Archive for the ‘ Parenting ’ Category

Black bodies, black names in a white world

I was born in the early 1970s at a time when many Black Americans were experimenting with connecting to their diasporic roots and when unable to find true connections, they created their own. The result is a generation that was given dubious-sounding African names that were really just creative concoctions that reflected the angst of the time and the need to claim a heritage that had been denied. I know this because my legal moniker is one of these concoctions. My legal name is very much reflective of my working-class Black roots and for many years it brought me much pain and agony.

In the mid 1990’s, during a particularly long and grueling job search that was going nowhere, I decided on a whim to change my name on my resumes to the more race-neutral Shay, and to simply use my middle initial of L instead of its full form in all its “Blackness.” This was well before the now well-known Harvard study on names and let me say, the difference in using a shortened and less racially connected form of a family nickname was like night and day. Suddenly I was getting more calls than I could handle. On the phone, since my voice held not a hint of stereotypical Blackness, potential employers had no idea that I was Black until I showed up for the interview. Start the laugh track now.

A race-neutral name will get you in the door, but few people excel at hiding their obvious shock of a Black person walking in the door when they were expecting a white person. The sad reality is that a name is just a name and people who are hell-bent on denying another’s humanity based on race care not if you are Laquita Shante Jones or Sally Anne Ross.

This week, this piece ran in the New York Times.  A Black mother agonizes over what to name her unborn child, because the name that her partner wants for their unborn child when searched on Google comes up with images that include mug shots of Black men. This mother only wants to best for her child and she does not want him burdened with the baggage that comes with a Black name.  But after 40 years on this dusty rock in the land of the free and the home of the brave which was built on dubious roots that included enslaving people and denying them their humanity, I am sad to say that you have to face facts: We, as the descents of those people, still carry those burdens as a collective society and there is no white name that can take that away.

Living in Maine, I have met more than a few young Black men raised here who are have very white names, very white mannerisms and overall are safe and respectable young men of color and all have had moments where the cloak of respectability that is all the rage in the Black middle class and above circles did not protect them from the harsh reality of bigotry.

A writer who I adore who just so happens to be Black Ivy League graduate and attorney wrote a response to the NY Times piece ; it was Carolyn’s piece which inspired me to write today. Respectability politics is a dangerous game for people of color to play because no matter what we do the goal keeps getting moved. We are arguing over suitable names for Black folks but whites are quite comfortable with unusual names. Tagg Romney? Hell, in Maine I have met more than a few white folks with Black sounding names including an Ebony White who worked at a sneaker shop. Yet we are over here trying to get the most race-neutral name possible.

Names are deeply personal, I spent weeks poring over names when I was pregnant with my son and I didn’t name my daughter until she was three days old. In the end my children have names that fit who they are as people. The older I get, the baggage of changing my name even informally has become a weight, as I realize that my given name is very much a part of who I am. My given name symbolizes the working class Black kid from Chicago and while that may not be who I am at this moment, it is my history.

Over the years I have made peace with my very Black first and middle name, though I rarely use them, but I was reminded of how far I have come in getting over my own quest to be “respectable” when I was asked a few days ago to submit copies of my college and graduate school diplomas for a position that I am up for. My official documents, of course, still bear my legal name (by the way a very Black name is very handy when using a credit card while Black; people are less prone to think that I stole the card). In the past, being asked for official documents was unnerving…oh, no! They will learn that I am Black. Duh! I am Black. In less than an hour I emailed the required documents, and thought nothing more of it. Hell, I am a Black girl.  

Parents of color carry burdens that our white counterparts will never know nor will they ever carry. Yet we cannot live our lives or plan the lives of our future kids with the hopes of being deemed safe and acceptable in the eyes of whites. If we do, we are only living life at half capacity, if we start denying our own humanity to even ourselves.  As the young folks say, “haters gonna hate.” If you want to give your kid race-neutral name, do it because you want to and not because of the fears this society instills in us.

Signed,

Shamika LaShawn aka Shay aka Black Girl in Maine

As a parent, for the most part I try to stay in my own lane and not judge other parents. Despite the plethora of materials available to parents, the truth is, parenting is hard work. I became a parent two weeks after turning 19 and I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. Many of my mistakes were compounded by the fact that my ex-husband and I spent most of our son’s childhood having a rather tumultuous relationship. Thankfully our son emerged from the morass of having two knuckleheads for parents relatively unscathed and at 21; he is far more together than I ever was in my 20’s. If there was one rule that has guided my parenting in the past two decades, it was and is the reminder that my children are more than just extensions of myself; they are free will humans with their own thoughts and feelings that are worthy of respect.  

