Her Hair is a Mess!

Although I thought this was old news, there is a new picture of the Carters that apparently has some folks critiquing the parents and others, including this well written article, chastising those who are talking crazy about Blue Ivy’s hair. If you didn’t know, Blue Ivy is the daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, and her hair is a natural mess.

And I think that’s a good thing.

Continue reading “Her Hair is a Mess!”

Political Parenting

Yesterday, my daughter told me she wanted to celebrate Kwanzaa. I immediately felt bad; she certainly hadn’t gotten the idea about celebrating Kwanzaa from my husband or myself, and we live in an overwhelmingly white suburb of Northern California. When I asked her where she learned about Kwanzaa, she said, “school.” Which floored me because this school is no where near a bastion of intercultural understanding or learning.

In any case – I told her we would need to get a kinara, to which she informed me it was called a menorah. I laughed, and then told her she was confusing Hanukkah with Kwanzaa, with the former being a Jewish tradition and the latter a Black tradition. She didn’t really care too much, but just wanted to implement something she’d learned about in school.

So I said, yes, we can celebrate, but in my post-Christmas shopping yesterday, I forgot to pick up a kinara, and similarly today got away from me. My husband came up with the brilliant plan to find a Kwanzaa app for the iPad, and alas, I found one! So we’ll be lighting virtual candles and discussing the seven principles.

***

In the last week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about my approach to parenting, especially given the response to last week’s post. In writing about what I am keeping away from my daughter (and my sons), I came to a better understanding of why I parent the way that I do. Why am I celebrating Kwanzaa when it something I’ve never celebrated in the past? Because I want to encourage curiosity and exploration. Because I don’t want my child to believe as I do simply because I’m her mother. So I want to engage in celebration of what is a new cultural tradition because my children are not robots or mini-mes. They have their own thoughts, and sometimes they need me to bring those thoughts to fruition. It’s not just about them; it’s about the kind of people I want them to be – loving, generous, thoughtful, engaged.

In a conversation on Facebook, a friend pointed out the obvious, but the rarely articulated: “All parenting is political.”

Continue reading “Political Parenting”

Coming Clean

I have secrets. Several of them, to be more accurate. Secrets that I am not so much ashamed of, but are reluctant to tell people about. Reluctant because I don’t want to be judged. Reluctant because I don’t want to know people’s views on these sorts of things. Reluctant  because I’m just trying to live my life the best way I know how for myself and my family. Reluctant because I feel like until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, you can’t tell me a got-damn thing. Reluctant because black folks in particular are real iffy about mental illness and medications.

I’m pregnant. 21 weeks, 22 on Thursday. I’ve wanted this baby for a really long time. This baby is probably the most anticipated of my three children, as I always had this idea that three children would make my family complete. This pregnancy has been tough, perhaps tougher for me than the others since my illnesses now have names and recognizable symptoms. I’ve done a lot of work over the past four years since Little A’s birth to keep myself healthy.

But I’m not cured. Bipolar disorder does not go away. It must be managed and treated, consistently, continuously. So even though I am pregnant, I’m still on an antidepressant and an anti-psychotic, at relatively high doses. But being down to two medications is a victory for me, as I started out on five. And one that I finished only after I became pregnant is one known to increase the risk of birth defects. But I’m still stable.

Stability is a shaky thing. I’m not taking anything for the fibromyalgia, which is likely contributing to my aches and pains in this second trimester when I really shouldn’t be feeling this bad until the third trimester. I stopped my sleep aid, even though lack of sleep triggers hypomanic episodes. And the one that causes birth defects also helped with the body aches, and the headaches too. Between weeks 9 and 12 I had a migraine every single day. And stable doesn’t mean “like normal.” I missed the entire last week of classes and barely scraped together enough legal knowledge to get through exams. And now, I haven’t left my house in two days. I don’t feel depressed, just sluggish, but I would be doing better, I am convinced, if I was on my other meds.

I want to get off these last two drugs, but I don’t know if I can. My baby appears to be perfectly healthy, growing wonderfully with a strong heartbeat and none of the defects that the bad drug could have caused. He is likely to be a world-famous gymnast with the all the tumbling he is doing in there – sometimes his movements make me nauseous! But in the third trimester, which begins next month, getting off the drugs would likely be very beneficial for my son. While I was on the antidepressant for  my other two children, we now know that third trimester use my cause issues with breathing and tremors after birth. And with the anti-pscyhotic, tremors and withdrawal symptoms of diarrhea, dizziness, headache, irritability, nausea, trouble sleeping, or vomiting may occur. But if I don’t stay on, I could have an episode that lands me, for the second time, in the psych ward. I would do anything for my kids, but I can’t imagine that being hospitalized would be good for any of us, my two big kids especially.

I also want to breastfeed, an experience I really enjoyed with my other two, even if it was hard going in the beginning. But both of these drugs are found in breastmilk. Studies conflict over whether the amount is enough to cause worry.

