Ten years after the events described in my last blog I stand in my kitchen, staring down at the screen of my white iPhone 6 in confusion. My favorite yellow and red kanga wrapped around my waist,I launch my Pandora app as I usually listen to music when I cook and clean. But when the app opened it started playing from the P-Square station. Unable to remember creating said station I summoned the one person who knows the password to my iPhone: my daughter.
The chubby-cheeked toddler who sat at her maternal Grandma’s funeral a decade ago has grown into a lanky and precocious tween. My features and her father’s have blended have blended to perfection. She looks enough like me for students and staff at school to know she’s mine without introduction. But her father’s genes are strong enough that children from other East African nations like Ethiopia and Eritrea come up to her in the hallways speaking their language,shocked that she cannot understand them.
Fully aware that the proper response to me calling her is immediately presenting herself, my daughter joins me in the kitchen.
“Why is there a P-Square station on my phone?”
“I made it so I could listen to them while I do my homework.”
“But how do you even know who they(P-Square) are”, I ask. My daughter looks at me quizzically.
“Mom I discovered them when I was in Dar; their songs were played ALL THE TIME! On the radio, at hotels, at weddings-I love P-Square!”
“Did you listen to Bongo Flava at all”, I respond, curious if she was taught anything about the Tanzanian hybrid of reggae, hip-hop and afrobeats her father introduced me to before she was born.
“Bongo Flava? What’s that?”
I smile and shake my head. In December 2014 Ali, my ex-husband and her father, returned to the States to pick our daughter up and take her to Dar es Salaam for winter break. My daughter spent five weeks in Tanzania, swimming in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, eating mangoes and being spoiled rotten along with her cousins. She spent five glorious weeks abroad, being completely immersed in another culture, and when she returned I shook my head at the irony of it all. I sent her there hoping she could connect more with her father’s heritage. But what happens? She comes home still unable to speak a lick of Swahili and a fan of Nigerian pop stars while being clueless on Tanzanian music! Thankfully she’s still young and in her formative years, so there is still time left for her to learn and absorb more of her paternal legacy. I made note of my daughters love of Afrobeats though, and the genre would help us get through the tough schedule she had during the summer.
When it comes to my child’s future I have set high standards. There are those who look at the various aspects of an individual’s identity-race, gender and/or socioeconomic status-and focus on the obstacles that may arise. But I’ve always felt that fixating on the obstacles is something I just cannot afford to do. As a Black woman my daughter cannot afford to be under-educated and ill-prepared to compete in the global economy. So I go hard in the paint to ensure her survival and success as a young woman. That means raising her to seek and value higher education, and beginning the pathway to college before she even hits puberty.
Setting high academic expectations and preparing her for the rigorous classes she needs both for college prep and her chosen major is the first step in that process. My daughter is now in a program that provides the support needed to make this a reality. But it is not easy in any sense of the word. While her classmates were enjoyed their summer vacation she was in class Monday to Friday, being taught Literature, History, Science and Math two to three years above her current grade level. Six days a week she had three to four hours of homework to complete.
For the duration of the intensive six-week program we had no social life. I informed family and friends that my daughters’ studies would come first and they would simply have to understand that we would be incognito. Though she met the challenge and devoted herself to the task, I recognized that she was still a child. Staff at the program caution parents to watch for signs of burnout, and to make sure the children take breaks every forty-five minutes while studying. This is where P-Square comes in.
When the words on the page begin to run together and I see my daughters’ shoulders begin to slump I tell her to put her schoolwork aside.
“Okay, that’s enough for now. You can resume the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass later. Let’s dance!”
“But I want to play on my iPad”, she whines. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with that iPad since her dad bought it for her. I see it as a tool for learning and research. She sees her iPad as an object to watch YouTube videos on and look for new ideas in Pinterest on. And while killing time on the device is what she wants, as Mom I know that after sitting for so long getting active and lively is what she needs. So I greet her whining with the same smile I always give when I’m about to exercise my parental privilege and veto what she has in mind.
“That wasn’t a suggestion”, I say, taking my daughter by the hand and pulling her up. She stands straight and firm as a statue. But she can’t keep from smiling once the beat drops:
When she hears her favorite song by P-Square my daughter forgets about her studies, letting the rhythm take over and guide her feet as she whines and moves across the makeshift dance floor in our living room. I follow that up with Yemi Alade’s “Johnny”:
Throw in “Sanko”, one of my favorites from Timaya:
And we finish with “Shekini”, a high energy party jam from the duo we started with:
By the time the music stops we are both out of breath but happy that we took the time to dance together. She returns to her homework. I refrain from being the helicopter parent that the academic director of her college prep program has cautioned me about, seeking to go with the ninja parent model instead.
The stakes and the expectations for my child are high. But I’m unwavering in my belief that she has the ability to meet every goal set for her and that she will attain the life she dreams of as a young woman. Cognizant of the privileges she has as an American and imbued with the go-getter mentality of the African immigrant experience, she truly has the best of both worlds.
2015 is where we end this series. Music has been a crucial part of my life, following me from the days I danced with my Mama to the SOS Band as a child to now, when I dance to afrobeats with my daughter. I wait for the day when we dance at her going-away party for college, and smile at the knowledge music that has been with me all my life will be there on that day as well.