In this brave new digital world that we are living in, I am seeing something that is absolutely disheartening and heartbreaking, children being disregarded as actual people with feelings. There is no way around the fact that as a parent there are times when children need our guidance and at times even the dreaded D word…discipline. Yet it seems to have become almost common that these uncomfortable moments are being shared online in an attempt to “correct” children. I am sorry but in a world where bullying amongst kids has become the norm, I can’t help thinking that we as parents are modeling the bullying and shaming that so many kids now experience.

Today I read about the short shorts dad. A Utah father tired of his daughter wearing “skimpy” shorts decided to turn the tables on her by cutting up a pair of jeans, and going out on family night in his own pair of “skimpy” shorts. The mom shared the photo of dad in shorts on her blog and of course the story went viral. Dude, what about talking to your kid? Look, I have an 8 year old daughter and already she wants to wear clothing that at times makes me cringe, there are times when I have to veto an outfit and times when I have to ask myself why the resistance? Never in a million years would I want to humiliate my kid and post something online that could create blowback for her. Why? Because when we love people, we don’t want to intentionally hurt them. Period.

For some reason parenting by public humiliation has become the new norm and then we wonder why kids harass each other online? Sorry, but what are we the adults showing them? Of course last week, we had a mother who took it one step further by not just humiliating her kids online but actually her son’s friends. Mrs. Hall wrote a blog post to her son’s friends telling them that basically they dress like dusty trollops and that since the family sits around the table looking at the teenage boys Instagram feeds, if you don’t meet Mrs. Hall’s standards of best dressed, you cannot be pals with her boys online.

First off, why is Mrs. Hall all up in her son’s business? Look, we should monitor our kids’ online activity. I initially joined social media sites when my son was in high school because I wanted to know what he was up to. That said, I was not monitoring every post and page and I never had his passwords. Kids need to have space, just as adults need to have space. It’s a fine line but frankly if I were Mrs. Hall’s son, I would probably be livid. It is bad enough that the family sits around scrutinizing the kids’ friends online but to write a blog post? Not cool mom. There is also the fact that Mrs. Hall was in full slut shaming mode. Hey, Mrs. Hall no one asked for your opinions and if my daughters were friends with your son’s, you and I would be having words over what you wrote.

Raising kids is scary and once they hit the teen years, the anxiety level does rise because the stakes are higher. But I think too many times we as parents forget that we were once young and we did questionable things too. Adolescence is a time for finding ourselves and it does and will involve experimenting with things that sometimes parents wish we could ignore but shaming our kids is not the answer.

How many of us as adults have had to undo the damage that shame did to us especially around matters of sex and sexuality? *sheepishly raising my own hand* We raise our kids until they are of age to be on their own but parenting that is well done and thoughtful will create a relationship that lasts a lifetime. One upping our kids is not the way to have a healthy relationship, but creating open and honest dialogue is.

 

I think it’s safe to say that tensions are running high across the United States this week. Between the relentless heat pounding parts of the country and the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, we are all feeling the tension and with that tension it brings hair trigger tempers. Can I suggest that we all step back and take a collective breath, breathe it out slowly and repeat at least two more times.

It used to be that the social code in our society demanded that there were a few subjects that we never discussed publicly namely, sex, religion, and politics. For some of the more sensitive or volatile among you, may I suggest that we add race to that list as well since we rarely discuss it in an open and honest fashion thus when cases such as Trayvon Martin make it to the mainstream media and our collective minds, many of us are all caught with our metaphorical pants down by our ankles and our private bits blowing in the wind.

At the not really ripe age of 40, I can recall one other specific time when race was on everyone’s mind yet true discussions were not really had…remember our ole pal O.J. Simpson? I remember the day that verdict was announced, I was eating lunch in a downtown Chicago steakhouse and was one of only a handful of Black patrons in the restaurant. It was a moment, I won’t ever forget. It was chilling.

