Is the #WholeMama Ordinary?

2012-06-29 18.08.02

At ten o’clock in the morning, I walk with my mama two blocks in the sweltering heat from the small shot-gun rose-pink house to the Honey Suckle Rose. This is the bar where my mama works. She opens the bar six days a week, so when I stay with her I open the bar too. I have to leave and go to my sister’s house by two o’clock in the afternoon because that’s when the bar gets rowdier. Until then, Mama unlocks the heavy back doors and I help her take down the chairs, clean the counters, check the bathrooms, and do the morning inventory.

I put two dollars in the juke box and play our favorite songs. She dances with me as we pass each other during our chores, and I stand closer to her so I can hear my mama’s sweet voice singing along with Otis. When Mama stops to smoke a cigarette, I stop to eat nachos. We share a Coke and watch the lazy neighborhood wake up and begin its business. Mama waves to everybody who walks past the bar in the alley, and she knows most of them by name. It’s that kind of neighborhood.

She tells me that the whole place used to be all white people, and when more blacks started moving in, most of the whites moved away. But not our family. She says they’ve lived here since she can remember, and there ain’t no sense in moving away. She says there’s room here for all of us. When Mr. Watson stops at the back door to share a smoke break and talk about his BBQ business, Mama asks him about his wife and kids, if he wants a drink, and invites him in to use the restroom.

Mr. Watson tells me he puts his pork on to smoke at four o’clock in the morning, then he sets up his restaurant for the day, takes a nap, then goes for a walk. This is when we see him every morning. He smiles bigger than anybody and always has a funny story to tell, and I just think he’s the nicest and funniest man I’ve ever met. Mr. Watson gives me a dollar for the juke box, and says he’ll see us tomorrow. He never comes inside.

Before my sister picks me up at the bar, the old timers show up and teach me a few pool hall hustles. They show me how to hold the stick and how to look at the balls to know where they’ll sink. These old men with their big beards and belly laughs are like my very own group of drunken grandpas. They all buy me sodas and give me money to play the songs they like but never think to play themselves.

Mama is putting on her eyeliner and mascara and teasing her hair long curly hair in a little mirror behind the bar, and watching me the whole time. I can feel her eyes on me and I know she’s watching these grandpas to make sure they’re not getting too flirty, so I check in with a wave and a wink and she smiles.

I think my mama must be the most beautiful and amazing woman on the planet. I think she must have so many secrets and the mystery of her excites me. When I see the way customers talk to her, the way they respect her, and the way they care about her, I know we are at home in this little dark space that smells like beer and cigarettes. I don’t let myself think about the times she doesn’t show up or the birthdays we don’t spend together.

In these ordinary moments when we are together, she’s already forgiven.

2015-05-25 16.55.22-1

It’s another hot morning in this heat wave – almost 80 degrees at six-thirty in the morning – and I look over my children before I leave for work. I envision them playing outside and getting too hot. I wonder if they’ll lay around the house all day instead. I go upstairs to tell Auntie Lisa that I’m leaving and the kids are still sleeping and to please make sure Stella eats something and doesn’t spend the whole day alone on a digital device. For my super smart gaming nerd daughter, this is an ideal way to spend the summer. We all work together to remind her to eat and go to the bathroom as needed.

I think of Adam and hope he’s having a great time at the Ren Faire. It’s the first day of the season, Student & Youth Day – kind of a dress rehearsal before the big opening on Saturday. I drive to work and I pray. Then I wonder what I should make for supper.

Does Stella think I’m beautiful and amazing? I wonder how she thinks of me. How she sees me. She doesn’t believe us when Adam and I tell her that I play the clarinet and can play an assortment of brass instruments. She’s even seen me play, but that is not part of her mother’s identity.

She doesn’t believe that her Aunt Bugg and I used to play Super Mario Bros everyday after school, or that I’ve ever played a Zelda game. I tell her that I used to take tap, jazz, and ballet classes and she giggles at the thought of her mother in tights and a leotard. She thinks it’s even funnier when I tell stories about the rugby club I played with in Atlanta.

