I don’t know if this quote was taken directly out of the black parenting handbook, but I heard it quite regularly growing up, and many of my friends did, too. It was like Miss Celie’s curse when she put up her two fingers – til you do right by me! – it made me shut up and act right (at least for that moment).
I had a good heart, but I was wild for a while. Almost nothing could get through to me. Like a lot of young people, I felt starved for affection and was being bullied at school, so I knew that getting attention - even though poor behavior - was a guarantee. Screaming my head off, throwing tantrums, refusing to go to school, sneaking out of the house, racking up truancy notices.
I was protesting. It’s pretty normal for a teenager to disagree with and even despise their own parents for a while.
And while I credited certain gifts I was given by my parents – like writing from my mother and music from the both of them – I hated other qualities of theirs and vowed to never be anything like them. When I was bold enough to respond to my mama’s Celie curse, it’d be something along the lines of, “well I’ll be a better parent than you.”
But I don’t know. Sometimes the new parts of myself that I don’t recognize are from my parents. I will find myself cursing and descending into rage at incompetent drivers on the road (mom). Or standing at the back of a room because crowds make me uncomfortable and I need my space (dad). Or rearranging the cash in my wallet so that it’s all facing the same direction, larger bills outside (mom). Or neglecting my own needs to do anything and everything to make my loved ones happy (both). While I have my own traits and habits as an individual, it’s still all their fault that I am the way I am.
It’s their fault that I am a thoughtful, sensitive, and deeply caring individual. That I am both fragile and resilient. That I have a deep sense of connection to my roots and a love for storytelling. That I recognize the value of solitude and self-reflection. That I am creative and expressive and intelligent and analytical.
That I will be a better parent than either of them were, because they taught me to always struggle for those you love.
And I do hope that my children are like me. Because I am like my parents.