Yet all these years later, despite so many surface changes when it comes to race in this country, nothing has really changed. For the most part, Americans live racially segregated lives either by choice or chance.  Unlike just a few decades ago where racism was the law of the land and outright bigotry was accepted, that is no longer the case. But while laws change, that doesn’t mean attitudes change, instead for many of us our bigotry is simply stuffed down and out of sight. We as a collective body have not unlearned racism; instead we painted over the ugly and unsightly wallpaper of our racial houses with cheap paint. Every few years we paint over it some more, telling ourselves that racism is gone and that all is well; our walls are in good shape. However as anyone who has ever dealt with painted over wallpaper can attest to, what you really do when you paint over the wallpaper rather than painstakingly removing the wallpaper and fixing the walls is to create a mess that eventually someone has to deal with.

In essence that is what this Trayvon Martin case has revealed to our nation, our racial walls are not in good shape, they are raggedy. Raggedy though is not always a bad thing, sometimes raggedy is what we need to get to the root and actually make true systemic change. In order though to be raggedy and make change we have to want it. As I learned in a diversity class many years ago in graduate school, we must be willing to open ourselves up and lay bare things about ourselves that are scary. We need to be willing to question our assumptions and if need be throw them in the garbage and start over from scratch.

This week, I have seen so many people of color namely Black people lay prostrate in order to be seen as fully human, I have also seen many white people get angry or ignore the pain of others. This unwillingness to engage even if there are missteps are part of why America finds itself in what I am calling a continual Do the Right Thing loop every decade or so.

Talking about race is hard, even in families such as mine that are multicultural; race talks are painful and at times polarizing. I am well aware that my use of social media to discuss race and specifically this case has been alienating to both my white friends and family members.  Last night my ex-husband called me to discuss this and while we do not see eye to eye about the case, as I told him he is entitled to his beliefs on the matter. Truthfully we are about 180 degrees apart on this case but I needed to hear him out and ask that he hear me out. Respectful discussions that respect the individual are the beginning of the process of change; not the tit for tat comparisons that often seem to substitute for real discourse in this ramped up digital age.

There also times when silence is not golden, and with a non-stop talker in my house, I enjoy silence but there are times when silence sends the signal that the pain of others is not worthy of your consideration. It is okay to admit to being helpless and not knowing what to do, but if one wants to create change when it comes to our collective racial walls, tell me that. Really, I want to hear it and as other mothers of color are expressing this week, they want to hear that too. This is a time where we can learn and help one another out, hell, I have a big mouth and plenty of thoughts I would be happy to give you some suggestions on what to do.

Note: As this blog grows it is clear that while it will never be a commercial space, it is a safe space where many feel they can come and read something meaningful. My inbox has far more emails in it than it used to have and it is clear that running this blog is more than just throwing a post up. After much though I have decided that I am going to bring the tip jar back, as always while a tip is a lovely gesture it is not expected but much appreciated. This space is a personal labor of love that I do because it gives me pleasure, so no pressure at all.

 

 

Ruby my granddaughter

Ruby my granddaughter

A few months ago my soon to be eight year old daughter rediscovered her American Girl Doll with a vengeance. After sitting in the land dump of stuffies and dolls, Ruby was once again a part of the daily cycle of family life here in BGIM-land. Unlike a few years ago when Ruby first became a member of our household, soon to be eight has decided that depending on the day, Ruby is either her baby or her sister. My daughter reads to Ruby, feeds her, and yes, Ruby goes everywhere we do. Ruby makes the rounds at the Farmer’s Market where several of the local farmers actually know her name.  According to the picture below, I did the same thing when I was her age except my dollies didn’t look anything like me.

Me and my dollie at almost eight..guess they didn't have brown ones!

Me and my dollie at almost eight..guess they didn’t have brown ones!

Considering that my daughter just finished second grade and won’t even turn eight for a few more weeks, in my old fashioned and outdated mind I thought that playing with dolls was a normal childhood activity. It turns out, I was very wrong. I have tried to ignore the looks of dismay when people turn around to see my daughter interacting with her doll. It reached the point that I actually started talking with other parents and well, I am surprised.

In my area while kids may privately still play with dolls, most by my daughter’s age no longer cop to playing with toys or dolls publicly. I have seen this at my day job where we do have a handful of kiddos in my daughter’s age group who have announced that they are too old for childish stuff like toys. Whoa!!  

As a friend recently told me over lunch, I should be prepared for my daughter to be considered one of the strange kids…what??? Soon to be eight will be starting at a new school in the fall, for grades 3-5, where it is not unheard of for a kid to have their own iPod or iPad. Now I am not technology adverse, after all we have a family iPad that is primarily used by the girl child. But her own private iGadget worth several hundreds of dollars? Nope, I am a working stiff and considering that wages have not kept pace with the cost of living in over 20 years, on general principle the idea of spending that kind of money is simply not something I am comfortable with.

