Color Her Gone

The instructor of my “Home With Baby” class likes to tell us that breastfed babies are “color me gone;” having been properly nurtured at the breast, they eagerly run off to explore their environment, checking in with mom only momentarily before heading off again.  This week my daughter started crawling, and she is definitely gone!  Previously having been content to be held and carried around the house, she is now perpetually squirming in my arms, wanting to be placed on the floor.  Once down, she quickly moves away from me, off to examine some new corner of the room.  While I don’t believe that breastfeeding is a requirement for raising a “properly nurtured child” (whatever that means!), I do believe that one of our first tasks as parents is to create with our children bonds so stable and secure that they develop the courage to head out into the world without us.  Having cultivated that courage through nurturing, our second task is to let them go.

At only 9 months into motherhood, I know it’s too early to start writing overwrought pieces about letting my baby go.  But the truth is that I’ve been letting her go in small ways almost every single day, although figuring out when to do so isn’t always easy.  My daughter’s first solid food was Cheerios cereal.  In the beginning, she couldn’t eat them without assistance; they would stick to the palm of her hands, or she would drop them on the way to her mouth.  She would become frustrated, sometimes crying and pulling her hair.  It broke my heart to see her so discouraged; my stomach literally turned in knots. And so, when she started to cry, I quickly picked up a Cheerio and placed it in her mouth.  But eventually, I had to stop helping, leaving her to independently develop the killer pincer grasp she uses to accurately pick up the cereal today.  I had to let her be—had to let her go—so that she could discover her capabilities by herself.  A few weeks ago, she started trying to pull herself up into a standing position.  Her frustration again presented itself and in response, I obligingly placed her in the upright position she desired.  Again, however, I had to let her go.  Last Thursday, I walked into her room after she had woken from a nap to find her standing at the railing of her crib.  The smile on her face as she watched me enter the room made it clear that my delight at her mastery of this skill was matched only by her delight in having realized that she was capable of the mastery on her own.

This process—this letting go in small, but regular, intervals—can only end in heartbreak for me.  My husband and I already joke about the tears we will both shed when we head home after dropping her off at college for the first time.   We dramatically envision watching her image grow smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror as we drive further and further away.  We imagine that it might take us days, even weeks (but not too many weeks), to fully embrace the return of the freedoms we gave up 9 months ago: going to the movies or eating at a restaurant on a whim; watching TV late into the evenings, with no threat of a 3AM feeding; sleeping as late as we’d like on Sunday mornings.  And yet, we throw ourselves completely into the process anyway.  We hold her, and kiss her, and rock her to sleep at night.  I go to her if she does wake at 3, and sing and nurse her back to sleep, waiting until she is completely limp to place her in her crib.  I don’t force her to engage with people with whom she doesn’t want to engage.  I expose her to new places, new noises, new people, all while holding her, waiting for her to ask to be put down.  Her father’s is the first face she sees in the morning; mine is the last face she sees at night.  To the best of our abilities, we try to show her that she is secure with us; that despite the turbulence she may encounter in the world, there will always be peace in our arms.  She is now taking off without us, barely casting us a glance over her shoulder as she crawls across the room after an object that has caught her interest.

Sometimes when I’m playing with her on the floor or in the rocker, my daughter uses my body to pull herself up.  Once standing, she clumsily throws her arms around my neck.  Usually, she is after an object behind me, or eager to touch the cushion on the back of the chair.  Every once in a while, however, she lays her head in the crook of my neck, and becomes still.  I quickly wrap my arms around her, for I know the moment will not last long.  I breathe in her sweet baby smell, and try to hear the message I believe she is conveying to me: “don’t worry mommy; I’m always leaving you, but I am never really gone.”  And just like that, a second later, she is off again, exiting my arms as quickly as she entered them.

Cocoa Sibling Love

Here at Cocoamamas we have a rotation for posting, so I hope I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes. But today is my birthday, and something came up that I just felt the need to post. My brother is just 11 months younger than me, and as children we were very close. Over the years we’ve drifted apart a bit, due to geography and interests and time, but the love is still very strong. And he is a person that never quite ceases to amaze me.

