Category Archives: Motherhood

How Do I Free My Daughter from the Culture Matrix?

M.O.M. Squad – dear, dear cabal of friends and strangers – I’m flabberwhelmed. (And, yes, that’s a real word. Because Jayden Smith.) I am literally spinning in cyclone of confusion. I don’t know what to do about my sweet Black baby girl; and wonder if I should do anything at all.

Over the years, when pop culture hasn’t dominated the talking points, we’ve talked about the challenges of raising children of different races and abilities. You guys who still have yet to raise children of your own have been gracious enough to chime in with your unique perceptions, observations and suggestions. Every parent does and will struggle with some aspect of their child(ren)’s personality, quirks and capabilities. I have had the honor of adopting a number of ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews’ born to women I have yet to meet in person, but who I consider friends. Some of our kids have delayed speech or are non-verbal altogether. Some of them are exceptional students but struggle with social interaction. Some don’t try hard enough at school. Each of us has our own weighty cross to bear, but for the most part, we would all consider ourselves lucky to be parents.

My cross is my daughter Aya. Not Aya specifically, of course. Anyone who knows her is aware of how thoughtful and kind she is. The weight of my concern for her is attributed to the lack of confidence she has in herself, or in her blackness, to be precise. She lacks confidence in the abilities of Black girls.

Ebei. Raising a Black child in these United States is not easy o! Where do I even begin?

denciaWe’ve all read about/talked about/raged about the dominant European standards of beauty and how they affect the self-esteem women and girls around the globe. Anyone who had has ever had an opinion on this has taken a different approach to addressing this “problem” as it affects them personally or as it affects their child. Some women have gone so far as to bleach ALL of the black out of their skin or perm the kinks out of their 4 month old baby’s hair. On the other side of the pendulum, some people of color won’t let heat or a comb anywhere near their roots or the follicles of their children. As far as aesthetics are concerned, I believe we have come to some definite conclusions about how to deal with our perceptions of blackness and what Black beauty ought to look like. But how much time has been invested in developing the Black mind, or what it means to change the dynamics of what it means to think Black?

Earlier in the year some time in the spring, I wrote on my Facebook page about taking Nadjah and Aya to the salon here in Roswell. When we approached the building, the marquee had a picture of a green eyed woman with dark, tousled hair. I had already called ahead, and the owner assured me they styled “ethnic hair”, but even I was hesitant to enter the building with its rocking chairs on the front porch and Vogue-esque model welcoming us at the door. Nadjah scampered up the steps ahead of Aya and I and urged us to hurry up. Aya was frozen in her tracks, however.

“Mommy? Is this a place for brown people? Can we go inside?”

Before I could answer, Nadjah grabbed her sister by the hand and boomed “We can go anywhere we want! Segregation is over!”

That settled it. We went inside, they got a wash, blow dry and some cornrows, and everyone went home happy. Everyone except me, that is. What kind of messaging was my daughter receiving to make her think that she did not have the right to enter an establishment as innocuous as a salon?

I have done my best to direct my children towards critical thinking (although I often believe I am failing) and to have faith not only in God, but in their God-given talents and abilities as human beings. Nadjah thinks she’s invincible, so somehow the messaging has worked for her. But in Aya’s case, she doubts herself because she is Black. Hear me again: her self-doubt isn’t because she doesn’t go to a good school or have a great teacher – it’s because she thinks she’s only capable of achieving *this* much because she is BLACK.

Sally in the airWhen I wrote Sally and the Butterfly, I had Aya and kids like her in mind and was very deliberate about making sure that there were clues in the book about Salimah’s life that pointed to her being an 8 year old brown-skinned heroine. Mrs. Greenwood, her temporary caretaker cornrows her hair for her. When she is nervous, Salimah plays with her braids. Heck, I named the child Salimah so that there would be no confusing this child for anything other than a kid who had a fair amount of melanin in her skin. But when Aya scanned through the book and saw Sally outrunning ostriches, using tactical methods to outwit Orbeasts and navigating her way through an enchanted realm, my sweet baby girl looked up at me and asked: “Mommy? Is Sally brown?”

She was doubtful; doubtful that a little brown girl could do any of these things. If it were not, Sally’s race would never come into question. If Sally were blond with cream colored skin, we could read through her adventure and her race would never come up. I know this because we read lots of books with pretty white girls doing amazing things, and race has never come up once. But it did with Sally.

