Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The lady in the street.

Street life there's a thousand parts to play
Street life until you play your life away

- Joe Sample

I was driving down Dekalb Avenue yesterday. Headed away from Grady in an effort to make it to Grand Rounds on the Emory campus across town. It was the lunch hour so there wasn't much traffic which was good. And on this day I was in a mostly good mood and didn't have anything heavy on my mind.

NPR was on. Someone was talking about the 45th President and something he said or did. Or both. And I just listened quietly, doing what I always do when hearing these radio segments. And what do I always do? I try to imagine the looks on the faces of the people speaking. Like, I imagine it to be like people are when they're in a room together on the phone and the person on the line is the butt of a joke. Except they don't fully realize that they are since it's the phone and not face to face. Yeah. So, I wonder if Kai Ryssdal and Steve Inskeep are snickering next to their microphones or if there's some sister producer making the kinds of faces that I make when hearing crazy stuff.


That's what I was thinking about and not much else. Unless you count the fact that I hadn't eaten lunch and was wondering if I would at all. I read a book recently about listening to the body and eating when you're actually hungry instead of just eating at the programmed times. So yeah. I thought about that, too.

The sun was out and the sky was blue. Which was very much a welcomed thing given the sheets of rain that we'd had the week before. Downpour after downpour, man. The kind that keeps kids indoors and ruins plans to do stuff.

So yeah. I guess I was thinking about that, too.

Along I drove . . . telling myself I wasn't hungry, giggling at the imaginary facial expressions I'd assigned to the NPR people and being glad that I wouldn't need an umbrella. And all of it was fine.

That's when I saw it. This blur of brown and blue. Spinning around like a real-life Tasmanian devil in the center of traffic.

"What the hell?"

I said that out loud. Because seriously, I had no idea what it was I was looking at. But then I got a bit closer and saw that it was a person. A woman, actually. Wearing this denim dress versus shirt that appeared both tattered and several sizes too big. And at first, it was hard to tell what she had on since she was moving so quickly and erratically.

Her arms were swinging at the air. She was screaming and punching and fighting some imaginary opponent, cursing them with such deep hatred that spit was flying from her mouth. Her feet were kicking in the air, too. I slowed my car down, partly because I didn't want to hit her but also because I was just kind of worry-wondering about what would happen next.

Then her wild eyes met mine. She lit over toward my driver side window--fast, too. So fast that I couldn't hide my startled expression or quell the wave of fear that washed over me. She ran right up to my window but then stopped. Her eyes were still pointed in my direction but I realized then that she didn't see me. Those eyes were looking through me, into some world far, far away.


And all of this was aimed into my car which was now at a near complete stop. I wasn't scared anymore though. Well, I take that back. I wasn't scared of her. But I was scared for her. Short term scared and long term scared.

Suddenly, it was like a switch flipped. She turned away from me and toward the oncoming traffic. Her bottom fell to the sidewalk while her knees went into a deep bend. Placing a hand on the ground in front of her, she began doing a sexually suggestive dance of some sort. Laughing the entire time, her brown and fractured teeth gleaming in the high noon sunshine. She was still talking, but I now I couldn't hear her.

I could see that she wasn't wearing underwear. Or much of anything beneath her clothes. They were falling off of her, now one deflated breast exposed. That made her throw her head back and laugh more.


A car was behind me. Dekalb Avenue has only a single lane in that direction during that hour. People needed to go. And since I was at a complete stop in a place where there wasn't a light or a stop sign, that honk was for me.

And so. I lifted my foot off of the brake and slowly eased forward. My pulse quickening because I felt like there was something I should do for her. Like, something you know? Even something little like buttoning her up and getting her out of the street. Covering up her body so that no one could see it on Dekalb Avenue or escorting her over to the Grady Psychiatry ER.


But I didn't. I moved my car up and eventually went back to driving to where I needed to go. I kept my eyes on her through my rear view and was relieved to at least see her get out of the middle of the street.