Bottom line is: I want to be “clean” so bad. I want to be “normal” so bad. I want my kids to have a great life so bad. But this may be one of those times that getting clean is not such a good thing. It’s one of those times where having a happy mama may be “better” than having a totally organic, medication free baby. It may be one of those times that we have to give up what we want in the short term to make room for infinite blessings down the line.

It may be one of those times, but how will I know?

Put on your dancing shoes

by cocoa mama contributor rlb08863/mamatiti

I know that seems like an odd title given the events of the past year. We are coming fresh off the state sanctioned murder of Troy Davis. The anguish, pain, frustration and rage are still right under the surface. There was the trial and conviction of Raquel Nelson* who was senselessly charged with the vehicular manslaughter of her son despite the fact she was not driving and did not even own a car. There were the racist anti-abortion ads that cropped up in urban areas across the country, with a keen interest in black and Latino neighborhoods. There was the day of national shame when our President had to produce his birth certificate to the nation to prove he was in fact born here, a real American and thus fit to serve in a position that he was elected to. Across our great, post-racial nation, there are laws that seem to be in competition to see who can be the most xenophobic, the most anti-woman, the harshest against the poor and working class, the most draconian against sex workers, all in an effort it seems to prove who is the most American. The year started off horribly with the news out of Cleveland, Texas where an 11 year old Latina girl was gang raped by at least 20 black boys and men. The response by that community, in particular the women, seemed to confirm that the world was in fact going to hell in a handbasket.

So it would seem frivolous at least and idiotic at the most to ask any of you to dance. For many of us, myself included, dance brings to mind images of joy, abandonment, of lightness and exhilaration. We think of proms, weddings, birthday parties, and summer barbeques. It is a time of celebration and validation. It is more though than just a good time.

Our foremothers and forefathers understood  this. They knew dance, movement whether in harmony with other bodies or swaying on its own, was a way of communicating with their homeland. It was a way of connecting with the earth, sky, smells and sounds that had been so cruelly and irrevocably taken away from them. When they got together with a drum, all of the day events, the degradation, the pain, the suffering, the blood, the sweat, the anguish was expelled just for a moment. So long as their bodies were in motion, no matter the amount of time, the dance was the spike in the eye of those who thought they owned their minds and spirits along with their bodies. As arms, legs, torsos, necks, breasts moved, they became birds, antelope, fish, butterflies, and snakes. For that moment, they were free.  Lest you think this is trivial, think to many black churches who still understand the power of dance – yes “a shout” is a dance. The transformative nature of movement still has a place after all this time.

We need to dance by ourselves, with our children, our partners, and our families. We need to put the good foot down so that our sons and daughters will see that the world has not defeated us, has not taken away our joy. We need to throw our heads back and lift our hands while we shake our tail feathers so that we can get it all out. All of the disappointments, inequalities, the setbacks, the downgrades and the layoffs. If the sweat gets in your eye, wipe it away and keep dancing. The world, the Tea Party, Republicans, those on Wall Street, the rich and elite, want us to be defeated so that we can’t fight. They do not know about our ancestors and the power of movement. They forgot – or never knew that slave revolts were started by drums.

When you dance, laugh, cry, shout, twirl. Hold your children. Be silly. Jump on the furniture. Do a conga line around the kitchen table. Do a dougie in the family room. Hell, do the Macerna.  Just don’t be still.

After you are good and worn out, rest. Eat. Laugh some more. Snuggle or meditate alone. Call someone you haven’t in a long time and tell them you love them.  Take a nice hot bath or shower.  After you put your children to bed, if you are able make love to someone you love. Sleep as much as you can. In the morning, you will be clear-eyed, determined, steadfast and most of all, ready to fight like hell.

* Because of the power of  black blogs,social justice blogs, Facebook, Twitter, other forms of social media and ordinary citizens who were rightly outraged by her plight, Ms. Nelson was offered a chance for a new trial.

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)

Is Anybody Home?

It’s been a little quiet around here. For that, I take full responsibility. Things have been brewing in my life that have taken my attention away from here. Honestly, I have what I think is a pretty good excuse, but I need to keep that to myself for a few more weeks 🙂

What else has been going on? Well, my 5 year old started kindergarten and my four year old turned, well, four. My summer job with San Francisco Public School District ended, and I started a month long vacation of sorts which has been hijacked by a certain something. I’ve spent the majority of my days in my house, trying to save money and wondering about the future.

Wondering, but not worrying. Wondering what life will be like in a year, two years, three years. Wondering how my children are changing, not just the fact of it, but actually wondering about the process. Wondering about how their personalities are changing, if they are in the right schools, if they will excel in school, if that should be my focus. Wondering if I can do this, this mommy thing and grad student thing and eventually this moving away thing and becoming a professor thing. Wondering if I’m taking on too much, trying to be the black superwoman that kills so many of us. Wondering how to keep it all in balance.

This is not a long post. I’m in a particularly contemplative mood that I think I’ll be out of in a week or two. But I wanted you to know that I’m here. We’re here.