When I simply replied “Yes. She’s brown”, and left it there, Aya beamed and continued reading. But again, I was struck by how much this innocent question revealed so much uncertainty in my daughter.

I often hear/read people in the mainstream talk about how sick they are of hearing people of color – or Black people, to be blunt – kvetch about why we create web shows, magazines, etc. that focus on our blackness because we grew up looking at images that looked nothing like us.

“I’m a 300 lbs white man on crutches. I’ve never seen anyone in the media look like me!” I recall one Yahoo user snarling in retort to such an article.

Fair enough. But this man probably has a white steel worker, a hacker, a cook, a banker or what have you in his family, and these folks often get complex and interesting story lines on soap operas and Netflix originals that folk that look like Aya don’t regularly get! He at least has the benefit of relating to these characters…even if they don’t “look like” him.

I know that race and perceptions about intelligence matter to my daughter, but I just don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know what to give her. In her whole existence, she has only had one Black instructor – her current third grade teacher. It didn’t strike me as an issue until Aya mentioned this as we were eating popcorn one day.

“I like being in Ms. McNeil’s class, because she’s brown like me and she’s smart,” she said.

Ms. McNeils are in the minority in classrooms around the nation. I don’t know when Aya will encounter another brown face in education that doesn’t work as a custodian or lunch lady (and God bless them for their service!). I literally don’t know how to rip her out of this matrix.

Help?

What’s the Greatest Act of Love You’ve ever Witnessed?

Some dude a long time ago once said “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I believe that to be true. It’s the reason grown men are reduced to blubbering, weeping heaps following strategically choreographed scenes in football and war movies. Remember when Chappy died in an aircraft explosion in ‘Iron Eagle’? He sacrificed his life so that Doug could save his dad. It was devastating, heart rending, and moving. Fortunately, Louis Gosset Jr’s character also doubled as the Magical Negro, so he popped back up from the dead at the end of the movie, fresh as a daisy.

Outside of the silver screen how often do we get to witness acts of true, selfless love in real life? Can you recall the last time you witnessed an act of true love? This summer, I was fortunate to be in a front row seat to observe such a phenomenon…and it was absolutely terrifying.

This summer my Somali friend Ameera* brought her girls over to our pool for a swim. Aisha and Aaliya are Nadjah and Aya’s best friends, which makes Ameera and I BFFs by extension. (It’s part of some motherhood code, I’m sure.)

Ameera's coat was similar to this one.

Ameera’s coat was similar to this one.

Ameera’s daughters are the sweetest, skinniest things you’ve ever met. Clad in their hijabs and modest swim wear, the girls looked around to make sure there were no prying eyes before they dove into the pool. I cut my eyes at a group of brown-skinned, mean girl teenagers who hopped out of the water as soon as Aisha and Aaliya jumped in, grunting their disdain and muttering words about the family’s attire. Ameera had on a brown and black hijab and a black overcoat.

“It’s too hot for alladat,” one of them snorted.

If I could have kicked her teeth in, I would have. This is the same breed of micro-agression that Black people have fought against for decades: White people leaving establishments when people of color walked in and so forth. How far we haven’t come.

Ameera and I took the time to catch up on our personal lives. Although we’ve known each other for years, our relationship has consisted of “hellos” and “have a nice day” for almost its entirety. We talked about how we got to America, how education was so different here than back home, and our plans for our respective families. She had her eyes hawkishly fixed on the pool.

“Aya is such a good swimmer,” she complimented.

I thanked her, but told her it was not my doing. Although I had paid for lessons, it was Aya who had put in the real work. Nadjah was too afraid to get her hair wet, which is why she huddled near the edge of the pool.

“The only reason Nadjah is being more adventurous is because your girls are here,” I informed her. It was my turn to compliment her kids as well, so I pointed to her eldest and said.. “Aisha is really good in the water!”

“Yes, but she takes too many chances,” Ameera said with exasperation.

No sooner were the words out of her mouth, I saw two little hands flailing from beneath the surface of the water from the center of the pool where the water was deepest.

“Oh my God!” I screamed.

