Whilst you were still sleeping, mummy cut through the tough plastic of the clipper she had ordered online last night. The weight of her tangled afro filled with lint from sleep heavy on her head like the pressure of femininity and fatigue combined into the fallacy of the strong black womxn. She knows you noticed, the ways in which the tangles of soft, kinky hair tore through her being as each day passed in lockdown and the way she wrapped her head in her golden doek each morning to try to look presentable for you - a little bit together. The veneer of composure wears thin in these times. She is tired. You ask her if she is wearing her day clothes, consisting of torn sweat pants and old sweaters, to bed again. She laughs nervously. "No, I changed I promise," she says denying the truth that she again fell asleep while putting you to bed instead of staying awake to shower, change and start her next shift: of laundry, dishes, tidying the house and work. Change into something new and clean. You heard her say faintly to someone that it was easier to care for the little human she loved than it was to care for herself, what you did not hear her say is "what an unfair burden that my child would have to grow up and believe that I lost myself to my role as her mother because I was tired." The truth is, I am not tired of mothering you - watching your eyes struggle to stay open as your words pour out in a flurry of rainbows. This world, our home, is your safe place, and it is rightly so.
So whilst you were sleeping, she boldly chose to cut her own hair with the new shiny clippers - reading in dimmed light because for the second time in two weeks the lounge lights had gone bust. She didn't want you to see her panic at the darkness, more symbolic than present. So she made a plan, just like she made a plan to cut her own hair and step into something she wanted you to bear witness to: even as the world is falling apart and filled with chaos and uncertainty, mummy is still a womxn who is worthy of care. She hoped that this would be something you would embody in your consciousness, while she had slept on it for close to two months in lockdown. Sometimes, we have to parent ourselves into well-being and hold onto hope as a lifeline.
The line of the clipper cord trembled as she began to cut, with wafts of knotted hair falling to the floor. Was the trembling from the vibration of the clipper moving past her ears or her fear that she needed so desperately to come back to self while continuing the love work of pouring: into you, her child, her community, her family. The airhosts lied - of course mummy would put your mask on first in the event of loss of air pressure; and hope that her lungs had enough air to withstand the mounting fear of doom. As cigarette smoke wafts through her breath, she realises that this pandemic is a continuation of seen and unseen struggles that. The hair cut, close to her skin, reveals the folds at the back of her neck and the s-curve in her spine that has her constantly contorting her head for release of tension. She goes on, changing from 6mm to 1mm. Closer to her skin.
Whilst you were sleeping, mummy put on make-up, the second time in two months. She knows you love make-up, she feels directly responsible for this.
"Why don't children wear make-up mummy?"
"Because it might give them a rash," she says scrambling for answers as your questions get more sophisticated. What she means by rash is not the tiny bulbous growths that cause itching, but rather the pressure of femininity she has embodied and the ways in which she looks tired and unrecognizable without the paint that helps brighten her eyes. The truth is, sometimes, especially in pandemic, mummy is tired and unrecognizable to herself - but still the same upbeat and energetic, active participant in life to others. One can be both, these things are complex. She secretly loves going out make-up free, but the dark circles under her red eyes betray her. She also secretly feels unseen.
Her tired fingers flick open the cellphone camera. She rotates it away from it's normal view: capturing your spirited dances, singing and jumping. You don't know that she also uses it to capture your sleeping self, at ease in the comfort of her bed which you colonize each night because of the loneliness of your own room. There are no friends, no play dates, no escapes from the space - just the two of us, it is also incredibly hard and tiring for you - and yet you sing. The camera brings into focus the buzz cut, with a faux fade and a painting of the mother you once knew pre-lockdown: eyeliner, lipstick, foundation. Except now the audience is herself. She knows she is tired, confronted by the contrast of herself as more than mum: as a womxn, a deep-feeling, curious, sexual, playful, flawed being. She feels beautiful, and she did it for herself.
You won't see this painted face tomorrow morning. But perhaps you will wake to a mother who did not fall asleep accidentally while putting you to bed. Maybe you'll see that the tangled bed fluff has disappeared from her head and that she no longer dons her golden doek every day - you will see her hair. While she hopes it might signify something beautiful and encouraging to you (as it is to her), you might instead do the age-appropriate thing and laugh that she looks like a boy (especially with her face unpainted).
This is more than enough of a response, a reminder that there is still the brute normalcy of age-appropriate guffaws in your belly, and our shared pain at the pain of the world as it is, does not outweigh the safe space we've built to have tangled hair one day - and buzz cuts the next.
Na lingui yo.