on baldy-heads and aliens

“Did Big A get a haircut?”

I look over at my precious boy, fresh from the barbershop. His experience with getting a haircut so different at five than it was at three, when her would scream the entire time. Once, there was an entire patch of hair, the size of a quarter that just wasn’t cut cause the barber couldn’t take it anymore! But now, he loves getting his hair cut. It tickles around the ears, he tells me, but getting a haircut is no big deal. And getting to go to McDonald’s afterwards…well, that makes up for any unpleasantness.

So when a preschool “friend,” and I use the term begrudgingly, asked me this afternoon whether Big A had gotten a haircut yesterday, I happily said, “Why yes he did! And doesn’t it look lovely?” Because, of course, I think it does. I love the way the close cut makes little black boys look all grown up by allowing you to focus on their faces. I love how I can really stare into my angel’s eyes, with his long eyelashes and deep brown irises that really seem to look into his gentle soul.

But apparently, I’m alone in this appraisal. For this little girl said, “No. He has no hair. He looks like an alien.”

I was shocked. Taken aback. Then outraged. Angry.

For it dawned on me that this was not the first time some child had said something disparaging about Big A and his haircuts. I remembered him telling me how the kids at the other school called him “baldy-head” whenever he got a haircut, and how they were not saying it in a nice way. I remember him telling me that it hurt his feelings when they said that. I remember him telling me that he was never going to get a haircut again.

As I thought about this, I looked around the playground. As much as we lament what little black girls go through with regards to their hair, I never thought about the fact that little black boys face their own hair issue when surrounded by boys who are not black like them. As the only black boy on the playground, Big A was also the boy who has the least amount of hair. In relation to all the other children, even the boys, he WAS bald. All of the other little boys had a significant amount of hair on their heads – hair that flopped in bangs on their forehead, around their ears, on the nape of their necks. Some boys had more closely cropped hair, but enough to run a little gel in it and make it stand up or lay down. Certainly not bald. And, as we all know, kids DO have funny-shaped heads. When all the hair is removed, things can look a bit…well…strange.

Of course, though, to me, I didn’t see it the way this little girl did. All my life I’ve seen black men get haircuts, from high top fades to taking it all off. It’s normal to me to see men and boys with hair of all different lengths, from locs like my father’s to the floppiness of these little boys to the boxes that were popular in the 90s to Big A’s curly Qs when he was a baby to the close cut he gets today. I’ve seen it all, so none of it shocks me.

But these kids, raised in elite suburbia, have not. They don’t live around people who are different than them who do other things with their hair. So a little black boy with a close cut is a novelty to them. And when something is strange, they ridicule and “otherize” it.

Even when it is as beautiful as this.

Do Black Mothers Raise Daughters, Love Sons?

I’ve seen and heard the saying, “black mothers raise their daughters and love their sons” repeated enough to know that some people actually feel this way. Sonja Norwood, mother of Brandy and Ray-J, even weighed in on the question for Essence last year.

My 14-year-old daughter has accused me, on many occasions (usually when being denied something she wants), of liking her little brother better, or loving him more. I would be lying if I said I never treated them differently. I never thought that saying applied to me, though, because I think that I treat each of my children in accordance with their particular needs. 

But a recent conversation with a woman I know gave me pause. My friend admitted that she does more for her son than her daughter “because he needs more from me.” She asserted that her girl is more self-sufficient, more reliable than her son, even though he is older, and that her son “needs her more.”

That may be true. But is it fair?

Maybe girls are just more responsible than boys, period. My daughter is more responsible than my son, but I assumed it was mostly due to their age difference. My daughter is almost 5 years older than my son. She’ll be a freshman in high school in the fall, and he’ll just be entering 5th grade.

Truthfully, my daughter was more responsible at 10 than my son is now. For instance, at 10, my daughter started riding the public bus to school by herself. She had paid close attention to how we got from point A to point B on the buses and subways. She didn’t need instructions on how to get to school. She needed instruction on how to avoid trouble on the bus. I told her, “Sit near an older black lady, in the front. She’ll make sure nobody messes with you.”

