Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Sweetheart, you have to wait."

Let me preface this post by saying that I have never been a single mother and I have no doubt in my mind that it presents a lot of challenges and difficulties different and more complex than what I deal with as a married mother. But in a general way, motherhood changes things in the life of a woman dramatically forever--sometimes in positive ways and sometimes in not so positive ways. Sometimes the positivity of it has to do with perspective and how your mind processes what you are experiencing. Sometimes it's just universal: surviving on 3 hours of (broken) sleep during the early months of a child's life is just not pleasant. There are not two ways about it. I think one thing we can agree on is that mothering shifts (or should shift) our focus from ourselves to our children. What is interesting is the degree to which that occurs. For some mothers it seems to be a total shift. For others, not quite.

I recently subscribed to Brain, Child magazine and while I generally like to read the interesting and thought-provoking articles, I was annoyed by one article in particular called "Sugar Mama" by Andrea McDowell in which she writes:

"Without another adult around to blunt the demands of child and housework, taking care of my disease slips aside. How can I make the blood test a priority when the person I love more than anyone else in the world is standing by my knees, pleading for apple juice?"

I wanted to just scream. Who is going to get that apple juice if you are dead? This kind of reasoning just doesn't make any damn sense to me. I get it . . . single motherhood places all the responsibility for the well-being of your child squarely on your shoulders. The author stresses that while married she'd let things like changing the sheets and washing the dishes slip but as a single mother, she feels she can't let any little thing go undone because of societal pressure (she's trying to counteract the societal assumption that she's doing irreparable harm to her child by being a single mom) and her own pressure (driven by feelings of guilt).

But is your child hurt? About to do something daring and dangerous? Is their demand life or death?

I also get it. The guilt . . . feeling like you've taken something away from the child. Her father. Her old house. How things used to be. You don't want to deny your child anything else. But at some point, you have to realize that if you left for legitimate reasons, you did the best for the child. Why neglect yourself, over-exert yourself to the point of harming yourself to try to make up for it? What are you talking about? Why are you being so overly dramatic? And also, this sets up a dangerous dynamic between mother and child since children are quite intuitive. This child will soon realize that mom has guilt issues and will indulge, indulge, indulge to try to make up for the way things are. That's not a good dynamic at all.

Like I said, I've never been a single mother so I may not be being completely fair. I may even be being harsh. I do not know how heavily that guilt weighs down on divorced moms. It may be all-encompassing and paralyzing at times.

But I've heard similar arguments for maternal neglect from mothers in relationships too . . . Oprah did a show about the things mother's let "slip" now that they've got children. Mother's admit to not taking a shower for days on end and other nastiness that folks really shouldn't be admitting to on national television.

And, you will notice, that none of these "confessors" are women of color. I don't know if it's a cultural thing. Maybe we do indulge in some of this self-neglect but we won't admit to it. Basic things though, like bathing, making sure we look presentable in public and taking life-saving medicine we generally do to the best of our ability. We might not be able to achieve pre-child levels but these things don't just get thrown under the bus. At least the Black mothers I know--single or not. Because if mama is dead or dirty, the real sufferers are the children anyway.

Of course mainstream media tries to make it seem like Black mothers are just not as "attached" to our children as White mothers. We don't prioritize our kids to the extent that White women do. Supposedly, we don't even put as much thought into having our children. We're perfectly happy having four or five kids by eight different men (because who can keep track anyway?) while living in poverty and squalor. I think mainstream media gets this idea from the fact that most Black, at least those I know anyway, do not make a total shift when children come along. At least not for long (I generally excuse those first few months).

Could it be because of our histories? Is it a wisdom passed down from generation to generation? I hear Kahlil Gibran again . . . "Your children are not your children . . . ". They grow up. They move out. They stop needing you. It's just foolhardy to neglect yourself under the guise of taking care of your child--single or not.

Yes, self-esteem issues do come into play when talking about this topic. There are Black women who do seem to put everyone else ahead of themselves to the detriment of their own health and well-being. So maybe it is just that not many of us are willing to out ourselves in articles and on TV. But I have to be honest . . . apple juice over blood sugar testing? Most Black women, I think, would say, "Sweetheart, you have to wait till mama is done." And let the child pitch a fit if they want.

Look, I have to have my toenails looking in tip-top shape at all times. Even in winter. It's my thing. Plenty of times, I've told my kids they would just have to hold their horses until the polish dries. Then I'd get whatever they need. The hubby is not here to get it. They have to wait. And that's not even a life and death kind of thing.

Anyway, back to the article. Maybe this author is peculiar all around regardless of her race because in all honesty, I don't know if she's White or Black. But from the tone of the article, I'm assuming she's White. Maybe she does have self-esteem issues that resulted from her divorce (or failed marriage). Maybe she feels like a failure deep down and that is why she refuses to or can't prioritize her health. That's a very real possibility. McDowell does make some salient points like her fear of falling into a diabetic coma and her daughter finding her that way. The solution, though, seems like something that any mother, single or married would do: put an emergency number on speed dial and practice with the child calling that number. At the very least, we generally all teach our children to dial 911. She also talks about her worry about the unseen ways in which the divorce has affected her young daughter. And she talks about what I think if I were a single mother would be my biggest stress: knowing that I just can't drop the ball because there's no one to pick up the slack. There's no back-up plan. As a single mother, you are the one and only plan especially with no support system in place. But for me, I think, that would be all the more reason why I just couldn't neglect something as important as keeping my diabetes in check.

But maybe it's just me. My mother has severe asthma and has had it most of her life. I remember being acutely panicked as a child, scared out of my pants watching my mother gasp for air and turn blue while we hoped and prayed the inhaler worked. Watched on more than one occasion her being rushed to the hospital because it wasn't working. Her asthma was not well controlled. Diabetes is not asthma. I know there are significant differences especially in the area of controlling it so I can't draw a direct comparison. But if my mother had at her disposal things she could do to make it more manageable, as an adult I can truthfully say I would have wanted her to do it. I might not have been happy as a child to wait the 10 minutes it took her but as an adult, I would have been grateful. It would speak volumes to me about how much she valued herself which for a girl child is of utmost importance. She would be saying, "No matter what is going on, no matter how much I have to do, no matter how many tasks I need to juggle, I will take good care of myself because I love myself and I love you."

Mothering is tough in a myriad of ways and I often wondered how single moms made it. I honestly have a profound respect for single mothers--especially divorced ones, i.e. ones who didn't make the choice from the outset to be single.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How long have you gone without . . .

Knitting or crocheting? That is, if you knit or crochet.

It's been weeks since I've picked up knitting needles or a crochet hook. I'm just not motivated right now. It could be because of the heat but also, I'm so busy running around after Z2 who is into everything now that he's gotten the hang to this walking (and climbing) thing. Maybe as the weather cools down, I'll get my mojo back. I have some very cool projects . . . okay, maybe not that cool since my crafting is on a serious budget right now . . . but some great projects in the wings. I also really hope to finish by the end of this year the Sweater for Emma and the Monkey Socks because honestly, it's getting ridiculous.

On another note, I took a walk to "The Avenue" which is basically the main street/business area of the town I live in. A few weeks ago when I was there I noticed that one of the Korean-owned dress stores (you know the kind that sells, for way too much money, cheaply made cute clothes that will only last you this season before they start to disintegrate ) was closing down. Today, what did I find? That store is now replaced by . . . wait for it . . . you guessed it!
Another beauty supply store. Another beauty supply store? Yes. It's mind-boggling. There are about six, yes SIX, beauty stores on the main strip of avenue which, I kid you not, is not even 1/4 mile long. And all are in business and doing smashingly well. What recession (or depression if you want to really be real about it)? Black women must needs their fake hair (that is the main thing these stores sell although you will find cheap makeup and other beauty supplies).

