what my mama always knew about the dealings of grown men

When I was younger, a child, a preteen and into my teenage years, my mom would warn me about men – grown, adult men. She’d instruct me to never open the door for a man in her absence, even if we knew him, even if he was a neighbor, a friend, or an acquaintance. She even ran down the list of possible pleas they might make to get me to open the door: “your mom sent me,” “I have a package/delivery for you,” “could you help me study?” Never oblige, under any circumstance, she’d demand sternly. And I remember promising to follow her strict orders but laughing it off and thinking “there goes her paranoia again.” In fact, what I deemed to be her paranoia was often a source of laughter or embarrassment for me. I figured her to be overly careful, suspicious of dangers I couldn’t see or make sense of, unrealistic about people and situations.

Now, at 26, I get it. I get her, and her ‘paranoia,’ and her insistence that men, regardless of their marital status, relationship to us, or personality, are not to be trusted around young girls. She recognized the imbalance of power that exists between an adult man and a small girl. She foresaw the very real possibility of abuse, molestation, and the snatching of innocence. Especially in a culture like ours where our people are deafeningly silent on rape and sexual abuse. In a culture like ours where even if instances of rape and sex abuse are openly reported or acknowledged, it’s the girl child/woman that bears the brunt of blame. You probably seduced him. Why did you dress like that around him? Stop your lies, ekele _____ is a respectable man, he would never do such a thing. And just like that, the girl child/woman is handed her slut, fast, shame card and the male in question goes completely unquestioned and unconfronted. Our people protect our men like the fiber of the society depends on that protection. We make all kinds of excuses for them as if they are fragile china ready to break at any moment if we don’t coddle them. And worst of all, sometimes/often/too often it is women who maintain, perpetuate, and protect patriarchy to no ends.

I don’t know what my mom witnessed/experienced/knew about the secret, dark, inhumane things that happen between grown men and girl children in the unfortunate event that they’re left alone. She’s never talked to me about specific instances or examples for reference. But she didn’t have to. She knew, and for that knowledge, I’m grateful, even though it didn’t entirely prevent the possibility. But that’s for another time.

Disclaimer: I know not all men are pervs. Also, it’s not just/always girls who are victims and it’s not men who are just/always predators.

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why my mom(my) doesn’t wear a uniform to work

From what I can remember, my mommy hasn’t worn a uniform to work in the past 10 or so years, not even in the winter months or when she’s running late and it’d require way less thought and coordination to throw on a predetermined outfit. She insists on putting on her ’employee’ hat, literally and figuratively, only when she steps inside the cafe + specialty food market that is her workplace.

This morning, she looked especially fabulous, clad in all black, not as a fashion statement but in memory of the younger sister she lost recently (hi auntie). She styled her hair in a shapely afro that complimented her face and wore a cute pair of earrings we found on sale at Macy’s yesterday. She topped off her black top and trousers with a longish silky scarf, a mid length pea coat beautifully accented with two different textures, and comfortable flats. She could pass for someone headed to work at any number of places other than the one she was headed to.

This might seem somewhat puzzling, why a woman would put so much effort into an ensemble that will only last for the commute to and from a job that calls for a standard uniform. The way I see it, this daily practice is an act of self affirmation, to remind herself and others that she is more than what an 8-4 job and its customers, managers, and employees demand, reduce, and challenge from her. That environment saps her energy, youth, patience, and dignity because it refuses to give her back what she puts in to it, in terms of the monetary value of her labor, as well as respect, peace, and power. Sometimes she comes home drained and discouraged; and all I can do is listen to the stories, hurt and helpless to change her circumstances.

Poverty does something so profound to one’s psyche. It robs one of the ability to dream, to take chances, to demand better. Taking a step in these directions requires a cushion, a safety net to catch one if she fails in her bold quest for a more fuller humanity. Poverty makes one feel alone and unable, unwilling to confront, to leave, to experiment. So if my mommy can’t change the realities of her not much better than minimum wage, 8-hour work day, she sure can control and manipulate how she adorns and presents herself immediately before and after clocking in and out.

And anyway, she has always had a thing for fashion. I love hearing old stories from family about her stylish days. People seem to vividly remember how much pride she took in looking like the beautiful woman she is. She dressed impeccably, with her shapely pencil skirts, colorful blouses, pretty dresses, and audible heels. In a word, she was fly.

what a beautiful sight. I would so wear this dress today if it was still around.
what a beautiful sight. I would so wear this outfit today if it was still around.

So her daily insistence on wearing the clothes she picks out and compiles herself is an active resistance of the uniform that too insists on recognizing her only as a worker, one among many. Dressing as she chooses to, instead of the way prescribed for her by corporate policy, is a means to affirm her femininity and dignity

I love recalling a quote by writer Edwidge Danticat in which she talks about her two young daughters and how she hopes that they will understand her once they too grow into womanhood. She said,

“I can’t wait for both my daughters to be old enough to read all my books. I loved it every time I saw my parents acting like more than just my parents. And I’m looking forward to that with my daughters too. I am looking forward to having them discover me as someone completely other than their mother.”

As a woman, I’m ready to dedicate the rest of my time to fully seeing and understanding my mommy as a complex woman with memories, desires, and multiple identities because all my life I’ve only known her as my mother; she is so much more than that role alone.

              I see you, momma bear. You are fierce and glorious. And because of you, I am.

mommy2
happy birthday Lovely.