My son, however, freaked out the one time I thought I would have to put him on the public bus to go to school. His school bus didn’t show up, and I couldn’t take him to school because I had an early morning meeting. It’s a straight shot from our house to his school on the nearest MTA bus, just as it was for my daughter. I told him all of this.

He cried.

“I’m not ready!” he shrieked. I sent him to school in a taxi instead.

Because my daughter is more responsible than her brother, I expect her to be responsible all the time. When she’s irresponsible, I get angry because “she should know better!” When my son is irresponsible, I chalk it up to his immaturity. When my daughter is petulant, whiny, tantrum-prone and defiant, I can’t stand it. When my son acts that way – well, he’s still a little boy. My daughter feels and deeply resents the difference.

My daughter says I “baby” my son and that I “forced” her to do more at his age than I force her to do. I deny it. But maybe it’s true. I admit I sometimes forget she’s still a kid. Or that I, too, can be petulant, whiny, pouty and tantrum-prone. Maybe my standards for her are a little higher than they are for him. That’s a balance I need to evaluate and correct if necesary.

I don’t think I “raise” my daughter and “love” my son. I do make distinctions between them based on their age, what I perceive to be their respective level of maturity, and their personalities. I think it would be unfair if I did anything else.

I check myself to make sure I give them equal time and affection. And as my son approaches his 10th birthday, I am giving him more responsibilities, such as household chores. He is fast approaching his teens, and I know it’s time to stop treating him like the baby of the family.

Still, I suspect there always will be an imbalance of some sort. Imbalance doesn’t have to mean unequal or unfair. The burden is on me to make sure that even if I’m not treating them the same, that I am nonetheless being fair.

Dude, You’re a Fag*

This week, the fifth teenager committed suicide after being taunted, harassed, and bullied because he was gay. I watched the parents of the fourth child, only 13 years old, as they explained how their son was endlessly psychologically tortured because of his sexual orientation. The mother broke down in tears, and the father gripped her body to steel himself and hold in his emotions on national TV.

One of the teenagers that killed himself this week was a college student. His roommate recorded his sexual contact with another man on a webcam, of course without the young man’s permission. Twice he did this, sending it out to his friends, and inviting people to watch live. He tweets to his followers: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay” and “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again”. This teenager was not “out.” He was outed, by his freshman roommate, just as school was beginning, and he responded by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

I’m angry.

I’m angry at the bullies themselves, of course. Certainly in this last case, these “children,” while still in their teens, are college students. The two students accused of the invasion of privacy are 18, and in our society, that’s the age of majority – no longer a minor. It’s arbitrary, of course, but the fawn must become a buck at some point. In some of the other cases, the bullies are 13, 14, 15. Certainly not adults. And so my anger also reaches the school who lacks a no tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, the teachers who didn’t pay attention, and of course the parents who don’t know that their kids are bullies.

But do you know who I really think is to blame?

YOU. US.

Why me, you say? Because you continue to allow people to say “faggot” around you without correcting them, or allowing them to think it’s okay ‘cuz they’re “just playin’.” Because you voted “yes” on Prop 8 denying folks the right to get married. Because you still look twice (or three or four times) when you see a same sex couple holding hands walking down the street, sometimes shaking your head. Because you say things like, “Well, if that’s what they want to do….”, making this big distinction between “them” and “us.” Because you don’t teach your kids that families come in all different types of packages and some kids have two mommies or two daddies and that’s okay. Because you are still trying to fit your kids into tight gender roles and won’t buy your son a Dora water bottle if he wants one or make a pink crown for his birthday if that’s what he wants because you are afraid of either “making” him gay or “encouraging” his gay “tendencies.” Because you still put your son in the Boy Scouts. Because YOU support candidates for governor who says things like:

I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.

