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Independence Day

Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even wiped the sonogram goop off my belly before I rushed out to my favorite children’s boutiques to pick out fancy dresses, hot pink baby booties, and a tin-full of barrettes for my unborn first born, who’d happily opened wide to reveal herself a girl. I mean I’d plotted a lifetime for this: I was going to have babies and those babies would be girls and those girls would sit quietly while I weaved their hair into fantastic monuments to the cornrow and curly afro gods, and then, with nary a hair out of place, they’d happily climb into their Oililly skirts and matching jackets and patent leather mary janes and skip to school, where they’d be the envy of grade schoolers everywhere. 

Yeah—right.

These days, neither Mari nor Lila give a rat’s patootie about dresses and shiny shoes—they're all about the funky, bedazzled hoodies, comfortable jeans and Converse. And though they've been raised on a steady diet of Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and the elements we know as Earth, Wind & Fire, they really like to shake it to the not-so-classic stylings of Katy Perry and the Black Eyed Peas. Their boy SpongeBob is getting kicked to the curb for teen goofballs Phineas and Ferb and the razor-tongued iCarli. Oh, and the twists Mari’s been wearing in her hair since she was three? The ones I said were the centerpiece of her signature style? Yeah, let’s just say she’s over them.

My Mari in particular has her own ideas about how she wants to dress, and what she wants to listen to and watch, and how she looks—a phenomenon that’s kinda taken me aback. I mean, I’m just getting used to the idea of my daughter being willing—and able—to fend for herself in some small measure, and even that took me by surprise in the beginning; I babied her a long time, simply because I didn’t really know just how much her independence was growing until I’d literally stumble on it—like, oh, wait, you can cut your own meat? And get your homework done without me standing over you? And dial your papa’s phone number by heart?

Still, it’s one thing to embrace her independence—another thing entirely to loosen the grip and let my baby find her way toward her own self-expression. Of course, I still parent her—if a skirt is too short, or a show or song is inappropriate or a celebrity she likes does something dumb, she knows I’m not co-signing the style, culture or behavior. But as she grows, so does her taste, and I acknowledge she has the right to like what she likes (within reason) and that those likes may not necessarily jibe with mine.

Now, emotionally, allowing this feels like she’s taken one of my lungs. She’s learning to live. I can barely breathe.

But the thing that gets me through is knowing that my husband and I have done our best to steer both of our daughters down the right path—our family path. By constantly reminding them that the world is bigger than a TV show, or a bedazzled shirt, or a hairstyle—our little corner of Georgia, even. We’ve enrolled them in art classes so they could learn about the great artists of our time—the Picassos and the Beardens. We let them take Mandarin lessons because we wanted them to learn the beauty of a language and a culture that we have little contact with. We let them eat foods like sushi and curry goat and Ghanaian peanut soup to not only stretch their palates, but to help our girls identify on the most basic, human level, with people from other cultures.

And we talk to them—constantly talk to them.

About the things that matter to us.

Like working hard. And being humble.  Appreciating people for their brains, not just their beauty. The importance of honesty. And staying true to what you love and appreciate, no matter what others have to say about it.

These are the things that stretch far beyond what’s the latest hot sneaker or popular TV show or song to bounce to.

The things I think matter to both my Mari and Lila, too—no matter how many bedazzled shirts they have stashed in their closets.

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