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?

You Know What?

Written by CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy

You know what’s dangerous? It’s dangerous to speak your mind as a Black child in an inner-city school. I’m an educator. I love (almost) all my students.  As a middle school teacher, I saw tons of kids who chose to be disrespectful, arrogant, or jerky. But except for one or two cases, I was always able to remind myself that they were children. Just kids stretching their muscles of power, testing limits and sometimes making others miserable because they themselves were miserable. As I taught in a school where the majority of students were Black or Brown, my skin color might have gained me some cred at first. Despite what other (white) teachers sometimes said, being Black wasn’t enough for a kid to respect or listen to me. They soon figured out that I liked them, cared about their futures and would do my best to help them succeed. They also soon learned that I knew my subject area and wouldn’t tolerate crap or chaos.

In Maya Angelou’s Heart of a Woman, Maya is summoned to her son’s school one day. Guy had been explaining to some white classmates on the bus about how babies were made. Well, the little white girls freaked the heck out and Guy was in trouble for using bad language in front of students, especially girls. When Maya was in the principal’s office and heard the story, she asked what her son had said about the incident. Turns out, they hadn’t even asked Guy for his side of the story. They just assumed that what the girls conveyed was true. Maya was, of course, upset and demanded to see her son. She then gives voice to how many parents of color feel: You give your child to people who often do not look like you. You have to trust that they will not mar his sense of self, and if they do, you must do your part to repair it. I’ve read this book many times, but reading it last month this part really struck me.

The success of my students was personal for me. The more Black and Brown faces without a degree meant less of those faces in power; meant more of those faces dead or in jail. I knew that my eventual child would be okay academically, but some cop or lady on the street wouldn’t necessarily distinguish between my polite, kind, hilarious kid with the high reading level from a “dangerous thug up to no good.”

I pushed my kids academically, stressed the importance of respect for each other and themselves and laughed with them. (Middle schoolers are hilarious. Especially if you find fart jokes funny. I do.)

However, there are many teachers that are not like me: teachers that call students “dirtbags” teachers that see any deviation from given instructions as dangerous, defiant and insubordinate behavior. Too many Black boys are in special education classrooms because they are “behavior issues.” We have to ask though, how much is it about the behavior and how much is it about the color of the kid? The same behavior — being wiggly in class, speaking without raising your hand, being mouthy — by a white kid in Scarsdale is seen as childish antics, but in a Black or Brown child in Harlem is seen as insolent. (Now if a parent wants to have different standards fine, but schools need to be consistent.)

The guidelines for suspension are so very subjective. Was the student was defiant or disrespectful? Defiant is suspension, disrespectful is a detention. There are shades of meaning there that are left to the beholder. Don’t have too many suspensions on your record or it will be harder to find a school that wants you in NYC. (Students must apply and matched to public high schools in New York City in a complicated system.)

I get it. It is extremely difficult to itemize what exactly is meant by defiant. There are millions of ways a kid will find to be defiant. But we have to do better. We need to somehow quantify how bad an attitude must be before a suspension. Otherwise, we just give license to suspend kids for being jerks instead of working with them through this angsty, trying period in the lives. How many of us would want to be judged for how we were at 14? Yet, by suspending kids for arguably age-appropriate behavior, and not helping them grow through or learn from the process, we are stunting their growth academically and emotionally. We need to hold them accountable for bad behavior, but still care about them as people. We must do better. If that means more time is taken to really piece out events that have occurred, so be it. Just as our justice system would rather let a guilty man go free than an innocent one imprisoned, we need to make sure suspended kids really deserve it.

Schools are supposed to be the place where it’s okay to fail sometimes. You see how far you can push and experience safe consequences. Too often, this is not how school operates for Black children. A student that feels that he is heard, respected and valued is more likely to succeed at school and at life. Teachers are not the bad guys. But I will make sure to be in my kid’s classroom when the time comes. That teacher will know that I am paying attention. I am a fierce ally for the teacher, but I am also an advocate for my son.

