Tamara Prosper is an author, blogger, entrepreneur, and aging services professional. Born and raised in a Philadelphia suburb, she moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane and has lived here most of her adult life. If she isn’t working to plant the earth and feed the world with her husband (via Sheaux Fresh Sustainable Foods), she’s probably sitting on her patio with books and tea (or wine). Tamara, her husband, their three children (ages 18, 15, and 12), two dogs, and a turtle live in Algiers.
Phase Two: Parenting and the Pandemic
Over the past few years I’ve been paying closer attention to the simple things that I enjoy, like crossing the river by ferry. It allows me time to observe the Mississippi while making my way around the city and surrounding parishes. I relax, savoring the break from driving. I marvel at the water, pondering the tranquil surface that obscures the tumult churning beneath. It reminds me of a clothes dryer, calmly humming, barely moving on the outside, while inside everything is flinging around in self-contained chaos. It reminds me of myself, calmly existing, looking like I have everything under control. I know better even if others don’t. A smile and a peaceful demeanor obscure the tumult churning beneath. Inside, everything is flinging around in barely controlled chaos.
For me, the sudden isolation that began in mid-March was a welcome respite. I liked staying at home. I was thankful for the instant break from shuttling children to and from school, practices, clubs, church activities, and social events. In fact, after a fun, busy Mardi Gras season I was glad that no one would expect me to participate in social events. Stocking up on groceries and supplies, washing everything in bleach water or white vinegar, and having a perfectly good reason to keep my children from leaving the house felt like a peaceful dream. We had plenty of food, games, and cleaning products, and the stores in my neighborhood never ran out of toilet paper. I hadn’t felt that relaxed and content in years.
At first the children enjoyed our isolation too. The daughter who attended public school enjoyed continuing the end of her school year via computer, sometimes in bed, and at home with the two who were already homeschooled. The oldest, dually-enrolled at a local university, liked logging in for her classes instead of being dropped off and picked up. Our son missed going to the library two or three times a week, but otherwise he was content. We all slept in a little longer. We played board games and cooked more meals together. We started projects, did crafts, had water balloon fights, and generally had a good time as we looked forward to a “normal” summer. Then George Floyd was murdered.
Same Story, Different Phase
My husband and I have always been cognizant of systemic inequity in this country. Having both studied social sciences in college, we’re particularly attuned to the statistical differences in health, social, educational, and economic outcomes between Black and white children. We have experienced racial profiling. Our parents and other caring adults taught us what many Black parents who have children with white friends teach—you can’t do what your white friends do. As adults, this has taken on a much broader meaning. While they allow their children to play with toy guns, we don’t risk it. No matter how many white friends tell us entertaining stories about talking themselves out of traffic tickets, we sit quietly, comply, and pray for the best. We understand that in some cases, even compliance won’t rescue us from the system. At the end of May, I stopped looking forward to a normal summer, desiring instead to keep my children safe at home for as long as possible.
That, of course, would be impossible—not only because sequestering adolescents from the world is unrealistic and unnatural, but because our oldest had plans to go away to college in August. She was communicating with future classmates, choosing classes, and planning her dorm decor. Meanwhile, we were just learning about the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and I was judiciously emailing administrators of her chosen university, sharing my concerns about the racist social media comments made by two members of their faculty.
It’s nothing new, but I’m tired of the same old story. Every time I think this country might be getting beyond the infantile phase of only some lives mattering, I learn of another Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Emmett Till, or George Stinney. Each time these situations repeat, I feel a stress that’s difficult to explain. Their lives ended, but our lives go on with the perhaps unlikely, but persistent threat of violence—all for simply existing. Our family continued living as usual, awaiting word of the university’s COVID-19 plans, running a business, choosing bedding and wall-hangings for a dorm, preparing for the big move, and incessantly washing our hands. I was relieved when I learned that the publicly racist faculty members were fired.
Our daughter was very excited about going away to college. She constantly talked about the beautiful campus, her future classmates, and the nursing program. I felt like she was on her way to getting everything she wanted, which made me feel great. Then out of nowhere, shortly after her 18th birthday, she informed us that there would be a major change of plans.
