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Time is gone and I was a bad mommy

2 Mar

As a modern woman I have always liked the idea that I could have it all…a family complete with kids, loving partner, work that fulfilled me, you get the picture. Yet in the past several days I have been grappling with a low level malaise and sudden realization that at least for me (I refuse to speak for anyone else) that simply is not possible. Now I am grappling with the idea of how do I achieve balance if it is not possible to have it all? The truth is I don’t know. Yet I do know that time is not unlimited, while in today’s world 40 is the new 20 and we see 65 or so as young. The hard truth remains that none of us know how much time we will have on this planet in these bodies. We like to think that if we do XYZ that there will always be time later to do ABC, but as I learned firsthand 7 years ago, life turns on a dime and one day you are here and the next minute you are gone. Tomorrow will mark 7 years since my Mom’s untimely death, 4 days after turning 50. In many ways her death is directly responsible for my daughter being here now, I realized that one can not put off for tomorrow in order to accomplish today.

Yet I have a confession to make…in many ways I am not a good mother. Oh, I am here but often times I am not present. I should know better after all I effectively missed a great deal of my son’s childhood as I was striving for more. I was a mere 19 when he was born and instead of reveling in his childhood, I spent the first several years locked in a custody war. Later on, listening to bad advice, I allowed him to live with his father assuming that my ex would tire of being a full time Daddy and that he would send him back and that we would have more time together. That never happened and we never did get that time. Oh, I did eventually move to Maine to be involved but as always I thought I had more time. Within 6 months of the move to Maine, I started graduate school effectively juggling work, school, marriage and parenthood…looking back I don’t think it worked and it wasn’t worth it.

See, my son is all grown up now, half way through his first year of college and while despite the stresses and challenges we faced, we are close but part of my soul knows I missed out on a lot. Time that I will never get back. Oh, I do meaningful work, I have spent the past 15 years working with those most in need, originally women breaking free of addictions and prostitution and now for the past two and a half years as head of an agency that works with low income families. That’s great but the cost to my family has been too much. Through my meditation practice of late I am realizing that I spend a lot of time not being present and living in the moment. Instead one eye is always checking for the emails that never stop coming in, truth is the nature of my work there is always someone in need, a fire to put out. I do my job and do it well but it comes at the expense of my family and mostly my daughter. I realized this the other day as I did something I have not done in years; I went the entire day not turning on my cell phone. I was present for the entire day and it was a good thing.

Lately I find myself daydreaming about quitting my job, oh I have a plan for the future and I am working on it but really it will take a few years before I make a full transition into life coaching. I find myself wondering do I have a few years to spend being only half present with my family. My girl is most likely my last child for a number of reasons, so this is it…do I want another child who only gets half a mommy? Oh, I have no intentions of becoming a stay at home mom that is not for me…I tried for the first year of the girl’s life. Also being married to a freelance writer/editor we need the second income but lately I find myself thinking I need work that requires less of me. I am passionate about the unfortunate but now I need to spend some passion on my own family.

Time is the one thing that when we use it we don’t always get a do-over and more importantly ultimately none of knows just how much time we really have. So all I can do is be present in these moments and enjoy the time now.

PS: Hey, if you know of any part time gigs for a writer/non-profit administrator/adjunct instructor holla at a sista! If you have serious leads I am open to hearing them, feel free to email me.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Learning to be a consumer

29 Oct

It is really no wonder that Americans are a financial state of crisis, we worship at the altar of consumption and indoctrination into the religion of consumption is starting at even younger ages. Hell, have you actually watched any so called child friendly television? I swear every other minute there is a commercial on demanding that we buy this or that….of course the kiddos want everything they see. In the past year we have started to allow the girl child to watch regular TV and I gotta tell ya, it’s not the programming I object to, it’s the fucking commercials.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I swear the public schools; the one funded by my high ass property taxes is another place that seems to promote the religion of consumption. Now when college boy aka eldest child started grammar school eons ago he attended private school and I was not inundated with requests for money. I paid my monthly nut oooops, tuition and it was all good in the hood.

Now that we live in a small town (well large by Maine standards since technically it’s a city but by most standards it’s a town) my girl attends the local public school and I gotta tell you, I wish they’d just send home a letter telling us what to donate instead of all these fund raising letters. Maybe I am salty since my day job involves raising money but really I do not want to buy the shit you people are pushing.

