Killing My Superwoman…I think

I’m a Superwoman. But I don’t want to be.

But maybe I do.

The Superwoman concept, as applied to Black women, is often called a myth. As in it’s not really true. No one can do it all, really, people say. I beg to differ.

I am raising two children under the age of 5. Two boisterous, active, strong-willed, opinionated, brown beauties. I’m up at 6:30 am, with my kids doing dressing, breakfast, brushing of teeth, putting on of jackets, and the long, slow bike ride to day care every morning. I co-op at the day care at least once a week, three hour shifts taking care of not only my kids, but other peoples’ 3-5 year-olds as well. I don’t do it alone, I have the support of my wonderful husband, but we all know – in the early years, mommyhood is a 24-hour job.

I am a 4th year sociology PhD student and a law student. I am currently writing my dissertation proposal. When I defend it in January, I will be ABD. I don’t technically have to defend until May 2012, but my project requires collecting my own data over time, so defending early is necessary. I’m also taking law classes, at least two each quarter, six a year. Exams start next week. I do pro-bono work too, helping homeless people with disabilities get social security benefits.

Are you impressed yet?

I’m such a Superwoman, I simply have no time to take care of myself. Yoga? Meditation? Girl, by the end of the day, I am dog-tired, with all that mothering and student-ing I do all day. Eating better? Did I tell you about my stomach issues? Going to bed at a reasonable hour? But then how would I get to get in my twitter and facebook and nytimes and, my god, my TELEVISION time?

And furthermore, many of my needs are met by being a Superwoman. You are impressed, and I like impressing you. (Don’t act like you’re not.) You ask me, “how do you do it all?” and I can say, “I don’t know…” when I do know. It really feeds my ego. When I drop a ball, or a few, I have ready made excuses. Nothing is really ever my fault. I can fall apart and go to bed at 4pm and everyone understands. Or at least they should. And if they don’t understand, well, fuck ’em. I don’t care. (sniff.)

Don’t you see I need to be a Superwoman? I love Her.

She’s a superhero. For everyone.

Except me.

I have fibromyalgia, aches and pains over my entire body. And bipolar II, which is mostly depression in my case, with some highly damaging hypomanic episodes interspersed. I checked myself in the hospital 2 years ago. I have anxiety that grips my chest and makes me think I’m going to die. I have gastroparisis, where my stomach doesn’t empty in a normal way. It means I’m nauseous a lot, and have developed a fear of eating a lot of foods. I have to eat low fiber and low fat. That means I don’t eat a lot different foods. I have an irritable bladder, which means I have to pee constantly and it hurts, but I’m supposed to hold it to retrain my bladder. And I recently found out I have a virus that’s been suppressed for years but my immune system is weak so now its reared its ugly head.

My body is shutting down, saying its taking a break, forcing a time-out whether I want it or not. My Superwoman is killing me, from the inside out.

What will it take for me to kill my Superwoman, before She kills me? Obviously the fear of changing is greater than the pleasure derived from staying the same, even given the pain.

I want to change, be healthy, be the woman I urge other women to be. But if I kill Her, my Superwoman, who will I be?

Will you still be impressed with me?

Should I even care?

Politics of Black Hair

When rocking my daughter to sleep, I often spend time delighting in the patterns her hair makes on her head.  Like many people, her curl pattern is not uniform; it’s looser in the front and top, creating a soft crown of hair that I love to touch.  The hair in the back is more tightly wound, creating beautiful coils that dot her scalp.  The hair on the sides gently fan out in little waves, framing her tiny ears.

When I take her out in public, however, I sometimes forget to see the beauty of her hair, scanning as I am for the disapproval of others.  I find myself apologizing for the lint that her curls tend to trap.  If she’s just come from her father’s care, I interrogate him: “did you brush it before you left?!?”  In response to suggestions that her hair is short, I tensely explain, “it is growing; it’s just curly, so you can’t tell.”  The well-intentioned offers by relatives to “cornrow it so that it can grow” do not help.  In response, my back stiffens, and I plaster a smile on my face: “oh no; she’ll never sit for that.”

