MAMA’S SWEET LITTLE BABY GIRL:
Our future lies chiefly in our own hands.
Commencement season has rolled around once again. Twenty years ago my sweet little baby girl graduated from high school. It was a noteworthy achievement for me. I felt good. I thought I had accomplished something great. You see, her teen years were among the roughest of my life. One hymn, one prayer, and one passage of scripture kept me going.
Kamilah’s best friend’s mother, Hermene, and I formed our own support group. We needed each other so much. We’d get together over lunch, or dinner, and commiserate with each other.
“We’re warrior mothers protecting our children,” Hermene often said. I’d shake my head in agreement, trying hard to feel the power of her words. At other times we resignedly acknowledged, “Parenthood is a test and we’re failing, even though we’re doing our very best.”
I was so thankful Kamilah graduated I’d tell anyone who would listen, “My daughter just finished high school.”
I look back on those days and realize those words comprised my testimony for there were times when I wasn’t confident of the outcome. One could weigh the heaviness of my heart, or the depths of my anguish through a particular utterance: a sacred melody I still invoke.
Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee
Father, I stretch my hands to Thee, No
Other help I know; If Thou withdraw Thyself
From me, Ah! Whither shall I go?
The second verse, culled from memory goes like this:
Before the hills in order stood
Or earth received her frame
From everlasting thou art God
To endless years the same
When the going got rough, as it often did, I’d retreat to a quiet place, if only in my mind, and rage, ‘Okay God, one of us has to go! You better do something, NOW!!!’ And many a night I fell into bed with this petition on my lips: “…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective…” James 5:16, New International Version. My emphasis was on prayer, powerful, and effective. How, I often wondered, could one child cause me to almost lose my mind?
Kamilah eventually earned a B.A. in Theater from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Halleluyer! and she completed cosmetology school, thank you, Jesus! As I recall, she wanted to drop out of college to attend beauty school, another battle. She’s self-sufficient now and I am grateful. In observance of the twentieth anniversary of her high school graduation, I am delighted to share the essay I wrote with minimal editing:
WANTED: INDEPENDENCE WITH HAND HOLDING PRIVILEGES
Whenever my twenty-one year old daughter decides to come home for a visit, my life changes. Granted I reared her, but the person who drops by for the weekend is not the same child.
She and I survived her difficult adolescence, although some scars are still visible. I don’t know when she decided I was the enemy, but once she declared war, generally on me, the battle was joined. We fought about boys, dating, telephone privileges, clothes, driving, schoolwork, grades, her rights versus our rights and so on and so forth. In strictly military parlance, I won a few skirmished and a battle or two. Hollow victories every one. We never declared a truce. She grew up – and decided to spend more time with her parents. Of course I’m always happy to see her, but I breathe a sigh of relief when she leaves.
This young woman spent years assuring us that when she grew up and left home she would never come back. ‘You won’t have to worry about me,” she’d declare, trembling with emotion, “because I’m not going to tell you where I am!” Many times I was tempted to ask if she intended to make good on her threat. My husband, less intimidated than me, would simply ask, “Is that a promise?” That’s when she would stomp out of our presence with all the intensity of a thunderstorm. [Note: I wasn’t acquainted with the term drama queen at the time, but it sure fit!].
My own tendency toward over-protectiveness made that warning seem alternately scary and tantalizing. During her Senior year in high school, tensions escalated between us big time. Fear of leaving home clashed with her strong desire to live on her own terms. I understood that she wanted to leave home, but feared being on her own. We were clear about her options, but could only repeat ourselves when her selective listening skills intruded. Our visits to college campuses for her benefit were generally exercises in futility. She liked the place until it was time to talk seriously about attending. In retrospect, I realize that she really didn’t want to leave home at the time. For me the issue was fundamental: one of us had to go.
She wanted independence with hand holding privileges. My husband was sympathetic, suggesting we could work something out. Yeah, right. I thought about running away, but there aren’t many places tired, overwrought mothers of teenagers can go. After years of Brownies, Junior Girl Scouts, parent-teacher conferences, music and dance lessons, colds, chicken pox, birthday parties, PTSA, lunch money, school projects, bake sales, Sunday School and Church, etc. I felt (and still feel) I deserved a break. I figured that he had simply lost his mind. His attitude was basic: why spend money we didn’t have to send her to college if she didn’t want to go? I can’t begin to tell you how deeply that mindset wounded me. He didn’t witness all those ugly confrontations, usually initiated when she sensed I was unprepared. Her capacity for choosing the time and place to strike is absolutely uncanny. After much thought and a lot of prayers, I summoned resolve I didn’t feel, to settle a “no win” situation and began planning my next move.
She did go away to college and gleefully exercised her right to be her own person by dropping out. There we sat, paying through the nose for an education she had literally passed on. Over the next eighteen months, however, she got her wish for independence. Her choices reflected both her immaturity and determination to be on her own. A series of dead end jobs coupled with a bad relationship woke her up, albeit, slowly. On her own she has discovered some eternal truths we could never get through to her.
While I am pleased to see this growth and maturity, I still hold my breath at times. She can still blindside me with cold cunning at the most inopportune times. At others times I am pleasantly surprised by her resourcefulness and ingenuity. Still, the upside to these visits warms my heart: she doesn’t have a key.
Originally published in A Taste of Theresa: Musings From My Point of View, written by Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes, Holly Tree Publications, LLP, ©1999, High Point, NC.