Skip to content

Signing off . . . On Leaving the Navy and Still Feeling Guilty

By Kia Dunbar-Harris

Guilt (n):

(1) responsibility for a crime or for doing something bad or wrong; or

(2) a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong.

For a long time I’ve struggled to find the words to describe how, on most days, I feel. Then I stumbled upon a great article describing a term I had never heard of before: “mommy guilt.” Everything in the article explained the feelings I’ve had ever since my daughter was born. I know I’m probably late, but, well, whatever.

My daughter is the most charismatic, energetic and pleasant little girl you will ever meet. She is wise beyond her years and has the biggest heart. I can’t imagine my life without her, but before I had her I didn’t even want her.

Let me explain.

As a college student, having a baby was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I remember telling my mother that I did not want to get married and I was probably never having any children.

As a young twenty something woman, I was well on my way to having a successful career as a nurse and a naval officer. I had dreams of traveling the world and being promoted up the ranks to someday being a Navy Captain, an Admiral even. My priorities changed when I met my husband, and at 27 years old, was actually married.

Soon after we got married, I found out I was pregnant. I wondered: Do I re-enlist for another commitment with the US Navy? Or do I get out with an honorable discharge? It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

You see, when I was four months pregnant, I was ordered to go to Guantanamo Bay to give chemotherapy to Iraqi detainees. I remember boarding the small plane thinking of nothing but the safety of my child. I had no idea what to expect when I stepped off the plane. What kind of danger or harm would come to my baby or me?

At that moment I realized that being a mom was more important to me than being a sailor, as much as I loved it. I owed it to my child to provide her a stable home and environment. I did not want to leave her on while I was on deployment or force her to leave her family and friends every four years. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to create a home for her. Somewhere safe and comforting like the home my mom created for me.

But although I resigned from the Navy, it did not stop my ambition as a nurse. I finished grad school and was blessed to receive promotion after promotion, my own version of the Jeffersons’ “moving on up.” But the higher the position, the more responsibility. And the more responsibility, the more time spent working.

Even though I’m not in the Navy anymore, I still feel guilty.

I spend many hours at work. Some evenings, I have to bring work home and it is not unusual for me to put in a few hours on the weekends. While I am trying to be a role model of a successful woman and make a better life for her, at times, I feel like I am missing out. There have been days when I’ve come home from work only in time to tuck her in at night. When I’m not at work, I feel like all of my time should be devoted to her to make up for all of the hours I am away from home. That time adds up, but yet I still feel like it just isn’t enough.

I’m sure some people, my husband included, feel that I over indulge my daughter. It’s probably true — it’s my way of compensating for the time I’m not with her. But is there really anything wrong with that? Am I wrong to make her think the world revolves around her when we are together because I want her to know how important she is to me? I want her to know that I am present in the moment.

Because no matter how many times she tells me she loves me and that “I’m the best mom ever,” I doubt the truth of those words.

It’s likely a part of who I am; I always feel the need to be better and do better. But, in the end, I always feel guilty because, in my eyes, I am still not doing enough. With each field trip I can’t chaperone, each morning I am not able to drop her off at school, each day I am not available to greet her after school, my heart sinks lower and lower in my chest.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. The article I read is a testament to that. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling bad. Because, truth be told, I still wish about “what if:” “I would be further in my career if I wasn’t a mom” or “I wish I was still in the Navy.” Of course, I love my daughter with all my heart and I love being a mom.

Still…

Sigh.

Signing off . . . and feeling guilty.

Kia Dunbar- Harris, RN, MSN, ACM, was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA and is a graduate of Temple University and Walden University. Kia is married with two children, one daughter and a stepson. Kia was commissioned as a US Naval Officer in 2004 and served four years active duty as a Nurse Corps officer and four more years as a reservist. She currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Rising to the Occasion Every Day: On Raising a Child with a Disability

By Suzi Walcott

On blogs and sites dedicated to raising children with disabilities, there is no shortage of inspiring stories of how our babies overcome tremendous odds to reach the “inchstones” that make us proud.  When a non-ambulatory child finally walks after many years of hard work, physical therapy and sheer determination, we all celebrate together.  When a non-verbal child is finally able to make her needs known somehow, we pore over every detail, hoping one day we will be able to recreate this story with our own little ones.  When a child given a limited lifespan exceeds it, we are in awe of God, our kids, and yes, even ourselves- because good care is often the difference between life and death for the medically fragile child.

