Archive | November, 2010

Self-care and the power of no

30 Nov

As a woman in my late thirties I struggle with the concept of taking care of my self. Women by our very nature are inclined to be caregivers, whether we give care to our children or loved ones or if you are like me and your paying work involves caring for others. While I don’t provide direct care to the hundreds of kids and their families that take part in the programs my center offers; at the end of the day I make decisions that affect these families. It’s an awesome responsibility but at times it’s tiring.

I woke up this morning only to realize that my monthly cycle had started and honestly the first 1-2 days of my cycle drain me especially as I have officially entered the perimenopausal stage of life. I also had a very important though not critical meeting this morning for work, yet after getting my daughter off to school I realized that my Pamprin wasn’t working nearly as fast as I would have liked it to so I made a decision. Just say no. I admit this meeting would have meant a lot to my organization but it also required me to give a lot of my self on a morning when I need to draw inward and conserve my energy and ruminate on my truths. Yet I chose to say no and instead opt for rescheduling to a time where I have more to give.

Lately I have been involved in discussions both online and offline about the issue of self care, yet for many us self care seems to have evolved to a point where in many cases in order to be valid it requires perhaps spending money. Yet what if you have no money for a yoga class, a massage, a new pair of boots, etc? Are you not actively taking care of yourself? Of course not, yet too many of us and I have been guilty of it as well think that taking care of self involves extraordinary measures. Don’t get me wrong, I feel great when I can make it to my yoga class or score a treat for myself but on mornings like this, allowing myself a leisurely wake-up process feels pretty good too.

So as we enter what for many is no doubt a busy season with the holidays upon us, don’t be afraid to say two simple words…no. Sometimes saying no and recognizing our limitations is just as valuable to our self care and mental state as a massage, maybe even more. In a society that values busy work, allowing ourselves to get off that busy treadmill and simply have a slower pace feels good. Realizing that while a 5 course meal is tasty; perhaps just eating leftovers or even a quick meal from outside and instead choosing to use our time cuddling with the kids is even better for our mental well-being.

Reclaim the power of the words no and being willing to accept our limitations is a powerful step in taking care of ourselves.




Class, Privilege and Black Friday

26 Nov

I had no intentions of blogging today, figured I’d take the day off and relax with the family. But today’s post was inspired by one of my favorite folks on Twitter and it actually made me think. Today is Black Friday, a day that in recent years has become synonymous with great bargains and the possibility of getting trampled if you are trying to shop at a store that serves a rowdy clientele and has bargains too good to resist. In many ways Black Friday has become a great joke for the economically comfortable. Granted there are many solidly middle class folks that like to go out and shop on Black Friday but for working class folks, the deals touted on Black Friday may be the only way some families will be able to afford gifts.

Now I know many folks who will say but why do they feel the need to feed the shopping machine in the first place? Good question but that’s a different discussion for a different day. However as someone who spent the first 18 years of her life working class in a good year, let me tell you the holidays despite the interpersonal strife and conflict often times represented the only time of the year that some of my needs and wants got met. Working with low income families for many years now, I will say things haven’t changed much for the poor and or working class.

In solidly middle class and higher families, good food, enriching toys and clothing needs and desires are met throughout the year. Yet for people who struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, that is often not their reality. It was just over a year ago that this reality hit home with me when I was working with some of the kids that attend my after school program and we were working with paints. Not terribly expensive paints by any stretch of the imagination anyhoo one of the girl’s parents called and she was upset that she had to leave the project we were working on. So very thoughtlessly, I suggested maybe she could paint at home and she explained she had no paints at home. Recently two of my younger kids asked if they could take some crayons home to color with as they had no crayons at home with which to color with. As a parent who tries to keep a stocked craft cabinet for my own child, my heart broke then I remembered that I don’t recall ever having any paints at home myself when I was a child. I can’t even imagine that it dawned on my parents that they should provide me with paints. I suspect in their minds they figured my painting needs were met at school plus they probably didn’t have the resources to obtain paints and other art/craft supplies for me.

Just yesterday while killing time on Twitter, I’d say 25% of the folks I follow were railing against Thanksgiving as a bullshit holiday. I won’t deny it’s a bullshit holiday and most of us were taught a false holiday that whitewashed the brutality and sheer evil that is at the heart of Thanksgiving. Yet like Christmas celebrations how many people even think about the historical roots of the holiday? Nope, for many it’s just a pig-out day to spend with loved ones or people you are suppose to love. Yet for those who live with financial and food insecurity, its one of the few days that in many cases you can have more than enough food complete with treats.

One of the shittiest things about my job at times is that during the holiday season I am inundated with folks offering help for the needy, free meals, free toys, free clothes…you get the picture. Yet ask me where this help is in July? Yeah…can’t tell ya because I don’t see it. But in November and December offers of help flows like booze with the cast of Jersey Shore and you can be damn sure I see to it that people are able to get their needs met.

Yet there are folks who are not among the neediest so agencies like mine generally can’t help them, so what’s a working stiff to do when they want or need a new television set? Wait like hell for the deals and hope they can snap up that TV. I admit as someone whose main telly is on the brink I almost sent the Spousal Unit out to brave the crowds at Wally World since a 19” TV for $99 is quite a steal. We don’t shun television in this house and by most folk’s standards our TV’s are modest, I have an old 13” in my bedroom and a 22” in the living room, that’s it. No bells or whistles, and considering that televisions these days are quite costly I can sympathize with those who feel the need to get up early to snag a good deal. Shit, it’s getting harder and harder to make the shekels stretch…if giving up a night of sleep to get needs and wants taken care of works for some, who the hell am I to judge?

Admittedly I have in the past said not too nice things about Black Friday but for me it’s always been more about the mob mentality that seems to surface. On the other hand maybe it says something deeper about us as a society that we allow what used to be a benign day to become such a crazy thing. After all I don’t recall hearing about violence happening as a result of shopping on Black Friday back in the 1980’s or even 1990’s. I think as we live in such rapid paced times we are pushed to our breaking point. Living in a time when even before the Great Recession there was such opulence or so we thought yet for the real man or woman on the streets they saw their real wages stagnate, health insurance go up and basically started using their houses and credit cards to supplement with the Boss man didn’t pay so that their ends could meet. In such situations how can you not expect people to go a little crazy?

Perhaps all of us including myself need to look at root causes for why days like Black Friday bring out the worst in humanity. Sure it’s easy to say well folks don’t need this or that; all the while you are typing from the comfort of your home with your latest piece of iGadgetry.

At the end of the day, we all want good food, a warm house, clothing, love and maybe even a few extras however we define those extras, for some it’s iGadgets, Kitchen-Aid mixers and so on…yet who are we to judge someone else’s desires? Yet our ability to have these things will depend in large part on where we sit on the socio-economic ladder and even a decision of whether or not to brave crowds on Black Friday versus shopping on Cyber Monday from the comforts of our home and or office will depend on what we have access to.  Just some food from thought from a lifetime card carrying member of the working class.

Holiday musings..growing up with dysfunctional turkey

24 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving Eve as I write this, a time where if you live in the United States you are either in route to celebrate with family and friends. Or perhaps you are in the thick of meal preparation as you get ready to feast tomorrow or maybe you are checking your list so that come 5 am on Friday you can get ready to snag some deals on Black Friday and try to avoid becoming a casualty of shopping gone mad. Though for many of us myself included holidays are times of great ambivalence.

The truth is until recent years I absolutely hated holidays, yet aside from sharing that with the Spousal Unit I never told a living soul. After all nothing brings the mood down faster than telling people that for you holidays are like hell…trapped with people you love (you think) but who also drive you mad in a very real and painful manner.


Yet the older I get, I no longer feel compelled to speak falsehoods, to heal its imperative that I name things and clear it out of my system. Truth is growing up holidays even seemingly benign ones like Thanksgiving sucked aside from the food. I wish with all my heart that I had one of those close knit families that so many others speak of, where yes there are sticky moments but at the end of the day there is love and laughter.

Lately I find myself thinking about how very different childhood is for my children compared to what I had growing up. The single biggest difference is that they are peaceful, especially for the girl child who has really had no connection with my family. College boy shared some holiday time with my family but between shared custody and my moving to Maine when he was 10, while he has some memories most were the traditions that I worked at building when he was  a young child.

