By Bassey Ikpi
I love my son.
That seems like a really base thing to say. Mothers are supposed to love their children. If you know anything about me, you know that I love my son, but I have to say it sometimes. To myself and to him. Because when I was pregnant, I was terrified that I wouldn’t. I had the worst pregnancy. It was terrible. Physically, emotionally, mentally, whateverly, it was terrible. I didn’t bond with him in utero. I didn’t do baby yoga. I didn’t talk to him while he was in there. I was confused and sad and to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted him. I knew he wanted to be here but I didn’t know if I did. It was a very confusing time for me.
I know that mothers aren’t supposed to admit these things, but I’m not most mothers. He was born six weeks early. I wasn’t expecting him. So not only was I not ready to be a mother, I was completely not ready to be this kid’s mother. And then he showed up. And he was tiny and weird looking and I didn’t get to hold him because he was sick and they put him in a little glass box. He looked like a showpiece like he was on display. He looked like a showpiece. A thing you look at through a window and then walk away from because you can’t afford it. I didn’t really think he belonged to me yet. I couldn’t breastfeed him so all the things I read about breastfeeding and bonding didn’t apply. Hell, I couldn’t even produce milk, so I was really failing at this “maternal” thing early.
When he finally got to come home, we had endless treks to the ER because his breathing was funny. He was on nebulizers and all these things that someone that fucking tiny shouldn’t be connected to. I was pretty sure that I had broken him before he had chance to experience life unbroken. I spent a lot of time trying not to drop him and staring at him and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. That I wouldn’t be able to be his mom. I didn’t know how to fix that. One night, after a particularly bad night, with doors slammed and people yelling, I noticed that every time he heard a loud noise, he would flinch. And I realized that if he was going to break, it wasn’t going to be because the room was always too loud.
I remember looking down at him in his bassinet and him looking back up at me. He had this look on his face. And I picked him up and I sat on the couch and I just looked at him. And he looked at me and grabbed my finger. And just stared at my face like he was trying to memorize it. I didn’t realize that I was crying until I saw a tear fall on his forehead. I moved to wipe it away but he was still holding on to my finger. So it kinda just stayed there. Glistening like some sort of misguided baptismal. And he had this look on his face that he still gets where you know he’s got a million things he’s trying to say but he can’t seem to figure out what thought to start on first.
Something inside of me said, “This is it. It’s me and you, huh?” and I swear he nodded. And that’s when I loved him. That’s when I knew that everything that I had done up until that very moment was because he needed to be here.
And I remembered Peter. And I remembered all the fear and the anxiety and the worry and the hatred. There was a lot of hatred. And it just went away because I knew this kid was going to be ok. And he is. He’s better than OK. This kid is everything. If you’ve never met him, I can’t even put into words who or what he is. If you have met him, then you know. He’s amazing. He’s spoiled. And he can’t sit still and he doesn’t listen and he’s sneaky. But he’s kind. He’s gracious. He’s loving. He’s the sweetest little boy in the world. He’s all heart. Every little bit of him is heart. He’s loving. He’s open. He remembers everything and everybody and when he’s hurt, his entire face falls into a sadness that breaks me. When he’s afraid. When he can’t find me. When it’s too dark. When he misses Kanke. When grandpa isn’t home yet. When grandma is too tired to play. And I promised myself that I would never do anything to break him. I don’t care who or what gets in the way of that. I will kill you with my bare hands because this boy is perfect and if you fuck him up, then you’ve destroyed what is good in this world. Because he is perfect.
Writing is my business and I can’t put into words what his face does to me when he smiles. Or how peaceful he is at sleep. Or when he wakes up and asks ME, “did you sleep good, mommy?” and I’m supposed to be asking him. He’s so important to so many people. I’ve never seen my father so happy. I’ve never seen my mother so at peace. He’s the light we needed. And we carry each other. Through everything.
I’m not sure what sparked this except for the fact that he got out of bed and came downstairs because “somebody turned the light off.” He won’t admit to being scared of the dark. He just likes to “see things when he’s sleeping.” So I carried him upstairs and put him in his Buzz Lightyear Rocket Ship bed his auntie got him for his birthday. And pulled the Woody comforter over him and he said, “Thank you,” and fell asleep before he got the “you” out. And I just stood there and looked at him and said, ‘My fucking God. Look at this beautiful boy.” And he snuggled further into the blanket, grabbed his pillow pet and smiled. That little Negro falls asleep with a smile on his face. My only job in life is that he is a 4-year-old that falls asleep with no worries and a smile on his face and then turns into a 40-year-old man, who can manage his worries and fall asleep with a smile on his face.
I will not allow anyone to break him. He’s got an army who won’t allow anyone to break him. This boy has been protected from day one. And will remain so.
Rest your understanding on that.
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic who is also the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi, a.k.a., Boogie. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is writing a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Find more Bassey on her site, Bassey's World.