First day of kindergarten

 

Four years old

The Difficulties of Parenthood

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Tracy B.

The other day my oldest son asked me if it was hard being a parent. I pondered his question purposefully and I prepared a response that would hopefully help him understand how seriously his father and I take parenting and also, how carefully we chose it and consider ourselves blessed by the privilege.

I told him yes – parenting is hard, because we want to do our collective and personal best to be the best parents to him and his little brother. It is also rewarding because we get to see ourselves in their faces and actions and watch them grown and become great men.

He looked at me confused and proceeded to say that being a parent looks easy because we get to do what we want – “stay up all night and party” (his words, not mine), eat and drink whatever we want and tell him and his brother what to do – and all they can do is obey or suffer the consequences. Well, that incited a chuckle from me and again, I had to carefully choose my words.

I explained to my son that parenthood is about more than staying up late and rattling off rules because we can. And, by no means is parenthood a daily party where his father and I stay up until the wee hours watching cartoons and eating snacks as it seems he suspects jealously.

The more I tried to explain what it is we parents do and why it’s so difficult, the more I seemed to confuse my poor child and eventually myself – almost. I mean, I know what I intended to say because I know what my intentions are as his mother. I know that I wanted my son and, to a certain extent, I planned his conception. I knew his name and I felt him and his importance as he grew inside me, I prayed about his purpose and I pictured his little face. I wanted to be the best mother  I could be without knowing what exactly that meant. It is a definition I am still revising daily and something I strive and aspire to moment to moment.

As our conversation ended, he asked me, “Mommy, why does it look like you have tears in your eyes?” And I just told him that I hoped that someday he could understand everything we’ve done over the years as his parents and I hope he knows how much he is wanted and loved. I told him that when we give him and his brother rules about what to eat and when to go to bed, it’s not because we don’t want them to have fun or hang out with us – it’s because they need to behave like children and eat what’s healthy and get enough rest to play and grow. And I hugged my beautiful boy and looked him in his face and told him in terms that were probably easiest for him to understand:

“We pay the cost to be the boss … and although it may look like we’re having a lot of fun, it’s a lot of work, so you enjoy being a kid for as long as you can.”

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?

Fear of a(n Evil) Stepfather

by Carolyn Edgar

My teenage daughter often stops by my office for brief visits. During one of her recent visits, I found myself telling her about one of the couples I follow on Twitter, who are planning their wedding. 

“Ugh, I guess, whatever,” she said, or words to that effect. “I mean, I just don’t see the point in getting married.” 

This isn’t the first time she’s expressed those feelings. I understand why. During the time her father and I were together, we didn’t exactly model marital bliss. What she said next, though, shocked me. 

“I hope you and ____________ [my current boyfriend] never get married.” 

My kids get along great with my boyfriend. He likes them, and they like him. He does “guy stuff” with my son, like wrestling and playing basketball, that I can’t do or have no interest in doing. My boyfriend talks to my son about all those “guy” things my son no longer wants to share with Mom (although my son uses me as a sounding board for the advice he has gotten from my boyfriend). My daughter says he’s “cool,” and he gets extra cool points for treating me well. 

But I have only been seeing my current boyfriend for less than a year. We’ve talked about marriage – as a concept, as an institution – plenty of times, but we’ve never discussed the idea of getting married to each other. So the fact that my daughter brought up the subject of us getting married seems a little odd to me. I guess it’s the influence of movies – in the movies, two people who get along and care for each other in a romantic relationship, are by definition head over heels in love and destined for the altar. 

My daughter’s comments were even more pointed than, “I hope you don’t get married.” When I asked why she hoped ___________ and I never get married, she said,

“I don’t want a stepfather.” 

The kids are 100% in agreement on this “no stepfather” thing. A few months earlier, my son told my boyfriend that his Mom didn’t need another husband. “It didn’t work out so well the first time,” my son said. 

My boyfriend and I concluded “don’t marry my Mom” was my son’s way of warning, “Don’t hurt my Mom.”  Later, I asked, and my son confirmed “don’t hurt my Mom” was what he meant. Judging from my daughter’s remarks on the subject, it sounds like she and her brother have talked and agreed that one father – even if they don’t see him very much – is enough.

In the abstract, it’s easy to understand why a stepfather would be undesirable. In literature and movies, and especially on TV news, stepfathers are violent, cruel, and abusive. The evil stepfather is almost as common a trope as the wicked stepmother.

But it is still hard for me to comprehend why the thought of my marrying this particular man – someone who is not violent, not cruel, not abusive – is so scary to them. 

“It would change things,” my daughter said. “My attitude towards him would change.”

I could see from her facial expression that the very idea of it was upsetting her. There was no point in continuing the conversation, especially since it’s not even a possibility at this point.

“No need to worry about that, since it’s not something we’re considering,” I told her. “If we ever need to, we’ll talk about it again.”

 “Ugh,” was all she said in response, making sure she got the last word – or noise – in.

Original to CocoaMamas

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?