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.
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Why we must tell our own stories or how the white narrative hurts

“A focus on racial disparities alone,” Powell continues, also “presumes that the baseline position of the dominant group is the appropriate goal for reducing or eliminating disparities.” That is, it risks naturalizing or presuming a “white norm” that should be the standard policy goal to measure racial justice (for examples white rates of wealth, income, graduation, home ownership, etc.) rather than rethinking the ways such systems must be fundamentally transformed.”- Daniel Martinez HoSang

Another news cycle and another Black mother’s visage paraded before us as an example of “bad” parenting. This time it’s Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina woman who found herself  having to choose between her job at McDonald’s and her 9-year-old daughter. Harrell originally was bringing her daughter to work with her but after their apartment was burglarized and their laptop stolen, thus leaving her daughter with nothing to do while sitting at McDonald’s, Harrell made the decision to let her daughter play at the park down the way from her job while armed with a cell phone. This decision cost Harrell her job, her child and very possibly her freedom as she is facing a charge of unlawful neglect of a child which carries a 10 year sentence if she is found guilty.

A few months earlier it was Shanesha Taylor, an unemployed Arizona single mom who had a job interview and no childcare. Taylor went to the interview and left her children in the car which led to felony child abuse charges.

Poor, single mom faces 8 years for leaving kids in car during job interview

Each times these stories catch the attention of the national media, we are bombarded with a stream of factual and think pieces lamenting the lack of affordable childcare, well paying jobs and overall support for parents and kids. Without a doubt here in the US, we talk a good game about supporting families but the reality is we fall short. Very short. Until this year, most of my professional career was spent in social services both in Maine and Chicago and I know that all too often, families in need cannot find the support they need to not only survive but to thrive. In many ways this is old news.

Another thing that is also old news is that too many times stories such as Harrell’s and Taylor’s are retold to the larger world through a white lens. In the era of the mom blogger/writer as social activist, we hear these stories filtered through a white lens that lacks nuance and too many times in sharing the stories of others they also remind us of how “fortunate” they are because while their hearts go out for these women, they also know nothing of this world.

Stacia Brown, an African-American writer wrote a phenomenal piece on Black latchkey families that made me realize why stories that affect Black women and kids must be written by people of color. While African-Americans are not a monolith, many of us see life with a shared lens of understanding and a narrative that is largely absent from the white lens of life. Many of us were raised in families where choices were made that at times appear dysfunctional under a white, middle-class lens yet we know the lens that people like us live with and we can share the tales without the unspoken judgement that too often lurks in the background when whites, even so-called white allies, tell our stories.

For many of us, even if we have escaped bone-grinding poverty and need, we are not so are far removed that we can’t relate. Even in my own family, I have relatives who struggle. I have relatives who struggle with involvement in the criminal justice system. When I write, I write not only dispassionate facts and figures but I write from a place of lived experience. But too many times experiences such as mine never make it into the larger awareness or conscience.

Black women and men need to tell their own stories, because too many times only our tragedies make the news. Yet often there are untold stories of joy and overcoming that never make the headlines. We need to tell our own stories because our lives are more than think pieces that lead to click bait but our stories are the stories of human resilience in the face of obstacles and barriers yet when filtered through the white lens we are often nothing more than the poster children of “bad” when juxtaposed against the face of “good” which all too often wears a white face.

We live in a time when the goal is a white-washed form of colorblindness where we are measured against a standard that very few people of color can ever meet. We are not colorblind and the quest to pretend so is harmful because for too many of us it strips us of our humanity.

In the journey for racial and ethnic wholeness, we can all work together; in fact, we must work together.  But for white allies it is not to tell other people’s stories but to examine how the white narrative that is the norm is not only harmful to people of color but to whites as well because there re far too many whites who fall short of the white norm that is positioned as the “right way.”