And, she won’t sit for it.  My 15-month old doesn’t like to be restrained, and since learning to walk and run, she doesn’t have to be.  But the truth is, I don’t want her hair braided or corn-rowed, because I like her poofy little afro.  Her short hair isn’t bothering her none, and it certainly doesn’t bother me.  My daughter is beautiful every day, whether her hair is long or short, lint-speckled or fresh from a washing, curled tight or billowed around her head like a halo.

I wish I could tell people this.  Tell white folks who have no experience with black hair that her coils are near perfect in their uniformity; that although more complicated to handle, black hair is the most versatile in the world.  Tell black folks who should know better that black hair needs moisture, not grease; gentle detangling, not too-tight cornrows; that every kink, standing for itself, does not have to be brushed out.  I’d like to tell everyone to abandon their obsession with long locks for my girl; stop teaching her at such an early age that she is less beautiful with tightly coiled hair.

But mostly I just smile and nod; it seems like such an uphill battle, and at this point in my life, I’m used to it.  After having worn locs for 2 years, a cousin asked me before I got married, “you’re gonna perm your hair for the wedding, right???”  When I go to the salon to get my hair re-tightened, the other stylists insist on standing near my chair, staring at my hair, and asking inane questions like “how does it stay???” Just yesterday, I thumbed through the pages of Essence magazine, and found not one article on natural hair care.  There was no end, however, of articles offering maintenance tips for chemically straightened hair.

I don’t begrudge other women the opportunity to make hair choices that are right for them.  But it saddens me that my family and friends don’t always appreciate the beauty of textured hair.  I don’t understand how you can be a licensed hair stylist but have absolutely no understanding of the basic mechanics of dreadlocs.  It’d be nice if acknowledgment and celebration of natural hair on black women went beyond a superficial pop-culture fixation on larger-than-life afros and perfectly groomed locs.

Until that day comes, I continue trying to shield my daughter from an onslaught of messages that undervalue her beauty, while navigating an aesthetic landmine of my own.  I’ve been talking about cutting off my locs and rockin’ a short afro for 2 years now, but I can’t work up the courage to do it; it seems I, too, am invested in a white beauty standard that prizes long hair.  Taking scissors to it all, however, just might be what liberates me from all this hair oppression, finally freeing me to delight in my child’s hair–and my own–whether we’re inside the house or out.

What About Your Friends?

I’ve been feeling a little friend-less lately.

My sister-friend and I compared our cellphone’s recent history the other day and realized the only calls we get are from each other.

I have 556 “friends” on Facebook, but when I announced my baby girl’s birthday on my profile page a couple of weeks ago, only six “friends” liked my announcement (3 of them were family) and four different people left a little message.

I participate in twitter, follow 95 people and have 91 followers. But I just tweeted “crying over folks who ain’t crying over me. *deep breath and klonopin*” and got crickets back. I often feel ignored on my timeline. It’s the least satisfying social networking tool ever.

I have friends from friends from high school and college on the East Coast. I go out of my way to keep in touch, to attend special events, to let them know that I care. When they call, and ask, “Are you busy?” Even if I am, I drop it, and attend to what they need. Only one of those friends has come here to visit me in the last three years that I’ve been here in California.

Here, in Palo Alto, I know a lot of people. One group of friends are about 12-20 years older than me, with children slightly older than mine, well-off mothers. Good people, we get together for mass playdates, ladies game nights, movie nights, dinners out and the like. But I don’t know anything about their relationships with their husbands, or what’s going on in their lives that has nothing to do with their kids. They regularly give me advice about my marriage and my childrearing, but not the other way around. It’s like I’m not an equal to them.

I’m having a get together on Saturday, of graduate student women. I’ve invited 31 women that I like, new grad students in the law school, women that I know look up to me. I don’t know what the turn out will be. So far 4 yes, 2 maybe, 1 no.

What about your friends / Will they stand their ground / Will they  let you down again?

What about your friends / Are they gonna be low down / Will they ever be around?

Or will they turn their backs on you?