Ameera was in the water like a flash of 200 lbs brown lightening. Still dressed in her modest clothing, she sprinted along the pool’s floor, grabbed her struggling daughter and pulled her to the surface. Meanwhile, I was running along the pool’s edge, my mind clouded and wondering what to do next! Ameera emerged from the water, drenched and hijab still intact. She hugged and scolding the shivering child at the same time. Finally, she released her into the company of her friends.

“Stay in 3 feet,” she commanded. “That goes for all of you!”

The girls nodded obediently. We were still in awe by what we had witnessed. Ameera was muttering to herself in her local language, peeling off her coat and head covering so that she could give them a squeeze and hang them to dry in the summer sun.

“Ei. Ameera, I’ve never seen anyone move so fast!” I gasped in admiration. Suddenly, I was gripped by terror. A vision of how the pool scenario could have played out differently hit me. Given the conservative upbringing she described earlier, a thought occurred to me. “Can you swim?”

“No,” she replied curtly.

“Then…”

She answered my unasked question with emotion choking her throat. “I love my children SO much. Of course I will jump in the water to save them.”

And that was all there was to it. Love – true love – makes you do crazy things.

Have you ever seen such an act? Or have you ever put your life on the line so that someone else could have a shot at survival? Was Ameera a fool to jump into the pool without thinking? Discuss! ↓

Did I Just Write Ghana’s FIRST Choose Your Own Adventure Book?

No, seriously: Is ‘Sally and the Butterfly’ Ghana’s first choose-your-own-adventure book for kids? I don’t know. But if I did, it was totally by mistake, and pretty frikkin’ awesome!

The story of how ‘Sally and the Butterfly’ (SATB) came into existence is one that is really special to me. A little over a year ago, the kids and I were reading the same stories again and again at bed time. Everyone had their favorite books and every night there was a prizefight about who would get to read what book or what story book should be read. I felt like Picard at the helm of a Klingon battle ship navigating our way along the Romulan border. It was nerve-wracking and exhausting!

Finally, I decided to draw on an experience from childhood to solve the problem: we would all tell toli in the evenings. I don’t know if there is an official definition of toli, but at its essence it is simply act of story-telling using the height of one’s imagination – sort of like tall tales in American folklore. I would introduce the beginning of the story and give each child 3-5 minutes to tell everyone how they think the story should end. Our heroine’s name was Salimah, or Sally for short.

Stone loves trains, so Sally’s town has a train depot.

Aya loves butterflies.

Nadjah loves adventure, so she introduced several dangerous scenarios for Sally to overcome.

Liya was only just 3 at the time, so she would just repeat everything that was said.

We did this every night for about a month until some holiday or trip got in the way (I don’t remember) and then we stopped. Sadly, we don’t even do story-time at bedtime anymore because the kids do homework until about 8pm and then have to have baths and rush to bed. Marshall used to sit in the adjoining room listening to the stories and eventually suggested that I turn it into a book. I didn’t see how it would work, so I muttered something about “considering it” and then tabled it for months. I finally started writing a linear version of the story and sent portions of it to Nana Darkoa (BFFFL) so she could keep me on task. She loved it, which is why my BFFFL encouraged me to submit it to Golden Baobab for their prize in children’s literature this year. I sent it without proofing or formatting it properly. It was an absolute MESS.

Secretly, I was hoping I wouldn’t win the prize and I think I subconsciously sabotaged my own efforts. I read something about Gold Baobab owning the rights to the book or something-something and I’m too protective over my work to just let any ol’ body own it. My books are my babies, conceived and birthed from the womb of my imagination!

In the middle of writing SATB, I gave up trying to force a linear progression of Sally’s adventures and began writing alternate endings for each chapter. The book is only 9,887 words long, but it was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever written or cobbled together. Every time I changed the font size the page numbers would be displaced and I’d have to figure out where poor Sally was supposed to be going next! But a year and some change later, it was done.