Last night I came home to a 4 page fund raising letter detailing how we can buy gift cards to support the PTO (parent teacher organization) who admittedly does bring in some of the extracurricular activities that are no longer in the budget such as concerts, etc. It seems that if I buy a gift card for Pottery Barn, the school will get 8% of that $100 gift card. Apparently this is a wonderful new fund-raising tool…I don’t know but I liked when I used to sell candy bars back in school. But I imagine selling chocolate bars in this hyper vigilante nutrition times is a no-no. Yet despite the fact that we are a nation of financial idiots it seems maybe we need to start directing some energy into teaching kids about money and finances. However when schools start having fundraisers that are focused on buying gift cards I will be honest it bothers me. Maybe I would not have been as annoyed if there was not yet another flier telling me if I buy gift cards for one of the local grocers the school will get a portion of that money too. Call me crazy but what about a letter saying exactly how much money the PTO is trying to raise and asking for contributions. I have no idea how much my PTO is trying to raise but they are asking me to shop, shop, shop. Reminds me of folks who bought houses without asking the details and now are fucked.

I wish that I could say what we are dealing with at our school is just a local issues but I have heard reports from parents all over the country who have noticed the increase in fund raising in public schools. Frankly it’s appalling and I am also thinking what about folks who don’t have any extra money? The way these cards are set up you have to buy at least $25 worth, how many folks who are struggling financially will support this even thought they can’t afford it? At least a straight forward fundraiser would allow folks to give something.

Considering that in some cases public schools feels they need to pick up the the slack of parents (which is whole other post) maybe they should think about what they are modeling to kids. No matter what the cause and yes the work of the PTO is good, but mindless consumption is a bad thing. Sure gift cards are a lovely idea and can make for great gifts but at least in my family, we try to keep Christmas low key and gift cards are just not what I do.

PS: Don’t even get me started on those damn Scholastic book sales, I swear I am buying books every few weeks. Ugh

Why two parents count especially if you are Black

22 Sep

In typical fashion I am late to the party, hey what can I say? However today Black bloggers across the blogosphere are uniting to write on a very important topic that really requires all of us to start getting involved and not just by talking but to really work towards creating change. In the US, children born out of wedlock have become a common occurrence and the truth is there are lots of reasons why couples choose not to marry. Though in the Black community the consequences are creating what I am sure scholar’s years from now will call the lost generation or maybe even the lost generations. A generation of kids raised without two individuals involved in their lives. I am not about to argue on the moral piece of why folks must get married because as someone who did time as a single Mama I know all too well that life happens but even as a divorced young Mama years ago I understood that my ex-husband and father of my son needed to have a place in my son’s life. I suspect the reason I understood that was because of how I was raised. Here are my thoughts.

My parents married a month before I was born, for years I was embarrassed that my parent’s wedding anniversary was 5 weeks before my birthday. I often wondered why they waited so long but now as I approach middle age I am just glad they decided to become a team.

Growing up my Mother, rest her soul was the light in our family. She was the heart and the soul, her death 6.5 years ago made that clear. In fact it wasn’t until weeks before her death that I spent a significant amount of time with my father. No, my parents were never separated, my dad was a good guy but the truth is he was a bit gruff and frankly at times a tad unpleasant. Think James Sr. the father in the old TV show Good Times that was the father I grew up with. I will be honest as a kid, a teenager and even as a young woman I didn’t think he was special. It actually took my mother’s illness and subsequent death to realize he was indeed special. Since my Mom’s death I have gotten to really known him and appreciate him to the point that he is moving out to Maine this fall.

Yet it was hitting my mid 30’s a few years ago that it hit me that my father’s influence was always lurking beneath the surface. While I can’t say wholeheartedly that Dad was the first man I loved he was the man who set the bar for what I looked for in a man. See, my Dad was that old school blue collar man who put family first. He worked, brought his check home and allowed my Mom to be a homemaker. I have said on this blog before I used to be ashamed that my Mom was a stay at home Mom and the fact we didn’t have much in terms of financial resources. Yet in allowing my Mom to be a stay at home Mom in the 1970’s and 80’s he gave me a gift, a framework that only now as I approach 40 I truly understand.

In the Black community there is a saying Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe and I think in the last 20 or so years we have seen the tragic results of such thinking. A couple has a child and Mama is responsible and well maybe Daddy is around. Yet the fact is kids need two parents ideally they need them to be together but if that is not possible and believe me it was not possible for my ex-husband and I. I am firmly convinced that had I stayed married to my first husband one of us would have killed the other. Two people can be so alike and passionate that it’s a very bad thing and the best thing they can do is get far the hell away from each other. Yet when I left my ex husband it was my own father who told me that my son needed his Dad. As hard as the road has been it was true my son did need his father and the fact that his Dad has been in his life always is one of the reasons I think my son is as grounded as he is. No matter what our feelings for one another, our boy has been a priority. It’s been 17 years since we split but a few months ago when I saw my ex-husband at our son’s high school graduation we embraced. The road has been long and despite our divorce early in our son’s life we both made the sacrifices to create the best life for our son.