Yet we know deep down that we are no different than anyone else, but that like all parents, we have risen to these occasions.  We rise to the momentous, but also to the small, to the everyday and the mundane.  The baths are harder- our kids may be resistant, or afraid, or unable to assist us and requiring specialized equipment.  Feeding can be tricky.  Some of us have kids fed through tubes, IV’s and various other devices which keep them alive but also complicate their lives, as well as our own.   For some of us, we’ve had to figure out alternatives for seating at home and away from home…sleeping arrangements…child care.  Everything is different, everything has an added layer of complication.  Trips and vacations often simply cannot happen.  Travel needs to be arranged months in advance.  Even going to church or to a restaurant as a family presents extra issues which can often seem insurmountable.  How do you change a nine year olds diaper in a restaurant ladies room, for instance?  Infant changing tables are too small and the floor is too dirty…I could go on and on, but the idea is clear.

Though the blogs like to highlight the highs, the lows are just as important and worthy of mention.  My seven year old loves music.  She doesn’t speak, but she is able to hum tunes in fairly good pitch.  Sometimes, when music really excites her, she screams in delight.  Screaming and humming, as well as other vocalizations, is quite simply how my daughter communicates and interacts with the world.  In the absence of speech, she has these methods.

Yet, one day her inclusion music teacher had asked that she be removed from music class for singing along with the other children.  Her noises, the woman opined, were a distraction and were impeding the education of the other students.

Needless to say I went all the way to the top on this one- contacting the principal of the school. She was allowed back in class and such an incident never happened again.  But the hurt still remains; it’s one of the salient low points.  I’ve had many, and some have been life or death situations.  Surgeries, respiratory emergencies caused by flu and infection.  How then is this possibly a significant low point for me after what I’ve been through?  Because this simple act of removing my child in the midst of her enjoyment, denied both her equality and her humanity.  It denied her access to one of the few things that bring her joy, and that she does well, like the other kids do.

The highs are beautiful, and inspiring, and sublime.  The lows are unspeakable.  But just as you never know when the highs will grace your life, you cannot protect yourself or your child from the lows.  You don’t know if the next person you see will glare at you, or scoff at your child, or refuse to help her through a door.  You don’t know if the next bus driver will drive past your stop because he doesn’t want to take an extra five minutes to secure a wheelchair.  You don’t know if the next customer service rep will be someone who rolls their eyes at your struggle.

All you can do is pray that you will have the strength and the grace to keep loving everyone around you even when those things happen.  All you can do is to continue to believe that the world is good, and to continue to believe that your child is good, that your child is worthy.  All you can do is to remind yourself that your child is not her disability, and that you are not just a parent of a special needs child.  You are a complex, imperfect, lovable human being.

If you’ve done that as a parent of a child with disabilities, you have done well.

Suzi Walcott is a pediatric home health care nurse who specializes in working with children with disabilities.  She is married with two daughters and one on the way.  Her elder daughter is nine years old and has multiple disabilities and medical conditions.  The younger one is almost six years old and is typically developing but born with visual challenges.  Her contributions will examine the tests and triumphs of raising biracial children, specifically girls, with disabilities.

Photo courtesy of Mo via Flickr

There is Nothing Wrong with My Children … Right?

by MamaBSquared

The conversations go like this:

“How old are they?” Two.

“And they are not talking?” No.

Friends: “They’re fine.”

Family: “Oh, they’re just being boys.

Strangers: “That’s common in twins.”

Pediatric nurse at their 2 year check up: “I suggest you get their hearing checked and call early intervention services.”

Wait, what?

My boys don’t talk. They intone, gesture, and communicate in manners other than speech. As a stay-at-home mother, I didn’t find this to be a problem. They are joyful, inquisitive, expressive, and grateful. I thought that we communicated well. I interpreted their lack of speech as a choice, not uncommon in twins. When the nurse suggested that I reach out to early intervention services, I was beyond wary. I was insulted, alarmed, and defiant.

There is nothing wrong with my children.

I am still processing my feelings. Without recounting the litany of cuss words that ran through my head, I will report that I questioned the authority of the pediatrician to be so critical of my children’s development without knowing their profile or story. She literally used one indicator and made a recommendation. Was it her bias speaking? Or was she following a checklist? I was quick to protect them from the milestone watch and developmental scrutiny that I feel derails normal, varied development in children. But the damage was done. My kids were not on “schedule” and I knew I could do one of two things – hope or help.

There is nothing wrong with my children.

