“A Different Kind of Love”
In an interview with RBGM digital archivist Sara Daise, Kicha Wells talked about the challenges of being a black, single, teenage mother to two black sons. Kicha shared her fears for them—the three strikes they had against them as children of a teenage mother, being born black and male—and how she worked to overcome them by being harder on them than she is on her grandson. Kicha discussed the important role her family played in helping her with her children as she returned to school and mourned the loss of their father. As she entered a new phase of life, married and more secure, she welcomed LJ, her first grandchild. She is helping LJ’s parents with him as her parents helped her as a young mom. Kicha’s thoughtfulness and lush language demarcate motherhood from grandmotherhood. After calling being a grandmother “undescribable,” Kicha settled on that it is just “a different kind of love,” peppered with more patience, more know how, more boundaries, and more hope for what is possible.
Listen to the interview here:
Journey to motherhood:
I became a mother at 18. Got pregnant at 17 became a mother at 18. And it’s life changing. It’s really life changing. It forced me to grow up a whole lot because my life was no longer mine. It was my child’s. It was all about him. But I enjoyed it. I embraced it. It made me want to do better as a parent, as a mother, as a woman. To do better for him. So, that’s when I decided to go to school to be a lab tech.
He was like 11 months and I was pregnant again with my second son.
Their father he died when I was pregnant with my second son. So, it’s been a struggle but it’s been worth it. I had them.
I had a lot of family support. I could not have done this without them.
Journey to grandmotherhood:
Raising boys I always preach to them, protection, protection, protection. There is going to come an age where you’re going to have sex and of course, I’m going to tell you not to do it, but I can not stop you from doing it. So, amongst my preaching, I always try to talk to them. I always try to keep communication open with them to let them know you can talk to me if you need anything. If there is something going on, come tell me.
He told me through the text message and he was like, “Mom, I’m sorry. She’s pregnant. I never wanted to disappoint you.” And I won’t lie, I cried, at work. I just went to the bathroom and cried because I didn’t want them to follow me and do the same things I did. I wanted them to go to school, get careers, even be married first before you start this family. But, God had other plans so here is my baby. I accepted it and I told him I would be here for him, both of them.
Being a grandmother:
Even though I cried. And I was upset in the beginning, you see this baby growing inside of her and you embrace it and I just became excited about it. It’s like I’m going to be a grandmother. There is a baby coming, a new life coming. So, it’s so different. He gets away with so much stuff that my kids were not able to get away with.
He cries I run. You name it! I let him tear up the house. If you could see my living room right now you would be like, “What the heck?” But, I just love him so much. It’s a different kind of love because this is my son’s son. My son is a father. It’s an undescribable feeling, to be honest with you. People who are grandmothers, because I know I have other friends who are grandmothers, and we try to explain it to other people and it’s like you can’t explain it. You love your children to death, but when you have a grandchild it’s just so different. People are always like, “Oh you spoil him.” It’s like, “No, I just love him!”
Differences between motherhood and grandmotherhood:
By the time you get to be a grandparent you already have been a parent so you kind of know what to expect, what things to do, what not to do. You’re more patient. I’m a lot more patient with him.
Like with my kids I was frustrated a lot, I was young, their father was young, you go through this typical mother-father thing with him, two young people having a baby. When they had him it was like I’m just so patient and calm with him. Even when he falls out or is screaming and crying, I’m just so patient with him. Like right now I’m sitting on the couch and he’s just running through the house tearing it up or screaming at me and it’s like, “No LJ don’t do that. Don’t do that.”
With my kids, it’s like I didn’t know that patient feeling because I was also afraid. I was much more harder on them because I was so afraid if something happened to me they wouldn’t have anybody, they wouldn’t have a parent. Their father was already dead and I was all they had. So, I was a little bit harder on them as far as like, “You’ve got to know how to do this XYZ because what if I die and you don’t have anybody?” Looking back it was like maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on them but I was afraid.
Raising black boys:
When they were younger I used to always tell my kids like you’re already born with three strikes against you. I said you’re born to a teenage mother. You’re Black and you’re male. I always felt like they had three strikes against them already.
So, education was always a big thing with me and them.
I didn’t want them to be the stereotypical Black male. You’re not going to be out here running the streets in gangs, getting in trouble, and just all kinds of stuff like that. You’re not going to be disrespectful, disobedient at school. We had standards that you had to abide by when being with me or you will get in trouble. So, there was a certain way we did things when they were coming up. You had to learn. Even before I let them go outside and play they had to do a couple of pages out of their workbook. You had to read something. You had to write me a report about it and things like that. Everything had to be clean. I taught them how to clean and cook and things like that.
I swear it seemed like every time he left the house they were stopping him. To the point where I felt like, “Why are they picking on my kid?” I just felt like they were harassing him. Once they stopped him and got his name in the system…. Even when he was legit they kept stopping him. But then he ended up getting in trouble again. Because you know at one time they were like shooting these young Black men left and right the police were and I was terrified every time they left the house. Every time they left the house. I would like constantly call them, call them, “Where are you? Where are you?” I couldn’t sleep until they came home at night. I couldn’t sleep until I knew they were in the house. I would call so much. I’m sure they got tired of me calling that I’m like, I am terrified. I explained to them like, “I’m terrified that the police will stop you or something. You say the wrong thing and then they shoot you.”
