(Originally heard on Fare of the Free Child podcast)
In Yoruba tradition milestones in life are blessed with the taste of life ceremony. As a Priestess, my mother performed this ceremony countless times in my childhood, each time with slight variation. Ever the artist and storyteller, she spoke the words she sensed needed to be heard, an energetic call and response with the people and spirits present in the room. I watched her with wonder. Her gestures an incantation. Her words a prayer.
It always begins with Water. Wombs, waves, rivers. We begin this way to remind ourselves always that we are a mirror. We make ritual in the washing of hands, hair and bodies. Bathtub filled with rose water and lavender oil. You submerge yourself, becoming mermaid, shark, submarine. Water heals us, a daily dose of peppermint tea, ginger and turmeric tonics for winter flu. Water separates and connects. Drowns and baptizes. This world is so lush and evergreen. Succulent and divine. Resilient, and abundant. And, so are you. May you move like water, able to change shape and move through space, but always keeping the essence of who you are. May you heal and nourish all that you touch.
Now, Salt. Sweat, and wealth. I told you of the times as a child where I collected water from the ocean and tried to harvest salt. Jugs and bowls sat outside of home and after a few days the water was gone, but there was more sand than salt. Ever curious, you wonder why. Why does the salt in our glass jar have only salt and no sand? Why can’t we drink salt water if it comes out of us when we sweat? You lick the sweat off of your arm and smile. May your life be filled with richness and hard work. May you know the taste of sweat on your own brow, and know that from labor can come the greatest beauty of your imagination.
Pepper. We know of peppers. Jalapeño, cayenne, ghost, lemon. You choose the brightest ones at the farmers market and love the way they smell while simmering in coconut oil. I show you the steps to make jollof rice. These days will wear me down as they mold me into the mother I seek to have and become. The work of cultivating myself is the foundation for authentically showing up for anyone, especially while striving towards raising free people. Some days your tongue spits fire. May you know the power of your words. May you use them to tear down walls and build glorious staircases. May you have the strength to fight well, and the wisdom to do it prudently. There will be so many battles, my child.
Gin. May you remember to call your ancestors into battle with you. You will never be alone. Remember their names, and speak them aloud. Walk deep into the woods, dive beneath the tides and listen for them. Place a white candle and glass of water on your windowsill. Still, I want and NEED you to know that you belong only to yourself. You spirit is timeless. Not like a pearl necklace or an unassuming name. No, you are as timeless as heat, and thick lips and cornrow masterpieces. Do not be afraid of your Darkness.
Honey. Above all, love. In loving yourself you honor those who came before you. In loving yourself, you smooth the way for those who will follow. When standing alone in the woods of my mind, or in the midst of mundane chaos, my thoughts frayed like cloth remember: Take long baths, and walks. Speak your truth, and make dangerous art. Linger over delectable poetry and pie. Throw your head back and toss laughter into the air like confetti.
Here is the secret. These words are as much for me as they are for you. Walking alongside you is by far my greatest blessing. I strive to treat it as such. Conscious, peaceful, liberated mothering is an homage to my ancestors and my most sacred spiritual practice. I pray regularly to show you as much respect, patience and love as the Goddesses and my ancestors grant me. If I succeed, you may not need to be reminded of your unthinkable beauty. You will have lived in Freedom every day of your life, and know, without question, you my beautiful darling, are Everything.
Brown and agile child, the sun which forms the fruit
At five years old he is a walking Boy Archetype, complete with dirt smudges, Lego or stick pistols, roughhousing and more poop jokes than I can count. Since birth I’ve taken care to show him respect and consent by doing everything from describing what’s happening or about to happen during a diaper change to reminding him to ask consent before hugging or wrestling with another child. He is gentle and kind with his baby sister, and checks on friends when they are hurt. His imagination is a firecracker, luminous and taking of in multiple directions at once.
On this day I received the message from a friend that her daughter shared at home that my son hugged and kissed her without permission at school the day before. We meet, talk with the children and their teacher, and in the end everyone separately expresses that in fact any kissing or hugging that happened was part of a game that both children were willingly playing. The teacher had even stopped the game part way through to make sure both were comfortable and kept a close eye throughout the interaction.
Three years later the shadows are still there. Everyday he gets closer to becoming a man and I struggle against my own desire to prepare him for that time. Suddenly, my own words come back to me in a flash. A salve for this aching mama heart. Childhood is not preparation for adulthood, it is its own sacred and special moment. Childhood belongs to itself, not to the intangible future, nor to the broken past. Haven’t I told this to countless educators and new parents? How could I claim to be an advocate for respecting and celebrating authentic childhood and spend so much time restraining the expression of those I love most?
The difficult truth is that we can never truly prepare our children for their futures because we cannot foretell exactly what they will be. With equal parts love, hope and fear, we bind our children with the intention of preparing them for the harsh realities of adulthood. Our behaviors tell them “life is tough, better start getting used to it”, or “shrink, alter, subdue yourself so that they aren’t afraid of you”. History and reality tell us that these tactics do not preserve Black Boyhood. They did not save Emmett, or Trayvon, or the millions of Black and Brown boys whose souls, hearts and minds are fed to the System daily.
We need a different way. Raising feminist sons must include One that is ancient as a drum, yet still can feel unnervingly obscure. We must center joy and freedom as central to boyhood, and view ourselves as the guardians of that joy. We must decolonize childhood. Raising feminist sons means nurturing and hearing them when they whisper so they do not shout to be heard. It means loving ourselves enough to live authentically, and respecting when they do so as well. We must give them the preparations that all of us need above all: time and space for self-knowledge, and the awareness that we are loved unconditionally for being exactly who we are.
I will still teach my son daily about consent and bodily sovereignty. I will still model, remind and counter the harmful messages that he receives in the world around us and shelter him with equal measure from White Supremacy and Toxic Masculinity. But I will no longer prepare my child for manhood. Instead, I will celebrate him as he is now. Impulsive, passionate, empathetic, careless, intricate, curious, giddy, wild. Boy.
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