Because YOU, America, are still a highly anti-gay country that refuses to agitate to get Congress to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; because in most of YOUR states, America, gay people can’t marry the people they love; because in many places, America, people can’t be WHO THEY ARE because they fear persecution.

And even if YOU think you’re being progressive by saying, “well, there’s nothing wrong with being gay, so when my kid says it to another kid, it’s not really a slur…” YOU know that’s bullshit. YOU know when a kid is trying to hurt another kid. It’s like when a black child says to another dark-skinned black child, “Ohh, you BLACK” or “Ohh, you DARK.” Saying, “that’s so gay,” is a taunt. There’s nothing nice about it.

And don’t even get me STARTED about Black YOU. Because where would I begin? Prior to this rash of young white men taking their lives, last year 2 eleven year old black boys took their lives due to being taunted about being gay. This beautiful chocolate child hung himself with an extension cord…aren’t we losing enough of our black boys to prison? Are we so dimwitted as a community that we’d have our sons DIE or be imprisoned in the name of their masculinity rather than be the people they are? How dumb does that sound?

Our children reflect US. Not just us, as in US as parents, but US as a community, US as a society, U.S. as a country. It is not shocking at all that children are being bullied because they are gay; being gay is not something that we, as a country, embrace as “normal.” And when you are not normal, in school, you will be bullied. What is shocking is the extreme response to the bullying – instead of fighting back, these children are taking their own lives, letting the bullies win.

So what then do we do? A relative of a teen who committed suicide after being bullied said this in a recent People story: “You can’t make someone be nice…You have to help the person who’s being bullied get stronger.” I tell my children now: If someone hits you once, you tell the teacher. But if they hit you again – you hit them back as hard as you possibly can and KNOCK THEM DOWN. Bullies prey on the weak.

Fortify your child. Let him or her know that you love them unconditionally, and make sure you explain what that word means. Allow them to be who they are, pink Dora cups and all. As they get older, let them know why “faggot” is a word you never want to hear them say and why they should not allow it to be said in their presence. Ask them about who they are attracted to, and be positive as they question how they feel. When you ask your child what happened at school, and they say, “nothing,” don’t let that be the end of the conversation.  Talk about bullies and bullying and what they should do if someone does something to them that they don’t like. Role play and act it out if you need to. If a bully needs to be knocked the eff out, tell the teacher Mama said to do it.

Those suicides happened on all of our watches. They belong to all of U.S.

*Dude You’re A Fag is the title of a book by C.J. Pascoe about Masculinity and Sexuality in American High Schools. I highly recommend it.

Private Parts

“Billy, what are you doing?” She says this to her son as he gets dressed in the morning. His four-year-old body is naked, but instead of putting on the clothes right next to him on the couch, he is instead enthralled with that extra-special body part that it seems all little boys are enthralled with – his penis.

Again she asks, “Billy, what are you doing?” She’s trying to be patient, but this is a daily occurrence, and she’s getting tired of it. She’s trying to bring it to his attention instead of saying something directly to him. “Billy!” He finally lifts his head, looking at her with a questioning, and frankly annoyed, expression. “Yes, mama?”

“What are you doing? Didn’t we talk about only touching your penis when you are alone, in your room? Don’t you remember that your penis is private?” Silence. “Well, do you remember?”

Billy gives a long sigh. “Yes, I remember.” He turns and begins to put on his clothes in his particular way, inspecting each item to make sure the sizes are correct (only 4 or 4T) and the tags are in the back. As he works, he speaks: “But when I’m in my room, I can touch my penis, right mama? I can do it then, right mama?”

“Yes, Billy. Now please finish getting dressed.” She tells his three-year-old sister, Bonnie, who has been dressed for hours, to sit on the potty. As Bonnie does so, she joins in the chorus. “Billy can touch his penis in his room, right mama? And mama? I have a vagina like you, right mama? And I can touch my vagina in my room, right? Mama? MAMA!”