As I said before, story-telling is a strong African tradition, not just a Ghanaian one. Our history and traditions were handed down by oral convention before the European colonial invasion. (At least the Arabs didn’t destroy our griot societies when they brought written Arabic to West Africa!) I want to encourage that practice in young readers, so the end of the book has a special surprise for those who happen upon a copy of SATB. Each reader has the chance to choose their own ending for Sally or any of the other characters in the book if they didn’t like the way it ended!

drowning orbeastThe book was illustrated by Ogidi Laja who is based in Nigeria. I wanted every creative aspect of the book to be touched by an African, and though neither he nor I had attempted anything of this sort before, we muddled through it and got it done. Ogidi is a comic book artist, and he struggled to draw Sally’s cornrows. We fought about her wearing a hat for weeks, but I wanted there to be no doubt that this was a story about a brown girl somewhere on the continent that any boy/girl on the continent could see something of themselves in. (SATB was edited by 13 year old Arianna Murray who has roots in North Carolina…which is basically Africa with constant supplies of water and electricity.)

Sally and the Butterfly’ is available on CreateSpace  and Amazon , and will be on shelves at iSpace in Osu after the New Year. You can get copies of my other books at iSpace right now too!

I hope parents and kids will enjoy this new piece of kid adventure literature and share their own versions of Salimah’s story with their friends!

BookCoverImage

Testimony of a Reformed Child Beater

Note: Emotions and views surrounding corporal punishment are very strong and raw right now… but I’m not here to debate your feelings or coddle your visceral need to be violent towards people who are smaller than you. I’m here to talk about how we’re failing these kids.

Beating. Whuppin’. Whipping. Spanking. Choose whatever verb is most acceptable or familiar to you, it comes down to an adult hitting a child with something. Within the realm of corporal punishment, particularly in America, one may use either one of these words to determine the severity or assuage the guilt of inflicting pain on a child. Charles Barkley recently exemplified this when he make the distinction between a “beating” (which sounds awful – like something a cruel master would do to an insubordinate slave) and a “spanking” or a “whipping” (words which I suppose are supposed to conjure images of love?). Again, it doesn’t matter what you call it, the intent is to inflict pain on a child for some infraction, sometimes even imaginary ones.

Today, I’m going to keep my conversation centered around two groups: Black folk and church folk. If you find yourself in either category and are prone to offense, I’m going to warn you and give you the opportunity to stop reading now. Here’s a hint: my assessment doesn’t end well for you.

Still reading? Ahh, ok.

spankingThe conversation around the subject of beating children in recent days in light of the Adrian Peterson case has been absolutely heartbreaking, and quite frankly, revolting. The depths that Black folk and church folk have gone to to defend the act of taking a switch or belt or branch or extension cord to the tender flesh of their children has been staggering. I’ve seen comments where people say they’d beat the autism out of their kids, beat the gay out of their kids, beat some sense into their kids. These words are often written with the letters ‘lol’ following the statement, but you know the QWERTY Crusader opining on the issue isn’t sitting there laughing out loud. Their reaction at the thought of NOT beating their child for an infraction likely more resembles a smug, sinister grunt. And no one, I mean NO ONE, beats their children as frequently as church folk and Black folk. The numbers bear this out. 8/10 African Americans believe that spanking is an acceptable form of punishment compared to 7/10 whites who were surveyed. Asians numbers were even lower, with 47% of Asian males in favor of corporal punishment compared to 12% of Asian females. In the church, 8/10 born again Christians are in favor of spanking.

I understand these numbers, and before I became a reformed child beater (as of last week), I adhered to the reasons and social drivers that have contributed to these numbers. Blacks in America have carried on a tradition of beating their children into obsequiousness, often in the hope that it would keep them safe. Encountering a “sassy black gal” or “uppity negress” (terms which are still sprinkled over the internet today) would cause white lips to curl and often resulted in horrific rape and/or murder of the offender. In order to keep their children in line with society’s expectations that they be silent, second class citizens, Black parents beat their children at the moment sass, questioning or a challenge reared its head. The idea was – and still is – that if you beat the obstinateness, spunk and even the curiosity out of their children, it will somehow save their lives or set them on the course for future success. And yet, our prisons are filled with Black men and women who have had more than their fair share of beatings, while their absence is noted key decision making arenas across the country. May I humbly suggest that Black success experienced in this country is as a result of beating one’s children is in spite of its application, and not because of it?

