My therapist: “When was the last time you just played?”
I didn’t really have an answer to that. I have a four-year-old, but we don’t really “play.” I feed him. I bath him. I help him with his homework. I read to him, cuddle with him, and watch movies with him. I tell him I love him, and I mean it. BUT we don’t really “play.” My love (ML) does that part. They play ninja and Mr. Grinch. If ML isn’t home, my little one (MLO) knows how to play on his own: car sounds and character voices erupt from his bedroom often. He laughs. He crashes things. He makes a mess with his toys. He’s happy. Meanwhile, I peacefully wash dishes, cook, or prepare his bath. I’m responsible and loving, but I don’t know that he’d call me fun.
One day, as an experiment, I told MLO that I wanted to play with him after watching my favorite show. He said, “Sorry mommy. Only daddy plays with me.” I thought, “Well, guess what little n-word? You gettin’ me today.” I don’t know if he subliminally heard my message, but he quietly walked away.
After my show, as promised, I walked into his room where he was already playing. Without hesitation, he put a toy car in my hand and took off with his own, pretend driving it on the floor and his bedroom furniture. I said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” MLO, “Race!” So, we pretend raced around his room for a little while. I didn’t get the appeal, but he seemed to enjoy it. I had a really hard time staying present. There were so many other things I could be doing right now. I felt unproductive.
Then it hit me. I’m BAD at playing! I’m an artist. I make a living doing what I love. My work is fun. In my work, I’m down to experiment and play. I get INTO it, but somewhere along the way, I let the world grow me up in my personal life. It’s not a miserable life, but I don’t only want to feel juiced when I’m working. I want to feel just as alive when I’m just hanging out at home.
As a was spiraling, my kid kept shoving toys into my hand and diving into some weird imaginary world. I forced myself to stop thinking. I looked MLO in the eye and said, “Mommy needs you to teach her how to play with you.” It was a humbling admission, but he took the challenge with enthusiasm. MLO, “Okay!”
He shoved a plastic bucket handle in my hand and put three empty toy buckets in front of me. He also had a plastic bucket handle. Then, he just started beating the snot out of this small row of buckets until they all fell over. Once they did, he laughed. HARD. I saw the freedom he had, so I just followed his example. I knocked over buckets too. I didn’t understand the game, but it didn’t matter. We were just knocking things over because it felt good.
Then he put the buckets in his chair and started knocking them off the chair one by one. I tried doing the same but ended up just being his hype man. It was fun! I didn’t have a game plan. I was in my head for half of it, but I officially played.
Since that humbling day, I’ve challenged myself to play with my kid for thirty minutes a day. Sometimes he leads our time together. Sometimes, we just play an age-appropriate board game. He’s helping me to loosen up while I’m helping him navigate life.
If I can be honest, I’m not practicing play to be a better mom. There’s already enough of that guilt to go around in the world. I’m practicing play to be a happier me. I’ve just figured out that my kid hasn’t been jaded by life yet and still has his imaginative spark. I’m essentially taking lessons from a master, and a cool perk is that we are getting closer. At some point, I hope to be as free as I was when I was his age, but, until then, I’ll just keep practicing connecting with my inner kid.
Right after my mother passed, I decided to fix my life. I’d just graduated from college with a theatre degree and no sense of direction. I’d just spent six months as my mother’s primary caretaker, and I wasn’t needed for that anymore. I ran a small business, teaching performing arts classes after school. I made okay money for someone still living with the parents but watching my mother’s decline rocked my world. I HAD to get out of that house.
I found an apartment I could afford and asked an entertainment industry professional to mentor me. She offered me a job as her assistant. I took it.
The pace of my life changed in an instant. I went from running a business part-time to running someone’s life and business 24 hours a day every day. 12-hour shifts were pretty standard. My boss and her clients contacted me on my cell any time they needed me. One day, I was aimlessly meandering through life, the next day, I was sprinting at breakneck speed.
My car broke down right before I moved, so I took public transportation to and from work. I caught the first bus to work and caught the last bus home at night. If I missed the last bus because work ran late, my boyfriend gave me a ride home.
The schedule was insane, but I was working. I was around people that knew what they were doing. I learned about how the business worked. I took acting classes where I worked, so I had a creative outlet. I was operating on four hours of sleep every night, but I was doing what I had to do to succeed. Life is too precious to waste it “kind of” do what you love. I was ALL-IN. I was RUNNING toward my goals with reckless abandon, even if I didn’t know what they were just yet.
I ran like that for two years and quit that job. It was a smart move. My body was telling me that I needed to slow down, and I was getting married, so it was time. My life slowed down a smidge, but I always found another way to run at top speed in the direction of success. It felt right. As long as I was running, I was getting it DONE. Until … I got pregnant.
Pregnancy was both miraculous and annoying.
I HATED that pregnancy slowed me down.
I was angry at my body for needing naps.
I was angry at the doctors for requiring me to spend so much time in medical buildings.
