On April 6, 2005, I received an email that would change my life forever. Of course, I didn’t know it then, and reflecting upon it now, I can’t even imagine how completely different my life would be at this very moment if I didn’t.
It was my birthday. I turned 26 that Wednesday. I was living alone in The Bronx, working as a research assistant and tutoring in an after-school program. The email was from a young man who’d seen my picture in a Yahoo group and decided to contact me. I occasionally received similar emails, but rarely responded. His was different. He complimented my physical appearance while stating that he would have to get to know me better to find out if I was beautiful. His approach was sweet, respectful, and kind so I replied thanking him. I let him know it was my birthday. We exchanged a few emails and he asked if we could meet up sometime. Anyone who knows me knows that I love meeting new people. I should probably be more cautious about meeting people offline but… I just kinda go with it. We agreed to meet for dinner that following Monday, April 11, 2005.
We met at Uno’s Pizzaria. He brought me a card. He wore a red shirt with a Black power fist image. He was tall, dark-skinned, and had a goofy smile that lit up the room with each of his corny jokes. His compliments of me weren’t forced and they made my soul smile. He paid for dinner and walked me home. We shared a kiss.
He was perfect.
We spent the summer of 2005 falling in love. He was my first real love. We spent countless afternoons and evenings walking around street festivals, goingt o concerts and dance parties, sitting in Marcus Garvey park listening to music, connecting over a love of hip-hop. He was a MC. He was an actor. He was a health educator. He was progressive and open and liberal. He respected humanity and wanted to change the world, one student at a time. We were meant to be.
Until we weren’t.
We moved fast, too fast. We loved hard, too hard. We were consumed by passions and fears. We had questions and too many doubts. We were too young and we made a mistake. We were friends who fell into an all-consuming love with one another that didnt have to move to the next step, as society often dictates it should. We would have been better off remaining close friends, confidants, sound boards, etc. We’d eventually come to realize that, but not before creating new life… A son. We named him for the park in which we fell in love, which coincidently was named for a civil rights activist we both admired. Garvey X. would be his name. Seriously. We thought that was so cool *raises Black power fist*. When he first came out of me (after 22 hours of hard labor and a c-section), all I could think of was that he looked like a sack of potatoes. He was mine, though. My jewel, my love, my life, my prince.
We love that boy more than life itself. He is the best thing we’ve ever done. When we think back on that time, everything we went through, every lie, every tear, we agree that we were brought together to create him. He is truly a special child. Every parent says that, right? Right. Good. He is. He is everything I never knew I needed. I had no intention of getting married or having children, yet I ended up doing both in the same year. So, I know now that this wasn’t about me or my ex. This was about bringing forth this precious child who needed to be on this Earth. I know he is destined for greatness. I feel this deep down in my spirit.
In 2009, we finally called it quits. We’d done all we could to try and keep our family together, but there were simply too many wounds and we were past the point of recovery. We decided that staying together for his sake wasn’t the best and that we’d all be better off as a family if we ended our marriage. It was definitely the hardest time in my life. I suffered, silently, from Post-Partum depression. 6 months after my son was born in October 2006, my mother died of pancreatic cancer. While I was pregnant, I had to deal with knowing I was bringing forth a new life while losing the most important figure in my life. I’d discovered deceptions on my ex’s part and I couldn’t bear it anymore. I was so low that I struggled connecting with him initially. When my mother died, I thought I was going to lose it. I almost did. My ex later came home one day and found me passed out having ingested a couple of bottle of sleeping pills. I wanted to be done with life, and I’ll never forget that day and how I felt. That was when I finally, without any more question or doubt or insecurity connected with my son. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to die. God please let me survive this so I can be his mother. He needs me. I know that now”
My mother dying brought a lot of things to the surface for me. I felt like every trauma I’d experienced came back to me, hitting me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t in a good place at all. I knew that in order to be the best person I could be, the best mom I could be, I would need some time to get myself togther. My ex agreed with me and we agreed that he would keep our son primarily for a few months. He was healing too, but he had more familial support and when he needed his own time, they would be there for our baby. When my mother died, I cut off most of her family. I only had my dad and step-mom left. My ex has a huge family. They are all connected and close and I wanted that support for my son; I wanted him to grow up with a strong sense of family. I didn’t have that and I definitely felt that it impacted my life negatively.
My ex moved in with his father and step mother and took G with him temporarily. I would take him on weekends and have the week to work through things. I started going to therapy and I got a new job making double what I made before. I felt like things were beginning to turn around for me and that I could do more for my son. When it came time to put him in school, we weighed options. Either he would come stay with me primarily and possibly be stuck going to an underperforming school or he could stay with his dad and have an opportunity to go to one of the best schools. We opted for the latter. Again, his father has a stronger family connection which is so important to me. For a while, people were almost fighting over who would take him what weekend. More children ought to have that problem.