Our daughter told us she didn’t want to go away and live on campus or study in that particular program or adhere to COVID-19 precautions in her dorm. She didn’t want to wear a mask all day and all night. She didn’t want to live in rural Louisiana, surrounded by people who might not believe that her life matters. She wanted to take a gap year, earn a certification, get a job, and move into an apartment with roommates that were not ideal! I took several deep breaths, smiled, and told her we needed to talk about this with her dad. Then I went into my room and cried.
Later she shared her plans with my husband. We talked, asked questions, shared our concerns, explained our perspective, asked more questions, and suggested better options. She was unphased. Again, I went to my room and cried. Then I prayed and took a nap. For a few days, work and household duties took a backseat as I cried, prayed, and took naps. Our 15-year-old, in solidarity with her big sister, thought my husband and I were making too big of a deal. Our son, eleven at the time, didn’t know what was happening and characteristically wasn’t very concerned. He was happy watching anime, experimenting in the kitchen, and baking bread. His main concerns were when the library and the community pool would reopen, not his sister’s sudden change of plans.
In the midst of all those tears and prayers, I felt proud of my big girl. When I was her age I didn’t have the nerve to do anything unexpected. I couldn’t have faced my parents the way she did. I really liked much of her new plan. It made sense and for the most part I was happy to help her make it happen. I was somewhat relieved that she wanted to attend a local university. My concerns were never about the alternate route to her end goal. Plenty of people take a gap year, and working entry level in her field will provide her with valuable experience.
My biggest concern is for her safety. With her income and New Orleans’ outrageous rental rates, her housing choices are very limited. Yet I’ve been wondering—is she safer living among people who might not care about her life because of her skin color? Or is she safer living among people who might not care about her life because she’s an easy target in a difficult neighborhood?
The Next Phase
Systemic racism never went anywhere, but blatant racism has been out of style for a few decades. Many people never gave up their racism—they simply hid it from public view, only wearing it at home or with people who appreciate their style. Many passed it down as a cherished heirloom.
Over the past few years, public figures have dared to don their discrimination in plain view. Now people are digging through cedar chests, reaching into the back of closets, and shaking out the mothballs from their favorite style of racism. No longer concerned about a fashion faux pas, they wear it proudly, saying in public what was once reserved for hushed conversations, or simply left unsaid; doing in public what was once done in secret or not at all.
People are emboldened, not just to speak hateful words but to spit on, kick, slap, run over, and even shoot people who often look like my children. Even worse, those who are paid to protect them might be the ones to harm them. Then there’s the pandemic that people are still ignoring, our local economy has been paused, people are losing their unemployment benefits, and let’s not forget it’s still hurricane season. This is when my child decides to strike out on her own without the relative cushion of a college campus!
Meanwhile, the other two have recently started school via laptop. They’re still bored. They still miss being with their friends. They wanted a normal summer and they really wanted a normal school year. Now they just want to get their school work done and take a trip during Mardi Gras break since they believe most parades and celebrations will be cancelled. Our tenth grader still hopes to participate in a few school clubs and attend a dance and a basketball game. Our seventh grader is considering joining the football or basketball team—if the teams will exist this year. I’m glad they can’t drive yet, though one is old enough to get a learner’s permit. I’m glad they have no place to go, though I feel sorry that they can’t do many of the things they enjoy. I’m glad that with remote learning, I can hear how teachers speak to them. I’m thankful for the extra time we spend together.
I go through periods of feeling overwhelmed. That seems to be normal for most parents. I remind myself to behave calmly, like I have everything under control. My husband knows better, even if others don’t. Since I have more time, I’m taking more time to do the little things that help me feel good. Starting my mornings on the patio, sipping tea, soaking my feet, and enjoying nature has become a favorite pastime. Sometimes I walk barefoot through the grass, listen to the birds, talk to my dogs, stretch, write, pray, and sing. Then I go back inside with a powerful current, usually whispering but sometimes roaring, ready to float our heavy loads and keep our commerce and supplies moving. I think, in our own ways, that’s what we’re all doing now.
illustrations Victoria Allen