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News & Features » November 2013 » “White Sneakers: The Art of Saying Fuck You” by Bernice L. McFadden

“White Sneakers: The Art of Saying Fuck You” by Bernice L. McFadden

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, Bernice L. McFadden talks about watching her daughter grow into an independent Fuck You Woman.

Bernice L. McFadden

White Sneakers: The Art of Saying Fuck You (nonfiction)
by Bernice L. McFadden

Many years ago I read a collection of essays entitled The Habit of Surviving: Black Woman’s Strategies For Life, by Kesho Yvonne Scott.

While I enjoyed all of the essays, my favorite was “Marilyn.”

Marilyn was a woman who had grown up in a house where her father ruled both mother and daughter with an iron fist. When Marilyn got pregnant at sixteen, her father forced her to marry, and she found herself living with her Boy-Husband and his parents.

As transforming as marriage and motherhood was for Marilyn, what really affected her was the strength exhibited by her mother-in-law and the other women who spent time in that house.

Those women always seemed to make themselves happy by doing exactly what they wanted to do, which was almost always the total opposite of what the men in their lives told them to do.

One day Marilyn’s mother-in-law told her husband that she wanted a new washing machine. The husband said no, take the clothes to the Laundromat; the wife promptly responded, Fuck You, and the next day the Sears delivery truck pulled up in front of the house with a brand-new washing machine. Marilyn greatly admired those women who were the polar opposite of her weak and docile mother. Marilyn secretly yearned to be like them and began to lovingly refer to the women as “Fuck You Women.” Eventually, she would become one herself.

That essay really spoke to me. While my mother wasn’t docile or weak, she wasn’t a full-fledged Fuck You Woman; if she had been, she would have left my father soon after I was born. Instead, she stayed in that miserable relationship for forty years, freed only when my father died in 2005.

I read that essay back in 1991, when I was a single mother to my then three-year-old daughter. As I said, my mother wasn’t a full-fledged Fuck You Woman, but I did have two grandmothers and a few aunts who were, and so, not unlike Marilyn, just being in their presence started me on the road to Fuck You Womanhood.

At the time I read the essay, my daughter and I were living in a small one-bedroom apartment in my parents’ two-family house. During those years, she was a frequent witness to many of my Fuck You Moments. Some of those moments were hostile, accompanied by the slamming down of a telephone receiver or a water glass flying through the air, dead set on her father’s forehead. But many more were subtle in a way that only my daughter would comprehend—for example, when I decided to loc my hair. That decision damn near placed both my father and hers into an early grave, because of course dreadlocks were for pot-smoking Jamaicans and I was an American-born female with a 9-to-5 desk job. I received much of the same reaction when I got tattooed and pierced and quit my job to complete my first novel. But the biggest Fuck You moment of them all was when I said Fuck You For Good to corporate America after acquiring my first book contract.

All of these decisions were met with dismay by many of the people in my life, but I was determined to do what made me happy. I didn’t want to look back and find a sea of regrets floating in my past.

The first time I realized that I had a potential Fuck You Woman on my hands was when my daughter was twelve years old and I allowed her, for the very first time, to walk alone to the neighborhood shopping district. She was going to buy a pair of sneakers to take along with her on a six-week stint at sleep-away camp. Before she left, I read her the riot act, which included warnings about being wary of strangers, crossing the street at the green light, and counting her change before walking away from the register. But mainly, I forbade her to buy light-colored sneakers, because they would look like hell by the end of her first week of camp. She looked me dead in the eye and said, “OK, mommy.”

A few hours later, she returned home with her purchase. My mother and I were sitting outside on the stoop, neither one of us willing to admit that we were nervous because the preteen of the household had taken her first tentative steps into teenage-dom. When we saw her strolling down the street, I think we both breathed a sigh of relief. She’d made it back unharmed and in one piece, looking every bit of the tall, lanky preteen who’d left us just a few hours earlier. I would soon find out that that wasn’t completely true.

“So,” my mother and I sang when she was standing before us, “Let’s see the sneakers.”

My daughter casually pulled the box from the plastic bag and flipped open the lid. There, in the bowels of the cardboard box, was a pair of blindingly white Nike sneakers.

I was struck dumb.

My mother blinked nervously.

We both stared at her until I finally found my voice.

“Didn’t I tell you NOT to buy a light colored pair of sneakers?”

My daughter offered me a blank look as if I had just spoken to her in a foreign language.

I angrily reiterated my question and her gaze slowly loss its idiocy, leaving behind the full onslaught expression that only a Fuck You Woman can bestow.

That moment affected me as emotionally as all of the other first moments in her life: First steps; the first time she babbled “ma-ma”; first day at pre-k; first training bra; and the day her menstrual cycle arrived.

You see, all of those “firsts” inches that child you fell in love with as soon as you peed on the pregnancy stick and the indicator turned blue a little bit further away from you, and that’s not always an easy reality to embrace.

But on that day, and as angry as I was at her blatant defiance, I understood that no matter how loud I yelled, this too was another FIRST—and as you know a FIRST is always followed by a second, a third and so on . . .

A great many more Fuck You moments followed, events that included piercings, tattoos, boyfriends, and even college applications. But we survived.

She’s twenty-five now, and about three-quarters of a full-fledged Fuck You Woman. I say three-quarters because a full-fledged Fuck You Woman knows not to wield her powers recklessly. One must learn to pick and choose who and what to say Fuck You to, lest it comes back to bite you in the ass later on in life. This is a lesson she is still learning. So she still has a ways to go, but I suspect she’ll arrive right on time.


BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of eight critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, Nowhere Is a PlaceGathering of Waters(a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a two-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of two fiction honor awards from the BCALA. Her sophomore novel, The Warmest December, was praised by Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison as “searing and expertly imagined.” McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdaysflash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Nov 26, 2013

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , , ,