Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree . . .

Or not.

I have never had a Christmas tree at Christmas. Not once in my entire life.  Our family didn't put up Christmas trees.  My parents held the belief that trees and all the other Christmas "paraphernalia" were pagan and as Christians, we should not be involved in those things.  My parents also strongly believed that the purpose of Christmas was not the gifts but to celebrate the birth of Christ.  So even if we would have had a tree, there would have been very few gifts under it.

Now, my parents and I don't hold similar world views.  In fact, our world views are vastly different except that we kind of agreed on the Christmas tree thing and the gift giving thing.    But I'd be lying if I said that as a child I didn't long for a beautifully decorated Christmas tree with lots of gifts under the tree.  I wanted that so deeply every Christmas but as I got older and learned a lot more on my own, I became genuinely uncomfortable with all the Christmas "stuff" and when I left Christianity, I took a huge step back from the whole holiday.

But the other day Z1 asked if we were going to have a tree.  He said he wanted to decorate it. The hubby tried to explain that we don't do trees but I felt torn (even though I went along with the hubby).  What's really the harm in having a tree and decorating it?  It may have had pagan origins but now that I know paganism is not devil worship, so what? Who can deny that they are beautiful and fun to decorate?  My opinion on gift giving hasn't really changed all that much.  I wouldn't want to go out and spend a whole lot of money buying things for Christmas.  I think that misses the point, the spirit of Christmas.  But I could see making homemade gifts for each other and close family members as the kids get older because I definitely recognize the value in gift giving and generosity.  And as a knitter and crocheter, I especially see the value in sharing the fruit of one's labor, the product of one's creativity with loved ones.

The frugal me would, of course, purchase an artificial one that we could pull out year after year.  It would be small enough to fit on the kitchen table.  

I could actually have written a similar post at Halloween because the same issues came up.  I didn't dress up or trick-or-treat as a child and I often felt left out.  I often felt like I was missing out on a whole lot of fun.  And these days, holidays are such a mainstream thing--moreso than when I was a child--that it's hard to keep your children insulated from the influence.  I honestly felt bad when Z1 went to his little Kindermusik class and all the other kids had costumes but he didn't.  I asked myself then, What's the harm, really?

So, what say you?  Do you do Christmas trees in your households?  Why or why not?

Picture courtesy of

Friday, November 27, 2009

Good Enough.

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!!

We travelled about 3 hours away to spend the holiday with family and though I was a littler nervous about how it would go, I'm happy to say that it was enjoyable. At least as enjoyable as it could be.

I kept thinking to myself why it is I can never really relax around my family.  Of course, there's the difference in religion and lifestyle but I think more than that, it's my mother.

I seriously believe my mother gave me a lot of complexes that I am still struggling with.  I don't know if I will ever be done struggling with them.
"He's dark-skinned but he's still the most handsome of all of his siblings."
That's a direct quote from my mother talking about one of my cousins yesterday.  Now this cousin is indeed a stunningly beautiful child.  I mean, you will look twice when you see this little boy.  And he looks and behaves very, very differently than his three other siblings (two older and one younger).

This is the kind of message she's been sending me all my life.  I sometimes think I may be imagining things but I know I'm not.  I had the idea growing up that my younger sister, who is just a shade or two lighter than I am was pretty and I was not.  This was despite that fact that often, people in the street mistook us for twins.  It wasn't necessarily that my mom would come right out and say things to me that damaged my self-esteem.  It was more often the things she didn't say.  The compliment to my sister or to some other child--gushing over her long neck of her her clear complexion.  The extra effort I made to be pretty or cute that went completely unnoticed.  And to this day, I swear, it's hit or miss if I'll look in the mirror and I'll like what I see.   It's infuriating.  I get so self-conscious around her that I can't relax.  I'm so self-conscious in general.

I used to blame my non-existent self-esteem on my harsh fifth grade experience that involved near daily torture with almost the whole class calling me ugly and dark.  I remember knowing acutely that a girl named Jamilla, very light skinned with loosely curled hair was beautiful in way I would never be.  But it wasn't those kids that destroyed my self-esteem.  It was going home and not having anyone to give me a different message.  It was going home and having that message reinforced.

So many folks' blogs I read say why can't we as Black people let go of our color issues.  I wish it were that simple.  Color is about as complex an issue as hair.  I know that first hand.

But aside from all that, I still feel so much that I want to make my mother happy and proud of me.  I still feel so much of a sense of failure that I can't--even though I know on an intellectual level that it's not me.  I've done lots of great things in my life--things that should make a mother proud.  But I don't get the sense my mother is proud at all.  It annoys me that I latch on to the faintest of compliments from her and hold on them for dear life.  Like when she was trying to put a pan of cornbread in the oven yesterday and was struggling.  I came over and pulled out the oven rack so she could easily slide it on.  She says, "That was good thinking" and I could feel myself light up.

I could feel myself deflate when I noticed she didn't touch any of the food I brought.  I am a self-taught cook--I cook mainly vegan foods and so I had to teach myself everything.  My mother never really took the time out to teach me to cook.  Or to sew.  Or crochet.  Or to speak Igbo.  But whatever, I'm getting along well and learning all those things on my own.  So many people tell me I'm gifted in the kitchen.  So many folks don't even believe my food is vegan.  I had die hard omnivores eating barbeque tofu.  She didn't even try it.  I mean, folks were really enjoying my collard greens.  Everyone said it was slamming.  She didn't even try it.

