Lessons from my Father

I needed a little break from writing. My energy has been so off lately. Not sure if it was the new moon or bad vibes, but I haven’t been in a good space.  I think I was a bit off because I’ve been doing this whole adult thing. Oh my word, no one tells you it’s going to be so hard.

Last week wasn’t a total bust though. I think it was Wednesday, but I’m not sure, I found myself calling my father. Funny how the universe works sometimes. He was happy to hear my voice and actually let me talk. I didn’t realize how much I had pushed down inside of me until I began to cry. I told my dad about the incident at the school with my daughter. I thought he would…well, I don’t know exactly what I thought he would do or say, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got. After I was done, he commented on how racism is a part of education and was a part of his education. He let me know that he intentionally sacrificed to send me to the school I went to because he didn’t want me to receive the same education. He then said something so eloquent that I think about it daily now. He said:

When I was in school, I had no images of myself. No history of myself. I was invisible, which is racist within itself. In a sense, it teaches you that you’re not a part of the story. You’re not human. You’re something else. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I hit my children. Spankings, hitting your children, is like stripping them of their humanity too. When you violate someones personal space or their person, you’re taking their humanity away. When you can look at someone as not human, then you can mistreat them. When a person believes they are not worthy of being treated like a human being, then they are lost, broken, without value. It’s quite easy to send that kid to prison or treat them sub-par because they aren’t human to you. People treat us that way and then because we’ve internalized that treatment, we turn around and treat our own children that way…then the cycle continues. The blessing is that you let Olivia know she is of value. You don’t strip her of her humanity. No matter what, she comes from a home of love. No one can break her because you all are there to build her up. Stay the course. You and your husband are doing an excellent job. She is in good hands.

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Apologies come in all shapes and sizes, but in my heart, this was an apology from my father. He admitted he was wrong for hitting me and that is worth more than I think he or anyone else will ever know. He also complimented my parenting style, which was pretty freaking awesome! We look back on our lives and wonder why certain things happen. We question why and then it all comes full circle.

So…for every person in my family who came before me, my ancestors who felt that they were less than human, those who were stripped of their humanity, beaten, bruised, and abused, it ends with me.

One of my favorite authors, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, that just like genes carry from one generation to the next, so does hurt and spiritual pain. When one can heal from his or her past hurt they can also heal those that came before them. It made sense to me then and it makes even more sense to me now. What an awesome gift to give my children and grandchildren. I have my dad to thank for reminding me.

Love and light y’all.

 

 

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Heartbreak

My husband and I were naive. We thought we could move anywhere the Army sent us, find a home in a good school district, and go on about our business like most Americans. We thought our children would flourish regardless of race or racism. We thought that if anything, our children would not have to deal with bigotry because kids don’t think that way. It was the adults that we felt like we needed to worry about. We were so wrong.

When we first moved here there was an incident in my daughter’s Kindergarten class. She hadn’t even got settled quite yet. Her daddy was away in Afghanistan and she had just moved away from all of her friends. We told her to go into school with positive thoughts and to make friends, but someone told her she couldn’t play because she was black. Because she had an awesome teacher, the incident was handled in the best possible way. Towards the end of the school year, another incident regarding race, that I won’t even mention happened. We thought that the worst was over. Surely, this was just a fluke and as time went on and she found a good group of friends, these incidents would not happen again. Again, we were wrong.

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Yesterday, while getting ready for a day full of birthday parties, alone in our home because “the boys” were away, we discussed friendship. I told her that people have all sorts of reasons why they don’t want to be another persons friend and sometimes those reasons include things that a person can’t change. I was combing her hair in front of our bathroom mirror and I caught a glimpse of what I saw as sadness. She kind of looked into the mirror and said, “mommy, there is something I’ve been wanting to tell you”. Of course I gave her the floor and she told me of an incident that happened in the 1st grade and in the current grade of 2nd. The first incident involved a “friend” who told her, “kids did not want to play with you because you are black and there are a lot of mean black kids at the school, so they think you’re mean too”. The next incident happened this year (it’s only February) with a boy who told her, “I don’t like you because you’re black”. I asked her how that made her feel and she said, “it just makes me want to act nice and try to do my best, so people won’t think brown people are bad”. At that moment, I began to cry. I had no words of encouragement. I could not muster up the strength to be “strong”. I realized what a heavy burden she has been carrying and I was hurt because someone hurt my baby. She began to cry too and we moved out of the mirror onto the floor and cried together. I’m sorry if someone may see that as wrong, but our children need to be able to be children and human. They need to see their parents vulnerable and they need to know that when they hurt, we hurt too. I fought hard to get her here. How dare someone attempt to damage my baby?

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After crying for a bit, I told her that she had learned a lesson that most brown people learn later in life. The lesson is that people will lump you into a group like cattle and judge you by the actions of people who share the same skin color as you. However, when others do bad things, they are judged as individuals. I asked her if she remembered when those bad things happened in Kindergarten and how we told her to remember that was one bad thing and not to judge everyone or think that someone else would be the same. Unfortunately, my daughter isn’t afforded that same respect in this society. My goodness, she’s only 8. Why on Earth should she feel obligated to carry the entire black race on her back in her behavior, work ethic, or personality. I’m so angry. I’m so hurt. What is wrong with people? Every year, she has had to deal with this crap and everything has become clear.