See, I grew up in a family where a good time for all meant drinking…fact is I have nothing against drinking. The Spousal Unit and I lately have taken to sharing wine or a beer on a regular occasion but for us drinking does not define events and activities and drunkenness is most certainly to be avoided. Yet recently in looking at a scrap book from my childhood, I realized almost every picture that was centered on any type of holiday there are bottles of booze in the background. These photos were the visual proof that my memories were not flawed but that the yelling, screaming and occasional knife chases that I remembered happening on holidays were not in fact just false memories.

It’s hard to admit that, most certainly in a public forum but I suspect I am not the only one whose childhood was less than idyllic. Yet for many of us it’s hard to admit that in part because we feel it will reflect poorly on us…I mean what does it say about you if you came from such a dysfunctional family that the act of sharing a good time and meal was taken as a license for the adults in charge to get drunk, nasty and sometimes violent? Well the older I get it means simply that is where I came from but it does not define my present or my future.

I have often shared with friends that in many ways despite the litany of things I can bitch about as a Black woman living in Maine, moving 1100 miles away from my family of origin was probably the best thing I could do for my mental health. Moving to Maine meant I no longer had to show up at holiday meals out of a sense of familial obligation. It meant I was finally free to craft my own traditions and ways of doing things without fear of judgment.

Currently it means that we break bread on Thanksgiving with dear friends who have included us in their inner circle as part of their family traditions where our girls play for hours together and have since they were 1 and 2. It means good food that nourishes the body and good conversation that nourishes the soul. Oh the dinner at times has attracted it’s share of quirky characters but unlike what I was accustomed to for the first 30 years of my life, everyone will mind their manners. There will be no drunken brawls, no one cussing anyone out and so on.

So for anyone reading this who has struggled under the weight of holidays and dysfunctional families, don’t be afraid to carve out your own traditions, after all not all skinfolk in kinfolk. Sometimes we find kinship with people who share no blood ties to us and we are better for it.

Week in review or a world gone mad

20 Nov

Well hello dear readers! Long time no write. To say the past week has been hectic would be an understatement, my personal world was going crazy at the same time the world in general seems to be losing it’s mind. Got plans to fly this upcoming week to share some turkey and trimmings? It seems before you get on the plane you will have to decide whether you want to be scanned and have your whole body on display to some unseen TSA worker or get the more personal treatment and get felt up by some wanna be Robocop in a bad uniform wearing gloves. Of you can go the John Tyner route and raise a little hell and insure that you won’t be eating turkey with loved ones and then face investigation and a possible fine. I gotta be honest as someone who only flies when it’s absolutely necessary, these changes are making it even less likely I will be flying anytime soon. You want to touch my junk then we need to know each other or you better be hot as hell.

What is it with Sarah Palin and her progeny? Good gravy, for a woman with no job, she gets around like a blunt at a stoner party. We have Bristol on Dancing with the Stars and the other Palin girl tossing gay slurs around like farts after too much fiber intake. Someone please make these women go away…far the fuck away.

In my world, I have learned a valuable lesson…hiring a bad employee is a real time suck. If you recall a few months ago I had to hire some folks for the agency I run. Well after 6 weeks of training someone who I admit was a questionable hire, the bottom fell out. The worker was not a good fit and I found myself this week planning on firing her but she did me a solid and quit with no notice. Integrity….does it even exist anymore?

I know we live in a time and day when everyone is looking out for self and maybe it’s a sign of my getting old, I can’t fault anyone for taking a position that pays more…been there myself more than once in my career. On the other hand it’s not what we do, it’s often how we do things that speaks to our character and who we are. In my case the former employee rather than being upfront, drug things out by calling in at the last minute for several days. Considering I work with at risk kids who need stability such behavior has a shitty effect on the kids also the former employee due to lackluster performance came close to jeopardizing several projects. Thankfully I realized ahead of time and planned ahead but it’s come at the cost to my own family and putting in way more hours over the past week to play catch up. Anyway vent over…wish her well.

In other news, my Dad is officially moving in with me, we have confirmed dates and I admit I am getting nervous. Yet as the Spousal Unit reminded me this move is the right thing…damn, being a grown up is hard as hell. I won’t lie right about now I long for the days when I could just be free to do me but there are times as an adult when we simply have to do what’s right. It’s like the Cod Liver oil I take daily, the shit is nasty yet it’s good for me.