HarlemMommy is a breastfeeding, cloth diapering mother of one. She works with middle schools and loves to read. Her husband is very funny and they love to travel. She also writes at

From the Crates: These Are My Confessions

originally posted January 2010

The following is an abridged and edited version of a post I wrote more than a year ago, but I thought it was fitting for a Mother’s Day post.

I am not a good mother. At least not by the standards that have been set up for the current generation of a certain ilk of  mothers. A generation who is expected to place their children at the center of their universe, and make all decisions about their adult life revolve around what is supposedly best for the child. A generation that is expected to sacrifice their own happiness to make sure their children are happy. A generation that has been fed the idea that having children is a choice, therefore if you choose to do it, you must accept all the self-sacrificing consequences that go along with it. Continue reading “From the Crates: These Are My Confessions”

Tell Me Lies

At a brunch to celebrate my graduation from law school, I opened gifts in front of my friends.  The ritual made me so uncomfortable, I gushed excessively over every gift, and closed the brunch with an overwrought thank-you speech in which I forgot to thank my then-future husband for organizing the event in my honor.  At my wedding shower a year later, the process again made me nervous, causing me to forget to hug one guest after opening her gift, despite having hugged all the other guests in thanks for their gifts.  Two years after that, I flat out refused to publicly open gifts at my baby shower; my husband did the honors instead, dutifully modeling board books and newborn clothing so attendants could “ooh” and “ahh.”  By the time my daughter’s first birthday rolled around, I wasn’t taking any chances; the invitations read, “please, no gifts.”

I recently thought about these experiences when reading about why children lie.  Apparently, we don’t properly teach them the value of truth-telling, insisting on punishing them when they are truthful about a misdeed, instead of being happy that they told the truth.  The second reason that kids lie, however, is because they see us lying. Even young children, not yet adept at effectively masking their disappointment, know from watching us that they should act happy when receiving a pitiful gift like a bar a soap.

My thoughts turn, then, to the value of social lies.  Even though we feel obligated to tell them, social lies don’t make us feel very good.  Those young children are unable to look researchers in the eye when asked why they like that bar of soap.  And my discomfort regarding the lies I feel obligated to tell when receiving gifts is what drives me to avoid the situations all together.  Although I may be grateful for a particular gift, it is often the case that the value of the gift pales in comparison to the value of the gift-giver herself.  Accordingly, I just don’t get very excited about it.  Opening gifts at parties just amplifies the lie.  For me, celebrations are about being witness to the moment of joy we can share right now through song, dance, and laughter; not about your gift.  Nevertheless, I stress out over my “thank-you performance,” often replaying the scene in my mind afterwards, fearful that I wasn’t “happy” enough.  I wish I could just say, “thanks for whatever it is you got me; now let’s go dance!” instead.

I’d like my daughter to learn to mark milestones through warm memories, but the truth is that people who love her will also mark her milestones through material things, and my responsibility is to teach her to receive such things graciously, even if she has no need or desire for it.  My responsibility will be to teach her to lie.  I’m not sure how to feel about the lies I will be encouraging by teaching her to “act happy enough” even if she doesn’t want, need, or like a gift.  Given my particular incompetence in this area, I’m not even sure I’ll do a good job.

Social lying seems to be part of what we are expected to teach our children to do.  Does it have to be this way?  What social lies do you encourage your children to tell?  And is it worth the mendacity the encouragement cultivates?

this belly

When I’m pregnant, I love my belly. I love the soft, gentle roll of it, how it perfectly comes to resemble a watermelon, Big A’s favorite food, complete with the stretch marks that look like the rind. I love the ligna negra that extends from the public bone, a dark reminder of being connected to all other women, especially Cocoa women, who have traveled this road before me. I love how the extended curve in my lower back accentuates the swell, making what is usually a malformation of my spine that yoga teachers seek to “correct” a beautifully natural and perfect “S.”