She starts to feel a little dizzy in all this talk of penises and vaginas. She knows it was a good idea to teach them the real names of their parts, to not make the words or their actions negative or taboo, to supplement that talk with the notion of privacy, to let them know that no one was to touch their private parts but themselves, mommy and daddy, and the doctor, and even then, only with permission. But she can’t shake…

“Come on in here and let me see. I’m your auntie, just like your mother. You can show me.” She didn’t want to show Aunt Mo. She didn’t want to show Aunt Mo the breasts that were just beginning to appear, she didn’t understand why she had to. Her auntie made her take off the blouse she was wearing, the training bra too, and her auntie touched her chest, feeling the new growths. Her hand traveled downward. For the second time in her young life, she felt like not just her body was naked, but her soul too.

“Yes, children, you can touch your private parts, your penis and your vagina, when you are in your rooms, by yourselves. But remember, no one else is to touch your penis or your vagina, you understand? Not mommy or daddy or anyone, unless you say it’s okay. And no one should even be asking to touch you unless mommy or daddy is there, like when we go to the doctor, you understand? And if someone does, you yell and say NO as loud as you can, you hear me? And you come and tell mommy or daddy, okay?”

What kind of talks do you have with your children about their penises and vaginas?

Ya’ll have me thinking…

I’m constantly thinking about parenting, specifically, how to do it in a way that will “guarantee” that my son grows into a responsible, healthy, spiritual, generous, socially active, loving, compassionate warrior. There are times when the task is daunting, especially when I dare venture into the world of popular media culture.

Yes, I’m talking the world of “106 and Park”, the various music award shows, and lord help me, the radio stations with POWER, KISS, and LIVE in front.  Each time I’m more distraught, terrified even at the thought that the young folk today are being “raised” on sex, sex, and more sex.  Casual sex.  Unprotected sex. Irresponsible sex. And my worst fear: Teen sex.  They can’t escape it-  the teenage musical icons: Rihanna, Drake, Lil Wayne, and even Miley Cyrus have ALL made sexually provocative and explicit songs and videos.  It absolutely boggles my mind.

I’m sure we could all share anecdotes about young girls and boys reciting sexually explicit lyrics, simulating the infamous ‘stripper dance’ to the obvious delight of all within visual distance.  I imagine we’ve all swapped stories, appalled by the mamas who let their young daughters go out dressed in ‘booty’ shorts and barely there tops, quickly passing judgment on their questionable parenting styles. How many of us were ready to storm BET after watching Lil Wayne, Drake, and whoever else perform “I wanna ….. every girl in the world” while those young girls came out on stage, dancing and performing for the audience?  Yet since then Drake has become one of the biggest selling rap artists in the last few years.

I bring this up because media is a powerful cultural transmitter. Society’s values, norms, and even expectations are reflected in the music, film, television, and even social networking sites.  Research shows that young people interact with some form of media for multiple hours everyday. They can’t escape it.

So I have a question, should we do everything in our power to keep children from interacting with media, in hopes to keep them safe from it’s influence?  Do we stage local and national protests? Do we write letters? Do we boycott? What do we do?

Or do we even care?

No Boy Is an Island

I tend to follow Benee’s and the other Cocoamamas’ pieces about raising boys closely, without really daring to interject. The fact is that my own relationship with my mother—with all its glorious and inglorious extremes—has driven me to form some very firm opinions about how to raise my own daughter, but I’ve given far less conscious thought to raising my boy. I know I want him to be respectful of women (and everyone really, but especially women) and kind and service-minded but beyond that, the canvas has largely been blank.

My boy is challenging in a different way than my girl. He’s loud and impulsive, can’t sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, tests boundaries constantly and can be found bouncing off walls quite often. I’ve generally shrugged at his behavior and observed: “It’s all that boy energy!”

An incident last week started an avalanche of questions and thoughts in my head, prompting me to rethink my strategy. We have observed for a while that while my girl (who is 5) can accept a no as a no, my boy (who is 4) thinks no is his cue to start a maddening crying and whining campaign to get whatever it is he wants. My husband and I have had a long-standing rule about whining: We don’t negotiate with whiners. And so when he begins whining, I walk away: no explanations, no sympathy, no begging and cajoling.

