlier, glasses. To cope, I focused on my education and excelling in school which made me feel better. In addition to my height, the photos I have of myself as a little girl tell the story of a complicated relationship with my hair. In its natural state, my mane is thick and requires a lot of TLC. The memories of box perms with hot comb touch-ups in-between still give me a slight twitch. Thankfully, I had a friend of the family who helped me get my wraps right and once I was a working teenager, visiting my stylist was a regular and necessary expense.
I was about eight months pregnant, dipping my toes into the water of being natural as I realized the needs of a newborn would have to be at the forefront. That’s when my mindset began to shift. Hair was the last thing I wanted to concern myself with. So, I found a stylist, scheduled an appointment, and showed up at the barbershop. Watching my hair fall to the floor was more liberating than terrifying. And when I chopped it all off again a year after that, it was much easier.
Three years later, and armed with a perfected twist out, my relationship with my own hair is no longer complicated. It is an experience I embrace by keeping my products stocked, and surprisingly, I look forward to trying out new styles. Now, it’s about making sure that wash days for myself and my daughter are timed out because doing two heads in one day is the absolute most. She is somewhat supportive of the styling process, offering up her ideas (“Mommy, I want braids!”) My satisfaction comes when she grabs a mirror to proclaim how much she loves her hairstyle. As much as we are not only our hair, I have to admit that the feeling of standing firm in your beauty sometimes starts when your hair is on point.
When I was a child and even as a young adult, I lived with the idea that I had to please others and take their ideas about me into consideration before honoring my own needs. In reflection, I think part of this comes from the ideas and messages we get as young women about how we attract and maintain attention from prospective partners, as well as what we will do to make said partner happy.
Growing up, I received indirect, yet direct, messages about what it meant to be “put together.” There was a time when I wanted to wear a hat on a trip to a museum. My grandmother’s response to my wearing it was, “Crystal, that hat is not very becoming on you.” In the moment, I was confused and years later, the confusion turned into hurt as I realized that it was the beginning of the not-so-subtle ways that I was being told about how I should present myself for the sake of others. And also the hurt that came with realizing how much I cared about what people thought of me. The hurt from that comment was real for many years, and it wasn’t until earlier this year that I was able to speak that out loud to my grandmother.
I think about how the things we say to our children, directly or indirectly, impacts them in the moment and long-term. Starting the day with a “good morning, gorgeous girl!” to my daughter is intentional, along with the affirmations to remind her that she is smart, beautiful and loved.
Role modeling is a big deal for me as a Black woman, but especially as the mother of a Black daughter. Anytime there has been a question about who my role model is, I’ve always said my mother. Because of the way that she raised me and my brother, I thought I too could have kids and raise them without a partner. Now that I have had the experience of raising a child with my husband, I believe our child is best served by witnessing her parents raise her as a team. Then, I remember that single parenthood was not my mother’s first choice when having children with my father.
Now, there is a toddler who watches all of my moves. She wants to be with or near me most of the time. There are the small things that I notice and remember how intently she’s watching. If I happen to have my legs crossed while sitting on the couch, my daughter will look over and then cross her legs too. My mind is a random jukebox at times and when I randomly blurt out song lyrics, she follows suit (gotta watch those Savage Remix lyrics 😖).
In this year of crazy we’ve called 2020, the manifestation of self-love is bigger than physical appearance. It looks like an unapologetic prioritization of my family’s health and safety, binge-watching a new show, and smashing a pint of ice cream without regret. It also means being able to give an enthusiastic yes to those things that excite me. It also means being able to say no without much of an explanation, besides “I don’t want to.”
I consider it the ultimate honor to parent this child though her life’s journey. Even through the tears and tantrums, hearing “Mommy, I love you!” frequently, accompanied by a hug, makes it all worth it.