On a drizzly Saturday evening, you’ll walk into European Wax Center and the sign on the door will catch your eye. “Walk in, strut out.” You’ll roll your eyes a little bit at the marketing and how women are supposed to have an extra pep in their step after they’ve had hair painfully ripped from their bodies. But before you can digest that thought, the woman at the front counter will ask you your name, and you’ll tell her who you are, full government. You still won’t think much of the exchange until she comments, with the slightest bit of toxin in her tone, that you “strutted in here like you owned the place.” You’ll laugh and say “I’m just here for a wax,” but the irony isn’t lost on you. After all, how dare you strut into a setting that you are merely supposed to walk into?
People hear it in the click of your heels and from the first note off your tongue. They see it in your eyes. They read it on your lips, sometimes nude and other times painted a deep burgundy or a playful purple or an unforgettable red. But maybe more than anything, they feel it when you step into the room and somehow the energy shifts in a way that is palpable. Visceral. Unexpected.
This is called your light.
Some days it is a spark. Other days it is a wildfire. But most days it is slow burn, one that you emit in a quiet and powerful way that cannot be contained.
To whom much is given, much is required. You will recite this to yourself sometimes sitting at stoplights or right before a big meeting at work. You learned somewhere along the way that God does not give us light without also giving us responsibility. Weight. A duty to carry out. A purpose to fulfill. It is not enough to illuminate; you must also show up in every space and burn brightly.
You’ve learned that light is not a universal language. There are people who will gravitate toward it. There are people who will fight to darken it. There are those who will dismiss it and those who will bring even more of it out of you. There are people who were once enamored by your rays who are now hoping for your sun to set. This is all par for the course.
You will spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how you can protect your light. You will learn who deserves it and who does not. This is a lesson of trial and error, one you will get wrong many times before you get it right. You will ignite for men who can only manage to flicker for you. You will guard your blaze intently so others can not snuff it out. You will come to realize that when it comes to light, sometimes it inspires and other times it intimidates. Most times it does both in the same day.
And yet, I still dare you not to dim your light. Not for the sake of others. Not for their comfort or their acceptance or their ease or their insecurities. I dare you not to dim your light even when it seems like the road would be more easily trodden should you just go along and shrink a few sizes. I dare you not to dim your light even when it feels like the odds are against you and it would make everyone else’s life much more simple if you just stopped shining. I dare you not to dim your light even when you lose some people you loved, even when spreading your light poses more risks than it offers rewards, even when you want to close the blinds and shut the shades.
You are both lighthouses and torches. Sunrises and lanterns. Dawns and daybreaks. The entire Earth is somewhere inside of you ready to beam. Why won’t you let it?
On a drizzly Saturday evening, you’ll sign the receipt at European Wax Center and the woman behind the counter will make it a point to tell you there’s some lipstick on your teeth. You’ll thank her and smile into your iPhone camera to fix it before you go. You’ve learned by now that some gestures are born from kindness and some gestures rise from strange and insecure places. It’s often times hard to parse out the difference. You’ll chalk this one up to a woman who saw you dare to strut in, so she wanted to make it a point that you only walked out. But you will strut anyway. Because this has nothing to do with your stride. This is called your light.
Something about him gives me pause and makes me drop my fork mid-bite. He’s standing at the soda machine, pouring cup after cup of water and gulping it down. I don’t want to feel uneasy or afraid – maybe he is just a thirsty guy in need of some hydration after a hard day of work. But, I’ve lived long enough to know that my gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.
When he drops the cup into the trash and exits the restaurant, I breathe a silent sigh of relief. But once it’s my turn to leave, I catch a glimpse of him again, this time standing at the bus stop. My feet move more briskly; my strides become intentional. And then I hear “Hey!” Short pause. “Hey!” Again. This time louder. My heels start hitting the pavement faster. Click. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclick. “Hey, Fantasia!” (I presume because that’s his closest reference to a woman with a haircut like mine). By the time he yells it again, I’m jetting down the stairs to the metro, peeking over my right shoulder to ensure he’s not there.