I thought our rule worked well until the other day when my four-year-old turned to me and said: “Mama, how come when Mina (his sister) cries, you be nice to Mina and when I cry, you get mad and be mean to me?” And two beats later, his sister chimed in: “Yeah, mama, I’ve noticed that too!”

Ladies (and gentlemen): This question stopped me cold in my tracks. My boy, my beloved boy, was hurt because he felt that he was being mistreated. That he was being treated unfairly. And, at 4, he is not necessarily connecting the dots of varied causation: that he gets no sympathy because he cries mostly when he’s whining whereas she gets sympathy because she cries mostly when she has hurt herself. All he knows is that when he cries, we get stern, and when his sister cries, she gets sympathy.

And we are not connecting those dots for him. We’re just expecting him to get it, to intuit the difference in treatment, and to be a boy and get over it. There is a lot of emotional nuance, most of which is not being explained in the way it needs to be.

I went in search of more information and found this blurb in Dan Kindlon’s Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, which really resonated with me:

There is plenty of reason to be concerned: a confused young boy grows into an angry, emotionally isolated teenager, and, predictably, into a lonely, middle-aged man at risk for depression … Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger or aggression. They need to experience empathy at home and at school and be encouraged to use it if they are to develop conscience.

All this is not to say that my boy is now going to be coddled and get his way when he whines. But I intend to be more expressive about why I’m not sympathetic to the whining, about how much he is loved, how sad I am when he is hurt, how much compassion I feel for him when he is frustrated or angry. He may still be one hyper bundle of pure boy energy, but surely he is just as deserving as his sister of the emotional exchanges that come with the childhood hurts and tantrums.

When did we sign this silent pact that our boys are to be islands, cut off from the same emotions and connections we provide so freely to our girls? I don’t know how and where it all got started but I, for one, am out.

Raising A Boy To Become A Man

I’ve been a mother for about 3 1/2 years now, but before I even conceived, I’ve engaged in the conversation about whether or not women can teach their sons how to be men. On the surface, the answers may seem really simple: Yes, of course or No, of course not. Having engaged in this debate and heard many sides, I wanted to perhaps begin a discussion here on Cocoa Mamas about this idea.

This debate usually comes about when discussing single motherhood. The statistics state that 3.1 million Black mothers are single (unmarried or divorced) which means that at least 3.1 million Black children are being raised without a father figure in their home. This is not to say there is no paternal presence at all, it just is not in the home. In all fairness, that 3.1 million figure does not break down whether or not these women share custody equally, are simply unmarried/divorced (meaning they could have a significant other, male or female), or if they are even custodial parents. If you’ve read my blogs, you know that I’m not the primary custodian of my son, but I do consider myself a single mother.  For argument’s sake, let us assume they mean 3.1 million Black women are raising children on their own, as primary custodians.

So if we assume about 40-50% of those homes contain male children, we’re dealing with about 1.5 million women who have to figure out the best ways to raise their sons  to be intelligent, sensitive, caring, respectful, hardworking, strong Black men.  These will be men who will venture out into the world bearing with them the perspective and world views instilled in them by their mothers. Roughly 80% will carry these views into their interactions with women.  These mothers have to take into account all of the demands society places on men in general, as well as all of the negative statistics about Black men and the lowered expectations by that same society, and try to do their best to produce the most well-rounded, adjusted, positive men possible. 

As one might expect, this is a daunting task. 

Obstacle #1: Women are NOT men. We are physiologically, mentally, and emotionally different. Some things are purely biologically based while others are due to socialization. This creates a disconnect.

Can women overcome this in some ways? Yes, absolutely. We can teach our boys how to pee standing up. Can we relate to the external sensation of having to pee? No.  Can we talk to our sons about wet dreams? Yes. We can even explain how semen is formed, how is travels, and how it shoots out. Can we relate to the embarassment of spontaneous erections 15 times a day? No. The question is then: Are we inevitably disconnected from fully engaging in intimate discussions with our sons about things we have never experienced and cannot relate to? What say you?

