(by Tywanna Gardner)
I have a teenage daughter named Rianna. She is a good girl, for the most part, and usually tries to do what she believes is the right thing. When Rianna was younger, she was my biggest advocate. When I started a new venture providing energy services, she would tell people about it and ask them to support me. She was like my promoter, although she was just a couple of feet tall at the time.
My daughter loved to talk. She loved to tell her classmates how her weekend went, all the things she experienced. But they did not want to hear her stories. At age seven, students started to bully her. They’d talk about her hair, her clothes, her shoes. They’d say they didn’t want to play with her, and told her she couldn’t sit with them in the school cafeteria. Being treated in this way naturally made her very unhappy. I tried my best to support her by talking about the situation and speaking with the staff at her school.
Rianna’s teacher suggested that she and the other students start keeping journals, and she began to write her stories down. Using my computer, she went online to contact a publisher. She was only eight years old, but much to my surprise, a publisher called me and asked about her stories.
In January 2018, my daughter published her first book entitled The Cat That Wouldn’t Go Away. I was listed as the co-author. It’s a true story about a cat that showed up on our porch one day. The cat needed a friend, so Rianna became his friend. But the cat had a bullying situation. Other cats would fight him and eat his food. Rianna understood because she had experienced something similar. Together, they stood up to bullies in their own situations.
The first book was a success—about 1000 copies were sold—so we published another book called I Have Big Dreams. Although I have been trying to publish a book of my own since my late teenage years, my daughter published her second book by the age of nine.
As Rianna got closer to her teenage years, her personality changed. She began to isolate herself and told me that she no longer knew whom she could trust—who would be nice to her, who would be mean. We had always talked in the past about things that bothered her, but now she did not want to hear what I had to say. To connect with her, I would ask her to come into the kitchen while I was cooking. She loves to experiment with recipes and taste new foods—she’s actually a lot more open to trying new foods than I am. Since Rianna loves vegetables, I decided I would show her how to cook them, starting with collard greens, something my mother cooked weekly when I was growing up. Cooking was a great way for my mom and me to connect, and for Rianna and me as well. She checks on the greens multiple times while they cook and often takes some out of the pot before I decide that they are done.
Rianna researches recipes online and makes a lot of dishes herself now. To save money, she tries to make food from different cultures. The recipes don’t always turn out the way that she wants, but I’ve told her that I was the same way when I began trying to cook (and I did not have the Internet for research). I always told my children that if you need help, you should ask for it. That is what I did. I asked older women who cooked how they did it. Eventually I learned what I needed to know.
And so will Rianna, in her own way.
Tywanna Gardner is an actor, model, singer, and writer who lives in Washington, D.C. She can be found at Backstage.
1 lb. collard greens, rinsed and stemmed
1 lb. smoked turkey necks or smoked pork
1 t. pepper
optional: pinch of baking soda
optional: packet of collard greens seasoning
Put all ingredients in a large pot of water.
Bring to a boil, lower heat, and cook 1 - 2 hours, until the greens soften and the meat is fork-tender.
Pour out excess water, leaving just enough to moisten the greens and meat.