We wonder sometimes why she is so timid. We wonder why she has to have everything perfect. We wonder why she is so much more comfortable in certain settings over others and we have wondered why she leaves school sometimes so emotionally drained. She is carrying too much for her little body. I watched her at the parties yesterday and I saw her, like really saw her. What we thought was personality is uncertainty. It’s not that she’s timid or shy, she just doesn’t want to make a mistake. I saw how comfortable she was at one party over another. Listen, the parents, teachers, and children are awesome, but it is that small minority that take their insecurities out on others. I don’t mean to brag, but my daughter is awesome. She is beautiful. She is intelligent, not like just book smart, but really intelligent. She is insightful. She’s an old soul destined to make a change in this world. This, her skin color, is the last thing someone feels they have over her and dammit, that makes my blood boil. We are not a home that teaches self-pride and hate. We are a home that teaches pride in oneself and also love and acceptance of others. I have to teach my children that because if I didn’t my daughter would be worse off than she is now. She knows that her skin color isn’t a negative, but what am I to do if at every turn someone is trying to tell her different. She knows who she is because she is the one who made this eloquent statement one evening, she said, “I have the beginning of time running thru my veins”. Yes, my dear you do and don’t you EVER forget it.

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This last incident has changed my husband and I. We were naive. We thought that because we were good people and at one point in time we would have given our lives for this country, we were afforded some type of respect. We know racism exists, but for an 8 year old to deal with this for all of her school years is just wrong. My husband has made the decision that when we move, we have to consider diversity, preferably an environment where our children are not the only ones. I don’t believe everyone goes through these types of things, so please don’t take this as a slight because I know there are many of us who are living in areas where we are the minority, but when asked what would give her the strength to speak up, she said, “mommy, I just wish I wasn’t the only one. I’m all by myself”. I don’t know how that feels. I don’t know how that will affect her later in life, so whatever we can do to help her heal from these “incidents” we have to do it.

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You know, I had a talk with a friend not too long ago about a comment that was not nice made by a woman in regards to black men and how she didn’t like them. This was a black woman no less, and I told her that it was wrong and I couldn’t just be quiet because my son is black. When she talks about black men in that regard, she’s talking about my son. I was told, “but he isn’t here”. I implore upon everyone who reads this blog to stop people in their tracks when they say things that are downright wrong. Stop the uncomfortable giggles. People have been shamed for being politically correct, but what is wrong with being correct. I, myself, have been silent in the presence of black women when they make disparaging comments about white women and that isn’t right. We have to stand up for one another. We have to shame people or at least stop them in their tracks because even if it isn’t about you, it’s still offensive and wrong and maybe one day, my grandchildren won’t have to go thru these same things. We will overcome this as we have overcome so many other things. Love will win.

Love and light y’all.

 

 

Motherhood Mondays (A conversation with Rosalind)

I asked my daughter what she thought of “single moms” and her response was, “a single mother is a very strong woman. She has to have a lot of determination because she does everything alone and she must love her children very much”. If only society viewed single mothers the way my 8 years old does… The reality is that single mothers are sometimes looked at in a negative light. People make a multitude of assumptions and even reduce them to baby mamas and not parents who actively play a part in their children’s lives without any help. Every situation is not the same, but I know a number of women who are single mothers for a number of reasons and they are my inspiration to be a better woman and mother.

Meet Rosalind, she is 49 years old. She is the mother of 6 children 4 daughters (ages 30, 27, and 14), 2 sons (ages 23, currently in college and 11). She also has one grandchild who is 7 years old. Rosalind has BA in Business and has been the owner of Lullaby 24 Hour Childcare for 18 years. She is the author of “The Things My Daycare Teacher Tells Me”. You can read her book for free here. Rosalind is also a single mother and she is doing a fantastic job. Here are her words…

What do you feel is the best part about being a mother?

The best part about being a mother is the notion that you have the most important job in the world. You are in charge of molding this human being into a loving, caring, well rounded, happy, and positive person. After it is all said and done, you then have the opportunity to sit back and watch them grow into something so big and special.

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Can you describe the feeling you felt after having your children?

At the age of 18, I had identical twins. My feeling was like, oh my goodness, what just happened! I didn’t know I was having twins until the doctor saw the feet of the second twin after the first twin came out. The main feeling after each time I have given birth was that I was so blessed and honored to be given another life long mission. I plan to not let my babies down and enjoy every moment of it.

What lessons have you taken from your own mother?

The lessons I have taken from my mother are to do right, do good to others, and find a reason to smile and laugh everyday. She also taught me to be a hands on parent and be totally involved with my children. From her I learned to tell my children that I love them and that I am proud of them. I have taken my mother’s lessons and flown with them.

How does a typical day look for you and your children?

I always say that we are not your typical family. The majority of my life decisions are made a certain way because of my children. I run a 24/7 childcare program from my home and also homeschool my two youngest children.

Morning:  I am working before my children get up at 9 a.m. We have breakfast together and my kids will tell anyone who listens that I make them eat porridge (oatmeal, grits, malt-o-meal). From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., I have an employee come in to work so I can homeschool. Homeschool starts with my two youngest checking their email for their class schedule and then onto math, language arts, reading, and science.

Afternoons: I continue working at my childcare business. My daughter usually gets on her kindle or tablet. My son reads on his iPad. He also could be found writing his 3rd book or working on his non-profit organization business. They both also just play around being kids, which sometimes includes video games.

Evenings: We make a point to sit down and eat dinner together. We talk and plan our weekend. We also play board games or sometimes we snuggle up in my bedroom and watch movies. My son always reads me a bedtime story. (Laughs).

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Is the father of your children an active contributor?

Unfortunately, the father of my younger children has chosen not to be an active contributor.

What challenges do you face as a single mother?

The challenges of being a single mother are nothing compared to the fact that we are totally blessed to have escaped with our lives from my past marriage. Anything else compared to the situation we were in is a very small challenge, if a challenge at all. A stable and healthy environment makes so much of a big difference in a child’s life. I bought my first home 19 years ago as a single woman and that continues to be where I raise my children and where my grown kids come home for the holidays. At times, it is challenging to find that work/life balance, but I’ve perfected the art of stepping back and asking myself, what will benefit my kids, then the so-called challenge is no more.