And that was that.

I wish I could say that this moment was something totally unusual. I mean, the half dressed dancing part was kind of odd, but not that sinking feeling I felt. This horrible mixture of guilt and fear and sadness and helplessness. That? That is something I feel a lot.

So those empty thoughts I'd had before were replaced. I sifted through what could have been happening with that woman and what would happen next. Like, was she mentally ill and in need of medication? Was she sick from drug dependence and under the influence of some mood altering substance? Was she a kid who'd been neglected and abused? Was she somebody's mama or somebody's sister? Did she have a grandmother somewhere who was praying nonstop for the Lord to take all of this away from her baby? Or was she none of those things?

Or maybe she was all of those things at the same time.

I don't know. Yeah, man. I don't know and it bothers me that I probably won't know.

I looked for her when driving to work today. Slowed down and really, truly looked for her all up and down Dekalb Avenue as I rolled up the street. I'd tossed a pair of pants and a shirt in the back seat just in case. At minimum, I told myself that I'd give her something to wear. And if her mind was in a better place, maybe I'd even ask her if she was okay.


I never saw her though. Not then or on the way home either.


Not even sure why I wrote about this. I guess I just wanted to honor her as a person. Putting even that tiny sliver of time into words to let her know I saw her. I saw her and in that moment wished I could apologize for whatever in her world had let her down.



The Mom Report Card.

"We gon' be alright." 

- Kendrick Lamar

Some days? Man. I feel like the worst mom ever. 


That might come across more dramatic than I intended. I mean, obviously not the actual worst in the history of crappy moms. Like, not as bad as that woman I recall seeing on some photo on-line who was taking some really inappropriate selfie snapshots in her bathroom mirror clad in pretty much nothing. . . .  but neglected to note the reflection of her infant child sitting on the tile floor behind her-- in what appeared to be a very full diaper.

Yeah. So maybe not the worst.

But seriously though? There are some days that I just feel like I'm flying on one wing as a mother. And as if my shortcomings will ultimately lead to the same unfortunate demise of a plane trying to operate with only one wing.


Okay, so honestly? Most days, I don't feel this way. But man. When I do? I like really do. I'll be doing something like hurrying to get the kids somewhere. And then my poor planning mixed with their lack of urgency explodes into me barking orders and eventually just setting the house alarm forcing them out of the house. Sometimes holding socks and shoes in their hands. Okay, a lot of times even.

See? I told you it wasn't pretty.

So then we get in the car and someone says a smart ass comment. Or declares that they forgot something quasi-essential to their future success as a student and it becomes abundantly clear that, given our tardiness already, that they'll just be shit out of luck for the day. And I find myself communicating all of this to my kids minus the word "shit" but with enough surly snark to count just as much as the aforementioned expletive.

Yeah. So that's how it goes on some days. And without fail, when the last kid is dropped off, my shoulders slump and I let out a big, defeated sigh. Followed by saying (many times out loud): "You so suck." Then, like always, I start running down my grades on my Mom progress report determining that I just might be at risk for academic mom probation.

Case in point:

Breakfast: Wait. You didn't eat breakfast? Shit. I thought you popped down a waffle, dude. Ugh.

Lunch: Not organic. At least one item with too much sugar.  Or conversely something so healthy that my kid won't eat it at all.

House: Lived in looking. Not hotel neat. Unless somebody other than mom does the clean up job.

Laundry: In dire need of doing. With simultaneous need for done things to be folded. Or moved from the couch after being half folded. Or just so badly in need of doing that everyone is to the point of beach towels being used for regular Tuesday evening showers. Eek.

Homework: Asked about but not confirmed on school website that day. So hoping it's exactly what the kid said it is. A form needs to be signed that I did sign but we left on the kitchen table after I kicked everyone out with the house alarm.

Dinner: You asked for breakfast for dinner. And I said yes. Twice in one week.