Yet when every other kid has their own cell or iGadget by the time they are ten, I admit that I am aware I am fighting an uphill battle. If the price of admission to friendship is having what others have, I know that my values will matter very little to my child. But where has childhood gone? My son is only 13.5 years older than at his sister and I remember him clearly playing with his action figures well past the ripe old age of almost eight. Sure he had electronic gadgets like a Gameboy but gadgets 10+ plus years ago didn’t cost as much as three weeks’ worth of groceries nor did they require a monthly financial commitment…data anyone?

On the flip side we are rushing kids through the childhood years but once they get close to adulthood in the later teen years we are halting their development. Back in the day, when one was 18, they were an adult. Sure your parents may have paid your college tuition bills or sported you money to live on but society saw you as an adult. As we learned last year not even our auto insurance company considers my now 21 year old son an adult. By virtue of the fact that his legal residence is now my house (it used to be his dad’s) and I am his mother, we pay to cover him on our policy despite the fact that he doesn’t even have a car. My folks ceased being financially responsible for me when I moved out of their house at 18, yet in today’s world early adulthood is seen more or less as an extension of childhood. We have assisted him during these college years and have been happy to do so, but there is something about the fact that in some cases I am forced to do it when it isn’t necessary, makes no sense.

 Never mind the tales my son has shared in his three years of college; roommates who were woefully unprepared to live on their own even in college. In his freshman year he had a roommate who did not know how to do his laundry…at all. Instead the kid would save it up and after a few months and take it home to dear ole mom to launder. The problem though was that in a small shared space, the odor of the funky clothes became so intense that my son took to burning incense to cover up the eau de funk. In another instance I remember my son wanting a friend who lived less than 100 miles away to visit our house. It was suggested that the young man who was 16 at the time and in possession of a driver’s license take the Amtrak train to get to our house, nope the kid’s mom wasn’t comfortable with her son taking an hour-long train ride even though the kid could legally drive a car. While I understand having a comfort zone, if a 16 year old boy is ready enough to drive a car, the same boy should be able to take an hour long train ride. The ability to navigate public transit is a valuable skill because sometimes cars break down and you may be in an area where public transit is the norm.

In the end, I cannot help but feel something is terribly wrong with how we view childhood, our kids are being rushed to grow up, and those who refuse to fast forward through childhood are seen as “different” in the not good way. Yet just when our kids are ready to leave the nests, we hold on for dear life and refuse to let them grow up. It’s enough to give a Mama a headache.

 

 

 

 

Summer plans gone wrong and a Mama Bear comes out

After almost 22 years of parenting, the only thing that I know for sure is that I know nothing. Not one iota. The one guiding principle that I have not only for myself but with both of my kids is to never doubt our instincts, trust in the wisdom and knowledge that is inherent in our spirits and always be willing to stand in our own personal truth, no matter what.

Standing in our own truth means respect; respect for ourselves, respect for others and respecting our limits.  Yet we live in a culture that sends a message that says we must do more, push, expand and frankly when it comes to our kids, I am sick and tired of it.

My seven year old daughter started summer day camp yesterday with high expectations; this was to be the first year that she would attend the local summer day camp put on by our local parks and recreation department and be with her friends rather than attending either the YMCA camp or private camp. I admit the cheaper price and closer proximity to home and work made it look especially attractive this year plus knowing that the girl child would be seeing school friends over the summer was an added bonus. However I ignored that slight gnawing in my belly for weeks when I realized that we would not be able to meet with the staff and tour the facility beforehand since the structure of the local camp program does not allow it. Uh oh…bright pink flag.

Fast forward to yesterday morning when we drop the girl off at the side of the local public school building with a staff that looked very efficient and a rule that said speak only to the red shirted folks as they are the ones in charge. I joked to the Man Unit “Red shirts…what is this Star Trek?” I spoke with one of the “directors” of this branch of the camp who answered some of my questions and admittedly I left feeling rather ambivalent but not wanting to say anything aloud thus having my view affect my daughter. I was too soon learn, she was forming her own opinions.

Pick up time came and that is when the shit hit the proverbial fan, my happy daughter had been replaced by a child who looked hot, feverish and was downright surly. After taking some time to decompress she revealed that most of the activities took place outside…on a day where the temperature was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At one point the kids were all instructed to play kickball or else sit on the blacktop. The kiddo did not want to play and felt that she had no choice but to play despite feeling really hot and tired.

