I’m Her Mommy, She’s My Mami

Baby has been at daycare ever since she was a mere 2 1/2 months old. It really bothered me to leave her in daycare so soon, but since Hubby and I do need my extra paycheck and benefits from my full-time job, off she went. She has always been in the warm environs of family daycare. Just a handful of kids ate, napped and played together all the time. We live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, which means she has always had Latina caregivers, and Spanish is a growing part of her expanding vocabulary.

First there was Sula, a warm, efficient and bustling woman who always kept the kids content and her house super tidy. When Baby was tiny enough for the car seat and we rested her on Sula’s kitchen counter, Baby would greet her by arching her back and poking out her belly, a gesture for Sula to lift her up. Sula always chirped something like “mamita” to the girls (actually, Baby was the only girl in her set) or “papito” to the boys. If the children ever cried or fussed, she soothed them saying “mi amor.” Her second family care provider was Nina, a Puerto Rican woman. The situation was similar, but Nina spoke more English than Sula.

All of this happened as Baby learned to talk. When she said what sounded like “mommy,” I thought she was calling for me. But Hubby pointed out that Baby could be repeating the Spanish “mami,”repeating the term her Spanish-speaking caregivers use for her. It’s funny how that term has so many meanings. I’ve heard it used in a provocative way to describe voluptuous girls, and something much more harmless and even charming—when done properly, of course!

I like the fact that Baby can express herself in two languages. (Soon to be a third, as I am determined to share some French with her.) When she can’t pronounce ‘bread,’ she might asked for ‘pan-ney’. When she first learned to talk, the letter w gave her trouble, so she said ‘ag-aaa’ in what we thought was baby Spanish while reaching for her bottle or training cup.

Baby is in nursery school now, and the same Spanish-speaking caregiver scene is unfolding. The teacher is a kind young Latina, and there are two assistants to give all the kids lots of personal attention. Baby has taken a particular liking to one assistant, Miss Carmen. Baby greets her with a hug in the mornings, follows her around the large, cheerfully decorated classroom, and nestles in Miss Carmen’s arms as she is rocked to sleep before nap time. Despite the fact that I can’t be home with her more often, we’ve been lucky to have Baby situated with great people.

On a recent Saturday, in fact, I was trying to get Baby to count her toes with me. She was fiddling with one of her infant burp clothes, which had three flowers stitched in. I didn’t realize until after I played back the recording, but I think she was attempting to count the three flowers in Spanish! Take a listen and see: Three Flowers

Nowadays, whenever Baby says “mommy,” I know she is calling for me and not using Spanish slang. We went through a call and response phase when she would repeat “maa-aa-mee” and I answered “yes, Sweet Pea,” for minutes and minutes on end. It didn’t annoy me at all. I even look forward to the day when she can understand the difference between the English “mommy” and the Spanish one, and enjoys calling me by both. When used properly, of course!

Why Did We Get Married (Outside Our Race)?

Hubby and I don’t get a lot of malicious stares from strangers whenever we go out about town. Maybe that’s because we have an adorable little girl, a disarming toddler whose dimples and curls reduce women to puddles, and soften up grown men, too. Also, Northern New Jersey is the kind of place where interracial marriages are becoming common, especially ones involving Black women. Black women from all walks of life, from teens huddled over their smart phones at the skate shop to couples in the winter seasons of their lives sitting in cafes, are with men of other races. So stigmas around Black women dating and marrying out are losing their potency, I think.

But judgments remain. Angry Black men vloggers continue to spew hateful vitriol. Women like Venus Williams take withering criticism for their romantic choices. Strangers have muttered to me in public “Is that your guy?” while I’m WEARING THE RING. Although I almost never feel the need to defend my relationship, there are some especially ignorant ideas floating around out there about relationships like mine. Here are a handful that need to be addressed.

We did this to spite black guys. Black women who intermarry or date interracially, the logic goes, are exacting revenge on black men, especially the eligible ones, for marrying across color lines. Please think about how silly this sounds, people. In the first place, I’ve never felt slighted in the least whenever I’ve seen a black guy, successful or not, walk through a crowd, down the street or lounge at an airport gate with a white woman at his side, or any other woman who is not black. I didn’t want him, and he wasn’t mine before he hooked up with Miss Whoever, so she didn’t take anything of mine. But let’s be clear about one thing: I have a huge problem with black men who denigrate black women whilst they themselves their race. It suggests that they want to monopolize happiness. But also, holding up non-black women as the standard of beauty over us, and acting like they are running away from all of our supposed dysfunctions is offensive to us, and devalues the lady in his life, too. It makes her the default girl. The clean up woman. In any case, using white guys to lash out at black men would be just as silly.

