A Mom’s Ode to 2016

This year has been pretty eventful to say the least. This nation has experienced some undeniable ups and downs. But nothing we haven’t seen before. Maybe not in my lifetime or yours, but this nation as a whole, has experienced far worse. This year has been the best of times and the worst of times. Why?

Direct your attention to my daughter. She’s 21 months old now and for a long time had been a fantastic sleeper. She’d abandoned the middle of the night feedings around five months and my husband and I were elated. We’d go to sleep and wake up feeling less like we sipped a laced drink and more like positive well functioning adults. It was heaven. And then it changed. Shortly after her first birthday she started waking in the middle of the night again. Unable to be settled back down unless we put her in our bed. We mourned. Rest peacefully sweet rest. More so, we were frustrated. What happened? We thought she’d grown. We thought she was capable of sleeping through the night. We thought she was past this.

Until the election, we thought we’d successfully put our major issues to bed. 2016 got real ugly, real quick. It took people by surprise. Not because we haven’t seen this before. The injustice, the poisoned politics, the warped media. We’re totally familiar with it (see this entire nation’s history for more info). The problem is that we’d gotten comfortable. We made so much progress through such heartache and bloodshed that we thought we’d never revisit these issues of racism, sexism, and religious intolerance. Like me and my husband, we settled into bed, pulled our covers up over our heads and failed to realize that the baby was stirring again. Growing and changing. Reverting. And it’s a real freaking thing people. We’re experiencing the mother of all sleep regressions in this nation.

My husband and I were not expecting our sweet little girl to turn into a midnight hellion. We scrambled on Google trying to find remedies to a well known issue with toddlers and babies. Literally, there is so much information about it I felt stupid. It doesn’t help to be informed about the stages of success if you’re not equally informed about potential pitfalls, risks, and regressions. If we’d done the proper research we would not have spent nights putting her in our bed to hush and soothe her and thus creating a whole new damned issue of having to wean her out of co-sleeping. We fumbled this shit bad y’all and for 2017 to be successful we have to hope that things positively progress but be prepared for the absolute worse and have a strategic game plan on how to deal with it. Evil wriggles in during weak times (see Donald Trump and this nation’s entire history for more info).

For 2017, I’m betting, nay, hoping, that the we’ll all get it together and think like a Mom for a second. What’re we going to do when our bad habits won’t get out of our bed when their thirteen years old? Are you going to get used to toes pressing into your spinal cord or are you going to sleep train that mess into submission?

Do you know the most important thing to master in order to nip sleep regression in the bud? Consistency. Clear goals, sticking to a schedule, and following through everyday no matter how exhausting it may be initially. If I can bottle this little nugget from parenting and send it out across the world…and charge a buck per bottle i’ll be a lot closer to clearing all my debt. That went left didn’t it? Feels like the right way to end this crazy year. Happy 2016 everyone and onward to 2017!

 

Don’t ‘Mannequin Challenge’ This Election

My son, a 4th grader, came to me yesterday and asked if tomorrow was Election Day. I told him it was.

“Are you going to vote?” He asked me.

“I sure am. Voting for Hillary.”

“Good, because if not we’ll have to move to Canada.” He shook his head and plopped down on the couch. Folks, the Election has reached elementary school. When I was in grade school I didn’t usually know who was running for office. I had no idea what their positions were and how important their impact really was on the country. I only cared who the current President was so that I could pass my Social Studies exam.

Something is changing this time around.This election has unearthed a new level of ugliness in people that I’d hoped was far behind us as a nation. Misogyny, racism, homophobia, and able-ism are on my news feed daily thanks to Donald Trump and many of his supporters. The comments that we knew were exchanged behind closed doors and around dinner tables out fear of retribution are now at the forefront. Being celebrated. “Tell it like it is!” they shout. More like, “Tell it like it shouldn’t be.”

It’s difficult to ignore ugliness that’s in your face and walking down the street proudly with signs of hatred and voices of rage. It’s unnerving but it moves people.The amount of posts I began to see that started with “I don’t usually get into politics but…” It’s fascinating. Our nation was FORCED to get involved. People that had been glued to their seats, silent behind their keyboards, and still within the world moving angrily around them started to bend and blink and move and speak. We’ve become comfortable because of that door that separated us sometimes from the hate speech. Because in all honestly it’s not directly affecting us, right?. It hasn’t touched our lives or caused irreversible damage right? Those people with those archaic racial ideologies were few and far between, right? In the words of Donald Trump “WRONG”.

