Parenting

A rare reflection on almost 25 years of mamahood

I started this blog back in the golden era of the “mommy blogger” (way back in those ancient times of 2008) and despite achieving some recognition as a mom blogger, it was clear early on that writing about my kids just wasn’t a sustainable gig for me. I owe this in part to the fact that my kids were almost 14 years apart in age and my son was well into high school when I started blogging. Meanwhile, my daughter was a toddler and frankly there are only so many ways to spin a day in the life of a toddler so that it’s entertaining.

Over the years I have shied away from writing about my kids because really, their stories are not mine to share even when they affect me. Everyone is worthy of being allowed the space to shape their own story and to decide whether or not it is for public consumption; though occasionally I do share tidbits about my son’s music career and my now-tween daughter’s zany moments (right now Taylor Swift and Beyonce play on loops in my head thanks to her incessant need to sing their songs…Calgon take me away!).

However a recent visit with my adult son reminded me of just how fleeting our time is with our kids. Our culture dictates that for eighteen years, we provide material, emotional and mental support and guidance and then we send our precious children off into the world. Yet that supposed end is really just the beginning, what we are really doing in the first eighteen years of their lives is laying the foundation for the relationship that we will hopefully have with our kids for the rest of our lives.

In recent years, I have seen my own relationship shift with my father as sometimes it seems that I have become the parent as I guide him toward making what I hope will be the best decisions. And, at times, I have used my legal authority to make decisions on his behalf. Last year when my father was ill, many people asked if I felt put upon and truthfully, while I was frazzled at times, never once did it dawn on me to not be there for my father. I admit, there were some aspects of his hospital time that I really would prefer to forget forever!  Looking back, I attribute it to the fact that while my parents weren’t the best parents…they were young and broke; sometimes a tad too gruff…at the end of the day they laid the foundation that I carry with me everyday of my life. No matter what, there was love and care. It wasn’t perfect but it sustained and nurtured even in in the hard moments.

Over the past six years as my adult son has navigated early adulthood, I have come to realize just how important the foundation we lay with our kids really is and how little of it depends on any of the things that so many of us get wrapped up in, including yours truly. In the end, the latest gadget, shoe or trendy item is fleeting but the time and the love we give is what is often going to be remembered. They aren’t going to remember or really care that you co-slept, nursed or used cloth diapers but they will remember how you showed up and whether or not you were just going through the motions.  So many times I have felt that I have fallen short as a parent because I didn’t do XYZ but both as a parent and an adult child, I realize that the love we give and the respect and support that we give are the most important tools of parenting. They are the glue that keeps the relationship together as our kids go out into the world and form their own lives. It is often what we will be measured by when our kids grow up and decide if they want us in their lives. Space can always be made for the imperfect but rarely for the toxic and harmful.

At times, I feel like I have lived many lives in a scant 43 years, I have been twice married, buried a parent and seen most of my family die on me, thus becoming the matriarch of our little branch before the age of 35, I haven’t run  Fortune 500 companies but I have been responsible for several organizations nonetheless. Despite a less-than-privileged start in life, I eventually hit the adult “milestones” and as I grow older, I realize that so many of the trappings aren’t what make this life and this journey. Granted, the trappings can make the ride a bit more comfortable at times.

Watching my son, the man, navigate the world and looking at my daughter grow, I am reminded of just how fleeting this time is and how as they grow, we grow. It is that continual growth that hopefully keeps us all connected. Parenting is not for the rigid; it is never-ending and while the early years may be when we put in the physically grueling tasks that at times interfere with our core functions, one day those moments and actions will be blips in the grand scheme of things. Hug ’em, love ’em and cherish even the small tedious moments, as cheesy as it sounds. As for me, I might even try to sing along with one of these Beyonce songs but I am sorry Taylor Swift. Your music, I just can’t accept.
—————————————————————-
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support.

...Read More

The dance of Black motherhood or the journey to humanity

To choose to bring a child into the world is not for the faint of heart; to make the decision to raise a child is to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and, in essence, to gamble with your heart and soul. That child you nurture and raise can grow up to be the next CEO, ax murderer or decide that your parenting choices were so horrendous that they turn their back on you when they come of age. To parent or, specifically, mother while Black is to take all the pressure that mothers everywhere face and to have them amplified and projected for all to see and to be judged in a way that other mothers can only imagine.

This past week, Toya Graham, a Baltimore mother, saw her acts of parenting go viral in a moment that has been dissected and judged by many including yours truly. To recap, Toya’s 16-year-old son was attempting to join the protesters in Baltimore when his mother caught sight of him and physically hauled his ass off but not before laying hands on him which, in 2015, meant the moment was recorded and sent off into the world for all to see. The family is currently having their “15 minutes of fame” and hopefully something positive will come of their viral moment.

Personally, I am not a fan of laying hands on kids. The last time that I laid hands on one of my children was when my now 23-year-old son was 4 and I was a frustrated and young divorcee. I have apologized many times over for that moment, it wasn’t my finest and I swore to never repeat it again. Now with two kids and 23 years of parenting experience, I have kept that promise. However, I have learned in all my years of parenting that to raise Black kids is to exist in that same state of duality that scholar W.E.B. DuBois wrote of on the Black experience in the early 1900s.

