Archive | December, 2010

Good-bye 2010…Hello 2011

31 Dec

Time again to say good-bye to another year. I swear the older I get these years just zoom by…I mean shit, it seems like only yesterday 2010 started, now its a new year?

Anyway I wish you a happy and wonderful 2011! I don’t do new year’s resolutions since in reality change is a constant in life and we should be willing to accept change as it comes at us. In many ways I feel making a huge list of changes at one time is a recipe for disaster. That said, I do have one thing I plan on doing in 2011, like a small child I have decided to use the word no often.

As a type A perfectionist when it comes to my work, I have struggled with saying no but a month spent battling a cold, sinus infection and Lawd knows what else has brought me to my knees. I have got to say no, I cannot do it all, I refuse to even try anymore. I have no idea what 2011 will bring but I plan on saying no when needed to preserve my sanity and health.

Happy New Year and if you go out tonight remember don’t drink and drive kids.

Slow Down

27 Dec

As I type this, the East Coast of the United States is being hammered by a huge snow storm, just looking out my window I see a good foot of snow that will need to be moved at some point if we wish to exit our house but at the moment I am in no rush. There is more snow expected, the wind is blowing and shit its cold. I heard the storm was approaching a good 24 hours before it hit so I went out yesterday made sure we were fully stocked and prepared for a change in plans this week. In other words sit down and relax because when Mother Nature decides to flex her muscles there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

I won’t lie; it took me a while to reach this point. Coming from Chicago where we are used to fierce winter weather and snow rarely did make us slow down. I still remember the day some years ago I was slated to start a new job and the city was walloped with snow and my new boss was mad that after I stood and waited an hour and a half in the snow for a bus that never came, I went back home and explained that I could not make it in. Looking back I am still shaking my head over that incident but at the time I was living in that matrix of rush rush and took it as a human failing that I couldn’t walk the mile to the train to make it in my first day.

Yet last night and this morning as I spent time on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and even flipping on CNN, its clear that many folks just don’t know how to slow down even when there is a blinking neon sign in this case snow telling us to do so. Instead we whip ourselves into frenzy over what we can’t do because we are snowbound, not realizing that days like this are a gift. Life is short and while we live a fast paced high tech life the fact is all our days are limited. Just last night the world learned that Teena Marie the amazing soul singer died at the seemingly young age of 54. 54 may seem young yet since very few people actually live to oh say 108, 54 is not that young. More importantly is that despite the fact many of us do live longer thanks to medical intervention; funny thing about life is no one knows when their last day on this planet will be.

No, we lead busy lives sometimes never hearing our own thoughts and emotions because we are constantly plugged in, multi-tasking and planning ahead. So when we encounter a day that forces us to slow down, it challenges us. Obviously if you had to head into work today, you do what you have to do, yet if the snow has given you the gift of a day off, revel in it. I posted earlier today on Twitter, go out and play in that snow even if you don’t have kids. When is the last time you had a snowball fight? Made a snow angel? Sounds hokey as hell but a few winters ago I surrendered to a snow day and in the end got pelted with snow, made a snow angel and basically reconnected with that little girl I forgot all about.

So many of us are stressed and even burnt out as we juggle competing demands from bosses, kids, lovers, and the list goes on. So we turn to yoga, meditation, therapy, even medicine and as someone who has used all these items to deal with stress in my own life so I have no issues with them but we fail to see the beauty in free time. True free time, unscheduled days where we have no plans other than to live in the moment and take whatever comes our way in that moment. So if you are feeling stressed about the snow, I suggest you release, relax and enjoy the moment. Even if you are stuck in an airport trying to get home, rather than seeing the inconvenience of the moment, look at what you do have…see it as a chance for unplanned opportunities.