This is what more Black men and women need to do. I have close friends whose kids did not have their fathers in their lives and now those young adults are going off in bad directions. Yet these same women did not have their fathers in their lives so in many ways they had no idea what it would mean to not have a father for their kids?

I am convinced the older I get that kids model what they see. In other words if Mama has a string of boyfriends what message are you sending to your daughters? If she sees you doing everything and a man laying up on you or worse yet begging Daddy to send money or spend time, what message does that impart to your kids? How we expect a young boy to grow up to be a responsible young man and take care of his kids if he never saw his own father do such things? Clearly a child can grow up to do the right thing but for so many Black kids that is not happening. Considering that Blacks are disproportionately affected with lower rates of school graduation, higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of prison incarceration and the list goes on. The fact is children being raised by two parents who are there emotionally, mentally and financially can go a long way in curing much of what ails the Black community.

In the idea world, a couple would get married, have kids and stay married. Yet we don’t live in an ideal world…shit happens. However we can make a decision that if we have kids they deserve our best and judging what is best starts on being brutally honest with ourselves. If you choose to lay with a man or woman and the possibility is there that you can create a new life. Ask yourself this question, do you want to deal with that person for the next 18 years if a child is created. If the answer is no get up and leave right away. Your right hand and or a personal vibration device can take care of your needs just as well without creating a vulnerable new person in this world.

Raising Brown kids in a White World

31 Aug

This is one of those posts that will probably come across as disjointed so I will apologize in advance but I hope  in writing it, I can work through some of my own issues…after all blogging is cheaper than therapy.

It’s school time and this year the kidlet enters school. We have been getting ready for this by attending the various screenings and Open Houses. I have been putting on my best happy face all the time stuffing down my own deep feelings related to the idea and of having my daughter start school and frankly my pot boiled over last night.

Growing up I was what folks called a good kid, that meant I didn’t backtalk my parents or any adults (considering how quick my father was to spank for small things, backtalk seemed like a great way to end my young life before it started), I made good grades in school and generally speaking I was a studious well behaved kid. The type of kid parents and adults rave about, after all I didn’t cause anyone any grief. Instead my black relatives teased me for talking “white” and made my life uncomfortable which I suspect is why I have little contact with my extended family to this day. My classmates either ignored me or made fun of me for my dark skin, funny hair and overall lack of whiteness.  Problem was deep down I was an unhappy bordering on tortured kid who in 4th grade threatened suicide, yet no one believed me and thankfully the idea never went beyond being just an idea.

The older I get, I am convinced that my parent’s decision to send me to a magnet school that was predominantly white played a huge role in my general unhappiness. However my folks were working class and it’s a known fact that by and large working class and poor families do not value or encourage much dialogue on issues like feelings. So I held my feelings in and it was only when I got to high school and discovered weed and booze that I found a release for my unhappiness. Besides the stoners were less bigoted and more accepting of a skinny gawky Black chick. So much fun I had for the first time in my life that going to school became less important especially when I realized I wasn’t going to get my ass kicked any longer by my parents. So when I turned 18, I said fuck it and dropped out and the rest is as they say history. Thankfully I did eventually realize school is not all bad and did return to school as an adult.

The reason I share this is because the kidlet’s impending arrival to formalized education has brought up many of these painful memories, memories of feeling like I had no place, being teased for my kinky hair, shiny legs…thanks to ashy skin my Moms believed in oiling me up so I went to school glistening. Add in the fact my folks were Black hippies and were into shopping second hand long before it was hip, I was a walking outcast.

Truth is while I moved to Maine for my son, I never saw myself putting down roots here. I figured as soon as he turned 18, I would get the hell out of dodge and either go back to Chicago or maybe move to San Francisco. But life happens while you are making plans and well I lost both my Mom and Granny, became a homeowner and well the kidlet was born. On some level maybe I was thinking the magical fairies would get us out of here by the time she was school aged but life doesn’t work that way.