We did this out of self-hatred. I cannot speak for every black woman who has gotten married outside her race or is dating a man who is not black, but my relationship does not betray any deep insecurities about my complexion, nose, hair texture or figure. When Hubby proposed under a full moon at the edge of a bluff on Jamaica’s southern coast, I was not thinking: “My babies will have pretty hair!” Going out with Thomas back in the mid 1990s didn’t push me away from my Caribbean heritage. His firm Italian Catholic upbringing complemented my no-nonsense Pentecostal rearing, in some ways. Plus we both had silly senses of humor and had great laughs. Using a relationship to distance oneself from one’s upbringing is another undertaking that really goes nowhere. As anyone who’s lived long enough knows, once you have children and start to settle into family life, many of those old habits and teachings come roaring back anyway. It’s always a good idea to take the best of both cultures and fashion an updated family tradition.

We couldn’t find good black men. There might be a grain of truth to this one. An oft-quoted statistic estimates that a shocking 78% of black women are single, and that unless we open our eyes and minds to potential prospects outside our race, hordes of us will end up alone. The problem with this that once again it puts the white guys in awkward positions, like they are our last chance to avoid years of lonely desperation and decrepitude. How romantic. The stigma of living single is diminishing, as we realize that a lot of women lead active, balanced, full and healthy lives. A lot of single black women are mothers, so they have families, and they are socially connected through churches, other houses of worship, sororities and community groups, etc. So no, we’re not running out and grabbing onto any old rundown white, Latino or Asian male reject that we can find, because we’re afraid of ending up as spinsters.

We’re siddity. House negro, oreo, coconut or whatever. Some people think that marrying or dating a white man is a way to put on highfalutin airs. Once on an overnight trip to Canada, a friend teased me about ironing some of my clothes the night before or something else. She said: “Oh, you were raised in the massa’s house.” I took her joke in stride, of course, but strangers have always put a harsher more judgmental spin on comments like that to me. All I know is that I love Caribbean food, which I grew up on. I love, love, love Southern cooking, I still attend church. I’m not wealthy or necessarily aspiring to be and I don’t look down on anyone for any reason. I mean sure, I’ve never been one to talk to people willy-nilly, but that has more to do with growing up painfully shy. I went through a period of great change to overcome that, and I’m glad I did! It has opened up a whole new world of food, cities, music and literature to me. Those experiences make me more refined, not a snoot. By the way, there is a really funny “How Siddity are You?” quiz on another blog. I scored a 6, which makes me happy. It is another joke, of course, but it’s nice to know I’m well within the range of normal. And so is my relationship.

We don’t know that we’re ‘bed wenches.’ Whitney Houston (RIP) had a song “My Name is Not Susan.” Well, my name is not Sally as in Sally Hemings. Anyone who spews this trash out in public, whether blogging, vlogging or tweeting, is depraved and deserves every humiliating rebuttal. Interracial marriages existed long before the brutal European/American slave system came along and brought shame to this country, and there are famous stories all over ancient literature where Black women have caught the attention and enduring admiration of men from other cultures. It’s so tiring to keep pointing this out! Those who define BW-WM romantic relationships as relics of the master and the slave wench are thinking with traumatized minds. And since the most vicious critics are Black men, they come across as angry little boys who can’t deal the emotional scars of a past episode, one where they didn’t even take the brunt. Aside from all of that, popular culture (read up on old issues of Essence) and academic writing (see: Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, by Jacqueline Jones) have been very clear on the fact that black women contribute a great deal to their communities. Isn’t it quite natural that whilst working alongside men of different cultures that they would recognize our intelligence, wit, thrift, etc., and not just focus on our curves? This way of thinking also reminds me of stories our moms and big sisters told from the 1970s and 1980s. They would be on business trips and while walking through a hotel lobby or restaurant—in professional clothes—be approached by an older white man or woman who took them for service workers. In the case of white men in business suits, it was sometimes worse: a call girl. The service worker part doesn’t bother me, because there is dignity in any job well done. (Plus, the part where our moms and sisters pocketed presumptuous tips and walked off are just hilarious.) But when people presume that white guys are just experimenting with us validates the wrong-headed attitudes of that offensive guy in the hotel lobby. We have many attractions to guys outside our race. I’ve heard that Native Americans have a saying: “Women hold up half the sky.” Of course white guys would eventually notice this about us, too!

Those are the five most commonly cited and wrong-headed, ignorant reasons I’ve encountered as to why relationships like mine—and maybe yours—exist. Make no mistake: there are a lot of shallow black women out there who might put one or two of these reasons forward for dating interracially.  My only response to that is that the inevitable fallout from such a superficial undertaking could be really severe. Hearts crushed. Families destroyed. Cherished delusions, poof, up in smoke. But this blog will never devote a lot of time to those issues. I’m here to point out that these relationships are normal, functioning and healthy. And they deserve to be respected.