During this election season I’ve seen conversations build and grow between children and adults. Generations are collectively saying no to walls; hateful rhetoric; violence; and running this nation like another corporation on par for failure. We’re moving y’all. Even if you’ve tried your best mannequin impression thus far you will have failed because it’s impossible to stand still and try not to blink when we are peering into the upside-down of a nation. We are peeking behind the veil of bad politics effect on a nation. I always wondered, “How did Hitler…literally one dude…gain so much power and do so much damage?” It’s because too many people mannequin challenged the hell out of their role and let him move among them without ever batting an eye.

The Donald Trumps of the world play an important role in making America great again. They are the ones who make us see that as bad as we think things are, they can always be worse. For every injustice we see there are a hundred more going on behind the curtain. Because of this, the election finally has the momentum and attention to rival an internet trend like the Mannequin Challenge. They make us break out of our roles, move a little bit, change the scene, and reset in a better position. We have experienced historical voter turnout, we’ve bridged those awkward conversations among friends, we’ve seen which of our Facebook friends follow Donald Trump and we’re better for it. Today will be a historic day in history either way it turns out but when the videos are shown to my sons kids and those kid’s kids of Americans casting their vote, I want them to see me moving. Unfrozen and fighting like a true nasty woman. Happy Election Day!

*featured photo courtesy of theodysseyonline.com

Let’s Talk About S**t

On Friday I picked up my daughter from the sitter and walked home. The sun had a clear shot to earth and was blazing down in all its glory. Not a cloud in sight. I pulled the sun shade over her stroller.

Now, my daughter is a little cutie. Whenever I take her out people smile and wave at her in her stroller (she waves at everyone). This happens everyday. Except today. People squinted. Eyebrows raised. Heads leaned to the side. People looked at her strange. One gentlemen in particular walked past her and immediately, the “I smell old milk” expression settled on his face. 
“What the hell?”
I stopped the stroller and went around to look at her. I discovered that while we walked the two blocks home she’d pooped. Not only did she poop but she was reaching into her pamper through her little shorts, grabbing handfuls of poop, and smearing it all over herself. Doodiegate 2016. I cleaned up her hands the best I could with a blanket and ran the rest of the way to my apartment where I placed her, clothes and all, into a soapy bath. 
While I’m washing the poop off my little one I couldn’t help but feel annoyed. Not with the her. She was a baby doing what babies will do. I was annoyed with the guy. And all the other people we passed. Why didn’t anyone say anything?
Did they think I was aware of the poop debacle and co-signed her rubbing herself down with feces?
Did they think they’d hurt my feelings?
Did they think someone would eventually tell me or I’d eventually notice myself so they shouldn’t help the cause?
But why let a child wallow in filth for a second longer than they have to? This event got me thinking about the bystander effect as a whole and how our society functions primarily from a self preservation standpoint rather than a communal standpoint. Would it really have hurt anyone to tell me my daughter was covered in poop? No, not at all. But they took in this scene, processed it, and somehow put it in the category as “Not my problem”. 
How many other things are we leaving covered in poop? How many other issues could benefit from someone saying, “Hey, this thing you’re responsible for is covered in shit. You should fix it”? 
There can’t be this many of us crammed into one place for us to go it alone. There has to be a reason why other people were able to see what was obstructed to me. I want your eyes, your ears, and your perspective in most uncreepiest way. Get involved. Because it’s the same fear of getting involved that allows the wrong people to take the lead and push the stroller along with all of us inside covered in filth.
Please tell me if my daughter, or my life, or my words, or my actions, or my laws are covered in poop and I will do the same. If we do this we offer one another something invaluable. A choice. A chance to clear the poop away before other things…the flies, the maggots of this world get to it and breed new life. At that point it becomes more than we can contain. 

