Dear Bébé Fiqah:
I know right now that things seem bad. And I’ll be straight with you – they seem that way because they are. You’re doing a tremendous amount of self-parenting at the moment. It’s temporary, but I know it’s all very confusing. With that in mind, I’m gonna help you out with a few of the stickier bits of this “growing up” thing.
THINGS FOR YOU TO REMEMBER
1. Grown-ups don’t know everything. They’re just in control of everything. That is not the same.
2. Sometimes you can do everything right, and have it all go wrong, like when the first cake you ever made for Girl Scouts fell. Try again.
3. You are right to be suspicious when your otherwise well-meaning White second-grade and music teachers insist that they are ”color-blind”, and that you and your classmates are and/or should be. There’s a reason it feels like a lie. Continue to tune “color-blindness” out, and if they prod you about it, parrot what they wanna hear so they go away.
4. Don’t call your little brother stupid. He has a learning disability, and the whole world is telling him now and will tell him later that he is stupid because he is a Black male. Knock it off.
5. You aren’t like anyone else. Everyone knows you’re not like anyone else. One day, you’ll see just how special that truly is. And it’ll be sooner than you think. I promise. In the meantime, don’t try and be anything but you. Don’t pretend you read as slowly as everyone else in class. Don’t be ashamed to know the answer. Don’t hold yourself back – there’s a whole world out there that will try to do that for you. Not too worry. Very soon, NOTHING will be able to hold you back.
6. Hate to break it to ya, but tying your shoes is something you won’t be able to master until damn near middle school. Sorry, but no amount of poems and songs about rabbits and trees and holes and shit is gonna help you though this one, kiddo. It’s a big, shameful deal now, but its import will lessen as you get older. Besides, someone who started teaching herself to read at the age of three doesn’t owe anybody any explanations for unusual cognitive gaps. To quote King Jaffe-Joffar of Zamunda: “I tied my own shoes once. It is an over-rated experience!” Just keep balling your laces up and tucking ‘em in your shoes like you been doin’, you’re GOOD.
Thank the Lord for velcro.
7. Keep writing. Your stories are wonderful, and your talent is beautiful. It will lead you to places most folks from your neck of the woods never even dream of.
8. Speaking of beautiful: brace yourself. You’re a year away from the traumatic start of a seven-year-long pubescent stage. You are gonna look really, REALLY funny during this time. Almost all your crushes during this period will be unrequited. Worst than that, you’ll still be smart, and in spite of their protestations to the contrary, cis boys and men really DON’T like smart cis women and girls. I am very, very sorry to report that for the most part, they don’t ever grow out of it. It will be a painful and scarring period. But, about a decade from now, when you (yes, YOU!) literally – and I mean lit-rah-LEE – stop traffic in the streets of Amsterdam, Dakar and Paris, it’ll all be worth it.
9. Your long-held suspicion that the secret of escaping from a life of unfulfilled potential and abject misery in the swamp lies within the pages of a book is correct. Keep reading.
10. Clean the house. It’ll help take a lotta stress of your mother. And she’ll be quiet. So you can read in peace.
11. That sound you heard when you climbed all the way to the top of that tree, beneath all the noise of the neighborhood? There’s a word for it. Buddhists call it Om. And it is the sound of God, being.
12. Aunt L____ is a bitch. She is. It’s not your imagination, and it’s not just you who thinks it, either. You can tune her out, too.
13. Your mother is not doing the best that she can. No parent, no matter how loving, EVER does “the best that they can.” This would render them too exhausted to breathe. But. She is doing the best that she knows how. And that is the absolute most that it is realistic to expect of a parent. Give her a break.
14. You’re gonna get the big sister you always wanted in six years. And she’ll be your real big sister, too. Hang in there.
15. Your family DOES treat your brother better. That’s not your imagination, either. That’s called “patriarchy within communities of color.” It’s a very common problem. Once again, NOT your fault. You’ll understand it in about ten years. Until then, continue to not engage with them.
16. You are right. There IS something profoundly wrong with people who don’t like cats.
17. And speaking of cats: next year, you’ll come home from school and discover that your cat Snowball is missing. Your mom’s gonna say she ran away. Snowball didn’t run away. Your mother’s gonna take her to a no-kill shelter to be adopted. Yes. YOUR cat. If you want to cut your eyes at her behind her back for the rest of your life for it, you are free to.
18. That girl who used to pinch you and pull your hair in class until Mizz Moore changed her seat? It’s because her mother hates her beautiful cocoa skin and thick, short curls…so she does, too. You see, while both of you are pretty li’l girls, only you are told on a regular basis by grown-ups that you are. And that is not fair. This is neither of your faults, and it’s so much bigger than either of you. BUT, understand this: neither of you is worse or better than the other. Period. That’s a grown-up lie, like Santa Claus. Don’t you believe it.
19. You are gonna change your mind about so many things. You won’t always want to get married and have future taxpayers babies, but you’ll always love buttercream wedding cake! want to be a writer. Remember that it is your destiny to bear witness to your own life. That’s hard, often lonely, and definitely not for everybody. But you know well by now that being in a group of fools where no one understands you is much more lonely than being by yourself with a good book. One day you’ll be surrounded by people as impressive as you are. Until then, continue to cultivate your inner wealth in solitude.
20. You’re amazing. I promise to be the best grown up version of you that I can. And I promise that you have an abundantly blessed life to look forward to. But you are never gonna get that pony, kid.
P.S. — Shoelaces don’t add up to diddly squat in the grand scheme of things. They really, really don’t.