I was frustrated with my agents for not submitting me for film and television roles. True story: I deliberately covered my baby bump on auditions. At five months pregnant, I was offered a great theatre role in a show that would run during my third trimester. When I was offered the job, I told casting about the pregnancy, and they decided against hiring me. Da*n baby! I needed credits.
I was mad at my husband for not at least taking turns carrying our child! Seriously, I couldn’t understand why I had to carry the little person the entire gestation period. No breaks. Just heavy … for almost a year.
More than anyone, I was angry at this little person for breaking my stride. I was no longer running. In that season of my life, my body just couldn’t keep up with my mind. I felt internally humiliated. But instead of admitting defeat, I simply altered my pace.
Maybe I couldn’t run, but I could power walk! I auditioned, started new relationships, shopped for a new agent, trained, took notes for scripts I would write postpartum. I had a plan.
I’ve done some version of that for years. Running or power-walking to some unknown magical land of success. Never quite present. Kind of making progress. Anxious. Always moving. Never quite happy.
Last year changed all of that. In 2019, I got sick and had to do a full stop. For almost a month, I was in bed. I couldn’t run. For the first time, I had to just … be. It was both terrifying and wonderful at the same time. I heard God’s voice and felt my own soul for the first time in years. I sat in bed and just listened.
This is what I heard:
My soul was deeply wounded and exhausted. After my mom passed, I needed a moment to heal: go to therapy, get quiet, connect with friends, be creative. I thought I was running toward success, but I was actually running from myself. “Busy” was my excuse for self-neglect when I desperately needed care.
Over the past year, I’ve been slowly rebuilding. I spend a good amount of time nourishing my spirit. My exercise routine right now is pretty boring. I walk. I do yoga once a month. Sometimes I rollerblade when I’m feeling particularly fun. But most mornings, I take a long, boring walk. On these walks, I am practicing what I learned from my full stop: connecting to God’s voice, clarifying my desires, and making peace with my body. The walks are teaching me to listen, really listen to what’s happening within and in the world around me.
I wish I could say I’m ready to run again or at least jog a little. I’m not. I’m still slowly making progress. But life isn’t about moving at a rapid pace, it’s about knowing where you are going and savoring the journey. I can honestly say that this time I’ve learned my lesson. My soul is well. I am whole. I have a clearer sense of direction. I have goals that really resonate with who I am today, and I’m not measuring my success by anyone else’s standards.
So, for now, I’m walking. When I’m strong enough to jog, I might. It doesn’t matter how fast I get there. What matters is that I am healthy and aware enough to enjoy it when I do.
“This is amazing mommy!”
My little one (MLO) sat in the backseat as we slowly drove around the neighborhood in a preschool graduation parade. Three of MLO’s friends were graduating from preschool to “big boy and big girl” school. We honked our horns, shouted from our cars, and neighbors cheered from their houses. Three little heads with graduation caps peeked out of car sunroofs, soaking up the love. It was a deeply satisfying experience. We weren’t just celebrating three kids going to kindergarten; we are celebrating our ability to celebrate FULLY and safely. All that was missing was a monstrous speaker playing Queen’s “We are the Champions”.
At the daycare, we were greeted by many more neighbors with signs, cheering from a distance. The little school’s driveway, a massive hill from the road, was beautifully decorated. At the top of the hill, the school’s teachers were waiting with diplomas and gifts. MLO’s first graduation, he was amazed and slightly confused. Why did his friends deserve so much praise? He tried to wrap his four-year-old mind around all the fuss. I loved it. I thought, “Get used to it. Accomplishments are worth celebrating. Moments are worth enjoying. You are worth all of this and more. Take it in.”
One at a time, the graduates got out of the cars with their families, with masks on, to receive their diplomas from their teachers. We cheered from our individual cars.
MLO was excited to see his friends, even if it was just from afar.
After presenting the diplomas, the owner gave a speech from the hilltop.
She then dismissed us.
We drove away happy, inspired even.
The experience transformed the way I viewed quarantine celebrations.
That’s the version of the story I keep wanting to tell myself, but that’s not what happened. How did it actually go down?
“Why are we just sitting here?”
My little one wiggled in the backseat while we waited for the parade to start. His teachers were waiting beside a fence with masks on. They were trying to keep their distance but went from car to car giving out instructions. I had on a mask for good measure, in case I needed to talk to one of them. So far, not bad.
“Why is she just STANDING there?”
MLO lost interest in the car magazine in his hand and demanded to know why we were watching his teacher just stand against the fence, while the other made rounds. From some basic lip-reading, I figured out that one of the graduates was late and the teachers were accommodating the family. I didn’t feel like explaining that to the kid behind me.
“She is just waiting until we start the parade.”
I tried explaining to him what graduation was and why we needed to support his classmates. He didn’t care. I turned on his favorite podcast, and he spaced out. Ignoring the rest of us, he was thankful to have something interesting to listen to.
