Archive | January, 2011

Tension in the Barnyard

31 Jan

Dear Readers,

Just wanted to let you know I am in the midst of a life transition and my posting my be sparse for a few weeks. Obviously if the frustration of our brothers and sisters in Egypt spread to the US, I might feel compelled to post. Though if that happened I would probably have no interwebz to post on…

Anyway my father has arrived in Maine and is currently staying at my house, to say its awkward and tense is an understatement so I am working furiously to get him settled…in his own place.  Tension in the barnyard is the best way to describe the situation, however if you need a dose of your favorite Black Girl in Maine, please follow me on twitter where I rant daily.

PS: After having dinner with a couple readers of this blog who happened to be Black Girls in Maine themselves I feel like I need to change the blog title…one of three Black Girls in Maine. ha ha-ha

How dare you? The story of Kelley Williams-Bolar

26 Jan

For the vast majority of women bringing a child into the world triggers something so deep and so primal within that until we take our last breath we will forever be conditioned to put the health and welfare of our child first. (Obviously there are exceptions) I saw this clearly in my mother’s last weeks and days, after having brain surgery to remove a fast growing tumor, when she finally became conscious she was not the same person she was prior to the surgery. But she never forgot she was a mother, the last conversations she was clearly able to articulate centered on my brother and I, telling my father to remember our birthdays, etc. One of the last conversations she had with me was by phone and she was so weak…yet when the nurse put her on the phone, she whispered daughter.  So weak that she could not utter my given name yet she knew I was her child.  It was at that moment I realized that mothering never stops; it simply changes shape even when our children become adults as I am now learning with my own son.

That said, no matter what our financial circumstances we all want the best for our children. In today’s world we are seeing a revolution in mothering which we see clearly being played out within social media, on television and books. Many women in my generation (Gen X) are refashioning our lives to be the best mothers we can be for our children as evidenced in the rise of stay at home mothers. Yet for women with meager financial resources, doing one’s best can take many forms, going to school so that we can eventually get better paying jobs, etc.

This brings me to Kelley Williams Bolar, a Black mother currently serving a 10 day sentence in Ohio. Her crime? Sending her children to an out of district school as her local school was neither safe nor adequate. Ms. Williams-Bolar made the choice to do the best for her kids by sending her kids to an out of district suburban school that incidentally her father, the kid’s grandfather resides in. However this is a crime. The reality though is that this sort of thing has been going on forever, perhaps if schools were not funded so unfairly in our nation a parent would not have to make the decision to break the law in order to make sure that their kids receive an adequate education.

I won’t say that Williams-Bolar didn’t break the law but her punishment for a crime that if we are honest is victimless is 10 days in jail, probation and community service. More importantly because she was convicted of a felony, she now risks being disqualified to teach. See, Williams-Bolar is a senior in college looking to pursue a career in education; she currently works as a teacher’s aide. Apparently the judge wanted to make an example out of Williams-Bolar and deter others from skirting the law. Now as you can guess, the area Williams-Bolar resides in is predominantly Black and poor and the schools she sent her kids to was predominantly white and middle class.

There are some who are saying that race should not be an issue, but let’s be honest. Do you think this would have happened had Williams-Bolar been white? Of course not! Oh, she may have been caught and there may have been repercussions but a felony? Not likely.

While mothering and motherhood is simply not valued in this culture, I think it’s even less valued when the mother is a woman of color. Historically Black women were not allowed to mother our own kids; instead we were forced to mother other’s kids. It’s why the image of the Mammy still exists, we are seen as mothers of others but not our own kids. I think this is why it’s shocking to some when we see a Black mother fighting to mother her own kids and give the best we can to our kids. It’s why Black stay at home Moms are still perceived as oddities even in solidly middle class neighborhoods. It’s why when a Black mom shows up to be a class helper or accompany the class to the field trip we are looked at with skepticism. Its why even in the blogosphere there are literally only a handful of mothers of color whose blogs are highly rated and last time I checked while there are plenty of Mamas who have turned mothering into a money making venture with blogs that are producing real income and book deals. I have yet to see a Black or Latina mother receive these same accolades and rewards. Our mothering is simply not valued. This along with classism and racism is why Kelly Williams-Bolar is sitting in a jail cell as I type this separated from her kids with her future looking not too bright.

The only real crime in my eyes that Kelley is guilty of is wanting a better life for her kids yet doing that in a system that does not value her as a mother, a woman and most certainly a poor person.