Night time reading: Me listening to Audible and you reading whatever I told you to read. Then you bargaining video game time with reading time. And eventually you listening to my Audible book with me, even if an occasional F-bomb is in it.

And so on.

So I go through all of this until I come up with a Mom grade point average which, on days like this, is not EVEN passing. Like, at all. Nope.

So yeah. A few weeks ago that's how I was feeling. Like the mom on mom-probation for poor performance in several subjects.


So when this happens, I do my best to chuck myself under the chin. I say stuff to myself like, "They know they are loved. It will all balance out in the end." Then I close my eyes and imagine them slapping knees and laughing as grown up men about how their mom used to flip on the alarm and force them out of the front door in 60 seconds or less. But in the most loving way, of course.


I'm not a perfect mom by a long shot. I'm not. And while I do think that I do a great job of loving my children and letting them know how much I love being their mom, on my beat-myself-up days, I tell myself that the best moms do that and feed their kids gluten-free, grass-fed, cage-free, organic food dinners and set timers for video game time. They plan camps like 5 years in advance for the summer instead of 5 days and they don't throw their kids out of the front door under the duress of a beeping ADT alarm. See, man. Those great mamas do all of this. 

And then they do some hot yoga after all of that.

I was exceptionally sucky the other day. I'd made the mistake of starting "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah on Audible while walking Willow one morning. Oh my goodness. . . the combination of his witty candor and that mesmerizing South African accent of his drew me all the way in. Like. . . . all the way in, man.


My kids would be asking me stuff and I'd yank out one ear bud, raise an eyebrow and try my best not to look impatient. But since my kids know how I get when I get into a crack-equivalent Audible narration that this is just par for the course. Mom will do 90% of everything with iPhone earbuds in until finally that creepy music pipes in that says, "This has been a production of Audible."

I even set the house alarm while listening to Trevor Noah this morning. "You got 60 seconds, dudes. Chop chop," I said. I wish I could say that wasn't true. See? Those really good moms would never do something like that. The only person who gets a mom upgrade when I'm on an Audible binge is Willow because he almost always can count on a longer walk. Otherwise everyone else? Not so much. Ha.


I am really just rambling mostly about how this motherhood thing isn't for sissies, man. It's no joke. Especially when you intermittently suck as a mom.


Now. Before you go worrying about me, know that I generally think well of myself. And though my marks in the mom class are not always passing, I have an extensive history of figuring out how to round out my grade in the end. So I'm hoping big time that this is what happens with these two little dudes living under this roof with the BHE and me.

Which reminds me of something else that happened recently. Like to hear it? Here it go.

So check it: A few months ago, I was in one of my mom-probation slumps. While I wasn't Audible binging or Netflix binging, I was busy with work and generally ready for the kids to be out of school. Most of my head butting was with Isaiah and somehow it almost always went down when it was just us two in the car. He's now twelve and growing smarter and smarter by the year. But not just smart. Smart and a smart-ass at the same time.


Because this kid has always been an old soul with a cantankerous streak like an old man in a barber shop, he likes to push my buttons. Questions things that are generally worth questioning but does so at the most inopportune times. Furthermore, he calls me out on things that are 100% true which, when I'm running late or already feeling a bit low, I could do without.


So on this one day, Isaiah began pointing out that I need to work on not being distracted behind the wheel. Then he started talking about how just because I'm not texting doesn't mean I'm not distracted. And since he's like an old man, I come right back at him like he's not even a kid. Or rather, like I'm not even an adult. Yeah. More like that. It's pretty funny, actually.

"Mom. Checking your eyelash make up stuff at a red light is still a distraction."

"It's called mascara."

"Well checking it makes people honk at you. That guy was honking because you needed to go."

"I did go."

"Once he honked."

"Horn honking is rude, man. Where I'm from? You don't go honking your horn for no reason."

"He had a reason. You were looking in that visor mirror checking picking black stuff off your eyelashes. Which looks not so good anyway so I'm not sure why you do it."

