By BASSEY IKPI
Last week, while in the car with Boogie, I was fiddling with the radio, trying to find a song that I wouldn’t mind him repeating in mixed company, when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” pumped through the speakers. What’s a mother to do but go hard singing “uh oh uh oh, oh oh oh” and doing the dance? So I got busy, and when we hit a stoplight, I took my hands off the wheel and really let loose, completely oblivious to the stares Boogie tossed from the backseat. When the song was over, there was a bit of silence; I turned to smile at my baby boy and he sighed, “And you don’t make cookies.”
I almost had to pull over I was laughing so hard, but the kid was dead serious. And at the base of it, right. If we’re going by International Mom Law, I’m a terrible mother. I don’t make cookies. I don’t really cook at all, and hardly ever for him. I’m a vegetarian and he refuses to eat anything green. I stopped eating pork when I was 11 (and again when I was 13 and found out that pepperoni was pork). Boogie has a love of bacon that rivals most grown men. He loves bacon so much that he even eats and likes veggie bacon because it has the word bacon in it. Besides not knowing how to prepare meat dishes, I’m just not very interested in cooking. Never have been. My mother is a fantastic cook and my sister just started a cupcake business, so Boogie gets plenty of home cooked meals and homemade treats. He just doesn’t get them from me. Matter of fact, one day, he walked into the kitchen when I got a sudden inspiration to try out a recipe. He stared at me standing over the stove, spatula in hand and asked, “What’s wrong with grandma?”
I’ve had debates with people who tell me that Boogie will grow up to resent me because I never baked him a cake or lovingly placed pieces of flesh in boiling oil (I mean, fried chicken). I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I do spend a lot of time talking to him. I have wonderfully hilarious conversations with my boy. I read to him when he’ll let me get through a book rather than hurrying me through to his favorite parts. I take him to the movies and to the park. I take him shopping and to shows with me. I’m not trying to make myself feel better about my lack of culinary skills; I just honestly don’t see where not cooking is going to throw me into the same category as Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest.
My own mother has told me that Boogie will not learn how to properly take care of himself because I’m such a slob. Wrong. I am messy. My clothes and shoes are can be found behind couches, in the bathroom, in the armchair in my bedroom... If there are clothes or shoes in the closet, then it must be Sunday—cleaning day. But somehow Boogie has managed to be a clean freak. When he sees me folding clothes, he applauds and gives me a “Good job!” This morning, I decided to get some of the clothes and shoes off my bedroom floor and he walked in and said, “Finally! I’ll make the bed!” and he did. Actually, the kid has made the bed while I was in it before. He’s very particular about where things go. He’s very particular about where he goes. Where he fits. And he fits here, in my parents house, so it’s been difficult for us to leave. I think that would be more disruptive to his life than whether or not I baked a cake yet or how often I vacuum.
I travel a lot for work. And I leave him in order not to disrupt his routine. He needs to feel grounded and supported and my wanderlust shouldn’t disturb that. He counts on Grandma and Grandpa and Ms. Dea and his friends at school and that dreadful Fresh Beat Band. But I have to go so rather than unpack, I kind of stay in a constant state of “about to leave.” I’ve been in that state for a while—ever since this “I need help with this new baby for a few months” turned into “I guess we live here now.” But because I never wanted to be the one who came running home when times got tough, I never fullu unpacked. Never fully allowed the dressers to hold my shirts and underthings. Never gave the closest permission to taste my permanence. My books, my precious things, remain in boxes in the corner. I’m just not ready to settle here. I’m just not ready to be a “mother” in that way.
That probably sounds worse than I mean it.
What I mean is that I’ve had to learn in the last few months that what makes me a “good mother” can’t be judged by other people’s rules.
I make sure that Boogie gets what he needs. I have amazingly, generous friends who send him books and learning toys, right when I’m not sure I made enough this week to pay his tuition. My sister is a much better mother figure than I am, so he gets it. I just concentrate on not breaking him. There are too many brown boys wandering around broken and I just don’t want to break him.
He’s taken care of. The day will come when I’ll be comfortable enough in this parenting skin to leave my parents’ house and move into a place of our own in a city that holds us both. We will have our own couch. Our own paint on the walls. Boogie will have a room and the racecar bed he dreams of. I want him to have one wall painted with chalkboard so he can write and scribble and draw. I want to be able to retreat to the master bedroom, sink into a bathtub. I want the house to be filled with music. I want us to be able to relax into each other. And I probably still won’t cook. And I’ll hire someone to make beds and sweep dust bunnies out of the corners and to fold our clothes neatly and place them in drawers. But for now, this is our reality. This grandpa and grandma’s house. This doing the best we both can. This boy that laughs and jokes and feels so whole and complete at such a young age. I just don’t want to disrupt that.
The point is we all struggle to figure out what makes us good parents. It took me one breakdown and one constant state of healing since to figure out that how I parent is a reflection of who I am. And who I am is a person who is constantly doing the best she can and constantly learning that her best will change. No, I don’t cook and I never make my bed, but my son laughs more often in a day than most people do in a month. And he makes me laugh and he’s kind and considerate and annoying, but he’s mine. And we’re still figuring out this weird way we’re going to relate to each other. So maybe one day I will bake him cookies. They might burn though. I’ll be too busy doing the Single Ladies dance and laughing to care. And Boogie will shake his head, sigh and dance with me.
He’ll be fine.
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About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Bassey Ikpi's "Bringing Up Boogie" is a new weekly feature, exclusively at MyBrownBaby. Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic who is the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi. She's half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the leftover bit is a caramel creme center. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is currently working on a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Get more Bassey at Bassey's World.
If you would like to be a featured contributor on MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas/blog posts/rants/musings to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com.
*Photo credit: Nadya Peek