What do you think is the biggest misconception made about single mothers and/or your family dynamic?

The biggest misconception is that we are a dysfunctional home and family. Society refers to my type of family make up as dysfunctional. That is not the case. There is nothing dysfunctional about my family. I am a parent raising my kids and meeting their needs and a lot of their wants. We do family things together on a daily bases, including meals. I work hard and we depend on one another. My children do not miss out on anything just because we are a single parent household. Not every single parent is the same and that is because that is how they want it. You don’t just curl up in a corner and give up on yourself and your children because the other parent walked out and did not share in your vision and commitment for family and life. People and society have different views and different conceptions. There are no two people that are exactly alike, so there is no “normal”. We waste our time and life once we start focusing on what we think other people should do, should have, or should be like. I do not have any extra time to try to conform to society nor am I preoccupied with what others are doing.

How have your children adjusted to not having an active father in their lives?

Because of the way my children’s father left, without any warning, it has taken some time for them to adjust. My children, as they get older are more understanding. They realize that there is no competing with drugs, alcohol, and mental illness. I do not think people realize that when a parent abandons their child, a big part of that child dies. My son had the hardest time adjusting because he was very attached to his father. He thought the world of his dad. He just kept saying that his dad would be back or he would say, “mom don’t sleep on that side of the bed because that’s dad’s side”. I eventually had to change my furniture in the my bedroom. My daughter called her dad when she realized that he had left, she simply stated to him, “people move away all the time, but parents are not supposed to leave their kids”. My children required a few therapy sessions, but it was noted that going to therapy made them feel as if they had did something wrong or at fault. I had to become the listener throughout the next few years to help them heal. My children and I are very close. We talk about our feelings regarding that part of life that was snatched from them. We joyfully reminisce about all the good memories.

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What advice would you give to other women in your position?

Your life is what you make of it, not what society says it is or will be. You and only you have a say on what you can or cannot do. Stop and deeply realize that you have the power to be exactly what you want. What makes someone else happy may not be what will make you happy. You may hear negative opinions from society, but don’t listen to them. Find your happy place and stay there and excel from there. Single mothers, don’t forget you have your kids watching you and learning from you.

Any last words…

Take it personal! Take it very personal…your life and being a parent. Be your and your children’s biggest cheerleader. Embrace the life that God has granted you and keep building upon that. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so don’t panic over the little things. Do what you expect of yourself, not what others or society expects of you. Labels are for things, so when people try to label your family dysfunctional…peel it off and instead wear that ‘S’ on your chest. You are a superstar and have a spectacular family.

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Motherhood Mondays (A conversation with Jameelah)

I believe the American Muslim woman is very misunderstood. Society has attempted to identify these women as oppressed, weak, fanatical, and mysterious. I know a number of Muslim women, in fact, I grew up Muslim and I think people would be surprised at how wrong their misconceptions are. Muslim women vary in a number of ways and it is only through dialogue that ones prejudice ends. 

Meet Jameelah. She is freaking awesome!!!! She is a married, stay at-home mother to three wonderful children. She represents a face America typically does not see…she is Muslim, African American, and in an interracial marriage. Here are her words…

What do you feel is the best part about being a mother?

The best part about being a mother is the level of fulfillment it gives me. Nothing else I have done in my life compares to being a mother. Motherhood fills a desire in my life that I never knew I had. If I wasn’t a mother, I think I would know something in my life was forever missing.

What was your mother like?

My mom is great. Growing up, my mom worked and was a stay at-home mom for a portion of time. No matter what she was doing, she was always a mom. Now, I’m 35 years old and she still drops everything she is doing to be there for me. She doesn’t pry. She is just there whenever I need her, which is amazing considering she has nine of us. She has always been a mom. That has been the best thing about my life. If I can be half the mom she is, then I could look back and consider myself successful.

I hear you using the word “mom”. Can you define what “mom” means to you?

Well, I’m mommy in my house, but mom or mommy includes a connection of love and respect. There is a need and desire by both child and adult. The word mommy to me is like a type of completion. Being a mommy involves laughter and humility. This role breathes life into me. I am comfortable being mommy. There are days I don’t want to do anything, but when my kids call, I’m not resentful. Life simply starts when they call. I feel special that I was picked to be someone’s mom. Little ole me was picked. In all of my faults, I’m someone’s mommy. They wake up and love me. There is no judgment. I don’t have to put on heirs for them. I look at my children and think to myself, I did that; those human beings came from me. Mom or mommy involves this unique power that children have that can fill your heart and break it, all in the same moment.

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You’re Muslim, African American, and in an interracial marriage. It would appear that a lot is going on.

It is a lot going on if you think about. People look and want to ask how my husband and I happened. It’s not a lot. It is just life.

What has been one of your biggest struggles?

The biggest struggle is that I grew up in a Muslim household and my husband did not. Race is not a struggle for us. We have totally different viewpoints on things. There were conversations in the beginning that needed to be had. There was no religion in my husband’s household. They believed in God, but not in an organized religion. I grew up in a very religious household. We prayed 5 times a day, attended Muslim school, and fasted during the month of Ramadan. Our upbringings are very different. He goes off of what he knows and I go off of what I know. Simple things like when to start the kids doing Ramadan have the potential to become problems; however, when you get married you have to consider that person. It takes compromise.

What keeps you continuing to be Muslim?

There is a part of me that knows Al-Islam is my saving grace. My faith is the thing that has kept me from going too far off track. Al-Islam keeps me centered. It keeps me mindful of God. It makes me tolerant. It makes me patient. It makes me more accepting of those who are not like me. It is a part of who I am.

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What struggles do you face as a Muslim mother?