"Do me a favor. Let's ride in silence."

"That's not a favor."

"You're killing me."

"I want you not to be looking in the mirror so you won't be killing me."

I scowl in the mirror. He smirks back. And eventually the whole cycle restarts with another surly exchange.  So yeah. This went on for probably the last few weeks of school. And each day we'd bicker about the most unimportant things of all time. Then, I'd ask him a question about something he needed to have done and from there, would end up shifting from petty tween with him to fussing, nagging mom.


After enough days like this, you start feeling like you're dropping the mom ball, man. My sweet baby that wanted to hug and cuddle me was now groaning in my direction and ducking my hugs. I told myself that this was age appropriate although some piece of me had always hoped that tween-age behavior would somehow skip my boys.

So yeah. That was going on and I was feeling tired. Tired of no longer being sweet and awesome mom. I liked being her. Man, I did.

This one day, I pulled into Isaiah's school on two wheels to pick him up at the last minute from after school care. I scurried up the path to the gym and another mom decided she'd chat with me--even though I was clearly in a hurry.

"Did you see the 6th grade art project?"

"Um, no. I need to see it." Another reminder of my poor mom grades. Because clearly she'd seen it.

"You should stop on the way out to see it," she said.

"Uhh. . . yeah, I'll be sure to check it out." I started walking to the door. But she spoke again.

"It's pretty amazing. Especially Isaiah's part. Did he tell you about his part?"

Another 'F' on my record. "I'm trying to remember." Except I wasn't trying to remember. I'd heard him mention the 6th grade art project and how he'd decided what he'd do. I asked if he needed anything and he said no. So that was it.

I did at least know that the project was this giant tapestry made up of tiles drawn by kids in the class. That compliment given of Isaiah's part didn't shock me considering he's a pretty creative dude. But her persistence was a bit off putting. "You should really consider stopping in the main building to see it before you leave today."

That was the last thing she said.

When Isaiah got into the car, I asked him about the project. "What'd you do?" I queried.

And he shrugged a surly twelve year old shrug, yawned and leaned his head against the window.


I whipped my minivan around and made my way out of the parking lot. That woman imploring me to look at the art display niggled at me. Finally I pulled right next to the door and told Isaiah I wanted to run in to see the project.

"Coming with?" I asked.

"Nah. I'm good," he replied.

And so. I punch in the door code and hustle inside. Immediately I see this big quilt-like thing covering part of the cafeteria wall. It's made up of several squares each drawn by a different pair of hands.

"Oh. Okay, I get it," I said out loud. I said that because the project was a tribute to Influential African American Women in US History. This very liberal parent at my child's very liberal school was encouraging me, a black woman, to revel in this special celebration of sisters lovingly put together by my son's entire grade. Like, urgently.

Well that was nice.

I stood there looking. Lip jutted out and nodding. Ode to black women movers and shakers, huh? Cool. So yeah, I guess it's fair to say it did make my heart feel warm knowing that this activity is what his entire class was working on and thinking about and talking about. And that his school had deemed this the kind of thing worthy of their attention.

Not to mention it wasn't even February, man.

So I'm checking it out. It was an impressively diverse group of women, too. From several eras which was pretty darn awesome. Sojourner Truth. Phillis Wheatley. Michelle Obama. Marian Wright Edelman. Shirley Chisholm. Nikki Giovanni. Simone Biles. Oprah Winfrey. Lena Horne. Barbara Jordan. Debbie Allen. Misty Copeland. Maya Angelou and. . . . wait. . .who?

So there it was. Plain as day. My name. Kimberly Manning. Listed among the Harriet Tubmans and the Ruby Dees. My name. Chosen by my child as his Influential African American Woman in US history.

Wearing a damn superhero cape, no less. Seriously? Seriously.

Yeah, man.

I stood there in silent disbelief for at least two or three minutes. Then I slipped back into my car and started the ignition. Isaiah was now dozing off in the back seat.