And, then I begin to tell myself that maybe I just made it all up. Maybe it was all in my head. Of course he wasn’t going to hurt me. Maybe he wasn’t even talking to me. But, then a more strident internal voice disturbs my misgivings. That voice tells me what I know to be true.
My gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.
I don’t feel relaxed again until I’m on the train, unwrapping my scarf and settling in for the trip to Eastern Market. But, by then, my evening has been both punctured and punctuated by that memory. All of my excitement to go on a solo date and attend Morgan Jerkins’ book signing has disintegrated into thin air.
Later that night, Morgan talks about being a black woman in the world. I lean over in my chair, nodding and smiling, trying to inhale all of her black girl magic for a moment in the future when I know I’ll need it. She tells us about a time when she interviewed Claudia Rankine and asked the poet how she deals with microaggressions and other weights of black womanhood. What is her armor made of? How does she wake up every day and get ready for the world?
“It’s not that I have to prepare for the world. It’s that the world interrupts me.”
This is what Claudia tells her. It’s the first time during the hourlong book talk that I whip out my phone and type the two sentences into my notes section.
Because isn’t that what so much, too much, of being a black woman is? Interruption. Intrusion. Folks sticking their feet out and tripping you while you are simply trying to hit your stride.
I’ve been deep in my thoughts and thick in my feelings lately, stuck in my own head and unsure of how to spill it out on paper. I’ve been thinking about my womanhood–how I strive to move through the world and how often that momentum is thwarted by people who never even think twice about it. People who don’t care to think twice about it. People who don’t have to think twice about it.
Perhaps my presence is radical. It upsets the balance.
Perhaps my presence is enigmatic. It defies understanding.
Perhaps my presence is infuriating. It incites enmity.
Perhaps my presence is majestic. It demands respect.
Perhaps my presence is worrisome. It unearths insecurity.
Perhaps my presence is overlooked. It paralyzes compassion.
Perhaps my presence is human. It reflects the world.
Yes, I yearn to glide through this life without any more of the breaches or bullshit. But, now I know that there is no armor or bulletproof vest that will save me. There is no formula or process to follow. There is not one way to prepare for the many interruptions to come. My momentum is predicated far less on preparation and far more on resilience. Perhaps that is both the power and plight of being a black woman.
There is something magical about the way women can morph and expand, retract and reinvent. It’s a different sort of evolution than that of men. Because there is something unique and exquisite that happens to a woman’s insides when she falls in love or witnesses her heart shatter, gives birth or confronts death, reaches ground zero or rises to Mount Rushmore.
Most of the women you know have had one million lives in a single lifetime. They have danced at their weddings. They have fallen for the wrong men. They have won big and lost hard. They have started over. They have buried their husbands. Sometimes they buried their babies. They have walked away from six-figure salaries and started businesses. They have recovered and they have prevailed. Yes, there is something so magical about the way women move through this world. The way their feet touch the floor. The way their hearts float outside of their bodies.
It is only now as you’re on the cusp of your thirties that you have started stepping into your own magic. Morphing. Expanding. Retracting. Reinventing. It is only now as you’re on the cusp of your thirties that you identify first and foremost with being a black woman, an identity that’s dripping in equal parts splendor and struggle.
You have been so many different women during these past eight years. You’ve been a machine. A crop-top-wearing, soul-baring feminist. A hermit. A voyager across a tightrope without a net. A shrill voice on the Internet. A bundle of insecurities. A wild child. A fledgling. A fireball. A girl dying to be loved. A woman ready to be loved. A human being unsure of how to be loved. A terrible person. A good person. A halfway decent person. You have been one man’s sins and another man’s sunrise. A wino. A wannabe. And a writer, through and through.
Traces of each of these women are still somewhere inside of you, particles that compose the atoms of whomever you will become. Even now as you write this post, you feel rumblings of the woman you were in your early twenties beating ever so softly in the middle of your chest. You can’t always quell her as much as you crave. Sometimes you are just as bewildered and lovelorn as that girl you were at 23, bewitched from the ghosts of lovers gone by.