I marvel at how the body can stand the imbalance by perfectly balancing it all, how other matter shifts to accommodate the growing miracle inside. When I’m pregnant, I love my body. Every single piece of it, and especially my belly.


In the entire rest of my life, the 28+ years that comprise the 30 years less the 18 months I’ve been pregnant, I’ve come to hate this belly. I hate the way it looks, with stretch marks that used to be stretched now just emaciated and weak, shriveled and wrinkly. It’s a potbelly – bloated and big, with people often asking if I’m pregnant. It sucks to have that happen almost three-and-a-half years after your last baby. And with small breasts and hips, and that curvy lower back, the belly just sticks out all that much more. I hate to touch it, a handful of skin and flesh that rolls through my hand like cookie dough.

Mostly, I hate the way it feels, on the inside. My belly holds all of my stress, and it’s been this way since I was a little girl. When the cops raided the drug dealer’s house next door, I couldn’t eat for days afterward, the indigestion was so bad. When there was tension in my house, the first thing to go was my ability to pass my bowels – I was forever constipated. When I worked as an investment banker, I was in constant pain due to gas. Today, things are much the same. My stress is manifested in my belly – gas, bloating, constipation, nausea, indigestion, and even my bladder is now involved due to chronic inflammation in the entire abdominal region. My head is starting to hold some stress too, now; although I think I like my forehead 🙂

It seems to only make sense that the part of my body that I hate the most is the part that gives me the most trouble; it’s hard to know which came first – the hate or the hurt. Either way, I deal by covering it up – the hate with my flowing scarves, tied artfully around my neck, the ends covering the shame of my big, non-pregnant belly and the hurt in whatever way I can – I’ve developed a unconscious fear of eating, one that few people know about. Shame and pain – it seems they are always inextricably linked.

it’s always sunny in california

Excerpt from “The Best Interest,” LBC (c) 2010

And so at one moment on that cloudy, damp, and rather cool March day, the day after her 29th birthday, she knew who they said she was, an accomplished young woman, wife and mother, and brilliant, they called her. How does she do it all? Yes, with bipolar disorder that she’d endured for over twelve years, who was right then having a really bad episode, but still one whole person, who could predict what would happen next in a logical fashion. Intelligence evidenced by high scores on the law school admissions exam. Admitted into one of the top three universities in the country. Confident, self-assured, determined. In one moment she knew things were bad, awful, interminable in that moment but the moment, even if it lasted for weeks, was temporary, and she could handle temporary as she’d handled temporary before. Because she had to do this.

But inexplicably in the next moment a separation occurred and she was not one anymore and what was once temporary was then permanent. She’d heard of this before. She’d seen seven therapists in the past twelve years. Some of them helpful, many of them not. One whose wife died, one who was a student, one who worked at the university, even one who was pregnant at the same time she was, but in twelve years, never…They’d all asked, when she’d been very low, Nana, any suicidal thoughts? And, yes, she’d thought about suicide, and, yes, she’d thought about dying. In an abstract way, she thought about who’d come to her funeral and how hard would her mother cry, or what might happen if she stepped in front of the bus instead of getting on it. How would her bones crush and would she die instantly or would she feel pain? But she always came back to herself and her flesh and she’d touch herself and she’d be there alive. Those were just thoughts, nothing more.

But the thoughts that day were of self-inflicted death and they were real, not of her imagination. She felt death from the inside, cold and hard and permanent as it seeped outward. She saw the plan as it emerged in her mind and it was so easy, so alluring, so neat. Much simpler than when she was in the car that morning, as she drove the kids to day care. Then she thought about swerving into incoming traffic but she didn’t want to hurt anyone else or hitting a tree but they all looked too puny to do the job well. The visual of the pills was clear and direct, nothing to work out, nothing to decide. Just lie down and die. It was a picture of justice, an answer to the problem of her and her badness.

“Just do it.” She heard that voice clearly. Her voice saying, Just Do It. She was saying things she never heard herself say, and that voice was frightening.