Her mama gardens and cooks and does laundry. Her mama reads and plays games with her and organizes Monday Night at the Movies in the living room. Her mama works and sets up doctor’s appointments and makes sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing – or at least tries on the last one. Her mama plans little getaways and has a silly tradition of gifting rain gear on Valentine’s Day. Her mama has only ever loved her daddy, and didn’t even have a life before Stella was born.

These are things she knows now. There are so many things we can share in the future. I might one day share more of my own secrets with her the way my mother did with me – when the time is right. And during this ordinary time that we share together, I’m good with however she sees me – with whoever she thinks I am.

Agere Contra, friends

This post is part of week seven of the #WholeMama movement from Esther Emery. Please check out the other amazing female writers who are part of the  movement this summer. Here is the Link Up if you feel so inclined to join us.

whole-mama

The #WholeMama Makes Space

2014-10-18 12.07.57

I’m recovering from a sinus infection and everybody else in my family gets sick. I’m tired and worn out, but trying to regain some kind of normalcy to my routine. The baby coughs at night and can’t sleep unless I’m holding him. This is new. He’s never liked being held while he’s sleeping. The eight year old is taking it in stride. She’s playing on the iPad, lying on the couch, dozing in and out of the day. The husband is running a fever and every two hours has cold sweats. He’s coping though, and we enjoy a nice evening chatting and laughing and spending time together.

Instead of reading the last few chapters of my book when I go to bed, I hold the baby and run my fingers through his hair. I watch him sleep. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for this time. I’m so lost in his face that I don’t even think about the “me” time that I’m missing out on. Until my shoulder starts to hurt from the way I’m propped in the bed. Now the pain is getting sharper and my tired body is achy and I don’t know how to move from this spot without waking the sick boy in my arms. I should put him in his crib so I can get some sleep, I think. But I don’t. I just slide down and cradle him. I make space for him. I’m his mama, making space for him is what my heart makes me do.

I wake up feeling like I was hit by a Mack truck. The first time the boy sleeps with me is also the last, I promise myself. I scroll through Twitter while sipping coffee. It’s the first cup of coffee since I got sick. When I’m sick I drink hot tea with lots of honey. So I’m enjoying this coffee while breaking my heart open to the troubles of the world.

Sometimes these troubles are just so heavy.

I’ll begin with a lighter trouble.

Today, I decide to end my relationship with Target. After not being able to find decent length shorts for my daughter and realizing their girls’ clothes are at least two actual sizes smaller than the boys clothes with the same size tag, I see that they’re selling t-shirts that say Trophy in the women’s department. I’m almost certain I don’t even need to explain why this is frustrating. People can certainly create and sell at their own fancy, and I can choose where to shop. So I tell Target on Twitter that I’m done making space for them in my paycheck.

I meditate on this and my heart says I need to make space in my soul and in my life for women who are all more than mere trophies. Even those who are proud of their trophy status, I know there’s more to them than that. I invite these women and their pains and their joys into my awareness, into my purpose, and into my prayers. I will #WholeMama to them, as I do to my children, my family, and myself.

Today, I am making space for Sandy Bland. I am making space for the #sayhername movement. We all need this movement, friends. I hope you can understand why. I am making space for #blacklivesmatter. And I’m just about exhausted from trying to explain the necessity of this one. I’m making space for the black lesbian minister who asks me if there is room for her at my white privileged table. I’m making space for the girls and women who find themselves in the termination rooms at Planned Parenthood. I’m making space for the women who perform procedures in the termination rooms at Planned Parenthood.

In the most uncomfortable places with the heaviest troubles, I’m making space. It’s what my heart makes me do.

As this prayer keeps coming into play for me, I end this post with a Benediction from St. Francis. Because, in the end, isn’t this what it’s all about?

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

– Benediction of St. Francis

Agere Contra, friends

This post is part of week 6 of the #WholeMama movement. Link Up with us here.

The #WholeMama in Prayer

wpid-2015-07-18-14.35.30.jpg.jpeg

It’s the middle of summer and I’m happy to be with my mama before school starts back. Today we’re at her friend Walter’s house and I’m playing with his son. This boy has Castle Grayskull and all the people to go with it. But he doesn’t want to let me into his room. He says no girls are allowed in there. I try telling my mama that he won’t let me play in his room, and he’s in there playing with He Man toys without me. She doesn’t understand the severity of the situation. I decide to take actions into my own little hands. I knock on the door and tell this brat that his daddy said he wants to talk to him in the backyard. Walter isn’t even at home.

