A Change is Gonna Come

The single most contentious thing in my relationship with my mother is that she has always predicted gloom and doom about just about everything. There is not a doomsday scenario, accident and downside that my mother has not already envisioned in some form and expressed her opinion about quite vocally and repeatedly. And I have always resented her for what I perceived to be nonstop negativity.

And so imagine my shock when I observed last week that I have turned into a walking, talking warning label on all things random—from Red 40 food dye to fluoridated water to pesticide-laden fruit to partially hydrogenated oils.

For some reason it came to a head for us last weekend. A well-meaning friend offered my 4-year-old a treat and my boy looked him in the eye and asked: “Does it have high fructose corn syrup in it? If it does, I can’t eat it because I will die.” (For the record I never said he would die.)

And later that night, my 6-year-old asked her father during bath time if the water he was bathing her in had fluoride in it and whether that fluoride was going to get absorbed into her body through her skin. “Because you know, dad,” she told him earnestly, “our skin is our body’s biggest organ.”

It is all my fault, of course, every last bit of it. I have been obsessed with healthy living and a good diet since my health crisis several years ago. But after watching my small children parroting my worries about degenerated foods, environmental toxins and contaminated water supplies, I am appalled at myself. How unfair to fill their lives with bogeymen to be feared, lurking at every meal, in every lunch box, cupboard and grocery store.

It is one thing to educate the kids and help them make better choices. It’s yet another to raise them full of angst and paranoia about unseen, unknown evils.

I’m afraid I have not used wisdom or good judgment, though in my defense I had good intentions. (And lest we forget: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.)

Clearly some kind of change is in order. There is a balance to be struck here. Somewhere, somehow, someone is doing it well. But for me, it’s all somewhat hazy.

on forgiveness.

Something strange happened this week. Not strange in the usual sense of the word, you know, the  eerie-odd-frightening-makes you wonder kind of happening. Noo, this was different. More of a Wayne Dyer/Iyanla/Marianne Williamson, transformative kind of strange.   For most of my childhood I SWORE on unborn babies and my very LIFE that I would NEVER EVER IN A MILLION BILLION years become like “them”. Who? You know, “them”, the ones entrusted with new life before time began. The ones who were given the responsibility to love and protect  unconditionally. Yeah, “them”, the human ones, who caught up in their own consciousMESS, forgot to do and say the things that might have made a sojourn here a wee bit easier. The “I love yous”, the “good job baby”, “I’m proud of you”. “Them”. They who maybe skipped over the fine print that read something like:  “You promise to love, hold, cuddle, tickle, and honor this life that you’ve been chosen to bring into the world of the seen…”

I was well aware of the job description when I signed up 16 years ago. I read every book, magazine, internet article, and pamphlet on child rearing and development I could get my hands on. Did everything within my power (and beyond) to create an idyllic and cornucopic love fest for my child. He would want for nothing. He would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was loved beyond measure, unconditionally, relentlessly and eternally.  Leading by example was my mantra.  Being honest and open yet firm and consistent would be my way.  I vowed that when he grew up, he’d be self-confident, strong, and independent.  No  ma’am, he will NEVER be able to use ME as an excuse for ANY egregious behavior OR emotional dysfunction… To be SUPERMOM, unlike these folk I see cussing their kids out, neglecting them, abusing and abandoning them.  I would be different.

But I’ve made mistakes. I’ve had challenges. I’ve done and said things toward my child that I regret.  And each time, I collapse into a fit of despair and sorrow which invariably leads to self-immolation…  I tried. I didn’t want to be like “them”. I spent 16 years putting everything I could into being a good mom. I did everything I could, that I knew how to do… wait… wait…. I did the best I could with the resources I had. I did the best I KNEW HOW TO DO…

Damn.

Maybe I am like “them” after all.

I did the BEST I KNEW HOW TO DO…

How might my life be different if I acknowledged that we are ALL doing the best we know how to do? How might my relationship with my parents have turned out? My siblings?

I’m sure I’ve heard this a million times before now. This idea resides dead heart center of forgiveness…of self and certainly others.

But in this moment, it feels brand. New.

strange.

The Pre-K Shuffle

I’m currently trying to figure out a plan for Pre-K for my son. I thought I had it all figured out, but things fell through. 

Here’s the conflict:

In NYC, public pre-k is free and open to any child born in 2006. However, there not enough slots for every child in the city to attend Pre-K. This is not that bad because there are many day care centers and private schools that have Universal Pre-K programs. However, entry into these schools is done by lottery, with preference given to children who reside in the district. You can select up to 12 schools and wait and hope that your child not only get into one of your top choices, but into any school at all. They let you know up front that they do NOT guarantee placement.  They notify parents of placement about two weeks before children need to register. Ok…

The affordable Pre-K programs at various centers or those run by Community-Based Organizations are a slim option because they reserve most of their slot for children in the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) system or Human Resources Administration (HRA). The former are usually foster children, abused children, etc. The latter are children whose parents are on welfare or are so low-income they qualify for financial assistance for childcare from the city.  The reserve these slots for them because that money is guaranteed and they receive incentives for accepting more of those children.  That leaves private payers like us out of those affordable options. Ok…

Specialized schools are an option, but there is a lottery there too AND they cost more money than I’d feel comfortable paying. However, those lotteries aren’t fair lotteries and it is really about who you know. We could pull some strings, but I know I’d always feel bad about going about it the “wrong” way.