I opened up about this online a while back. There was quite a bit of negative backlash, but mostly positive support. I wrote about it briefly and a few people spoke up sharing that they had similar situations. My ex even wrote a guest post on another blog of mine. We were both struck by how many people had a problem with how we worked things out for our son. First, it is insulting to him as a father to suggest that he is only allowed less time with our son than I am simply because I’m his mother. Second, it is insulting to me to suggest that I don’t love my son or that I’m being selfish because I want what’s best for him and what we decided was best doesn’t fit someone else’s ideal. Third, with all of the talk about “fatherlessness” in Black communities, you would think he’d be commended for having such a strong, leading role in our son’s upbringing. Fourth, I spend more physical time with our son than his father does, because he is in school from 7:30-5:15 every day and is in bed by 9. I pick him up from school on Friday and either take him to his Dad Sunday evening or take him to school Monday morning. I go to grad school in the area and will often tell his dad I’m coming by to take him to dinner during the week. Sometimes, he says “Mommy I wanna go with you” and I’ll tell his dad I’m taking him with me for the night and I take him to school the next morning. I have everything at my house that he has at his dad’s house: clothing, uniforms, toys, books, games, etc. He has his own video game console, his own private reading area, etc. This is not just “Mommy’s house”, this is home, too. He tells his friends he is lucky because he has two houses.
There have been so many times when I’ve thought “I’m gonna get my baby and bring him with me” and I had to stop myself. Why would I do that? He’s ridiculously happy. He is a super intelligent, happy, healthy little boy. He’s top of his class and almost top of the school (his charter school is fairly new and adding grades as they go along). He tests above most of the kids and is a whiz with electronics and such. At 2, he was surfing YouTube for Michael Jackson videos, learning his moves, and knows most lyrics to at least 25 different MJ songs. He plays drums and piano, excelled in gymnastics and is now in martial arts. He dances like he was put on this planet to bring joy through his movements. He loves to read, play video games, and he is thoughtful and introspective. Why would I disrupt any of his happiness? Because I’m “supposed to”? Because mothers are somehow the more important parent? I don’t agree with that at all and I think men often get shafted in this regard. It isn’t fair that people feel pressured to uphold these “traditional” parenting roles when they aren’t always in the best interest of the child. I go to his school, talk to his teachers and counselors, I take him to martial arts class, I go to every recital, I get him whatever he wants and needs, I teach him life lessons and provide him with necessary discipline. His father and I communicate daily and keep each other abreast to what’s going on with him. I’ll get texts “Garvey needs a new_____” and I’m on it. Sometimes we’ll Skype each other even though he lives 20 minutes away. Hey, it’s fun. He is happy living with his father and his father’s new wife and step-brother.
And this is what this is about. The best interest of my child.
I’m writing this blog because for a couple of years now, whenever people get pissed off at me or decide they want to come for me, they go to this place of “She doesnt even have custody of her child” or “She has to ask permission to see her child” or whatever they want to say to try and discredit me as a woman. It is one of the most pathetic things, because it is untrue. Most recently (see my last post), I made comments about someone else’s parenting that I shouldn’t have and people used that as a launch pad to attack my parenting. I get it. They’re wrong, as I was, but it wasn’t about that comment. People have been saying this stuff about me and my son for years now. At some point, it has to get old, perpetuating lies, right? Now people know the reality.
A close friend recommended that I write a blog elaborating on what our co-parenting situation looked like so that 1. People could know the truth and 2. Other women and men who might have similar arrangements might identify with our situation and relate to some of the backlash we’ve received. Maybe they’d feel like someone understood them and their decisions.
If my words carry weight, I want to use them for good. I want to share the parts of me and my life that might connect with others and maybe foster conversation about certain issues. I’m not perfect. I’m not a victim. I’m a human being who makes mistakes but who also works hard to make the best decisions possible, especially when it comes to the well-being of my son.
I’m currently in the process of looking for a place in Harlem so I can be closer to him and spend even more time with him during the week. His dad is supportive and we work together well. When things come up for me, he works them out. I was recently stranded in another city for 2 days because of a blizzard in NYC. Couldn’t spend my weekend with him so I picked up him and took him to school a few days during the week, keeping him home with me. We’re flexible and we often let him guide things. We just want him to be happy and healthy, and he is.
Men who pick their children up on weekends don’t seem to get the same backlash as women who do the same. We almost expect fathers to accept their secondary status as parents, but then we complain when we feel they don’t “step up” or do enough. Which is it going to be? Either we’re going to allow them equal access and status as parents or we’re going to accept when they get tired of being pushed to the side and they slack off with their responsibilities. We ought to accept that people have various definitions of “family” and families have a myriad of constructions. What should be most important to all of us is that children are loved and provided for, living without neglect, right? If you’re unable to wrap your head around co-parenting, just ask questions. There are plenty of people out there with similar situations.
I hope this clears things up, once and for all. Thank you for reading.