|Bassey with Boogie in the belly. [Photo by Kimberly Gaines]|
By BASSEY IKPI
I didn’t want to have children. I told people that it was because my life was too cosmopolitan, too six-inch heels and $200 jeans, too travel ready to tote a child about. I said I didn’t want to parent because parenting wasn’t for me. I had all kinds of reasons and excuses, but the truth was I didn’t want a child who would end up like me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love myself, but that took awhile. I didn’t want any child of mine to inherit these oddities and ticks that I grew up with. My memories of my early childhood are blurry. I have stories that I tell to amuse my friends and incidents that make anecdotes in conversation or writing, but there were a lot of scary parts. I was hyper. I couldn’t sit still. I was always doing something and moving and unable to stop myself from being too loud or too “wiggly.” I talked too much. I talked too fast. But there were other times that would come out of nowhere, where I was so sad, I couldn’t breathe. Normal things that would upset any grade schooler would devastate me. I would walk to school thinking about “What if my dad died?” and by the time I got to school, I’d be crying hysterically. When the Challenger shuttle carrying the first teacher in space exploded, I was inconsolable. Everyone in the class, including the teacher, cried, but I was wracked with such grief I stayed awake for days staring into the night, wondering if there was something I could have done to save them.
For some reason, the world’s problems fell on my thin shoulders. I had to win races and spelling bees and parts in plays because if I didn’t, then something terrible would happen. I never knew what.
I started getting stress headaches when I was around 9. Parts of my head would have these sudden flashes off pain. Sometimes on the left side near my ear, sometimes on the left near my forehead—the pain would move around. I didn’t realize then that it was stress. I thought it was brain cancer. My mother thought that I was on drugs. Nobody knew that I was suffering in other ways. It took two decades before I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.
My son, Boogie, will be 4 in November. And every day of his life scares me. I watch him like a guard dog for any signs. I’ve taught him to tell me when something hurts and how it hurts. I’ve made sure he can come to me with anything. I’ve done all that I can to protect him. He’d been having problems in school for the past few weeks, but nothing like this. He was fidgety and couldn’t sit still and disrupting the classroom. He never went through the terrible twos, so I just figured he was getting on that late. She said that the typical acting out behavior she had dealt with before was heightened. She said he’d tripped a little girl. She said he spit in another child’s face. She said he threw a pencil at another child. She said, "I don’t know who this kid is." I could hear him in the background screaming and crying. It was a tantrum. I didn’t know who he was either. He throws those every once in awhile, but they stop within five minutes. She said he’d been like that for 30 minutes at least. And refuses to settle down or stop disrupting the class. I started crying immediately, I asked if I could speak to him and did my best to keep my voice even.
I asked him if he was hurting in any way. He said, “no.” I asked him body part by body part. He answered no. Then I asked, “Baby, what’s wrong? Why are you acting up in school?” and he said, “I don’t know, mommy.” And I burst into tears.
I know he’s only a kid. I know that kids act out sometimes. I know that your sweet innocent little boy can be a terror in other places, but not my boy. I was so happy that I could take Boogie anywhere and he would sit still and amuse himself while grownups talked or I performed. I tell stories of Boogie Antics, as a friend calls them. He’s a good kid. And I’m scared to death that I broke him. I speak openly about my issues with mental illness. I’m not ashamed of what I have or what I’ve been through, but I don’t want it for my baby. I want him to be normal. I want him to live his life free of all the pain and heartache that I went through. All the confusion and chaos that was in my head. I don’t want that for him.
As a mother, there a lot of things that we have to be careful about. Especially, while raising brown boys to be good, alive black men. But on top of that, I need to make sure I raise a sane brown boy into an emotionally healthy black man. I don’t know how to stop it. I know he’s young, but on top of all the other fears that mothers have, this is one that scares me the most because if it happens, I gave it to him. And I will never be able to forgive myself for that. I know it’s early and I’m probably emotional and jumping to conclusions, but I didn’t realize how much this scared me until that phone call. He’s probably fine—just tired or upset about something or disappointed that they didn’t make it to the field trip due to the rain. I pray that’s all it is.
I pray with everything I own that’s all it is.
I would never be able to forgive myself if it’s anything more.
* * * * *
About our MyBrownBaby Contributor: 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. This essay originally was published on her site, 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.