In some ways when it comes to the kidlet we lucked out, her previous daycare was actually diverse, but it was not in out town, it was the town I work in which has a higher percentage of low income families that somehow correlates to greater racial and ethnic diversity here in Maine. Seriously, if you want racial diversity, look for the poor people! She loved her daycare and was fortunate to have as a good friend another biracial child but its school time and she must attend the school in our town and well it’s not terribly diverse. Oh, it’s more diverse than it used to be but long story short the kidlet is only one of two kids of color in her class and the other child is Southeast Asian and does not speak English.

I know this because today when I went in for the last minute school preparations I talked to the kidlet’s teacher and wanted to know how she will address the issue of diversity and was met with a blank look. No, I really mean a blank look. She finally told me that she didn’t think there was going to be any issues because well kids don’t see race or color. Um…..what fucking planet are you on? I suppose my temper started rising when I realized that she had no clue what I was talking about considering the glazed over look her eyes got as I had been explaining some of my concerns with the kidlet starting school and the purpose of this meeting was to talk about the kidlet’s readiness for school based off the assessments that had been done coupled with any concerns I had. Needless to say I have a dilemma, there is no question in anyone’s mind that she is ready for school and from an academic standpoint I think she will do well but I admit it’s the social piece that concerns me.

This past year she was in a preschool that was far less diverse than her previous childcare center had been and already I saw a slight change in how she viewed herself, her hair was not long like so and so. Well no, your hair is curly and while it is long it does not flow like that kids. It’s those little things that concern me because it’s the fact that the standards of beauty are not a kid who looks like her. I think the fact that we have no extended family of color here also bothers me and concerns me, right now the only woman she sees that looks like her is me. At least for me when I finished with my day of torture at school I was surrounded by folks that looked like me at home. On the bright side my Pops is moving out here soon so she will have more exposure to folks like us.

I realize some readers will say well just move, in a perfect world maybe that would be possible but moving is not an option for a myriad of reasons. None worth going into but at the same time I am scared, every kid of color I know out here has at one point or another dealt with racism and bigotry in the schools. A dear friend of mine left Maine last year because she was worm down with battling the schools over the distinct lack of sensitivity to race and difference. Sorry, but no one is moving me out till I am better positioned to do so and that will be a good 5-6 years away at the soonest.

So that leaves me considering what I consider the nuclear option…homeschooling. I won’t lie while I have always been attracted to the idea, I have been attracted to it in the same way you admire your buddy who works out 7 days a week and has a killer body yet you know you have no time or energy to do so yourself. Yet while I don’t wish to put my issues on my child at the same time I feel like I need to start thinking about homeschooling in the event school is a bust. I admit it scares me, the idea of school harming her through the possible cruelness of kids and cluelessness of teachers scares me. But at the same time the idea of teaching my own kid scares me…after all what if I fuck up and scar her? What if she is like 12 and can’t read because I can’t figure out how to teach her. On some level I know I am being silly but these are my concerns. Never mind the fact that the hubster is not proponent of homeschooling though after one of the most volatile conversations in our 15 year relationship he is willing to give it a try but has his own concerns.

I tell ya raising kids is hard enough but raising brown kids in a white world at times makes it even harder.

It’s not all about us

24 Aug

Once upon a time in a world not that long ago, people who chose to have children understood that the end goal was to raise the kids to be productive members of society. It was understood that well, the babies don’t stay babies and that while it’s bittersweet to think of our precious babes as grown ups… fact is it happens. Then my generation (that would be Gen X’ers) started having babies and well, many of us were unhappy with our upbringing and we swore we would do better than our parents. Damn our parents for working, divorcing or whatever crimes against us they committed. We would become Super-Parents! All the things we never got, by Golly Miss Molly our precious babes would get…and before you get snippy please know I am guilty of this. My folks had very little in terms of financial resources and I have struggled with being overly generous and never saying no to either of my kids as far as things and possessing things. It took getting a child who I swear was born with a materialistic streak to realize this never saying no is not a great idea.

In modern day parenting being a super parent often means always being with our child and never allowing them to quite grow up. I remember at 18, I was definitely an adult, shit I was married and with child. Now I definitely don’t think most 18 year olds should follow that path and I am quite thankful that elder child now known as college boy did not choose my path, on the other hand I think 18 year olds are most certainly capable of being the young adults that developmentally and legally most of them are.

The problem is super parenting creates a screen where we never quite see our kids in the correct developmental stage and well you have issues like this. For those not interested in clicking, the piece talks about how more and more colleges have to create diversions and tricks to get parents off the college campus when parents come to take their offspring to college. Many of us are so used to guiding the process for our kids that we are having a hard time letting go despite the fact its healthy for both parent and kids to let go.