I won’t bore you with the play by play but in our world, respecting our limits and comfort level is a priority. However as I discovered this morning, apparently this type of pushing oneself is considered “team building and bonding”…really? We live in a culture where bullying has become epidemic, we teach our kids to stand up for themselves yet when they attempt to do that, being a team member is deemed of greater importance.  So in essence kids are “bullied” and pressured to follow the pack and ignore their own instincts and even their bodily comforts. Not cool.

In the end it is clear now that I should have followed my own instincts and passed on this camp once I realized that we would be walking in blind with no previous knowledge. Though from the kiddo’s perspective this unfortunate experience may lead to the summer she really wants to have since our hastily cobbled together back up plans means more time with mom and dad as well as a visit to her old camp and time spent with her BFF.

 

I lost the battle of the flat stomach twenty-one years ago when I gave birth to my son at nineteen. Sure, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight less than a week after giving birth, but I have been chasing the dream of the flat belly ever since and it stops now. Despite talking a good game over the years and decades, I have been involved in a dysfunctional hate-tolerate relationship with my body like too many women. This relationship is over and it’s all because of my seven year old daughter.

A few days ago, my daughter was talking to me and all of a sudden I heard her utter that word that should just be stricken from the English and any other language that it exists in…diet. My antenna went up and I asked her what she was talking about, where did she hear that word? In the end it doesn’t matter where she heard it because the truth is we live in a society that worships at the altar of thinness and I have been guilty of being a congregant at that church more times than I care to admit.

Just last week, I went out to the local tweet up and mentally spent most of my time filled with angst because the majority of the bodies present were young and thin. So I hung on a bar stool and spent most of my time talking with just a handful of people since as a 40 year old slightly overweight woman, I felt out of place.  As if I didn’t belong. Who told me that I didn’t belong? No one but I felt that I didn’t belong because my body isn’t perfect, it isn’t thin. Never mind that it is strong, healthy and limber as hell thanks to four years of yoga.

For the past few days I have been reflecting on my conversation with my daughter and wondering how many times have I subconsciously passed on the message that certain bodies are better than others even though I have been careful to never use the word diet? I think about the times my girl has suggested I wear a certain outfit because she thinks it is cute but I won’t wear it because it will accentuate that which I am not comfortable with? Too many times.

Today, I woke up thinking about the parts of my body that I adore…turns out that I love my legs. They are gorgeous and more importantly they are strong and they root me into the ground, they are my metaphorical rocks. Even this jelly belly that I loathe because it makes clothes shopping a hassle is soft and squishy and warm like a buttery corn muffin. Who doesn’t love a buttery corn muffin?

My leg

My leg

 

I won’t lie, it will take some work to truly embrace my entire physical being but just like the mental and spiritual work that I have been doing in recent years. It is time. What about you? What do you adore about your body?

This past week was school vacation week here in New England. Between the Brother’s Evil in Boston mucking up our plans to visit the Museum of Science and that pesky job of mine turning me into an indentured servant, we really didn’t do much. However late in the week when it was clear that the seven year old was going to snap if I didn’t give her some much needed Mama-daughter time, I decided a trip to the mall was the perfect way to blow off some steam. My toes were in dire need of some TLC and the girl child had been asking if she could get her nails done too.

After we enjoyed a relaxing visit to the mall nail shop aka the McDonald’s of the nail world, we wandered around and stopped in Claire’s. Claire’s for those not in the know is an accessory shop that seems specially designed for girls 7-14 since I am pretty certain that no one over 15 years of age really shops there. Cute and completely disposable items that most of the time are a complete waste of money but I am sure if I were a little girl, I would love the place.

Of course since the idea of the mall visit was to hang out and browse, we did just that until seven found a necklace she had to have and negotiated a loan on her savings. It was a two pack necklace set designed for best friends. Tacky and cute all rolled into one…why the hell not?

2013-04-22 22.07.39

The only problem though was after buying the necklace, we had a mini crisis, and whoever would the kiddo give the other necklace to? After lamenting for some time I suggested she keep both necklaces since the truth is my daughter doesn’t have a best friend. Funny thing is neither do I. I have a small group of folks who have my back but a Sex and the City style group…nah.

