Each month, The Kathleen Nicole Blog will highlight a Black Woman Writer in the Handmade Love Series. This month, Shana Richardson shares the lesson she is learning from her first born son.
My oldest, Micah, and I get into it on the regular. Just last week, we had a knock-down, drag out argument about his ELA paper on Jackie Robinson. Mind you, he’s 10 years old, in the 5th grade. The essay, persuasive in nature, only needed to be four paragraphs long. With my two degrees in English literature, I’m always the go-to parent for papers, so I sat down with him to help with proofreading and editing. Big mistake. While the paper was definitely pretty good, it needed work, which I gently explained and offered my assistance. But my son, ever the minimalist, exclaimed “Why are you always trying to change what I write? I’m in 5th grade! My teacher isn’t expecting a masterpiece!” In his own childlike way, he was really telling me to back off. Chill the fuck out mom. He, of course, didn’t say that, but that was absolutely how I took it! From there, it went downhill fast. Words were exchanged, threats were made, and doors slammed. After some crying, yelling, back and forth, storming off, intervening from my ever patient husband, Marques, and eventually, apologizing and a focused 20 minutes of listening and editing, he had a paper he was proud of. And so was momma. And he got an A. But the A isn’t really the point here, because in many ways, Micah was right. I really need to chill the fuck out.
Stories like this are common in my household. Micah is extremely bright, but if he had it his way, he’d spend his days at his gaming computer, headset on, playing Fortnite, eating snacks, and coming out only to use the bathroom. If I’m being honest, there is a big part of me that envies that. Micah has a freedom that, even at his age, I’m not sure I ever had. He does not put pressure on himself to be anything other than who he is and who he desires to be. As a Type A, self-proclaimed overachiever, this is something I yearn for, but even at 37, am working to achieve. It’s during moments like these—when I’m arguing with my 10 year old, basically asking him to be more like me—I wonder, should I be more like him?
For as long as I can remember, I have always put an immense amount of pressure on myself, especially as a student, in regards to my performance and output. I don’t really remember when it started exactly, but somewhere along the line, I equated my grades with my worth. I was often praised for how well I did in school. How well I wrote, how confidently I spoke. And because I did not feel pretty or popular or anything else really positive, I decided that academics were my strength. It became who I was, and I ran with it. It must have certainly been during my awkward stage, when no amount of affirmations from my parents could alter the image of the skinny, flat chested, four-eyed girl with pimples I saw in the mirror. So I leaned into this. Poured completely into my identity as nerd. I yearned for the praise from teachers, envy from other students. It made me forget how I felt inadequate in other ways. Somewhere along the way, that identity became all-consuming, and began showing up in other areas. I became a perfectionist. I could never allow myself to relax. I put an overwhelming amount of pressure on myself to get everything done efficiently and put unhealthy expectations on myself to follow a particular trajectory in life. I punished myself when I did not live up to those standards. Long after I grew curves, and my face cleared, and I blossomed into a cute little teenager and eventually, a dope woman, I was unable to separate myself from this identity as overachiever. So I continued to wear it as a badge, as it continued to get me praise that offered temporary fuel. College graduate, summa cum laude. Graduate school, same. College professor at 24. I racked up accomplishments. Then, at 26, after a lifetime of following the prearranged plan for my life, I got pregnant.
I’ll never forget sitting in the emergency room for something minor, but for which the medication could not be given to pregnant women. So, of course, I had to take a pregnancy test. No problem. There was no way I could be pregnant. Yet, as I waited for the results, something told me to ask Marques, who was, at that point my partner of 10 years, and fiancé of 5 months, to leave the room. Though I had actually never considered the possibility of being pregnant before that moment (hell, I was at the club that past weekend!), all of a sudden, I realized, oh shit. I think I may be. For whatever reason, I needed to process that alone. Sure enough, the nurse came back and exclaimed “So, you are pregnant.” Whew! Even as I write this, that flood of emotion I felt is rushing back. I was TERRIFIED. Now granted, this should NOT have been that big of a deal. I was 26, a few months shy of 27. Educated, with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. A flourishing career in higher education as an adjunct professor at three schools. I made somewhat decent money, had a man who loved me, an apartment, a car. What’s the problem??? Well, the problem was that it veered from the very curated path I had created for myself, and up until that point, had dutifully followed. I would get married, save, and THEN have a child. In that order. The way I was supposed to. The wedding wasn’t until July 2012, and here I was, May 2011 sitting in the hospital, knocked up. I am not sure I have ever felt so much anxiety, so much crippling fear, in all of my life. I cried. Like a lot. Once Marques returned to the room and I shared the news, he, as per usual, held me together. And after a few moments of life shattering theatrics, I stopped. I paused. And then I realized, wow. I’m going to have a baby. Why am I crying???
Here’s the thing. I now realize that the fear I felt had less to do with my pregnancy (although, let’s be clear—I was scared AF) and more to do with my perception of how I needed to conduct my life. A perception of perfection and order that I had held onto since I was a child that desperately needed interruption. A perception that had completely controlled me for years, and that was incredibly crippling and unhealthy. So what, I wasn’t married? No one else cared, so why did I care so much? Who told me I NEEDED to do everything in any particular order? Who made this supposed order anyway? I had so much to be grateful for, and so many of the tools necessary to be an amazing parent. Once I embraced this, I also began to embrace the way in which my life would change. I felt joy! My life absolutely changed, in ways that I could have never possibly imagined, and even if I had been married first, and had all the money imaginable, I could have never adequately prepared for that change! Some things in life—parenthood being one of them—you just simply cannot prepare for. And that’s okay! It was hard y’all. It still is! But being a mom—I’ve added two more kids since then!—is truly the best thing I’ve ever experienced, in all of its craziness and beauty.
Since that day I found out about Micah, he has continued to remind me that the unexpected, the unplanned, the freedom to just be sometimes, are really liberating. In essence, he has taught me to chill the fuck out. The lesson needs to be retaught often, but his spirit of going with the flow, not taking things too seriously, and just enjoying life reminds me to do the same. While sometimes I do need to get him together for his own good, he often gets me together, too. He definitely needed to take more time with his paper—a lesson I hope he understands now—but I also needed to hear him out, and let him do things for himself. Sometimes, that’s going to mean he doesn’t get an A. Quite frankly, that’s okay. I have to learn to be okay with that. He’s not me. In so many ways, I am grateful he isn’t like me! I am grateful he will likely never put the ridiculous amount of pressure on himself that I placed on my own shoulders—and often still do—to my own detriment. Yes, sometimes momma will have to come in and apply a tad bit of that pressure for him, but I am sure he will never tie his worth as a boy, as a man, as a human, to his grades.
His very entry into this world taught me to relax, and I am thankful for the reminder that my output is not equivalent to my worth. I don’t need to follow some predetermined, prescribed path to be important and valued. Just being me is enough. So sometimes, I will just let him be, too. I’m still learning to let go, but I never thought one of my biggest teachers would be my 10 year old.
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