As a black woman, who suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, I’m currently suffering from a lack of connection. I feel like I’m looking at a bunch of backs. I’m currently having a panic attack because on the one hand, I don’t want people to start calling me off he hook. People don’t want to talk to me about my panic attacks and my anxiety because they don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to say about my physical issues for why I need to go to the urologist. They don’t know how to listen, not solve; how to hear my tears without trying to stop them.

But on the other hand, for my sanity, I need more than pills. I need friends. I need to know that my friends love me, care for me, would care if I wasn’t here anymore, enjoy my company, want to hear what I have to say, think I’m interesting. As black women and mothers, we need each other to be for each other. But right now, my lack of connection with any of those I used to call friends has me questioning whether I even know what a friend is anymore. What about you, dear reader? What about your friends?

*I edited this on Sunday, September 19 because I did not want to potentially hurt someone that could be called a friend.

i know i’m not supposed to talk about this but . . .

it used to be a really hot topic. even without picking up glamour magazines with “sex secrets” and “statistics” women, and in particular i mean my girl’s and I, used to talk about “it.” i’m afraid that because i’m married now (and have been for the last three years) and because i am 30 and because i’m a scholar (and because that means i’m only supposed to write about “Serious” topics), and because i have three kids and the majority of my friends are still single (even though that use to mean that we could talk about it), i may never get this out again . . .

i miss sex. it’s not that i don’t have it anymore but i really do think it’s true what they say about marriage and kids, once you do both, you just don’t do “it” that much anymore. i hate to sound like one of my kids but boooo whoooooo. this is so unlike me.

this won’t be a long one ladies, because somewhere in the rational part of my mind I am well aware that Internet publishing about my personal sex life is probably academic career suicide. However, I really wish I had some answers for how married CocoaMamas get “it” done?

S.O.S.

How exactly did women used to take care of three, four or more children, clean the house, wash the clothes and make several meals a day? I can tell you that I’ve been in the house with only my two children for less than a week now and by the time my husband gets home around 7 pm, I am on the verge of hysterics, the house looks like a disaster area and as far as I’m concerned, it’s each man for himself for dinner.

I had all these visions of lazy, sunny days spent building castles from recycled milk bottles and toilet paper rolls, and the three of us frolicking on green lawns in the park or trekking on adventures through the neighborhood. So far we haven’t made it past our driveway and the kids are lucky to get out of their pajamas by noon. I only signed them up for one week of camp all summer and now I fear that I may have made a strategic error.

I don’t understand. What am I doing wrong? I mean, I never expected to be Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart but surely I can do better than this. I have several post-graduate degrees, for goodness sakes. I can figure this out, right?

How’s everyone else’s summer so far? Chillin’? Or are you ready to throw in the towel?

Good Night and Good Luck

Let us discuss sleep.

Critical to our physical and mental well-being, sleep is a very important process when it comes to continuing health. Sleep is a natural restorative cycle. It allows the body to rest and properly regenerate itself. So that the body can continue to function appropriately.

You don’t know what restorative means? You can’t understand regenerate?

Well, if you want me to be nice to you, to be overjoyed to see you, to give you loves and tickles and rainbows all day, to happily drive you around from about 8 am to 6 pm, five days a week, and provide you with at least three meals and several dozen snacks of a wide and nutritious variety, let me sleep.

If you want me to read you Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Mutant Mosquitoes from Mercury at least once and possibly several times—in a row—without rolling my eyes, barfing or losing my mind, let me sleep.

If you want me to listen to one hundred and four rather unfunny variations of:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Let me sleep!

And just so we’re clear: By “sleep” I mean a solid 6, 7 or even 8 (*gasp*) hours of me, lying in a reclining position, covered with some form of a blanket. In the dark. And quiet. With my eyes closed.

Here’s what sleep isn’t:

If I’m fetching you anything, even water, at 2 am, I’m not asleep.

If we’re hugging, I’m not asleep.

Conversation of any kind means I’m not asleep.

If I’m freezing cold and have no blankets because you’ve decided you’re sweating and the covers must be kicked off, it is quite likely I’m not asleep.