Slow down…

Zoom, zoom

19 Dec

Just realized I have been pretty quiet in this space, since my last posting life has gotten hectic. Last weekend both the Spousal Unit and I woke up with a nasty cold….let me tell you there is nothing that raises the stress levels but to be sick and have both parenting units sicker than a dog. Add in the busiest week of the year at work due to our annual community event that sees 100+ attendees coming out for free gifts and food and you have the makings for madness. Though my body decided to kick it up a notch but turning that cold into a sinus infection and adding loss of voice at a time when talking is imperative. Yep, this week has zoomed right on by!

Anyway thanks to modern medicine which I occasionally like to poo poo but when your head feels like a jackhammer has taken up residency and your body feels like Mike Tyson used you as a practice bag, all of a sudden the garlic and a neti pot feel like beginner toys and you find yourself eager for the antibiotics. So recovery is happening though my voice has decided I should sound like the love child of Kathleen Turner and Demi Moore just a tad longer.

However I pulled off an event that saw 160+ folks show up plus a slew of volunteers, in the midst of my body needing a vacation, a Christmas tree was obtained and decorated and gifts were even purchased. Not too shabby if I say so myself. That said, this space will be quieter than normal most likely until I am back to full health and officially on vacation from work which is just a few days away.

Yet it’s a lazy Sunday morning as I decided to skip church and listen to my body so I figured I would stop in and say hello and wish you my lovely readers a great holiday season! I must admit I was looking at my blog stats for the year and while overall numbers are down, I am thankful for each and every one of my regular readers. As a blogger, it’s always a fine line between just wanting to use your voice and wondering why other bloggers are more successful, yet as I grow I am determined to see the good in what I have. Since 2008, this has been my space to share a slice of my life and my random observations and admittedly being a Black Girl in Maine means that this blog is not going to be for everyone and despite the voice that says aim for more I am happy with what I have.

Catch ya later when I am feeling good.

Because your mental health is important too

13 Dec

As 2010 draws to a close I find myself in a rather introspective state, there has been a lot of meditation and reading and plain old trying to figure out my place in this world and in my life. This year has brought a lot of changes for me personally, seeing my eldest child turn 18 and head off to college has most certainly been one of the bigger milestones. Since the laws state that at 18 a person is an adult I have been grappling with redefining my relationship to him and what that means. I am always going to be Momma and he is always going to be my baby yet I know he needs space to find his place in the world.

This year has also seen me take a more active role in the life of my own Dad who is my remaining parental unit and who we will be presumably welcoming into our daily life in a matter of days. I have also seen the organization that I run grow by leaps and bounds, our annual budget has doubled yet we are still a small grass roots organization and it means that even though I have a fancy sounding title, I still deal with much of the minutia.

My marriage this year has experienced some shifts, mostly good but at times painful as we both seek to find ourselves in middle age and adjust our new selves to the larger union of our family. Then there is my body, I am at the age my mother was when she started a cycle of regular doctor visits and an ever growing arsenal of pills to manage conditions. Thankfully the shifts in my body have not necessitated medical interventions but I am officially at a point where the body I reside in has informed me that it is no longer the body of a young woman.

Needless to say in juggling a year of change it is easy to overlook one’s mental state yet coming from a line of women who never paid attention to their mental state and in my opinion reaped the disastrous effects of that decision in their body, I seek to break with that tradition. Yet I was reading this piece that once again reminded me as a Black woman, I am not alone in when it comes to how I treat my mental health.

Let me be clear, all women regardless of race or ethnicity carry heavy burdens; it’s the legacy of a patriarchal society. But for women of color specifically for Black women frankly most of us are just not used to addressing our mental health, I think about how many years ago I sought therapy to learn how to deal with my family…yes, I did. I love em but they were driving me crazy. However at that time in my life I was ashamed that I was in therapy because as a Black woman I felt I should have been strong enough to deal with these issues on my own. Though over the years I have noticed with my white friends they have no problem admitting they are in therapy and or using medications to address depression, anxiety, etc.