So after the mini crisis over the necklace was averted I didn’t think anything of this issue of a best friend again until a few days later when the kiddo bought a new stuffie aka Miss La Fluff Fluff. A day after Miss La Fluff Fluff became a member of the BGIM household, according to the kiddo Fluff Fluff was causing her to pay less attention to Ruby the American Girl doll she has had for the past couple of years and damn it Mama…this is a crisis.

It seems that at almost 8 and in second grade, my luv, my daughter the child named after a most mighty Goddess is struggling because she wants a best friend. It’s a process and we are working through it but the past few days have brought up my own baggage around this best friend issue. Raising kids as I have learned in the past 21 years will bring up baggage even baggage we completely forgot about.

Back when BGIM was just a wee lass in Chicago, I was a pretty awkward kid. I was teased terribly by my family for “sounding white” and being bookish; needless to say I have exacted my revenge on the bulk of my extended family by growing up and forgetting that they exist. I am sure it didn’t help that I was a physically awkward kid to boot. To be honest, I never quite fit in, at least in my own head.  In elementary school, I was in a program for the performing arts. All the kids in the program were like a mini family (by the way one of the gals I knew when I was 10 is now married to the former Man Unit, so I guess we were like a family since this gal was one of the popular kids and now she is my son’s stepmother) and while we all got along, I always longed for that one best friend.

From second grade going forward every school year I would imagine myself to be best friends with this girl or that girl. Sometimes the feelings were shared and we would be like the Bobbsey twins for a spell but eventually our interests would change and the relationships would fade. I did luck out though in that many of the connections that I made in elementary school have endured over the years and many of us have reconnected thanks to Facebook. While our bonds are strong and we support each other, many of us are now spread out geographically and the day to day types of support that one thinks of with best friends is simply not possible. We are all too busy juggling all the balls in the air and trying not to drop em. So by day’s end there isn’t much to give aside from the occasional text or call unless one of us is in crisis.

Even in high school, I still wanted a best friend and instead ended up being the kid who literally got along with everyone but never quite made it to best friend status. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends but no one who was quite BFF material.

Of course running off at 18 to get married and becoming a mother at 19 pretty much killed the need/desire/whatever for a best friend but as the years have gone on, there are a handful of people who fill various roles in my life. There is one person who knows me as well as my husband and mother and knows where the bodies are buried. But we aren’t the talk on the phone, do everything together types. Our connection is forged by the fact that when shit hits the wall we are there for each other. When my mother died, this friend drove 8 hours with a newborn to come to the memorial service and literally hold me up. Afterwards, despite the fact she was nursing and needed to get back to her brand new baby she held my hand for hours at a diner as I alternately cried and chain smoked. After the dust settled from my mom’s death, we didn’t talk for two years. It’s our pattern, when life is well, we are in our own worlds but when the world blows up, we are there for one another. That said, she wasn’t in my wedding and I wasn’t in hers…nothing personal. Just didn’t work out that way. Yet when pressed, she might be the closest thing I have to a BFF but really I just have a small crew of people I love and adore and trust.  

I wasted a lot of years wanting a best friend. In my search to meet that one person who would truly get me, I have spent many years getting to know all kinds of people and looking back on it, I am thankful for that experience. By not having a special group early on in life it forced me to learn how to connect with all kinds of people, which it turns out is a useful skill. I have been blessed to have women in my life who were at times 40-50 years older than me and each and every one of them brought something special to my life and has left their imprint.

There are times when I wish I had that one BFF, who I talk to weekly if not daily. For reasons unknown to me it was not to be; but at times I think that this idea of women having one best friend or one group of best friends is a media construct. While I know women who do have those types of relationships, I know many more that do not; instead their family members, mates, siblings, and parents often play those roles.

So for my precious babe, I am just going to continue suggesting that she make as many friends as possible and don’t worry about settling on a BFF as this stage in life, it will come with time.

When I was a much younger woman, nothing would piss me off faster than hearing some “older” person tell me ever so patiently that when I got older, I would get “it”. Whatever this mysterious “it” was.  It always felt patronizing to tell me that despite the fact that I was an adult, I wasn’t old enough. Funny thing is, now that I am older, many things that pissed me off as a younger adult, now make a lot of sense. Turns out those well-meaning adults, knew what they were talking about.