If I’m in a moms group, I have to decide if I want to participate in that Christmas or Halloween playdate. Those particular holidays are not in line with my faith. When I decide not to participate, some people continue to ask why or totally disregard the conflict. As a Muslim, I don’t feel heard. People continue to test limits that you have clearly set. There are incidents where people want to see how far they can push the Muslim thing. It is as if they want to see when you will go against your faith to be included.

What would like non-Muslim mothers to know?

I would like non-Muslim mothers to know that all I would like is to be heard. Don’t try to question my loyalty to my faith. When I decline to participate, don’t ask me why and continue to press the issue when I have already articulated my feelings. Respect my faith as I respect yours. You do not have to accommodate me, just accept my decision not to participate in things that go against what I believe.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a African American Muslim mom?

People think I’m militant because I’m black and I’m Muslim. They think I’m part of the Nation of Islam. Those aren’t my only options. People look at me and ask me what am I? When I tell them that I am black. I was born in the south and grew up in Compton, they say, “but you don’t hate white people”. Some people also expect this caricature of what Muslim woman are supposed to be. Either you have to be crazy hardcore or this woman who is hiding she is Muslim. They critique your actions, as you have to live up to this image in their heads that has nothing to do with your reality.

 

How do you prepare your children for the misconception people may have?

I tell my children to be good with being themselves. What others expect of you doesn’t matter. On top of being Muslim, they are biracial. Just be you, the rest of it is window dressing. It took me a while to get to a point of being comfortable with just being me. My mom promoted that growing up and I am promoting that in my children as well. I always tell them to not worry about others opinions. There is always going to be someone with a hang-up.

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What advice would you give to a mother similar to you?

Are you comfortable in your relationship? Are your happy? Don’t worry about the rest of the world. If you and your spouse are reading from the same book, don’t worry about everyone else. My family has faced some hardships because of our religion and my race. It has been both hurtful and eye opening. I always want to know how does my life affect someone else to the point of hate. Honestly, there are hateful people. You have to learn how to tune the hate out. You will go crazy listening to the worries of other people.

What would you like people to know?

I would like people to know that I’m a person. Take time to get to know people before judging them. I’m not an angry black woman. I’m not angry at all actually. I may be black, I can’t change that, but all of what you see about black women doesn’t define of us all. We are not all the same. I am a Muslim, but I’m still just a girl who fell in love with a guy and we are raising a family.

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Motherhood Mondays (A Conversation with Bridgette)

My goal for “Motherhood Mondays” is to present different views of motherhood. The idea or concept of a “good mother” usually fits one mold and we all know that is not the case. Motherhood looks different to different women and if our voices are not heard or if we box women in to certain roles, we fail at building a community of support for one another. When reading this particular blog, I encourage you to turn off your judgement and open your heart and mind.

Religion, bias, or simple ignorance keeps people away from truly getting to know the heart and soul of those that are different from them. Today’s interview is with Bridgette. She is a writer, United States Army veteran of numerous tours, lover of the arts, committed partner, and mother. She is also a lesbian. She and her partner have a blended family of 5 very successful children. I must also point out that she is someone my husband considers a mentor. He credits her leadership with the success of his military career. Here are her words…

What is the best part about being a mother?

The best part about being a mother is the fact that you have this innocent person who has trust in you. It is unbelievable the trust that children have. People often speak about unconditional love, but I think it is the unconditional trust that is most fascinating about children. They come here and it is your job to guide them and have their best interest. They start out so innocent and it’s my job as a mother to preserve that innocence.

When I think about my own children and even the Soldiers I mentored, the best part about being a mom is seeing this person become a productive member of society. It is nice to see them become successful and live their lives in a positive way.

Can you describe the feeling that you felt after having your daughter?

When I had my daughter, I was 19 years old. I had been in the military for just two years. I was scared. There are no true handbooks for children and each child’s needs are different. I was very scared, but I was up for the challenge. I knew that it was my job to give her the best life.

I know that you are a veteran of the United States Army. How difficult was it to balance being a mother while in the military?

It was difficult to balance. My initial thought was to get out. My mom sat me down one day and told me that I needed to have a solid foundation for my daughter. She encouraged me to stay in. When my daughter was 2 months old, I was shipped out to Korea. My parents took care of her for me. It was a struggle because I missed her tremendously. I struggled with a number of conflicting feelings. I dealt with a lot of guilt during that time.

When I came back, she was 14 months old. She didn’t know me at all. It crushed me that she forgot about me. I worked to rebuild our relationship and when we reconnected we were inseparable. Even though I was back and rebuilt that relationship, I still struggled with the guilt of taking her away from my parents.

I could not have done it without the support of my family. My parents and my sister they were there for me.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a lesbian mother?

I think the biggest misconception is that you’re going to raise a gay child. I always made a point to be careful of what I did in front of my daughter. When she was in grade school, we sat down and talked about what gay meant. She told me that she knew what it was and did not want to be gay. It was important for me to tell her that she did not have to be like me. I told her that she needed to be herself and build her own legacy. As parents, we need to teach our children to be better than us and that involves all facets of who they are.

What struggles do you face as a mother?

Of course one of the struggles was the military, but also society’s perception of who I am. The perception of me being a tomboy lesbian. There is always that judgment that I’m trying to be a man. I’m not trying to be a man. I know and like that I am a woman. People look at me and make assumptions about me. They don’t know my story. I’m just trying to be me. I grew up with just my father and brothers until I was 13 years old. My father didn’t get married until I was 13. I grew up with boys. I wore boy clothes. That is how I feel comfortable. I’m raising young men. I am not a man, so I cannot teach them how to be men, but as a woman I can tell them what is expected from a woman.

Society as a whole thinks that same sex partnership is not good for bringing up children. People think we are going to change children. The reality is that you never look at the news or hear about our children committing crimes or being unproductive.