However the way I see it this problem now starts early, in our eagerness to enjoy our kid’s youth many of us no longer feel the need to start the slow dance of growing up at the early stages. Home schooling which I have no beef with has surged in this country, and while there are plenty of places in the US where the schools are shitty, homeschooling is most certainly a better alternative to sending your kids to the shitty local schools. (There are also kids and situations too numerous for me to delve into where again homeschooling is a great choice) But in some cases people choose the homeschooling path because they simply cannot bear to be away from their progeny the 6-7 hours a day that kids spend in school. Hey, if that works for you and yours who am I to complain? But just remember generally speaking a day will come when the birdies will want to stretch their wings beyond your nest and you need to be prepared for that.

On the flip-side we have folks who send their kids to school yet cannot abide by the rules in matters such as dropping kids off and not walking the kids to the classroom. This is a big hot button issue for many, the kidlet starts kindergarten in two weeks and I have already be warned by my Mama friends who have kids at her school that even for the little’s, the expectation is that we the parents will drop them off with their teacher and classroom outside and the class enters the building together. I admit last year when I heard this I was emotional and weepy about it, now at 5 though and knowing that my girl is ready, this policy makes sense.

Maybe its because I did a brief stint as a teacher of kids before I taught adults some years ago but let me tell you, if 15-20 sets of parents bum rushed the classroom in the morning with their kiddos, let’s be honest…chaos! It’s already hard enough for a teacher to get the kids acclimated and adjusted to the classroom without a Mama Bear hanging in the wings. I know when the kidlet was in preschool, whenever I attempted to take her and stay a few minutes afterward, it was always a bad idea. My presence did not calm her instead she looked to me and often figured since I was present that listening to the teacher and following the instructions was optional since obviously Mama’s presence overrode the teacher. After a few weeks of sensing the teacher mentally sending me the “Mama Bear be gone” vibes, I kept my presence to a minimum and kidlet not only loved preschool but thrived and made deep connections to her classmates and teachers.

I wonder if because I was so young when my firstborn entered school that  many of the issues that are stressing my parental peers out make no damn sense to me. (I was weepy when the boy started school but it also seemed amazing that we had hit a milestone) Hell, in many ways going to school is a milestone, yes its an emotional thing but to actually say well fuck we are not going to follow the rules, well that is wrong. See I moderate a parenting discussion board and many Mamas have stated that rules be damned but they will be walking their kids in the classroom and staying to make sure little Dakota & Tiger are okay in the classroom.

Alrighty now…but let me ask you as parents we model the behaviors that eventually our kids will come to see as acceptable and maybe I am confused but blatant disrespect for the rules in an institution you have agreed to be a part of seems wrong. Yeah, if a rule is unjust definitely fight it, but even in choosing to fight unjust rules there is a way to go about it and do it in a manner that is still respectful.

Our kids are watching us and yet when they grow up and seem too focused on self if what they have observed us doing is thwarting rules and focusing on our needs well how can we be mad? Guess what? It’s not all about us…we live in a world with many and need to be mindful of others.

Raising a Black Man…off to College He Goes

19 Aug

Two days ago, my son got on a plane to head back to his Pop’s house to finish backing and to head off to college. I cried like a baby. When that boy was born 18 years ago after 4 days of labor, if someone would have told me that one day I would be shipping him off to college, I might have chuckled and said…um, ok. After all, I was a 19 year old high school dropout when he was born. Hell, not only was I a dropout but I was living on government assistance at the time since me and my first husband were young and dumb and didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

This is an emotional and weepy Mama piece, as my Pops told me the other day “Mama, you done good.” I suppose if you are white and reading this you may be wondering what is the big deal? But for a young Black boy and make no mistake, oh he is half white but in these Fractured States of America even in 2010, being a half white dude doesn’t count for much. Unless you are a passable shade of white as far as your skin color…well you are Black.

For a young Black man to get to 18 with a good head on his shoulders and not be headed off to prison or be in route to being a Baby Daddy is sadly not as common as I would like it to be, therefore every time I know of any young brotha headed to college or graduating, I rejoice.

See, raising a Black boy to age 18 and seeing him go off to college takes a lot, it takes a fucking village, some prayer and some luck. Truth is it ain’t much better raising our girls either, since I got friends dealing with major issues and heartbreaks with their daughters who are the same age as my son.

Nope, I looked at my son the other morning as we went on a long walk before he left and realized he is indeed a young man, no longer a baby but he will always be my baby.

So excuse me while I take a few days off as I gather my composure since as parents we spend so much time dealing with the day, its a strange feeling to see them make that transition to adulthood.