I’ve taken a bit of a facebook break lately, but I knew that facebook lets everybody know its your birthday, so I logged on. And of course, lots of birthday shout-outs. But there was also a little note that my brother had on his page, entitled “My Sister: Carrying the Torch.” I clicked to his webpage, and I found this:

My sister is 11 months older than I. And being that we are our parents’ only two children, one of us is bound to be the first (or only) to do lots of things. Thankfully, i have a sister who has been willing to carry the torch, so to speak, for the two of us.

My parents were very adamant about us kids acheiving highly in school. My mother checked our homework nightly. So on the nights when my sister’s work was unacceptable and she went crying back to her room, my mother’s sharp eye for schoolwork excellence had been — luckily for me — dulled before viewing my efforts.

Naturally, my sister skipped a grade in elementary; attended the most prestigious high school in Philadelphia (the same HS that rejected my application two years later despite my having a sister as a character reference); went to an Ivy League college on full scholarship; and is now working on a Master’s (or is it PhD… probably both). My last semester of formal education? I was still falling asleep in lectures.

My sister went and had her own kids first, relieving me of the burden of the “kids” questions at family gatherings. Every parent wants their kids to have kids — my sister went and took care of that for us.

Well, today is Latoya’s birthday. And even though she rarely returns my calls in a timely fashion (or my texts at all), I love her and want to send her a public BDay well-wish. Enjoy it!

Of course, I have some objection to the phone call and text message thing (my mom just told me that yesterday, that he said I don’t return his calls) but I otherwise can’t imagine getting something more beautiful for your birthday.

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.

I’m Doing What’s Best, Right?

I am a newly single mom, trying to navigate through all of the “stuff” that comes with going through a divorce and establishing a workable co-parenting agreement. It can be difficult at times, and I was recently made aware by someone outside of my situation that my emotional connection to the situation is still strong. I find myself upset about things on higher levels than I should be, I have been irritable, listless, melancholic, and a myriad of other things.

I’m supposed to be happy. Yet, there are days when I just want to curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out. There are so many positive things going on for me, and I swear I try my best to focus on those things. But every now and then, the darkness grips me and negativity takes over.

I’m a woman in a non-traditional role. I don’t see my son every day. I see him about 3 weekends a month.  With my new job and the responsibilities that come with that, as well as my overwhelming need for “space” and time to get myself together physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually post-divorce, I gave over primary care of my son to his father and his extended family.  I’ve grappled with this since agreeing to it because, as one can imagine, the feelings of being a “bad mom”, feelings of selfishness, questioning if I will be forgotten all come up from time to time.

Why do we, as women, feel like we have to take on the primary responsibility of raising our children? And why do we, as society, look down more upon women who take the secondary role than men? It’s like we accept, or in some cases expect, men to not be equal parents, so when they leave or take the secondary role, it doesn’t seem to phase us.  But when a woman does it, there is little sympathy or understanding.

I’m doing what’s best, in my opinion, for my son, and most importantly, for myself.  If I’m not well… I can’t be a good mother. I just need some time, alone, for me to get it all together.

And I have to forgive myself for feeling negative or selfish about it.

Rat Race: One Mile Up and to the Left

In a little more than a week from today, we will be receiving a slip of paper in the mail that may change our lives in quite significant ways for many years to come.

When we first moved to California from New York City, our kids were still so young (1 and 2) that we hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to schooling. Right before we were leaving New York, though, I had the opportunity to observe how several of my friends—both the ones whose kids were going private and the ones who were going public—began maneuvering for the schools they were interested in. Now I have NEVER been good at “maneuvering.” My personality is such that I can speak to anyone and everyone unless I have an agenda or need something and then I can barely look them in the eye! It’s something of an oddity.  

And so I breathed a sigh of relief at the idea that we would be bypassing the competitive NYC school scene by moving to the “wide open” schools of Northern California.

Someone hand this woman a clue!

Since we had no idea where we would be living in the Bay Area, I decided to put in an application at the preschool where the child of one of our few friends here—a Stanford professor—attended school. I applied in May for a September start date, which I thought was more than reasonable. I also thought that once I arrived, I could look around and see if there were any other alternatives that would work better for us.

Once I got to Northern Cali, it became clear quickly that the school scene, though less overt, was no different from the one in New York. All the “good” schools—that is, the highly sought-after ones—were, well, highly sought after and so completely jam-packed to capacity. The remaining options reminded me of one of those stores where, at first glance, the clothes looks cute but then once you start trying things on, everything’s just a tiny little bit jacked—the sleeves are too long or the middle’s too baggy or the logo says Prado instead of Prada.