As parents, my partner and I have done what we are supposed to do in this situation, and that is try to help our children progress. We had them evaluated by child early intervention services and it was determined that they have sensory integration issues. Not only are they not meeting the speech milestones, but they had other developmental delays as well. Therapy was available if we were interested. It would even be partially subsidized if we allowed for data collection.

My fears went to battle. I worried that the data collected on my boys would be used to create programs to pathologize black boys in early childhood. I worried that their highly developed emotions and willfulness would read as aggression, even though they are all of two years old. That their joie-de-vivre and energy would come across as imbalanced; when in fact they are simply secure, self-possessed, territorial, non-verbal toddlers. I worried that letting occupational therapists into my home would cause them detriment, such that I could not predict the outcome or protect them.

We decided to pursue the therapy and take the risks because I feared doing nothing.

What if they really need help?

I still believe that “everything will catch up.” But, I am not the only decision maker in the situation, and certainly not the greatest stakeholder. The most important people in this situation are my kids. Not the elders in my family that, like me, think that an industry has been made out of alarming parents. (We’re still right on that in some respects.) Not the friends and family that think that “they are just boys,” “will grow out of it,” and “are acting like twins.” Regardless of the cause, they need help and their well-being is paramount.

Everything has gone well thus far. The occupational therapists are positive about their progress. They have also discussed all of my concerns with candor, citing data they have reviewed and their own experience. My friends in early childhood education have assured me that it’s the best thing we could have done. It feels like a good decision was made.

I have been a friend to many parents during their journeys with their children. This battle between hope and help is constant. Whenever we tackle a ‘difference’ in our child’s performance, behavior, or health, we have to carefully measure the intentions of those involved. As a parent of color in a mixed ethnicity environment, I cannot ignore history. At this very moment, knowing that the boys’ therapy has helped them learn and develop, I STILL cannot shake the fear that they might feel like less – that they sense that someone has found fault in them and that that angst will be the foundation of an emerging “otherness.” It’s a stretch, I know, but I wrestle with the guilt of even that possibility. Every day I pray that the help we have sought will be effective, edifying, and not damaging in any way. It has to be better to seek help than to rely on hope.

There is nothing wrong with my children.

Right?

MamaBSquare is an old head mother of twin boys residing in the Philly metropolitan area.

Leave Him Alone: Microaggressions in Pre-K and Elementary School

Photo: Me! All rights reserved.

Our school district has recently started a new task force looking at minority achievement. In such a resource rich district, but also with many social inequalities, its unsurprising but still really angering that we have disparities in the rate of college readiness, standardized test scores, and simply personal experiences. The number of times I’ve heard truly devastating stories of how kids are treated based on their racial, ethnic, or linguistic background is simply appalling in a school district that touts how progressive it is.

The creation of the task force got me thinking (as always) about my family’s experiences here. My children are in the second and third grades (and another a few years behind them), and we’ve been dealing with little things — microaggressions — since we started here four years ago. Microaggressions, a term coined by Dr. Chester M. Pierce, a professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard University, in the 1970s, refers to  “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.” I believe that my children’s teachers believed they were helping my kids — and my husband and I as parents. But their words and actions did a lot more harm than they realized.

Here’s a sampling of our experiences, from my point of view when they occurred:

Read more

It’s a New Day

It’s a new day in the new year, y’all. And here at CocoaMamas, we are gearing up to make 2015 our best year ever. With a dynamic rotation of Cocoa Mamas coming on board, your favorite Black mothering group blog will make 2015 the year to remember.

See you real soon.

 

Photo credit: Nestle via flickr

To My Prince and Queen: Do Not Be Afraid

To my children, my Prince and my Queen,

This week you returned back home from spending the summer with your grandparents. For eight weeks, you engaged in what so many of our people have done for generations: spent the summers unburdened by camps and activities in order to spend time with your extended family, surrounded by the love of folks who knew you before you even took your first breath. You learned a different way of being, likely seeing more people who look like you in eight weeks than you do the remaining weeks of the year at home. A friend called it “black camp;” over the summer, you received an immersion education in the ways of black folks.

Usually, the eight weeks are a time of rest and relaxation for your father and I.

Yet the events of this summer made this time less carefree than usual. More importantly, and in a manner far more dire, I’m scared about my ability to protect you.

Read more

Mourning for Gaza

I want to write something poignant and meaningful. I want to offer some deep insight into the latest Israeli offensive against the occupied Palestinian people. I want to say something.

All I can say is that I mourn for the mothers of Gaza.

4-children-killed-on-th-beach1

Read more

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 931 other followers