Another voice, her motherly, sensible, rational, together, voice said, “Call someone.” By instinct, like a child who can rattle off the phone number of a neighbor to call in the event of an emergency, she picked up the phone and pressed call. Sorry I can’t come… she hung up, and pressed call again, this time to her husband at work. It rang and rang and rang and before she even heard the rejection of You’ve reached, she hung up. Her hand shook and then her arm and within seconds her whole body was shivering. She looked over her shoulder, and her own body moving made her think that other things were moving in the room. She saw the plan again, and felt her body walking up the stairs, toward the bathroom, toward the medicine cabinet. Sertraline, Cymbalta, Topamax, Geodon, Lithium, Triliptal, Lunesta, Ambien, Paxil, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, sleeping pills, hundreds of multi-colored tablets, oblong, circular, square, pills that she took to try halt and prevent the episodes, to stay steady, to achieve a state of equanimity. So many pills; one would never know that as a child she couldn’t take pills unless her Daddy crushed them up and mixed them in applesauce. For a moment she stood there and in that flash of lucidity she noticed the irony of how she took pills that help and pills that help the pills that help; pills that made her sleepy when sleep was inappropriate, jumpy when jumpiness looked crazy, but also calm when calming was longed for. No one would be home for hours.

Her unfamiliar voice taunted her, “Easy way to die.”

She was not so sure. But she said, “I want to die.”

Her voice said, “Let’s go.”

She ignored her and questioned her and said, “Do I?”

She stared at the life-taking pills for what seemed like hours but could have only been seconds, and she asked herself again, “Do I really want to die?” She gripped the sink and dropped her head.

And sitting there were the children’s toothbrushes, well-loved and well-worn. One blue and one pink; the little girl’s with bristles going every which way, the young boy’s neat and orderly as if right out of the package. Why or how this pierced through, one only knows, but she thought of how her children still followed her around the house the way they used to when they were babies, even when she went to the bathroom to do a number two, the smell didn’t bother them. How they pulled on her clothes and constantly demanded her attention: Mommy, mommy look at me, look at me, while they did things they knew they shouldn’t do, like stand on the couch or throw toys, their need for their mother’s attention just that great even though reprimand was sure to ensue. How they’d ask with earnest eyes Mommy are you mad at me when she’d chastise them for standing on the couch or throwing toys, or put them in time-out or tapped their hands with the wooden spoon. How they assailed her with Can you do this mommy while they’d stand on one leg or turn around in a circle or do a favorite yoga pose. How her baby girl and little boy preferred their mother 90% of the time to any other person and were so hurt by her that 10% when she became a person neither they nor she recognized. The mother’s world turned to water as she turned around, left the bathroom, and again picked up the phone.

“Hello? Hello? Baby, are you there?”It took her several moments to respond in between sobs as she tried to catch her breath.

“Baby. I can’t do it anymore. I want to go to the hospital and stay there.” That was it. She had nothing else to say.

Silence. Then a long sigh. “Okay. Okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” He’s going to be so mad at me, she thought as she waited. The front of her shirt was thoroughly soaked. As the door opened, she began, “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” as soon as she thought he was close enough to hear. But when he sat next to her his whole torso collapsed and he just looked at her and she realized that he was tired of having to tell her, “It’s okay.” She stopped apologizing.

But not for long because in the emergency room there were many little shameful events. Events that she responded to by being sorry. Sorry that her husband had to witness the nurses questioning, “Well, why would a pretty girl like you want to hurt yourself?” And really expecting an answer. Or overhearing the cops posted outside her bed talking about the “nutjobs” they’ve had to watch over the past few days. Or during the shift change watching them point her out like she was an exhibit at the zoo.

