I have secrets. Deep. Dark. Secrets. The kind of secrets that would make you alter your opinion of me. I’ve done things—things of which I am not proud. Sick things, really. I won’t make excuses. I have no one to blame but myself. Mama didn’t raise me to act a fool.
See what had happened was…Scratch that. I don’t really know what had happened.
All I can say now is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry I brought shame to my family. I’m sorry for setting back the sisterhood of women. I’m sorry I let down my race. I guess I just lost my way. Maybe something snapped. But I know if I stand any chance for redemption, I know I have to admit my wrongs….Here goes.
- I used to peel the skin off of peas to make them easier for my babies to digest. Each and every pea. With writer’s carpel tunneled fingers. Each casing meticulously removed. Oh, and of course, the peas had to be organic. (It never dawned on me that as a nursing mom, the pesticide-infested foods I was grubbing could kill them just as well.)
- Pedestrian products like Johnson’s Baby Lotion were not good enough for my Long before news broke that cancer-causing chemicals like phthalates—which I can’t even pronounce—were rampant in common drugstore brands, I’d become a connoisseur of expensive specialty diaper creams and potions.
- I once considered using a baby wipe warmer. I received it as a shower gift. After a few minutes reconsidering, I did decide against it. But in the spirit of atonement, I want to come clean—totally.
- From infancy to around age four, I planned my entire day around my kids’ sleep times—come hell or high water their heads had to hit the mattress by 1 p.m. Car and stroller naps were out of the question. A rigid bath-book-bed chain of events was a near-sacred ritual never to be broken, amended or in any way dishonored.
- Having some vague recollection of a Beach-Nut baby food recall in the early 1990s, I decided my kids would not ingest any Beach-Nut or Gerber (just to be on the safe side) products ever in life.
- I composed and printed out long, detailed itineraries of when my kids should eat, sleep and play—to the minute (for example, 9:15-10:00: “free play” time)—for any and all caregivers. I saved the document on my PC and updated it every few weeks or so, as the baby grew and changed. Needless to say, when I presented said rundown to mama, a flurry of cussing ensued.
So there we have it. I was a hot mess. There is lots more to this line of foolishness. It was a multi-layered mess—not just a thin coating. But you get the picture. On the outside, I didn’t look crazy. I would typically front like I was all laid back and carefree. But inside was a different story. Like a functioning alcoholic, all but those closest to me, thought I had it going on. And I told myself the same. The reality is I wasn’t being authentic… wasn’t living my truth. I know that now because Oprah told me so. Well, she didn’t tell me directly. But you know what I mean.
Here’s the thing. Having kids scared the living daylights out of me. I mostly enjoyed being pregnant. I liked buying the stuff that went along with having kids. And since mine were easily the most beautiful creatures God ever blew life into, I loved holding my kids; dressing my kids and carrying them around. I’ve never been a hot celebrity. I don’t know what it feels like to have paparazzi following my every move. But let’s be honest, when you walk around with a baby—and, again, not to belabor the point, but my babies were blessed with epic cuteness and uber charm…To the point where I feel compelled to offer up my deepest apologies to average babies (of which, sadly, there are many) the world over—these babies like achieving instant rock star status.
New moms are suddenly catapulted into this realm of irrefutable significance. There are news reports, studies and all manner of important cultural discussions that revolve totally around you. And look around. Would Tide and Motrin and all these multi-national billion-dollar corporations be paying this much attention to you if you were not inherently valuable? I mean, not to throw this in anybody’s face—but I took an economics class at Northwestern with a nationally renowned Keynesian expert. Full disclosure: I still don’t understand get the whole guns-and-butter thing and Professor Eisner generously gave me a D in the class. But the point is, if an entire industry sprouts up largely based on the workings of my vajayjay I am important. Okay? And you can’t tell me nothing!
Now putting aside the macro economic piece—or maybe it’s micro (as noted, I got a D)—consider what happens within a mom’s unit of family and friends. Everybody wants to stop by. People bring gifts. They want to see pictures. You acquire a bunch of cute nicknames. If you are not black or Latina, probably no one has ever referred to you as “lil mama” or “mami.” And if you are black or Latina, the tag resonates now more than ever. The folks who have known you your whole life look at you differently now. Literally. I mean they start dissecting the shape of your eyes, the corners of your mouth and the slope of your nostrils. The burning issue from the moment you pop out a tiny creature is, of course, who does it take after? Which parent has the dominant DNA? Which features came from whom? Friends and family get all up in your grill to settle the point.
Like much of celebrity life, some of this attention gets annoying. And most moms will put up “Kardashian-like” complaints. On the one hand grumbling about folks’ laser-focused pre-occupation, then the next minute plastering selfies or baby pictures—which are kind of the same thing—all over social media. Personally, I can say that I would be nothing without my fans—err, I mean, my friends and family. For example, how on earth did I mange to go through life, pre-baby, without the critical self-awareness that I was born with hanging, not attached, earlobes? In the name of all that is good and holy, all I can say is “Thank God for motherhood.”