How do you feel about the woman that came into your life at the age of 13.

She is the mother that raised me. She loved me even though I gave her hell. She never held it against me. She loved 5 kids that were not her own. It was not easy for her. When we got punished, she always showed an immense amount of grace to us. We did not have to relive our faults over and over again. She is the greatest woman. She is such a lady. I let her know all of the time that I appreciate everything she did for me. She is a part of the reason I fell in love with the arts. I was a part of the orchestra. She taught us that there was more to the world than just being black. We were exposed to a lot of different things. Exposure, let’s you know that there is something more to the world than what you are surrounded by. I love her.

Do you model your parenting style after you mother?

Yes, I do. I also bring the military into it. I’m very strict and hands on. I’m Vice President of the PTA and my partner is the President. It’s important to me that my children are educated and doing the right things. All of our children are on the honor roll and we have one that will be graduating early. We make a point to be a team, especially since we are a blended family.

How did you meet your partner?

My best friend kept telling me to go this church and at the time I had been completely turned off by the church. I had some very bad experiences when I was struggling with my sexuality. Anyway, I went to the church and really enjoyed myself. While I was there, I saw my girlfriend. She was sitting in front of me and my friend invited her to a New Years party she was throwing that same day. She, my girlfriend agreed to come and she took my number. I’m a really shy person, so I didn’t want to call or text. When I finally decided to contact her, she was calling me. (Laughs) We began to talk and she came to the party. We’ve been together ever since.

Do you think it is harder being a black lesbian mother as opposed to another race?

I think it can be. We have the power to not make it so hard. It depends on how we present ourselves. I think we have the power to make things better for ourselves. We do have to prove ourselves more. We have to break the stereotypes that exist for us. We can’t be afraid to show our intelligence. Being a lesbian can create more prejudice. People make the assumption that homosexuality involves promiscuity, which is insulting. I’ve learned that you just have to have thick skin. You have to be very secure.

It is harder being black, especially when it comes to our boys. They are seen as animals and criminals. We see what they are going through, but we don’t know exactly what they feel because we are not men. I tell my sons to never give them a reason to bother you or profile you. As a black mother it is difficult to raise boys.

What advice would you give a young lesbian mother?

My advice to any mother would be to approach your children as human beings and not objects. You have to understand that your child isn’t a toy. They have emotions just like you do. Always keep their emotions in mind. You have to teach your children at a young age to communicate. Let them know that they have a voice. Let them express how they feel while setting boundaries. Children aren’t your property. When you teach a child that they aren’t an object, it gives them self worth. If you do not allow them to express their emotions, then you’re conditioning them to keep it in. They become emotionally closed off. When it comes to boys, they are taught not to cry, don’t teach them that. A real man can cry. It is okay to feel. Feeling emotions is being human. Whether man or woman, you are a human being.

As a parent, you have to be humble. You have to be able to apologize.

Bridgette and I spoke for a very long time and everything cannot be included in this post, but there is something that stood out to me. When we spoke about her journey to acceptance, she let this jewel out that I believe applies to us all. She said,

“You cannot shine if you don’t know who you are. I could not be something that I wasn’t. I decided that I was going to love me and live in my moment”

Love and light y’all.

 

 

 

Cultural Insensitivity?

There are so many things that come along with being the only black stay at-home mother in the suburbs. One has to deal with the occasional Trump bumper sticker sighting, the comments about your daughters “crazy”hair, or the weird looks you may get when people see your family actually has a father attached to it. I’m joking…kind of, but there are little things that happen and sometimes you have to make the decision to either react or be quiet. Fortunately, I have a few friends that are in the same boat as me and we bounce things off of each other to see if we should react or just let it go. Most of the time, we just need a sounding board or a place where we can be comfortable to ask the hard questions that deal with race.

Insert my good friend who lives in a very small town in Massachusetts. I’m living in urban luxury compared to her. While my little city is about 4% Black, her city is 1 percent Black. Basically, she is the Black population. For the most part, she has been able to maneuver quite well. The town is friendly. She is involved in the PTO, local church, and community. She has made friends and race had not been an issue until a few days ago. Her daughter was assigned a heritage project for school and was instructed to pick a country of origin to research. I should point out that my good friend is married to a very nice White man and decided that this would be a great assignment to highlight both parts of her daughter’s background. Here comes the problem.

My friend’s family, like mine, is from New Orleans, LA. Everyone knows that New Orleans and the whole damn state of Louisiana is bursting at the seams with culture. When my friend pointed out that they would be doing their assignment on France (her husband’s family) and Louisiana Creoles (her family), the teacher suggested that they only do her husband’s side of the family since there was an actual foreign country to pick. The teacher then proceeded to tell her that “Louisiana Creole” was not a particular heritage, but instead a language or dialect.

First, let me point out how insensitive it is to discount what one may think is their heritage. Next, African Americans (Black people) typically don’t have a country of origin. Africa is a very large continent and we cannot pick one particular country because we do not know where our families were stolen from. What we do know, is that we come from very strong blood lines because we are still here and that alone is something to be proud of.  For one second, imagine all that those Africans who first came here went thru, then those who survived slavery, then those who survived the Civil War and Reconstruction, then those who survived Jim Crow or the Great Migration, then the Civil Rights Movement and up until now. There is so much to be proud of. We also know that we had a hand in building this country, so we have a right to use this country as our origin and whatever subculture our ancestors may be a part of. It is incredibly insensitive to demand that one pick a foreign country, when there is no country to pick.