What about the school for which we had already submitted an application? Well, we had quite unwittingly applied to what was probably the hardest-to-get-into preschool in the entire state, a university lab-school where people put their kids on the waiting list the moment they are born. I’m sure you’re having a good laugh and indeed it was funny once we were told the full story. And we heard not a word from them until quite literally the day before school started when I got a phone call from the director of admissions who told me they had a spot for my daughter. (The off-topic moral of the story here: Don’t ever assume something can’t be happen because other people tell you it can’t happen.) I don’t know why we got in. I have my suspicions—though I don’t think it’s the obvious because the school is very diverse—but there you have it.

When it came time for Kindergarten, our natural and first choice was our local public school. It’s close by, lovely and there is a Spanish immersion program we were excited about. At some point during the school year, though, it became clear that as much as we loved the school and the parents, it was not going to meet the particular needs of our child.  And so we started looking for an alternative. We found it in the form of an innovative private school, just up the hill from us. It was love at first sight from the moment we stepped on campus—the kind of school that makes you want to go back to being a child so you could go there! And it just got better as we learned about their philosophy, programs and teaching.

Alas, as with all things in life there is a downside or two:  1) It is quite difficult to get into; and 2) It is wildly expensive.

Boy, am I having déjà vu of the Manhattan schooling rat race.

We threw caution to the wind—I do that well and drag my poor husband along—and applied. And with each step, we fell in love with the school and its philosophy of teaching more and more. We know our daughter’s chances of getting in are remote at best. And we also have no idea how we are going to pay if she does get in. Seriously. No idea.

But I keep repeating to myself:  If it’s meant to be, God and the universe will provide.

Whose Children Are These?

I am conflicted when I read about the orphans taken out of Haiti in the days after the devastating earthquake there.  By now, we’ve all heard the story of the missionary group that improperly removed children from Haiti, despite repeated warnings to their leadership that they lacked the authority to do so.  Lest we conclude this was just the mistake of misguided, but well-intentioned ordinary people who didn’t know any better, the U.S. government has also been responsible for improperly conceived plans to take children out of Haiti.  Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, with the support of the Obama administration, successfully organized an airlift of 54 Haitian children who were supposedly in the process of being adopted, despite being aware that not all of the children were orphans, or even in the adoption process.  It is not, however, only rescue missions and airlifts that give me pause.  In the days after the earthquake, a feel-good story surfaced of a widowed white woman who had all but completed the adoption process for twin babies in Haiti, a boy and girl.  With the help of the U.S. embassy and a non-profit group, she was able to hasten her adoptive childrens’ arrival in the U.S. after the quake.  When reading the article, I scanned the page for a picture, wanting, in particular, to see the little black girl.

Children need and deserve supportive homes where they will be loved and taken care of.  My child is in a home with two parents who adore her and are committed to her well-being, no matter the sacrifices that her well-being will require.  I am in no position to deny that to any other child, regardless of whether that child is of the same race as his or her adoptive parents.

There is something unsettling, however, about the speed with which these children were improperly (and, likely, illegally) taken out of their home country.  I see a troubling arrogance behind the intentions of the missionaries and the U.S. government: the assumption that anywhere but Haiti would be better for those children; the assumption that the life Americans could provide for the children would surely be better than any life Haitians could provide for them in Haiti.  The assumption, even, that whites looking to adopt these children would necessarily be capable of raising a black child in the United States.

Staring at the picture of the little girl, I first wondered, “has this mother mastered the most basic of parenting tasks for those fortunate enough to raise a black child—that of grooming a black child’s hair, in all it’s curly and kinky glory?”  More substantively, I questioned whether she had grappled with the harder questions, like how race will impact the twins’ educational experience.  Has she considered the assumptions that teachers may make about their intelligence and capability on account of their dark skin?  Is she, and the other white adoptive parents implicated in these news articles, prepared to confront the lack of celebrated role models for their adopted children; to counter societal preferences for blue eyes and straight blond hair that their brown children do not have?  In the hopes of raising a “colorblind” child, will these parents errantly avoid discussions about race and racism in their home, thus leaving these babies to draw conclusions based on their observations of a world that inevitably places black and brown people at the bottom of a social hierarchy?  Have these parents confronted their own beliefs about race, both conscious and unconscious?  Have they considered how their own understanding of race, or a lack thereof, will affect their ability to parent these children?  Considered, even, whether their own psyches harbor the very same assumptions that allow missionary groups and government officials to disregard the right of a sovereign black nation to control when and how their children might be removed from their country?  Do any of these white parents believe themselves to be superior parents for these black children because they are, well, white?  Note, I haven’t even begun to address what the adoptions mean for the loss of Haitian identity among these children.