The boy falls for it and runs into the kitchen towards the back door, leaving his bedroom open. I rush in and quickly close the door, fumbling for a lock. I’ll show him. Turns out the door doesn’t have a lock so I push a chair under the door knob like I’ve seen on TV. I have all the characters to myself, and all of Castle Grayskull. I hear him run inside and ask my mama where his daddy is. She tells him that his daddy ran out and will be back soon. I laugh to myself when he tries to open the door and it sticks. I don’t even say a word. I just keep playing with She Ra.

After a long day of showing this kid who’s boss, I climb onto a brown couch and Mama covers me with a blanket. She walks away and returns with a flattened pillow in a green case. She tucks the pillow under my head. I close my eyes. She kisses my forehead and says she loves me. I love her too. I hear the lamp switch click and the bright light on the other side of my eye lids fades. The room is empty and dark and quiet. I feel safe here in Walter’s house. I quickly begin to fall asleep.

Just when I start to dream, I feel my mama’s warm hand on mine. She stands over me and holds my hand in hers. I don’t open my eyes. I don’t want her to know she woke me up. I feel her kneel down on the floor in front of me. I wonder if she’s OK. She begins to whisper and her words are heavy as they float over me.

She asks God to know me and keep me forever. She says that I’m precious and sweet and smart and beautiful. My mama tells God that she’s sorry for all the time we are away from each other, and she begs Him to keep me safe while we are apart. She asks God to help me understand her and forgive her. She kisses my hand and holds it to her face as hot tears slide down her cheeks.

This is the first time I’ve ever heard anybody in my family pray. I want to open my eyes and tell her everything is alright. But I’m scared and unsure in this unfamiliar moment. And the whole thing feels sacred, somehow. So I stay still and quiet. I fall back to sleep under a soft euphoria of my mama’s love and sacrifice.

So many times I’ve learned to pray. I’m told that we don’t pray for things we want, but we should ask for understanding, awareness of our needs, peace in our hearts, that sort of thing. So I wake up and say Shalom to my face in the mirror. I say a prayer before I pull out of my driveway and I say little prayers throughout the day. I recently read in Found by Micha Boyett that Saint Benedict asked his monk brothers to make prayer the first step in anything worthwhile that they would attempt. Micha says raising her child must be most worthwhile, so she writes this down and tapes it up so she’ll see it often and remember. I write it down in my journal so I see it everyday. I want to remember, too.

Agere Contra, friends

This post is part of the #WholeMama movement. You can Link Up to  this wonderful collection of writers, and find my previous posts in the series below.

The Messy #WholeMama

The Quiet #WholeMama

The Empowered #WholeMama

For Shalom & the #WholeMama
whole-mama

The Messy #WholeMama

image

I don’t know when my daddy is coming home. He’s been locked up for a few months. We girls dress real nice in church clothes and make the ninety minute drive with my stepmama to see him in the work prison. He spends the whole Sunday afternoon talking to her about how to get home faster. We drag our feet around in the sand and wait. We try to play a game but it ends quickly when we realize we can’t get too far away from our reserved visiting area.

During the week I can’t focus on my teachers. I can’t make myself care about equations or the capital cities of foreign countries. Band class is fun and I quickly understand the circle of fifths and basic scales. My social studies teacher makes me sit in the hall everyday after lunch. She doesn’t want my smart ass comments disrupting class anymore. I never do my homework.

My pre-algebra teacher sends home a note stapled to a final exam at the end of the year. She tells my stepmama that I’m brilliantly gifted, but lazy. She says if I just did my homework I would have an A in her class. I have a 68 instead. The woman says she believes in me and suggests that I advance to Algebra 1 next year.

I write my daddy a letter and tell him that things are not the same without him here. I tell him about the algebra class. I tell him I think about him all the time. I tell him I worry about things. I tell him I can’t focus in school. I tell him things are a mess at home. He writes me back and says I better get my shit together. He also reminds me that I’m not allowed to have black boys callin’ the house.