Lately I find myself chuckling privately when younger friends talks about their parents, because when I was a young woman, my own parents used to bug me. Why the hell was my dad always talking about me as if I were still 8 years old? I am a grown up, can’t he see that? The thing is your parents no matter how old you are and how many kids you have, will always see you through their parenting lens which means you are always 8 years old in their minds eye. It isn’t intentional, but the fact is kids grow up entirely too damn fast. One day we are wiping your asses, kissing your boo boos and providing the vocal backgrounds in floor games and then the next thing we know you are more than halfway through college and bringing your love interest home to meet us. Life is moving entirely too damn fast!

The past few days here in BGIM-land have marked the official end of an era, one that I have spent 21 years with and the ushering in of a new era and I am still just trying to catch my breath. My son, known here as college boy came home for Easter Break and brought his girlfriend home to meet me…dear ole Mom.

College boy and his girl

College boy and his girl

It was a great visit, but I admit in the quiet moments, I found myself in tears as I watched the two of them share their private jokes that couples have and watched the ease with which they operated together. This is the first time in 21 years, where I wasn’t financially responsible for my son. No trips to the store with dear ole Mom buying much needed items for the boy. Nope, thanks to the college boy’s recent tour, he financed the entire trip and even treated dear ole Mom.

My son is a man now, a man standing on his own two feet as he should and I am proud of him. Yet I find myself thinking more and more about the fact that as a society we expend a great deal of energy on our kids when they are younger but few speak about the days when our birds leave the nest. As a mother, what is my role with regards to my son? For the past 5 days, I was careful to mind my words and to be gracious, going so far to say that after 14 years, maybe it was time to finally kill our ritual sign off that started after he went to live with his dad. Maybe air kisses are no longer appropriate?

When you find yourself with an adult child, you know you still have a role but it’s murky. This is the part of the parenting road map filled with dead space and you just have to navigate it on faith that you are making the right choices. So if your parents say and do things that make you roll your eyes or make you want to scream…do me a favor. Cut them some slack.  Knowing how to relate to babies, toddlers and school-aged kids is almost easy because we have a ton of resources and guides to fall back on but once you cross that line into adulthood not just based on chronological age but by developmental markers, us parents are lost. Logically, we understand that you are adults but in our hearts and minds, you are still our precious babes.

There are times when a Mama’s heart is so filled with emotions that it wants to explode. To choose to bring a new life into the world is to sign up for a lifetime of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. As a Mama who straddles the line having both an adult child and a school age tyke, I am constantly amazed when my fellow parenting pals seem stunned that I still worry and parent my now 21- year-old. Of course I do; my job didn’t end when he turned 18 or 21. Like my mother before me, this parenting gig only ends when I die. Otherwise I am ride or die for life. That said, the parenting my 21- year-old gets is far different than what my 7-year-old gets.

However, today for a moment, it was a rare occurrence that for once I was speechless for both my babies. This morning started like any other, except that I had gone to bed late last night since I was up dealing with day job work. This meant that I was a tad grumpy this morning but really I am just grumpy in general in the mornings. Only this morning, I got to ride the grumpy bus and the Mama emotional bus as the Man Unit came back from taking the 7-year-old to school and solemnly announced that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny both died this morning. Our 7-year-old killed them and he was the one who called it…death to magical symbols of childhood to many.

I am sad to say that my initial reaction was less than joyous in fact it was downright pissy. But as the Man Unit explained how our girl had asked him a direct question on the matter, he had no choice but to answer in absolute truth. I am happy to say that after much discussion this afternoon and evening, the girl child is happy to still pretend because it is magical but she just wanted to know what was real or not. Besides Mama admitted that she too believes in magic, sometimes those fairies and angels do seem real.

She is my last baby; my womb will never bring forth a new life. It is bittersweet at times but it is my reality and I strive to accept it and for the most part, I do. However I want to savior each and every moment of her childhood because I know this is it for me. This stage of Mama-dom will never come again. They grow up too damn fast.

On the flip side, my son, my amazing young man, the child born out of my youth and first love is soaring and following his heart. For the past three weeks he has been touring on the road with a musician he has long looked up to. After much finagling with his college to get the time off, he set off for the west coast and has had a whirlwind experience but the best is yet to come as he does two showcases tomorrow night at the much hyped South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas.  In fact as I sat down to write this post, who sent his mama a text describing the scene? Yet another reminder that the sacred bond between mother and child, if healthy, is rarely broken. It may have its ups and downs and its growing pains but it’s always there.

So, I take a break from my crazy hazy life to actually live up to my label as a so-called “mommy” blogger and share some thoughts before I get plugged back into the matrix.  If you have kids, hold em tight and love em because the moments pass too damn quickly.