College and the American Dream

25 Jan

I am not one of these the world is ending soon conspiracy types. However I think the American dream is just that a dream and like most dreams you cannot relive it or reclaim it once it’s over. Oh, you ever have a sexy dream that leaves you wanting more upon awakening? Hell you even go back to sleep and try to make your mind pick up where it left off but it almost never happens.

Well the American idea of going to college, getting a “good” job, a house, a spouse and a few kids and living happily after, for most Americans is a dream. Oh we start em young pounding into their heads that you must have a college degree in order to make it. Yet the reality is that for all the young adults who register in the nation’s colleges and universities at best only 30% of them will graduate with a 4 year degree and even that takes longer than 4 years for most students.

Don’t get me wrong, even in this recession we are seeing that the college educated are faring better than those without degrees but at what cost? Once upon a time in this country we produced things, folks knew how to do tasks that we all but hire others to do and even then we sometimes can’t find the help to do those so called menial tasks. Yet in almost 7 years of homeownership I have come to value the men and women in the trades and wonder why we are not encouraging our youth to consider jobs like plumber, electrician, carpenter, etc. If you have ever needed one of these types of folks you know that they stay busy and in many cases earn far more than the average college educated person.

The thing is for every person who goes to college and graduates and becomes financially secure there are probably a good 10 other college graduates who are struggling to survive under the weight of loan debt. College is expensive, gone are the days a kid could work all summer and pay a portion of the tuition. Unless a kid is slanging drugs, not too many kids are going to be earning any meaningful amount to pay towards their schooling. I have a kid in college and even with grants and scholarships, it’s still pricey and for the truly working class family hard to achieve.

Then there is the fact that as someone who completed their undergraduate and graduate education a number of years ago, it seems we now live in a world where even that is not good enough. The HR folks want to see that you are steady learning, adding continuing education, certifications, etc…when the fuck does it end?

If you are like me and a member of the sandwich generation, it starts to feel a tad suffocating with your own loan obligations, a kid in college and now an aging parent in my house. I am realizing that all the things I thought were part of the dream don’t really exist. Instead I strive to live in the moment, find joy and try not to think that I will probably have my social security checks garnished to pay back my student loans. So I will live in the shitty old folk’s home praying that I don’t have to resort to Meow Mix to keep my belly full. And why? Because I bought the dream that college was a necessity and would open the doors to good things when the truth is the good stuff is already there.

Perhaps as a society if we valued learning for the sake of learning and not just as a means to an ends we would all be better off. If we understood that all the degrees in the world mean nothing if it’s below zero and your furnace dies and you need a repair guy but have to wait 8 hours because you can’t handle a simple fix. If we valued all workers and what they bring to the table we would have greater balance in our lives and stop searching for a dream that will never come back again.  Better yet we would understand there are many paths to economic freedom and happiness without making folks believe their lives will magically be transformed by a fancy sheet of paper.

I feel I should add this post was inspired by several conversations I have had in the past day with different folks online and offline about the value of college.

A new year and a new direction

22 Jan

For the past several years despite the fact that the official New Year starts on January 1, for me the new year seems to start on my birthday which is this weekend. I have spent the past several days doing a lot of reflecting on the past year and really the past decade…as I have said before they were the best of times and the worst of times. As I type this post my father is literally en route to Maine where he will land in the next several hours to start a new chapter of his life. In some ways his moving here will be the start of a new chapter in my own life and not just the fact that my Dad is temporarily shacking at my house.

For months now I have been acutely aware that something was amiss in my life, I am short tempered, grumpy, achy and generally speaking not very happy. I have come to realize that a great deal of my unhappiness or general frustration in life is rooted in my job but actually it goes deeper than that. Like many folks I have spent a great deal of my life assuming that if only I reached the XYZ goal I would be happy. After all so many of us still think that happiness is a good job, good partner, kids, etc and while these can be good things the truth is they won’t necessarily bring us happiness.

Lately my happiness has come in those quiet moments often when I can be alone with my thoughts and can actually just be present in the moment. I find when I can fully engage in the moment and be present with those near me; it’s when I feel the most peace and happiness. To aid on my quest to live in the moment I have started to rely more and more on yoga and specifically yoga nidra. I am a very anxious person having been diagnosed with my first full on panic attack at 19, living with anxiety is no fun and yet this past year as I have dabbled with yoga for the first time I have found relief from the anxious thoughts that often plague me.

