What I’ll Tell My Little Black Girls About 2020
There are two types of parents: carpenters and gardeners.
Carpenters believe they can build the kind of structure for their children that will dictate a successful outcome. But gardeners create the space to allow their children to thrive.
I liken myself to a gardener. Both of my daughters were born during revolutions. I don’t know if that makes me dumb or them martyrs. What kind of parent does that make me?
My little girls — my little Black girls — will have questions about what was happening in the time when they were children. They will remember some of what transpired and forget the rest. Like all of us, children remember the details that matter most to them. But their memories are better than ours. Our memories are tainted with bias, projections, and judgment; theirs glitter with hope and promise.
I know that the world was burning when they came out of their mothers’ wombs. For my five-year-old, it was the fires of Ferguson. For my one-year-old, it was the fiery heat of a pandemic and a whole country rotting away with racism.
No one told me how hard it would be to hold my child when the other half of me lived over 1,200 miles away. These are the memories that stay with me. These are the things that I hope do not stain them.
When I talk of 2020, I will speak loud enough to bring out the echoes of celebrity deaths, little ones separated from their families while trapped inside government-supported metal cages, and a world stuck inside, waiting for air and reprieve from coffins and heavy chests.
My eldest left New York City and moved with her mother. My youngest daughter was born a week and a half after. The day after, Kobe Bryant died suddenly. In the hospital room, our newborn slept while the news hummed in the background.
Both events preceded my birthday and came before the world shut down. When they are old enough, I will tell my daughters what I remember, depending on how well my memory will serve me. I will remind them how we watched a president lie again and again; I will tell them of all the loss and heartache we suffered — together. I think of the many questions they will ask me, and how I will try to answer honestly. But the truth is I won’t have the answers. How many of us actually do? Are there any?
Last year, I spent a few nights drained, crying into a pillow on the sofa, wondering what was happening to us. I missed people. I missed the energy of a good laugh or hug. I missed the smell of my mother’s kitchen. I missed bickering with my brothers in person. I missed walking outside of my door without a mask, waving and smiling at neighbors. I missed the scent of a city alive, beaming with hope and promise for a tomorrow yet to be decided. My daughters are growing up in a world where the norms for them are the abnormals for us. But none of this was ever normal.
When I look at the Black Lives Matter uprisings that happened throughout the year, the senseless killings of Black people by uniformed officers that has become as much a part of our news cycle as breathing climate-changed air, I am reminded that it should have never been a part of our living. But it has been, since the beginnings of what we’ve called America. The America Black people know has always been a country that has leaned into force as a coercion method to bend the will of the people.
My daughters will be given books with pictures of riots in them — stories of buildings on fire, tear gas thrown, and flags burned. They’ll see Kobe jerseys hung at half-mast. I will hold them and tell them I cried when my eldest left and I suffered when my second was born. No one told me how hard it would be to hold my child when the other half of me lived over 1,200 miles away. These are the memories that stay with me. These are the things that I hope do not stain them.
I will also tell my daughters that the world continued to spin. While our heads remained in a constant loop — with the government in disarray and so much loss — we channeled hope in the darkness. We found ourselves amid the toiling; we gave ourselves grace and compassion. We learned new dances, made new friends, and learned how to appreciate the things we once took for granted: smiling eyes, holding hands, a glass of water passed from hand to hand, a laugh shared with a stranger less than six feet away. I will tell my daughters we persevered, that we made ourselves as whole as we could with what was left of the burning. We turned ourselves around with faith in each other. We are still imperfect but are learning to love that anyway.
I will tell my daughters 2020 was a work in progress, and we are all works in progress. It’s what keeps us alive. I will say to them the year prepared us for 2021. And that a father’s love will move mountains no matter how far planes travel, no matter how many masks we need to wear. We will always get where we need to go because that’s what love will do.