What Kind of Kid am I Raising My Son to Be?

 

As a teacher I read a TON of young adult/kid literature. Today I was re-reading one of my favorites by Jerry Spinelli, Crash. This book features a rowdy, rambunctious, sometimes mean kid named Crash and his nerdy, vegetarian, small individual named Penn. Penn is dorky.He has all the calling cards of geekiness including whistling and looking all friendly. He walks up to Crash at age six wearing  button that say, “I’m a Flickertail.” Or “peace.” Crash messes with him. Calls him names, lies about his own name, shoots him with water-guns. Penn’s family is Quaker and doesn’t play with guns, so he just takes it when Crash mercilessly shoots him with water.

The story is told from Crash’s point of view, but Penn is the character you love. Except if you’re a middle schooler. They wonder why Penn doesn’t fight back. And they think Crash is funny. As an adult, I think Crash is a jerkface. He’s mean for no reason. He makes fun of Penn and takes his turtle.

 

Today as I was reading, I wondered which kind of kid my son would grow up to be.  I would hate for him to become a Crash. Right? He is popular. He is a leader in his school. He is a go-getter. He doesn’t get taken advantage of by anyone.  Not bad stuff. How important is it to me for my kid to be popular? To be a leader?

 

Penn is a lovable kid. He’s an individual who sticks to his guns despite the jeers of his classmates. In 7th grade, the scrawny kid goes out for cheerleading. He doesn’t wear designer or name-brand clothes. He wears second-hand clothes and tells. People.  About. It. This is middle school suicide. But he does it and you just want to hug him. Do I want my kid to become a Penn? He is sweet. He is kind. He is an independent little soul who does what’s in his heart. But he gets picked on. For many years. There are kids in the school who are dedicated to tormenting him. I HATE the idea of his peers hurting my son. I want to grab those little hooligans by their ears and give them a lecture about kindness and karma. But then what?

 

I was not a popular kid in school, but I wasn’t a social pariah, either.  Out of the two extremes, which would be better? I’m inclined to say that Penn’s situation is better because in the end, the Penns grow up and become interesting people. They are free-thinkers who develop fantastic lives because of being wonderful people. Many Crashes peak in high school and never learn their lesson.

And yet. There’s something to be said for popularity. Aren’t political races essentially popularity contests? Doesn’t the guy who is popular at work more likely to get the promotion? As a young Black kid, maybe my boy needs to put on a little bravado and bad-assed-ness to get by in school. I don’t want him to be all weak and punky. But I also don’t want him to be a bully. Maybe I’ll make him the nerdy kid who is popular and friendly and kind. (And as long as I’m wishing, cleans his room, obviously) Right now, his personality is sweet and funny. If a kid takes his toy, he just lets it go. He does have a temper, but he mostly just stomps his feet. He loves other kids. He sees other kids on the subway he looks at them and they seem to communicate non-verbally. It’s like he recognizes his people and wants to check in with them.

So I’m going to raise him to be a good person. He’s a good egg. We will continue to raise him to be a smart, sweet kid. He can be a leader and friendly. He can be tough, but know when to be regular again. I do not want him to be a jerk to other kids. I want him to be independent more so than popular, so we will definitely be encouraging critical thinking and a belief in himself so if he is picked on, he’ll have the inner strength and fortitude to shake it off. Also he’ll know that his mom will kick a 10 year-olds behind if that’s what she’s got to do.

 

So what about you? Do you think it’s important for your child to be popular? Are you raising her to be a free thinker, other’s people’s opinions be damned? Or do you focus on societal norms and encourage your child to stay within them because it’s safer? Or do you go back and forth, like yours truly? Why?

I am Troy Davis

Southern trees bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. –Billie Holiday.

I wasn’t a proponent of the death penalty yesterday; I’m not one today. But today I feel a new urgency to end the death penalty in America. What happened to Troy Davis wasn’t just a miscarriage of justice; it was murder. It was state-mandated, legalized murder. Our nation has turned a corner where it is not only unafraid of getting it wrong, it embraces it’s an arrogant sense of its own perfection. How many times was Davis’ execution postponed? No murder weapon found. No physical evidence. Seven witnesses recanted out of nine.  Seven. And guy number eight? That’s Sylvester “Red” Coles. He’s the one the other seven said killed Officer Mark MacPhail.

Reasonable doubt? Better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent man to jail? Right. It’s disgusting that we killed a man. It’s disgusting that the MacPhail family lost their police officer son. It’s disgusting that the killer will never be brought to justice for that crime. I’m saddened that a man was murdered in Georgia and it was legal. I’m sad that the barbarism is visited more often on people of color and poor people than not. A 2005 California study found that one is three times as likely to receive the death penalty if you’re accused of killing a white person.  I’m sad that sometimes the system doesn’t work, and the checks we put in still don’t prevent the worst outcomes.