While listening to my very good friend tell me this story, I heard the hurt in her voice. She was less angry about the whole country insistence and more angry about her children having to choose between their two backgrounds. Because I am not in an interracial marriage, she pointed out a few things that I didn’t realize. I did not realize how often people try to put her and her family in a box according to their comfort. I also did not realize how people often lessen her value in their marriage. She is perceived as this poor black women without culture who lucked up and found this white man. Perception dictates that she has somehow been saved from the depths of the ghetto and she should welcome leaving that all behind. I almost questioned the validity of that last statement until she pointed out to me that my family would not have been asked to simply leave out one members background. I firmly believe the teacher would have handled a family like mine much differently and that makes me sad and more aware.

After letting her vent, I took the time to be a friend and tell her that in this country people simply don’t know. Ignorance is one of the many cancers of society and instead of getting angry, she should educate the teacher about her background. I doubt a number of people outside of Louisiana know about Louisiana Creoles. There are so many good lessons to be learned from this situation. The assignment teaches her daughter about her culture as it relates to her father and mother. The children and teacher  will learn about something that is never taught in textbooks. The whole situation teaches my friend to always stand up for what she believes in and that is the most important lesson for her and her children.

Overall, the lesson is to be open. People are going to be ignorant. Most of the time it isn’t because they are mean, it is simply because they don’t know. When we close ourselves off from people because they don’t understand us, there will be no progress. Likewise, when we are insensitive, dismissive, or unwilling to learn about our differences, there will be no progress. As a people and simply as human beings we should always strive to move forward.

Be open to dialogue. Don’t shy away from conversations about race. Be kind.

Love and light y’all.

 

 

 

 

Barriers of the Mind

I have an 85 year-old grandmother who is laugh out loud funny.  She has always been funny, but now I’m old enough to laugh at her jokes without getting the side eye.  She is a gun packing, smack talking lover of pearls and all things elegant.  She is all kinds of awesome, but sometimes she says some things that make me think…is this the same lady who had a hand in how I see the world?

I was talking to my cousin on the phone the other day and she told me she was showing a few of our pictures to our grandmother.  My grandmother of course commented on my weight and hair and then proceeded to ask what beach were we at.  My cousin told her and she made a comment I would not expect from my grandmother.  She said, “those white people sure do keep their beaches nice.  I guess they keep all the Black (she didn’t say Black) people out and don’t let us come over there”.  The beach was nice.  It wasn’t the nicest I’ve been to, but I never once saw a sign saying, NO BLACKS ALLOWED.  She then proceeded to ask my cousin if we stayed the whole day and what were we doing.  This whole dialogue between my 85 year old grandmother and my cousin got me to thinking about the barriers we all create in our minds.

My grandmother grew up in a time when segregation was quite real.  She grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and has outright told me that the racism or prejudice she had to deal with came from her own people and never from a different race.  Yes, she had to ride on the back of the bus, but in her time and where she grew up, ‘if you didn’t bother them, then they didn’t bother you’ and that’s just the way it was.  The whole concept of not bothering “them” was a conscious decision to stay alive in those times.  Although times have changed, do some of us hold on to those same concepts today?

As an adult, I have been blessed to have traveled a bit and at an early enough age that I rarely feel uncomfortable around any group of people regardless of race or class.  I am a shy person, but I hardly ever let it show.  I am confident, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about being the only one in a particular setting or the instant familiarity I feel when someone who looks like me is around.  Fortunately, I push through it and let the thought pass, but I know that many people have not had my experiences and can’t simply push through it.  The idea that a group of people are keeping you out of something may sometimes mean that you are in fact keeping yourself out of it.

I am from the hood.  It isn’t something that I wear on my sleeve, but if you talk to me long enough you will realize that I’m from California, but I have only had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful State from a positive standpoint as an adult.  When I was a young adult I never traveled outside of my “hood”.  I had been all the way to Korea, but never to Malibu or Long Beach for that matter.  It is a hood mentality mixed with my elders fear from their past…”don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you”.

I don’t believe this is just a Black thing.  I believe we all have barriers in our brains that we don’t realize.  The signs excluding one race to this and another to that are no longer posted on poles, but are very real in the minds of people.  It is not just going somewhere, but it is also dreams and aspirations. If one cannot go to an opposite side of town because they don’t think it is for him or her, then how on Earth is that same person going to develop the concept that they can become a Doctor, Astronaut, Physicist, or Novelist. These barriers of the mind are self inflicted destroyers of life and sometimes we indirectly set the foundation of these barriers for our children and grandchildren.

I doubt my children think that any place is off limits to them, but as a mother I am frightened by that.  I keep that fear held inside because I will absolutely not play a part in building a foundation in their minds based on fear.  My husband, who was not born in this country, does not share my fears, which is why I know this barrier is learned.  I refuse to pass it on, so yes grandma, we were at the beach all day long and those White folk didn’t bother us one bit, they even let us get in the water and take pictures on the rocks.  They never told us we couldn’t come in the first place.  It was us who told us we couldn’t go.

For fun, or if anyone really reads this blog…What barriers do you have?  What do you subconsciously or consciously think is not for you?  Is it exercise? Dance classes? Writing a book?  Falling in love?  Leave me a comment….pleeeeeeeeease.

The New Counselor

A common viewpoint in the African American community is that we absolutely do not go to therapy.  We go to church or to the mosque and read our holy books to get us through tough times, but we do not go talk to some stranger to help us with our personal problems.  Culturally, it is frowned upon and looked at as a way “other people” get through their problems.  I am proud to say that I break this stereotype.

My first time seeing a counselor was when I returned home from Iraq and it was a pleasant experience, but I only went once.  I was still under the idea that this just wasn’t what strong Black women did. That idea changed when my husband suggested I see someone before we moved to California.  I had major anxiety about moving back to my home state, considering that I had been gone over 10 years and had visited maybe 3 times.