My suggestion is not that being white should necessarily preclude white people from adopting black children.  No race has the monopoly on properly raising children, and black children do not “belong” to only black parents.  Indeed, to open your heart and home to a child you did not conceive is a beautiful thing.  But like any adoptive parent, you shouldn’t be deemed fit to adopt a child if you’re not prepared to address the unique circumstances of that child.  Growing up as a person of color can be challenging enough; to grow up without parents who can understand—or worse, refuse to acknowledge—that experience is doubly difficult.  It would be a mistake for a white parent to assume that because race is not a factor in their own life, that it won’t be a factor in the lives of their black adoptive children.

Even I, a black mother, struggle with properly contextualizing race in my daughter’s life.  And if I can struggle, then I’m left wondering about how these white adoptive parents are faring.  Who, I wonder, are the best parents for these black children?  To what type of family can a black child properly be said to belong?

Raising Non-Racist Kids

I don’t know if I’ve extolled the virtues of this book enough via the internet, although I’ve certainly done so for my in-person folks. I mentioned, and my husband bought, NurtureShock solely for the chapter on race, because news articles had convinced me that these people thought like I did, and better yet, had great data to back it up. For example, something I’ve believed for a long time, is that you cannot teach anti-racism or even have successful integration if you can’t talk about race. Same for our children. Here’s this writer’s take on what NutureShock says we should not do, if we want to raise anti-racist children:

Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”

Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.

Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that <insert your ethnicity here> is better than everybody else.

Despite the evidence, it continues to amaze me that parents think that not talking about race and racism will somehow protect their children or make them colorblind. For white parents, NurtureShock’s authors do a great job of striking down that idea. Not talking to white children about race makes them especially susceptible to belief that being white is better than being any other color. Without active push-back from parents (and I would argue educators), white children do not learn to be colorblind, but rather learn what is reflected all around them – that white people are superior.

While the chapter does not go into much about what racial and ethnic minority parents should do to ensure that their children are not racist, I think much of the same advice goes for <put your race and ethnicity> parents too. In fact, I think not talking to your kids about race and racism is even more dangerous for kids of color than for whites.

Why? Well, if white children are coming to understand their superiority, and perhaps other latent messages about other folks, why would we not assume that kids of color are not as well? In other words, as white children learn to internalize the racial and ethnic hierarchy, so do kids of color. Whether you like it or not. Given this, as parents of color I think its even more important for us to talk to our children about race and racism, if just simply to counteract the negative messages about themselves that they receive on a daily basis. Children as young as 3 understand race.

Many parents of color that I talk to just feel that talking about race before their kids bring it up encourages them to “see race,” and this belief is something parents are heavily invested in, no matter how much research I tout. True, people of color come to learn the racial hierarchy at some point in their lives. Unlike whites, they most likely do not have the privilege to ignore it or act like its not there. But I would suggest that instilling positive, anti-racist messages from a young age help tremendously in being able to put the social hierarchy in perspective as they get older, and to better understand the world around them. Consider this:

But Harris-Britt explained that if you’re reading a picture book to a child, if you are pointing out the red of a balloon, or the yellow of a lion’s fur, you can also point out the brown of a person’s skin.

Ignoring the color of skin, yet dutifully pointing out the color of every inanimate object and animal, only sends a message to children that talking skin color is taboo.

I grew up in a house filled with books about race and racism; my mother read black literature; my father worked someplace where he was the only black person. I was never taught to hate anyone, but I also wasn’t necessarily taught to love my black self. I don’t remember explicitly talking about race, but do remember hearing adult conversations about racism, and watching Eyes on the Prize. I remember being in elementary school, a school that was in my neighborhood and therefore 99% black. There was one white boy, maybe when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. And the most I can remember about him is thinking, “Wow, his family must be really bad off if he has to go to school with us.” Some way, some how, I understood that whites were up here, and we were somehow down here. I don’t think its simply because of segregation in schools; I remember feeling the same way when I saw white families in the neighborhood, or the one old white lady on the block who couldn’t afford to move when all the black families came into that part of town. Consider this, about school desegregation:

Stephan found that in only 16 percent of the desegregated schools examined, the attitudes of whites toward African-Americans became more favorable. In 48 percent of the schools, white students’ attitudes toward blacks became worse. African-American attitudes were also mixed, but overall were significantly less dismal. African-Americans attitudes toward whites improved38 percent of the time, and turned in the negative direction 24 percent of the time.

