The Nights (part 3)

“Stephanie, where have you been? Momma has been looking for you. If you have been in the quarters again momma is going to be upset. You know she has been feeling faint, tires easily and according to the doctor should not put a strain on her heart. Why can’t you be a lady and stop running around Divine Mercy like a savage? Look at your clothes. You’ve surely ruined your dress.” 

Even though her name means crown, I say crown of thorns. She often says, “I just want to be free!” Free? Being a lady is freedom. Being the middle daughter is freedom. Being the child of a wealthy businessman is freedom. Momma doesn’t require her to do the same things as I. That’s freedom. I would love to ride my horse or hangout in the quarters or sit in the barn loft thinking of our recent trip to Paris. As the oldest child the expectation is for me to keep an eye on Stephanie. 

Momma wanted her to be a boy so much that she named her Stephen. Poppa said no girl of his would have a boy name. Who would marry a woman named Stephen? She says she plans to runaway one day and explore the world. I have no time for such foolishness. 

I do as momma says and I try to watch her and Sally. Sally is a sweet quiet girl. She is always reading a book or sewing something for her hope chest. She filled mine with the most delicate doilies with beautiful details. I like to open the chest and look at them and run my fingers over the edges. They are a thing of beauty. I pretend I’m the mistress of the house and lay these out for our guests. One day, after I’m married, Divine Mercy will belong to my husband. I look forward to those days. Running a home will be easier than keeping up with Stephanie. 

“Poppa”, Stephanie yelled. Mattie, one of the house slaves, told her to hush because it’s not proper to yell in the house. Stephanie kept walking and yelling. When he rounded the corner he looked at her with amusement at first then quickly changed his expression to one of concern mixed with slight disapproval. “What is it daughter?” Poppa asked. “Will you please come down to the slave quarter and tell Moses to jump a broom with me?” Poppa’s expression changed to irritation with a bit of anger. Jumping a broom was what the slaves did to signify a marriage union. Our slaves were not allowed to marry. When they married they had children and the males became protective and therefore a nuisance. We kept our males and females separated. No need in creating a problem unnecessarily. 

Moses was one of the slaves that had grown up here on the plantation. He was learning to play the fiddle and was a natural. Due to his caramel skin color and slight build he would be easy to hire out for parties and other occasions. 

Stephanie said, “I love him and want to marry him.” To which father replied, “I will sell him if you go near him again.” Stephanie’s hands clenched together by her side. Poppa’s jawline was tense as he squinted his eyes. They both stood their  ground staring at each other until momma, who had been listening and watching, walked up and shook Stephanie. Momma promised to lock her in the cellar if she said another word. Stephanie never challenged momma. She knew momma would keep her word and lock her up in the root cellar. Stephanie let out a stiffled scream of frustration and stomped off. 

This scene had become a regular occurrence since Stephanie turned thirteen. She was becoming more belligerent by the day. She seemed to pick fights and willfully disobey. 

“Tell me about yourself.”

In the world of online dating this is one of the questions I see at the beginning of the conversations, “Tell me about yourself.” I’m usually at a loss as to what to say. I ask myself and often write back, “Do you want my one minute elevator speech?” I know they don’t want that but where should I start? If I lead with, “I’m the mother of four children” I’m almost assured that’s the end of the inquiry. 

It’s a valid question. Here is my new standard answer:

I am a woman. With womanhood comes a multitude of experiences, feelings/emotions and opportunities. I walk with Love. I have loved deeply yet have been shallow. I am intelligent. I can be kind. I have been cruel. I was the conduit by which four lives have been realized. I nurture. I provide comfort and care. I am sensual. I am light. I give hope. I shed tears. I laugh out loud. I can mold a lump of dough into bread. I am a place to lay a weary head. I am woman. I am joy and peace. I am now. I was yesterday. I hope to be tomorrow. I am the stuff dreams are made of. I am some of what you need. I am some of what you want. I am some of what you never knew to dream. I am the sum total of my life experience. I am not the total package. I am who I am. I am woman. 