The only thing beating your children does -or any living being for that matter – is it teaches them to fear their assailant…in this case YOU. Whipping someone is not an act of love. It is an act of rage. And before you get all “it’s a biblical principle” on me, let’s consider the two biblical principles that church folk are quick to quote in the midst of a good ol’ fashioned child-focused scourging:

  • Spare the rod, and spoil the child.
  • Pr 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
  • Pr 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
  • Pr 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
  • Pr 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
  • Pr 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

Notice I have no scriptural reference for the very first quote, because just like oft quoted “God helps those who help themselves” it’s not in the bible.

I went ahead and listed these without context because that’s what people who manipulate the bible for the benefit of their own agenda do. Let’s take Proverbs 29:15 for example, which implies that beating a child will eventually keep his mother from experiencing shame on account of his misdeeds. The same chapter goes on to say in verse 21 that “he who pampers his servant from childhood will have him as a son in the end”. So what are we to do? Pamper children into loving us or scourge them into obedience in lieu of it? Perhaps beating your children is not a biblical requirement. Maybe there are other, less violent ways to bring your children into alignment.

The average American Christian’s relationship with children (not just their own) is a reflection of their relationship with God, and usually it’s a screwed up relationship. Too many are locked in a cycle of breach of law, expecting severe chastisement from God, pleading for forgiveness and reoffending. They then impose this dysfunctional relationship on their children.

beatingI had a neighbor who had taken on the care of her 6 year old grandson named Shiloh. At 6, he was still wetting the bed. Her response was to whip his behind. At least 3 times a week, Shiloh would get a whipping for peeing in the bed because “he was too big for that”. She would often tell me with pride how she “beat his ass” every time he wet the bed. And yet, the more she beat him, the more he peed, which she then read as willful defiance. Eventually it was discovered that his incontinence was as a result of some pretty f*cked up potty training tactics he was subjected to when he was a toddler. How much pain and effort could both have them been spared if she had opted to investigate his background first and rely on archaic Negro/Christian ideas about how disciplining the child made her a good grandma last?

If we think about the rod in Psalms 23, where David says the Lord’s “rod and staff” are a comfort, can we really (and logically) assume that God beating him in the Valley of the Shadow of Death give him the warm and fuzzies? Shepherd do not use rods to beat their sheep: they use it to change or keep them on course and out of harm.

I have been accused of thinking I am better than other parents because I no longer opt to spank my kids. I know that people making these assertions are doing so out of their own sense of guilt and reluctance to do the hard work of thoughtful childrearing. I don’t combat their allegations. After all, from the beginning of my life as a parent, I relied on spanking because it was the right thing to do. Spanking has been handed down for generations and I and many people inherited it. Women I respect have advised me on what instruments to beat my children with (wooden spoons, fly swatters and paint stirrers) in the quest to quell ‘foolishness’. However, after much reflection, I have discovered that there is a difference between foolishness and childishness. Childish behavior has everything to do experience and the lack thereof. Foolishness is generally the province of adults who have had the benefit of wider experience, and in my estimation, makes grown-ups better candidates for a good spanking. Too many parents are bullying and punishing children merely for being children.

My younger sister is my model for many things, and though I gave birth first, she has surpassed me in terms of being an exemplary mother. She recounted an exchange she had with her four year old son with me.

“Mommy, can I climb on shelf?” he asked.

“No,” she said firmly.

“But why not?”

As you can imagine, they have had this conversation numerous times before. She looked up from her whatever she was reading and looked him in the eye.

“You tell me ‘why not’.”

My nephew thought about it for a moment and replied, “Because I’ll fall down?”

“And then what will happen.”

“And then I’ll get hurt?”

“Do you want to get hurt?”

“No.”

“Are you going to climb the shelf?”

“No…”

“Okay then.”

And away he went.

Children are far more intelligent than we give them credit for, and they learn by repetition. As a culture, I think we would do better and go farther if we relied on our words more and our fists less.

Raising Enterprising Kids

I used to live in an apartment on Roswell Rd in Sandy Springs that featured one of those huge dumpsters when you first enter the complex. You know the ones I’m referring to: sometimes they’re “tastefully” hidden behind a wooden fence…sometimes not so much. There’s nothing like coming home from a hard day’s working and witnessing a 3 ton bin vomit its contents because some genius thought it would be a good idea to stuff his soiled mattress right at the bin’s opening.