Getting some relief from the anxiety has allowed me to go deeper inside and try to figure out what the hell is that I really want in life? Drum roll please….after what feels like a lifetime working in the non-profit sector I want to leave to become a life coach. See, I worked with a life coach several years ago and recently realized that every goal I set with my coach I have accomplished. I have also since learned that most of those goals when reached weren’t nearly the game changer I thought they would be.

I admit I was initially skeptical of working with a life coach but in the end it was a valuable experience and one that frankly I think can be valuable for many women of color. So many of my sistas of color are stressed and frankly on the hamster wheel chasing what we think we want and need yet most of us are anxious balls waiting to explode. It’s no coincident that many sistas in my life including my own mother started on the high blood pressure meds at the age I am now…

Anyway that’s what up with me as I head into a new year of life and I will be writing more about my future plans as they unfold. Yet after talking with a dear friend over dinner last night I decided to make my plans public.

Get raggedy…tell the truth

18 Jan

Despite the fact that we can now communicate with one another 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and build communities with people we may never sit down with, I find myself thinking out loud are we being truthful? As a blogger who likes to read other blogs I split my time reading the mommy blogs, race based blogs and political blogs. Yet despite the fact so many of us are talking, at times I can’t help thinking some of are not being truthful. I think this tendency is greatest in Mommy land where Mommy blogs have exploded in recent years.

Hot button Mama Issues seem to be breastfeeding, healthy food, screen time and the list goes on. Yet with the exception of a handful of Mamas who freely admit that their kids spend way too much time playing on the computer or watching TV and eating foods that might make some of us cringe. Most Mamas only show us their handicrafts, their gorgeous healthy meals and basically without meaning to flame the fires of the Mama wars that’s exactly what happens. Mamas who are at home working hard feel they have to explain themselves to Mamas who works outside the home and vice versa…shit we are all working hard. Why do we need to explain ourselves to anyone? Why can we not accept that no matter how we parent, that it’s hard work and time consuming.

How many times have you sat down to catch a break with your cup of tea to check out a favorite Mama blogger only to get up feeling like a slacker? Here you were thinking you had done good by feeding your kids, taking them out to play for two hours in the snow (when you really didn’t feel like it) and then you see “that” Mama…she did all those things plus baked a pie from scratch, home-schooled her two oldest kids and made a sweater for her hubby. And she’s got the pictures to prove it!

Please understand I am not knocking any Mama but imagine how much richer things would be if that same Mama that you find yourself idolizing because she is everything you are not, admitted she suffers from insomnia. That explains why her 24 hours can pack in so much more than yours. Or better yet, that same hubby she made the sweater for snores like a pack of wild animals to the point there are days she wants to suffocate the bastard for depriving her of much needed sleep. Or that just yesterday she was so wiped out, she took her brood to McDonald’s where the kids chowed down on some McNasties because frankly she didn’t feel like cooking and that pie she showed in her blog was a guilt offering.

I think you get the point. As women we rarely let it all out and show our raggedy selves except to our nearest and dearest and frankly it needs to stop. It perpetuates myths and creates wedges because we are always trying to live up to some bar of perfection that frankly none of us have. Yes, I know that many of us choose to show only that public self and while that’s totally cool and certainly one’s choice I think when we only allow that side of us to show that suggests perfection, it can be dangerous.

By the way this is not just about fellow bloggers, I think many of us even in our relationships with others have a tendency to only share that which sounds good. Oh, we don’t want to be Debbie Downer or it feels uncomfortable. Yet older generations of women understood the value of sharing and exchanging information. For all our connections many of us are living a lonely existence despite the fact we are connected at all times. Our moms, grandmas and aunts used to have a sister circle of women they could get real with…women they could talk to without fear of judgment when they shared that the kids are driving them batty, they wanted to punch their partner for continuously leaving the toilet up or on a serious note that maybe they were going through a phase where maybe they didn’t even like their partner. Nowadays though when we have a raggedy moment we feel like we have to explain it or justify it and believe me I am quite guilty of this.

