Ever Growing, Ever-Changing by Antoinette L.

At the age of 13, you’re supposed to have a sense of freedom and independence, but that wasn’t me. During my adolescence, my mother had become very religious. No more secular music, no pg-13 movies, no more Halloween, it was all now deemed “The Devil.” She was only 29, and doing what she felt was best, but I felt I was being suffocated by the walls she had chosen to build around my life. You see, for the first seven years, I grew up with a fun, adventurous teenage mom. She was the one who wanted to try every roller coaster at the park and pushed me to try everything new. But she felt she needed more structure in her life; she found a husband and dedicated her life to Christ. Our lives changed drastically. And before such an abrupt adjustment, it was ‘us against the world.”

I remember we sang SWV and TLC on our pretend microphone pens in the car as we journeyed from town to town. I loved to dress up as a fluffy bunny or prim ballerina and carry a pillowcase door to door engorged with treats on Halloween. In my mind, my mother was Glenda, the Good witch from Wizard of Oz. She always knew what would happen and call it mother’s intuition, but my mom was magical. Things were different, and I felt different every day. As I yearned to learn from the world and navigated the pressure, my frustrations soon grew into anger. I didn’t really know how to voice my needs, and my mother didn’t recognize them within me. I was stuck being perceived as the perfect angel I previously was; she was now the clashing parent figure in a teenager’s life.

When my best friend was going through the same feelings with her mother, we decided we were fed up and could do it on our own. We hatched a plan to run away. After school, we’d meet at her house (since it was closest to our escape route), pack her bags, write a letter informing her mom she was at my house, and then do the same for me. To our benefit, her mother and aunt loathed one another, so after a few bus changes, we’d make a pit stop at her aunts’ house to load up on food and water before heading to nowhere. Everything went as planned until my friend couldn’t remember how to get to her aunt’s. Annoyed with her, we found a Carl’s Jr. to sit and try to figure out the next bus route. I guess I should’ve blamed it on the lack of cell navigation in the early 2000s. I barely had enough minutes from the prepaid card I bought at 7-11. Upon arrival at our destination, we were greeted with a “what are you doing here?” Mind you, it was close to midnight. My friend replied with a quick,

“Oh, my mom wanted to see how independent we could be.”

Her answer seemed acceptable. We gorged on snacks and filled our eyes with television. But once we awoke, well-rested, and sprawled out on the aunt’s couch, we were greeted by two police officers, my stepdad, and baby sister. Honestly, it was a good thing because our runaway plan had no plan after the aunt’s house. There went our imagined thoughts of miraculously becoming the best strippers we could be—the type of strippers who made a ton of cash without sleeping with anyone because we were thirteen.

It was there in the aunt’s driveway, where I learned about my punishment from the officers: Probation because I was now in the system as a “runaway.” But that was nothing compared to what was waiting for me at home. My mother didn’t speak to me for three months, not even to talk through my stepdad to me. It was all extremely devastating. We were so close that to feel nonexistent in the world was detrimental to my soul. Deep inside, I felt exhilarated and exonerated after running away. It was the first independent thing I’d done, and I just wanted my mother to understand and embrace it. I wanted her to realize I was on my way to womanhood and to let me journey towards it.

Even as an adult, others have tried to lock me back into their perceptions of who I should be. It’s a challenge when it’s family because you can’t escape their chains, especially in the role of the “good wife.” My ex-husband had his own idea of what that meant for me, and I received backlash when I couldn’t and just wouldn’t comply. During the time our son was less than six months old, we’d meet my grandparents and help them clean the salon my mother owned at the time. This particular day, my husband was exhausted; he had gone to lie on a bed in the salon’s rear. I couldn’t help clean because I was holding my baby, so I decided to free my hands by setting up one of his portable playpens. The floor was dirty so I couldn’t just place my baby on the floor. I opened the door to the room and asked my then-husband if he could hold our son while I put up the playpen. He refused. I asked again, and he refused again. Each time I asked, his voice escalated with rage, so I thought, “if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.” I plopped my son on my left hip, facing him away from me while I strong-armed the playpen with my right hand. Two sides up and two more to go. On the third snap, I heard my baby boy whimper.

In a rushed manner, I flipped him around and examined what had gone wrong. There was a drop of blood on the top of his left hand, so I quietly walked to the restroom to further check it. I wiped it clean and examined his hand but couldn’t find where the blood came from. During my examination, my ex-husband burst open the bathroom door; he gave me a glare and screamed,

“Oh, my God! “

He ran out. Confused, I slowly turned my head, my eyes swelled, and my heart dropped. I screamed bloody murder. Blood was spewing straight up around the exposed bone from my baby boy’s middle finger on his right hand, dripping down my back. It felt like a murder scene from a scary movie.

Seeing my panic, my grandfather motioned for me to come to the shampoo bowl to rinse my angel’s finger once he noticed the blood. When he turned the water on, the hose swayed and danced in the air, throwing water around like a World of Color water show at Disneyland. My grandmother walked onto the main floor from the back room, calmly shut the water off, and shouted, “EVERYBODY JUST SHUT UP!” We all froze while she instructed us to go to the hospital. I held my baby in the back seat as his head started to droop, he was no longer crying, and his body was going limp. It’s the most terrifying feeling holding your child as they begin to slip away. He had lost too much blood.

The years following this event, my husband shamed me. He blamed me for the entire accident. He had a cookie-cutter view of me as his wife and as a mom. His displaced frustrations just made it worse, and his molding of me just hurt. I was learning, and so was he. Parenting is individualized and scary enough. I needed a teammate, not a judge. But it took his unacceptance for me to realize that it wasn’t personal, rather his issue and his judgment of himself.

In my formative years, I needed my mother’s acceptance of my growth. And although it was detrimental to me, those 3 months of silence were necessary for her growth as a parent. Once my silent treatment ended, she finally did understand me, and we were bonded even closer together. I could sing Mariah Carey again, and I was allowed more freedom to just be myself. I could now reveal some of my layers without total judgment.

And as for my son’s finger, it grew back, you can barely tell anything happened. He’s 13 now. He understands boundaries, and I understand his need for growth and independence into the man he’s bound to become.

I now understand how much I needed to heal and grow. What if I didn’t face change? I would have stayed stuck slowly, letting others wither me away. I’m not meant to hold onto everyone or even to my past self. I’m meant to keep an open heart, to share my gifts with you. At age 33, it’s hard enough to go through change and even harder for family or friends to accept it or not. No matter where you are in your journey of transformation, it’s unavoidable and imperative for an enriching life. Be the change you want to see in this world, and don’t be afraid to show it off.

Thank you, God, for holding me while I change into who I was meant to be: for my son, for myself, for the thirteen-year-old me.

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living”

-Gail Sheehy.

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