So that’s all that is shaking in my world. Catch ya on the flipside and here is hoping next week there will be a little more time for blogging.

ETA:  It seems my links are being a tad wonky I will try to fix these as soon as possible.

Revisiting the issue of food and class…a visit to Trader Joe’s

12 Nov

Living in Maine is an experience, Maine is a rural state but at the same time it’s a place with class. It’s a place where the pace of life is definitely slow but at the same time due to its natural beauty and relative closeness to places like Boston and New York City, there are tons of transplants here. While this is a rural state it’s rural with a cosmopolitan feel especially in our largest city, Portland. We have a growing well respected foodie scene, shit even the New York Times says we have some of the best bagels here. (This place is fucking amazing).

That said, Maine is slow to catch on as far as the big national trends and places…hell, we don’t even have billboards in this state. When I first landed here almost 8 years ago, you could count the number of Starbucks on one hand and it would not have been full. The first year I was in serious coffee withdrawals since the closest Starbucks meant heading to the next county over. Thankfully after a year here, Starbucks opened in my town…the upside of living in a tourist destination, the tourists like decent coffee. (Sorry New Englanders, where I come from Dunkin Donuts is what you drink at 3 am when you are drunk as a skunk and need to start the sobering up process).

Other national places that were slow to arrive here include Whole Foods, hell that took several years to arrive. Those of us from away were jonesing like crack addicts waiting for the next fix and let me tell you it was a big deal when Whole Foods landed in our fair state. But nothing and I say nothing could have prepared me for TJ madness…that’s Trader Joe’s in case you don’t know.

Now Trader Joe’s is a place I had only been in once before on some trip many years ago, hell the Spousal Unit is a California boy and he had been to them but clearly in the time since we lived in close proximity to one, their legend had grown. I have had buddies in Maine tell me how they drive monthly two states over to go to Trader Joe’s. I admit I am lazy; the idea of traveling like that to spend my money leaves me scratching my head. To each his own though, in my early years in Maine I trekked monthly to Boston just to get my hair done, so who am I to talk shit?

In recent years there had been all kinds of talk about bringing Trader Joe’s to Maine and it finally happened. They officially opened a few weeks ago; a colleague from grad school actually got up to stand in line at 6 am to shop there on opening day. Um….nothing short of a sick child or a flight will get me up that early. I admit the energy over Trader Joe’s was contagious, the way folks talked about their beloved Two Buck Chuck, the treats, oh my…shit I was expecting a magical experience.

Well today the Spousal Unit and I decided to have an early date while the kidlet was in school and hit up some of the new Maine chain places. First stop Cracker Barrel…that was ummmm interesting. Breakfast didn’t quite rock my world though the hash brown casserole was intriguing, though I admit I will go back, they serve catfish and I do love me some catfish. Enough about the Cracker Barrel though, on to TJ’s.

So we arrive in the parking lot of the Portland Trader Joe’s and it was real clear that just the act of parking the car was going to take some time, thankfully after a couple times circling around a space opened up. First thing I notice people are flying in the doors as if they ate a McRib and their bowels were about to open up, but I think they were just excited to go in. I admit for a moment it felt exciting. I grabbed my cart and away we went, I won’t bore you with the details but I did drop $100 on items that I am not sure I would have normally have bought, after all will I really eat those dark chocolate mints?

What I was struck by though was how much TJ’s reminded me of Aldi, the no frills grocery store where folks who tend to be short on cash shop. It’s my understanding that the two stores have some type of connection though it’s not entirely clearly but what I was struck by is that just like Aldi caters to low income folks allowing them to splurge on cheap faux peanut butter cookies, canned ravioli and pizza rolls. Trader Joe’s caters to the well heeled who like to eat hummus and pita and kick back with a cheap wine but not too cheap. Once the wine can be opened with a cap its officially low class.

I have talked here before how much our food choices are tied to where we sit on the class ladder. I will openly admit that once a year I like to kick back with a glass of grape kool-aid and a fried bologna sammich on Wonder Bread, it’s the comfort food of my youth. Truth is in the past decade or so since I officially moved up the class ladder leaving my working class roots behind by virtue of my education, I have worked hard to change my palate. If left to my own devices I will eat the shit out of fried whatever, smothered in gravy with a side of bread product with a limp green vegetable on the side.

