Being a mother is one of my greatest joys in life. My precocious daughter leaves me speechless on a regular basis, and I look forward to our discussions. When I pick her up from after school care and see the happiness at my return reflected in her eyes the stress of my workday dissipates. With her teen years and early adulthood approaching I know that change is coming. I jokingly tell her that she cannot move out until she’s twenty-five years old, and even then she can’t move too far. Of course the rational side of me knows that it isn’t up to me, and I have to accept her right to chart her own path eventually. For now, however, she remains my toffee colored, round-faced and spindly bodied baby girl who still falls asleep in my lap while watching cartoons.
We stick to a routine for the most part. At night I supervise her as she flosses and brushes her teeth, tie her hair up then tuck her in. Around six weeks ago I did just that, but when I retired to my living room to relax the enormity of that simple task suddenly struck me. Every night that I put her to bed was a gift and a blessing that I took for granted. For if I’d been a black woman in America two hundred years ago, just loving my child and being secure in that is a privilege I would have lacked. The children born to enslaved women were first and foremost viewed as property. Enslaved mothers could not love and nurture their babies without interference. They couldn’t even breastfeed their babies properly, as the requirements of the plantation took precedence. Then there was the ultimate fear: having one’a child(ren) sold away and to never know what became of them. The trauma caused by the breakup of slave families is one of the most troubling aspects of chattel slavery for me.
I think of my daughter, of the overwhelming love I have for her and how desolate I would feel if she was taken from me in such a manner. I can barely comprehend it. To think that my foremothers had this experience multiple times leaves me in awe of them. I don’t know now they made it. I don’t know how they willed themselves to keep living with that grief. But somehow they did. From the first one in my family to step off a slave ship, to my great-great Grandma(my last relative born into slavery) to my daughter the link remains. We are still here. In light of this history my ability to hold and love my daughter, free of the fear and insecurities that my ancestors faced, is a sweet freedom that I will always cherish.