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…

Back In the Game

My baby turned six yesterday. And though it was a day like any other, this particular birthday felt significant. When my daughter was born six years ago, I stopped working. I had always felt that the first five years in a child’s life are significant and wanted to be around for them, though it felt like such a luxury for us to try to live on one income alone.


And though I admitted it to no one, it was good timing in other ways. I had been working in a career I disliked for so long without really knowing how to shift direction into another industry I longed to be a part of. The baby provided a perfect excuse for me to step off that first roller coaster and reassess, though I assured myself and my husband that I would stay home for only one year only before I would start looking for another job.


A year and half later, my second baby was born and that stretched out my hiatus for another year and a half. And then we moved and then life happened in all its messy, dramatic glory. Six years later and my baby girl is preparing to enter first grade in a few months and my boy will turn five several months later. And I’m back at that same place I was six years ago, albeit with a few more gray hairs, and three or four more suitcases’ worth of life baggage.


I’m getting ready to step back into the race, though this time I have more clarity about what I want and maybe even more audacity. I’m intent on trying to connect to my purpose, to be of some sort of service to humanity, and to do what makes me happy. And though I’m doing it all for myself, a part of me knows how important it is for my children to have a mother who is fulfilled, productive and happy.


And if I fail … well, maybe it is equally important for my kids to see how important it is to reach for the stars, even if you can’t always touch them.

Too Rich for My Blood

Today I had to fill out a form for a grant for housing assistance. It’s for money from a fund established here at school for grad students who live on campus who have two or more kids. The grant is typically about $1,250 a quarter toward rent that runs $6,125 a quarter, a nice percentage. At the end of the application, it asks how much educational debt you have in total.

Black folk tend to feel that education is the way out. I had an almost full scholarship to Penn as an undergrad. It was full less the amount the government said your family could afford to pay, which in my case was $5,000 a year. So my student loan debt coming out was about $20,000 because, well, you know that the government has little idea of what people can really pay. And $20,000 for an Ivy-League degree really ain’t bad. At all. But then on some bad advice from said Ivy-League’s career services (I should sue them once I get my law degree), I got a Master’s from Penn, thinking it was my foot in to get a Ph.D. since I didn’t have a liberal arts background. Terminal masters degrees are often called cash cows, because you usually get little financial aid and the University makes a killing off of you. So after one year, my $20K debt became $82K. Yes, a $60K masters. I’m suing. Seriously.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because once I get accepted into the PhD program here, at Stanford, I realize that even between my husband’s salary and my PhD stipend, we can hardly afford to pay rent and buy food, let alone put the kids in day care. So here comes more loans. Year 1: $7,000. Year 2: $14,000. Year 3: the year I have to pay for law school. Guess how much? Really. Guess. UPWARDS (because my budget allows for childcare) of $50,000 (I’m actually embarrassed to say exactly how much upwards). For ONE miserable year of school.

So the total educational debt I have for 8 years of college and beyond is upwards of $150,000. And I plan on being not a high paid lawyer, but an academic. Did I make a tragic error of judgment along the way? Is it always true, like many of us, especially in the browner communities, believe, that educational debt is “good debt” that’s worth the investment?

Last week, an article was published in the NYTimes about a NYU college student who had a lot of student loan debt. It basically blamed her parent and the school for her even going to NYU “without asking many questions about whether they could afford a $50,000 annual tuition bill” because they had a “grim determination” to “do whatever they could to get [the student] into the best possible college.”

I feel like I have been doing that, doing whatever it takes to get into the best schools (hence the $60K masters degree), but perhaps at the cost of mortgaging my family’s future. But that’s because I’ve been taught to believe that I deserve the best, just like everyone else, despite money. But what’s going to happen if I come out, yes with a PhD and a law degree, but in an economic climate where the environment is screwed up and the stock market is tanking and there are hurricanes and earthquakes every other day and the world has basically gone to crap and nobody is hiring sociologists and legal academics?? And my kids are still going to need to go to good schools, and I’m still going to want them to play football (the world’s version, not the American kind), and take dance lessons, and of course, sing and play the piano. But the banks will most definitely still want their money back. They’ll call my house phone day and night and once I get that turned off they’ll call my cell phone and once I get that turned off they’ll find a way to stalk me on Facebook. That day is coming, I can smell it.