"Son?" He opened his eyes and didn't move. His eyebrows went up to let me know he heard me. "Son?"

"Yes, ma'am." His voice was flat, purely obligatory. He knows his mother well enough to recognize that that second "son" meant to open his mouth and answer with words.

"I saw your drawing. For the project. That was amazing." I immediately started to cry.

"Oh my gosh, Mom. Are you seriously crying?"

"Of all the people though. I guess. . .I don't know. . . you picked me?"

He shrugged. "They said for us to pick an Influential African American Woman in US History. So I told my teacher that my mom is a doctor who writes and teaches. And that she's super influential to a lot of people." I just stared through the rear view mirror. Then he added, "Or at least she is to me."

After that, he just let his eyelids fall closed again and didn't say much else. Which was fine with me because I was trying my best not to let him hear me full-on ugly crying while driving the whole way home.


So listen. . . .  there are some days that I feel like a complete mom failure. And definitely in the runner-up finalists for the worst mom ever. But then. . . something happens that makes me feel like I just nailed the final exam and brought my grade all the way back up to a solid A, man.

This? This was one of those times.

Am I a perfect mom? Nope. But if this . . .this is who my kid envisions when he takes out a box of colored pencils to describe his mother and whom he perceives to be an influential black woman? Then I just might pass this Mom class after all.

Maybe even with honors.



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Paradigm shifts.

When I stepped into the Grady coffee shop, there was a line. Three or four people long but still longer than what I was in the mood to manage. Usually I'm a very sound sleeper. But for some reason, I'd tossed and turned a lot the evening before and, as a result, overslept that morning. When I first woke up, I'd made a beeline to my Keurig to start a cup of coffee but with the chaos of kids and walking the dog, I didn't remember it until I was half way to Grady Hospital.


Clinic was already bustling when I got there but hallelujah for kind colleagues like Stacie S. who looked squarely into my sleep-deprived eyes and instinctively knew they were in acute need of a pick-me-up. "Hey Kim, I know you said you forgot your mug of coffee this morning. Why don't you pop down to Henry's to get you a cup?"

I didn't even bother with the obligatory first-pass refusal. She had me at "Hey Kim."

I walked down there so fast that it felt like I'd teleported myself. The two young women behind the coffee counter were hustling hard to manage the customers and seemed to mostly be on top of it all. But still. I'd hoped to meet a quiet mid-morning lull with no one there other than a peaceful Grady elder. No such luck.


I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my palms. Two seconds after that I remembered that this was the kind of gesture one does at home and not so much in public. I quickly dropped them back to my sides. Pressing my lips together, I drew in what I hoped was a subtle sigh to break up and also hide my impatience.

"Well, he said he might be coming but I don't know, boo. . . .say what? See, you asking questions that I can't even help you with. That's a grown man you talking 'bout. I ain't the boss of him."

That's what I heard verbatim from the woman ahead of me in the queue. She was balancing an oversized Samsung Galaxy phone on her shoulder while looking through her equally oversized purse. Her voice wasn't even remotely hushed. It was unapologetically loud enough for anyone in earshot to hear. By now, three more people had filed in behind us and a few others were milling around waiting for their orders. My groggy eyes narrowed at the back of her head. This was one of my pet peeves.

Blah blah blah. She kept on talking as if we weren't there. Zero shame in her game.

"Hell, if I know!" The yacking-phone lady threw her head back and laughed out loud at what was clearly some amusing exchange on that phone call. The curly ringlets of her synthetic hair braids shook rhythmically with every chuckle. She continued to rummage through her gigantic pocketbook as that phone still teetered treacherously next to her chin. Some piece of me wished it would fall to the ground and shatter into a million pieces.

Mean, I know.

"I can't find that paper with all that fancy mess you asked for! You getting a regular cup of coffee, chile." The person on her call obviously protested that suggestion. "Caramel Makey-Latte? What in the hell is that?" She laughed again. Her voice was raspy like a person who'd either smoked for a long time or who'd been screaming at the top of her lungs. The surly piece of me assumed it was the former. Or maybe even both.