And if you’re using your cute little chubby fingers to force up my eyelids, then I’m definitely not asleep.

I’m sure you’ve noticed but not sleeping makes me bitter. It also makes me look ragged and that makes me really bitter because then I don’t just look tired—I look tired and old.

So … either sleep—without moving, talking or doing the macarena—or go back to your own bed.

Or even better, you stay here with your dad and I will go sleep in your bed. Alone.

Good night.


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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’ve been mulling around this post for quite some time now. I think there is something to discuss when it comes to our diverse ideas of what makes someone a “good” or “bad” parent. I also think there are some things we can try to hash out as a group (and guests!)

Growing up, did we not always hear our parents say how they always want us to have more than they had, be better than they were? And did we not often have times when our parents did or said things that made us pause for a moment or made us think “Wow, but they said I couldn’t do that!”  The universal response has almost always been:

“Do as I say, not as I do”

I thought about this because I have a pretty foul mouth and my son has picked up some curses. I do not curse AT him or anything (I hate that), but I occasionally let a curseword slip by when I’m around him. It is usually when I’m driving. You understand. I am working on teaching him that he should not curse, but here iss the rub: I am not opposed to cursing, as a rule. I do not feel right telling him he cannot ever curse because I believe when he is older, he can speak as he wants to. I do, however, feel compelled to teach him that he cannot do so now, as a child, and as he gets older, I will teach him about times and place where it would be inappropriate to use such language.  Growing up, I’d never curse around my father. Now, we curse when speaking to each other occasionally. I’ll never forget when I was about 25, my dad dropped the F-bomb and said “Well, you’re old enough now. I know you curse, you know I curse.” Our relationship was forever changed by a four-letter word lol.  This is just one example.

There are things I do, that I do not think are necessarily wrong for an adult to do, but I do not want my son picking up or doing right now.  I battle with feeling like a hypocrite. Someone said I am too liberal a parent and that I need to keep it “old school”.  Here is the thing though… old school is not always right. In fact, “old school” includes a LOT of things I am very much against, with regard to child-rearing. I was called a liberal parent, as if it were a bad thing. I do not see a problem with making certain allowances for your child, if that is how you want your child to be raised. Understanding society’s limitations and expectations, however, I feel compelled to make sure my son learns certain ways of being so as to not get into “trouble”. As a Black male, he is “trouble” by virtue of his existence, if you let some people tell it. So I feel even more conflict in the things I let him do, the things I teach him, and how far I let him go.

When my son asks me about drinking, I’ll tell him, like my mother told me, he can drink when he can buy alcohol. I started drinking at 14. First time I got drunk, I as so hungover, my mother said, “Now you see what I mean”. She did not beat me, ground me, or anything. I did not drink again for at least three years. I grew up knowing my mother smoked marijuana. She supported its legalization, as do I.  She taught me that smoking it was not wrong, but that it was something adults should do. I do not think she was wrong for teaching me that.

So I bring it to you, dear readers… are there things you do that you do not necessarily want your children doing, but feel weird telling them that?

Are there things you are OK with your children doing now or in the future that others may frown upon? How do you handle that?

A Mother’s Love

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s passing. She left this earth 3 years ago today. I miss her, really and truly. I get sad as I reflect on the hows and whys of her death (pancreatic cancer at 51). I get sad when I think of the little boy who looks just like her but will never know her. I get sad when I think of all of the trials I have had to go through these past couple of years without the support of a maternal figure.

Thing is, I didnt always feel so warm and fuzzy about my mother. In fact, our relationship was rocky at best. Maybe it had something to do with me being her only child. Maybe my being a girl had something to do with it. I’ve noticed that there is a very unique, often rocky relationship between a mother and her first daughter, usually because the daughter ends up being just like her or the daughter steals the father’s attention. But that isnt what this blog is about. My mother’s issues had nothing to do with me at all, actually.