I’m a Down-Low Natural

I’ve been living a double life when it comes to my hair. In early July I cut my hair off. All of it. After almost three decades of relaxing my hair into submission it was damaged, broken, uneven, and unsure of what its natural state was. My natural coils sprang from my roots only to be immediately gelled down, filled with chemicals and changed into something else. I told myself over the years that I was doing it because straighter hair was more manageable. It was easier to deal with. This is partially true. But the overwhelming truth was. I don’t know my own hair and i’m not sure I like it.

Few people actually know I cut my hair and this is because I’ve been sporting wigs. That’s right- I cut my hair off in an attempt to save my natural hair and embrace its coils, just to put a wig on. I believed that I was doing it just to get used to my short hair. Or I was wearing the wig until my hair  gets a little longer. Or I was wearing the wig until I can have a consultation with a professional natural hair guru. Or I was wearing a wig until…The excuses really went on and on. But underlying all the excuses the truth hurt. I was uncomfortable. With my own hair.

As I write this I’m trying to be as blunt as possible and not hide behind poetic prose and metaphors. I think my natural hair looks unprofessional. Unkempt. Shocking. It’s so painful for me to say. I’ve gone on long diatribes about self acceptance. I’ve gone on about doing what’s best for your unique self. I rage against conformity. And yet I believe one of the biggest lies that have been told to my ancestors. I believe I won’t be taken seriously as an educated, professional, strong black woman.  That no matter what I achieve I’ll still be a “nappy-headed” girl from pre-gentrified Brooklyn underneath it all. This short natural hair exposes me in ways I never thought hair could. It brings out the little girl in me who yanked on her pigtails wishing they’d be longer. It brings out the teenager in me standing in the hair shop trying to figure out which hair would make me look best. Because I knew it’d never be my own.

And yet here I am. Being pulled along by my beautiful black sisters that I see out every day. Sporting their crowns. Curls reaching out in every way. Different lengths and textures. They’re saying that it is enough. That it is ok. That “nappy” is not allowed.

I have a little one-and-a-half year old girl who’s hair I love. I love braiding it. Putting it in pigtails. Putting bows around her baby ‘fro and leaving it free. Trying different moisturizers to see which best brings out the features of her beautiful curls. My love of her hair is a direct correlation to how much I love her. Point blank. I love everything about that girl. So I love everything that comes along with her. That same complete and full love I have for her I don’t have with myself just yet.

This is my lesson. My realization. Athena. The girl who took Women’s Studies courses in College. Who wrote the papers on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. I played Rosa Parks in my school play. I know the story and the issues all too well. Yet, oppression sneak attacked me. I was participating in a centuries long system of oppression while at the same time being all things feminist, liberal, equal rights and self love. As the chirrens would say, “I was low-key oppressed!”.

How many un-challenged social constructs are really affecting my seemingly elevated and inclusive world? What about you? What haven’t you challenged? Check it out. You may find that you are low-key oppressed.

His name is Alton.

I wonder what his name is. The next one. The silent one. Who can’t tell his story.

The one whose blood is on the pavement. Who’s always a threat. Because of his size. His height. His hoodie. His questions. His youth. Where he lives. Where he doesn’t belong. His blackness.

The one who has no breath in his lungs because of their feelings. Their fear. Their past. What they don’t understand. Where they live. Where they don’t belong.

Pick my men up off the pavement. Pull them from under the white sheet. Dig them up from the ground. Cut them down from trees. Put them back on the playground. Put them back in the stairwells. Put them back at the grocery store. Let them make it home.

I wonder what his name will be. He who at this moment is next to his mother. His wife. His children. His life. Will his name be the one I gave him at birth? The name I took at the alter? The name I took at birth? Did we share the same womb?

Right now his name is Alton. Next week, who knows?

*Graphic Video* https://youtu.be/pdGXhSQvTKc

Sticks and Stones and Words Do Hurt

you suck

“Mom you shouldn’t eat pizza. You should eat healthy. You don’t want to be fat!” Justin was on a health kick. His school had just gotten a new Sports and Fitness Director and let’s just say he was doing his job. Well. My son just called me and his Dad out. And my feelings were hurt. My brain sort of shut down on me as I tried to figure out a way to explain to him that what he said wasn’t wrong. He was right. But that his approach was a little harsh. Six-year-old harsh.
I can recall being twelve years old and for the first time having someone, who I did not know, make a mean comment about my weight. For years I’d been blessed to have family, friends, and classmates around me who saw me for me and not just my physical appearance. When I came across something that was such a contrast from what I’d become used to I was a bit shell-shocked. I was hurt and went home and cried. I cried a good long pitiful cry.

