Saturday, June 18, 2022

Freeing Me: Juneteenth Edition 2022

 I often wake up very early in the morning.

This Saturday is no different.

When the curtains are open, that early morning New England dawn comes at five o'clock when the rest of the world is slumbering. Maybe it is the signal for the farms near me or the chirping birds, or that still-and-yet-not part of the day when givers, servers, writers, artists, and Mothers, can have a moment to just be in the serene without the demands that will surely fill the day.

One of the things I have been battling with leading up to and now, one week out, since my youngest daughter and last child graduated high school, is what do I do now?

Eighteen years ago, I was relishing my first real summer as a "stay-at-home-mom." By then, my children were 17, 15, 10, and 2, and one baking. I had been living a high intensity corporate life since my first full-time job in 1984 when I was also going to college full-time.  

Back then, a moment to just be in my big house with my big family was a welcome relief.

I had to find ways of beginning and often found myself thinking of how productive I was.

My home was already on a regimented cleaning schedule. My sons were required to do their laundry on specific days of the week and on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, they were to clean their bathrooms. They mowed the lawn, vacuumed, and took turns on "dishes week." My toddler daughter was too young to do anything but fuss, but even she had to engage in at least picking up her toys.

That year ended with the birth of my last daughter and me well settled into my life with my new mom group, The Mocha Moms of Johnson County. I felt like I was hitting a rhythm. We had even adjusted to the loss of income when for the first time in my adult life, I wasn't working. I was one of the many marketers of a large, private midwest company that were on the "let go" box when the economy started to turn just before the housing burst.  

I didn't worry economically. 

We had always lived on one income, so with savings in the bank and my educator husband covering expenses, I shifted my attention.

Yet, the pull to "do something" or to "be productive" kept whispering in my ear that I was "making that man do all that hard work and I had all those degrees." Well, someone in the family actually said that last part. I had to quiet that down.

But, I felt the tug.

I am a Creole woman, an African American, born in a country that says rest is not the privilege of Black people.

Even my degree in Management has direct ties to the ways that enslaved individuals were studied for how much can be extracted from the human body in a day. I learned that when I followed the mother and father of the field and the ways that they would clock warehouse workers. The productivity for profit is unrelenting.

In this America, vacation days are supposed to just sit there, as a badge of what is built up, but never taken lest you be seen as not committed to the cause of capitalism. If you take a week or heaven forbid, got sick and needed to take vacation days,  you professionalism was questioned. I remember those times.

So in a lot of ways, I was fortunate to have been laid off while I was still pregnant because when my youngest daughter and last child turned a year old, she started heavily presenting with the debilitating symptoms of her rare illness. Actually as a newborn, she started but as a nursed baby, that wasn't what was showing up. It was her skin, at first, eczema is an allergic reaction It wasn't until she was fifteen months old and her first of many surgeries, that all the diagnosis started to spill out and whatever I thought would be, began to fade.

My mission, then, became how I could keep her alive and striving without a life of feeding tubes.

I wanted her to be more, so much more than worrying about what she could eat and even if she did eat, would she be able to swallow.

Before I knew it, the years rolled by and I was still in my tending mode while trying to wrap meaningful freelance projects and work around their school schedule. I still needed to be on beck-and-call with her, so I adjusted how I viewed myself and eventually gave away all those high powered corporate suits.

Here I am now, with an eighteen year old relatively healthy high school graduate who has her first real job. She doesn't need my day-to-day and honestly, hasn't since we moved across the country and she was sixteen navigating through a pandemic, Zoom school, and a new environment. I had done my job well, she was independent, assured, and well equipped to handle herself. I was always available and another degree down and a remote position with a non-profit, she could test her wings with confidence.

All the events of the past eighteen years and this being Juneteenth weekend, the first one where it is finally a national holiday due to the forty year work of Mama Opal Lee, has me wondering about what freeing me and liberation will look like.

I have a full weekend planned of graduation parties and a concert with my husband and since Juneteenth is also Father's Day and as a minister, I'm reading Scriptures in church, there won't be much time sitting down to commemorate the African Americans who had to wait two-and-a-half years for their freedom. We did a lot of that last weekend at the Juneteenth parade and I won't be making my favorite Black bookstores work by serving my need for that luxury item called hardback books, so with a full calendar, I am still wondering what it will mean.

Both my daughters have jobs now.

The college one wants her own apartment and made sure she had interviews lined up for when she flew home from college last month. She started working two days after she flew home. She has goals.

The younger one who graduated high school last week started her new job two days ago and loves it.

They have to work the weekend.

This weekend.

Juneteenth and Father's Day, they will both be working.

My oldest wants the overtime pay and since she will be off all of next week for her college friends flying up here, isn't too upset about it.

The youngest hasn't gained time or voice to protest being only a few Black faces that have to work.

What does it mean to be free?

Definitely that we don't have to give our time without compensation, not even to entertain or inform those who are willfully uninformed but get to enjoy the time off anyway.

Will it just be another capitalist day of a sale with that name on it? We marketers have already figured that out and even with the ice cream fiasco, even some Black owned entrepreneurs are turning it into a buying moment.

And I am having feelings about it.

I guess it is not so pure and simple in this week that has had non-stop news about the January 6 hearings that I have refused to watch. I didn't want to taint her graduation week when the hearing began and have given myself grace to just read the highlights. I will tune in when they go after the big buys and the big money that financed it.

Perhaps it will  be reparations for those of us who are descended from the human trafficking institution of enslavement in this country. I know my husband and I have deep ties to Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri - all places where our ancestors were enslaved and their bodies commodified. 

Perhaps this before-the-house-wakes up musing is just that. A bit of thinking, even that ability to sit and think was denied the would-be poets, writers, artists, sculptors, painters, and other creatives who instead of utilizing their right brain gifts, had to be hands on the plow so missyannandmisterjohnny could sip their mint juleps and life on labor not their own.

For the first time in thirty-five years, I'm not technically responsible for the day-to-day decisions of someone else's life. They are technically adults now at 18, 20, 28, 33, and 35. I am also a grandmother. I don't have to spend every minute of every day wondering about their needs, even though I will never stop in some ways, I don't have to be hands on, I can just be me.

And I felt the nagging voice of what will I do now.

My husband is in his retirement bliss of work he enjoys, he no longer has the stress of the previous administrative work in our former state. He is loving this. 

I am discovering me again.

What does it mean?

In some ways, the message is that I am limited on what I have left to give, oh that nagging sexism and patriarchy that says a woman is past her worth when she is not caring for someone else or producing more of someone else to care for. 

The same is not true for me.

My husband is older than me and is in an exciting-for-him second career that compensates him well and utilizes all his gifts.

I have been the trailing spouse for the last fifteen years of our lives.

Free to have my lattes at the local coffee shop, free to be fully vested in my children's needs, free to take on contract projects and work remotely. 

Free, free-er than a lot of others.

In accepting and recognizing that, I have decided that in this new and emerging season of myself, I am just thankful. My ancestors toiled so I could sit.  Coming from a long line of right brains, I get to explore what inspires and still eat every day. I could be living on that prayers that one of my foremothers whispered.

I think that is what I will honor and celebrate on this Juneteenth.

All the ways and in all the ways the last few years have allowed me to get to this place and all the ways I have seen others who look like me decide to put down the plow, to not be creators, content makers, influencers, or otherwise tools in the capitalist system that steals their ideas, just put it down, close up shop, and go sit outside and watch the sunrise.

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