My mother grew up with two sisters and her parents. Well, my grandfather was sorta there. He had another family, complete with a wife and four other children. Oh, and I’m not supposed to know that. My mother and her sisters grew up with a working mother and a working father they rarely saw (but assumed it was because of work) who had a troubled relationship. He drank, he cheated, he smacked her around, they made up, loved hard, and my mother and her sisters were exposed to all of this dysfunction. They later found out about his other family, but it was under pretenses and untrue explanations.  Couldnt quite legitimize how my eldest aunt and his next oldest child are only about 10 months apart in age. Hmmm….

They were also exposed to a predator named “Sully” who did really horrible, nasty things to them. My mother especially, the youngest.  I would write more, as I intended to write a book about their story, but on her deathbed my mother made me promise not to. See my point later about her trying to please people.

Needless to say, my mother’s life was greatly affected by this.  It was also affected by growing up in a religious household and discovering she was not a heterosexual woman. She had little desire to marry a man and have children. In fact, my dad used to date my eldest aunt, and he and my mom were just really good friends (who got high together and whoops, here I am!).  Well, since my families knew each other (my dad’s family operated the local burger joint/candy store), they kinda forced them into a marriage that lasted all of 1.5 years.  Dad kinda bounced (he later returned) so it was just me and mom, mom and me. She had no idea what to do with me, I could tell. I spend about a year living with my grandmother and rarely seeing my mother while she “tried to figure it all out”.  Funny how cyclical life is… eh?

What followed was  years of moving around, staying with this one or that one, struggling to make it, trials and tribulations that my family doesnt even know about. I won’t write them in case they are reading, but my mom and I went through a LOT. She did things, unmentionable things, to make sure I was fed, clothed, and went to school. Finally, things began to settle down for us and I began to feel safer, more secure. 

My mother wasnt a very emotionally expressive person, and until she was on her death bed, I could count on two hands the times I remembered her telling me she loved me.  She was often quiet and withdrawn.  She also tried to please others, especially her family. When they critiqued her parenting styles, she changed to try and please them. When they critiqued her personal life, she tried to accomodate them, denying herself at the same time.  Eventually, that changed when she met a woman that she would go on to spend the rest of her life with… and consequently lose me.

I had no issue with my mother being in a same-sex relationship. I initially had a problem with her hiding it from me. Then, the problem became the woman herself. I won’t give that woman anymore than one sentence to say that she was my “Sully”.

My mother often left me alone with her and my life became a miserable, horrible existence. My mother seemed to finally be happy, so I said nothing. I cried myself to sleep most nights (sleeping on a couch because, well, she had been convinced that I didnt need a bed of my own). My mother had become an activist in the LGBT community, was smiling more, had parties, had friends, she went out dancing and seemed to be alive. Who was I to steal that joy from her when I spent most of my life thinking my existence alone had stolen her chances for happiness. If it werent for me, she could have persued her dream of being a writer, yanno?

So I said nothing.

Then, I heard about going to boarding school and I jumped at the opportunity. I left at 14 and never looked back. I avoided going home for breaks by occasionally staying with friends or staying with my dad. My mom would come to visit me, which was fine when she came alone, which was rare. I was just happy to be on my own, away from that house. I guess she could tell I was pulling away from her, but she chalked it up to me becoming more independent. I began smoking, drinking, using drugs, and at 16, became sexually active.

I told her the week before she died that I got pregnant at 16 by a man who was 24. She’d had no idea.

I was still brilliant so I did well in school. I involved myelf in all types of activities. Held various leadership roles. Even won an award for all of my contributions to the community. I went on to attend an Ivy League university where I did just as well. School became my escape. I enjoyed drama clubs and writing because I could escape from my life. I was as happy as one could be, I guess.

July 2001, my mother was in an accident so severe, she was no longer able to work. She sued and won a nice chunk of money. I received just enough to pay off my tuition. Why? Someone convinced her I didnt deserve or need any of it. That same someone spent most of it.

October 2005, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given 6 months to live. February 2006, I find out I’m pregnant. October 2006, she bears witness to her first grandchild being born. April 2007, she was tired of fighting and decided it was time.