How many times in the past 10 years has DNA evidence learned a man’s name? How many times has 20 years been served when we realize a person is innocent? Over 130 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. We can’t take this back. We can’t discover new evidence and let him out of death. That alone should compel us to end the death penalty. As a mother I am heartsick. Too often Black boys are assumed guilty anyway.

What gives us as a nation, as a society, the right to kill a person? It’s expensive. It’s cruel. As imperfect beings; we will get it wrong occasionally.  That fact illustrates the inherent flaw in the system. We’ve practiced capital punishment far too long in this country. It needs to end. We need to support the Innocence Project, which fights to exonerate wrongfully convicted people. We need to support Amnesty International. I hope this stinks to high heaven and the stench is so bad we change the laws just so we can breathe again.

The last straw is the fact that there were no dissenters on the Supreme Court. They just signed on to the whole mess. And they had Troy Davis strapped to a gurney, just waiting? That is cruel and unusual. I love cops. I respect the work they do and know that most are good men and women. I hate that Mark MacPhail was killed going to someone else’s aid. I can empathize with his family. It is difficult to lose a loved one to violence and you do want revenge. But for the state to authorize murder is wrong. It will not bring Mark MacPhail back and the risk it too great that we got it wrong. We need to do better.

The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. The struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones that will come after me. ..Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.

– Troy Davis (via cultureofresistance)

Spare the Rod?

By CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy from BoobsAndBummis.

Do you spank your child? How often? Which infractions merit a spanking and which ones call for a time out? Is it your tool of last resort?

The NY Times recently ran an article on spanking on general and Black spanking in particular. Scooba is getting to an age where he is constantly. Into. Something. Got an obstacle? He’ll climb it!  Buttons? He’ll push’em! (Not figurative buttons, actual buttons that light up or make beeping sounds.) He is also interacting with his peers and I often have to remind him to use a “nice touch.” (Don’t just smack that kid on the head, Baby.) We are not going to spank a  1 year old, but we like to plan ahead.

So. Husband and I are coming back to the spanking question. Before kids, we both agreed we would be spankers. I have long been a proponent of spanking. I was spanked and I turned out GREAT! My parents did not beat me, but I got spanked for large problems. For example, I got spanked when I played with fire. Twice. (The second time cured me for real.) I got spanked when I stole. I must have gotten spanked more than this, but these are the ones I remember. For other stuff I was put, “On Restriction”. No TV, no radio, no friends. It was lame.

Husband was also spanked as a child. He turned out pretty okay, too. Today, however, spanking seems like the worst thing ever. Study after study after study seems to show that spanking will make your kid violent. How can you show a kid that hitting is wrong when you hit him? Spanked kids become bullies. Violence should not be in the home. Okay. Sure. But, I do not want my kid running around all wild and embarrassing me. When I say sit, you sit. When I have to look at you with a spanking glint in my eye, you know play time is over. This post by Gradmommy includes a study citing how bias plays into all the anti-spanking studies.  Can I just spank sometimes? Is it an all or nothing, zero sum game? This seems to show that sometimes spanking is fine.

I’m also a little torn because I remember telling those “My Mom was So Mean and Beat Me” stories with my friends. It’s a calling card of being Black that you had the story of a time you got popped so fast you didn’t even see it coming. Or of the things a parent would say as they beat you. Or the time you ran away to avoid a spanking. Do I want to deprive Scooba of his hilarious story? It’s a birthright of the Black child to have these stories. Hard-won tales of a tricky childhood. Then I wonder if that’s what I want him to remember from his childhood. There’s clearly more to Blackness than getting a whoopin’.

There are lots of parenting books. Tons of parenting strategies. But I know spanking works. It worked on me. It worked on my brother. It worked on generations of Black boys who couldn’t afford to ignore instructions, cause it could mean their lives. But is it barbaric? Is it a legacy from a bygone past? Am I actually teaching the lessons I want to teach? Listen to your parents. We love you. Use your words. Stop playing when I tell you to stop. I remember being scared of getting a spanking. It prevented some bad behavior, but do I want my son to fear me?

So here’s my thing: how many people spank their kids? Is it in conjunction with other forms of discipline? How do you decide when something is bad enough to warrant a spanking? What’s your rationale behind the decision? I am leaning towards using the spanking sparingly, but keeping it in the toolbox. Thoughts?

Crunchy Like Me

This past week was World Breastfeeding Week. Cool. There were events around the country (world?) on Saturday where women nursed at 10:30am. The Big Latch On was having an event in NYC, so husband and I decided to make the trek and check it out.