I realized how race was tied to class because my parents didn’t have a car, and we had to get a hack back from the supermarket, like many of the black people I knew. Intuitively, I knew this:

When its students were polled if they’d like to live in a diverse neighborhood when they grow up, about 70 percent of the nonwhite high-school juniors said they wanted to. But only 37 percent of whites wanted to. Asked if they’d like to work in a racially diverse setting when they were an adult, only 40 percent of the whites said yes.

But maybe if I’d been specifically taught about slavery, its evils, Jim Crow and redlining, along with messages that of positive associations, I could have made better sense of what race really meant. Perhaps in being told the reality, maybe I would have been more indignant, more outraged rather than passive and acquiescent. Maybe with some active anti-racist parenting, for both white children and children of color, we can avoid this type of thinking for our children.

Billboards and Conspiracy Theories

The more news coverage the “Too Many Aborted” billboards in Atlanta get, the angrier I become.

It never ceases to amaze me how much time and money are spent trying to prevent women from obtaining abortions, rather than trying to support women when they have their babies.  If women could be sure that in this, the wealthiest country in the world, they would be guaranteed adequate housing, nutrition, medical care and education for their children, they might make different decisions when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.  The scant attention and resources paid by anti-abortion groups to these issues leaves me with no choice but to conclude that it is not about “respecting life;” it’s about controlling me.

But now the movement is targeting black women, and them’s fightin’ words.

When the Supreme Court hands down decisions that burden a woman’s right to make choices regarding her reproduction, that burden is disproportionately borne by poor black and brown women.  Wealthy white women have access to private health care should they need to terminate a pregnancy.  That luxury is not always afforded to the poor and working class, making those decisions anything but race-neutral.  When powerful whites try to control my reproduction, it starts feeling like a plantation up in here.

And now, anti-abortion whites are using racism against ME to further THEIR cause.  The billboards in Atlanta, as well as media projects like Maafa 21, suggest that abortion is all part of a grand conspiracy to eliminate black folks.  Legitimately distrustful of the government and medical establishment (due, in no small part, to racist and unethical governmental research projects like the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment), the black community is becoming increasingly receptive to the suggestion, despite the fact that the conspiracy theory–like most conspiracy theories–is based only on half-truths.

So, let me get this straight: white anti-abortion advocates get to capitalize on America’s very own racist past (and present) in their pursuit to control my black body?  The irony would make me laugh…if I wasn’t so pissed off.

Who is the “Fairest” of the Them All?

Don’t want to beat a dead horse here. But last month’s issue of Vanity Fair with the nine lily-skinned–albeit lovely and talented–young women with the banner declaring them the acting talent for the next decade really pissed me off. And I’m just not over it. 

The whole decade?

The last time I was this bitter was back in 2000 when Vogue featured Gwyneth Paltrow with a headline that screamed something about her being the “It-girl for the Millennium.” I’m sure that Ms. Paltrow is a fine human being but wasn’t the last millennium the millennium of the blonde, blue-eyed beauties? Do they get this one too?

Just so that we are clear: I am committed to the principle of unity. I believe at my core that at the end of the day there is only one race and that is the human race. And everything in my life bears witness to this belief.

Here is what I don’t love: Unfairness. Injustice. And piles of crap handed to me like it’s chocolate cake.

Have you ever heard of the doll experiments conducted in Harlem by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark back in the late 1930s? These series of experiments found that black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black ones. That when asked to fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin, they frequently chose a lighter shade than was accurate. And most devastatingly, that when asked, African American children gave the color “white” attributes such as good and pretty, and the color “black,” bad and ugly. These experiments caused an uproar back in the 30s and contributed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.   

Oh no, you say! That was eighty years ago! These are different times! This is the age of Obama, Winfrey and … I don’t know … lots of other folks. Well, sure, some things are different. There has no doubt been progress. But consider this: in 2006 a filmmaker recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. In spite of everything that has changed, she found the same results that the Drs. Clark did in the 1930s and 40s.

