Good and Grown
What makes you feel like a self-possessed grown woman? How old were you when you first felt like a true adult? Or was there an experience that made you feel grown rather than a number/age?
I’m a little hesitant to be honest about the situations that made me feel grown. Ironically, before getting to feelin’ grown, I had experienced several things that most people would assume went with adulthood. I’d planned someone’s funeral, I’d moved across the country (twice), I’d vacationed internationally alone (okay, just to the Caribbean), I’d signed my own promissory notes for student loans and a mortgage, I’d fallen in and out of love, I’d left the house AT MIDNIGHT to go party, I’d voted a few times, and I’d even had the temerity to jump in the car with a friend to take an unplanned road trip knowing that I was supposed to be somewhere else the next day.
By all accounts, I’ve been grown and over 18 for quite some time. But I didn’t feel grown until I stood my ground with my family. And I didn’t feel good and grown until I stood my ground and set permanent boundaries with them without feeling anger, guilt, or the need to keep explaining myself.
My family culture is such that your entire adult life is an exercise of gratitude toward your parents for being alive and for having decent provision. Further, respect for age is a super big deal in my family. Essentially, you are to bow down to anybody more than 15 minutes older than you: I dare you to call my grandmother by her first name (this is why the sting of little white kids calling grown black people by their first names stings so)! Finally, because of indoctrination about class and “thinking you’re better”, I grew up keenly aware of their resentment toward any behavior that suggested a need, even slight, for formality and decorum.
There were four things that I did that defied this culture, and they reshaped my relationships with my entire family. Oddly, I didn’t set out to do these things. Rather, the real me just oozed to the surface, and I didn’t have the energy to try to put the horse back in the barn. First, I was honest with my mother about how I felt about our relationship. For the first time, I didn’t try to make things seem rosier than how I actually saw them. Although she was shocked and crushed, I refused to try to soften what I’d said. It was such a relief and release. It was like being nauseous and finally throwing up. It takes a lot out of you, but it feels good. Our relationship is slowly being restored, and it’s much stronger and more rewarding than it’s ever been before.
Second, I decided to stop pursuing a relationship with a dad. I searched my heart and asked myself how I thought I’d feel if he died. I realized that I’d be mourning what I’d wished for as a girl, the daddy of my fairytale dreams, rather than the reality that I actually had. So, I just stopped trying and accepted how sober of a decision I’d made. As I let myself grieve that relationship, I let go of feeling bad about quitting.
Third, I told my favorite elder, who was about 80 at the time, to stop fussing at me about my dad because I had made peace with my decision. Standing up to her was a very big deal. She was and is my favorite senior, and I didn’t want her to feel disrespected, but she was on my last nerve about it. She vehemently disagreed with my decision and was laying it on heavy. One day, while visiting her, she started fussing about how I should go see him (he lived 10 minutes from her), and I said to her, “I don’t want to argue about this. I understand that you think I’m wrong, but I need you to understand that it’s my decision to make and that your fussing is useless. You cannot make me do anything, including visit him.” She looked at me and simply said, “I be damned. I think that’s wrong.” She said nothing more and nothing less. You have no idea how big of a deal that was. My senior doesn’t back down from anything or anybody. She only brought it up once more, and that was YEARS LATER, as he was sick unto death. She simply said, “Your aunt called and said that your father is really sick. And, if you want to see him alive, you should come now. I think you should go see him.”
Third, I said no to two older relatives in front of other people. We were at a family member’s repast at the family home. One ordered me to “get her a beer” and the other demanded that I clean the kitchen. In both instances, it was the way that they said it. In the case of the beer fetching demand, I said, “If you go look in the garage, there’s a blue cooler with beer and water” and kept talking. In the other case, I simply said no. Her face scrunched up and she asked why, and I said, “I don’t want to” and walked outside to be with other cousins. Y’all just don’t understand! In my southern, old school family, you don’t say no to old people. You do as you’re told. You can be good and grown and cussed out! Maybe I felt brave because I no longer live near them.
Fourth and finally, I stopped answering to my childhood nickname. This is the one area in which I’ve gotten push back, and my response has been simple: “I’ll call you whatever you want to be called. If you say you want to be called “Queen of Sheba”, I will call you that because I want you to call me what I want to be called, which is my real name!” For those people who refuse to use my name, I refuse to acknowledge that they are talking to me. No arguing, just ignoring.
I went against the grain of my family because the things that the culture dictated that I do made me feel small and diminished as a person. It was not about pretending to be something more than what I was raised to be. It was about self-respect. It was about acknowledging that I was being less than authentic to engage my family and that a strong resentment was growing inside me. I hated what I felt like I had to do to get their love and to be included. So, I stopped performing for their acceptance and began teaching them how to treat me.
Some family members reject my boundaries in the name of “who does she think she is” and choose not to engage me. Some relatives, especially the seniors, struggle to remember to use my name, but acknowledge my request and boundary, “Baby, I forgot, but I’m trying” – I totally accept that 86 year old Cousin Leeiza forgot! Others respect me and say, “Cuz, you ain’t gotta get me a beer; let’s get a shot together after I pick you up from the airport!”
The family earthquake on my fault line has been good. I feel good, loved, respected and grown when I go home. I get to be in the class on my own terms – good and grown.
How long have you been grown? Since when? What changed?