So much of what holds Black women back from addressing mental health is frankly half baked stereotypes that only “crazy” folks need that stuff and frankly it’s killing us. This year I saw many of my Black peers lose parents but what is crazy that for friends in their 30’s or early 40’s they are losing their parents at ridiculously young ages like 57, 58 or maybe 60. Of course I lost my Mom when she barely 50, so I know all too well how hard this life is on us as a people yet the idea of checking out early scares me so I strive to take care of myself despite the fact that it’s hard.

Sistas, just as we take care of our hair, the kids, our man, and others…we have got to start taking care of ourselves. It’s really that simple. You and I both know it’s not normal to walk around with a continuous pit in our stomachs, headaches, panic attacks…yet we do. Why? In many cases fear. I admit there is a shortage of culturally aware clinicians to work with us, fact is in addressing our issues culture is an issue. I know I have had many white friends tell me that perhaps my family of origin is toxic and I need to cut em off. They probably are toxic but they are the only family I got so I need to learn to live my life and deal with them but at the same time preserve my mental health. I was lucky that when I was in therapy I found a therapist that got it, she understood the dynamics of Black families and knew that cutting them off was not going to work instead giving me tools to work with them and allowing me to preserve my sanity.

So as we bring 2010 to a close I invite you to join me in my quest to take my mental health as seriously as I take my physical health.

Breaking up with Weight Watchers

7 Dec

In some ways maybe I was fortunate that I was almost 30 before I started on the weight loss roller coaster that a good portion of humans especially women in first world countries seem to ride on. Up until 27 or so I never had issues with my weight, having spent a good chunk of life being able to eat anything and never gaining weight. Yet when I made the decision to kick the smoking habit, I traded butts for food and the pounds started coming.

In the first year after smoking I put on a good 20 or so pounds which while not a huge deal on my small frame frankly was not a good look. After kicking around trying to lose the weight on my own, I decided to join Weight Watchers for the first time, I took off some of the weight and promptly stopped going. Of course I didn’t make it to goal and as you can imagine like many folks on the diet roller coaster I gained the weight back.

Well we moved to Maine and around the same time my Mom started the fight for her life, I fell off the non-smoking wagon and started eating more and went for round 2 on Weight Watchers. Again, I took off some weight, went down a size and promptly stopped attending the meetings before hitting goal. My Mom died, I gained weight and then got pregnant all in the same year. You might say at that point I wasn’t too concerned with my weight as I vacillated between elation at welcoming a new life into the world and dealing with my raw grief at the loss of my beloved Ma.

Frankly even after my daughter was born, I didn’t think about my weight…shit, I had a license to eat, hell I was a nursing mother. So guess what? I ate and ate….it took looking at a picture that the Spousal Unit snapped when the kidlet was 8 months old that made me go, oh dear…what have I done? Turns out at 8 months postpartum I was heavier than I had been during my pregnancy and when I had a job interview and realized that the size 14’s were tight, I knew I had to do something.

You guessed it. I went back to Weight Watchers and lost weight only this time I did not stop, it took two years but I took off almost 50 lbs going from a 14/16 to a 4/6. I actually made goal and became a lifetime member a status I maintained up until earlier this year when abdominal surgery kept me off my feet and well old habits die hard. Armed with pain pills, the remote and a loving husband who fetched me Munchos and Frappacino’s for his beloved, I gained weight.

Right now I am 14 lbs heavier that my supposed goal weight and as I wrote earlier this year I am not that bothered. I broke down and bought a few items of clothing in acceptance that the weight will do what the weight will do.

I admit I have been going to Weight Watchers since this summer and pretty much while I took a few pounds off frankly I am in what I call monitoring mode, making sure the numbers don’t go up. But I have a confession, I don’t think I like Weight Watchers. Don’t get me wrong I am glad I took off the weight I did, it wasn’t healthy for me. I knew when walking started to become uncomfortable I needed to take that weight off.