Then I always feel like I have to come to the rescue, mom to the rescue like that’s my son. So, I’m not just going to hand him over to the police. I did not. Until we got a lawyer. I had to hide him out. I told the investigator, “I’m not handing my son over to you. Not without somebody to represent him because I know how the police system is. You’re not going to put words into my son’s mouth. You’re not going to tell him to sign anything or do anything without somebody representing him.” It all worked out.
Being a brand new grandmother:
Sometimes in the beginning, because they were new parents. I probably did overstep my boundaries a little bit…..So, I backed off a little bit. And then when I saw things that could be fine-tuned I just gave them a little advice.
You know even though I’m just a grandmother and he’s not my child; there are times when I would rather spend my time with him.
I’m very content just sitting in the house with him. We go to the park. We play. It’s almost like a second time around being a parent without being a parent. Because of all the things I did with them, the mistakes I made, and things I could have did and should have did and wanted to do, but was never able to. I feel like I can do those things with him.
Making things better for the next generation:
Sara: Do you feel like he was born with three strikes against him?
Kicha: You know it’s so funny you ask that because I do in a sense, but I don’t feel like his parents are in the same position as me. He has two parents. They both work. So, I’m sure they have more money than I did at that time. They are not on welfare. He’s biracial. His other grandmother is Mexican and White so he goes out there to that family so he’s kind of seeing both sides of the fence. You know?
I don’t know. I feel like he has a better chance because we have more advantages with him. I know what to do or what I didn’t do what I should have did with them. The fact that we don’t want him to have these three stripes we are going to go even harder to make sure he’s not in that same position.
Compared to her grandmother:
Growing up in Kankakee you got up and you went to Sunday school and you went to church every Sunday. Because then growing up you had, I’m going to say old school for lack of a better word, older school grandmothers. The ones that didn’t play. You get up. You go to church. Like Big Mommas and things like that. So, it was a different time then. Then we moved to Minnesota in ‘86 and all that kind of fell to the wayside.
My grandmother died when I was younger. ….I just remember her like, in comparison to myself, she was a little older of course but she was just different. Like she was still that sweet grandma but you knew the rules, she cooked, there was a home-cooked meal every day. See, I don’t cook. I don’t. I do not cook. I do not really like cooking. I feel that with me being younger than my grandmother was when I was born I do more things with him than my grandmother did with us.
When I growing up you go to your grandmother’s house, of course, they are like older women so you couldn’t be in the house playing. You go outside, you play, you come in and eat, and you know there you have it. Grandma says do something you do it. Like with me and him we go to the park, we play, we play around the house. We go to basketball games. We go to Sesame Street type things.
We do all kinds of things together. I try to expose him to as much as possible while he’s younger because I feel he needs to be exposed to a lot of things even though he’s a baby.
I try to read to him and just expose him to everything because I feel like it’s just so important. I don’t want to wait until he’s eight, nine, years old to start teaching him things. Like, he needs to be taught these things now while j he’s soaking up everything. If he can dance to a rap song that’s on he can learn A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s and know what a fish is and all this other stuff.
Most challenging experience as a grandmother:
Aside just like sharing him with the two families, her family and our family. We come to a struggle sometimes because everybody wants to see him which is a beautiful thing but holidays are conflicting because you’ve got to spend a couple of hours here then you got to go there. Or okay we will come this day then he has to be away on this day. So holidays get tough. Sometimes me and the other grandmother don’t see eye to eye just because … It’s just crazy just how she is with me. I don’t see him during the week because I work. They live with her so she sees him every day. So, sometimes I don’t know if she jealous or what the deal is. Like, let’s say if I have him for a couple of days or something she sometimes seems like she gets mad or mad at the daughter like, “Oh you’re keeping him from me.” It’s like, “How? He’s with me.”
Other insights- A love so deep it shows:
When I was pregnant with my first kid I had him and then you love that kid so much and then I get pregnant again. I was actually scared thinking, “Oh my God how I’m going to love my other kid as much as I love this one?” How do I love this child? So, when I had this grandchild and when they were talking about years down they are going to have more kids I’m like, “Oh my God, am I going to love my other grandbabies as much as I love this one?” Because this is the first one. I don’t want to be two-faced or show one baby more affection or something. I’m excited to have more grandchildren down the line….I’m sure when I have more grandkids it will be the same feeling all over again.
I feel like being a grandmother consumes a lot of my time which is okay. Because I enjoy it so much and like I said before I want him to be a great person. I want him to always feel loved and to know that he has family. I don’t want him to be a certain way so we try to spend as much time with him as possible. So, Kicha Wells at this point is just focused on being a good grandmother to him, a good role model to him.