Not Black Enough for Magic


There are days when I look in the mirror and I am troubled by what I see, or, rather, by what I feel at what I see. My skin is the color of Cadbury’s milk chocolate where the sun hits it regularly; the skin hidden under my clothing is more caramel, though it looks like cafe au lait next to my arm. My daughter, when she was little, would pretend that I was chocolate and she was going to gobble me up. It has hit home for me, though–harder in recent years–that I have never felt “black enough”.

When I was little, I was teased by kids at school for my celebrity crushes: boys like Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“Home Improvement”) and Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys). I was told that I wished I were white, the idea voiced for me as though it were a pronouncement handed down from the mount. I was thin as a rail growing up; I didn’t have a body built for curves until almost 30 years later. I have been relaxing my hair since I was twelve and have worn it this way for now twice as long as I had it natural. I like it, but, sometimes, I can keenly feel the lack of my “blackness” because I don’t proudly wear my hair natural and free or intricately, traditionally, or boldly styled. In my first classroom as a full-time teacher, I had several black students who were, as I overheard, quite excited to have a black teacher. The disappointment and even confusion on their face when I opened my mouth and started speaking, was starkly visible to me even though they may not have realized it. I can only hope it didn’t stick.

When “Black Panther” first came out, I scrolled through the joyous pictures of people attending screenings and premiers in all their traditional African finery. It was amazing and beautiful and triumphant. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I beheld their glory and felt the worm in my heart that whispered, “This is not for me. I have no place here.”

I am a brown-skinned, American-born, full-blooded Caribbean woman from a melting-pot island where I never felt black enough for many of the people around me. Now I live in a place that demands the necessary acknowledgement that black lives matter. (Spoiler alert: we do!) But, again, that worm in the apple in there:

“None of this is for me, or maybe I am not for it. I’m not black enough for this to be for me.”

My curves don’t shine like midnight or my skin glow like dawn. My hair doesn’t surround me in a crown of ombre curls or fall like watered black silk over my shoulders. I haven’t had to power through discrimination and prejudice in my higher education or workplace world (at least not consciously or overtly) in order to be successful. I have lived the most privileged of lives of color, for which I am immensely grateful. In other words, however, I haven’t had to fight for every inch like so many have been forced to do.

There are days when I half-wish that I had no color to feel less than, days that I just don’t feel black enough for any of this black girl magic to belong to me.

But then my daughter says, upon hearing the book Brown Boy Joy read on Netflix’s Bookmarks series, “I wish there was a brown girl joy.”

And so I put my queen-mom heels on and trot out Black Girl Magic Sprinkles (Chaunetta Anderson and Trinity L. Anderson), Honeysmoke (Monique Fields), and Sulwe (Lupita Nyong’o) for my little mixed beauty. My little girl who calls her summery skin “tan”. My little girl who needs to know that all the magic is hers, all the dreams are hers for the taking. She wants to build robots and go to Mars. I want her to build the robots and rockets that will go and then accompany them to Mars.

I want my girl to work and strive and do her best and achieve all the amazing dreams she has. I am doing my best to teach her openness and love, that hard work is nothing to be feared, and that there is always something to be learned, ways in which we can be better. As Princess Shuri (the officially most brilliant mind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) admonished her kingly brother T’Challa, “How many times do I have to teach you? Just because something works, that does not mean it cannot be improved.”

I want my daughter to tap into her magic every day, to feel it in every way! I will nurture and defend her black girl magic and her right to it until my dying breath.

I may not feel black enough for my own magic, but I damn sure have enough for my daughter and any other black, brown, or mixed kiddo who may walk through my door. I will fight tooth and nail for their magic even though and while I may be iffy about my own. It’s complicated and called being human, I guess.

Faking It Too Well


Fake it ’til you make it. That’s what they tell you, and, sometimes, it’s very true. Sometimes, you have to act like you know what you are doing while learning exactly what you are supposed to be doing. That is rather how I feel about teaching. I feel like I am constantly acting like I know exactly what I am doing or supposed to be doing when, all along, I am barely staying afloat.

Studies call this “impostor syndrome” but the truth is that who I am as a teacher often feels very different from who I feel I am “in real life”. Teachers need to have a polish to them, a presence. It leaves my poor introverted soul tired and, maybe, even joyless at times. However, there is no denying that I am good at what I do. I am a good teacher, though maybe not as involved with as many shiny tricks as others who have been doing this longer or have it as more of a passionate calling. Nevertheless, I am organized and knowledgeable, even enthusiastic when I am teaching literature. I’m good at what I do. I have never gotten a bad evaluation from an administrator. I don’t pull punches with my students and push them to do their best and improve on it. I admit when I don’t know or I am wrong. I know how to hold my corner-classroom kingdom. But that me often feels very different from me.

One of my students asked me last week if I am bipolar. My answer was, “No.”

“Are you sure?” he pressed.

“I’m sure,” I replied.

