Mama. It’s a word I longed to hear — to hear my kids call me Mama, or Mommy as it were, is like music to my ears. Even on days when I consider changing my name, deep down inside I love to hear them call me for any reason. I love the word so much it’s even the title of my forthcoming memoir, Mama (Algonquin Books, 2022).
Any parent will tell you that parenting, mothering, and showing up day in and day out for these little humans is exhausting. I talk a lot about showing up, about being present, about giving all of me to my kids — and I do, mostly. As a queer, Black mother, I place this pressure on myself to do more, always.
But why? What about my self-care and mental health? Should I forego both just so that the mostly-white men who volunteer to coach my six-year-olds’ soccer team can see an equally capable Black woman coaching too? No, going out on the field so my kids can see another brown girl does not usurp my power to bring myself back down to reality. There is no way that this mama can be everywhere and everything to everyone and I don’t want to kill myself trying. It’s humanly impossible. So, I’ve had to learn to say no to things like being an assistant youth coach.
Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve felt the need to do more, to show up in spaces where Black, queer people are underrepresented — a.k.a., everywhere. Recently, while sitting on the sideline during halftime at my daughter’s soccer game, I took a deep breath and a sip of my water and looked around the field.
While it was overflowing with kids in various bright jerseys with the names of different countries plastered on the front — team names from Nigeria, Dominican Republic, Poland, and Italy to name a few — I asked myself, where are the coaches of color, the female coaches of color, the queer coaches of color? I took stock of the multiple fields, my eyes darting from player to coach, hoping that on my first inspection I’d missed someone. But, not one.
Professor and author of “Black Women’s Yoga History: Memoirs of Inner Peace,” Stephanie Y. Evans, notes, “The pandemic emphasized, more than any other prior time, that self-care can sometimes be effective community care. As a nation, the U.S. has a higher stress level in this historical moment than in the past few decades. A 2017 report by the American Psychological Association (APA), Stress in America: The State of Our Nation, found that 63 percent of Americans worry about the future of the nation, 62 percent worry about money and 61 percent worry about work.” Living through a pandemic is stressful in and of itself, and here I am considering adding more stress to my plate just so that I can show that I deserve a seat at the table.
I won’t bore you with the list of boards and committees I currently serve on; suffice it to say, that plate is already overflowing with commitments. But sitting in my beach chair that day on the sidelines, something welled up inside of me that said, “You should coach soccer next season.” Do I feel in any way qualified to coach a bunch of five and six-year-olds? No. Sure, I played soccer for a few seasons in middle school, but I put my kid into soccer so someone else could teach her.
But there I was, in the absence of another person of color, seriously considering sending an email to the director to throw my name in the 2022 soccer coach hat. Sure, it’s all-volunteer. And with one phone call to a friend from college, I know I’d be a damn good coach, but what would I be sacrificing to make that happen?
I could say goodbye to my dwindling self-care routine and all but F-YOU to my mental health, and let’s not forget being on a tour for my debut book in the fall of 2022. My intentions may be in the right place, but I would lose my mind, quite literally. I have nothing more of myself to offer, even as I feel the pressure to show up as a Black queer woman.
I know the importance of volunteering for my kid’s PTA. Yes, I should attend the parent association meetings for my son’s boarding school. And yes, I’d even try my hand at being a soccer coach if I had the bandwidth. But sitting on the field that day, I also came to terms with this: I cannot fight every fight there is to fight.
In an article in PsychCentral, author Jameta Nicole Barlow, PhD, MPH, writes, “Black women are becoming more aware of the need to create healthy boundaries for the sake of their health and wellness.” Even in my quest for visibility and representation, I have to recognize my own limits.
I need to reconcile that not fighting every fight that presents itself does not make me a failure. In many ways, I am the winner. I am prioritizing my mental health, my physical well-being, my ability to show up as a wife, and as a mama to my kids over the stress of proving something to others.
I am enough, and I am showing up where it counts.
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