I wake up late with a hangover to a mess on the floor. It’s my green messenger bag. It’s in shreds, along with a wet dry mix of papers and cardboard. Is it pee or slobber? The dog is napping in the middle of this mess. I realize quickly that I need to grab a bag and get out of here. My math exam is in 30 minutes. My phone rings and I answer it before I think about it. Now I’m trying to understand my little sister, but she’s crying too much. I throw everything in another bag and run out the door. I speed up I-75 to  Central Avenue. All I get from this conversation is that my stepmama has thrown a bunch of stuff in the backyard and is threatening to set it on fire.

I tell her I’ll call her back after my exam. I walk into the small classroom and everyone is already faces down with pencils scribbling. I grab a blank test from the front and take a seat in the back. I get my pencil and rummage through the sack for my calculator. The entire exam depends on the functions of that small piece of technology. We were never taught any other way to solve these problems. I don’t have the calculator. It’s at home under the sleeping dog upon his throne of mess. I return the blank exam with my name on the top to the desk and leave. I don’t care that I just failed this class.

I withdraw from school later in the next semester. I move back to my hometown to be closer to my baby sister.

My older sister tells me that my stepmama is moving in with Granny. She’s too sick to stay by herself. She also has no money. I say that’s a good idea and to keep me posted on things. I’m one thousand miles away trying to live a new life. I’m taking online classes so I can stay home with my baby girl.

A few months pass and I get several sister to sister phone calls. We cry and we admit we cannot do anything else but wait. She’s in the hospital again and the doctor says it won’t be long. It’s Christmas time when we visit and she looks awful. Granny tells me she still goes out with her friends. She’s still using.

We visit again the next summer and she’s lost even more weight. She can’t remember things from one conversation to the next. We have a small birthday celebration for my daughter and her cousin and we set up an inflatable pool in the front yard of my sister’s house. We don’t let her hold the babies on account of the Hepatitis C, not to mention the things we’re not sure of. She smiles a lot and laughs and tells us how pretty we all are. We drive back to Pennsylvania from Georgia and my heart is heavy. I don’t know this is the last time I will see her alive.

A week after we return from our summer visit down south I get an early phone call. I see it’s my older sister and I know. I’m already crying when I say hello. We load up the car and drive the thousand miles home. I call my daddy and his new wife answers. I hate her. I say it’s Rose and I need my daddy. I can’t stop crying when I tell him she’s dead. He says he’s sorry and gets off the phone. I call my school advisor and tell him I will not be registering for fall classes. My life is too messy right now.

If I think real hard about it, I know I’ve had this calling for most of my life. I’ve gotten good at ignoring it. Until now when it’s the only thing I can think of. I keep telling God that I’m not the right person. I say I don’t even want to do this. I say this is a terrible idea and not what I want for my life. But, I’m agnostic I say. He reminds me that none of that matters. He says that becoming a minister is my purpose in life and I have to do it to feel whole. The narcissist in me thinks this might be right.

Some denominations require their ministers to be formally educated. They need a Master of Divinity from a proper school. The denomination I’ve paired up with is one such. I find out that I can apply for the MDiv without having an undergraduate degree. My seminary of choice admits a select few students under these conditions, following strict federal guidelines.

So I answer the short essay questions and write a three page personal statement. I complete all the required paperwork and send it in the mail. I call the school and schedule an interview with the Director of Vocations. During the face to face chat in her office, I blow her away. She makes lots of notes. I drive home feeling elated.

Later that day I get a phone call from Misses Director of Vocations. She wants to talk about why I started college twice and didn’t finish. She wants to talk about those AP classes I took in high school and how I got three’s on the exams earning college credit, but F’s in the classes. She wants to talk about ugly things that I don’t really want to talk about.

I decide to tell her the truth. I have to prove that I’m worth the investment of their time and resources. I talk simply and quickly about slowly losing my stepmama to beer and crack cocaine. I talk about raising my little sister. I talk about my daddy and his profession. I tell her that it took me a long long time to put these things in their places. To reduce the power they had over me. I tell her about the support system I have now and I talk about all the things I’ve learned from the Sanctuary Model of Care. I tell her that I ask for help now. She likes hearing that. Three weeks later I get an acceptance letter.