Many will say such thoughts are “racist” without understanding that racism is a system yet our instinctual instinct to label “racist” what we don’t understand is just another reason why people need to tell their own stories thus revealing their own humanity. It’s when we connect on that very human level without judgement that true change is possible.

Children have a voice, so honor it!

Note: Due to the piece in today’s Portland Press Herald, it seems I have more visitors than usual. Glad to have you and hope you come back. Despite the name of this blog which is based on being a black girl in Maine, yes, I talk race but I do talk about more than just race. At present this space is about a girl becoming a woman and heading into middle age and all the musings and observations that happen as part of that process.

I am on deadline for the writing gigs that pay, and as much as I love my little space of cyber-space here, tending to the money folks is a priority. However reading this piece in today’s New York Times made me decide to take a break between assignments and write about something near and dear to my heart.

As parents, we want the best for our kids, but too many times what we perceive as the best is based off our own assumptions and biases with no input from our kiddos. Clearly when our kids are infants and small kids, there is only so much input they can have and truthfully the early years are a time when we do need to provide much of the guidance. Yet as they get older and more mature too many times kids are still left without a voice or opinion in matters that affect their upbringing and nowhere is that more clear than in the case of divorce.

My first marriage crashed and burned in short order, of course running off at 18 to marry because you want to assert yourself as a legal adult rather than marrying strictly for love is a great way you ensure you won’t stay married long. Long time readers know the story but for new readers, basically I ran off at 18 and got married, several months in when I discovered it was a mistake, oops! I was with child and being the daughter of a minister with Southern Baptist roots that pretty much meant my options were have a baby and have a baby. Long story short, after the kiddo turned 13 months old, the marriage exploded into a fiery ball.

However as anyone who has lived through a divorce that involves kids know, just because you divorce doesn’t mean your relationship with the ex-spouse is over. No, it only takes on a new and different form. In our case I am glad that after years of tension, now that our son is an adult, I actually get along with my ex-spouse, hell we are even buddies on Facebook!

No, the heavy lifting really hit around the time my son started to clearly have his own thoughts and while at times it was easy to ignore his wishes, after all the divorce decree says I get X amount of time, I am so thankful that the light bulb went off for me when he was 15. That was the year the former Spouse decided to move back to the Midwest…remember I am in Maine because of him and the kid. Initially the kiddo wanted to stay in Maine but the lure of being closer to what remains of my family and connecting with other people of color was a strong pull. In the end I honored my son’s request to move to the Midwest granted it ripped me up inside and only now that he is 20 do I feel I can put this to words.

In the end though it all worked out, I am convinced that the move is what my son needed, he needed to get away from New England and spend some time back home. It’s actually ironic because after 2 years of college in the Midwest he is now pretty certain that he wants to live back here or close by when he graduates. This year for the first time in a while my son told me he wants to spend the entire summer in Maine. Many people think that once kids turn 18, the sharing of vacations ends but the truth is it doesn’t and really it shouldn’t, after all kids have 2 parents. But this summer college kid feels he needs to spend his whole summer here with me, his baby sister and his step dad aka The Spousal Unit. I know it was a hard choice for him to make but thankfully his dad is supportive.

I wrote all this because as a parent who has pretty much navigated the world of joint custody since my eldest was 13 months old, I have learned along the way, that kids have voices and they need to be honored. It is something that now is part of parenting my youngest and in my work with kids. It took a lot of years to realize that having been raised in a strict patriarchal family that not having a voice can be detrimental. Many times when both my parents were alive, they asked why did I choose to run off at 18 and get married and it took many years to realize I made that choice because I could. No other reason, sure I thought it was love but not ever having had the ability to make a decision over my life when given the chance…well I didn’t know how to make one. I think children need even more autonomy when they are being reared between parents who no longer live under the same roof and yes it’s scary but the end goal is creating connections that last a lifetime not just the first 18 years.

So I say to my fellow parents, your kids are separate beings from you with their own uniqueness and desires, part of parenting well is to honor that voice that your kid has.