Mean, I know.

Out came that gravelly laugh once more and, this time, a few heads turned in her direction. But she didn't seem to care. Like, at all.

I'm amazed that the searing stare I was giving to the back of head never created a full thickness burn. But I sure did try considering how she kept that uncomfortably loud phone conversation going strong well until it was her turn to order. And during her order, too.


"What can I get for you, ma'am?" the barista asked. The yacking phone lady pursed her lips and studied the menu on the wall. The same menu that had been there for the entire time she was gabbing on the phone about what sounded like a whole bunch of nothing.

My masseters bulged from my involuntary teeth gritting. I felt myself slowly veering out of my lane, easing dangerously close to tapping her on the shoulder and suggesting she get off the damn phone before ordering. But then I heard the BHE in my head telling me to calm down and stop worrying about stuff that doesn't need to be worried about. He's much better at managing such things so, thank goodness, I live with his little voice in my head to help me in times like this. That gave me enough pause to recognize that her full decibel chit chat was more annoying than criminal. Not to mention she kind of looked like someone who probably wasn't the best person to mess with.

Um, yeah.

"Now what you said you wanted? A caramel makka lacka?" She was still talking into her phone. While ordering. I tapped my foot softly, hoping she couldn't see the steam rolling from my ears. I fought the urge to snatch her phone mid sentence  and dunk it into a the biggest, hottest, most Venti-est cup of joe that they had. Extra hot, even.

"Do you mean a caramel macchiato?" The barista was still smiling. Far more patient than I would have been circa 1988 at the Foot Locker in the Hawthorne Mall.

"Hey you heard that? Is that what you wanted?" The yacking lady yawned and plopped her giant Coach bag on the counter in front of the cash register. A pack of Newports was poking from the top and also what appeared to be some clothing--including undergarments. It was visible to any and every person in that line. All of it was too much. Especially mixed with her being on the phone at the same time. She looked up at the barista. "Yeah, that sound good. That's what she want."

"What size can I get for you, ma'am?"

Her focus remained on the person she was speaking to on the phone and not the unbelievably pleasant person standing before her. "Now see, chile. You got me up in here taking a damn quiz! They asking me a million questions about size and all that. Caramel makky lakky don't come in just one size." She listened for another reply and laughed again. This time I could actually smell the cigarettes. Fortunately her back was to me because that time I grimaced in real life. Her attention went back to the lady behind the counter. "Just do whatever the big size is."

"Grande? Venti?" The barista held up two cups. And she was still smiling. God love her for being so patient.

"Why is Grande smaller than Venti? Hell if I know."

I wanted to scream. Right then and there, I truly wanted to do just that. For some reason, the look on the barista girl's face seemed to snap the yacking lady into a bit of reality. "I'm just gonna get you the middle size," she said into the phone while making fleeting eye contact with me. I offered back a tight lipped smile, representing my acquired southern hospitality more than anything else. "Hey, let me also get a grande size of the regular coffee, too." The sweet barista girl nodded and punched in that, too.

Finally I was able to order my simple cup of much needed coffee. "Room for cream?" the barista queried me.

"Please. Thanks." I kept my eyes trained directly on the barista, my hands inside of my white coat pockets. Straightening my spine, I forced the sappiest smile I could find to rage against the phone lady and her unruly behavior. I wanted to be the antithesis of her socially unacceptable uninterrupted coffee shop conference call. The barista lady placed the blonde roast on the counter in front of me as I offered her a nod of thanks. "'Preciate you," I added.

"My pleasure!" she responded. Her eyes lifted up to the person behind me. That barista girl was far less worried about that previous customer than I was. That's for sure.