The experience that I had with the therapist in N. Carolina was a positive one.  He got me to see that my anxiety was from the relationship I had with my father and that the relationship needed to end.  At that moment in time, my father was calling about 16 times a day and when I would not answer he would call back to back and leave messages.  He was still trying to control my life.  Before we left N. Carolina, I struggled with having to live so close to my father because I knew in my heart that I didn’t want my children to be around him, so this therapist helped me reach what was really bothering me and told me that I needed to heal from all the abuse from my father before I even began to try to have a healthy relationship with him.  I left N. Carolina feeling awesome and knowing this was the right thing to do, but after I got here, the guilt set in.

It is unnatural to cut communication with a parent, even a parent who has a personality disorder.  The guilt was eating me up, so I decided to see a counselor here in California and she was awesome.  She was a veteran.  Her husband was deployed to Afghanistan and we had similar backgrounds in regards to abuse and religion.  She helped me let go of the guilt, but just when we were making some great strides, her husband got orders moving them to the Carolinas and I was left to have to meet and open up to a new therapist.

I met the new therapist today and I don’t like her.  I didn’t realize that I didn’t like her until I left her office.  I don’t think she is doing anything wrong, but she is from a different time.  Apparently, I have some emotional disconnect, which I would have to agree with, but that’s kind of what happens when you’ve been through some traumatic things and would explain why I’m sitting on her couch to begin with.  [Full disclosure:  I don’t share this blog with my husband.  I don’t share my Instagram, workouts or yoga with him.  I have in some ways cut him out of my life by not sharing these things.  It is a defense mechanism and it is also just being a stay at-home mom and wanting to have something to myself that doesn’t include the kids or him.] The therapist told me that I should look at things from my husband’s point of view and the fact that I am preparing myself to live a life without him is not fair.  I agree with her, but I could have done without the judgement.  I don’t ever want to live a life without my husband, but the Army makes it very clear sometimes that I don’t have a choice. I am not consciously preparing to live life without him, but what I am doing is getting a life that does not include me being sad all of the time because he is gone.  I do not live in fairytale land.  I know that my husband will come home different and I need to be able to carry on until he mentally returns.  Am I shutting him out because I don’t want to miss him. Yes.  Am I keeping a slice of my life separate from him because a whole chunk of his life does not include me right now, absolutely.  Is it right?  I don’t think so, but this is my 3rd deployment and I learned the last time that if I don’t have something that I hold dear to myself when he returns that does not include him then my world seems like its crashing down.  The scariest part about all of this deployment crap is that when they return, you don’t get them back completely, which means you have to adapt to a whole new person and you don’t even know why.  It’s hard, but because I have experienced it, I completely understand.

The therapist asked me, if my husband came back with severe PTSD or angry and downright nasty, would I stick by his side?  I told her that I probably would not and the reason being my children.  She then gave me examples of women who she works with who have been married to war veterans for over 40 years and they have just had to learn to deal with these men the way they are.  I reminded her that my husband and I are a dual military couple.  I served just as he did and I have taken the steps to get myself together.  If he cannot make an effort to keep our home peaceful, then as my children’s mother, it is my responsibility to remove them and myself from a toxic environment and that is when she told me that I had some emotional detachment and we needed to work on it.  I don’t agree with her, but I will go back and see what she has to say.

I know that I am not always right and that’s why I go to see a counselor.  I sometimes relate my past experiences to my present and that is not good, but I genuinely love my husband.  He is a good man.  He is an awesome father.  The way he is with our children has healed me in ways that I can’t begin to articulate.  He really is my dream come true. I couldn’t imagine being with someone else.  I don’t think about us not making it.  In my heart, I feel that we will be together forever, but my life goal is to provide a home for these souls we created that is safe, free of chaos and loving.  Am I wrong for that?  Are military wives supposed to be martyrs?  Did I miss that lesson or am I really just emotionally detached?  Hmm…

A justifiable fear?

Something strange happened about a week ago. My son and I were watching my daughter play soccer and my son decided that he would wrap our little blanket around his shoulders and walk around saying he was Batman.  At the end of practice, some of the children on my daughter’s team came over and asked him what he was doing.  Of course, he informed them all that he was Batman.  The children laughed and then started to point out why he really was not Batman.  One kid asked him where his bat mobile was and another told him that his cape needed to be black, which were all very great observations, but the moment I heard, “you can’t be Batman because you don’t have a black cape” I got very scared.  My heart started beating fast and I was literally frightened that one of the children would tell him that he couldn’t be Batman because he was not White.

It seems quite silly because children at this age don’t typically think or talk that way, but that has not been the case here.  I have never felt so Black in my life.  It is constantly at the back of my mind that someone is going to not only highlight my children’s race, but put them down for who they are.  This fear does not come from out of the sky.  I previously wrote about an incident at my daughter’s school where she was excluded because of her skin color and the outcome of that was more positive than negative.  Unfortunately, another incident happened a few weeks ago where one of my daughter’s classmates told her that she was pretty, but would be prettier if she was White.  I don’t believe the school handled it properly as I was never called and my daughter had to sit in the class with this on her heart for the rest of the school day.  The little girl was removed from the classroom, but no conference with the parents and no real apology from the parents or child like in the previous incident.  In fact, I was told to find some compassion in my heart for this child because her parents are not all that good, but I can’t…at least not yet.

The thing about this that people don’t quite understand is that the little girl who did this was in trouble for the day, while my daughter will live with these incidents for the rest of her life.  She will never forget these things and I struggle every morning with sending her back to school.  If a teacher or a school system was negligent in preventing the physical safety of a child, any parent would either pull their child out of the school or call the administration to the carpet for their practices; the same does not happen when a child is hurt emotionally.  In fact, I believe if this was a physical altercation then I would have been called, the parents would have been brought in for a conference, and someone besides her teacher who wasn’t even there to witness the incident would not have to bear the brunt of trying to explain and makes sense of it all.