I put all those messes into a pretty little box and tuck that box away. I take it out and rummage through the contents now and then. Mostly when one of those messes can help me mother someone.

Agere Contra, friends

This post is part of week four of #WholeMama. You can Link Up with us here.

The Quiet #WholeMama

2014-06-14 18.13.42

 

It’s July 1992 in South Georgia. To say it’s hot is the understatement of the decade. But we don’t care about the heat. We’re smearing foundation on our clean skin and carefully applying teal eyeliner and heavy black mascara; copying the open mouth mascara face we’ve seen our mothers make. We’re debating the best shade of hot-pink lipstick. We have pulled out a salon’s variety of brushes, combs, hair dryers, curling irons, and a family size purple can of Super Hold Aqua Net. When I’m finally pleased with my face and teased hair we turn around to look at the pile of clothes on the bed. I choose a turquoise and black leopard print mini skirt and solid black t-shirt. I gather the waist of the shirt over my left hip and knot it so it fits tighter. Before we run out the front door of the single-wide, I slip my red toenails into black jelly shoes. I’m 9 years old.

We walk the dirt paths of the trailer park like we’re on a mission. Our heads are high and we’re smiling. We’re not going anywhere in particular. We’re just making the rounds and showing off our excellent fashion sense. When the grandma sitting on her front porch on a milk crate says how pretty we look, we are validated. Nevermind the sweat gathering on our hair lines. We have small wads of toilet paper to blot the sweat away, so it doesn’t mess up our faces.

Later in the day we pile into the back of a station wagon to get Icees. The windows are down and we’re in the way back where there are no seats. We’re looking out the back window and making up stories about the people we pass. The sweet scent of a burning joint drifts into the back. We smile at each other. Our hair is coming undone under the wind that is whipping around in the back of the car. But we don’t care anymore. We are reminded that we’re still just girls, and the grown women in the front don’t care about their own beautiful locks flying in the wind – so why should we? There’s no music playing and the car is quiet, except for the rushing air twirling around our sweaty bodies. This is a peaceful, reassuring quiet.

A quiet that tells me we’re all part of each other and our souls are old friends – my mother and aunt and cousin and me.

When the sun is setting we decide to go for one last stroll. I’m wondering if we’ll see the cute boy that lives a few trailers down the road. He’s probably off with his brother. I decide if he asks about my messy hair I’ll tell him this is my evening look. But I freshen up the pink lipstick, just in case. And I’m glad when I see his blond hair around the corner. He’s on his bike and he begins to circle around us as we’re walking. So we straighten up and suck in our small bellies and begin to giggle. He asks where we’re going. We tell him we’re going to see a man about a dog. That’s what my mama always says. And we giggle some more and we think this is cute.

Later, in the bed with the air conditioner going and the lights out, I stare at the ceiling. I am glad to be part of this tribe of bohemian fiercely independent women. In this quiet time, laying next to my beautiful mama, I think this life ain’t so bad, and I never want to return to my daddy’s house. I pray God will help me find a way to stay with my mama in this cocoon of feminine power that she weaves around us.

It’s July 2015 in Southeastern Pennsylvania. A lazy cool breeze goes by. We’re wearing baggy dresses and no shoes. I have a tube of Burt’s Bees in my dress pocket. I’m 32.

We sit on the front lawn, glad to have nothing to do. We watch the clouds bump into each other. We lay next to each other on the grass and hold our hands above our faces. We look at each other, then she places her right hand to my left. Her’s is a fraction of the size, and she knows the story of how we both have her grandmother’s hands. We think of this at the same time and smile. We don’t say much because we don’t have to.

We’re part of each other – my daughter and me.

She grabs the chalk from the porch and draws pretty pictures on the walkway. I enjoy the childishness of this activity. I am comforted by our closeness, especially in the sweet silence. I am thankful that girls like my 9 year old self can grow into women like me. I mother my daughter a little closer, in a cocoon of feminine power that is tightly woven, borrowing silver strands of thread from my foremothers. In these quiet spaces, we don’t need words to know each other.

Agere Contra, friends

This post is part of #wholemama, week three, in which we’re writing about Quiet. Link Up with us here.