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Advice to Young Mothers
On April 23, 2005, at 2:02 P.M., a baby is born in Brooklyn. She has no father, just a tired mother and a grandma who stares down at her with unblinking owl eyes. She is born into a family that came forth from sorrow; she is born into a family devoid of hope.
She comes out dark skinned like molasses, sweet and browned and beautiful, first wisps of brown curls dancing on her head. She comes out crying because what baby smiles when they finally see the light of day? Certainly not this one.
She is born in a small hospital room. Only three people meet her that first day. Her father is not one of them.
She will grow up to be tall and lean and awkward, with limbs that spring out like green shoots from the ground. She will have a headful of curls she’ll tame with relaxer and a flatiron, and later, she will wish she had let them free. She will have a mother and a grandmother and only four friends that stick with her. Only one of them will stay with her ’til the end, but no one will be there when she is dying.
She will outlive them all. Some may call her a miracle. She will call it a curse.
But right now, she is just a baby. Her mother’s miracle, but still. A baby. A baby with her father’s eyes and her mother’s coffee-dark skin. Skin that will get her in trouble. Skin that will make her bleed. Skin that will make her hate herself. Skin that is who she is; skin she will come to love. But right now, it is just skin, made to protect breath and bone.
What’s nice about babies is that their skin is just skin. Their eyes are just eyes, their lips just lips, their feet just feet. Skin made for protecting, eyes made for seeing, lips made for tasting, feet made for walking.
Their hearts are only hearts, hearts made for feeling.
Do not tell them how to feel; they will not hear you. That will come much later. Now, they will only know what they see, and what they see is you. Now, they will only feel what they want, and usually, that is to cry. But sometimes, they laugh, and that is the most wonderful feeling in the world.
It sounds like burbles or bubbles. Frothy, effervescent, serendipity, those are all the right words. Like dancing or maybe even rain, the nice kind of rain, the kind that only falls in movies or on beaches when no one else is around.
This young mother stays down at her sweet brown baby and kisses her forehead. She listens to the gassy, bubbly laugh and wishes she remembered how to laugh like that.
The baby touches her mother’s face. Her fingers are sweet and small and see-through, like you could break them if you tried hard enough. Snap one off and keep it for yourself.
“You better hold on to her. You better keep her close,” says Grandma with her sharp eyes. Her hands folded on her lap. “Soon enough,” says Grandma with her sad eyes, “she’ll slip away.”
The mother wipes her tired eyes and kisses her brown baby’s forehead. “No need,” says Grandma. “No need. She knows you’re here.”
It’s like the baby is listening—she lifts a chubby finger and latches it around her mother’s. Brown on black on black on brown. A million shades of peanut butter and molasses and good, hard dirt. Paper bags and hardwood floors and tired mothers, holding tight to their babies.
On April 23, 2005, at 2:02 P.M., a baby is born in Brooklyn. She has no father, just a tired mother and a grandma who stares down at her with unblinking owl eyes. She is born into a family that came forth from sorrow; she is named Hope.