A Test of Heart

Within the last couple of weeks, my daughter Ayanna has had a few issues with determining the meaning of true friendship. Honestly when she arrived home with her tales of little girls that she “thought were her friends” choosing to sit next to someone else instead of her, spending more time talking to another friend than her, or certain people not acknowledging the creativity in her art work – I had a hard time relating. Outside of me drilling her on the details of her interaction with them and reminding her of her worth, I inquired if I needed to show up to the school in true Elouise C. Williams’ style (act like my mother) and call her teacher (which I did). I really didn’t know what else to do.  For a moment, I couldn’t understand why the dealings or approval of these wishy washy little girls mattered so much to her. She is genuinely a kind hearted, caring, talented and beautiful kid.  In my eyes, my daughter is a gift to the world. Anyone who has the privilege of being in her life is simply that– privileged.  As an adult, I really wanted to tell her to get over those shady little girls because when you get to be my age you’ll be happy to find even just three good friends.

But as a parent, I knew that I needed to take a different approach.

At the advice of my sister friend, Julene, I consulted with my parenting coach, who also happens to be a licensed clinical child psychologist. (Yes, I have a parenting coach/licensed clinical psychologist on deck!  You better believe that I want to be a great parent, not an average one!  In addition to praying for God’s wisdom, I research and utilize all applicable resources that enable me to rear and empower my children. And to be frank, I believe that everyone should see a therapist at least once in their life! We all need to clear our heads, with a neutral party, every now and then. Trust me, when I hit the big leagues, I will have one on payroll!)  Anyway, I wanted to get an expert’s advice on how to address and maneuver through this situation with my daughter. I wanted to properly respond and sympathize with her rather than breaking her spirit with nonchalant “get over it” responses.

After I explained the situation to the Dr., she began to enlighten me on the emotional, physical and psychological developments of 8-year-old girls. Then, she had a few questions for me.

“Well Margaret, do you remember what is like to be in second grade or how important friendships were to you at that age?”

I responded, “I honestly do not. I can remember family events or personal achievements during that time. I remember riding to and from school every day with my late godfather, Willie Montgomery AKA “Dad,” in his white Ford Mustang. I also the remember the name of my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Jackson. I remember being the only African American in my class. I remember that Mrs. Jackson, also African American, never allowed me to feel inferior and pushed me to excel beyond the norm. “

She inquired further,” Well do you recall any elementary school friendships that stand out to you? “

I thought a little further.

“I recall my 5th grade friendship with Georgette Spratling. She and I both attended South Miami Elementary School for the Arts and spent lots of time together.  We ate lunch together every day and even had a sleepover once.”

I continued, “I remember highlights of my elementary studies. There were spelling bees, pageants, etiquette classes, a brief stint with ballet and tap (cause the Lord gave me all brains and .05 drops of rhythm), playing the lead actress in the “Little Luncheonette of Terror,” a field trip to Broadway and watching the OJ Simpson trial verdict live in class. “

So then my therapist inquired, “Hmm….I see. Well do you know what it’s like to have someone whom you thought was your friend turn their back on you? Or let you down? Or do you know what it feels like to be excluded or to be left out? Do you know what it feels like to be disappointed?”

My answer to all four questions was, “Definitely, yes!”

She responded, “Well that’s how you respond to and empathize with Ayanna. Not from the standpoint of a second grader’s friendship troubles, but from a mommy who knows what it’s like to be disappointed.”

The conclusion of that session left me with a whole lot to think about.  As I got into my car to take the 15-minute drive to work, my mind began to turn. I began to reflect on some of the moments of disappointment that I had experienced in life. Both self-inflicted disappointments and those caused by others started to flood my brain. I recalled moments of when I discovered the truth about my biological father, not making the middle school cheer leading squad (God’s fault–for not giving me rhythm –LOL) , failing the driving exam, boyfriend breakups, my undergraduate GPA (SMH—that was ALL my fault), the passing of my godfather, being overlooked for what seemed to be a “dream career,” and layoff from my job of 7 years. I thought of incidents where people that I believed had my best interest at heart, proved that they did not. Or when close friends didn’t meet my expectations or let me down.  I even pondered on those moments when I have felt “unaccomplished” in life or that I should be more advanced in education, career and financial standing that I am right now.  And with all those thoughts swirling around in my head, I recalled the emotions attached to them – insecurity, betrayal, pain, inadequacy, sadness, fear, rejection, guilt, distrust, uncertainty, shock, and disappointment.

I thought to myself, “This is what Ayanna has been feeling? My Baby!!! I need to explain to her that I understand how she’s feeling. But at the same time, she needs some advice.”  