I read this blog entry before over at Black Conscious Thought and I just shook my head. I had seen the documentary before (you should too . . . Von embeds it in the post) and thought to myself what a shame it was. I don't buy many beauty products. I'm really simple when it comes to these things but I do go into these beauty supply stores to get my nail polishes, nail decals, brushes/combs and occasionally some Dr. Bronner's castile soap. Kudos to the Koreans for locking the market down (something Black folks could do if we could get some UNITY.) In Harlem, there is a bustling business area completely dominated by African Muslims who recently immigrated to the U.S. so successful business by Blacks can be done. And, yes, I do understand the differences between Black Americans and recently immigrated Black Africans--all the complexities and histories, etc. I don't necessarily mind these beauty supply stores but it's just so insulting to me the serious over-abundance of these stores. Like that is all Black people in these neighborhoods boil down too, all they are interested in: artificial hair. We couldn't have a bookstore? How about a nice sit down coffee shop, air conditioned with wi-fi?

Anyway, these are the issues facing mostly-Black communities (and my town is a good mix between America Blacks and Caribbean Blacks). We (all Blacks) have some serious issues to tackle . . . especially when it comes to our hair.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How do you feel about Semenya?

View the video here.

I mean, I don't know. She looks like a guy but she's an athlete and carries very little fat. How many runners have large breasts and lots of padding around the hips? Look, I won't front . . . I do have lots of padding all over and that slows you down. Jiggling "stuff" is just not good for your aerodynamics. Ever see a competing gymnast? Flat as a pancake. They are saying that she sounds like a guy. But, and perhaps most importantly, many, many Black women I know have deep voices and are routinely called "sir" on the phone even if they have very feminine names. How does race play into this? Are folks just salty because she is whipping ass in these races?

I love her attitude though and I hope that this all passes over quickly so that she can enjoy her success unmarred.

The Best of Both Worlds?

I genuinely enjoy being with my children full-time. To be sure, there are days when I just need a couple of hour of solitary, child-free time but for the overwhelming majority of the time, being with them is where I want to be. The only problem? I don't get paid for it!!

I periodically toss around the idea of going back to teaching full-time but it doesn't make me excited. If I were to do it, honestly it would be for the money primarily. I'm sure that somewhere along the line I'd derive some fulfillment from working with children and impacting their lives but initially, it would be motivated by a steady and consistent (and not too shabby) pay check. Before I had my own children, I couldn't think of a single profession I would enjoy more than teaching but after a really bad first experience, I witnessed firsthand the challenges of teaching. More than that, I realized just how much I like being at home with my kids. This summer I've had the chance to hang out wit
h other teachers and folks in education who are on vacation. Some of them can't wait to get back to work and be away from their kids for a chunk of the day. They acknowledge that being with their kids is crazy for them and that they need that time away working on something different. I do too but not to that extent--just a couple of hours out of the week is good for me. (Forty-hour work weeks is, for me, just too much time away from my lovelies although if I had to, I would. In my late 20s, I've found, ideals are easily pushed aside when it come to necessity and survival . . . word.)

Still, I think about saving for my retirement and basically having my own money that I earn. I think about having a good amount of money in my own savings account that only I have access too. Oh, I trust the hubby but it's about security--being able to make moves and get out if you need to. It is tough emotionally and psychologically at times to be dependent on the hubby financially. Earning your own money is a serious self-esteem boost: it is good to know you can take of your needs (and the needs of your children if need be).

So I'm trying to find the balance: a job/career flexible enough for me to spend lots and lots of time with my children (which would facilitate homeschooling or very active involvement in their schooling) but that pays enough so that I can save for retirement and meet other goals I have such as traveling to Nigeria.