Obstacle #2: Boys learn differently than girls. Women tend to teach their children things the way they process them themselves, which does boys a disservice.  Their brains are wired differently and if we cannot teach them along those lines, we risk alienating them.

Most of us do not realize this and we get frustrated when it seems our sons are knuckleheads when they begin to drift off in school. Or we are bothered when our toddler and pre-school sons are running on 150 tons of energy and seem to absorb more of what we say when they are in that state than when they are sitting still quietly, as we have asked them to do 1473 times in an hour. We want them to process what we are teaching as far as manners, respect, and social behavioral norms, but we are teaching them the way we see it and the way we learned it, which is not registering the same with them.  Does this mean there will inevitably be a disconnected between what we teach and what they learn from us? What say you?

Obstacle #3: Women cannot effectively lead by example. Boys and girls generally model their behavior after their parents and those closest to them.  A woman cannot role model being a man.

This is probably the biggest issue that comes up and pretty much encompasses the majority of the debates/discussions. We assume, of course, that there are set codes and standards of masculinity and manhood. (I reject that because I reject heteronormative thinking ,but that’s another blog). We assume that women cannot emulate those standards and therefor, they cannot effectively set the appropriate example of masculinity and manhood. (Again, this does not allow for varying gender identities that female-sexed individuals self-identify with).

Can a woman teach her son how to play basketball? Yes. Can she teach him how to change the oil in the car? Yes. Can she teach him to say “Please” and “Thank you” when interacting with others? Of course.  What she cannot do, as a single mother, is model how a man should treat a woman.  She can speak, write, teach, tell him on the telephone until she is blue in the face, but if that boy does not bear witness to his mother being treated in a positive way by an authoritative male figure, I posit that there IS a disconnect in his understanding of how to treat women (even with his own father or another father figure present).  That’s jsut one idea. What say you?

I did not dig as deep as I could have on this subject because I would love for people to weigh in and offer their own sides to the debate. I know where I stand and will respond in time.

Discussion questions:

Can women, single mothers specifically, effectively raise their sons to be “men”?

Does society’s notions of masculinity and manhood play a role in how women should be raising their sons?

If you are raising a son, what are you doing to ensure he is being raised with a strong sense of his masculinity (however you might define that for your family)?

Why do you think some women are successful at single-parenting sons and others are not as successful? What other factors do you think contribute to their successes or failures?


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Billy Bad Ass

*Deeeeeep Sigh*

I am having serious issues. My precious, darling, cutest baby boy in the world has morphed into a Creature of Badness. No, we’re not supposed to talk about our kids like that, but hey, I’m amongst family, right?

Right. So let the venting begin.

Maybe I need to back up a minute and state, for the record, that I truly believe behavior is learned, either by mimicking the behavior of those in one’s immediate society, by direct behavior modifcation efforts from authority figures, or by indirectly picking up things along the way from more external sources, like media, for example. I believe that children absorb everything around them and it influences how they think, the choices the make, and, consequently, their behavior.

With that said, there are certain ages where children just begin to lose their ever-loving minds!!! This is one of those times I’m guessing.  My son went from being sweet-faced, obedient, always wanting to please to being angry, rude, disrespectful, disobedient, and just all around bad.

And it is driving me up the wall!

I spend weekends with him and he is with his father during the week. Its only about 3 days (from Friday evening to Monday morning) but it comes out to being more hours than his father spends with him during the week. It’s usually just he and I, one-on-one, mano a mano. I’d say maybe 15-20% of that time is pleasantly spent laughing, playing, reading, doing fun things.  The rest of the time is spent fussing, fighting, yelling, disciplining, dragging, popping, and all other types of foolish defiance-induced struggling.

