Not Kids Anymore

Sundai Johnson

October 2016

She said, “Black women don’t shave”. I was five and sitting at a table where my feet dangled and where I pulled my spine straight to see across to the white family in front of me. Confused, I mushed my eggs around my mouth and confirmed that my mom and aunts did indeed, shave. I was struggling to understand why this woman's scrambled eggs were so salty or why one must shave and how this woman knew that all Black women ever in the world and history that ever existed, did not. At the time, I thought I was simply stating fact--stating what I knew. I did not know that I was already a warrior on the crusade for the narratives of Black folk, and Black women and me all the same. I did not yet know what to name that deep rumbling in the pit of me. Now, is a conversation to be had about women and shaving, and about how we are not policing folks for the decisions they make about their bodies and about how it was problematic that not shaving was assumed to be inherently bad, and was then attached to the whole of the Black woman’s identity and oh— the layers are plenty.  A later time.

Just as a lot of lanky, doughy- eyed, youths shuffled into my classroom the first day of school, I thought about this moment in my early childhood. I thought about how even at five, at that table, with a mouthful of scramble and spit, I carried history in my skin—rebuttals I did not know I had, in my mouth. And all of this sat in the classroom with me, invisible, maybe, but wildly alive.

My own students are the same. Carrying bits of their people, and their armor in the scratches of pencil marks, in their runny eyes nestled into their elbows, in their swift hands jutted to answer questions, in their quiet reserve and recoil when they prefer not. All that identity and “you think you know me but you don’t’” swirling about us. And so I try to create a space where they can harness their voice and where that hard -knock coming of self can sort and rock. A space where it is not just about what they can read and how they feel about writing, but about language and power and the quiet thunder of self-realization. And so I stroll around the class and tap dance in this euphoria and then my projector screen won’t stay down and I’m swearing in breathy whispers, and I can’t remember if the “ex-” in expand is considered a prefix, and I forgot to hole-punch their copies, and I don’t know how to set up my grade book, and all my chest tight fears about being under-qualified and underprepared to teach children, bump at my chest.

A soul full –poet sis of mine asked me: what are the colors in your world like now? To her I said that they are golden and hazel—a brightness from all the newness, but one that is subtle also, because of the heart stretch and pull that comes with trying to bloom in my new world.

I want to look at my teen something ducklings and shout that I am peeling open too, that I am finding layers in parts of my life I assumed to be flat. Like how I want to be as quiet and still as I want to be howling and flailing. I want to tell them that I too, am coming of some age and self and that I know that same tremble in the throat. But instead I turn somersaults and remind them that the most valued stories of themselves are their own, that push their way past tight cheeks. I remember then, that they are all a part of the story that I am yelling.

Here, right now, I am spewing and wrapped up in a blessing so profound and tugging at me to sprout up. I am in the midst of it all but as for this moment, I'm going to replay Solo (because I high-key like it better than pink + white), and feed- stalk Pia Arrobio on Insta and sip on my rosé because tomorrow is Monday and we have to review thematic statements.