My Dad eventually noticed my preteen meltdown and took me into his arms. It took much prodding before he got the story out of me. I am dramatic at times and I can remember summing up my story with something along the lines of “No one likes me. I shouldn’t live anymore!” Yea, I know. I cringe as I write it now and even at the time I knew I had no intention of ending my life but it sounded like something you were supposed to say after someone was so unnecessarily mean to you. My father’s reaction though was not what I expected. I thought he’d continue to console me, beg me to return to being the bright young girl I was and get rid of all the negatives sentiments.

You know sometimes when the opposite of what you think is going to happen, happens? Stay Tuned.

What my Father did was, peel my wet face off his shoulder and shooed me (he literally shooed me) away from him.

“Now you’re just talking nonsense. If you can’t see how much people love you, you’ve got big problems.”
Good Bye and Good Night! That was the end of the conversation. I went back to sulk under the weight of my failed attempt at gaining sympathy from my Dad. But I couldn’t even muster up another tear. My irrationality was leaking out instead. I realized that I was being foolish as soon as the words left my mouth. Just saying the words out loud felt foreign to me. I’d tried on a new self-loathing coat that did not fit properly. In reality, for that one negative comment from a stranger, I’d had hundreds of positive commentary from the people who had front row seats to my knowledge, my personality, and my heart (i.e. those who mattered). The sing-song children’s rhyme pinged around in my head.

“Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Except they do. Especially when your six-year-old tells you you’re fat.

The power of words. I’ve seen them used as vehicles for change. Bold, centered letters on picket signs. Prose eagerly written for a college entrance letter. The first word your child learns to write. “Mom”. I’ve seen words used to oppress. Laws written barring the right to vote. Slurs scrawled across doors of homes. Notes passed in class about how ugly someone’s shoes are. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. Those words from that stranger hurt and though I did get over it the fact that I remember it so vividly all these years later proves that it did have an impact. For some children the words don’t roll off so quickly. Children take their own lives in an effort to escape the words being spewed at them from little mouths barely old enough to walk to school on their own. It’s hurtful and it stings and can even be deadly.
As a parent now I struggle with this concept of words as weapons. I’m a writer who is trying to teach my son, for his protection, that words don’t hurt. That they hold no real power. It’s hypocritical and just plain ole wrong. But there’s still a natural urge for me to protect my son. I want to give him all the tools and the fortitude to tackle any obstacles that may come up in his life. Now, as a first grader he’s not necessarily dealing with the crux of life issues but he is learning how to interact socially with others. More poignantly, he’s learning how to interact with others who sometimes say things that he does not agree with. Teasing and making fun. How do I teach him the importance of words, and the strong feelings they convey while simultaneously urging him to let harsh words roll off his back because they are after all “just words”? Oh, the struggle.

Words are our strongest weapon. They give us the opportunity to share openly as a community, to attempt to resolve differences without violence, an avenue to share joy and hope…and they hurt. I’m seeing a shift in society. It’s now cool to be cynical. It’s funny to say mean things. The “Mean Kids” culture is really taking on a new power and its impact is felt through the numerous news stories of children, barely even teenagers, taking their lives because of the constant teasing, taunting, and pure meanness of their peers. I fear having my child on either side of that coin. The aggressor or the victim. I also don’t want him to be a person that skirts the line and goes along quietly without opinions.

But I’m learning (we’re learning) that as with any weapon it’s imperative that the use and safety are taught concurrently. It’s a tricky situation but getting my son to know how important using his words responsibly and effectively is an ongoing lesson. Quite honestly it’s one that I haven’t totally mastered as an adult. We all have our “oops” moments, poor choices of words, name calling and generalizations. Being aware of what we’re saying and how its landing on the ear (and the heart) of another is the first step.

As it turns out, Justin understood totally. I have to start giving that kid more credit. His focus is now on celebrating health instead of admonishing fatness. And I’m in the process of losing some of those hearty LB’s. Win, win.