On a scale of one to ten for being annoyed, the only reason I didn't feel a ten when I saw the yacking-phone lady still adding sugar and creamer to her coffee drink on the condiment cart was that she had finally gotten off the damn phone. My chest rose as I drew an exaggerated drag of air; I still felt the urge to internally protest although I was trying not to outwardly show my disapproval of her earlier behavior.

"Pardon my reach," I said while gripping the creamer carafe.

"No problem." She looked at me and smiled. Her face was pretty. Though her features were youngish, I could tell from the fine lines around her eyes that she was closer to my age than the twenty something baristas. She also looked tired, too. Tired like a person who has been living longer and harder than only two decades. Her clothes were also youngish. Junior cut sweats with the word "PINK" written across the bum in blinged out block letters. Regardless of her actual age, I decided that she was old enough to know better. Better than to yap on the phone in public like that. And better than to wear some Victoria's Secret velour sweat pants anywhere, ever.

Catty, I know.

She stirred her drinks slowly and seemed to be off in another world. That place was far more peaceful than the laughing, cackling one she'd just left. I decided that I liked this one better.

Snotty, I know.

But see, I hadn't slept well the night before. And I was tired. Furthermore, that coffee shop was filled with all sorts of people and most of them didn't look like me. But she did. So some piece of tired me was mad at her for being the other black woman in the room and choosing to represent us this way. Even when her far away gaze drifted over to my eyes, I felt myself rebel. Turning my eyes downward and folding into myself like origami to signal to the world that I wasn't with her. That I am not the person who'd continue a conversation on my cell phone while paying for a coffee because it was just downright rude and maybe even something that would feed a single story stereotype of who we both are.

Yes. I was judging her.

"I like your hair," she finally said.

"Thanks," I mumbled. One corner of my mouth went upward as a pseudo-olive branch. And I was conflicted about it since I'd already decided that I wasn't aligned with her nor was I her friend.

Then something happened. Out of the blue, she turned her whole body to face me and said, "I am so, so tired. I ain't slept in more than two straight days." She pulled one of the drinks up to her lips and sipped it carefully. After letting out a quick shudder from the hot liquid touching her mouth, she sighed. "That's good."

I felt my heart defrosting. Even though I really needed to get going back to the clinic and even though I'd made up my mind not to like her, I decided to bite. "Why haven't you slept?"

"Oh, 'cause my baby was in a car accident two days ago. I live in Baltimore and she down here going to college. They called me 'bout my baby girl and said she was gon' be in intensive care. They said she was knocked out cold when they got to her and they took her straight to Grady for emergency surgery in a helicopter. I hung that phone up, got my keys and walked out my door. I drove all night 'til I got here."

"Wow." I could feel the metaphorical icicles crashing to the floor around me. "Is she okay?"

"She got her pelvis shattered. And some organ damage that made them have to operate on her stomach and bowels a leave her with one of them bags 'til she get better. But they finally took the tube out her throat last night and let her eat today. First thing she said was that she wanted me to get her some Starbucks. I sholl was glad when the nurse told me they got all the Starbucks stuff down here in this shop."


"Yeah. It's 'bout to be a hard road. She real young and alive, you know? She a good student and be enjoying herself down here in college, know what I'm saying? And having that bag on her and not being able to walk round yet . . . " Her voice trailed off and her eyes quickly filled with tears. She patted the corners of her eyes with napkins, shook her head and sighed. "I thought my baby was gon' die. I did. I got up here and saw her laying there with all them tubes coming out her body. That ain't nothing I wish on nobody mama." A tear rolled down her cheek.

I placed my free hand onto my chest. "Oh my God. I'm so sorry to hear that."

"Yeah, we all we got. She my only. I had her by myself, too. Her daddy ain't never been too involved although I did try to call him to come up here. And since she got out that ICU she don't want me out her sight. Like, I couldn't even come down here without her talking my head off on the phone. But I just do what it take, you know?" I felt my face burning, thinking about her initial reference to a man. That was probably her daughter's father. "I had to get out that room 'cause just one day ago, I thought my baby was gone. And it's hard seeing my beautiful baby like this but it woulda been worse to lose her, you know? So I drove all night. Ain't really slept since."