And yet, there are a multitude of differences between that woman and the one now staring at the sunset of her twenties. You think much more now about who you want to be and how you want to show up in the world. Bold intention has replaced blind ambition. You blog less because you cradle your words more. You don’t say the things you do not mean, let alone give voice to them on the Internet. You no longer yearn to be funny or cool or aloof. Instead, you want to be poetic and warm and affected. You consider the tapestry of both good and bad karma you’ve knitted for yourself over the years, so you try harder to do right by people. You try even harder to do right by yourself. Most days, you manage to get through and keep your soul in tact. Some days, you still blow everything up and watch it burn to ash.
You still love deeply. You still cry hard. You still screw up. You still want things and experiences that feel out of range. You still wonder when it will all make any sort of sense. You still wear your tough exterior with battle scars hiding underneath.
But, nowadays, you are both velvet and leather, a woman who has decided her softness and severity are allowed to coexist. You’ve relinquished that gnawing desire to be just one person or trot along just one path. You are beginning to understand the richness of being a mosaic. You lust after a life with countless textures.
I hope you will read this a year or ten from now, and rest assured knowing that this was only the first line of your life’s love ballad. I hope you will read this and realize just how much you were already well on your way. I hope you will read this and know that there is beauty on the other side of battle. I hope you will read this and be that much closer to both the things that seem so near and those that still feel beyond your reach.
Editor’s note: Erica Nichole is the voice behind www.everythingenj.com. You can follow along her motherhood journey on Instagram at @edotnichole.
To Erica: We were just kids back then. We were two women writing our way through and fighting hard to find our footing in an online world that barely knew our names. At least that’s how I remember that serendipitous day back in November 2013 when we met for the first time at brunch on 140 7th Street.
It’s nearly impossible to believe all that has transpired between us and within our spheres since then. Losses and gains. Accolades and upsets. Ripped ropes and restoration. Beginnings and endings. Ground zeroes and heavenly skies.
Erica, you are my soul sister. Through and through. To the moon and back.
I can’t tell the Internet world exactly what I said on a hot day in late summer when you asked me to be Kairie’s godmother. But what I can say is that I have always believed in living a big life, and when you entrusted me with that responsibility, you made my life that much bigger. You made it grand. You made my world extend beyond myself. I am so honored and excited to share a bit of your motherhood story here. Your motherhood – how it ebbs and flows, how you share it and protect it, how it moves and matures – has always been a unique and sacred form of poetry.
During the past year, we have witnessed your evolution from a mother of two to a mother of three. This coincides with the ways in which you’ve changed as a writer and storyteller. Tell us a little more about what’s been surging through your head and heart in the past year.
Wow. Well, I believe giving birth to a daughter after having two sons changed the dynamics of how I view womanhood and motherhood, and those two things definitely are large components of my writing. Looking back at my journey of storytelling over the years, there was a rawness to my words and tying that into life at home with boys, reflected my style of parenting–being very straightforward, no cookie-cutter, unfiltered truth. In having a girl, that same way of guiding her is going to exist, but I’ve been focusing a lot more on my words and my why’s. Part of that is attributed to my own mother who was very straight-to-the-point, but didn’t explain the methods to her madness, so there was an air of mystery to her that complicated how I looked at parenting. I said that if I ever had a daughter, going into depth with things as to help her develop a sense of understanding on what we go through as women would play a major role in how I raise her. That promise I made to myself for her manifested itself in the letter I wrote to her which to me, is the strongest piece of writing I ever put together.
Although you were on sabbatical from blogging throughout your pregnancy, you often times chronicled your experiences through social media, specifically Facebook. What about social media lends itself to self-expression in a way that’s different from blogging?
I think with blogging, you have to be very strategic about content, especially if you’re aiming to make the shift from an online space to a brand. That’s at the forefront of my mind at this stage with Everything ENJ, so I knew that I wanted to come back strong and that would be through the open letter after my daughter was born. With social media, I was able to get my thoughts out in a way that wasn’t so structured, but still allowed me to document my pregnancy without thinking too deeply about format or editing. With blogging, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can be a bit of a perfectionist, whereas on platforms like Facebook where I’m ‘friends’ with people I actually know outside of the screen, I write without much thought about “fancying” the content. The smaller pieces on social media segue into bigger posts on the blog which is a good balance for me as far as writing on different scales.