He was a dog with a bone. “Because you’re usually really nice and then you can get all mean.”

“That’s not me being bipolar. That’s me being tired of people’s crap. I’m an introvert. I don’t deal with other people’s crap well.”

Who I am in the classroom takes a force of presence and authority that takes a lot out of me, leaves me weary and wanting to crawl back into a safe little hobbit hole to recover. But recovery time for teachers, as you know, is slim to none. Ditto and double for moms, which honestly makes it a double-whammy. So going back to work is not just a change in how I do life but, once again, a change in how I feel about who I am. It’s an extra twist in my self-vision that I sometimes wish I could untwist and smooth out at the end of the day. Some days are more successful than others, but there are successful ones.

Going back to teaching is the best thing for my family right now, and that is what is important. That is the driving force. It is allowing my daughter to go to preschool and daycare every day to gain social and academic skills that she will so desperately need in the coming years. It is also allowing us to put money aside and save up so that we can start dreaming new dreams again.

I will find a way to reconcile all this change. Right now, though, it’s difficult at times, I will admit. But there is always a way.

Ghost Of Fridays Past…


Last night, after a trip to the gym, I did the unthinkable: I braved the mall on a Friday night, two weeks before Christmas. In my defense, it wasn’t my fault. I had things that I wanted/needed to return so that I could purchase their replacements as soon as possible. As I speed-walked through the mall, determined to be done as soon as possible, I couldn’t help but be accosted by the realization of just how long it had been since I had traversed the mall on a Friday evening. I was also suddenly inundated by memories. Memories of Friday nights past. Before the Big Change, i.e. before baby.

In Friday nights past, Ben and I would often get out of work and head straight to an early dinner. We liked to hit dinner early so that we could enjoy our meal before the start-of-weekend dinner rush. After dinner, we could make our way over to the mall or to Best Buy (depending on our movie location) to kill time before making our way to the movie theater to catch whatever flick suited our fancy that weekend.  We would peruse the DVDs at Best Buy, the shelves of the bookstore, or the racks at Hot Topic at the mall, enjoying our geekery in its myriad forms.

I miss those Fridays, if I am being completely honest. I miss strolling around the mall or the store on my husband’s arm, just meandering with no rush, timetable, or out-of-sight worries to keep me out of the moment. I think that is one of the things that I miss the most right now: being able to consistently stay in the moment, whether it’s a date on the couch with Ben, a conversation on the phone or online, reading a book, or journaling. I love my daughter, make no mistake, but she commands the lion’s portion of my time, attention, and strength.

A friend of mine (and fellow mommy) sent me an article by Wendy Wisner today entitled “The Hardest Thing About Being a New Mom” and something that it said struck to the core and heart of a great many of my feelings.

“Oh, the things they don’t tell you about motherhood. […] I’m talking about your identity. I’m talking about the fact that in one quick instant, you go from being woman, girlfriend, wife, professional, artist, lover, free-thinking-doing-being-person to MOTHER. Just like that. And mother, at least at first, is bigger than all those other things, whether you want it to be or not.

But I wish someone had told me it was normal to feel like the person I’d been before kids had been smashed into sharp little pieces of glass.”

I must be honest: I feel this way sometimes. A lot of sometimes. Like all that I was, who I was, has just been smashed to smithereens and I don’t know just how to see myself as anyone other than “Mommy” anymore. And that, truthfully, is very difficult sometimes, especially since it took me the better part of twenty-some years to find an identity that was just and wholly me, apart from anyone else in my life.

Please, do not mistake me. I love my daughter. Love her to the moon and back. But I do want to be more than just Mommy. I want to be Melissa and all that means along with being a mother. I am not entirely sure just what all that is right now, however. I do not know whether “teacher” is still part of that or not, how long “pastor’s wife” will be part of it, what part writer/blogger has in it.

I wish someone had told me that I would eventually find all those pieces of myself — that I would sweep up the glass, put it together again. And that the new me would sparkle, bend light, make rainbows.

I wish someone had told me I would come out of it all intact, kick-ass, more resilient than ever — a mother.”

I do not feel like I am to this place just yet. I am still searching through those pieces, figuring out what they are, and how they fit together into the ‘me’ I am now. The mosaic that is me, composed by all these differing pieces, is coming together, maybe slowly, but it is. I have a few of the pieces, I dare say a few of the very important ones, and I will continue to grow and hope to fit some more of the pieces together in the coming year.  I dearly hope that I can say, as Ms. Wisner does, that I will sparkle, bend light, make rainbows, and, yes, be more kick-ass and resilient than ever.

Those Friday nights past are bright spots in my memory, as are my Friday nights present. Evenings of pizza and tag and kitty-cat finger puppets and singing before bedtime, of cuddles on the den couch leaned against Ben with my book while he plays “Fallout 4”. And I am hoping that my Friday evenings yet to come will be even brighter as we all grow together.