One more thing—and this is big. Before I birthed his children, my husband Mark liked me quite a bit. Even loved me, he’d say. I got on his nerves some, naturally. But he thought I was a nice wife. He regarded me as competent and book smart. I was no ingénue when we got married. I’d lived on my own for several years, maintained an apartment; I had good credit and such. But I don’t think I was particularly special in his eyes. You can’t tell him we talked about this. He would only deny it. But I think he thought he was the strong one in our coupling—the real brains of the operation. When we went to the gym, he completed his work out with military-style focus. On the other hand, if I bumped into an old friend, my treadmill run slowed to a snail’s pace while I yammered on for 30 minutes. And don’t let my music skip or die. My “workout” ground to a halt. He never understood how my entire fitness plan could rest on a Busta Rhymes track. Surely, if I needed MOP, Remy Ma’ and Bussa Buss to hold my hand through squats and push up’s I was not very strong of mind or purpose.
Then there was the whole money-management thing. See, the first month we were married, living in alleged one-bedroom apartment in the West Village I mailed the rent check—but forgot to sign it. The landlord was not pressed. These things happen. Right? Well, Mark made up his mind that he needed to be in charge of household finances. I don’t think he intentionally downgraded my worth. In fact, in hindsight, I think like most of us do in relationships he created a narrative that best suited him—and his own self-image He was the one who knew more, could do more, handle more. He was serious and exceedingly capable. I was a bit of a flake—cute and well meaning, but a flake nonetheless. With childbirth, all that changed.
I’d made him proud—perhaps, for the very first time. I’d produced something, achieved something, great. Despite my frivolity. Despite my inadequate sports knowledge, technical aptitude and emotional neediness. Mark saw me as strong, powerful and if not inimitable. It was sweet. But I failed to appreciate the lovey-dovey mush. I let my newfound power go to my head. There was no humility. I was like, “Yeeaaaah, baby! Check out Mother Earth over here, y’all!”
Three words danced in my head: “YOU BETTER RECOGNIZE!”
I got lost in the sauce. And without even thinking, I threw my superiority in Mark’s face. The baby needed this, not that. No matter what he thought, I knew better. The baby was not hungry she was sleepy. I, and only I, knew when she was gassy. In fact, I could anticipate her every need. After all, I was the mother. I now had skills few could never possess. I had intuition—which meant I had this direct line of communication to the source of omnipotent wisdom. So there. How ya’ like me now?
While I was getting drunk off my kind-of-a-big-deal status and channeling my inner Kanye West, I think I knew something was amiss. I was not at all like myself. Being a celebrity is very, very hard work you see. That’s probably why you always hear stories of their outrageous demands. The way I see it, if you’re Jennifer Lopez or Mariah Carey and your public is constantly swarming—probably you start to feel as though your life is not your own and you develop a need to control the little things. You know the stories of stars’ demands: bowls full of M & M’s, with green ones removed; vases of white lilies; Evian water to bathe in. That was me, sort of—with the peeling peas and lists of do’s and don’ts. I fancy myself a lot like JLo and MiMi—only I’ve got a bit of a struggle booty and pint-sized bank account. Otherwise, we are exactly the same. I had much in common with these bold-faced names. I may was smiling on the outside. But as a famous hip-hop sage so eloquently put it “sometimes I’d get the blues so hard you would think I was Crippin’” (true that, Fabolous).
And I wasn’t alone. I believe that many women like me, who had children later in life—then adjusted their careers to accommodate their new priorities, were similarly displaced. Motherhood had become not just an act of loving a raising a child—but a cultural movement. Were we looking to make child rearing our new profession? Somehow elevate natural maternal instincts to corporate level status? Or did the media and marketing worlds see us coming and seize an opportunity to sell us on aspirational gimmickry?
I will certainly own my crazy. But women have always been far more susceptible than men to the whole How-to-Do-Anything-Better pitch. The not-the-least-bit subtle inference is that in and of ourselves we are simply not enough. Not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Not sexy enough. Not assertive enough. Not submissive enough. Why should mothering be any different? A bunch of White guys on Madison Avenue decided to exploit our insecurities to create a market out of motherhood, a process God made as natural as breathing.
The culture was ripe for the picking with all the Dr. Phil-izing on TV and self-help books filling store shelves. Like a lot of women driven by career, I was far, far away from family that could support and ground me. Had I been back in Buffalo, Sugar—mama’s best friend and my godmother—would’ve simply sat me down and said, “Baby, you need JESUS!”
Instead thought I needed T. Berry Brazleton’s Touchpoints From Birth to Three and a baby monitor with audio and motion sensors.