Is educational debt still always good debt? Do you, dear reader, feel as though all the education that you have and paid for (or are still paying for) has been worth it? Will you encourage your children to take out the loans to go to the school of their dreams? Or will you encourage them to be “practical”, turning away from the $50K a year schools in favor of a cheaper, but less prestigious school?

I still have about 4-5 years to go, meaning my debt will probably be around $200,000 by the time I’m done. I’m taking donations. For real. I’m not kidding.

Bookmark and Share

The Finest Things

Sacrifice. Life requires so much of it, especially when you are married, or otherwise partnered. Especially when you have children. Things don’t go smoothly unless you are willing to sacrifice something, be it something you wanted to do, or be, or have. And even if you are used to sacrifice, even if it’s been drilled in you from childhood and culturally because as women of color we are supposed to be long-suffering and give up everything for our men and our children, sometimes sacrificing sucks. Hard.

The second half of this year there are a lot of things that either my husband or I want to do. Combine that with things that we both want for the children, like swimming lessons and enrollment at an elite preschool, and you come up with an expensive docket. On a grad school budget. I’ve committed to one trip that’s a wedding for an old friend, and another that’s a wedding for a near and dear friend, but there are five others looming. One is a writing festival in Aspen that I’ve gotten a half scholarship to attend, but travel and lodging are not cheap. And it’s just for me – nothing in it for my husband or the kids. But the other five things are family things that aren’t especially important to me – weddings and reunions for friends of my husband, things that happen once in a lifetime. Things that you can’t just not go to when your husband, who never goes anywhere, who never spends money, really wants to go. And we can’t do it all.

But I want to go to Aspen.

I want to go like temper tantrum want to go. I want to shout and yell and lay on the floor and pound my fists and kick and scream until I’m hoarse. I want to wear everyone out so the universe finds a way to revolve itself around me to make what I want to do possible. I want the universe to just figure it out so money grows on trees, people get things based simply on how much they want them, most importantly I don’t have to sacrifice what I want. I want the universe to figure it out because sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten a raw deal and any bit of sunshine and happiness shouldn’t be denied to me when I can capture it just because I can’t afford it. It’s not fair.

But of course things don’t work that way. As one of my fellow law student colleagues said to me callously one day, life isn’t fair. Deal. I’ll have to take a big girl pill and suck it up and spread what little we have around and get a little bit of what I want so they, the people I love and want to see happy, can get what what they want, what they need. In the end, in lieu of a miracle, four days in Aspen will pale in comparison to seeing the joy on my husband’s face at seeing his friends married or celebrating his ten-year reunion, or knowing my children are being stimulated in a school to reach their highest potential, or are learning an essential skill like swimming that I still don’t have.

Everyone sacrifices something, sometime, for someone. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me to be here, doing this. I have expensive taste, but they – my husband, my children, my friends – are my finer things in life.

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.

Does being a good mom make me a bad friend?

I have always wanted to be a mother. I knew that I would spend time with my family and be intentional about our interactions and development. And that is exactly what I did. I make sure to have dinner made so that we can sit down as a family, eat and communicate. It’s through these times that I find out about the 9 hours of the day I am unable to be with them. My 3 year old even gets his moment to shine. So, does my commitment to my family make me a bad friend?

We all know how the grind goes. Pick up the kids, cook/prepare dinner, some play time, bath, story/book, prayer, bed. And all of this is done between 6pm and 8pm. Then there is the extra hour of “Moooommyyyyyyyyyy, I have to go potty.” “Can I have a hug?” “I have to ask you something.” So, now it’s 9pm and I finally have the opportunity to engage in adult conversation and reconnect with my husband. So, when do I have time for my friends?

One of my bff’s and I try to have mommy night at least once a month. But, I’m talking about the old school yacking it up on the phone with your girlfriend. I don’t get to do that anymore. Especially since most of my girlfriends are also cocoamamas. So, if it’s not my kids, it’s her kids that need something and may distract us from the phone call. So, how does one balance being a good mom and a good friend?

I believe that a good friend understands. When I am able to sneak a good phone conversation in, I try to get the most out of it. And, I’ve had to stop apologizing. I also had to tell myself that the phone works both ways. I can receive calls just as I can make them. So, I have to stop feeling guilty if I don’t reach out.

How do you balance both?

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 Talk

Last Friday, my soon-to-be ex had “The Talk” with my 7 year old step-daughter. “The Talk” meaning the “Benee and I are not married anymore” talk.

Without me.