My husband is a good guy. When I told him about the Big Latch On, he was dubious. “So you’re gonna go 30 minutes uptown to feed the baby and then come home?”

We, Sweetie, we.”

“What’s the point?”

I had to explain that we were supporting breastfeeding and could meet other parents. He doesn’t have any Dad friends, so I was mainly doing this for him. (You’re welcome, Husband.)

While we’re on the train, I ask him if he thinks these people are going to be all granola and natural.

He replies he was just thinking that. Sometimes breastfeeding women can be a little granola and crunchy and natural. There’s nothing wrong with this; nature is awesome. Me myself, I like getting hair shaved off of certain places and wearing deodorant. So we started brainstorming how crunchy people there were going to be. “I bet they’ll cloth diaper,” I began

“We do that,” he reminded me.

“Yeah, but I bet they’ll be all sanctimommy about it. We don’t care if other people do it.”

“I bet they do baby led weaning,” he started.

“That doesn’t mean they’re crunchy, baby led weaning is just easier and cheaper than buying pureed baby food. Cave babies did it.”

Husband began to laugh and say, “so what you’re saying is if we do it, it’s not crunchy?”

“Exactly. Black moms aren’t crunchy.”

“Wait. None of you? In all the world, there’s not a single crunchy, tree-hugging Black mom?” (This is asked with an incredulous, dopey look.) Thanks for calling me out and demanding I support statement with evidence, Husband. (Jerk.)

We began to break it down as we passed stop after stop and heard the subway grind to a screeching stop each time. We cloth diaper, but only because we each had sensitive skin as babies. And we don’t wash the diapers ourselves, so we’re not super crunchy. We do love our Bummis though. (These are the covers that prevent leakage from the cloth diapers. They come is super cute designs.)

We breastfeed because it’s good for the baby; and it’s easier to travel with boobs than with a bottle. Yeah, sure we wear the baby, but a stroller is too heavy to take up and down subway stairs. And sure, maybe we did baby led weaning, but that’s just cause the baby didn’t much care for purees, and snatched food off of our plates anyway.

So what does this all mean? It means that some practices that used to just be considered ‘old-fashioned’ are now known as granola. My grandma uses vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, but would I call her crunchy? She’s been doing her cleaning that way for over 50 years. I don’t think Blacks are crunchy, but maybe I’m wrong. I’m sure a variety of ‘crunchy’ habits are used by lots of Black families. I’ve seen many breastfeeding Black mamas. What’s old is new again and all that.

It also means I am crunchier than I thought. I don’t think of myself as a hippie, but I will do what I think is best for my baby and makes our family happy and productive. He’s happy when I hold him and I like having my arms free, so we have a Boba carrier. That’s what parenting breaks down to for me. The toddler is happy and safe and Husband and I are happy and safe. Now if research backs it up and it turns out to be fantastic parenting, all the better.  Parenting is full of failure as it is. I recognize that I make mistakes. What I don’t need, and would venture that no one really needs or wants, is someone judging my parenting choices.

So here’s a crunchy quiz

  1. Do you know what Bummis or Fuzzibunz are?
  2. Did you go back and forth when deciding between a Boba, an Ergo and/or Maya Sling?
  3. Did you give birth at home or in a birthing center?
  4. Do you co-sleep? Have a family bed?
  5. Is this you?
  6. Did you have a doula?
  7. Do you make your own baby food?
  8. Do you buy organic food?
  9. Do you make your own cleaning supplies? (vinegar and baking soda count)

If you answer yes to 2 questions: Crunchy like cooked spaghetti.

If you answer yes to 4 or more questions: Crunchy like semi-moist pretzels.

If you answer yes to 7 or more questions: Crunchy like dried corn flakes.

So how crunchy are you? Do you know any crunchy Black moms? Do you disagree with crunchy moms and think they should just get it together?

When Vitamins and Exercise Don’t Work

Mental Illness is a problem. Not the one you probably think, though. Mental illness is a problem because of the stigma. Yes, it’s tough, but must it be embarrassing? When people are stigmatized because they are depressed, bi-polar or schizophrenic, it decreases the chances they will get the help they need.

 

If you break your leg, people feel bad and do what they can to help you. If you have cancer, people offer to bring food over or take your kids to school. If however, you are depressed, people may start to act funny around you.

 

I haven’t experienced mental illness myself, but my brother is experiencing some issues. He’s not someone I talk about usually, because I don’t want people to think I’m crazy. However, when I do open up about him, it turns out LOTS of people have a family member suffering from a mental illness.  Why don’t we talk about this?