Just this past weekend, I had 4 days off and for the first time in oh…say 5 years I really cleaned my house. Don’t get me wrong, my house wasn’t a complete pit but as a woman who juggles a family and leading non-profit agency that is growing in leaps and bounds the truth is I don’t generally have an hour a week per room to clean the 10 rooms in my house. In fact I admitted on Facebook to friends that I am actually thinking of hiring a cleaning person. Let me say, that as someone who was raised working class the idea of paying someone to clean my house feels strange, hell even a little wrong. Yet despite my best efforts, deep cleaning and dusting which would make my allergies better, simply is not something I can fit on my calendar on a regular basis. Thankfully I know some great folks as most encouraged me to get the cleaning help, one buddy, a local Mama I know through my work even had someone to recommend.

That exchange though made me think about the other areas in our lives where we fear getting real and another is the area of marriage and commitment. A fellow sista blogger recently wrote a great piece on marriage and wondering what a happy marriage looks like. That too is another area where I think we hesitate to get real, many of us we go into lifetime commitment with a unreal view of what is going to happen. I wonder again how different things would be if we all had access to a circle of women to share with and to get the answers to those questions.

People who know me in real life know that my circle is small due to many reasons yet this year I have been actively working to create that circle in my life. As women I am starting to believe that if women’s circles and our energy and wisdom were valued more in society and by one another it would decrease our stressors in general and create power where many feel we have none.

PS:  I want to share a book that I recently read on the issue of women’s circles, it’s a quick read but really mind blowing.

Kiss my Butt….really?

15 Jan

“Kiss my Butt” How many times have you been in a meeting with someone and just wanted to say that to someone who was working your last nerve? Truth be told at least once a week I want to tell someone to kiss my ass and walk out. But alas I try to keep it classy so generally when those moments come up, I make that pinched face smile and deal with the situation at hand like an adult. After all I am almost 40 years old and one would like to think by a certain stage in life you learn a little tact.

Apparently though my state’s new governor, Paul LePage missed that piece in his developmental growth and when asked why he was not honoring a 30 year tradition set by his predecessors of attending the annual NAACP MLK day events here in Maine. He decided to go off on a one minute tantrum that was caught on tape where he referred to the NAACP as a “special interest group”, told us he had a Black son and eventually said that folks meaning the NAACP could kiss his butt. Now maybe LePage is not clear how things work in 2011 but in a fast moving world where one week a man can be begging on the side of the road and 7 days later being showered in offers for jobs and houses. Telling anyone much less the nation’s oldest civil rights group to kiss your butt when you are the leader of state even a small state like Maine gets everyone’s attention.

Needless to say us colored folks in Maine are scratching our heads but considering this man during the campaign season was caught on tape saying he would tell Obama to go to hell and frankly has a manner more becoming for a bar owner rather than a governor…are we really surprised?

Truthfully I am not involved with the NAACP in Maine but the minority community in Maine is small and in many ways all roads lead to the NAACP. Though the fair governor who thus far, despite letting us know he has a Black son could care less. By the way we didn’t see too much of this adopted son during the campaign season. Hell during the actual inauguration he had the brotha man so far back on the stage I thought he was a security guard. Hell the good governor whipped up a feeding frenzy by giving his daughter a well paying job before he was even sworn in…hey! What about the Black kid? I suspect having Paul as a Dad when you are the Black son might be like having been one of Joan Crawford kids. You get brought out for the photo ops and then taken back to the big house where hopefully you aren’t beaten with a wire hanger.

However as a Black chick living in Maine and nope I am not a native, I am a Chicago girl through and through but this is my adopted home. I have to just say publicly that the vast majority of Mainers are good folks and Lepage who only won by one percentage point because the Dumbocrats and the Independents split the vote does not represent the average Mainer. Due to my work I meet all kinds of folks and most of em have good hearts. So don’t let the ranting of a crazy man think that we are being set back and hell if you don’t live here…come visit and shit bring the catfish!

Life without Weight Watchers

13 Jan

I figured I would write a brief post on how life is going since I officially said good bye to Weight Watchers. If you are a regular reader of my blog you may recall I did a post not too long ago where I mentioned that despite being a Lifetime member of Weight Watchers I was thinking of calling it quits. I read Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God and it truly resonated with me. Despite having been with Weight Watchers for years frankly I have often felt their program brought out tendencies in me that are just not good. I am almost 40 and frankly I don’t want to live my life always writing down or inputting what I eat on any given day, I am tired of counting points. The changes to Weight Watcher’s program recently were the initial kick in the ass I needed and after reading Roth’s book I really felt much stronger. I also figured worse case I can always go back to Weight Watchers if I fall flat on my ass.

