'It's Not A Fairy Tale, It's Not A Failure': A Mother At 16 Conquers Stigma With Love

Jan 19, 2018
Originally published on January 19, 2018 8:06 am

A favorite pastime for April Gibson and her teenage son, Gregory Bess, is simply talking to one another.

"I think I learn more from those conversations than school," says Gregory, who turned 17 on Thursday.

But during a recent StoryCorps conversation in St. Paul, Minn., April, 33, knew he wanted to talk about a subject the two hadn't really explored.

April invited her son to ask about what that time was like for her, as a young black mother. "Now you can ask me the hard question," April says.

"What did you feel like when I was born?" Gregory asks.

"I actually didn't feel anything," April says. "I was 16, and I was a kid. I didn't know what I was doing. So when I took you home, I didn't know how to feel. I made a bad choice according to everybody. 'You're just like all the rest of them.' "

In the beginning, those judgments masked her own feelings. "I don't know what 'the rest of them' means," she says, "but I know what it felt like. Like I didn't deserve to feel the way women who do the right things do — because why would you celebrate someone making such a poor choice?"

Because April didn't know what to feel, she says she felt nothing. "And I just took care of you," she tells Gregory. "I did what I was supposed to do."

Then one day, she had a realization. "I couldn't believe what people told me about myself or about 'those people' like me," she says. "This is my baby, and I love him, and I can feel something. It's not a fairy tale, it's not a failure. It's just a process, and now we're here, 16 years later."

Gregory asks his mother what hopes she holds for his future.

"My dream for you, Gregory, is that you become a good person. And not a nice person — that's not a deep quality to me. Niceness is mediocrity," she says. "I want you to not be afraid to be afraid. But mostly, I want you to be better than me."

When he was younger, Gregory says, he wanted to find someone to look up to. "But it's always been right in front of me," he says. "You're just the greatest person that I ever known. And I just want to be like you."

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from Story Corps. Thirty-three-year-old April Gibson and her teenage son, Gregory Bess, love talking with each other.

GREGORY BESS: We could talk about things for, like, hours. I think I learn more from those conversations than school.

INSKEEP: But April, the mother, knew there was one subject they had not really explored. So when a Story Corps mobile booth traveled recently to St. Paul, Minn., she invited her son to sit down with her. He asked about his grandparents and her childhood. But April knew her 16-year-old had something more that he wanted to talk about.

APRIL GIBSON: Now you can ask me the hard question.

BESS: What did you feel like when I was born?

GIBSON: When you were born, I actually didn't feel anything. I was 16, and I was a kid. I didn't know what I was doing. So when I took you home, I didn't know how to feel. I made a bad choice according to everybody. I was just like all the rest of them. I don't know what the rest of them means, but I know what it felt like. Like, I didn't deserve to feel the way women who do the right things do because why would you celebrate someone making such a poor choice? So I didn't know what do feel, so I felt nothing. And I just took care of you.

I did what I was supposed to do until one day I realized that I couldn't believe what people told me about myself or about those people like me. This is my baby, and I love him. And I can feel something. It's not a fairy tale. It's not a failure. It's just a process. And now we're here 16 years later.

BESS: What are your dreams for me?

GIBSON: My dream for you, Gregory, is that you become a good person and not a nice person. That's not a deep quality to me. Niceness is mediocrity. I want you to not be afraid to be afraid. But mostly, I want you to be better than me.

BESS: When I was little, I was always looking for someone to look up to, but it's always been right in front of me. You're just the greatest person that I ever know. And I just want to be like you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEINLAND SONG, "SUNKEN EYES")

INSKEEP: April Gibson and her son, Gregory Bess, in St. Paul, Minn. Their story will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and featured on the Story Corps podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.