 

There’s such a stigma surrounding mental illness in this country, it prevents an honest dialogue. When my father passed away, I saw a therapist. Do I tell people about this? Not really. Especially among African-Americans, it seems mental health it a taboo topic. Some of it makes sense. African-Americans were abused and taken advantage of in supposed “health studies” such as the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments. These types of practices, along with higher than average institutionalization, has caused mistrust of the medical field.

 

However, we have to get help where we can. African-American women often take on too many responsibilities and don’t take care of themselves. See a counselor? That’s wimpy and weak. That’s for white people. I’ll pray on it. I don’t need to talk my problems out with a stranger or air my dirty laundry. As a consequence of this (and other things, like you know, racism) African-American women suffer higher rates of stress related medical issues. According to SAMHSA, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “6.0 percent of African Americans age 18 to 25 had serious mental illness in the past year. Less than half of these (44.8 percent) received treatment in the past year.” Our young people are not getting the help they need.

 

There’s nothing wrong with getting help. You can be a Christian and see a therapist. You are no more being a bad Christian for seeing a therapist than if you took a Tylenol. It’s not self-indulgent to get the help you need. It’s not a luxury, but a necessity to address mental issues you may have.

 

We need to talk to our kids about feelings. We need to lessen the stigma associated with mental illnesses. Too often we tell little boys to, “man up!” Why? He’s four! Let him feel sad. Let him feel disappointed. Give him the words to talk about his feelings. Let our daughters know that there is no shame is taking care of themselves physically and emotionally.

 

The isolation and loneliness of mental illness are perhaps some of the worst consequences of mental illness. Many mental illnesses are in part genetic and not an indictment of the individual. My brother has mental issues. He is still my brother, and I love him. I want him to be able to get help. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide his disease. I don’t want my son or anyone else’s children to feel that having a mental illness is so bad or so wrong that they cannot speak up and get help for it.

 

Do you or a family member have a mental issue? Is it being treated? How did your family react to the news? Did the old vitamins and exercise work for you?!

Rue is Black!

Rue is Black!!

This was the email I got from the baby’s godmother. If you don’t have a teen in your life you may not know about  Rue and the Hunger Games, but trust, they’re big.

Hunger games is a young adult dystopian novel that’s like a fight to the death reality show with children. Rue is a pivotal character both in terms of the survival of Katniss, the main character, and the shaping of the revolution. She is described in the book as being brown. Of course, the descriptions of characters in the book did not stop casting directors from bringing in their own biases.

Suzanne Collins, the book’s author, wasn’t very specific about Katniss’ ethnicity. She has dark hair, gray eyes and olive skin. I read her as being kind of multi-racial, a little Asian and white and Black maybe?  Collins has said race wasn’t a sticking point for her, but the casting call was for white women. Really? Really, casting people? That said, I was nervous about Rue. I did not want them to cast a cute little white girl.

Don’t get me wrong, little white girls are fine, but little black girls are also cute and they also like acting jobs. There are not enough representations of African-Americans on-screen period, let alone of children. It’s important for all children, but especially those who do not often see faces that look like theirs on the big screen. How long did it take Disney to create a Black princess? I’m tired of  the images that too often dominate the media and reflect the white is good/Black is bad dichotomy.

So this is terrific news. Rue would be a great character for any young person to play. Rue saves Katniss and is a catalyst for the overall revolution for the story.

Seeing positive representations on-screen in more important now for kids and teens than ever. With Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa’s piece: “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”  it’s as though it’s okay to make racism scientific. “I’m not racist, it’s just science that I don’t date Black women.” There are so many ways in which Black children, especially Black girls are told that they aren’t as good as or as pretty as other children. Why else would we feel the need to perm a seven year old’s hair? Or add extensions to a one year old? When I was little, I wanted long, flowing down my back hair like barbie. (Even the Black barbie has long, flowing down her back hair!) This little girl has braids! Maybe this will go a little further is helping everyone, including little Black girls, see that brown chicks have it going on.

Rue is a smart, capable, determined little hero. This is someone kids could emulate. Given that the book and movie are for teens, I am even more excited that Rue is played by a Black actress. Not for nothing, but adults are pretty set in their ways. Teens, while not post-racial, (I love the term post-racial. It’s like hope and naïveté all in one) are more open and malleable. It’s when movies are cast with people of color that those who feel that white is just “normal” and the default have their views challenged.

While I do not think seeing one movie with one Black character will bring us all together in a kum-bah-yah moment, I do think people in general need to see a variety of hues in the media as heroes. The more you see people of color as the good guys, the less you’ll clutch your purse when you see a Black guy in the elevator. Every little bit helps. Until then, congratulations to Amandla Sternberg on her new role!