If you haven’t gotten the idea, I used to hate taking out the trash. Fortunately, I lived with 2 other roommates, so we rotated the duty weekly. I suffered this task every third week until there came a knock on my door one Saturday afternoon. An unsmiling boy with brown hair and a red t-shirt was standing on our step.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hey,” I replied.

What did this kid want?

“I’ll take your trash out every week for a dollar,” he said, pointing to his wagon which was sitting at the bottom of the stairs. I nearly dropped my glass. Bless this child!

“Yes. Yes!” I said with the enthusiasm of a woman who’d just been asked to be married. This boy was my knight in shining armor, and his little red wagon was the token of his sincere affection. “When can you start?”

“Today,” he said. He didn’t elaborate.

Ahhh. A man of few words; a man of action! Good lad.

I scampered off to the kitchen, tied up my bag, and handed it to him. Then I rooted around my wallet and fished out a dollar’s worth of change. He took it, unsmiling, and set off towards the dumpster.

“What’s your name?” I called after him.

“Neil,” he replied…. and then he was gone; until the next week when he showed up to collect our trash. Unfortunately, it was not my week to take care of trash duty, and that particular roommate did not want to part with his dollar. Undaunted, Neil returned again until we established a pattern.

He took out my trash for the next two or three months when our lease expired. I never saw him again, and never told him how much I appreciated his service. I’ve always regretted that.

That was about 11 years ago, and Neil must be 18 or 19 by now. I don’t know why he suddenly appeared in my consciousness this morning. Perhaps it’s because I’m staring at this laptop I slaved for hours to procure funds for; a laptop which was once received with so much glee that has been precariously sitting on the edge of the dining room table for hours. Do I move it, or do I let it fall to its doom in order to teach its new owner a lesson? After very little thought, I decided to move it.

Image from Mattel

Image from Mattel

I sometimes wonder if my children would more careful with their belongings if they had to shoulder some of the financial responsibility. Something tells me “yes”. I took the girls to the Girl Scout STEM Expo this weekend where they were selling all kinds of GS paraphernalia, including a limited edition (polarizing) Girl Scout Barbie. No lie, Aya melted into a heap of blubbering, messy tears, so conflicted over whether she should break her $20 bill for a $12.99 doll that I finally told her to forget the entire thing and stop the crying. She had NO concept that the money she had in her wallet that day wouldn’t be the only money she would ever make now or in the future. She had $26 in her purse, the spoils and returns of lost teeth and birthday gifts. Would she have a different attitude towards purchasing that doll if I had given her more opportunities to make more money?

The prevailing school of thought is that it is imperative to give children chores in order to assist in their complete development, but the jury is still out on whether children should be paid for chores done around the house or if they should be expected to do so. I suppose every family needs to make that determination within the confines of their means.

So back to Neil. I don’t know if his parents sent him off that afternoon to go make his own money, or if he decided to do it on his own. No matter what the impetus was, the result was an 8/9 year old boy knocking on doors, trying and succeeding to drum up his own business. And even if it wasn’t a multi-million dollar organization, he was consistent and efficient in his delivery of his service. (Never mind it was never with a smile. We’re talking other people’s trash here!) If he kept/is keeping up the same attitude toward his other endeavors, I hope to see him on a Forbes list one day.

I think it’s important that we give children an opportunity to earn a living using their wits and talents. I recently hired a 13 year old to edit one of my short stories, instructing her to use “the full scope of her editing knowledge learned thus far”. Now, I don’t know what the “full scope” of that knowledge is, but the girl is sharp as a tack and has been on the honor roll since she was in kindergarten. I know I can trust my work in her hands…not because she’s experienced, but because she’s smart.

Yup. I definitely see a wagon in two little Grants’ very near futures.

Do you put your kids to work? What are your thoughts on paying children for chores? Have you recently encouraged a child in some enterprise? I’m sure we’d all like to know!

What Responsibility Do Women Play in the Enforcement of Rigid Gender Roles We Buck Against?

*Note: I’m just asking a question! And yes, I do understand that this query is akin to the “pull your pants up and you won’t get shot” argument – but don’t get all catawampus before we’ve had a chance to talk about this now!*

 

godadsThis morning somebody –and I’m not saying who – posted this picture of a father and daughter on twitter with the hashtag #GoDads. It was pretty innocuous in my estimation, but a small cadre of women took some level of offence to it. To summarize, they said it was a “look and clap for me move”. My husband agreed, and said it was rather narcissistic. A man who has fathered a child shouldn’t be trumpeting about this small accomplishment when he has a duty as a parent to ensure his child’s welfare anyway. I agree with my husband’s sentiments and those of the group of women who felt an aversion to this post, however, I do understand the spirit in which the post was made.