To add more fruit for thought, TLC’s “What About Your Friends” began to play on the radio. “What about your friends? Will they stand their ground? Will they let you down, again? What about your friends? Are they gonna be lowdown? Will they ever be around? Will they ever be around? Or will they turn their backs on you?”

I recited the chorus and bobbed my head in true 90’s music fashion. But as I hit the second verse of “well is it me or can it be I’m a little too friendly…,” a light bulb went off. In an instant, I maturely re-examined my current and past friendships. I suddenly realized that certain parts of the song painted an unrealistic picture of the friendships in my life.

 What about your friends?

Will they stand their ground?  – Yes, friends should stand their ground.

 Will they let you down again? -Sadly, friends – even true friends, can let you down. No one is perfect.

  What about your friends?

  Are they gonna be lowdown?  –If you have lowdown friends, you really need to find new ones.

  Will they ever be around?  – Friends–even true friends—won’t always be around. Sometimes life just won’t allow them to.

With all of this in mind, I began to consider all the ways that I could respond to Ayanna’s friendship dilemma. I felt that she needed to know that I understood what she was going through.  She needed to the importance of friendships and that she’s bound to find friends that were made just for her.

Later that evening, I started my conversation with Ayanna with one simple question.

“Ayanna, what is a good friend to you? “

She responded, “Someone who I can talk to and hang out with. Someone who is nice and kind.”

I continued, “So are the little girls at school who you’ve been complaining about people that you can talk to or hang out with?”

Ayanna replied, “Well sometimes. Sometimes they won’t let me play with them or join in their conversations.”

I continued, “Are they nice or kind to you?”

Ayanna, “Not always.”

I continued, “So are these the kind of friends that you need?”

Ayanna, “No, but we use to be friends.”

I continued, “HmmmWell, unfortunately sometimes people change or disappoint us. Or don’t do the things we expect them to do. And that hurts and makes us feel sad.”

Ayanna, “Yes like when (insert name of first mean child) told me I couldn’t sit at the table with her and (insert name of a second mean child). And they weren’t nice about it. That made me feel really sad because we all use to sit together.”

I responded, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I know what it feels like to be excluded and it doesn’t feel good.  And sadly, not everyone is the world is as nice and kindhearted as you. It wasn’t nice that they did not include you. But would a real friend, someone who really cares about you, treat you that way?”

Ayanna, “No…they wouldn’t.”

I said, “So maybe we should consider making new friends. Can you tell me the names of some kids in your class that have the qualities of a friend that you spoke of?”

She went on to name three other classmates.

Enthusiastically, I responded, “So let’s consider talking more to those classmates!”

Ayanna, “But does that mean I can’t talk to (insert name of mean kids) anymore? Because I can’t be like them, Mommy. They don’t know any better. I am a nice person and I can’t help but to be nice. You taught us in children’s church that we should forgive people and be kind. You also said we shouldn’t treat people the way they treat us.”

Impressed but not surprised by her response, I said, “You’re exactly right. I’m not telling you not to talk to (insert names of mean kids). You’re a wonderful kid and anyone who is your friend is a lucky person. And I’m not saying that just because I’m your mom.  I am saying that because you really are great! But, again, maybe you should consider other people to be your friends. People that will appreciate you and be kind to you. People that will make you a better person.”

Impatiently, Ayanna asked, “Okay, okay mommy. Are you finished talking about friends?”

Puzzled, I said, “Wait…I didn’t even get to share my thoughts on friendship being at test of heart and…”

In the height of my lesson on friendship, Ayanna threw her hands into the air and interrupted me.

“Mom, I got it.  I need to choose my friends wisely and I’m a great friend.   I can still be nice to the other girls even though they weren’t nice to me. And I need to pick a new set of friends because I’m a cool kid!”

Determined to finish my statement, I said, “Yes, but wait…”

Ayanna stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the cabinet to grab a plastic bowl.

“Mom, can we talk later? I need to go finish my science experiment with slime. “

“Ok, Ayanna we are done…. for now. We can talk more about this later. I love you!”

“Love you too, mom. But, can you please pass me the food coloring? I need to mix it with the glue to make my slime?”

And that was the end of our conversation.

I’m sure that my friendship-being-test-of-heart spew was too big of a lesson to teach an eight-year-old. But since I refuse to let the brilliance of my mind go to waist, I’ll share the rest of what I wanted to say to Ayanna with you😊

I wanted to continue my conversation with Ayanna by saying that friendship is a priceless gift. In short, friendship is a commitment between individuals to be truthful, trustworthy, caring, reliable, supportive, kind, transparent and genuine.  More importantly, it is an invaluable exchange of hearts. I wanted to continue by encouraging Ayanna to find friends that know, understand, and protect her heart – people that know and understand her motives, her intentions, her desires, her potential, her purpose, and the delicate intricacies of who she is.