The Nights (part 2)

Momma loved to tell the family history after supper. As little girls we would gather in the drawing room and listen. If we had guests over, as we often did, the stories were more animated and even boisterous at times. 

“Isn’t that devine! Have mercy! My eyes have never see anything as beautiful as this before!” My great grandfather Hubert and great grandmother Willowmene exclaimed these words when they first saw the land they had purchased and planned to farm. This land represented their hopes and dreams to become landowners, raise a family and serve our Lord. “Devine Mercy has been in our family for generations and will continue to be forever more. One day one of your husbands will inherit all of those hopes and dreams and continue to make them a reality.” 

“It’s time for bed my little doves.” I had become the storyteller after mother’s illness left her unable to speak above a whisper. I had become many things during her illness. I now realize it was preparation to become the mistress of Divine Mercy. 

By the time daddy and momma died I understood how to run the home, the house slaves, create menus and host parties which were talked about in neighboring states. The governor and his wife were regular attendees. Our slaves played the best music and our food was the most coveted. Poppa use to always say, “A man who beats his slaves is no man at all.” Because we didn’t beat them, they produced the finest of everything for us. They were loyal to us. Well, at least most of them were. I do not believe I will ever understand why any of them would want to run away from here. It was the best plantation around. The ones who ran were immediately sold upon capture. We would not allow them to come back and poison the minds of the others. We posted the paperwork in the quarters for several nights. Although they couldn’t read they understood the meaning. The runaway had been captured. Because we didn’t beat or mistreat our slaves they were sold at the highest prices. 

Momma had taught me to use my head when making decisions regarding how I ran the house. She would often say to us, “Never allow jealously to rule your emotions. The good books says a man who is unable to control his emotions is like a city without walls.” I stopped going to the slave quarters after seeing the children born from the slaves we bought from a few counties over. My heart broke each time I saw another brown, male version of my husband. I prayed faithfully to God for a son. During the nights when John left our bed for the quarters I would silently cry out to God. “Please allow me to birth just one healthy boy, an heir like Isaac.”

My cries were often drowned out by their cries. 

The Nights

I hated the summer nights more than anything. It had nothing to do with the long, hot and humid nights. Growing up in the Deep South I was as accustomed to the heat as anybody could get. 

In the winters all of the shutters were pulled to and latched. The windows were closed. The heavy curtains were drawn at night to keep out the draft. Three layers of wood, glass and the best material this side of the Mississippi kept the house silent at night. But in the summers, sometimes in the late springs, curtains were pulled back and windows were open and the shutters no longer blocked the night sounds. This was the beginning of my sleepless nights each year. 

The land we lived on and the house we lived in was my granddaddy’s and his daddy’s before him. My mother was the only surviving child of six. When she married the land went to my daddy. Since my mother only birthed girls this beautiful land went to my husband when poppa died. It helped that I had married well and he proved to be a good business man. Poppa loved John like a son and better than his own daughters. 

I never paid much attention to the sounds until I was older. It was after John and I married that realized what was going on. I went to momma. I cried tears of despair in her lap. She stroked my hair and told me it was not my place to ask John any questions. This was business and the best way to keep a plantation thriving was through the labor of the negros working the land. The way we kept cost down was by creating our own laborers. That’s one of the reasons we had huge profits. She tilted my chin up until I was looking her in the eyes and she said, “Never mention this conversation or cry another tear. This is our way and has been for generations. Now get up and make yourself presentable to your husband when he walks through the door.”

I did as I was told. In all the years of marriage I never said another word. But the night cries kept me awake. The seasons held me hostage. No amount of singing, cotton in my ears or strong drink could drown out the night.

It was not love, she told me. It was business. It was how we as a family continued to thrive. It was necessary. 

