This was my first Mother’s Day in more than three decades with just one woman to celebrate. My mother is 81 and we’re blessed to have her with us-still feisty and still quick to tell me or my sisters “I may not have gone to Wellesley but I know this! (Whatever “this” happens to be at any moment in time.) But for the past 36 years Mother’s Day has been much more intense. Longevity runs on both sides of our family; long before I became a mother, I had my mother, my grandmother, my mother-in-law and my grandmother-in-law, often in different cities, to consider and plan for and celebrate in ways unique to each of them. (And no, amazing intellect notwithstanding, CMadison never had any helpful ideas on this score!) But as a black woman with three sons, Mother’s Day is even more intense now-and the first step of that deeper significance happened 32 years ago.
On May 9th, the Friday before Mother’s Day in 1980, our twins, Charles Madison Penn Nabrit (born 1st and named after his Dad) and Damon Princeton Penn Nabrit (named after a Baptist minister who befriended my Dad when he came to Columbus to study at OSU after WWII) were born. We’d suffered two miscarriages before their birth, almost 6 months of strict bed rest during their gestation and over 11 hours of labor before the decision was made to perform an emergency C-section with the hopes of saving at least one of them. They made their arrival healthy and vibrant and practically perfect in every way. We suffered two more miscarriages and then in 1982 Evan Washington Clarke Nabrit (named for both grandfathers) arrived-also by C-section and also practically perfect in every way!
So, now that our sons are adults what you may ask is, “What’s up with the Mommy musings?” Well, in light of the Trayvon Martin murder, the question of Ann Romney’s work history and the titillating cover of the nursing toddler on last week’s Times Magazine, I just felt “led” to say something(s). And yes, I definitely see a connection.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. Hebrews 11:23. Trayvon’s parents, like all of us who have brought black male children into this world, understand this Scripture in a very particular way. CMadison and I relied upon it in 1991 when we decided to start homeschooling Charles, Damon and Evan, even though we’d never met any other homeschoolers and even though several folks explained what a bad idea it was. After all, who did we think we were to shield our sons from institutionalized racism?! Yeah-and the craziest part? Nobody black argued about the reality of institutionalized racism-just the idea of us removing our sons from it.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Hebrews 11:24. Trayvon’s parents, like so many parents of so many black boys, black teenagers and black young men were robbed of the blessing and the pleasure of watching him “come to years.” C and I are aware of the blessing and thankful for the opportunity to see each of our once fat baby boys become toddlers, then big boys, then (funky) teenagers and now delightful and pensive and loving young men. (I’m also thankful I resisted the urge to kill’ em and make it look like an accident. Adolescence can be ugly and homeschooling removes all escape!) But we’re especially thankful and awed that even after attending places like Princeton and Amherst, Charles, Damon and Evan have grown into black men not just well educated, but sure of their own identity and connection and responsibility to community. And no, that is never a foregone conclusion.
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. Hebrews 11:25-28.
When I see our sons and my brother David and his wife Sonjia’s four sons on a Sunday, when I see these seven young brothers, 5th generation Pentecostals, driving the church van, feeding the hungry, ushering during service, gathered at their grandparents’ dinner table every Sunday afternoon-acknowledging not just who but Whose they are-I am delighted to see they have “endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.”
By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. Hebrews 11:29. We look at our sons and wonder what miraculous things will come next through their faith and the collective prayers of paternal and maternal generations. Sadly, Trayvon’s parents and the rest of us have been deprived of whatever amazing things he might have done in his life. I’m more than sad; I am and have been very, very angry about that. So when I saw the cover of Time Magazine with the caption “Are You Mom Enough?” I was not amused. I’m sorry but a skinny, white, blond, 26 year-old mother of a 3 year old who literally is not yet weaned is not in a position to throw down the gauntlet to me or anybody else who has already raised a child to productive adult status. (Okay, truthfully, I’m not sorry-and I know she did). And I know some of my white friends (and yes, I do so have white friends!) will say the Times cover has nothing to do with race and attempting to connect it to the tragedy of Trayvon’s death is a classically false equivalence. But the fact is every major hot button news story this past week (and most other weeks) has had a racial component.
When we talk about the “Mommy Wars” we’re talking about the issue framed primarily by wealthy, white Mommy’s in much the way that the broader conversation about women’s issues (and whether or not Ann Romney ever worked) is framed around issues defined by rich, white, women. Similarly issues of Christianity in American all too often are framed exclusively by white Christians (as if Jesus is their cultural mascot!) much as the civil rights issue of marriage equality is framed primarily from the perspective of the white LBGT community. The thread that runs so true in all these discussions? “Whiteness.” Which brings me full circle, the murder of a black boy in Sanford, Florida in 2012 is no more without precedence than the state sanctioned murder of Jewish babies under King Herod’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. Hebrews 11:23. I wonder if we will have to help hide our grandsons?