And that she, in return must know, understand, and protect the hearts of her friends.

I also wanted Ayanna to know that a genuine friendship is never perfect. Nothing in life is perfect. True friendship includes more than just epic group selfies, the perfect bridal party squad or #friendsforever#bff#myfriendisbetterthanyours.  Or in more relatable 2ndgrade terminology, friendship doesn’t only consist of friendship bracelets, lunch buddies or someone always complementing your artwork.  True friendship, even with all its goodness and splendor, often encounters hiccups that can dissolve or strengthen a relationship. Truthfully, friends will disappoint. People, in general, will disappoint. It’s an unfortunate, yet realistic part of human nature. Friends won’t always meet your expectations.  No one will ever meet all your expectations—not your parents, your spouse or your friend who you’ve known since elementary school.  Only God never disappoints and never fails.

I’ve heard people say that friendships stand the test of time. But I wanted Ayanna to know that true friendship also stands the test of heart. In these instances, where a friendship reaches a tough space, I believe that a testing of the heart is what matters.  It will confirm the solidity of that relationship.  I wanted Ayanna to know that if you truly know a person’s heart, you will often know and understand the intent of their actions.  Before reacting or jumping to conclusions, I want Ayanna to think, What was the heart behind my friend’s actions? What was the motive behind my friend’s words? What were the circumstances behind my friend’s absence? What did my friend really mean?

Finally, I wanted Ayanna to know that, as a kid (and sometimes as an adult), walking through the maze of friendships isn’t always easy. Sometimes she will bump into walls, take wrong turns, and reach dead ends. But then there will be those perfect moments when she successfully navigates through the U-turns and roundabouts of life.  It is there that she will meet an absolutely amazing friend that will make (insert name of mean kids) look like chopped liver:)

Handle With Care

It was 4:10PM on a Wednesday afternoon. Ayanna, Jordan and I had only been home for 20 minutes. I had nearly an hour and 30 minutes to spare before taking the kids to swimming lessons. Within that short period, I desperately needed to prepare dinner, help Ayanna with her homework, put a load of clothes in the wash, tidy up the living room, clean the bathroom and review my teaching points for the evening’s young adult life group. Suddenly with a bolt of Thor’s lightning, Moses came down from heaven, stepped into my kitchen and rested his staff. (I can only assume that the Israelites were taking their precious time and his arms were tired of holding the staff in the air.) The waters of the Red Sea were released and began to consume my house. For the tenth time this week, Ayanna burst into tears and begin whining about the events of her day.  First, it was about me not allowing her to have a longer break before starting her homework. Then it was the epic complaint of “starvation” and how she just needed just one more snack before dinner. Jordan, on the other hand, continued his newfound career as a snack mixologist. He had taken his snack collection of goldfish, raisins, yogurt, and Capri Sun and mixed them together for “a swim” on my kitchen table. He had also managed to strip down to only his underwear, pour out all the hand soap over the bathroom counter and leave a trail of poop all over the toilet seat and tiled floor.

My husband, Jelani, was at work and would not be home until after 7. My mom, dad and sister resided ten to eleven hours away in the states of Georgia and South Carolina. My mother in law was probably running errands and packing for her new move. There was no one available to rescue me from this distress of my eight-year old’s continual emotional roller coaster and my three-year old’s tornadoes of poop, bubbles, and mixed food.

With Ayanna crying a river, this time over cleaning her room, and Paw Patrol under weared Jordan screaming out the lyrics to his version of Cool It Now by New Edition, I threw my hands in the air and yelled, “CAN YOU GUYS JUST …. YOU ARE ….… I CAN’T…..”

Instantaneously, it felt like God cracked the sky, pushed pause on my life remote and for three fourths of a millisecond everything sort of stood still. In a cloud of smoke and glittery sprinkled fairy dust (lol), a vision of a big, shipping box with bold and capitalized red lettering stating “HANDLE WITH CARE” appeared before me.

Press play. 

The crying resumed and the screaming/singing of “I’m going to lose control” and “ooooohhhh watch it” continued. The vision of the box disappeared.

I, fresh from my epiphany, washed the food seasonings from my hand and turned off the stove. I looked at my children in the calmest mid voiced tone possible, I simply stated, “I just need a moment.”

I walked to bathroom, closed, and locked both doors behind me. I put down the toilet seat cover lid and sat down. I did not really need to use the bathroom. I just needed a place to breathe and think in peace. But as expected, my children followed me and the sound of their bare feet running down the hallway seeped under the bathroom door seal.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

I purposely did not respond. I hoped they would get the hint.

Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock

“I’m using the bathroom. Give you guys just give me a moment!”

Jordan inquired, “Can we come in?”

I responded, “NO!! I’ll be out in a minute.”

Ayanna asked, “But why can’t we come in?”

I replied, “Because, I would like to use the bathroom in peace. Please just give me a moment.”

Jordan asked, “Are you sure you have to use the bathroom?”

Ayanna continued, “Do you have to pee or poop?”

Annoyed and irritated, I loudly responded “That’s none of your business!!! Can you guys just PLEASE give me a moment?”

Ayanna said, “Jordan, mommy sounds stressed out. Maybe she had a bad day at work. She needs some relaxation. Let’s leave her alone.”

Jordan agreed, “Ok, Yanna. Let’s go watch Guava Juice on Youtube.”

And just like that, Jordan and Ayanna’s secret service left their guard post of the bathroom door and hurried in the opposite direction.

FINALLY! I could breathe (in the stench of Jordan’s smeared poop) and think in peace.

Hoping to regain a moment of sanity, I uncomfortably reclined my body.  With my head leaned back onto the toilet tank cover and my feet propped onto Jordan’s stepping stool, I began to reflect on the vision of this mysterious box and its possible contents. In the shipping world, I imagined that this box could have contained antique China, a mirror, a delicate piece of glass furniture, jewelry, or any sort of fragile item. The contents were probably tightly bubble wrapped, packaged in Styrofoam or plastic casing or surrounded by those foamy popcorn shipping thingies. The item could have originated from overseas or the Amazon warehouse base in Seattle. Regardless of its origin or contents, this box had a destination.  How the box was handled during its packing, shipping, and delivery process, would determine the state in which the contents would arrive to its destination.  Throwing, dropping, kicking and any careless mishandling of the box could ultimately damage the box’s contents and yield an insufficient product.

The more I thought about the box, the more evident it became that God was trying to tell me something.  The vision of this box was His way of saying to me, “Hey Margaret! Before you complete the rest of that sentence, yell at the top of your lungs, or say or do something that you might regret…remember this, HANDLE WITH CARE.”

In my world, this box and its contents represented my children. They are the fragile contents composed of invaluable material. They each have a unique and individualized God-ordained purpose and destiny awaiting them. I, along with the partnership of my husband, are the packers, shippers, and deliverers. God was reminding me that not only am I, as their mother, responsible for the outward provision, covering and protection of my children, but I am even more responsible for the health, security, and productivity of their inner contents.  The way in which I handle them – my responses, my tone of my voice, my demeanor towards them, my attentiveness to their needs, the elements in which I expose them to, my actions on a whole– would affect how they grow up, perceive and adapt to their surroundings. I undeniably play an unprecedented role in the manner into which they are delivered into adulthood. They can either arrive in shambles, broken into pieces and in a state of disarray. Or they could arrive in good standing and ready to serve a purpose greater than themselves.

Although my children are merely three and eight years of age and our journey as family has really just begun, parenting is probably one of the hardest task I have ever had! Anyone who says that parenting is easy……has imaginary kids..….for real!!! The vision of the box marked “HANDLE WITH CARE” was a reminder that I must be a safe and sound molding place for my children. The handling of the box, or my children in this case, never requires me to be perfect. But to rather that I AM CAREFUL, conscientious and thorough in my dealings with them. Ayanna and Jordan need me to be an active listener, to be attentive, to empathize with them,  to be fair, chastise, correct, guide, acknowledge, encourage and applaud them.

For now, my husband and I are everything to our children. We shape the world as they know it. They depend on us for their very survival. But in all honesty, I think we need them  way more than they need us. For a world void of emotional breakdowns, whiny eight-year-old complaints of after school starvation, poop stains and a three-year-old’s rendition of Cool It Now is simply no world at all:)

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Ayanna asked, “Mom, are you done, yet?”

I responded, “Almost, Ayanna. Almost.”

Ayanna replied, “Well can you hurry up because I need help with putting all of my 100 pages of school papers back into my notebook. They need to be in chronological order. And Jordan left his dirty underwear in the family room and is running around the house naked. I can also still smell his stinky poop!”

 I replied, “I’m coming, Ayanna.”

I turned on the tub water to run a bath for Jordan.  Picked up the Clorox spray and wipes to combat the trail of poop. I unlocked both bathroom doors and headed down the hallway into the Red Sea.

I whispered quietly to the Lord, “So, God, on my days like this, as I’m sure there are lots more ahead, grant me the wisdom and grace to handle Ayanna and Jordan with the utmost care. “