Around six he said, “It’s getting late.”  “And someone has to pick up the kids.” And of course it was not just someone, it’s him, he had to pick up the kids because she, the psychiatrist on duty had just told them, was about to be admitted into the hospital, taken up to the psychiatric ward. “Okay,” she said, “You should go.” She didn’t want him to leave, she was terrified, but she didn’t want him to see anymore of her degradation. She didn’t know what was up there and she wanted to be able to take it in and understand it before he did. She told him she would just be going to sleep. She didn’t look at him. “The kids, they need their routine. Stability. They need you.”  She paused again, wiped her eyes. “Make sure you give them a bath, read them a story.” Her husband looked at his wife, and let out a deep sigh. He said nothing, just grabbed both of her shoulders, hard, and kissed her on the forehead. He turned, and walked away.

“How are you feeling this morning? Your breakfast is waiting for you in the lounge.” On her first full day in the hospital, she asked her nurse if she could take her breakfast in her room. She dreaded what, and who, she would find in the lounge. The answer was a polite but unyielding no. “You’ll feel a lot better once you get up, get dressed and eat. So let’s go.” Her nurse took her by the arm and gently but firmly pulled her out of the bed.

It was hard not to look into the other patients’ rooms as she walked down the hall. There was a woman she noticed last night who seemed to constantly be on the verge of hysterical tears. This woman, thin and blond with glasses, always had a tissue in her hand, close to her face, and her knees drawn into her chest. Another woman, at least 60 years old, was waif-like, nothing but skin and bones. And another, young, with skin like milk and jet black hair cut into a chin length bob, whose entire room was covered in sheets. All were white. All of these women were being coaxed out of their rooms, into the lounge for breakfast.

They sat at a small dining table that would seat about 10 people, but there were only seven of them that morning. There was construction being done on the floor that day, so their introductions were conducted over the dull noise of a jackhammer. Of the seven women, she came to find out, five were mothers. Five of the women at the table, situated on the 4th floor of the University Hospital, on the psychiatric wing, were away from their children.

Deadlines make me feel like this. Caught in a downward tailspin. So hard to get out. Thank God for the sunshine and the no-rain. I need to make it through this week. Cause I can’t go back there.

doing it again

This is the second night in a row that I didn’t see my kids after I dropped them off at preschool at 9:30 am. Last night it was because by 5:30pm, when their dad was picking them up, I was already in the bed, knocked out from exhaustion. Today it was because I had classes from 1:15 through 7, only to make a quick pit-stop at home (where they were already in the bed) on my way to choir practice at church. I didn’t make it in until 9:45pm. Tomorrow, we’ll spend the morning together, because their morning preschool is closed, but they’ll have to come with me to my office because I have a meeting with my advisors. I suppose I’ll entertain them with a movie they can watch on my computer. I wouldn’t necessarily call that quality time.

Since the quarter started last week, I’ve been perpetually exhausted. I have done no yoga, my exercise of choice. I started out doing a daily meditation before bed, but that has also slowly disappeared. I’m taking two law classes, two workshops, and a beginners piano class. I have to co-op in the preschool at least once a week. I’m singing in the church choir. I’m TA’ing a class.

I enjoy all of these things. Although I wish I’d not taken all of them on. But I want to honor my commitments. They all “fit” into my schedule. Last quarter, I was a wreck because I wasn’t sleeping and I wasn’t eating. This quarter, I’m getting 8 hours of sleep and I’m eating three meals, a definite improvement. I think I’m tired now ’cause I just haven’t found my rhythm. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. And I spend too much time on the internet. Hence, I’m here with you. But that’s for another day.

But the kicker really is this: I want to do it again. I want to do THIS again:

That’s the Big A, moments after he was born, January 20, 2006. He’ll be 5 in just a week.

I want another baby.

I know, it seems crazy. My life is crazy. The timing seems all wrong.

But something is strongly pulling at my heart, pulling at my body, something that I can’t explain, can’t account for, something….dare I say, PRIMAL?

I’ll be 30 years old this year. I had the Big A when I was 24, right before I turned 25. So much has happened in the last five years, including getting married, the Little A, grad school, a cross country move, going into the hospital, healing from that trauma. And one would think, quite rationally, that throwing a third child in the mix, a third child to where the kids outnumber the adults, would be a risky decision. I know that.