So I made in through the holiday season with no weight gain. I admit I had hoped for a bit of a loss but knowing that I have not been moving nearly as much as I could, that was probably too much to hope for. However making it through a month long period where my holiday baking included Paula Deen’s Red Velvet Cake, Pecan Pies and Cinnamon rolls, let’s face it to gain no weight is a good thing.

It means I am still roughly 13 pounds or so above my “goal” weight yet I am starting to think this place may be the weight my body likes to live at. See, when I first started gaining weight years ago, this weight was eventually where I came to rest for year. It was my pregnancy and  postpartum period that took my body to a place that was truly unhealthy. I knew it was unhealthy when walking became difficult for me and yeah my vain side didn’t exactly like the way my face started to resemble a chipmunk. This weight is also the same place where on Weight Watchers I spent about 6 months after dropping 20+ lbs but still had more to go until I could reach my goal. When I was actively on Weight Watchers striving to get to goal, I basically started living off fruits and veggies primarily to get the numbers on the scale to move downward. I share this to say that I do think for some of us our bodies have a place they are comfortable at.

Right now my goal is simply to start moving more, I strive daily to put a decent share of fruits and veggies in my body and of course the water. But I enjoy food and I want to have a healthy relationship with it and I see more movement which in general increases my mental well being as the key. Not a weekly meeting and not what was almost obsessive behavior over what I was eating. Interestingly this past month during my menstrual cycle, a time where generally I give into whatever cravings I have, I had very few and didn’t see the normal 2-3 lbs period gain that I have had for years.  Now that I am no longer holding myself back, it seems there is no reason to play the food games with myself…if I want  Cheetos, I will have some. No reason needed.

So life is going good without Weight Watchers!

We are all responsible

10 Jan

This week’s tragedy in Arizona is just heartbreaking; there are really no other words to describe it. I mean you have a Congresswoman out and about connecting with her constituents and in the blink of an eye, 6 people are dead and many others are hurt.

Since Saturday’s tragedy, I have heard many people talk about this but the one thing no one has really said is in some ways we all play a role in incidents like this. I mean yeah it’s easy to lay blame at the feet of folks like Sarah Palin and Glen Beck with their divisive and explosive words. Hell, it’s even easy to say that the alleged gunman is mentally ill. He may indeed have some mental health issues, after all mentally healthy people generally don’t decide to go on a shooting spree.

No, the fact is as a society and a culture we are not really nice people and in some ways we are all responsible for creating a climate where its easy for hate to fester and folks to become disconnected from others to the point that guns are shot. We can say that the talking heads on TV and radio are using language that incites but the truth is even those of us who consider ourselves more compassionate, etc often still resort to language that is less than compassionate. Most of us no matter what we may say and I am most certainly guilty of it at times see those who don’t follow our thought process and views as less than. Oh, we may humor people with other views but often we are condescending and downright snarky though we may think we are merely sarcastic. Better yet we think we are teaching those with different views than ours but really we are not.

Too many times I have seen even online people “argue” with people they don’t even know forcing their views on to others. It’s no wonder in a nation that is falling apart where the gulf between the have and have-nots is widening that some people fall prey to the rhetoric of the Glen Becks and Sarah Palin’s?  If you actually ever listen to them, they use a down home manner that makes the listener believe someone is listening to them. Deep down we all want to be heard and have our views validated. This is not to say we must validate what we are opposed to but everyone deserves to be heard.

As many of us are doing the weekly dance to survive in these economically challenging times, how many of us take time to pay attention to others and listen? Better yet if we notice something is amiss we actually do something? I was flipping the channels yesterday and on one of the news channels they had a woman who claimed to be a neighbor of the alleged shooter and she stated it was a shame no one noticed the red flags that were waving about this young man’s behavior. Yet I have read several pieces just in the Sunday New York Times that spoke about the alleged shooter displaying odd behavior in school to the point of getting expelled. Call me crazy but that seems like a huge red flag.

We live in a culture where giving our ten year olds cellular phones to stay connected is the norm, yet as families and friends we are so disconnected that no one notices when a son, nephew, cousin, friend is standing on the brink of disaster and plotting destruction. This is not a slam on the parents of the alleged shooter but more an observation that as a society we can spend hours “connecting” with people we may never meet yet we miss the real connections right under our noses.

It is easy to fall into the trap of laying blame at the feet of others when tragedies like this occur but the truth is until we all decide to better connect with the world around us we are at risk of more folks running off and doing crazy things like this.