Yesterday’s post was written on the fly, more in a fit of annoyance yet it has provoked a lot of comments and thoughts. So much that I feel the need to expand on it with a few more thoughts.

Growing up as a child of the working class, my first memories of work were that it seemed hard and dirty. Grownups went to work and came home tired and sometimes in pain. Work was a place where it seemed other grownups who were deemed more important told the masses what to do and when to do it. Looking back now, my initial assumptions about work made a lot of sense. As a kid, my father was a union fork lift operator and general hack, my grandparents both worked at plants where they stood on their feet all day but earned enough money that by the time I arrived in ’73, they were able to have a slice of the middle class pie. My grandma went to Jamaica every year, my grandpa had a big floor television, they owed their own house and they saved for retirement. Jobs like this once upon a time in America brought many people into the middle class. The downside was these were not jobs people would be doing until their 60’s or 70’s because often they were physically demanding; they were also jobs where employees had little if any autonomy.

All of my early jobs were very much like the work of my parents and grandparents, work that was either physically demanding or office work where going to the bathroom too many times could cause you to lose your job. I didn’t realize autonomy existed in the workplace until I was about 25 or so and started working at places where I had a say in my work, where being late for work was no big deal as long as I got my work done. It was about that time, I made the decision to go to college and embark upon a career and I am thankful for the choices I now have.

I now live in a world where if I decide to stay at home and work in my jammies, no one cares. Hell, as long as my staff shows up and does their jobs, I could work all the time at home. I have no boss waiting for me at the office; I see my bosses once a month at a board meeting. When my kid is sick, my days might be mildly stressed just from having a sick child but neither me nor my partner are concerned that her sick day will lead to no food on the table.  My life partner who is also a child of the working class (his Mum was a barber and father an electrician) also has work that he does from home. He hasn’t been in a traditional office in over a decade. This has allowed us to navigate the inconvenience of not having a village locally because our world of work offers us choices.

Yet I haven’t forgotten the times when I was a young divorced mother of a toddler and the only job I could get was working as a barista at a coffee shop in downtown Chicago. I worked the 5am to 1pm shift, a schedule that was untenable as a single mother and hard even when you have a partner. I didn’t last too long at that job but not before I moved on to working two four jobs every day while taking care of a small child full time…fun times…not. However those moments have continued to stay with me even though that is no longer my world.

Someone asked me yesterday how we can include more voices in the “discussions” being had about work-life balance. Well for starters, the recognition of our own class privilege would be a great place because where you are on the class spectrum determines what you find important. For the mom who works at the restaurant as a waitress, knowing that she can get shifts that allow her to be active in her kids waking hours would be a great place. Better yet, maybe we need to rethink how food service folks are compensated. In the US, most food servers are paid less than minimum wage because the assumption is that the server makes oodles of tips. Having done a few stints in my younger days as a server, I will say that can be true but the truly lucrative shifts are often the ones at odds with parenting. Too many jobs in this country are paid on an hourly wage basis which means no work, no money. Maybe we need to look at that too.

I think if we reexamined how people are paid in the US that would go a long way to starting a real dialogue on things like family leave time. Right now too many people whose livelihoods require that they be physically present are just not interested in hearing what many of us are saying because we aren’t talking the same language. (I have had this discussion with several of my child’s classmates who do work the restaurant industry as well as people who work retail)

Another thing that needs to be looked at is where are these discussions being held? On the surface many good dialogues are being held online but we and anyone interested in creating real change needs to consider that by holding these dialogues in limited settings are we creating opportunities for all voices to be heard? (Today’s Motherlode column in the NY Times is a perfect example, the people who respond to this most likely will be very similar since not everyone has time to read the Times and answer a survey) For people whose work is directed by others even down to whether or not they can go to the bathroom, they don’t have time to tweet or read blogs and start discussions. Online activism is great but for a segment of the population, they need to be reached with old fashion organizing.

In the US, a good 15% of the population is living in poverty which is defined as an income of $23,021 for a family of four and the median income is $50,054 which means that a fair number of Americans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table as wages continue to stagnate. It also means that when people are struggling to meet their basic needs, it’s hard to look at the larger picture but for those of us who are talking and looking at ways to change things it means we need to make sure that we don’t forget these folks. I grew up as one of those folks and I don’t want to forget and I want to make sure when we are having these discussions that their voices are heard.