I had to step back the past couple of weeks and think of what might be contributing to this behavior. I thought about his being 3 year old and how every article I’ve read says that its the 3s that are the real trouble, not the 2s. Ok, I’ll give him that. I thought about how rapidly he is developing physically, mentally, and emotionally, and how difficult it must be to try and navigate all of these internal changes being only 3 years old. Poor guy, right? I thought about the separation, and how it might be causing issues for him as he tries to adjust to his family being separated and his going back and forth between two homes. That’s a lot to deal with at 3. I thought about how, in his new child care setting, he is allowed a lot more freedom and provided with a lot less discipline than he once was. His father’s step-mother is his primary caregiver, and let’s be honest, she spoils him rotten (like she did her own sons).

My son has become a demanding little beast who does not take “No” for an answer. Everything is a negotiation. He  went from always saying, “Mommy can I have some juice please?” to “Mommy. Juice.” I spent an entire weekend retraining him to ask politely for the things he wants. And then, when he does ask and I say “No”, his response is “But Mommmmmmmy, you can’t say ‘No’!” or he comes and hits me, scowls his face, and follows up with “You don’t tell me ‘No’!” or somehing to that effect. Or, he comes back 5 seconds later, “How about now?”

Wait… what? Where did he learn that mess?? Who is jumping at every demand that he puts forth that he ever got it into his mind that 1. it’s ok to make demands 2.  it’s ok to hit me and 3. it’s ok to yell at me and tell me what to do??

As the young folks say, “Where they do that at?”

I feel like I spend the majority of our time in disciplinary mode and it is wearing me out! It is making it very difficult for me to enjoy my time with my son and thus making it hard for me to connect with him the way I want to. Since connecting with him has been an issue since he was born, for other reasons, this concerns me a great deal. I feel like I’m playing Good Cop, Bad Cop, and guess which one I am?

Occasionally, I feel a sense of dread when I have to pick him up, especially if I know he hasn’t taken a nap that day (which happens often because his caregivers aren’t making him nap). I prepare for the inevitable evening meltdown that will ruin any plans I had for that time and I prepare myself for battle. When I drop him off on Mondays, sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, I feel sad for ever feeling this way.

I’m doing my best to remain consistent in my disciplinary tactics, but little is working short of popping him with the “Bad Boy Stick” which is a wooden spoon. Even then, he stares at me like “So? That’s all you got?” and I feel horrible for having spanked him (I’m already against spanking). When I see how ineffective it is, it makes me feel like it’s not worth it. Someone recently said, “Hit him harder”, but is that the answer? Really?

He has always had an indepedent streak. I try to support it. He wants to do things on his own, so I allow him the space to do that. But with that comes often bad behavior that I have to correct, when I feel no one else is. The other day, I had reached a breaking point and I was in near tears asking him, “Why are you so mean to Mommy? Why do you behave like a bad boy so much? Why can’t we have fun and smile and laugh and play?”

He started crying and said “I’m so sorry Mommy!!” and threw his arms around me wimpering. He then said, “Because I want Daddy here”. I don’t want to believe that he understood what I was asking well enough to answer that way, but at the end of the day, I think I have my answer.

Where are these kids’ parents?

I know that I tend to think a lot about discipline. I think it has something to do with raising cocoa males. I know what the stereotypes and barriers are that they will probably face because of their skin color. So, my hubby and I work hard to assure that our children are polite and well behaved.

We live in a county that is 90.7% White. We tend to stand out in our community. My oldest son is the only cocoachild in his school, grades K-2. At a recent PTO event, we were able to socialize with other families. We ate pizza, there was a raffle and then we all went to a high school basketball game for breast cancer awareness. While enjoying time with our family in the school’s cafeteria, we noticed all of the children getting restless. We didn’t expect our children to sit still during all of that time. We allowed them to walk around with their friends. After a few minutes, we began to see some children running, sliding across the floor and yelling across the room. Cliff and I looked at each other and asked, “Where are these kids’ parents?”