However deep in the pit of my soul I have often felt Weight Watchers is on some levels a racket designed to keep you dependent on them. Those thoughts came full circle when they introduced the new Points Plus System recently that basically renders all the stuff I have “learned” in the past decade moot. Oh I know this program is scientifically based…yada, yada. But it also requires that I buy more gadgets since the free “point” calculator known as the slider is no longer valid. I admit maybe I just have sour grapes but on some level all diet programs are based off the fact we have no willpower. We are weak willed fools who are also slaves to numbers never mind that maybe our bodies may have a natural weight and it isn’t the so-called goal weight.

I just finished an amazing book Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God I recommend it to any woman who struggles with her weight. Roth articulated much of what I feel that the bigger issue is we need to know why we are overeating and not monitoring ourselves. I am convinced that for most of us the struggle with food and weight, it’s not the food but underlying issues we need to address. On a deeper level there is something barring situations where there are true physical/medical reasons for the weight gain which in that case I am not in a place to address. But for many of us there are deeper emotional and spiritual issues that keep us on that silly roller coaster of weight loss. After all why do re-gain weight after losing it despite the fact we say we are happy with the weight loss. In many cases weight loss is not the panacea that we thought it would be, if we are broken in any way we are still broken regardless of what size we are. Reminds me of how for years I thought if only I could get a degree my life would change, it did but not the type of change I thought would happen.

The problem I have is that programs like Weight Watchers will never get you to that point and frankly depending on your personality many such programs can make you crazy trying to stay on their system.  So as I head into a new year I am leaning heavily towards saying good bye to Weight Watchers, that $12 a week I am spending (see, even though I am a Lifetime member because I am no longer at my goal weight I must pay for the weekly weigh in and meeting) could be used to support one more yoga class a week which will go a lot further in keeping me calm than trying to figure out my points on the new handy dandy calculator I must use.

If I am intentional in all that I do, I believe that can extend that to what I choose to put in my mouth or in how often I move my body. So while I believe that programs such as Weight Watchers are beneficial, to me, I think it’s at the end of its shelf life with me.

Classism in school

5 Dec

The other day I had the pleasure of volunteering in the kidlet’s class for a field trip and I must say it was an eye opening experience for me on how class divides us in seemingly innocent ways. I went to college in my mid-late 20’s and my undergraduate degree is in African-American studies yet by the time I got my BA, I became obsessed with looking at class. In fact while I think racism is still a huge issue in our culture, it’s the unspoken issue of class that I feel divides us more than anything.

A big thanks to the free flowing credit of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s many of the material markers that divided us fell away. After all you can (though with the lingering Great Recession I truly believe the class markers and rules are being redesigned as I type this) hardly tell who is struggling by the car they drive or the gadgets they carry. I suspect many of the families that I serve have far larger television sets that I own, and I know several have better cell phones than I have.

Yet a visit to a kindergarten class made me ponder the subtleties of class and the impact they can have on your kid’s experience in school and the perceptions and assumptions the teachers make based off class or perceptions of class.

In almost 19 years of parenting, I must admit it’s only been in the last 1-2 years that I have been in a place where volunteering has been possible. See, I was 19 when my son was born and due to the need to work sometimes 2-3 jobs to keep food on the table, there simply was not enough hours in the day to volunteer and I suspect as part of my working class roots it probably never dawned on me to ask and I most certainly was never asked to volunteer in any classroom he was ever involved in. Yet I am a class straddler, a term that has gained popularity due to Alfred Lubrano’s book Limbo. I was born to a solidly working class family, at the time of my birth; neither of my parents had touched foot in a college classroom. My father eventually went onto seminary in his late 30’s and early 40’s but as for straight forward college; it wasn’t in the cards for my folks.