The thing is I know now that such foods are bad for me so guess what? I rarely eat them, they are now officially treats. I literally have willed myself into liking sushi, there are times I ask myself is this really good? Yet as I have shared here before it was in graduate school where I learned to eat it since not eating it made me stand out even more, besides I like spice, with enough wasabi my mouth is on fire so it glides down the old shoot.

Yet it’s funny where food is as much about comfort as nutrition certain food choices are seen as less than and the eater seen as less enlightened yet if you are high enough on the class ladder your junk food is seen as better. Take Cheetos versus the Pirate Booty that the well heeled feed their progeny. Truth is I will takle a damn Cheetos or Cheez Doodle any day over Pirates Booty, yet now that I no longer am a card carrying member of the working class, I feed my kid Pirate Booty. I admit I fear being judged over this stuff, though occasionally we share some of Mommy’s off limits Cheetos.

I must admit I often like looking in people’s carts at grocery stores and today’s maiden voyage into Trader Joe’s was no exception. I found myself thinking that most of the patrons myself included had quite a bit of processed food items in their carts yet unlike many there I have no problem buying the occasional junk food from a regular grocery store. In most stores when I see someone with processed food items I figure they either have no time or talent for cooking, but what I was struck by today was that most of these same people with carts piled high (and I saw a few folks I know personally) would never be caught in say Wally World buying some off brand frozen burritos yet in the right and oh proper setting, buying such things are a sign of how hip you are.

Take the famous Two Buck Chuck wine; while I am not a wine snob, I am not big on California wines so after reading the label I took a pass though the Spousal Unit grabbed a bottle for himself. Yet I found myself wondering how many of these same folks grabbing up bottles of Two Buck Chuck would be caught dead with some Julio and Earnest Gallo? Not many I bet.

So like most things in America it all comes down to class, even our taste in junk food is segregated, while I didn’t see any good ole fashioned bologna at Trader Joe’s I did see plenty of deli meat that would definitely be higher up on the class ladder.

As for me, while it was great to check it out and I admit tonight’s Mandarin Orange Chicken was tasty as hell, not sure TJ’s will be a weekly stop though it might be nice for the occasional treat. I will continue to eat much like I live wedged between my working class by birth roots and dangling in the middle class, quite an interesting place to be.

Raising Black and Brown Babies

8 Nov

As much as I love the exchange of information and communities that can form online I have to say that there are areas where I feel it’s very limited. No matter who we are and how open minded we see ourselves the fact is we bring our lens to how we interpret information. In the US, our race, class and gender greatly inform our views even down to the politics of how we parent our children. In the past 24 hours I have read two pieces and the resulting comments that really bring home the point for me as a Black woman raising brown kids that no matter what parenting philosophy I choose my experiences as a Black woman in America shape my views. In this first piece we have Erica Jong discussing the parenting style known as attachment parenting and in this second piece we have a great blogger who happens to be Black dealing with her brown boy asking for a white doll. I realize they are both lengthy but I encourage you to read them.

I not going to get into specifics but I will say that what I was struck by in reading these pieces was how much as a Black woman that shapes how I raise my kids. To be honest I feel I live (and most Black/Brown folks) in a world that requires no matter how progressive I am as a parent that I instill in my kids some things that white folks will never have to worry about when it comes to raising their kids. In order to do that I must start early in childhood, I believe I have moved far away from the harsh manner in which my parents raised me. I don’t spank, I don’t yell, I allow my kids a voice but at the same time I understand that black and brown children if they are caught out in the world expressing themselves no matter how cute and articulate that as they grow older the stakes get higher. What am I trying to say? Well as the mother of an 18 year old brown boy, I will always worry will my son become a victim of police brutality? I can’t imagine my white friends have that worry but I know that every Black and Brown mother I know raising boys has that fear. All it takes is a simple traffic stop for my son’s life to end.

This reality was brought home recently when speaking to my former mother in law who happen to be an attorney and she was telling me about this story. Apparently I missed it in the news but you have a young Black man whose life was ended too early. Sadly these things are all too common in Black and brown communities. My former mother in law was talking about how this story made her fear for my son, her only grandchild. I almost laughed but simply said I understand. See, since my son hit that stage at about 14 or so when his height exceeded mine and he looked less like a boy and more like a man, I have feared for his life. Oh, I know he is a level headed kid who while he will make mistakes often will try to do the right thing but may fall short. We all do, no one is perfect. Problem is we live in a world that does not give black and brown bodies the benefit of the doubt.

I fear that my son could at any minute become a victim of someone else’s stupidity. I fear that as my girl grows up she will internalize the images that say black and brown are not beautiful yet she will be a prime candidate for the boys and men that will be eager to use and abuse her.

I realize some might say gee…you live a grim existence. Nope, I live the life the cards dealt and understand in ways my parents never did when they tried to raise me in a color blind (to some degree hippy fashion) that the world is not kind to black and brown bodies. I understand that as a Black woman, shit happens to brown and black bodies at a greater rate than it happen to white bodies. I understand that sadly the political is not just a discussion I have online but my reality. Black and brown bodies in this society break down faster than white bodies; we are bombarded by stresses on every side…as bell hooks said in Sisters of the Yam “Life threatening stress has become the normal psychological state for many black women (and men). Much of the stress black people experience is directly related to the way in which systems of domination-racism, sexism, and capitalism in particular disrupt out capabilities to fully exercise self determination.” It’s why as a Black woman raising brown kids, my children know how to breathe deeply and my son started taking yoga. It’s probably why whenever I go to the doctor they seem amazed that my blood pressure is good, it pisses me off yet I know I am the same age my mother was when she had to start taking the blood pressure medicine. It’s why in the late 30’s Black and Brown bodies slowly start breaking down almost certainly insuring we will leave this planet earlier than our white counterparts.

I share this all to say that if we as a culture want to have a true discussion on parenting and motherhood in this society that first thing we must be willing to look at is the differences that impact us as mothers. Yes, we all want the same thing for our babies but the means by which we get there may different. It’s why in Black and Brown communities the need for a village from my perspective is stronger than in the white community. I know I cannot parent alone, I have tried. Yet for my white sisters many are okay without that village yet they often have greater supports, partners who often can earn enough to provide. While my white sisters also deal with the fact that as women in this society they are still not valued as much as men the fact is with whiteness comes a level of privilege that is harder to access if you are Black or Brown.  While most certainly lower income whites face many of the same struggles that low income and even middle class Blacks face the fact is whiteness is at times less stressful.

To come together as mothers concerned about the world and raising kids, I need my white sisters to understand that while my methods of raising kids may differ from you, it’s only because our reality is different.  Once there is that acknowledgment then I think as women and mothers we can come together to address the inequities that face us all.

The Fall Blahs

7 Nov

I’m still around but between a hectic work week ,a nasty bug and now a sick kiddo, I seem to have a case of the blahs. Though in some ways one of my favorite Maine bloggers On Bradstreet does a great job in this post of summing up much of what I am feeling. Frankly I think even before the election I was headed towards the mid fall crash but after the election I just wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.I am trying not to overreact to the reddening of Maine but running an agency that deals in assisting with basic human needs and seeing that this is already going to be a rough winter for folks in need. (Our county agency that offers emergency help for things like lights, rent. etc is out of money and they don’t know if there will be any money coming to aid people in need) I fear that the tough times for the most vulnerable are about to get a lot tougher but that’s another post.

Anyway just stopping by on a crisp Sunday morning to say I am still around, ideas for future blog posts are swimming in my head but I just haven’t been able to pen my thoughts. So here’s wishing you a great week and hopefully once the kidlet starts feeling better I will feel more up to writing. Right now I am just trying to get her well and avoid getting sick again myself.

Love, peace and hair grease!


1 Nov

Just zooming by, but in case you are confused, you have a voice and you can make it heard by doing this one thing….get up tomorrow (Nov 2) and vote. Sitting at home and not voting also sends a message and it may be one you really end up hating. No excuses, vote.

Sure you voted in 2008, helped Obama get elected, that’s nice but you need to vote NOW.

This message brought to you by the Black Girl in Maine who really does not want to live in a land of the crazies.