It was only a matter of time before I realized how significant this title was. It never crossed my mind, until adulthood, how I had missed something really special in my years of growing up–and that was no one’s fault.
If you’ve ever read my writing, you know this is topic I speak on often–my biracial family. It’s only been something I’ve started to dig into more in the later half of my twenties as it coincides with the discourse of our nation. “How does this affect me when I look like them?”
I was the first born to my parents Prentis and Christie. My mom wanted to call me Hannah, but my dad convinced her on Lauren–only one of the most popular names for 90’s babies. I was a quiet baby, somewhat bugged eyed and really cute.
My little brother, Stefan would arrive 17-months later. I think I fulfilled the sisterly duties of the one in charge fairly early.
I grew up around a good community of families, all with similarly aged children, and around the beach no less. I was just a little thing–the direct opposite proportion of my younger brother. My white, church socks would fall down my little legs on the daily, while my mother was gaining arms like a bodybuilder from hauling my brother around.
I didn’t reach 40 lbs until about 7 or 8, while he quickly reached that by age 2. Because of work, our family never lived close to our extended family, only seeing them about once a year, if that.
As we continued to get older and move from place to place, I never knew anything was different about me until we moved to Illinois. On the playground in second grade, I was called “little black girl” by a little boy who wanted to me chase him. I remember going with a friend to tell the PE teacher, but not really sure why what he called me was wrong, because technically he was right and I didn’t look anything like any of my classmates.
I came from a strict, Seventh-day Adventist home and I’m glad my parents raised me the way they did. But back to my mother. I was a little bit of a tomboy and had no idea how to take care of my hair. I just wanted to swim every day of the summer and play sports in the backyard. I finally filled into my body during puberty. I was strong, stronger than most girls in my class. Strong enough that in 4th grade, my mom took me out in the backyard and taught me how to play volleyball (her sport) by peppering. I barely learned how to serve underhand and was one of the only girls in 5th grade who could serve overhand at my height of 5’2”. Subsequently, falling in love with the sport.
But puberty was one of the most difficult times of my life. I had so much hair and had no idea what to do with it. I wanted to wear makeup, but let’s try not to relive that terrible memory of blue and white eyeshadow. I was stocky for my age with no boobs, so I couldn’t pull off the girly look even if I tried. I remember going bra shopping for the first time and my mom just saying “Guess God didn’t bless you with boobs!” I couldn’t even fit into other clothes because of my backside. Did I mention during this time I had glasses and a mouth full of braces? Like I said, it was rough.
I’ve always admired my mother. She’s really beautiful and always wore clothes fit for her body. She’s petite, brunette by nature, but rocking the blonde and has the strength of Wonder Woman, yet I never saw my mother in myself for most of my life. Though we’re both petite, my body shape is quite different. I have a rounder face. She’s white. I’m not. She can talk for hours to people she has no idea, and I would be so exhausted from that I would need to take a vacation to a deserted island. You get the picture. It wasn’t until one summer afternoon after being outside all day mowing at camp, I looked in the mirror and saw my mother staring back at me. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life, but I’m so glad I was able to see my mother in myself.
It took me years to finally be comfortable in my own skin. To own who I am as Lauren Claire Brooks. Heartbreak scars and all. To accept that I will always be short and could never be a volleyball player. That I will always take time to deeply connect with people, but then immediately need to retreat and take care of myself. I will laugh at things that aren’t even funny because I love to laugh and then I don’t have to think of funny things to say. To know that people notice who I am long before I think they do.
But what has always been missing from my life was a black woman I could look up to. My aunt and grandmother never lived anywhere close to them, so that blame is not on them. Neither is the blame on my mom for being white. But I firmly believe, if I had, had that role model in my life (or literally anywhere like movies, tv shows, music) the reality of who I was, would have come so much earlier in my life.
I will not own the title black woman. Yes, it’s part of who I am, but only part. To say I’m black, would be to deny a part of me that’s important–my mother. Now, a lot of people might disagree, but this is what I’m standing on. This is not concrete either, because I’m still learning about certain aspects of my identity.
Over the last year or so, I’ve has some really good conversations with friends about this realization. Even through those conversations I have found there is still a disconnect. Most of my girlfriends look like their mother, or at least share the same skin tone, even hair texture. There were moments a year ago, where I felt robbed. That it wasn’t fair I had to figure it all out on my own, but at least I figured it out on my own. THAT trait I get from my mother.