I believed every word until I saw a mulatto baby boy toddling around the quarters. He was an exact replica of John. Only with brown skin and curly hair. I had yet to give him an heir. Much like my mother I was cursed with girls. Three beautiful girls who adored their father as much as he adored them. But still, only girls. 

Teen Dating

Let me give you a quick review. I have four children. I’m divorced. I prefer to say we are co-parenting rather than single parenting. I refer to my children collectively as the fan4 or fantastik4. The oldest will be 17 soon and I lovingly refer to him as The Teenager. Second up is my daughter who is now 14 and she is my Honeygirl. The third one, who has the qualities of the attention grabbing middle child, is 11 and referred to as Little Dude. The last one in our line up is my baby boy who is nine. He acts like he’s 39 most of the time. He’s the self appointed referee for Little Dude and often finds himself blowing the whistle, throwing flags and explaining the rules of life to him. From now on we shall refer to him as Ref. I determined early on to protect their identities since I share things that occur in their lives. 

Dating… (Insert eye roll and a deep sigh) (after I typed that I realized I should use some really funny meme but since I don’t have a stock pile of them to flip through and select from I’m using good old fashioned words) I will not lie, I’m not a fan of teen dating. After polling my daughter and her previous bff, we determined that from middle school to high school the average relationship lasts about four weeks. We have six six week grading session during the school year. By the time they begin middle school in sixth grade until they graduate they could potentially have “dated” 63 people at the rate of nine per year. 

But what is dating at 11 or even at 16? 

When I think about my daughter and her friend excitedly discussing dating and boys in general it made me sad and a bit anxious. 

Sad because the friend felt incomplete and was upset with her parents because they wouldn’t allow her to date. She really wanted her very own boyfriend. This disagreement sparked a rebellion and she began running away. My daughter has been asking me about dating for years. She asks her dad and me to define the timeline and allowed activities. His standard answer is 36. Mine is based on maturity and decision making ability. She is enamored with dating. I refer to it as the Disney effect. After watching those popular teen shows she thinks dating has perfect lighting, a laugh track, great clothes, hair and make up as well as a great ending. Periodically I like to dash their dating dreams on the rocks of reality and talk about kissing, hugging, touching and what if that’s not what you want? What’s your exit plan? How do you protect yourself from a person who may overpower or manipulate you into something you aren’t ready to do?

I was anxious because a lot of adults don’t have the cognitive ability to select a good partner and remain committed. If after years of education, reading articles, blogs, after video viewing and talking to other people we as adults make questionable relationship choices then how are they expected to make sound decisions at such a young age? Each dating partner is given a tiny piece if not large chunk of their hearts. They aren’t looking for spouses. They are looking for good times. They aren’t searching for anything deep and long lasting. It’s fleeting and shallow. 

Exhibit 1- the teenager went on a first date to the movies recently with some girl he met through a friend. He asked her to be his girlfriend the next day. She asked him to join her at church on Sunday, meet her parents and have lunch with her family afterwards. She prepped him on what her parents would say and how to respond. I texted his dad with my concerns of how quickly this was moving. She broke up with him the next day. 

I’m glad I never really learned her name or got attached. I don’t even want to know the newest interest’s name until they make it past the four week mark. 

I’m not into the whole bring people home so I can meet them thing. My two brothers ruined that for me. They brought everybody by the house. It wasn’t something special it was normal. I have a male friend who whole heartedly disagrees with me. He wants to meet any and everybody his daughter dates. The one time he and is ex found out she had a boyfriend they planned a family dinner and invited him over. They broke up after the invite but before dinner. 

I understand the desire to have somebody to call your very own.  Who doesn’t want their very own George or squishy? I have friends who met the loves of their lives in high school. It happens. Is it possible to somehow bypass the other 62 people to get to that one? Yes, it is. Serial dating does not have to become their norm neither does looking for someone to define or complete them. 

How are you helping your teen manuver through the obstacle dating course?

