When I decided to document this “mom”bbatical experience, a dear friend, in his excitement said, “This is your Eat, Pray, Love.” At once, I had visions of Julia Roberts eating pizza and talking to a toothless guru in India and threw up a little in my mouth. I knew he meant well, but really? I was never convinced that book was written for a single, Black mother such as myself.
I think most Black women know how to eat. Our grandmothers and big Mamas and aunties made sure of it. For me, it was grandma’s fried sweet plantains, perfectly caramelized in a cast iron pan no bigger than her hand and Aunt Ruby’s southern fried chicken and lemon chiffon pie. Eating their offerings were some of the best moments of my life. After my Aunt Ruby passed, my father spent the next 30 years looking for a fried chicken that came close to mimicking hers. . that’s how deep it was.
And well, Calvary Baptist Church taught me how to pray. With a conviction that at times, reduced me to tears. Nothing can penetrate the heart more than the soaring voices of a gospel choir or the poetry of a preacher’s sermon as he delivers the Word of God. I recall so vividly the way our pastor used Hannah’s story of unwavering faith in the face of prolonged barrenness in a nod to the movie Waiting to Exhale, telling us to “breathe already.” His words brought us to our feet as we just knew the Spirit of God was with us that morning.
Love. Emmanuel, that’s all I have to say.
But what does the “mom”bbatical mean for a Black woman? If we believe the common narrative about Black women, particularly single Black mothers, this experience would seemingly be unprecedented. Our lives are so often defined by struggle and lack–a lack of resources, a lack of love. Zip codes garner the label “at risk” for our children.
When I pitched the idea of a memoir documenting my “mom”bbatical to a literary agent, she actually said to me that perhaps it would be interesting if my son died in the end. I stared at her in absolute horror. Who would say such a thing to a mother? Like being Emmanuel’s mother isn’t personal for me, it’s just something I happen to be doing in my life.
Then I asked myself if the expectation of tragedy would be a proposed hypothetical to the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love? Or does the world only care about Black peoples’ stories when they involve pain and loss and struggle, typically at the hands of white supremacist institutions? Are we not entitled to follow joy and adventure or in doing so, do we threaten the narrative of who is allowed to live a blessed life?
My journey to this point in my life has not been simple or easy, especially in the skin I’m in. And the recent flap over Serena Williams or the smearing of Botham Jean’s character as dictated by the police-kill-an-innocent-Black-man playbook can cultivate feelings of despair and defeat. I mean our Disney princess was an overworked frog for three-quarters of the movie, for goodness sake.
That literary agent mirrored back to me my worst fear in life and I have been haunted by it ever since. But I have to believe in my heart that Black women deserve blissful journeys and unexpected moments of joyful synchronicity. Those stories need to be told.
So, dude, I saw the Dalai Lama. . .in Rotterdam. . .the morning after eating bitterballen (see below) on my friend’s terrace near The Hague with the perfect glass of wine.
Changing the narrative one bite at a time.