Since your daughter Kairie was born, you have combined stunning black and white photos with short narrative on Instagram in such a captivating way. How does photography enhance your work as a storyteller? How do the two forms of art play off of one another?
As a storyteller, it’s important to paint a picture to draw the reader into my reality. For me, I found it’s one thing to write on the memory of what something was; its another to have the ability to capture an exact moment in time and be able to relive that experience through visuals that make for more in-depth storytelling. You can look at a photo and form your own conclusions on the why and the how behind it, which is one of the things I love about photography, but it’s fusing a personal narrative with what you see that changes the point of view. I’ve always said “shifting the perspective” is one of my top goals as a writer. So incorporating pictures gives the reader direct access into what it is I’m seeing and drawing inspiration from exactly; adding a blurb or an entire blog post gives the reader insight without room for interpretation, from the angle of a mother.
You also do a great job anchoring your work with quotes and voices of other writers. What are some of your favorite quotes about motherhood?
Thanks! There are so many words I use from women of color, women that are mothers, women that have never bore children in my work, but my favorites are from Black women in the arts. I love a quote from Toni Morrison that says:
“…I never felt more free in my life until I had children. They were just the opposite of a burden. But for Black women, enslaved, to have a child that you were responsible for that was really was, that was really freedom. Cause they took those children; you didn’t have children; you may have produced them, but they weren’t yours. They could be sold [and] were sold. To be a mother was the unbelievable freedom.”
A quote from Jada Pinkett-Smith that reads:
“I think the re-massaging that we, as mothers, need to have and gravitate to is that you have to take care of yourself in order to have the alignment and power to take care of others at the capacity that we do, because it fills the well. What I believe that I do takes so much energy, so much work from the heart, spirit, and creativity, that I have to be responsible enough to take care of me.”
And a quote from Shonda Rhimes:
“All the greeting cards are about sacrifice. ‘Mother, you gave up so much for me. You worked so hard for me. You sacrificed so much. You were so wonderful and giving and selfless.’ Where is the greeting card that says, ‘Mother, you taught me how to be a powerful woman,’ ‘Mother, you taught me how to earn a living,’ ‘Mother, you taught me how to speak up for myself and not back down?’ Those are the greeting cards that should be out there. Those are the qualities that we would want for our daughters to have. I don’t want my daughters to grow up and think, ‘I should shrink and be in the background. I should be selfless. I should be sacrificing. I should be silent.’ That’s not what I think a mother is.”
How would you describe each of your children?
Kae, 8, is definitely the most compassionate and sensitive of the bunch. His challenge is acceptance, and he tries really hard to fit in and make people laugh and feel good. When that falls through, it sort of crushes his spirit because he “feels” so much. So his dad and I are working on helping him understand rejection, while letting him know there’s nothing wrong with the emotions he shows. A lot of parents kill that side of Black boys from early on, and I really want him to embrace that, but channel it properly.
Kam, 7, is the more quirky child who dances to the beat of his own drum. He’s definitely the more rebellious one and fitting in isn’t his forte. He’s incredibly smart (he’s currently in first grade reading on a fourth grade level) and he likes to be left alone most times which he takes up from his father. I’m excited to see who he’ll evolve into over time just because there are already so many layers to him that are fascinating to witness.
Kai, 3 months, already displays sides to her that are interesting because I see so much of who I am now in her as a baby. She has sass, she has attitude, she demands attention that her brothers didn’t at that age. I think she’ll pose more challenges for me as a mother and there will be more self-examination as a woman being in her presence, and that’s what both excites and frightens me for the future.
I recently joked with GG that being a mother of three seems like it’s in a different stratosphere from being a mother of one or two. What’s different about you now as a mother of three? How have you changed as a parent since having your first child?