I could have told you that watching my five year old and her friends these past few years, in spite of very explicit lessons that my friends and I have attempted to instill in our children of color. I myself have seen and heard things that have triggered a hysterical phone call or two to my girlfriends.

We don’t know exactly why children attribute negative characteristics to their beautiful brown and black skin. But many of us have our suspicions. And somewhere at the top of my personal list sits the images and messages they are bombarded with every day of their lives–very much like the one on the cover of Vanity Fair last month. Yes, Disney, you do get credit for Tiana and we do appreciate the bone you threw us but how about a true reflection of who we are and what we look like as a human family every single day and not just on special occasions? How about it, Hollywood? Are you in?

When I arrived in America on the cusp of my teens 30 years ago, I didn’t NOT feel beautiful. But I wised up very quickly. The message was loud and clear and explicit! Not only was I hearing: “You’re not pretty” (actually what I heard was: “You’re ugly” but … tomatoes, tom-ah-toes …), I also never saw anyone on TV, in the movies, in the magazines, anywhere, that looked like me (and who was considered beautiful). Remember, there was no bevy of ethnic beauties like Eva Mendes or Salma Hayek or Shohreh Aghdashloo back then. There was, however, Iman and Naomi and Tyra and a handful of Huxtable women. Oh and Diann Carroll.

Reflecting back, I realize that at some point I developed a coping mechanism: I started to interpret select images I saw in the media very literally as evidence of the possibility that I, too, may be beautiful. Here’s the short version of how it went:

I’m hearing some very negative messages about my beauty.

I’m not seeing anyone who looks like me who is considered beautiful.

I do see a few black women on TV and in the movies.

Black women have brown skin.

I have brown skin.

They’re brown like me.

These women are beautiful.

Maybe I’m beautiful too.

The bottom line is that our brown and black girls and boys need to see people who look like them achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized. They deserve it. They are entitled to it. (There, I said it! The word that makes so many people so uncomfortable. But I don’t understand why entitlement is treated like a natural-born right of some and as a favor for others.)

Our Caucasian children need to see people of color achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized.

You are doing every last one of our kids–no matter what race they are–a disservice. That includes you, Vanity Fair, and every one of your brethren across all media.

Stop barraging our children with the nonstop madness. Really! Because you might have gotten away with robbing us of our ability to feel beautiful–and comfortable–in our own skins but we have no intention of letting you do it to our sons and daughters too.

It’s Dark In Here

I thought I had reached the light at the end of the tunnel.  After eight long months of waking every three hours (and sometimes every one hour or every 45 minutes), my daughter began sleeping ten to eleven hours.  Straight.  Every night.  As the barrage of sleepless nights came to an end, I emerged from my bunker and stopped moving through the world like a zombie.   My husband and I were reacquainted over dinners; I started exercising again; I even watched a little TV!  Most importantly, I started sleeping too.  But things fall apart: after three weeks of nighttime peace, my daughter stopped sleeping so soundly.  Eleven hours became eight, and getting her to sleep became the new challenge.

Having been to the promised land, this backslide is hard to accept.  Rationally, I know this problem is inconsequential, but rational thought does nothing to temper the havoc that sustained sleep deprivation can wreak in your life.  Sleep deprivation, however, is only part of the problem.  The larger problem is my reaction to the deprivation.  For eight months, I was somebody I didn’t like: sarcastic, short-tempered, exceedingly inflexible, quick to assign blame.  I would write that I was somebody I didn’t recognize, but the truth is that I did recognize the person I had become; sleep deprivation just amplified those negative aspects of my personality that I manage to keep under wraps with nine hours of sleep a night.  The advent of a sleeping baby allowed me to neatly wrap those character flaws back up, much to the relief of my husband.  As I now watch her newly established sleeping patterns slip away, I also watch my personality flaws reemerge.  Tensions are again rising in my home, in my relationships, and in my heart.

Parents can pass on character failures to their children, and I worry about what I am teaching her about handling stress.  If I don’t want her to lash out when chaos fills her life, I have to learn to keep my head when chaos comes to mine.  But this lesson is hard, and rational thought again fails me.  I know what it is I need to learn, but I’m not sure how to learn it.  How, in the middle of my frustration and exhaustion, can I find a light in the tunnel, and not merely at the end?