That’s when IT happened. One of the parents got out of the car with her child (a graduate). Neither was wearing a mask. Before we start the mask, no-mask discussion, let me just say that the owner of the school invited everyone with some ground rules. All participants were to practice social distancing, to try to keep everyone safe: hence the outdoor graduation parade from our cars. BUT I learned quickly that rules are open to the interpretation of the reader. This is America!
The mom and kid got unnecessarily close to one of the teachers and started talking. Then, they walked to another car, full of senior citizens, and started talking to them. Thankfully, the seniors were wearing masks, but I was trying to figure out what warped time zone I’d just dropped into.
I read the news. I’m not addicted to the news, but I read the news. America is open. The good news is that some people have been able to return to work, and we are able to socialize with some boundaries in place. The bad news is that our country is one of the last to get the pandemic under control.
I’m thinking about this as this mother and son walked from person to person, without masks, having these conversations. The child’s mask-less father soon joined the movement and banter too. I couldn’t help but wonder what was so important that they couldn’t just call from their car. Was there a schedule change that everyone was trying to figure out? Did one of the kids get sick? I told myself, “Stay out of folks’ business Cyrah.” They were probably just talking to someone they knew intimately.
The mom walked past my car. Our eyes met. And she headed back to her car.
Fun fact: I’m a face talker. That means my face says a lot without my permission. My face expresses all of the things before my mind processes the words I should say. My words are few and calculated, but my face is unbridled … like a wild stallion.
“Girl, why don’t you have on your mask?”
“Why are you so close to everyone?”
“Why is your kid running around without a mask?”
“Do you know something I don’t know?”
“Is there some sort of mind-blowing emergency happening that makes us all say ‘screw the rules’ because this earth-shattering thing is more important?”
Her face was just as expressive. It said, “I dare you to say something.” I did not.
Our face dialogue wrapped up in a matter of seconds, and more people hopped out of their cars. Graduates ran around a little bit (without masks). Parents talked briefly with the teachers, and everyone hopped back in their cars. I still don’t know why, but I was still in my car with my kid. We were safe. It was none of our business.
The parade commenced. We drove around the neighborhood. I didn’t really take it in. My brain was still on what I’d just witnessed. My kid was listening to his podcast, so he was half paying attention. The parade came back to life for me when we finally arrived at the school. There were indeed signs everywhere, neighbors shouting and cars honking. This. Was. Cool.
We came together as a community to celebrate little brown kids graduating from preschool. Respectful, happy kids, who were reading at age four and ahead of most preschoolers in the state. We were celebrating our children’s exposure to academic excellence: our own slice of privilege. Deep down, I knew that the graduates’ parents felt this excitement in their bones. A small school like this for black kids was a true gem. If there was a day to chuck the rules out of the window, it was probably today.
When we parked in front of the school, surrounded by the neighborhood love, my little one and I waited for the graduates to get in place for their individual walks up the driveway to receive their diplomas. The few people outside of their cars were many feet away, and the adults in the car behind us wore masks. When I felt like the coast was clear, I took my kid out of the car, so he could see what was happening. We didn’t wear masks because I felt safe. We stood beside the car, well-distanced and happy. Between cheers, I explained that he would also graduate next year.
Then, right before hopping pack in our car, IT happened again. Everyone in the car behind us popped out. I thought they were going to stand beside their car like we were, but they did not. The kids in the car started walking toward the driveway. Of course, they saw my little one and wanted to say hello. He said hello, and I pulled him away as he did. The adults pulled their masks down to their chins, and the entire family crossed in front of us (about two feet away) and walked toward the driveway. This time, I felt strangely violated.
As people huddled in large clusters to take photos, I grabbed my kid, got in my car, and drove away … mad.
Now that I’ve had time to process it, this is what I know.
1. As it stands, social distancing is a choice. I can’t make you wear a mask any more than you can make me lick a toilet.
2. Even though social distancing is your choice, it DOES affect others. The more you expose yourself, the more you expose everyone connected to you. So, science.
3. This may be the most important point: If you choose not to social distance, you CANNOT just walk up to someone you know and hug them or get super close just because you feel like it. Whether you like it or not, THEY might be social distancing. Because social distancing is social in nature, make sure all parties involved are clear about the rules of engagement, so everyone is comfortable. You don’t get to just violate the event rules just because you feel like it. That’s incredibly selfish.
4. Actually, now that I’m really reflecting, this may be the most important point: If you ARE social distancing, SAY SO. I’m serious. Have your boundaries, and state your boundaries OUT LOUD. Because this is a global pandemic, I do believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to honor boundaries. But some people just don’t get that. Don’t get mad. Be clear. Say what you will and will not do before you go somewhere, so people you’re engaging with know. People are less likely to violate a boundary that you clearly stated. If they try to cross the line, call them on it. This is not the time for passive aggression. If you aren’t comfortable with something, you don’t have to endure it. You can speak up and/or leave.
For now, my family and I are still social distancing in every way that we can. We want to help minimize exposure for the most vulnerable in this country. I’m won’t knock anyone else’s stance, but I refuse compromise mine … even if it’s unpopular.