Ha, this reminds me of a quote that’s been circulating on Instagram that said “Having one child makes you a parent; Having two makes you a referee; Three or more? You’re basically a bouncer.” On the letter to Kairie, I went on this whole journey on my road to motherhood and reflecting on the last eight years has been cathartic. Having my sons in my early twenties and then back-to-back, I don’t think I ever had a chance to really sit back and spiritually measure how much I’ve grown through raising my children until piecing that together. I just wanted to get it [parenting] right.
When I had Kae, I was very much uncertain about who I was and again, my mother and her relationship with her mother set the tone for how I viewed motherhood. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what it is I wanted to adopt from my upbringing and my mother’s methods of raising me. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out, but from Kae to Kai, I’m more patient with myself and with my children. I’m more accepting with failing than I was years ago. I’m more understanding of my shortcomings, but cognizant of the fact that the mistakes I make don’t define my motherhood and I have plenty of opportunities to shift those shortcomings into successes.
What is unique and special about mothering two black sons?
Teaching them that they’re valuable in a world that views them as disposable. Guiding Black sons and telling them they matter and more so, showing them they matter, is revolutionary. They’re very much well aware of color and I know that as they grow older, they’ll become increasingly conscious of how others view them. I hope they hold on to the words and the actions that live with them because it’s going to be vital for their survival. Being the root of their existence–not just in terms of being the vessel that carried them, but the one that raised them to believe the opposite of what the world will–makes mothering them special.
What is unique and special about mothering a black daughter?
Being a daughter who absorbed everything that was said and being a mother who writes, words will always take precedence in my style of parenting, so although it’s only been a few months, I’d say knowing the words I speak into my daughter will be the reason why she’ll hold herself at such high regard. Like her brothers, she’s going to hear she’s everything but worthy, and powerful, and magical from the world, but I pray none of that becomes her because she was raised listening to affirmations of her value. If that’s radical, so be it.
From Chrissy Teigen recently sharing her struggle with post partum to Beyoncé’s twins reveal, there is a lot of rhetoric in popular culture about pregnancy and motherhood. What is affirming about these narratives? What is challenging about them?
What’s affirming is knowing that although motherhood looks different for every woman, we all share similar stories about how our lives are changed through our children. We all experience some form of loss and gain. In Chrissy’s story, it’s feeling like she lost herself after giving birth to her child; in Beyoncé’s, it’s having the ability to bare twins after having a miscarriage. No two mothers, as no two children, are the same, but it’s that underlying theme that connects us. That’s the human experience.
The challenge, however, is determining how much of your motherhood should be exposed. I remember posing a question on my Facebook when I was pregnant with Kairie on a parent’s decision to share photos of newborn babies and the feedback was mixed. There were mothers who felt women shouldn’t “tease” the public; then there was the other side that thought mothers shouldn’t have to prove something so private. Social media is to thank or blame for this.
I think with Bey and the controversy that surrounded her pregnancy with Blue sort of came this demand to share pictures of your belly. That’s unfortunate because the world we live in calls for constant access to your every move and your body. We’re sharing maternity photos and milestones, we’re sharing stretch marks and breastfeeding journeys, and while a lot of those things should be celebrated in hopes of normalizing them, it just sucks that some mothers feel the need to give, give, give just to satisfy a cultural desire and prove a point instead of aiming to shift the narrative.
What’s next for you as a mother? As a writer?
Well, I’m done in the baby department, so I’m just excited to raise my children and watch them grow because I know with that comes more growth within me. They’ve been my greatest teachers.
As a writer, Everything ENJ is about to undergo a major makeover for my thirtieth birthday, so that means more content soon! Nothing will change as far as what I write about, but I’ll be documenting more on motherhood because the vision is to have my children read the blog in the future. I have a few surprises I hope to roll out by the end of the year, and early next year that involves working alongside other writers, so fingers crossed that comes into fruition. And I hope to write for one or two major online spaces, so I’ll be jumping back into the pitching pool, too, in hopes of strengthening my writing.
Finish this sentence: Motherhood is: a testament to the depths of love, a reflection of ourselves through our creations, and a signifier that God does exists.
Erica Nichole is a twenty-something native New Yorker, mother of two boys and one daughter, a woman in a complicated situation and the writer behind Everything EnJ. She has penned for notable outlets including VIBE Vixen and xoNecole. Connect with Erica Nichole via Twitter and Instagram and @edotnichole.
Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.
There is love you see and love you can feel. Terria (TB) and Terrica (TC) exuded that love you can feel. When we photographed them, it was nearly impossible to look away as Terrica’s soft demeanor balanced Terria’s playful nature. Over the course of the shoot, the two blossomed in front of the camera and they bring that efflorescence to life even more in their interview. In this Q&A, they discuss the value of true vulnerability in love and how their unique expressions of womanhood manifest in their relationship.
How would you define your womanhood? Has how you define your womanhood changed in the context of your relationship?
TC: I think my womanhood is a work in progress. Everything about me is, at all times. To me, there is no “right” or wrong way to be a woman. Too often we hear about things women should and shouldn’t be doing, what it means to be a good and “respectable” woman, and the roles we’re expected to play. I reject all of that. I don’t subscribe to those notions of womanhood, and I don’t let others define my womanhood. Traditionally, the concept of womanhood is limiting. My womanhood is limitless and it belongs entirely to me. My relationship with Terria really just reinforces that for me. We bring to the table two completely different definitions of what it means to be a woman and both of those are valid and beautiful.
TB: I agree. The woman that I am now is not the woman that I was five or 10 years ago. Everyday my womanhood is growing and changing, and I can see the same in Terrica. Our similarities bring us comfort, but our differences help us grow.
What is the most challenging aspect of being vulnerable in a relationship?
TC: Vulnerability has always been a challenge for me. I’m a naturally guarded and private person – that’s what’s most comfortable to me. So the challenge for me is breaking down walls and barriers to allow another person to get intimately close to me. It’s scary. But when vulnerability is met with an open mind and understanding, it can be a beautiful thing.
TB: For me, the most challenging aspect of being vulnerable in a relationship is combating an internal feeling of being weak. I’m a nurturer. I like to be the one that is there for others, not the one who needs someone to be there for me. In a relationship, my partner is there to balance me and be strong for me when I am weak; I know this. Terrica always allows me to be vulnerable when I need to, and I love her for that. It’s just deciding on when to express that vulnerability that I find challenging.
What does it mean to be a woman in love?
TC: A woman in love is a woman who understands what it means to love and be loved. A woman in love is a woman who knows who she is and what she wants. It’s a woman who’s found, not the things she needs, but rather the things she wants and deserves in another person.
TB: Being woman in love means a lot of things to me. It means being strong, being the backbone that keeps everyone together. It means finding that delicate balance of being vulnerable without being seen as overly sensitive. It also means being treated like a queen and being taken care of in return for taking care of others. It means being cherished and cherishing someone else.
How does loving another person require black women to be vulnerable?
TC: For black women, the strength that we’re so lauded for (by some) is in a lot of ways a defense mechanism. And while strength and vulnerability aren’t mutually exclusive, the kind of strength we possess often requires a lack of vulnerability. So to be vulnerable means to let go of that defense mechanism and in a sense to be defense-less. And again, that’s fine when it’s met with love and understanding, but too often for black women, it isn’t.
TB: Loving another person requires black women to be vulnerable because it requires us to take down a wall that many of us have spent a lifetime putting up. Each time life knocks us down, we rebuild that wall stronger and more impenetrable…until the next person comes along that makes us want to take it down again. It’s a cycle. It’s a scary cycle. But it’s our ability to be vulnerable continuously, while still being whole on the inside that makes us strong and unbreakable people. Plus eventually, hopefully, you will meet someone who makes taking that wall down seem not so scary and that vulnerability will become a comfortable resting place.
What’s one thing that’s special to you about black love?
TC: We live in a world where we’re constantly taught to hate ourselves. Whether it’s our hair, the color of our skin, our bodies – we’re too this, and too that, but not enough of this. Black love is special because it flies in the face of all that. It’s choosing to love ourselves despite the world telling us we aren’t worthy of love. Black love is affirmation.
TB: One thing that’s special to me about black love is how transcendent it is. Our people are all different shades of brown and come from all over the world with every background imaginable, but our love, our black love, is nothing but beautiful.