Private schools cost a GRIP!! One places was $383/week, another $1700/month. And this is for 9-3. Extra if you need coverage from 8-6.  Whoa… Ok…

The main issue: I’m moving. I’m not renewing my lease and my heart is set on moving one state over. Its a lower cost-of-living, it gives me more distance from his father, its a new fresh environment; I can truly start over. However, with this Pre-K situation in limbo, I’m not sure I can do that. For the public lottery, I put schools by my job and schools by his dad’s home and job. I dont LIVE in any of the districts though, so I’m not feeling too great about this. The schools by my job are SO amazing!!! It would mean G living with me full time though, which wasnt the original plan.  It would be a dream to get him in there, but its highly unlikely. The schools by his dad are so-so, but I figure its only Pre-K so he won’t suffer too much. PLus that would go along with the plan for his dad to keep him until he starts Kindergarten, giving me time to get settled, hit the reset button, and get things in line for him.

This is stressing me out!!! All this just to make sure your kid is on the right path. Jumping through hurdles, possibly sacrificing peace of mind, just so he gets off to the right start. Boys have it harder as it is… so I’m being really proactive about this. I just want what’s best for my son and my city is leaving me few viable options. Too rich to be poor, too poor to be rich! I think he will thrive in any environment, but I can tell more and more that he needs to be challenged.

What 3 y/o responds, “Why… certainly, mommy” when you ask if he would like something to drink??

Crossing my fingers and waiting for August…

Growing Up Too Fast

I was in the car with my 10 year old daughter listening to a segment on a morning radio show in which a listener asks the host for advice. In this particular letter the listener was a young lady who was in an abusive relationship, had been taken advantage of as a pre-teen.

I took it as an opportunity to discuss a few things with my daughter; first & most importantly she will NOT be dating anyone at age 12 (as had the young lady who wrote the letter). Secondly, if she ever, at any age, found herself in a position where a man was hurting her physically then she was immediately to tell someone. Perhaps the subject matter was a little strong for a 10 year old, perhaps not. I need her to know that there is no reason to ever be physically abused by someone. I needed her to know today and forever that that is the case.

As a person who was in a violent relationship it is especially important to me that women and girls understand that there is no normalcy, no rationalizing and no expectation that they be understanding or patient in these situations. Make a plan and GET OUT.

Things I didn’t discuss with my daughter but need some attention:

  1. Why is a 12 year old allowed to be alone with a high school boy?
  2. How do you have 4 children before age 23?
  3. What kind of people allow a 27 year old man to date a 12 year old? I don’t care how young he looked and how old she looked, somebody knew how old they actually were and should have said something!
  4. As a community, how can we make it clear what is acceptable to us, for our children. It seems that shame is non-existent these days

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic; how you have addressed or plan to address the issues brought forth.

Related links:

RAINN Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

Love Is Respect – National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

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?

Five for Fighting

I was talking to a co-worker recently and the topic of kids fighting came up. The conversation started with my concerns about my middle daughter going to middle school next year. My co-worker mentioned that her niece had begun taking a switchblade to school because she HAD TO for protection. I mentioned that I had never been in a fight as a child, which struck her as odd. She then relayed the story of how she had once come home crying and her father said to her that she had to go back out and kick the ass of whoever had made her cry or that he would kick her ass. And so she fought.

I’ve never had that conversation and I don’t plan to. I can almost understand the logic (show & prove, do it this one time and then people won’t mess with you) but I don’t like the message that it sends – that there must be fighting, whether at home or away. With so much violence in the world, and so much of it directed at us, I just don’t feel comfortable encouraging more of it. I’ve always thought of home as a place away from the stress of the world, and encouraged my kids to feel the same way. My parents were there to protect & support me, not beat me for feeling hurt or angry or confused.

My sister and I were not allowed to fight each other at home. My mom’s mantra – a house divided against itself cannot stand. And so there was no fighting. My kids are not allowed to hit each other. They are not close in age (15, 10 and 3) so it doesn’t come up too often but they know that it is not cool.

What are your thoughts? Did you get the “kick their ass or I’ll kick yours speech”? Would you allow your child to carry a weapon to school?

If your child is being bullied at school, please check out http://stopbullyingnow.com/

Andrea is a mom of 3 (son is 15, daughters are 10 and 3), and a serial entrepreneur. She is currently working as a clinical informatics consultant, and couldn’t do it without the help of her mom who is her nanny while she’s out of town Mon – Thurs. She is a great believer in personal responsibility, good grammar and the power of ice cream. She is an omnivore who loves to cook, is trying to eat healthier and give her kids fewer chemicals. She needs to exercise consistently and drink more water. She’s in the process of getting divorced from a nice guy.
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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.

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?

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.

The Case of the Missing Cocoa Mama

There once was a little girl who never dreamed of her wedding or her knight in shining armor or her babies. She dreamt, instead, of rocket ships and space and knights (but the kind that do battle on horses with long weapons). She grew up and up, went to school for many many years, got married, and in due course had babies. Two of them. A boy and a girl. And she fell in love with these children, so much so that she decided to stop working and stay home to raise them.
 
Life went along, with its ups and downs, and she with it. One day an odd notion struck her. At first, it was this tiny little nag in the back of her head and then it grew louder and louder until it was a constant, nonstop roar.
 
Then out of nowhere, she opened her eyes and saw the reality of her life. She was NOT raising her children. These blessed, angelic, demonic creatures were, in fact, raising themselves for the most part. She herself appeared to be in an alternate universe, a matrix hooked up to computers and cell phones and blackberries and email and text messaging and large, flat-screen televisions.
 
And when she found this out for sure, our heroine roared with despair and anger, and tried to free herself, to be with her children. But the cords and attachments were long and deeply rooted, and the separation was not so easy. Her mind drifted. She grew restless and irritated.
 
In the new year, she resolved to somehow find a way to bring balance. To raise her children as she vowed to do and to raise herself as she aims to do. To be more present, more prayerful, more grateful, with more purpose.
 
Welcome to your life, Cocoa Mama. It has been waiting for you.
 
Love always, Nazie