In some ways we need to take the attitudes of the airline industries to heart in our personal lives. I think the reason we have not had any repeat 9/11 situations is more about the fact that when we fly we are now aware of our surroundings and we act on it. The reason the shoe bomber was stopped a few years ago is because fellow passengers were alert, aware and acted on what they saw. Admittedly there may be times when folks flub up, as was the case sometime back when a traveler with diarrhea was deemed suspicious. By and large though when folks step into airports and onto airplanes they realize that their safety and well being depends less on the machines that screen us and more on us taking responsibility if the occasion should arise.

In our daily lives I think that means being mindful of what we say and do, how we treat others and if we see someone struggling it means being a compassionate person and doing something. Maybe it’s alerting authorities, maybe it’s trying to get someone help but maybe its just being there so that people don’t reach that point where they want to harm others.

Finding your voice…honoring yourself in matters of work

6 Jan

While I no longer do official New Year’s resolutions, one of my goals this year is to put myself first. Truth is over the years I have become a bit of a workaholic, it most certainly has not been intentional but the pit falls of working at small non-profits is there is simply less hands to get the work done. In my case I run an agency that provides direct services to clients, in our case youth and their families. If someone calls out sick and I am short staffed I have two options, close for the day or step in and work directly with the kids myself. Knowing that we are a safe place for kids at risk of getting in trouble after school I often make the choice to step in, despite the fact it means more work for me or letting down my family.

Last month, I really ran myself ragged to make sure our annual programs went off without a hitch and it is paying off. Donations are on the rise, we received some good press, all good things except that I have spent almost all of the past 6 weeks sick. I suffer from year round allergies but this winter is off to a record number of days where I feet like shit. To say I am run down is an understatement, my body is exhausted, worn out; my mind is not as sharp as it could be. You get the picture.

To say I am not in a good place about work right now wouldn’t be too far from the truth, don’t get me wrong I actually like what I do but its starting to dawn on me that sometimes when we give too much of ourselves, people come to expect it. If a worker who is only paid for 20 hours gives 30, 35 a week and it cost the employer nothing rather than honoring that commitment and drive employers take it for granted. Yeah, they toss you a thanks but do they really mean it?

I think one of the reasons the rate of unemployment remains high is because so many Americans who still have jobs are working themselves to the bone. We hear how hard it is to get a new job so rather than say “Time to move on” we say “I am happy to have a job” and put up with the abuse. I don’t even think all employers are intentionally abusing their employers but if they cab get greater productivity and it costs them nothing extra, why not?

I also think as women we are at greater risk for not receiving the respect and rewards we deserve in the workplace. Many times women even professional women are taken for granted in the work world. It’s no secret we are still paid less than men for the same jobs, yet as women we often don’t want to rock the boat. In some ways I guess that is the point of this post. I need to find my voice when it comes to my work; I have tried the round about way of stating my needs and don’t feel I am being heard.

The very fact that I am writing this might be considered dicey after all, it really isn’t too hard to figure out who I am and where I work in the real world and that’s okay with me. Whatever risks I may be taking are outweighed by the relief I feel in speaking my truth. Part of taking care of me this year is about honesty, honesty with myself and with others.

So if you are women in the workplace I would love to hear how you go about setting limits and boundaries and getting your needs met in the workplace.

Musings on parenting…almost 19 years on this job

4 Jan

Well we’ve made it successfully to 2011 which is more than we can say for the birds dropping out of the sky in Arkansas. What the hell is up with that? Anyhoo, I’ve had this blog post in the back of my mind for a few days but only now have I had the time to sit down and actually write it.

I just said good bye to my eldest child as he returns to the Midwest to take care of some things though it looks like he might try to fly back before the next semester starts at the end of the month. When he was last here in August he was getting ready to transition into life as a college student and I must say after having had the pleasure of being with him the past two weeks, he is a fully functional college student. He came home with lots of bags and lots of books and Mama Santa graced him with tons of literary goodies to make my philosophy major happy. The other night I was watching my baby and realizing that while in my heart he will always be my baby he is indeed a young man, recently he gave his girl friend of over a year a promise ring and wants to bring her up to the Maine abode this summer. Big time stuff for this Mama.