I love, nurture and care for my babies but at the same time, they must understand that the weight of their skin color carries an extra burden. It is viewed differently than their white peers. That meant for my son unlearning any notion that the police were his friends. He learned that lesson at 16 when he was accused of looking like a suspect who turned out to be a short white man but not before he was brought home in the back of the squad car for the infraction of buying a sandwich at a local snack shop and walking home to eat it. It’s the lesson he now understands everytime he is stopped for the simple act of driving while Black and has his car illegally searched. It’s why he is stopped more often than any of his white peers when he hasn’t even violated any traffic laws. It is the price of Blackness, and as a parent it has meant instilling in him the tips for how to survive in this world that is unforgiving for Black skin especially Black, male skin.

The Baltimore mom said her actions were the actions of a mom just wanting to keep her son safe and I believe it. When my son at 16 first encountered the unjust realities of this world, I too got scared but I made different choices. I now fight the system that created this unjust burden that weighs heavily on Black and Brown skin and criminalizes our young. We all do the best that we can with the tools that we have at hand.

As Black mothers, we carry an unfair burden that our white counterparts rarely face. We are asked to carry the weight of the Black community on our backs. Part of why Toya Graham’s story has gone viral is the misplaced notion that all that ails the Black community is a simple need for more Black parents better parent their children. As a Black woman and mother that offends me because the majority of Black parents I know and have met along my life journey are parenting their kids. They are parenting often against the odds in a world hostile to our existence and the existence of our kids. They are often parenting in conditions that are unknown to far too many white people. It is the unfortunate side effect of the racial silos that exist in this country that so many people assume that all things are equal based off our their own often limited views.

This morning I came across this piece in today’s New York Times written by a fellow Black mom and frankly it annoyed me even more than the think pieces that have been written about Toya Graham. In part because, in an attempt to talk about the state of Black motherhood in the United States, it dehumanizes all Black mothers by stripping away the individuality of Black mothers. Yes, we face challenges that our white peers may not face but that doesn’t mean that as women and mothers, we don’t have our own tender and even confused moments as mothers. To be a Black woman does not mean we possess some supernatural abilities that are only given to Black women. While we often are not as active in the current day game of mommy wars, I have shared many spaces with Black women as we grapple with the same pieces of humanity that are white counterparts do. It’s just that rarely are our tender and vulnerable moments aired and celebrated as our white counterparts are.

The dance of Black motherhood is a delicate dance that does exact a toll but at the same time we are all humans journeying on a path doing the best that we can, some of us with heavier loads but in the end all deserve to have their humanity recognized and acknowledged in this world.

...Read More

The culture of good and why good is often toxic

My daughter wraps up the third grade this week and with it, what I hope is her incessant need to be “good” and “nice.” For many parents, a child intent on always being good and never hurting anyone’s feelings may be seen as a plus, an outward sign to the world that you are excelling at parenthood. Heaven knows that the Judgy McJudgerson’s of proper parenting are all around us, waiting to issue a disapproving eye and worse, words we didn’t ask for. If it’s real bad, our uncomfortable moments of parenting are captured by a fellow parent and shared across the land of social media where untold numbers weigh in and pat themselves on the back for being “good” parents.

Well, I don’t care about being that kind of “good” parent and I don’t want that kind of “good” child because our culture’s need to turn kids into good kids often strips them of their ability to be themselves and stand in their truth. I was a good kid, who grew up to become an anxious adult breathing into paper bags when the weight of good became too much. Good is a great way to lose your voice or worse yet, never find it.

A year end visit to my daughter’s classroom today revealed that her experience this school year was heavy on learning manners; manners that include not ever saying anything negative because you might hurt someone’s feelings. Admittedly I am blowing off some steam here but my annoyance is far greater than just my daughter’s classroom experience.

Good is often the prison that keeps people locked in a cell where change is hard to come by because to step outside the line of what is deemed acceptable is seen as bad or at the very least problematic. Living in New England for the past dozen years, I have struggled to understand the people and the culture, many times feeling like a visitor from the planet troublemaker.

A few days ago the thought popped into my mind that if Lake Wobegon met up and had an affair with Pleasantville, the offspring would be Maine. A place so pleasant, so nice with many good people yet so filled with expectations that rarely allows for deeper truths and exploration. A place where good is put on the pedestal and harsh words or unpleasant truths are rarely openly discussed. Yet my reality of Maine is not limited to Maine, it exists all over and is an interesting byproduct of white American values. Where according to my friend and author Debby Irving “A “good” attitude was highly valued and rewarded.”

In my years of writing about my journey as a Black woman in Maine, people often are surprised at the depth of my honesty and at times it is problematic for me. I was raised to be nice and good but as woman of color, I learned long ago that the privileges of niceness  and goodness are not automatically awarded to people like me. Instead it was only when I found my voice and decided that “good” was detrimental to me personally that my life unfolded in ways that I valued.

How many people have lost their lives at the hands of goodness? Many of the very people we now revere were not initially seen as good, last I checked many of those involved in the civil rights movement were initially seen as rabble rousers and troublemakers. Imagine if they had not stopped outside their socially prescribed box of goodness? Good is not always bad but a culture that starts our young focused on being good is a culture that often is not willing to rip the bandaid of injustice and intolerance off, instead using good as a convenient cover. Teachers and parents plant seeds that often grow deep within our youth and the seed of good while worthy is never enough if we are not planting truth, honest and justice as well.

Good is not inherently bad but good should never be the end goal.

...Read More