I was a runner. My Mom has always been a spanker. Because of my inability to be silent in the face of perceived injustice…as a kid, I got spankings several times a week. My older brother would come home from high school track practice when I was in elementary school and greet me with, “Hey Jeanine! How many beatin’s did you get today?” I shared a room with my sister, who was also in high school when I was in elementary school, and she would regularly tell my mother whatever “bad” thing I had done and get her justice immediately.
My Mom would make me go pick a switch from a tree..or fetch my Dad’s thick leather belt and expected me to lay across this round white hassock to receive my spankings.
But I would not stay still and accept my punishment. I was a runner. My mom would chase me…and the rest of my family would laugh, and I’ve always remembered this injustice and a bit of me has always held anger in my heart toward my family for those experiences.
My parents 60’th anniversary was last Saturday. All they asked of me was to come to dinner with my siblings, sister in law and nephews. the last time we were all together in one roof was about 4 years ago
My family is loud. Particularly the men. In a world where the voices of black men are silenced, at home…they shout. Usually I debate the men in my family, I challenge them… and my black female voice creates chaos in the entire family system. A woman with a voice in a conservative Christian family is a dangerous entity. When I speak up, even defending the women in my family…the women in my family usually side with the men and everyone thinks the problem…is me.
This is an example of how religion provides the perfect platform for the patriarchy to thrive. Women nurturing, listening, cooking and cleaning, agreeing, while the menfolk pontificate loudly on the events of the world.
To avoid all of this I usually spend time away from my family of origin. I go to Friendsgivings where I go where I feel free. But in my world, the imprint of my family is strong. I pontificate passionately, I am loud, can be melodramatic, selfrighteous and in many circumstances have become the one who people run away from.
As I grow older, I see the value of time more clearly. Each moment on this planet is limited. I’m at the age where my peers are going through their parents dying. I see the years on my parents bodies and I can no longer run. I’ve lived long enough to be broken down by bad relationships, and when I lost everything, my Mother, Sister and Father were there to help me rebuild. Now, my father did what men do, when I was at my lowest point, but my Mother and my Sister didn’t kick me when I was down, they raised me up. The women who are closest to me, never said “I told you so.” During my low time, most of friends I chose in NYC were absent. It was my Mom, Sister, Dad and my mentor in NYC who is also a black woman who I could turn to for help. Black women, did not run when I needed a hand and I will always remember this.
This non-Thanksgiving, I showed up away from my beloved NYC at my favorite time of year, to be with my family of origin. I made a promise to myself to practice mini vippasana meditations (vippasana meditation is a practice of seeing things as they realy are) when conversations occur that will turn into an argument if I choose to use my voice. I decided to check my right to free speech at the door and find the times to be…quiet.
I did it. I did it, and it sucked for me. There were times where I literally got out of my seat and left the room.
No one noticed, they all had a great time.
I returned to the room, stayed silent, helped with the cooking, accepted the compliments, cleared the table and washed the dishes while the men talked at each other and over the women. I listened as they interrupted, laughed at the expense of others, cut off, shouted at the football game. And as my siblings and their families were leaving, they all commented how great the day was…no arguements.
This was my gift to my family…my silence. This one day of peace was a good one.
The next morning….
My brother, who is 10 years older than me, stopped by to pick up some left overs his family had left behind. He works a night shift so my mom made him breakfast and as I was getting dressed I heard them talking.
I said good morning and got ready for the gym. I procrastinated getting my things together slowly just taking my time.
When my brother was leaving, as he said goodbye he joked…” I can’t leave without a good arguement with Jeanine!” and he started to “tease ” me. I don’t eat before I workout. And I haddn’t eaten or even brushed my teeth yet, and here my brother was… “teasing” me, poking the tender protected parts that only family can agitate. I responded and eventually we ended up in a literal yelling match. All the work I had done to prepare for this trip, to make it through the day with family without a fight evaporated in this moment of anger. My brother doesn’t fight fair and he said mean things that I will never be able to unhear and I sunk down to his level and did the same. My mother of course tried to silence me and I heard my father from his easy chair chime in…. “Jeanine’s right!” I out shouted my brother and this time, he was the one who ran. COWARD!! I know you hear me COWARD go ahead…run!! I shouted at the empty space my brother had just occupied. I looked at my elderly mother with anger as she looked back at me with disappointment and I thought “this is why I never wanted to have children”
In this house, with this family, I will always be the youngest daughter expected to be cute and quiet while the men are allowed to lead to be big, be bold be charasmatic. Yes, we love each other, but I not longer expect my family to ever understand or know the person I am. In this man run society where the value of a person is judged by how much money they make, until they may not see me excelling at my field in the way they view success…I may never be “big” in their eyes.
Untile I learn co-exist with the patriarcy in my family, anger will make me weak and destroy my relationship with them. I have to get to the point where I authentically don’t have to prove anything to my family or seek their admiration.
I have to accept that the problem is never them. The problem is ALWAYS me.
The simple act of my Mom Sister and Dad helping me when I was really down, forced me to appreciate that I have a solid family. No family is ever perfect. A facet of maturity is knowing the impact of ones actions before reacting and allowing oneself to step back and be mindful, to think before speaking, instead of pushing forward to prove a point.
In hindsight I look back at the situation and say…okay the problem is me… I can see what I could have done instead of grounding in to my anger, taking the bait and getting into a fight.
My plan was to have gone to the 8:30am class at the gym. If I had gotten my ass up and out the door and been at the gym… instead of procrastinating…you get the idea? Instead I shot verbal daggers at my brother’s heart and sucuessfully deflated his male ego.
The words I allowed into the world that day, will leave a lasting negative impact on my entire family of orgin. I can’t take any of it back.
We live in a time where mean words and bombastic egos are splattered on our consicousness like rotten tomatoes on a clean wall. Left unchecked it all stinks and rots.
As I work daily to resist this corrupt political system of things, I realize it all starts at home. The first work to be done for me, is to be able to get along with my family of orgin without running.
I love and respect my family deeply and at the same time disagree with them on many things greatly. My ability to control my own mind and my reactions to ideas that piss me off will make me stronger.
What are my tools to live peacefully with my family of origin?
Embracing that the problem is always gonna be me.i
I lay here in bed at 6:00 pm exhausted. I reflect on what went wrong and think about how I can be better in the future. I celebrate the fact that for one day, my parents were able to see their children, grandchildren, and the spouses of their children, under the same roof sharing a meal in peace. My silence contributed to the happiness of the moment. If I can practice patience with myself when dealing with my family… I can practice active mindfulness with my family, I can do it everywhere in my life.
And for better or worse…I did not run.