My eyes are burning and when I loosen the grip on my passport my pointer finger twitches slightly. Seven days… Just a week, but the pit in my stomach feels like a hole large enough to engulf the entire terminal. I haven’t bitten my nails in years, but I feel the sensation of the tips of my fingers involuntarily grazing my lips. Anxiety is a new partner I’ve recently grown accustomed to since becoming a parent. Not just a parent, but a mother, and even more so a single mother. I was a never a clubber, but always the adventurist. Until my son was born, I remained a wolf pack of one. The beginning of 2010, my pack grew to two. Comprised of two quirky, nerdy, and sometimes socially awkward brown people. My very own mini me; who from birth I groomed to believe that his dreams and ability to achieve them while making his own mark on the world, were as deep as the ocean. Who I drilled to never allow self doubt to enter his thoughts, and to always be the first to jump off the cliff into the unknown. But here I sit, stuck in self-doubt as thick as the quicksand 80’s babies were so brainwashed into thinking was prevalent in daily life.
Travel has never been foreign to me, I studied abroad and took trips out of the country before, but this was different. Now, I was a mother. Single mother. I’ve always hated labels. They always felt as tight as the control top stocking the girls in my church forced themselves into every Sunday under their pastel skirts to make sure they were acceptable in god’s eyes. That was never me. I think in metaphors and personification. It’s the creative non-traditionalist in me. However, here I sit conflicted because I chose to leave my son for a week, voluntarily. No I’m not traveling with a group of friends, a lover, or for work. I just decided to leave. Does that make me a bad mom? In the eyes of Holy Rollers? Probably.
Because I’m a single mom, does that mean I’m not entitled to solo sabbaticals to re-center myself? I’ve always been blessed with an amazing support system, but often times that same support system can be detrimental to growth. Growth not only as a mother, but as a person. Often times they can be the main ones holding the blinders firmly to your vision to make you think that you live for your child, and only for them.
The first trip I took after the birth of my son was in 2015. I traveled to South Africa, alone. At the time emotionally and mentally, I was treading water. My sons father and I mutually separated, and who I was as a person had been completely been replaced by being Sy’s mother. A single mother. A single black mother. Not quite the same as a single independent white mother who everyone assumes is the product of a failed marriage and still socially acceptable (but that’s a topic for another time).
My feelings had been replaced with his feelings. My goals in life were replaced with his goals and life plan. A mother who still had to deal with the offhand comments of, “No worries you’ll do it right next time.” A mother like any other mother that had to hide in the bathroom for a moment’s peace only to hear cries outside the door, and see tiny fingers stretched underneath it, accompanied by calls for you. All the while trying to interpret and grasp just an edge of this unattainable and ever evolving idea of, “right,” and simultaneously exuding what a “good parent,” looks like. Parenting isn’t easy and it literally took 4 years for me to get accustomed to the idea that I was responsible for the development of an entire human being into adulthood. But I got there.
While pregnant with my son I came across a chapter by my favorite author, L.A. Banks, in the book, The Forbidden, and it stuck with me. It said when you choose to have a child, make sure you’re certain, because when you do you have a child any energy you would have put into yourself, you will begin to put into your child subconsciously. It advised me to never be so caught up in my child that I forget to continue to grow myself.
Being a mother is remarkable. The learning curve is steep, and it’s a feeling of overwhelming love, but it’s also terrifying. Terrifying in the sense that you will never sleep as peacefully as you did when you were not responsible for nurturing another life to adulthood. Another life, that you would willingly give your life for; and for many of us, the life of a black man. Mothers and fathers of black sons are held to a different standard. It’s left up to us individually to expand the ever-narrowing scope of view placed before our children. It is our obligation to fight to expand their views and beliefs of the world and show them that the endgame for them is not simply fighting for acceptance and equality in a country that only ever took from them. And it starts from within. At home with our families, single mothers, fathers, and tribes.
When I first told my family I was taking a trip alone, the responses were mixed. “Why would you leave your son?” “Why are you going alone?” “South Africa, alone?” My grandmother, who I love dearly, was especially bothered and informed me that, “I raised my children before I ever began to focus on myself and goals.” From that conversation she single handedly sent me down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. Guilt, it is not something I’m familiar with. I’m the girl that says, “Fuck it,” either way when it comes down to finally making a decision and whatever results come of it.
Luckily, one of my staunchest critics, my mother, turned out to be my strongest supporter and told me to, “Go!” “See as much of the world as you can.” So I did it. I booked the ticket and found myself with a backpack, pair of converse, and a prescription for 10 Xanax and a stomach full of knots at terminal 19 waiting to board my flight, while looking at pictures of my son. When it was time to board, I took a deep breath handed them my ticket and didn’t look back. I fought my way out of the quicksand of my self-doubt and guilt and boarded the plane.
And I just continued doing it. I met locals, tried bunny chow, and meditated at the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere, all while making lifetime friends. I sat in a restaurant and spoke to a proud mother of 5, who was 45 but looked all of 29. We laughed, shared pictures of our children and stories over fries. I was able breath and realign myself. I was able to take a moment and reassess myself, my goals and grow to accept my new role as a mother, and figure out exactly the type of mother I wanted to be, or would aspire to be. I grew to accept the changes my growth into womanhood and motherhood, my body and mindset were forced undergo. Most importantly, I learned that to care for other’s you first must care for yourself in whatever sense that might be for you.
I’m just here to tell you it’s ok to walk away for a moment. I give you permission. Be the exception. When you focus on being the best version of yourself, there is no need to focus on being an example. That’s what our children need most. They need to see whole people, and not fragmented individuals going through the motions. People so warped into the ideals of what good parenting is or looks like that we loose ourselves. Mothers especially, often we are our own worst critics. We can be so terrified of stepping away for a moment and things falling apart. We’re so conditioned and accustomed to playing the martyr, in so many aspects of our lives. Often, without ever giving ourselves the time to press pause heal, grow, and become whole. Nurture yourself first sis, the generations are watching you.