The unknown father and daughter in this picture are at a clinic in Ghana. Ghanaian fathers, like the majority of African fathers are not known to be hands-on when it comes to parenting. They are providers and disciplinarians, and that is generally where the concept of Ghanaian fatherhood begins and ends. Of course, we have to give room for outliers like my own father, who told me that he didn’t want to be the type of dad whose children run from when from him there is news that’s he’s home. I’ve visited homes where this was absolutely the case. Daddy comes home, the kids would courtesy or salute, parrot their evening greeting to their father and then disappear. The picture referenced above says to me that there is a new vanguard of fathers who want to change this perception or reality.

In the course of the conversation that quickly became male vrs female, one of the respondents asserted that the only reason gender roles in Ghana haven’t changed is because women haven’t allowed them to. He gave an example of a man trying to wash his own bowl and being chased away by a woman. Sadly, I can see that happening. On Adventures, a reader described to her horror how her own sister facilitated archaic gender roles in her home. Her sister had a daughter and a son, both close in age. One afternoon her son said he was hungry, and his mother called for his sister to go make her brother noodles in the kitchen. Our reader stepped in, grabbing her nephew by the hand and firmly advocated that he be taught to make his OWN noodles; after all, boys are just as capable of cooking as girls are.

Photo Source: Bee's Blog

Photo Source: Bee’s Blog

Let’s pause and think about it. How many times is this same scenario repeated in some manner all over the country? We stop girls from climbing trees because girls don’t do that, or we tell boys they can’t help in the kitchen because it’s not done. Even when it comes down to something as mundane as pounding fufu, it’s expected that the boy will pound and the girl will turn. And if we’re completely honest, it’s usually women enforcing these gender roles.

Can we then be justified in our vexation when we find ourselves locked on the outside of parliament and boardroom deals when members of our own gender have socialized our boys-now-men to think that there are some things the female gender can’t do? At the same time, members of our own gender have raised us to believe that men just aren’t capable (or can’t be trusted) when it comes to the day to day matters in raising children. We mock men when they put on the baby’s diaper backwards, or make the formula too thick (or not thick enough), or sniff test a dirty pair of trousers and hastily put them on a child before sending him on stage for the church play because Dad didn’t think to set the clothes out the night before.

Kinna Likimani recently hosted a conversation surrounding gender issues as they relate to women in Ghana. One of the panelists made a poignant remark, stating that if we are going to get anywhere, we have to change certain cultural norms that are harmful, even if it means doing away with some traditions that people hold so dear. (Or hold on to for the privilege of power.)

If we are going to be serious about eliminating gender roles and bulldozing obstacles to a level playing field, we are all going to have to get comfortable with the concept of men doing certain “female” tasks and not just charging to the rescue when things have reached critical mass. This includes men functioning as stay-at-home-dads and working part time; bosses making an allowance for dads to be the first on call for when there’s a problem at school (I still don’t know why I am the FIRST person the school calls when there is a problem!); and a general expectation that men are just as responsible for the way his child turns out as a woman is.

What is the first thing we all say when a child acts out in public? Go ahead…say it with me:

Chile, where is your MOMMA??! She ain’t give you no home training, did she?

 

Hmmm. I suppose it’s hard to blame dad’s, when society’s default expectation for Black fatherhood is perpetual absenteeism.

Please, discuss ↓

The Beauty of a Truly Grateful Heart

I am not what you would call “the nicest of persons”. It’s shocking – I know. Nevertheless, this is something I have come to accept about myself. Knowing that I am capable of tremendous c callousness has led me to expect the same in my children. After all, the adage ‘The apple never really falls far from the tree’ was coined for a reason, right? You expect your children – or any person with whom you share a nurturing relationship with – the pick up a least a few of your peculiarities. But is it also in the nature of children to do something outside of your expectations and beyond that charted course you’ve laid for them.

