Mummy, hold my hand. These were the last few words Elikia offered under her quiet breath before she fell into a deep sleep on her last night as a two-year old. As I reached for her little hand, I quietened myself to her needs as her eyes closed. How profound, on this night before her transition into the year of three that she would reach out for me to walk, or rest, alongside her. This is not a new feeling for both of us, although hearing her articulate her needs does something to my heart. We have moved from me hearing her only in my essence, through my womb, to me hearing her cries, and now me hearing her words.
I stumbled into motherhood with anxiety and depression, off medication to cope with my own crises of change - I sat awkwardly with myself, now compounded by the sense of responsibility growing in my womb. At the time the mental health specialist I was seeing offered to me that I was anxious because I resented Elikia for interrupting my life. Despite being raised to be generally agreeable and diplomatic, I pushed back forcefully arguing that the prospects of motherhood are daunting for most women at best but that my anxiety did not mean resentment towards my brown child. This minor act of disagreement has since compounded and become a critical part of my mothering - demonstrating, I hope, to Elikia that it is important to disagree and there are ways to do this. In many ways, this has been me holding my own hand through social anxiety that has been mediated by being agreeable. The politics of niceness for black women are the outcome of self-preservation, at least for me, to survive the onslaught of abuse that characterised aspects of my childhood. In those times, there was no one to hold my hand and so I was never taught to need others.
To my surprise, Elikia is not like this. She is able to disagree, need others and self soothe and if like to think this is despite myself. Fast forward to the day of her birth, Elikia and I are both drugged from a relatively pleasant (although unexpected) C-Section. She spent the entire night on my bare chest sleeping, both of us bare and welding into one another. She was at once fully dependent on and carving out her independence from me. I made promises that night that I would be a version of human to her that gave her space to be a child when she needed to, and to craft her voice in a world where she would always be loud by virtue of her skin, her sex, her class. The first few days were filled with such moments, she needed to be held continuously. And even though it was challenging, I suppose I needed it too.
Over the next few weeks, which have accumulated into months and now years, she has needed and un-needed. This has been equal parts exhilarating (using the loo without company is always a plus) and equal parts unnerving (a la, look mummy I can jump off this flight of stairs). We have both come undone in the process of learning when to need each other and when to self-soothe. It has fascinated me to no end that she can tell me that I've hurt her, not just with accidental bumps, but with my sometimes short demeanour. She knows pain and articulates that to me. She knows she can tell me this and sometimes we can disagree. A recent conversation about the order of numbers culminated in her proclaiming I know nothing, much like Jon Snow, I was floored by the verbal cut to which I had no come back.
And so on this night of transition, I look back at the person who Elikia has helped me become with gratitude. I do not take for granted that I like my kid and we have a generally pleasant relationship, although filled with the robust tantrums and debates that come with raising a toddler... I know it is not a given and that it will not always be this way. In unlearning my own coping mechanism of self-reliance to a fault, Elikia holding her hand out to me tonight offered me another way of being: when we transition and we are scared we can go together, even if it is not for the full journey. For as long as I can, I will be there to reach for her tiny grubby fingers and rest with her in the midst of change.
Happy birthday Elikia nanga, na lingui yo.