Cliff and I often wonder what the perception and comments would be if that were our kids. We often receive complements on how well behaved they are. For instance, I was recently shopping at a local department store. My children asked if they could walk over and look at some toys on a rack. I instructed them that they had to stay where I could see them. They said ok and quietly walked over to the rack. They came back over to me just a few minutes later and stood with me while I checked out. A woman in front of my in line was amazed at how well they behaved. She began to talk about how her children would have been running around screaming and all over the floor. I thanked her and reassured her that my children do have their times.

I am extremely honored that friends, family and strangers notice the politeness of our children. But, it’s not natural. I mean, I’d like to think that they just came out that way. But, parenting has occurred behind closed doors in order to get these results. For instance, I recall my mother having “the talk” with me before getting out of the car. Cliff and I joke about that all the time. But, we also have “the talk” with our children. What is “the talk” you ask? The talk occurs while you are parking your car or arriving at a location. During this conversation, the parent(s) lay out all expectations while at the location (i.e. do not ask for anything, behave yourself while we are in the store, don’t hit/fight your brother, etc.).

I don’t want people to look at my kids and ask where I am. Or, if they do, I hope it is because they are impressed by my child. I’m proud of my children. They represent me well. Don’t get me wrong. They fight one another and argue at home ALL the time. I know that the “real” parenting happens behind closed doors. The hug and cuddle time, the conversations about responsibility, reading to one another, dinner time, family outtings. All of these opportunities allow for communication and teachable moments. Where have your parenting moments happening?

Annie is a former CocoaMama who is married to her best friend of 15 years. They have two sons, a 6  year old and a 3 year old. She currently works at the Pennsylvania State University full time where she  is also completing her doctoral degree in higher education. She has worked and been a student for as  long as she has been a mother. So, she has had to learn how to simultaneously juggle all of her  identities. While she has not perfected this skill, she continues to assure that her family remains her  number one priority.

Ready for the call

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a mother. I just wanted beautiful and healthy babies. Now that I am a mother of two beautiful cocoa brothers, I realize there is a call on my life as a mother.

Cocoa men seem to have an undeniably exclusive bond with their mothers. I assume the same will be true for me. I can recall a conversation with my husband in which we reflected on our childhoods. I came from a loving two-parent home with a sister who is 10 years younger than me. I was first-generation to go to and graduate college. My husband was raised across town in a loving two-parent home with a brother and a sister. He was second generation college and both of his parents completed their master’s degrees. Well, okay. What about us? We both hold master’s degrees and are both pursuing doctoral degrees. But, that’s not it. We are both employed at a research university. We lived/worked on campus for the first 3 1/2 years of our marriage. Both of our children attend(ed) the childcare center right on campus. Our children are literally growing up on a college campus.

Whenever I read about the number of cocoa brothers in prison and missing from education, I recognize the call on my life as a cocoa mother of cocoa brothers. I work in higher education and am constantly surrounded by what the research tells me my boys have against them. This is the stuff they don’t tell you on the 10 o’clock news. I also know that my maternal instincts make me want to protect them from everything. However, I recognize that it’s the struggles that make us stronger.

So, I will do what I can to use what I know about what the world has already decided they can’t do. We started by being intentional about their names. My husband and I joke by saying, “We want them to at least be able to get an interview when their resumé comes across someone’s desk.” We push them (not too much) academically so that  there are no excuses prescribed by teachers. I know there will be more to come in the future. But, I am trusting in the Lord that He will provide me with what I need to aid in their future successes. I’ve accepted the call of being a cocoa mama. Just pray my strength if I ever have a girl. LOL

Annie is a CocoaMama who is married to her best friend of 15 years. They have two sons, a 6  year old and a 3 year old. She currently works at the Pennsylvania State University full time where she  is also completing her doctoral degree in higher education. She has worked and been a student for as  long as she has been a mother. So, she has had to learn how to simultaneously juggle all of her  identities. While she has not perfected this skill, she continues to assure that her family remains her  number one priority.