From October 2005 until April 2007, I connected with my mother in a way that I’d never been able to do before. I stopped caring about hurting her feelings. I let go of a lot of the anger and resentment, the same feelings that propelled me to greatness and fueled my desire to succeed. I focused on caring for her and beinging a new life into the world. We talked… a lot. She revealed, I revealed. It was healing in many ways. She apologized a LOT. She cried a LOT. I forgave a LOT.

And then she was gone.

And for the last three years, all I’ve been able to think of is why did I wait until she was dying to do this? Why did I hold so much in? Why couldnt I have been honest? I didn’t want to hurt someone I felt had been hurt enough in her life. I didnt want to be any more of a burden than I always felt I was.

But, like any child, I loved my mother and I just wanted to please her. I wanted her to be proud of me.  In her own ways, I know she was, even if it was hard to express it. She did, at the end. Every word I’d wanted to hear growing up, I heard those last months. So, I know she loved me. And as I’ve struggled with a failed marriage, depression, and being a first time mother, all I’ve wanted was my mommy. Here I am, again, crying myself to sleep at night.

I just needed one more year… just one.

A Hot CocoaMama

I said I was going to do better. Since the new year I’ve been waking up my eyes with my favorite Lash Extract mascara and some black eyeliner. I found a new “formula” for my hair that includes Miss Jessie’s curly pudding, and Carol’s Daughter’s Hair Milk and Twi Leave-In Conditioner. It is, admittedly, the first time my natural hair hasn’t looked (as) dry since my Momma was doing my twists, lovingly and meticulously, with B&B.

I’ve been hot recently 🙂 I presented a paper at MLA in some cute black leggings, my favorite purple dress and the mandatory tweed blazer; my version of the academic staple was fitted, and had the cutest coordinated hues of purple, pink and white. I even rocked my purple snakeskin pumps just to shake the boys up a bit.

Truth is I’ve been back and forth lately about how to “dress the part.” I spent the last three years on my feet/game in D.C. public schools, where jeans and sneaks often get you in the mood. Comfortable and relaxed I approached my day, energized, organized and with my sleeves rolled up, getting dirty with the best of ‘em. I was never as fly as my artsy, fashionista students, male and female, or as “professional” as my suited up veteran colleagues, but my look got the job done.

Over the winter break, in anticipation of my first class as “Dr. Me,” I cashed in on a merchandise credit at Tiffany’s and bought “everyday jewelry,” because I’ve found that looking plain has its perks. I am often the younger teacher that gets “mistaken,” for the student at work. Furthermore, the Plain Jane mommy routine does numbers when you are trying to get medical professionals to class you as warm, caring, educated and motivated, and you really need them to stop stigmatizing you and give the expertise your children need. I know . . . crazy!

All that being said I wish I was still turning heads, particularly mine, and then my husband’s, in that order 🙂 I have this homegirl who has been putting me to shame for years!!!!! The other day I needed her bad, and she always comes through. My daughter was admitted to the hospital for “failure to thrive,” my two-year-old son was tearing up the place with “failure to stop cutting the f*%K up,” and my husband and I needed him gone! She came and rescued both of us on green stiletto pumps, in cute tight jeans, and with a full face of perfectly applied/neutral makeup. Her hair was in an upsweep, cause she knew she didn’t have that kind of time, but even the upsweep was still as eye-catching as the A-line on her trendy, grey coat.

She and I have talked about this!!! A few months ago, while driving cross-country, I confessed how boring and tired I think I look, and told her truthfully how I admired how absolutely flawless she always is, even though I have known for forever that it takes her waayyyy tooooooooo long in the bathroom. She told me, like a true friend, that I needed to take more time to care for myself, and that I was probably putting too much time into caring for my kids and my book project. She also told me what the hell she does for that long in the bathroom, and though the details are now fuzzy, it had something to do with exfoliating and pumice stones.

Often when I go to the barbershop to take years off my face with a razor blade eyebrow arch I tell my barber, Omar, and longtime friend, that I remember when I was cute. It’s normally couched in some conversation about how adorable his new wash girl is, or a tender quip at his receding hairline. He tells me that I’m still cute, which I know is to make me feel better, but thank God it works. I would love to feel that good all that time, and know that I really brought it on.