I want to start with a quote from my daughter’s Facebook page. Yes, I’m THAT mother who shamelessly stalks her children’s FB page for intel, and one way or another, I get what I came for. Say what you will about social media but I’m highly trained in mommy investigation and interrogation tactics and I know the value of social media. And my children also knows that if all else fails, I have tarot cards and I will use them.
So, about a week ago, after my daughter completed an interview for a job, one which she really wanted (and a job that I really wanted her to have) I came across a post that made my spirit jump up and down with excitement. It read, and I quote, “I’m now the Lead Bartender at the AMC movie theatre. They wanted me so bad, that they hired me on the spot, Cuz I kills interviews.” Do I need to tell y’all that I was one happy mama? And my happiness wasn’t because, the struggle has been really real out here and I’ve been begging, no, pleading for this child of mine to get a job. Mostly it was because the level of confidence in which she exuded before, during, and after her interview. Mind you, we are talking about the same daughter, who, after getting a job at UPS a week prior, walked in the front door and out the back – denouncing the work as “Slave Labor.”
The brilliance of my daughter is that, like her mother and her grandmother before her, she owns the light of her ancestors. Being a Harris woman, confidence is mandatory and there is a saying that matches our confidence,
“Where there is faith, fear cannot dwell.”
We don’t just take on the amazing challenges of forging new relationships and opportunities. We dive into them head first. This, in my case, has made for tons of bruises, skinned knees, and quite a few instances of heart ache that I’ve been left to mend and heal from.
My confidence has withstood it all because my confidence is generational and spiritual.
To understand where my confidence derives, you must understand the stories that my mother wove as I sat between her legs for our Saturday morning hair braiding sessions. They are the tales of overcoming oppression by integrating Illinois schools and the coming to peace with fear by looking square into its eyes. They are stories that that I hold sacred when I feel stagnant or too scared to carry on. They keep me grounded so that I can plan and execute my next move, be it professional or personal. My elders call this kind of information, “mother wit.” Know that you don’t need a mother to get “mother wit” as this knowledge is usually shared freely among women. Once you have the pleasure – no the honor – of receiving mother wit, you’ll never forget; it’s like a bowl of nourishing hot oatmeal that stick to the bones in the midst of a Polar Vortex.
What I’ll be providing is some love and mother wit. But in order for you to get this message you’ll have to journey back with me, back to 1985, back to Saturday morning Smurf cartoons and frosted Lucky Charms cereal in big Tupperware bowls. Sit a spell with 10 year old brown girl child me, in a garden apartment, fitted snuggly between the comforts of my mama’s thick brown legs. Hear me as I ask, “Mama, can you tell me that story again, the one about Grandma looking for you until midnight because you were afraid of the neighbor’s dog?” Then, hear my mama saying, “Oh, Child, you want to hear that story again? You can probably recite it on your own now, can’t you?” In the end my mother always obliged and here’s how her story went.
“I was deathly afraid of dogs growing up and the neighbors had what seemed like a giant bear for a dog. The fence was about yay high and the dog seemed to always be off the leash and able, if he tried, to leap over the fence in a single bound. I was sure that one day he would just come right on into our yard and gobble me up. So one day, while your grandmother was at work, I decided that I wanted to take my new skates out and roll up and down the alleyway of our apartment complex. And even though your grandmother told me to wait until the weekend, when she was off of work and could watch me, my legs were just itching to get into those roller skates. Up and down the alley I went, slapping high fives with my friends and giggling. Honey child, I tell you that I had so much fun! Well, anyway, time slipped right on by and before I knew it, it was time for your grandmother to get home from work. My plan was to put those skates right back in the box and have my clothes laid out and homework done before she’d gotten home but time just goes right on by when you’re having fun. Then the unthinkable happened. The neighbor let their dog into the yard. When I went through our back gate, there he was leaping in the air. I was so scared that I ran under the steps and hid in silence. They kept that dog out all night and all night he kept pacing and barking and leaping. I sat there under the stairs frozen, scared to move or breathe too loudly.
I was so frozen in fear that I watched as your grandmother and your uncles come down the stairs calling out my name. I saw them scour the neighborhood, questioning the neighbors, asking everyone if they had seen me. At one point, your grandmother was within touching distance; I could have reached out my hand and asked for help. But by that point, I was not only afraid, I was embarrassed. You see honey, fear sets up in the mind what isn’t really there. It makes you believe that you can’t talk to people and ask for help. It makes you believe that there is a danger that, if you look at the situation with a rational mind, isn’t really a danger at all. It makes you silent when you don’t really need to be.
So there I was, embarrassed, too afraid to move, and I had to pee. I sat there until the neighbors called their dog in around midnight. Then I moved swiftly up the stairs. I saw my mother crying through the window pane of the door. She had thought something terrible had happened to me. When she opened the door, she was so happy to see me that I didn’t get into any trouble, she just hugged me and kept crying and turning me around in a circle checking for bruises or anything out of place on my body. When she asked where I’d been and I told her “under the stairs because I was afraid of the dog” she said, “girl, don’t you ever be so scared that you can’t move. Debbie, there’s going to be tons of things that scare you but you can’t be so afraid that you forget to move or open our mouth to speak up.”
The next day, your grandmother took me to the neighbor’s house and explained to them about my fear of their dog. The man had a great big belly and he laughed so hard that it shook up and down. I wondered why the heck he was laughing when his stupid dog could eat me at any minute. However, I soon learned that the dog had no teeth and was s bit blind in one eye. In fact, when they brought the dog out to meet me, I looked him square in the eye and could see a white film over one eye. They call it a cataract eye. Well, I’ll be damn! Here all of this time, I had been scared of a dog with no teeth and cataract.”
Needless to say, my mother was fearless from that point on. I can’t ever remember a time where I saw her not in a state of confidence, dressed in her fearlessness, relaying to me that all was alright. I can even remember being homeless, just the year before my tenth birthday, and how she was so confident that we would secure housing that I was able to rest comfortably in the back seat of our Chrysler Plymouth. I think that she saw all of her problems or obstacles as a partially blind, toothless dog. Sure from the distance of disillusionment, fear can be very real and we can buy into the entire negative “what if’s”. We can all find a million and one reasons to not apply for that new job or approach a boss for a raise or to make that huge shift into the next part of our journeys as women. In as much we are told over and over again to not make waves, to silence ourselves and be humble and meek. Women are to be seen and not heard or made space for. However, if we just pull ourselves a little closer, close enough to go inward, we can address that naysayer inside that gets in the way of our dreams and hopes every, single, time. So what if being vulnerable to your dreams and aspirations means that you get a few bumps and bruises along the way? Standing still comes with its own devastating traumas and it isn’t half as fun!
Those moment’s nestled between my mother’s legs mattered. As she platted and braided my hair, she wove together the fabric of my being. She created this woman who constantly shows up for herself, even in the face of fear, and even in the vulnerability of perceived failure. My mother passed down mother wit enough to allow me room to rethink and recreate my own existence, to always shatter the glass ceilings created for me.
If you can take only one lesson from my mother, and her wit, it would be to keep showing up for yourself, even in the face of fear, and in whatever way that means for you. Everyday wake up and ask your selves, what would someone who love themselves do? Then go out and do that very thing as if your life depended on it.