But the past five years have been all about taking risks. And for the most part, they’ve turned out to be winners. And what’s that saying – the bigger the risk, the larger the reward? And that other one – there really is no good time to have kids?

I don’t know. What do y’all think? I won’t be offended. Really. (Unless you say that I’ve already screwed up the kids I have. I will take that personally so don’t go there. Let’s just talk about the future, shall we?)


The other day my father-in-law (never-before-used term) and I shared a little secret regarding how private my husband is. We were neither menacing or overly critical at the moment we were just candid as we casually arrived at the same conclusion about my husband’s inability to open up with us. I have to admit, I am frustrated by the reality that I do not have a truly intimate relationship with Jaron, my partner. At the same time that I relish the ability we have to unite around common interests, the ease at which we “flow” around our household, and how we manage both a new co-professional and familial relationship, I wish that there were ways in which we could communicate better, more deeply and more often.

It’s quite crazy to me how with children this bond is generally taken for granted. I do not have to massage, manufacture or labor over my relationship with my children. They are “natural” fits. Or at the very least, a mother and child are socialized (in many cases) into a bond that is predicated upon the former nurturing the latter. In return, we get an unconditional love that is (in many cases) “easy,” and genuinely fulfilling.

Unlike with my children, I feel like there are times in which my husband and I are not “family,” a word that was lovingly thrown around at my in-laws as a way of making me feel welcome and at home, in a space where of course we only infrequently visit, or else they would not have to remind me that we’re “family.”

All I mean by this is that I have to work much harder to create a sense of intimacy with Jaron than I do with most others.

I am a teacher and I truly believe that there is a solution to every problem. I also subscribe to the good-old-fashion-inner-city-public-school teacher ethos of “rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty” with a problem. What do all the Cocoa Mamas out there do to get “close” to a partner, particularly black male partners who are arguably the most “guarded” men there are?

When Women Write . . .

When women write there are a number of walls that surround them. It calls into question not only the established science of geometry but also all the aesthetic parameters and creative possibilities of architecture. Because women live in so many rooms at once, including their homes, their jobs, their schools and their very bodies, the interconnectedness of these spaces defies necessarily separate designations.

I once lived in a room in Philadelphia, a one-bedroom apartment, with my son, my former fiancé, my books, my bed, and all of the odor and noise and silence of inner city high rises. I didn’t know it then but I very much lived inside my body, with everything I did, and thought I was, sort of layered on top of it like winter clothes. This is including the room.

I was raped in that room, lying, forced down, on a bed with no sheet, with my jeans ripped open and a torn Princeton Day School sweatshirt. I met him when I was just a baby. He was five years older then me and I had only just graduated from high school. He forced a pillow down over my face. Our son was screaming in the middle of the dining room. I remember him holding our son upside down by one ankle. I remember praying.

Yvonne Vera remembers,

“I learned to write when I was almost six and at the same time also discovered the magic of my body as a writing surface . . . Using the edges of my fingernails or pieces of dry grass broken from my grandmother’s broom I would start to write on my legs. Here we wrote near the bone and spread the words all the way to the ankles. We wrote deep into the skin where the words could not escape. Here, the skin was thirsty, it seemed, and we liked it.”

Although Vera insits elsewhere in this same article that the “best writing” is “ungendered,” I would argue that her own early experience with writing, outlined in the passage above, is dependent upon her arriving into girlhood and her discovery of her feminine form. Just as she learned as a girl to write her own history on her body, black women map their lives, single and collective, onto their body through writing and other forms of artistic expression. Film, is one of these forms, that is interconnected with writing and the body, particularly in the case of black feminist works. The black female body is a template for ideas, hidden and exposed, documented in diverse mediums.

