I often refer to my almost-15-year-old niece and nephew (twins) as my Crisis Management Team (CMT). It seems that during a holiday or in the summertime when we’re together, something big goes down and they happen to be there to witness and share in my panic. When I say big, I mean big, like an emergency response unit will get called. And everytime it’s just the three of us plus my little ones– I panic, they panic, and we call for help! It’s our thing.
So, the Sunday before Christmas, I made a chicken pie. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a southern comfort dish that entails layering a thick crust made of dough on top of a stew. The stew is a combination of dumplings, chicken, and broth. It bakes in the oven and can be served as a main dish or a side dish depending on how rich it is.
Well, my deep, brim-filled aluminum pan from Wal-Mart could not contain all the juicy goodness from this family-sized- spirit- of- Christmas chicken pie that took 3 human beings to pick up and put into the oven.
Thirty minutes into the baking process: Drippage, smoke, and eventually, a flame appeared inside the oven.
CMT was ready!
I told Niece to get out and take my three little children with her. I told Nephew to get the fire extinguisher so we could SAVE MY MAMA’S HOUSE! (My dad lost his barn to a fire during a Fourth of July holiday while we were all asleep so our family has a shared nervousness when it comes to fire.)
I stared at the flame through the oven door, pulled the pin, and bent my knees.
“I GOT THIS! OPEN IT UP!” I squeezed the lever.
Now. I think when Nephew opened the oven, the fire kinda extinguished itself??? Like, maybe it changed it’s mind about being a real fire? I sprayed the oven down anyway because that’s what you do when you see a flame… in my mind.
I had an epiphany days after putting out the almost-fire: I, Clinnesha, tend to overreact when home life comes at me fast and hard. However, it is through my reactive behavior that I learn how to gracefully respond to situations.
The difference in reacting and responding:
“A reaction is based in the moment and doesn’t take into consideration long term effects of what you do or say. A reaction is survival-oriented and on some level a defense mechanism. It might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later. A response on the other hand usually comes more slowly.” -Psychology Today
Back to the “controversial dumplings”: two consecutive puffs from that old fire extinguisher made a huge mess! I spent the next hour cleaning up the white foam, doing cross-ventilation trying to clear the air of smoke, and of course, I had to save the dumplings by transferring them to a smaller pan and putting them into the smaller oven so they could finish baking. I mean, we still had to eat!
When apologizing to my parents, they assured me that I did the right thing and that my reaction was necessary. That made me feel good, cause I felt sooo bad. And we all did enjoy the portion of chicken pie that didn’t have a coating of white foam on it…
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that while a response seems like the better/more mature option, some things/situations/people deserve a straight reaction from you:
👉 CMTs, spouses, “chirren”, co-workers, friends, family, interstate drivers, Trump supporters, bill collectors, entitled students, joy stealers, exes… all y’all need to understand that it is hard in these streets for black women… and we are tired. Black women are deeply tired, do you hear me??? So tired we just might forget to respond… We just might pop off and do what we have to do to save the house.
If responding is your default and you’ve recently caught yourself reacting, just remember that life is a deep, delicious, overflowing chicken pie. When it boils over, extinguish the flame, clear the air, clean up the mess or make amends, and enjoy your dish!
Finally, when people know what a reaction looks like coming from you, it helps them appreciate/acknowledge when you give the gift of a calm, logical, well-played response. It helps them to recognize Grace when they see it.
Clinnesha is a writer, wife, mom, meta-artist, and social entrepreneur who feels most accountable to southern, black citizen-artists, elders, children, and families. Her work is at the intersection of arts, culture, innovation, and community.