My daughter Aya is perhaps the sweetest child I’ve ever met. (Bear in mind that I don’t spend my waking hours purposefully seeking out the company of children, so that doesn’t give me much of a sample to choose and make comparisons by.) My other three children are just as I would expect them to be, having such a mother: loud, unruly, selfish when necessary (and it’s always necessary) and shrewd. They take and take and are always looking for more. I have accepted this as normal behavior…or at least I did, until I started paying more attention to Aya’s antics. The girl is proof that sometimes, the apple falls from the tree, rolls down a hill, falls into a pond, goes through several stages of genetic mutation and comes out a coconut. Yes, both are round and firm, but couldn’t be more different than the other. Where I am callous, she is tender and where I have a cold view of the world, she sees light and goodness.

I worry about the child.

If what the Spirit tells us is true, we share particular attributes with the living God. These include the capacity to love, hate (as in a disdain for anything that would harm something/one you love), joy and so on. The bible, particularly in Psalms, talks about a grateful heart and the power of thanks giving. It alludes to the pleasure the Lord takes in our thanks. Most of these scriptures never resonated with me until I got older, saw the world and ultimately became a parent. Have you ever done something for someone- bought a gift or performed a random act of kindness and in place of receiving a “thank you” had these words follow instead:

“Oh, this is nice, but I would have much preferred if you had got the bigger/other one instead.”

Or

“Oh. You only bought one? We are six in the house. You should have got one for each of us.”

After a while, you just stop trying to please certain people, and eventually, you may begin dodging them altogether! But when you encounter someone who is truly grateful, truly appreciative of even the small things, you find yourself looking for ways to bless or give to them. I think it may be the same way with God.

Interacting with Aya has revealed a lot to me in this area. As we were sitting in church on the first Sunday of the month taking communion, she whispered a series of questions to me.

“So…this bread is Jesus’ body, Mommy?”

“Yes.”

“And the juice is His ‘blood’?”

“Yes.”

I went on to explain the mechanics of the crucifixion. The kids had – to my horror – seen a clip of Passion of the Christ which was slightly traumatic for them. Still, it was a good tool in that moment.

“God used to require a blood sacrifice to cover our sins…things we’ve done that are bad,” I explained in as elementary a fashion as I could. “Jesus’ blood was the ultimate sacrifice. He did that so God wouldn’t be mad at us anymore.”

She raised her eyes in surprise and smiled, mulling over the words. “Oh. Well, that was nice!”

Then she earnestly took her communion.

Aya is always looking for ways to share and to help others. Last year, she spent a good part of second grade helping one of the kids in her class who was struggling with math with his classwork of her own accord. No one appointed her to the task. She doesn’t want to see anyone left behind or missing out. This morning was the kids’ first day back to school, and as I lay in bed, still in the throes of my Nyquil induced coma, she told Stone to go back to the bathroom and re-brush his teeth. My husband asked her why.

“I want him to have a good first day at school. I don’t want anyone to tease him,” she replied.

See what I mean? If it had been up to me or Nadjah, we would have told the boy his mouth stinks of sulfur and to handle his stank breath! The result would have been the same, (i.e. Stone would go to brush his teeth) but the impetus is completely different. Aya didn’t want Stone to have a bad day, whereas we wouldn’t have wanted to smell his bad breath. See the difference?

That being said, I’m always looking for additional ways to show Aya that I appreciate her kindness and her gratitude. The first words from her mouth are always “thank you” whenever she receives anything, and she is very timid when it comes to asking for more. But because she’s ALWAYS so grateful, she gets more. It’s a vicious cycle of blessing!

There are different approaches to getting, and each has its own benefits. There’s taking by force, birthright, a sense of entitlement and what-have-you. I think that these methods are what we are accustomed to in society. But as a mother, a woman and a retail associate, I can tell you that being sweet and grateful will get you much further than privilege and brute force ever will. Yes, you may get what you deserve with an entitled attitude, but you will get MORE than you deserve when you consistently show appreciation. This latter attitude has led to an abundance of kiddie wealth, as Aya’s grateful heart has benefited her siblings on several occasions.

 

Have you encountered anyone who inspired you to show more appreciation? Do you find yourself running away from people who never/rarely show thankfulness? Should your giving be a function of the other person’s reaction, or should it not matter? Discuss! ↓

gratitude