It’s funny because on the one hand I have a grown child; I also have a young child with the girl who is only 5. I have spent my entire adult life parenting, I learned I was pregnant with elder boy only a few months after turning 18 and he was born a mere two weeks after my 19th birthday. I have said it before and it bears repeating; when my son was born there was no internet, for my knowledge and insight I relied on family and friends and books and a lot of hands on experience. I suppose had I not had the girl child I would never have learned just how much parenting has changed.

Parenting has happened for as long as humans have procreated but now we have a generation of parents that to be honest rely more on what the experts say and less on instinct. By all means I am glad that as knowledge has become more widespread that certain behaviors have changed. Children are in safety seats, folks aren’t smoking in front of their kids and corporal punishment is deeply frowned upon in most corners of society. These are all good things. Yet as an older Mama and I mean older in that I have raised one child to adulthood, I sometimes worry that young Mamas are getting hung up on things that in the long run are just not that important.

I fear that in the information age of parenting we are becoming overloaded on doing the “right” things we read about and less inclined to trust the instincts that exist within us…going so far in instances to cut off family members who don’t follow our party line when it comes to parenting kids. I am a believer in the village method of raising kids, I was raised with a village…some of my greatest memories are of the times spent with my Grandparents on weekends. I truly believe the time I spent with them as a child directly related to how much as an adult I loved spending time with my Grandmother. My Grandma died 6 weeks after my daughter was born; she died a few days after receiving pictures of her. I am convinced she stayed around long enough to lay eyes on her so that when she left this world and was reunited with my Mom she could tell my mother all about it.

I raised my son relying on my village as well, a village that was comprised of my parents, grandma, mother in law and others…my son is very close to his paternal grandmother who I still consider my mother in law despite the fact I divorced my ex well over a decade ago. I was a young Mama and these women (and men) guided me and yes at times we clashed but really the battle over the green army men that my father insisted upon giving my son did not scar him though I admit at the time I thought they would. Yet today’s young Mamas are less inclined to have a village made up of folks with different views instead relying on voices that mirror theirs. Frankly I think this is a mistake. To be honest if you are an old reader I have said this before but it was really talking to my son a few nights ago that made me think of this. My son was sharing that despite the rather unorthodox he was raised he wouldn’t change a thing. Which is funny because Mama Guilt often eats me alive thinking of all the things I did in raising him including letting him live with his Dad. Yet all those experiences made him the young man he is…including eating less than stellar food as a kid and having to spend Saturdays from age 3 up and hauling groceries with me and cleaning the house. Turns out in college he seems to have quite a few skills that many of his peers who were raised a bit differently don’t have. Namely survival skills since as the off-spring of a woman who was working class when he was born and later became middle class I carry a lot of working class ways into my parenting. Chiefly in that while his peers have unlimited access to funds he gets a small allowance monthly and must learn to live with it. He admits at times it’s a tad awkward when he can’t just run out and do XYZ but he is a superb user of thrift shops and bargain shopping.

In the two weeks I just spent with my son the vegetarian eating philosophy studying young man; it seems all the times I had to sit him in front of the TV so I could make dinner did less harm than I thought. Kids are not only resilient but it seems they are studying us when we don’t even realize it and they absorb our depth when we are focused on other seemingly important things. In my son’s case he saw beneath the surface things that now make me cringe (sorry son for feeding you those horrible kool-aid drinks) instead he understood I was working 2-3 jobs to create a better life not only for me but for him.

If I were to talk to a young mother today who is bombarded with so many messages about what she must do, I would say turn off some of those voices and follow your own heart when it comes to your child. The occasional Happy Meal is not going to create a monster; a week with too much TV is not going to create a zombie. Too many plastic toys won’t hurt your child…worse case they disappear one day in a fit of spring cleaning. Or as I am doing with my youngest we either give em away to someone who has nothing or we save em for a yard sale. The girl child is driving me crazy asking when we are going to have that yard sale so she can earn some money.

Family members who love your child are one of the most precious gifts you can give your child. My son fondly remembers times spent with both my mother and my grandmother, women who had wicked sweet tooth’s and loved to share the goodies. One of my biggest sadness’s is that my daughter won’t ever know those moments spent with loving family members but I am thankful my son had the time and can speak fondly of Grandma S and Granny R.

As I struggle with my new role in my son’s life I realize that parenting is a journey and like all journeys you must be willing to change plans based on road conditions.  While technology allows us to know more than our parents did and in some cases create our own communities we must not allow ourselves to lose our own instincts when it comes to our kids. Above all like all journeys we must be open to going with the flow and having fun!