We had previously agreed that we would sit her down and tell her together, so that we could both express our love for her and for our family, and reassure her that it was nothing that she did. He’d picked her up from home (I’m usually the one who does that since I have the car) and met me in Manhattan. Our plan was to pick up the boy and spend a nice family evening together.  When I called him to see where they were, he said, “I need you to get out of the car and give J a big hug because I had “the talk” with her.”  Immediately, I was angry. How could he do that without me? He explained that she was asking questions and he felt he had to answer them. He said that she was crying and asking what happened, why was this happening. My heart was breaking as he spoke, but I got out of the car and as they approached, I grabbed her and gave her a big hug.

In those moments, I held her close and I felt broken. All of the pain of everything that led to this point of having “the talk” came rushing back and I was hurt, sad, angry, bitter, and depressed all at once. But, I knew that I had to put on a strong front, a happy face, and be supportive of her needs at the time. I admit I was hurt and disappointed that he talked to her without me, but then I understood that he felt the need to ease his daughter’s confusion and I allowed him that.

We had a good family evening. She’d been asking why sometimes she stayed with her daddy at grandpa’s house and why sometimes she stayed with me and her brother, without daddy. It was time to explain and I think we put it off for so long because we had not yet tied up our loose ends. We didn’t want to confuse her until we were absolutely positive things we done with us.

And they are.

So now, the next task is handling the more sensitive task of ensuring that the 3 year old boy comes to some understanding of the situation. At least, whatever his 3 year old mind can handle.  He seems to have a confused sense of “home” and that troubles me. This past weekend, he called me “Abuela” at least 5 times. “Abuela! Ummmm Mommy…” was how he started several sentences. That troubles me because I already have issues with the choice we made to have him stay with his father and grandparents during the week and me on weekends. I don’t want to disturb his amazing development as a little intelligent, funny, precocious boy. I’ve read the statistics about the effects of “broken homes” on young people and we’re doing what we can to counter the negative effects by wrapping him up with the love of extended family.

But I’m still his mommy. And I’m still her “other” mother, as she has always known me to be. I over think the future, especially since her father is already focused on the woman he wants to be his next wife. I overthink how maybe, eventually, I will become obsolete to her. Will she still think of me as her second mommy? Or will his new wife replace me and that precious position I’ve held for the last 4.5 years? Will she even remember these early years and all of the love and attention I gave her? Will she remember who taught her how to shop and coordinate her outfits, who did her hair on the weekends, who took her to get her nails done? Will I just be her brother’s mother after this new woman has replaced my position as her father’s wife?

It hurts, at times, when I think of the effect this has and will have on our children. They are so young, so innocent. This is such a huge period of adjustment and I feel we have a lot of careful work to do to make sure they don’t lose their sense of safety and stability. I admit, I’m nervous… I don’t know what to do, how to be….

And that scares the crap out of me.

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.

“Can I Sleep With You Mommy?”

This question has come from my son more frequently recently, and I find myself unable to say “No”.

Yesterday was my first day of leaving my new job and picking my son up from his abuela’s house and taking him home. At first, he asked “Is daddy coming?” and I had to reply “No, baby he isn’t”. He kind of frowned, but then sighed and said “Ooookay”. He then ran around the house, playing around, not wanting to get fully dressed. I spoke with his abuela and she said “You know, if you ever want to just leave him overnight, it’s fine”. I had to explain to her that it is important for me to spend time alone with him and bring him to my home, which is the home he has known most of his life.

I’m noticing he is showing a preference for being there. And why shouldn’t he? He has more family members there, grandparents are always nicer, and it’s far more stable. I told her that there may be some nights that I come and take him out for a few hours and bring him back, but for now, I’m working on getting him more used to going back and forth. Part of me wonders if I should be doing even that, since I plan to move at the end of the year.

Maybe during this time, he should have as little back and forth as possible. Maybe, I ought to put my own desires to stake my claim as an equal parent aside, and focus on creating more stability for him. Maybe, I do need this time to myself. I don’t know. I guess I need to discuss it further with his father after this week is done.

This is so hard. It makes me even more angry at things that transpired between his father and I that led to this point. I’m in a much better place now, and my life is going so wel in other areas, so I’m trying to not let any negative emotions take over right now.

But it’s still so hard.

So for now, if he wants to sleep with me when he is here, I will let him. He misses his Mommy and wants to feel my warmth and comfort as much as he can.I will give him whatever he wants and needs right now.

That’s what Mommies do.