My daughter saves me from my anxieties with the embrace of her little arms
I’m lifted from my fear and into her little arms because sometimes they are bigger than my own.
by Donnie Moreland
It’s the eve of what folks are calling the “most important presidential election of our lives.” I’m being told to prepare. I’m being told to panic. I strap both ends of my cloth mask around my ears to drop my ballot at a county library. This is the second time I’m having to do this, because the first time my ballot was taken by someone—parading as an employee of the county—and discarded.
I’m anxious, and I hate that I’m anxious because I am a die-hard political cynic. But this year has beaten me into submission and now, I’m nervous. But as I get into my car and leave my apartment lot, my heartbeat quickens. Yet, these are old palpitations. Ritual ones.
My rear view mirror reveals a caramel-brown face, and no matter how much folks in the state of Minnesota want to suggest something about progressivity and liberalism above the Mason Dixon line, the police here harass and injure my kind with the same brutality of prejudice that bleeds over any Southern state flag.
And no matter how much I puff out my chest or turn up Elucid’s soul churning verses, driving scares the hell out of me. Because no matter how cognizant I am of projection—and the slippery slope of importing my face onto the bodies of very real person’s murdered—my neck still stiffens each time I hear the sirens of a SPPD squad car at my rear. But I arrive at the library, safely, and I drop off my ballot with a polling worker (this time).
The worker looks like my grandmother and it makes me chuckle because of some random memory about a recent Zoom call, where everyone was shouting over one another to convince my grandparents to upgrade their internet service because the four seconds of lag is almost comical.
But I’m outside the library again, and then I’m in my car, and then I’m in my apartment’s parking lot and the whole time I’m blaring Open Mike Eagle’s new album, Anime, Trauma and Divorce, because trauma bonding vicariously with rappers is always at least a little fun.
But the car is off, now, and I’m nervous, again. I drag my feet to the door of my too small, two bedroom apartment that I pay too damn much in rent for and then I hear it. I hear something hearty and wailing. It’s my 16 month old daughter and I imagine she must be watching a rerun of Nature Cat, but now that I’ve entered the apartment—returning to both, her and her mother—she’s watching me. She’s always watching me.
Watching me and smiling, screaming and spilling fruit out of her mouth as she runs into me, demanding I pick her up. And I’m a sucker for her hugs, so she’s always scooped up—which is often how I get tricked into changing a putrid diaper. And I’ve changed many diapers. So many diapers that I believe parents should be opted into some kind of savings program for Luvs and Huggies.
All this to say that when I’m changing her diaper, I’ve learned I can’t rush. If I rush, I’ll be wrestling flailing—and wildly powerful—limbs, until I’m forced to take my time, and act with the deliberate patience I should have from the start.
It’s almost a magic trick; calming me while I calm her with a playful belly rub in order to loosen a tightened thigh, so that pulling up her right grey sweat pant leg isn’t a war. And in these moments, when her cheeks are their brownest and fullest and her protruding teeth are showing as bright as her maple brown eyes, nothing else matters. It’s just her.
When we are reading her saliva soaked, and eroded copies of Sulwe or Woke Baby, it’s just her. When we are fighting over who actually owns my cell phone, it’s just her. When I’m lying face first into a pile of pillows, as she screams into the heavens the woes of being told, no, you cannot eat that which you do not have enough teeth to chew—it’s just her.
I don’t have the psychic space to fit trying to keep her attention enough to read Manuel Had a Riddle and ruminate on possibly having contracted COVID-19 because some foul fool would rather add to public panic by wearing his mask below his chin—slithering through Target—rather than to pull the loose fabric above his nose and admit the madness of mortality.
And quite frankly, it is in the silence of patience that my daughter saved me (and with the patience of my therapist, I feel safe in proclaiming such with an intention unbound by patterns of codependency which has strained a history of personal relationships, and of which it is easy to tether our children to, in absence of functional boundaries). I owe her for offering me those seconds between recent trauma and heavy stress. I owe her for not giving a damn about what’s happening outside of daddy’s arms, because all that matters is in between them.
I don’t have four or five primary school aged children, so I can’t speak to stress parenting as others might—though the pressure of guilt and grieving, which accompany the guardianship of a toddler, in a global pandemic is a spiritual aging beyond proper description. But I can suggest what it means to love my child, and how when she demands that love, I’m lifted from my fear and into her little arms because sometimes they are bigger than my own.
And her tiny palms are even larger when she’s beating daddy on the head because she doesn’t know why daddy is crying. She doesn’t know that daddy is crying because he doesn’t know when he’ll see his daddy again. But for her, she is here to be seen, now. And I’ll oblige, because it’s what I need to soothe the child in me, waiting for his parents to rescue him.
There is this track on Anime, Trauma and Divorce. It’s called Asa’s Bop (Asa being the name of OME’s son). I listen to it often, because it feels like OME wrote it for both of us. It feels like it’s for parents—Black parents—from another parent, who knows the secret about our kids.
The secret of their super power. The power they have to rescue us when the heartbeats of our loved one’s spin out of our hands like the dancer’s pirouette, or when the spirit feels like water between your fingers. The power to save us when we can no longer breathe through the rubble.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.