Am I Raising One of Those Adults?

He waits until he gets to the counter at Starbucks to look at the menu. The twenty people in line behind him groan in unison.

She leaves her cart in the center aisle while grocery shopping. Everyone must maneuver their grocery laden carts around it like a produce glacier.

I fear these people daily. I have a reservoir of bottled up rage from years –decades even– of meeting up with these people as I go through the mundane but necessary tasks of life. I come home to my 700 sq. ft. slice of the pie, downtrodden and beat up by the idiocy of it all. I slump down onto my couch.

“Hi Mom!” Justin, my six-year-old son, launches the greeting over his shoulder as he flies around the room. I watch my little boy. So happy and carefree. He’s uninhibited and completely –and do mean totally– oblivious to the fact that he dropped a huge glob of peanut butter on the floor during lunchtime and is now smearing it all over the floor while in the midst of his most recent Spider-Man induced psychotic break (he’s shooting non-existent webs out of his wrists. imaginative play or psychosis? You decide.) I groan and the thought flutters in on the wings of worry. Oh my God. Am I raising one of those adults?

I worry about my son constantly. Is he happy? Is he healthy? Does he know he’s loved? Does he know that, seriously, Starbucks lines are long and you can optimize your wait time by browsing the menu and deciding on a selection before you get to the counter so you don’t hold up the line? These are just a few of many worries that burrow into my motherhood for residence.

Nature vs nurture always rears its ugly head eventually. I wonder if I have any control at all in determining who he becomes or does he have a biological disposition to being Starbucks dude? Of course, it’s a combination of countless factors such as culture, socio-economic status, heredity, and so on and so forth. In a nutshell, it’s pretty much unpredictable. But let’s not let that stop us from worrying, huh? Yea!

I was surprised they allowed me to take my son out of the hospital after his birth. A short stint of two days after an emergency cesarean and BAM! I’m driving through the streets of Brooklyn with a hostage. No formal training necessary. No pop quiz before the discharge papers are signed. My god, they even let me call him whatever the heck I wanted. This seemed irresponsible on their part and thus my worrying began.

I worried about diapers, onesies, new teeth, old teeth (a fairy does what exactly?), kindergarten, high school, college, and careers before my precious little boy even made his first tar-like poop.  He was the most beautiful thing and I didn’t want to screw him up. Could I screw him up? Could I make him a lifelong Venti-Mocha-Frap-with-skim-blocker?

As most wisdom does, my first nugget of knowledge on parenting came from my mother. She watched me patiently from the kitchen table as I tried to get my son to eat his first spoonful of solid food. As soon as I’d get that little rubber spoon lined up for the landing he’d purse his tiny lips shut and turn his head away. I’d read books and articles and more books that said he should be eating solid food by now. I dropped the spoon into the bowl and along with it went my last resolve. I dissolved into a frustrated teary mess on my mother’s couch.

“He’s NEVER going to eat!” I always had a flair for the dramatic.

My mom calmly shook her head.

“No, that’s not true. He’ll eat when HE wants to eat. Just give him what you have until then.” She was referring to the bottle of formula but her words went past that bottle and hit something deeper inside me. I could actually hear the ding and see the light bulb illuminate in my head.

My son was his own person. Even at six months old.

His natural disposition told him he wasn’t ready for the food and that was okay.  As his mother I felt I knew what was best for him and that was okay too. So, should I force the solid food issue until his little tummy rumbled? No. I had to give him what I had. What he would accept. I had to nurture him with the tools that best suited him.

I may know what’s best for him and I will always worry when he takes an alternate route but I rest assured that he knows what’s right for him. He’s teaching me this constantly. A few days after the solid food debacle of ’07 he ate his first spoonful of solid food and he’s been a proud picky eater ever since.

So, if a baby could help teach me such a fundamental lesson, maybe–just perhaps–Starbucks dude and produce glacier lady are here to teach me things as well. Like patience and sharp maneuvering techniques. Maybe they skipped the lesson on proper coffee line etiquette but took second helpings on taking as much time (and blocking as many paths) as you need to make the right decision. If that’s the case, then I’ll be happy to raise that kind of adult.

photo (5)(Justin with his go-to snack)