Remembering writing, as Vera demonstrates, is an exercise intimately tied to the body. It involves imagining the body of the writer, and this is how race, gender and class become imposed on writing, as well as digesting writing inside your own form. I remember the writing of James Baldwin first; the forcefulness of The Fire Next Time, compounded with the eloquence of perfectly flawless lines and logic wrought from the body of an intensely marginalized, courageous man. I remember Krik? Krak!, the collection of short stories by Edwidge Danticat that I found in a high school book fair, right before she became my second-favorite writer. I re-mem[ber] Beloved and Toni Morrison, the kind of academic I want to be, like Lorene Cary and Toni Cade Bambara. I remember these writings/writers in a roll call that reflects our shared cultural heritage. This is in fact how I write.

On the pages of their writings, or “bodies of work”, I find my own. “Word!” “I don’t know if it’s that deep!” “So he does believe in God, he just believes that God is White and that is why Blacks have been given the shit end of the stick.” “My point exactly!” “Can I write like this someday?””If I ever write something major to be published I am going to use “she” as my pronoun throughout.” “memory.” “history.” “history + memory.”

My earliest memories of writing are set in my elementary school librarian’s castle, a maze of wooden bookshelves with a rectangle of desks and chairs in the middle, adjacent to an office, covered in frogs. I remember writing “L.E.V.E.R.E.T.T.,” while reciting it in a singsong, over and over at the front desk; so proud to be the early reader and expert speller Mrs. Leverett pegged me to be. I remember Frog and Toad and Little Miss Bossy, and that my current investment in teaching, first, before any other occupation, has everything to do with a history of exemplary educators, fully committed to seeing me reach my full potential, starting with Mrs. Leverett.

In and between these memories is the realization that writing, even more so than speaking, for black women, gets at that intricate dance that black women do in order to negotiate their private and public selves. If silence, as Katherine Dunham, has noted, is a necessary component for achieving a total self, then my work has to both speak and listen, and in this sense it is not only a platform, but also a conversation. “We need to be able to be quiet too.”

Being silent as a writer is enabling, and here is where my other self, as a documentary video and photography artist enters in. The experience of standing in rooms, behind the camera, opening up the opportunity for subjects to share their own voices is a valuable experience for a writer/educator. I see this as my opportunity to be totally silent, to pull myself out of the room and into my body in order so that others can speak, uninhibited.

I do not know why the experience of witnessing is similar to the one that both myself and others have lived through during rape, but I know it must have something to do with this paradoxical need that black women have for being silent and finding a voice.

Survivor, Salamishah Tillet, recalls in NO! that during her rape,

“[She] became emotionally numb. [She] withdrew from the experience. [She] didn’t want to be there, and [she] didn’t scream. [She] didn’t know how to scream. [She] was just there, kind of numb, dead, watching it happen to [her].”

I prayed during my rape because I was afraid of being killed. I thought that if I was silent I could not make him any angrier. I probably thought that to a certain degree my mouth had gotten me “into that trouble in the first place.” I was silent because if I stayed alive then I could make sure my son stayed alive also. I was silent because I feared that this might be the night that he decided to silence us all for good.

Writing this, right now, means that I have learned as a black woman to voice myself, even when no one is listening because while our voice should not ever have to be confined to the body or walls we have surrounding us, we have to know that we can speak there too, always.

What am I Paying You For?

You place your children in their care for more than 8 hours a day. You trust them with your most precious possession; those little bodies that you nurtured and grew inside of you for nine months; or else waited patiently for months, maybe years to become their mama. Many of you came out of the workforce, or chose occupations so that you could avoid having to give them your children. I’ve heard plenty of mamas say, “I didn’t want a day care raising my kids.”

But for the rest of us, who by necessity, or by choice (it’s both for me), day care, nursery school, preschool, whatever you want to call it does play a large role in raising our children. We go to great strides to pick out the best ones. When they were younger, I wanted a place were they would be loved all over and safe. Just safe. They were with a wonderful Ghanaian woman who I still keep in contact with who had a family day care. But the drive was 20 minutes both ways, and when I started the law school portion of my program, and my fibromyalgia got bad, I couldn’t do the drive anymore.