I've thought about becoming an adjunct professor. This would get my feet wet in the world of academia even though I know that being an adjunct professor can be difficult in terms of getting classes to teach and scheduling. Still it's a good way in, I think. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I have the qualifications. I'm 5 years out of graduate school with very little experience. Still, I would like to give it a try. So far, I've contacted a few of my former professors just to hear what they have to say about academics and my hopes of entering that field. But, I struggle with issues of confidence: do I have what it takes intellectually? In other words, am I smart enough? Do I have enough unique ideas? Do I think creatively and critically
enough? Can I learn? The ultimate goal would be to win some kind of fellowship so that I could work towards my doctorate and become a full professor without incurring thousands more dollars in student loans. Being a professor would be the dream job for me. I enjoy academic rigor, love writing and love teaching (which is the one thing I've always been clear and sure about) and teaching on the university level would definitely give me the flexibility I would like to have.

But there are other things I could do like private tutoring but I'm
know in this economy, that wouldn't be all that profitable. I have a friend who used to be able to pull in beaucoup bucks per hour tutoring in more affluent towns. These days, she's not getting many calls.

And then there's my crochet! Some great news: one of the local colleges accepted my proposal to teach a crochet class. I'm going to meet with them Tuesday after next to discuss the details but so far I know it will be held at the YMCA and instead of the 10 sessions I proposed, there will be 8 and it will be on Tuesdays, the hubby's day off, so I don't have to arrange for childcare. Sweet! It's a great first step even though I'm not sure what the next step will be or if this is the direction I want to keep going but I'm excited.

Anyway, I'm chanting daily for clarity and wisdom when it comes to all this, hoping that maybe somehow I could have the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

House upkeep has been getting away from me

I've been keeping a fast pace of a different activity every day to make the most out of summer and keep the kids off the television and computer while the weather is nice out. I know that when it gets cold, we watch much more television and summer is my time to balance it all out. Unfortunately, in the midst of all the moving around and business, I've been finding it difficult to keep up with all the chores around the house. It's annoying but more so overwhelming when I end up having to do four or five loads of laundry at once or having to really do a massive scrub down of the tub or the stove instead of the light maintenance cleaning I prefer to do. I hate to admit it but . . . I could use a little help or I need to lower my expectations. The hubby is equally as busy if not moreso (he goes to work , does over-time shifts and takes care of the painting, yard work, etc . . .) so he can't really do much.

Well, today I managed to clean the bathroom and the second load of laundry is in the wash now although I might not get around to folding and putting away the clothes till tomorrow. I was hoping to get just one more load done today but Z2 just woke up. I guess I should remember that I could be washing clothes by hand.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Connecting the Youths to their Roots

One of the biggest things I wish my parents had done was to do a better job of connecting us (me, my brother and sister) to Nigeria and our Igbo culture and heritage. The older I get and the longer I live in the U.S., the stronger the sinking fear that there will never be a strong connection gets. I have gradually stopped emphasizing certain things like Nigerian Independence Day (October 1), staying current on happenings in Nigeria, even putting the kids and myself in traditional attire. It occurred to me the other day that this disconnection doesn't have to be although I am at a loss as to how to connect and stay connected. As it stands now, I have very little communication with my extending family in Nigeria and most of them are strangers. I wouldn't even really know how to arrange a trip to visit and with my limited Igbo speaking skills, I wonder how hard it would be (although most of them speak English). But I'm determined to give my children the gift of Igbo heritage and culture and really thinking on ways to make this reality. I think the best first step would be a trip. In thinking of Nigeria, I remember some of the not so positive things I saw but overwhelmingly I remember its beauty and potential. I would like my children to experience it.

As fortune would have it, I was in the children's library yesterday (hiding out from the scorching sun) and my eyes fell upon this book: Chidi Only Likes Blue by Ifeoma Onyefulu.

To say I was thrilled to find it would be a huge understatement. This book of colors uses elements of traditional Igbo life to illustrate all the wonderful colors in a little Igbo girl's life. The story is so cute and the photographs (I was bowled over that there are photographs and not illustrations) are full color and fabulous (Ms. Onyefulu takes the pictures herself). Definitely pick this one up at the library. I am most assuredly going to purchase it (it's in my cart as I type this).