Hi

I love writing. I love having the opportunity to communicate a thought or idea. I’ve taken time off. Call it a hiatus or a need to get in touch with my own voice and thoughts and opinions. Who am I? What do I want to convey to the the reader? Where do I focus my efforts? 

After all this time off I’m still not really sure that I want a theme as much as I just want to write. 

I’ve gone through a lot in the last two years. Do you ever feel like it’s one thing after another? I’m not saying it’s all bad. Some has been great others things have been meh. But that’s life right? Isn’t it? 

This blog is going to continue to be random and filled with what may be statistic driven data or just things I’ve learned over the years. 

In the mean time, keep on keeping on, hang in there, trouble don’t last always and in most places of the world, “The sun will come out tomorrow…”. Tomorrow is your opportunity to give it one more try. 

Give somebody a twenty second hug today to extend their life and yours.  

love is…

After dinner last night and when all the dishes were loaded in the dishwasher, I asked the Fantastik4 to come back to the dinning room table and have a seat. Like most of us, when somebody says they want to talk your mind starts racing through all of the recent events attempting to determine what happened? Why do we need to sit down? I’m sure they were wondering, is this was another lecture or were we going to play a game?

It was actually neither. I decided at the last minute that I wanted to talk about love. I wanted to know what love meant to them. As I reflect on our conversation I wonder why we don’t openly share what love looks like or feels like to us. It’s different for everybody. But instead of being forthright, we want people to guess. We would not go to a restaurant and expect the waiter to guess what we want for our meal. We don’t expect an employer to guess what job or salary we want. We don’t expect a car dealership to guess which car we want. Most of us typically have a good idea of what we want even if we are open to some suggestions. Why aren’t we the same way with love.

I understand we may not know. But if we put some thought into it then we will figure it out and help the people who love us the most to love us better. I have read and really do like The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. That’s a great guide. But if we ask and we tell, think of how much deeper the understanding will become.

When I asked the Fan4 what love looks like to them, this is what they said:
Provide, protect, trusting and believing
Take care of and care for
Protect and take chances for (this interprets into willingness to sacrifice)
Kindness and respect

All of their responses touched me. I took a moment to think about their personalities and reactions in different situations. Now I understand some things a lot better.

The stud muffin, the baby of the bunch, is the one who said to him love means to take care of and care for. I had a breakthrough with those few and very simple words. I have a better understanding of how to parent and relate to him. He is the child who seems easily frazzled and frustrated. We have often asked ourselves, what wrong with him? Now I get it. This morning was a prime example of how I missed an opportunity to love him they way he wants to be loved. He had a field trip permission form that required a signature and a form to order a special t-shirt  for Field Day. Well, in all honesty, I glanced at both forms and did not pay close attention to the due dates. I received a call from a very frustrated little guy this morning. He started the conversation with, I can’t participate in field day because you didn’t fill out my form and I don’t get a t-shirt because I don’t have $5.00. Flashback to the night before. I didn’t take care of him. I apologized profusely and asked to speak to the teenager. I explained my mistake and asked him to fill out the forms and give the stud muffin change for $10 I had given him for lunch. The crisis was diverted and this time, an unhappy kid did not get on the bus with his heart broken. I have made a promise to myself to pay more attention. I love him. I want him to see it in his way. I want to take care of things that are important to him that we agree will occur.

Today was not my best mommy day. Little Dude need a certain sized tri-fold science project board. I bought the wrong size last night during my late night run to the store. Love to him is kindness and respect. Because I bought a board, I got a pass. But he set the expectations and gave me time frames to have the board to him today. I couldn’t do it but I promised to make it happen and with the help of my super nephew, he received his board. Whew!

Let’s think about this love thing. How easy is it to communicate what love looks like to you? Do you ever ask what love looks like to the people you are loving? You may be surprised. Ask at least one person what love looks like to them. Then ask yourself. I believe we can take our relationships to the next level of love if we take time to ask and listen.