I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!!
We travelled about 3 hours away to spend the holiday with family and though I was a littler nervous about how it would go, I'm happy to say that it was enjoyable. At least as enjoyable as it could be.
I kept thinking to myself why it is I can never really relax around my family. Of course, there's the difference in religion and lifestyle but I think more than that, it's my mother.
I seriously believe my mother gave me a lot of complexes that I am still struggling with. I don't know if I will ever be done struggling with them.
"He's dark-skinned but he's still the most handsome of all of his siblings."
That's a direct quote from my mother talking about one of my cousins yesterday. Now this cousin is indeed a stunningly beautiful child. I mean, you will look twice when you see this little boy. And he looks and behaves very, very differently than his three other siblings (two older and one younger).
This is the kind of message she's been sending me all my life. I sometimes think I may be imagining things but I know I'm not. I had the idea growing up that my younger sister, who is just a shade or two lighter than I am was pretty and I was not. This was despite that fact that often, people in the street mistook us for twins. It wasn't necessarily that my mom would come right out and say things to me that damaged my self-esteem. It was more often the things she didn't say. The compliment to my sister or to some other child--gushing over her long neck of her her clear complexion. The extra effort I made to be pretty or cute that went completely unnoticed. And to this day, I swear, it's hit or miss if I'll look in the mirror and I'll like what I see. It's infuriating. I get so self-conscious around her that I can't relax. I'm so self-conscious in general.
I used to blame my non-existent self-esteem on my harsh fifth grade experience that involved near daily torture with almost the whole class calling me ugly and dark. I remember knowing acutely that a girl named Jamilla, very light skinned with loosely curled hair was beautiful in way I would never be. But it wasn't those kids that destroyed my self-esteem. It was going home and not having anyone to give me a different message. It was going home and having that message reinforced.
So many folks' blogs I read say why can't we as Black people let go of our color issues. I wish it were that simple. Color is about as complex an issue as hair. I know that first hand.
But aside from all that, I still feel so much that I want to make my mother happy and proud of me. I still feel so much of a sense of failure that I can't--even though I know on an intellectual level that it's not me. I've done lots of great things in my life--things that should make a mother proud. But I don't get the sense my mother is proud at all. It annoys me that I latch on to the faintest of compliments from her and hold on them for dear life. Like when she was trying to put a pan of cornbread in the oven yesterday and was struggling. I came over and pulled out the oven rack so she could easily slide it on. She says, "That was good thinking" and I could feel myself light up.
I could feel myself deflate when I noticed she didn't touch any of the food I brought. I am a self-taught cook--I cook mainly vegan foods and so I had to teach myself everything. My mother never really took the time out to teach me to cook. Or to sew. Or crochet. Or to speak Igbo. But whatever, I'm getting along well and learning all those things on my own. So many people tell me I'm gifted in the kitchen. So many folks don't even believe my food is vegan. I had die hard omnivores eating barbeque tofu. She didn't even try it. I mean, folks were really enjoying my collard greens. Everyone said it was slamming. She didn't even try it.
Fine, I get it. I inherited my pickiness from her and I'm never the first to try new or different things. I could eat the same exact thing every day and never get bored. But what hurt the most was when she goes to get to dessert. There was my homemade sweet potato pie and store bought apple pie. She brought a slice of apple pie for herself and my dad. I said to my dad, to her hearing, "Oh dad, you don't want some of my sweet potato pie?" He said, "Oh, yeah, I do . . . go get a slice for me." And I did. And he ate it and enjoyed it. My mother didn't seem to care.
It really shouldn't bother me much, you know. But it does. When she comments that Z2's hands are cold, it's a thinly veiled criticism of how I feed my kids, how I take care of them. When she says things like, "Oh you're losing weight" I can't take it as a compliment because it's always backhanded like she might as well be saying "You're too fat." And I know if I were to dramatically lose weight, then the problem would be that I am too thin. It's painful never being good enough. It makes me really wish that I could move and never have to talk to her again.
So I enjoyed my Thanksgiving, I did. But there's always that shadow hanging over my head. I really wish I had the tools to deal with this effectively. I feel that all I'm powerful to do in this situation is to make sure that I do differently for my children. Refrain from comparisons. Make them know without a doubt how uniquely beautiful they are and that I'm proud of them always. That doesn't necessarily take away my pain but it help me to focus my energy and attention on something else. Something that makes me feel good.
Photo Courtesy of Feminist Law Professors