Fine, I get it.  I inherited my pickiness from her and I'm never the first to try new or different things.  I could eat the same exact thing every day and never get bored.  But what hurt the most was when she goes to get to dessert.  There was my homemade sweet potato pie and store bought apple pie.  She brought a slice of apple pie for herself and my dad.    I said to my dad, to her hearing, "Oh dad, you don't want some of my sweet potato pie?"  He said, "Oh, yeah, I do . . . go get a slice for me."  And I did.  And he ate it and enjoyed it.  My mother didn't seem to care.

It really shouldn't bother me much, you know.  But it does.  When she comments that Z2's hands are cold, it's a thinly veiled criticism of how I feed my kids, how I take care of them.  When she says things like, "Oh you're losing weight" I can't take it as a compliment because it's always backhanded like she might as well be saying "You're too fat."  And I know if I were to dramatically lose weight, then the problem would be that I am too thin.  It's painful never being good enough.  It makes me really wish that I could move and never have to talk to her again.

So I enjoyed my Thanksgiving, I did.  But there's always that shadow hanging over my head.  I really wish I had the tools to deal with this effectively.  I feel that all I'm powerful to do in this situation is to make sure that I do differently for my children.  Refrain from comparisons.  Make them know without a doubt how uniquely beautiful they are and that I'm proud of them always.  That doesn't necessarily take away my pain but it help me to focus my energy and attention on something else.  Something that makes me feel good.

Photo Courtesy of Feminist Law Professors

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A little thing called respect

Respect (which goes hand in hand with politeness) goes a long way in this world of ours especially if you happen to be a person of color.  In my last post, I discussed my feelings on the practice of saying sorry, specifically the idea of forcing an apology or giving an apology that is not sincere.  But there are many other practices/ideas that are related to a little thing called respect.

The hubby yesterday said to me that it's time for Z1 to stop calling adults by their first names.  He wants Z1 to preface any adults' name with a proper title:  Aunt, Uncle, Mr. or Ms.  To him, failing to do so is definitely a sign of disrespect.  Maybe I'm more progressive but I really don't mind children in an informal setting calling me by my first name and I don't mind Z1 calling other adults by their first names either.  By adults, I mean non-related adults.  I still expect Z1 to call his aunts "Aunty", uncles "Uncle", Grandma, Grandpa, whether or not they are related by blood or by marriage.  The hubby, on the other hand, absolutely does mind when he is called by his first name by a child or when a child is calling other adults by their first name.  Well, I had to give it a little thought because, obviously, we have to have some kind of agreement on the issue.

I'm from a culture where respect for elders is of the utmost importance.  I mean, any Nigerian child can tell you of the numerous aunts and uncles they have (only a handful of which are actually really related).  There are people older than me that to this day, I would never attempt to call by their first name without tacking on an Aunty or Uncle.  I remember this huge dilemma I had as a child when the mom of an American friend of mine wanted me to drop calling her Aunty.  I didn't really know how to address this woman because I knew if my mother heard me calling her by her first name, it wouldn't be pretty.  So I stopped calling her altogether.  I wonder if she ever noticed.  Anyway, because of my numerous "fake" aunts and uncles, I wouldn't ask my kids to call any non-related adult Aunty or Uncle.  If we're going to use titles, they're going to be formal--Mr. or Ms. although they can tag that on to the first name (as opposed to the last name) of the adult they're talking to the hubby is okay with that).

In one sense I definitely see the value in using proper titles because it really does set up a space for formality, a distinction between me and you, a respect.  If you call me Ms. Originalwombman and I call you by your first name without a title, you'd feel a way--and vice versa.  In some instances, setting up this respectful environment is useful like at the workplace or in the classroom.  But when it comes to interpersonal relationships between children and adults, is it still useful or does it set up a hierarchy of power where children are at the bottom and adults at the top?

You see, for me parenting is requiring a whole shift in my paradigm.  I'm currently reading a book called Connection Parenting and the underlying idea is that no, you shouldn't treat children like adults but you should always treat them with respect.  That is the only way you can in turn expect respect and this is the only way to truly stay connected to your children.  And connection, the book posits, is what children need most in this world.  That makes total sense to me.  So how does using titles to address adults correspond to that understanding?  If respect is a two way street, what special title am I going to use to address children?  Now, I've had teachers who insisted on calling their students "Ms. So and So" especially when I was attending my all girls high school. I always liked this.  I honestly did feel respected in a genuine way--as if the teacher thought me to be on his/her level, i.e. just a capable a human being.  I've also taught in a school where the students called the teacher by her first name.  I can't say I really liked that dynamic though--students really were haywire at times but I don't know if it was the teacher herself (who didn't command respect) or the fact that
they didn't use titles.  I tend to think it's the former.

I am happy to say that I started a Saturday job at a learning center about 20 minutes from here.  Most of the students call the teachers by their first names.  After encountering a particularly surly and sarcastic boy yesterday (who, damn it, happens to be the only Black child I've see walk into the place yet and who burst into tears when I asked why he was being so rude) I am certain that I do not want to be called by my first name.  I don't even want my first name in play at this place because I do not want to invite any form of disrespect.  I don't want to deal with any bullshit at a part-time Saturday gig.  So I guess deep inside I really do feel that using titles does, at least in some part, promote respect.

But is it fair to expect children to tag on a title of respect to address adults when adults are not expected to do that to children? I'm not sure.

I am sure that is vitally important for my boys to be viewed as respectful, courteous, polite young men--as non-threatening as possible.  So I may have to push my misgivings aside so that they get into the habit of addressing adults as Mister or Ms.

I am sure that a little thing called respect, in this world, in this skin, goes a really, really long way.
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