There’s something strangely reassuring and, simultaneously, heartbreaking about hearing my nine and ten year old daughters harmonize Negro Spirituals as they fold clothes in the basement. Allowing them to join the school choir this year has been great for them both. I see confidence and teamwork and grace. I see them growing into young women.
The content, though, of the songs sends my head spinning, and I contemplate, perhaps like mothers immemorial, the world in which they are growing up. They sing “Free at Last” like they have been delivered, and I wonder if they truly understand the import of the words that are soulfully wafting in the acoustics of the cellar up to me on the couch.
DuBois told us over a century ago that “[the black man] ever feels his twoness,” and I question how much my daughters have felt their “threeness,” being black and American and female, at their young ages. I wonder how I may be inadvertently reinforcing that “triple consciousness” as I rear them. I wonder if having those awarenesses are more of a benefit or more of a curse as they develop into the people they are becoming. I wonder if the world will see them as gloriously as I see them. I wonder if that even matters. I wonder what it means if it doesn’t.
There is something eerily beautiful about their songs. The juxtaposition of the girls’ innocence with the poignancy of the lyrics somehow feels like a perfectly snug imperfection. I settle into my spot, wrapped in an old blanket, and I listen. They rift experimentally, and creative intonations that don’t quite hit the right note send them giggling for a moment before they veer back onto the established path, readying themselves for another subversive turn.
I smile to myself in the dark as I listen to my girls sing. It’s the smile that mothers throughout time have smiled. The one of pride swollen wide with a hint of sadness, knowing that real life exists out there beyond the walls of our home, but glad that at least for tonight all of that realness is far enough away for me to enjoy hearing their voices belt out songs their foremothers sang.