So then God sent us “GaGa,” one of my best friend’s mother, who came over every day and was more like a grandmother than a nanny. And Big A (my almost 5 year old) went to a very reputable half-day laboratory preschool twice a week that cost as much as we paid our Ghanaian care provider for full time care. But everyone said how great it was. And it was.

Big A’s vocabulary tripled that year. He became so independent. I loved the way he was growing. Little A (my three year old) was always at home with GaGa, who loved her to pieces, and had known her since she was a baby. I was comfortable with the care my children were receiving – most of the time, they’d been with black women who were like family. If there was a disciplinary issue, they handled it. If there was an eating issue, they handled it. We were just on the same page. (Except when the Ghanaian was feeding Little A Vienna Sausages, canned meat product – I did have an issue with that.) Big A was just starting to venture into the “real” world, and he was doing great in it.

Fast forward to this year. The real world is hitting my kids like a wall of bricks. They have three care providers on a daily basis: one preschool in the morning, a babysitter that gives them lunch, and another preschool in the afternoon. Why? The short answer is GaGa is moving; the afternoon preschool is the “great” one that Big A started in two years ago and it just stuck; but it’s only half day so I needed to put them in something in the morning hence the other preschool; but there’s a 45 minute gap that neither school will allow the children to eat lunch at so hence the mid-day babysitter. *Sigh.*

And while the schedule isn’t so bad, as the children seem well adjusted to it, it’s more the, how do I say…issues that have been popping up that I’m not quite sure how to deal with. And this has been an issue for me in all service oriented things, not just day care. The question is this:

How do I tell someone that I’m paying, but who is performing really an invaluable service for me, that I’m not really appreciative of the way they are treating/talking to/assessing/simply coming at me with craziness and nonsense?

Case in point: A few days ago, we got a report that the Big A was eating too much snack at school. *Pause* *Blink* What? What do you mean he’s eating too much snack? My first thought was this: although we do get a generous scholarship, the Big A’s tuition is $11,000 a year, not including the summer. Yes, you read that correctly: $11K. And we bring snack everyday to share with the other children. Sooooooo….to me, he can eat as much snack as he wants! For $11K a year, y’all should be servin’ a meal!

And what added insult to injury, was not just that he’s eating too much, it was that he was “taking more than his fair share.”

He’s 4. (and three-quarters, to have him tell it. But you get what I’m saying.) Does he even have a concept of his “fair share”? Are are they just saying my boy is greedy?

And I can imagine it – him sitting there, eyes big at the rice cakes and bananas, oranges and string cheese. I know my child; he’s stuffing it all in his mouth like he doesn’t get fed at home….he’s coughing and gagging because he’s eating too fast…and he’s hungry because he didn’t eat his lunch, b/c he’s waiting for the snacks…yeah, all that.

And now I’m just mad. Mad because they are attributing these grown up concepts to my child who is just hungry. And mad because I also feel like this is a waste of my time, time that I’m paying them for. Is this really a parental problem that they should be bringing to me, with my $11K on the line? For $11K, y’all can’t handle that? (And again, let me say, we don’t pay $11K, due to generous donors and the scholarship fund. But that’s neither here nor there. We still pay a lot. And the teachers don’t know how much we pay.)

I just feel like we pay too much to have to deal with all this little stuff at the day care. I know that I am still raising my kids, even though they are at day care, but in all honesty, I’m paying for their help.  If they are coming to me to report every time the Big A eats too much snack – what do they expect me to do? I know some parents would come during snack time and sit with their child and see what’s going on – I’m not doing that.

The Big A and I talked about it, mostly to say that I was going to tell the teachers that he had to eat whatever was left in his lunchbox before he could have any snack. Easy. Case closed.

And you know what? He ate his entire lunch. I didn’t even ask them about snack today I was so annoyed, and figured that they were bold enough to tell us once, they’d be bold enough to say it again. But what are you going to do? I guess the lesson is when you ask for help, you can’t complain about the form in which it comes.