P.S. Note the hairstyle of the little girl (named Nneka--one of my favorite girls' name) on the cover. I wish I had a picture book like this when I was a little girl. My mother would send me to school with similar hairstyles and I remember wishing so much that I could just wear cornrows like the other Black (African-American and Yoruba) girls (or have long flowing hair like the White girls). I didn't like being the only one but alas, my mom didn't know how to cornrow. Books like this really do build and affirm the self-esteem of young Black girls.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Four Years with My Son--A Reflection

My son is one of the greatest blessings I have ever received in my life. His arrival in my life has completely transformed me in ways I often find hard to articulate. He has magnified some of my insecurities and worries but in some areas of my life he has imbued me with a confidence that I never knew I could have. Z1 is not an easy child and has never been. He came out of me screaming, roaring like a true Leo and never stopped. I spent countless hours during the first weeks of his life walking him while he was screaming. Gripe water and every remedy for colic failed miserably on this little one. It was in those early sleep-deprived months that I discovered baby wearing and became a senior member on one of my message boards. Yet, underneath all that aggression is a peace and an agelessness that is truly profound. He has got to be one of the sweetest people I know yet upon meeting him you might think him rude or abrasive. More than one parent has confided in me that they didn't think Z1 liked their child and I have to patiently show them the ways in which he was demonstrating just how much he did like their child. He's just that unique kind of child that keeps you on your toes. Like how for a while there he was consistently saying that his aunt (my sister) smelled like poop. And how for a while there he absolutely refused to say goodbye after playdates. He's great for a chuckle too. I suffer terribly from allergies and one day he says to me, "Mommy, if you sneeze a lot you have to go to the sneeze doctor. He will give you a red lollipop. I hope he has some!" in such a sincere way that I willed the sneezing to go away so that he wouldn't worry anymore.

At the same time, I am able to acknowledge today that I did not have the greatest of childhoods. I find myself repeating some of the things my parents did that weren't really healthy. And I come down hard on myself too. Really hard. On the other hand, I find myself trying to overcompensate. I get downright obsessive about making sure he has the things that I didn't have as a child and sometimes he bucks at the pressure. And if you know Z1, he is someone that will not perform for you under pressure. And I'm learning slowly how to take it easy and give him his space. His interests and wants and wishes won't be the same as mine were as a child. I'm learning by force to listen, actually listen to my son. Even though he talks incessantly and sometimes I am really tempted to tune him out.

And I worry too. I worry that he's not as bright as his counterparts. That he'll struggle with reading like his dad. That he'll lag behind his counterparts. That if he ends up going to school, he'll hate it and hate learning. That if he is homeschooled, I'll screw up and he'll hate learning all the same. I then remind myself about his inherent worth and the damage that I am still trying to undo in myself from years of being compared to others. Years of competing and never measuring up in my parents' eyes. I try to relax and let him learn things at his own pace and this kind of reaffirms my desire to homeschool him because if I succeed at respecting him, who he is and what he is worth in this regard, he will be all the better for it. So he may not grasp a certain concept as well as other 4 year olds might but if I just take a minute and look, I am sure to come up with a list of things that other 4 year olds struggle with but Z1 does with ease. There really is no use in comparisons.

I hope to be able to give my son things my parents never gave me. Somehow, I must find ways to convey Igbo culture to him. I want him to master an instrument or an art or something . . . to know that accomplishment. I want him to always feel free to come to me with any and everything, big and small and know that while I may not always be happy, I will always be there. Even if I can't do anything, just to listen to him.

But beyond all that . . . I love that boy with everything in me. He is sweet. He is generous. He is thoughtful. He is kind and loving. He chose me to come through and I'm grateful. These four years have been some of the best of my life.

It's his 4th Birthday!

Z1 turned four today and I can hardly believe it. I should be writing a reflective essay soon but until then, Happy Birthday Z1!!!

It's also the birthday of Marcus Garvey. 'Nuff bredrin and sistren gave us 'nuff flack because we didn't name Z1 Marcus!!! But I&I remember old Marcus Garvey today and everyday.

Up ye mighty race!! You can do what you will!

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