I have always been perceived to be younger than I actually was; at first, I was not too fond of it, but it eventually grew on me.
As a teenager, they said I looked 12
And I accepted moving through life
Perceived as a younger version
Of my current self
Not sure whether to feel offended or special
Because of the saying “Black don’t crack.”
Anyways, the free bus rides rock
I am never questioned
Nor refused a ride when I “forget” my Metrocard
Except lately when I drop off my 6-year-old sister late,
I am told: “Mom, class begins at 8 am.”
And when I pick my 12-year-old brother up from school,
The security guards call the nurse and say, “Mom is here.”
I text my sister, “I look like a mother now?”
I think, “Does being a mom really have a look or age?”
I go outside and repeat to my sister what I texted,
And she looks me up and down and points
“It’s the mom pants.”
I was inspired to write this piece after being repeatedly called my siblings’ mom when I was picking them up from school or walking with them. This baffled me; as I stated earlier, I was always seen as younger than I actually was. I did not realize how much I had begun to internalize this perception until it changed. At first, I was embarrassed and tried to correct whoever it was; eventually, I stopped. But I still wondered why this was the case. In my wondering after the scenario I wrote about in the poem occurred, it occurred to me that people saw me as “different,” not just because I was now older but because I dressed differently.
My teenage years included wearing hoodies, skinny jeans, leggings, sweats, and short sleeves. I went through changes in my life that inspired me to dress modestly. I learned that as a Muslim, modesty is one of our most important values, and we should constantly try to implement it in our daily lives. So I traded my skinny jeans, short sleeves, and leggings for baggy jeans, skirts, and sometimes maxi dresses. What I did not realize was how that was going to change how people perceived me. I did not mind it; in fact, I found it funny. One late night, as I sat to write, desperate for inspiration, I decided to use my experiences to inspire what I wrote. This was one of the pieces that came out of using my experiences as inspiration. My mentor, Tess, played a massive part in helping me edit the poem, and she inspired me to publish it in the anthology. I am very grateful for her help and her support. In writing and editing this poem, I learned appearances could sometimes be deceiving and how easily you can change the perception of the people around you.
Maryam Oguntola is a senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, majoring in Law & Society with a minor in Dispute Resolution. When not preparing for law school with the goal of practicing immigration law, Maryam is an avid reader working on a research paper assessing gender inequality in the workplace as experienced by Nigerian-based women versus U.S.- and Canada-based Nigerian immigrant women. Her first-person understanding of immigration as primarily a social experience has inspired a deep study of the interconnection between law and society in order to better serve the undocumented youth in the United States.