Over the years I have by virtue of education, income and profession moved at least on paper away from my working class roots. Make no mistake though the influences of my childhood and upbringing are still beneath the surface and as a result I struggle and straddle the class line. I am most comfortable talking with the families I serve rather than the money folks who keep us open. Yet I am good at my job and generally able to straddle that line between connecting with a single Mama who has no idea how she will make ends meet (I’ve lived it) yet at the same time I make the other folks feel good and convince them to support my cause because I have learned to speak their language. But I can’t lie, there are days I feel like an imposter…like who is the grown up lady who uses big egghead words and has mastered the mask. Thankfully I am married to a straddler as well so when I come home it’s my safe space.

Yet the other day in my daughter’s class I felt like an imposter. I arrived at the designated time to accompany the class on the field trip and immediately noticed the other Moms. Two of whom I know in passing since we attend the same church. I was immediately struck with how cozy the other Mamas were with the teacher; in fact the other Mamas had brought cups of Starbucks coffee and even had one for the teacher. Nope, no coffee for this Mama and that’s cool but I did feel as if I had entered a clique and it was a tad disconcerting. It appeared the kids knew at least a couple of the other Mamas since as my daughter later informed me; Mrs. M regularly helps out in the class. I immediately sized up the situation and figured I would focus on the kids, many of whom were openly staring at me, after all it’s not too often they see a fully brown person and it was cool. So as we were walking to our destination a couple of the kids told me they were sad that their parents couldn’t come on the trip because they were working. One little boy was almost on the brink of tears that his Mommy was not there, I gently explained that it was okay and that not all parents can come but that his Mommy’s work was important too.

I admit that exchange with the kids is what prompted this post, for starters after making a little bit of chit-chat with the Mamas, I realized that they were stay at home Mamas which means they have the flexibility and time to be involved in the classroom. Yet for many parents that is not an option, especially if they are employed at companies where there is less autonomy over their work schedule. In the months since the kidlet has started school I have observed that the parents who often stand around making chit chat after the bell has rang often are either self-employed, don’t work, or have flexible positions like my own. The parents you see rushing who never stop to chat are the same ones you often see in work uniforms or have the weary look of folks who work at places that will not cut them slack if they are late for work.

During the field trip I had a chance to make small talk with the kidlet’s teacher who was curious about a project we were doing at home that my daughter had mentioned to her. I explained the project and she was so excited about that it that she was wondering if there was a way she could incorporate it into the classroom. That exchange made me think about the ways class lends itself to building social capital.  The daughter of a waitress and a mill worker most likely don’t have the time or ability to take an hour off from work to volunteer and engage with the teacher and create that connection and while no one will ever say it, not building those connections in my opinion can be harmful.  While I don’t have the level of involvement in my daughter’s class that I would like to have due to my own work (yet as I work with the less fortunate and everyone knows this I feel this is given a pass compared to if I couldn’t make meetings because I was the shift supervisor at the local fast food place) I am involved enough that I have noticed that the so-called trouble makers all seem to hail from the lower class.

Schools want parents to be involved in their children’s education yet we cling to ways that are quite classist and don’t allow for connections to be made. Our school recently had an event and I realized that while attendance was decent, the timing of the event definitely was at a time where folks with less flexibility in their schedules were not able to attend. I know teaching is hard work and I can imagine that by five at night teachers want to go home, yet making events at 5:30 in the middle of the week pretty much assures in my opinion that only certainly folks will attend. For an event designed to get parents actively involved in their kid’s schooling maybe such extra enrichment activities should start later or be held on the weekend.

I realize this is a rambling post, but I can’t help but thinking that working class folks and their kids are penalized in school of all places because working class folks often work at jobs that don’t allow them to be involved directly at their kid’s school via volunteering. Even email as the preferred method of staying in touch with parents is not a guarantee for folks who are financially vulnerable. I know that on the contact list for my kid’s class of 19 students, I saw at least 5 folks who had no email addresses listed. I know that at my center out of over 200 registered participants less than 25% have email addresses. This may not seem like a big deal but if you have a young middle class teacher who prefers emailing parents, lack of an email address matters.

I know I have a few educators among my readership; I would love your input.