I thought of pulling her out and just homeschooling, but my husband told me that would inadvertently show her that something is wrong with her and that she did something wrong. She says that she knows that girl’s words were not true, but it still hurts.  I think those words hurt so much that she wouldn’t have told the substitute teacher or me had it not been for two of her classmates seeing what happened and making a point of telling.  It makes me wonder what is she internalizing.  What is happening on the playground that she isn’t telling us?  How does she feel being the minority and then having it pointed out in a nasty way. It also makes me fearful of what else is to come.  When my son wants to play super heros, is someone going to exclude him because he’s Black.  When my daughter goes to make a friend at the park and isn’t received well, is she going to go to a place that automatically feels the rejection has to do with the color of her skin.

I still believe that the good outweighs the bad, but I am genuinely afraid for them.

Racism aside…everything is going well

The incident that happened last week at the school has made a lasting impression on my daughter and I believe my household. I don’t know why, but I just did not expect it to happen so early and not here in California.  I’m originally from California and NEVER experienced any type of colorism or racism.  I spent about 10 years in the South and I believe I had experienced prejudice, but it was kind of blatant, like people ignoring you and not acknowledging your presence. Also, I had more positive experiences with White people than I have ever had in the South, so I have been sitting here thinking about what is the issue here.

First, let me say that the school my daughter goes to handled the situation quite well.  The day after my daughter was told she couldn’t play because she was Black by another little girl on the playground, a conference was held with the little racist child’s parents, she was made to write a letter saying she was sorry, and they also made her come up to me and apologize for hurting my daughter.  I thought that it was a great way to show my daughter that the little racist child was wrong; however, I thought it was overkill.  I jokingly call this little girl, “little racist child”, but she was only doing what she has either heard or seen.  I didn’t think she should apologize to me.  I thought her coward parents should have come to me and apologized, but that won’t happen because they are coward racist parents.  The funny thing is that my daughter and her are becoming fast friends and playing together, so I guess racism aside, everything appears to be going well. Go figure.

So…what is the issue here in this little California town?  Why do I feel so uncomfortable here as opposed to where I just moved from?  I believe the answer is that although California may seem progressive, it is not as diverse as people would believe it to be.  I just moved from the South, but my neighbors were White, Black, and Jewish. They were not the type of neighbors you just wave at from time to time.  My neighbors were people I actually spoke to from time to time and genuinely cared about.  I have noticed that this city is overwhelmingly segregated.  I finally found the Black people here and they live in apartments very close to the mall.  The Hispanics live there too.  In my neighborhood, which is all single family homes, there are very few Hispanics and Blacks, a conservative amount of Asians and Indians, and overwhelmingly White (about 67%). The issues here could be more about class and less about race, but segregation could be the root to the problem.

I must point out that I didn’t grow up a fan of Martin Luther King Jr.  I was raised by a Sunni Muslim father who had just left the Nation of Islam and he kept a great deal of his “Black supremacist” ways of thinking even though he was an Orthodox Muslim.  Yes, I grew up singing songs about the White man being the devil.  I also grew up spending weekends holding a sign that read “DON’T KILL YOUR BABIES” in front of an abortion clinic. Anyway, I knew very little about Martin Luther Kings Jr. because he was not celebrated in the private school I went to and at home we focused most on “revolutionaries”.  Looking back, my childhood was quite comical.  I had a Christian mother who was quite passive, but quick to throw a jab at how lowdown some Black people could be and a father who firmly believed that the social ills that plagued Black people were the dirty work of the White man.  I was confused to say the least, but it gave me  an incredible amount of insight on race and religion.  I’m going off topic, but  what I want to point out is that I am now a fan of Martin Luther King Jr. I always saw integration as something that tore down the Black community growing up, but as an adult I can understand the logic in segregation being wrong.

Obviously, no one is outright telling people that they can’t live in one area over the next, but because everyone is sectioned off in their own parts of this city, individuals are not seeing one another as human beings. When your neighbors look just like you, thinks like you, and prays like you, anything other than what you perceive as “normal” is wrong, especially when the images coming from the television portray another race as criminal, hyper-sexual,  an unintelligent.

I’ll give a personal example, when I was deploying to go to Iraq there was a girl in our unit that I became quite close with.  She was a nice person.  I hurt my leg while I was at the mobilization site and ended up on crutches.  This girl helped me to no end. One day, we are walking to the dining facility and she says, “I have something I need to tell you because I’m tired of lying to you”. Of course, I told her that she could share anything with me because we were “battle buddies”.  Well, she tells me that she is gay.  I had never met a gay person before in my life.  At that point in my life, I was very much against homosexuality and anyone who supported it.  It was ungodly to me because that is what I was taught.  When she told me that, it took my breath away and I felt incredibly conflicted because how could I view someone as a friend that I firmly believed was going to burn in hell.  Quite quickly I had to rethink all that I had believed because now I had a face, deeds, heart and soul attached to homosexuality.  My views no longer applied to “them”.  My views now had a name and a face of someone I knew would give their life for me if it came down to it when we crossed over to Iraq.  I finally found the humanity. We are still friends to this very day.

I know some people won’t agree with that, but the same thing happens with race.  It is quite easy to hate what you don’t know.  It is quite easy to stereotype what you believe to be true on television. Remember, I don’t exist in real life.  My family and its dynamic are not shown on television, so what can I expect from my ignorant neighbors?  I believe this is the point where I have to (even though I don’t want to) have amazing strength and put myself out there, like my friend did, and show the humanity of me and my family.  All Black mothers are not like those women on the Real Housewives of Atlanta or Basketball Wives.

I’m having a play date tomorrow with one of the mom’s and her daughter from my daughter’s class. We will see how it goes. Hopefully, it goes well and I’ll make an acquaintance or even a friend, but at the very least I am making an effort.