"Man. She's lucky to have a mama like you." I felt the hot coffee on the palm of my hand, radiating through the cup. It was a welcomed distraction from the heat emanating from my face. I felt so ashamed of my feelings before.

"Yeah, I guess. Her mama was scared. Real, real scared. Shit, she still scared."

And when she said that? I could see that she was on the tippy tip edge of tears again. And since I didn't have any other words to offer, I just sort of stood there in this awkward silence. Finally I impulsively let my next thought slip out of my lips. "Um, do you need a hug?"

The look of surprise on her face made me immediately wish I hadn't asked. I mean, she was from Baltimore for crying out loud. Who asks a person from the place that inspired that television show "The Wire" if they need to hug it out? But then I saw her head nodding. And after that I heard her reply in a teeny-tiny voice.


I sat my coffee on the cart and, before I could overthink it, I wrapped my arms around her tight. Gave her a big, two armed hug. The kind that you give when you really mean it. Eyes closed, palms pressed tightly into the center of the back, heart to heart.

And, in this case, mama to mama.

I tried my best to imagine the pain she must have been feeling. The terror in her heart as she pressed that pedal to the metal, not knowing if her baby would live or die. I tightened my grip on her back at the thought.

I sure did.

And that? That was the lever that opened the flood gates. Her body shook rhythmically in my arms as she released a deep, tired cry. I just stood there and let her. For as long as she needed to cry.

Yeah, man.

It was so tender and transparent. I could feel her mama-bear emotion draining out of her and onto the shoulder of my white coat. And I kid you not, all of this happened right then and right there inside of that busy coffee shop in the downstairs lobby at Grady Memorial Hospital.

When she pulled back from me, her entire face was red and covered with tears and snot. I handed her a stack of napkins off of the coffee station and smiled. "Whew. Oh wow, girl. I'm so sorry," she murmured.

I glanced at my soaking wet shoulder and shrugged. "Looks like you needed that."

"I guess I did, huh?" We both laughed.

"You take care of yourself, okay? And try to get a little rest, too."

"Now that my baby is awake and able to talk to me, I'm hoping I can." She held up the two cups of coffee and looked down at her body. With a chuckle she added, "But not until I get me some clothes that ain't made for a teenager. I came down here so fast I didn't even pack nothing. I been wearing stuff out my daughter's dorm room." A wave of embarrassment washed over my face again.

"I'd say any mama who can fit into clothes out of her daughter's dorm room is winning." That time a few people in earshot laughed, too.

It felt like I'd been gone too long. I needed to go back to the clinic. "Listen. . . I pray your daughter has a full recovery. And that her mom gets some peace of mind."

"I 'preciate you, doctor." I could tell that she meant that. Then she added, "Hey, do you got any kids?"

"Yes, ma'am. I have two sons."

She curled her lips and nodded. "I could tell you was somebody mama." We both smiled at that statement.  "Do you work upstairs in the trauma part of the hospital?"

"No, ma'am. I work in the clinic and on the non-surgery hospital service. I was just down here getting some coffee."

"Well, thank you for being my angel doctor this morning. I'm for real. My heart feel better after meeting you. So I just want to say 'preciate you for taking a minute to care about somebody. People be going through it up in here. You don't never know what they dealing with."

Something about that made me immediately want to cry. I felt the tears coalescing in my eyes and making them sting. Twisting my mouth to break up the emotion, I nodded in agreement.

Those parting words played on a loop recorder in my head for the rest of the day. I'm not sure I ever even took a single sip of that coffee that I'd bought that morning. That paradigm shift was all the stimulant I needed. It sure was.

Sometimes we start off wrong. In our attitudes, our thinking, our perceptions. Especially when it comes to people. But everyday I am reminded that we are always more alike than we are different. I'm thankful for life's little autocorrections.


Happy Hump Day.