Category Archives: Motherhood

Verbal Denigration of Girls Begins Much Earlier Than We Admit or Acknowledge

*Warning: This post contains vulgar language… You know, the type of language women and girls are subjected to every day, several times a day.

Occasionally, women’s magazines, glossy journals and quirky BuzzFeed videos address the issue of gender-based harassment and violence against women using provocative imagery and devastating statistics that it sets concerned tongues wagging…for a while…until we all move on to the next thing. Suddenly, the bone chilling cover stories about a university student’s gang rape an public bus by a group of strangers are replaced with ‘How to Get Sexy Hair and Fab Boots NOW!’. Or worse, stories about depraved, serial raping police officers never make the covers or headlines at all.

Source: Fanpop

Source: Fanpop

If the editors of these publications were truly reporting the actual realities of the average woman’s life, those glossy covers, the women who grace them and the lead stories that hook readers in would look incredibly different:

 

Female Physicist Passed up for Promotion Thanks to Patriarchy

Mom of 5 Overlooked for Team Lead Position Based on Assumptions About her Availability and Dedication

High School Student Cornered, Groped and Molested by her  Classmates

9-Year-Old Girl Gets Called ‘Bitch’ for the First Time in Her Life… And It Won’t be the Last

 

But headlines such as these don’t sell magazines or garner clicks. No one wants to be reminded of or confronted with the harshness of those realities – in print or otherwise – while they’re going about their daily activities: While they’re on the train, or ordering a sandwich at Burger King, or waiting for the spin cycle to finish at the laundry mat, or at any of the other places that women and girls are likely to be harassed, assaulted or violated.

No.

You want to escape.

So you plunk down $1.50 for this week’s edition of US Weekly and pretend you didn’t hear the guy on the other end of the tram tell you what a “fat ass” you have and how he’d love to “tear that thang up”. You bury your head deeper into your magazine and pray that this is just male bravado talking and that carry out his sinister threat when you get off at the next stop. You know the statistics about violence against women and you’re just hoping that you won’t become another faceless “one in three”. You just want to get home/to work/to the movies in peace.

SHCard4

If you’re like me, at some point you have to wonder: When and how did these obnoxious, vulgar men develop this persona? And what makes them turn physically violent when a verbal assault isn’t enough? Is it something that switches on in their brains around 18-22 that turns them into such monsters? Do external factors like work, or the lack of it, contribute to this?

For a long time, that’s what I believed: That so many of the dudes who harass(ed) me and other women learn to become douche bags after some post-pubescent crisis they suffer as a species. Prior to puberty, ALL boys are gassy and dusty, but overall pretty sweet, right? Well, I believed that until two little boys did the inconceivable on two separate occasions.

The first incident took place about two years ago. Nadjah was 9 at the time and some little dreadlocked boy named Rafiq* from down the road used to come up and play with these two bad-behind-no-home-training girls who lived in our cul-de-sac. Eventually, Rafiq started playing with my kids too. He was about 12 at the time, and I wasn’t comfortable with so large a boy interacting with my children, but I reluctantly allowed it and would monitor their play from my window until everyone dispersed at the end of the night. This went on for a few weeks until I eventually got comfortable enough to step away from my post. How many of you know you should never leave your post?

One day, Nadjah burst into the house and tore into my room, breathless with eyes wide in disbelief.

“Rafiq said that I’m brown because when I was born I was covered in the ‘s-word’ and that I have a fat fragina! What’s a fragina?”

I wasn’t prepared for this. I explained what a ‘vagina’ was and watched her recoil in disgust that he had mad reference to its girth.

“What do you mean “the s word”. Go ahead and tell me what he said. You won’t get in trouble.”

“Shit,” she replied simply.

The impudence! Visions of my emergency C-section and Nadjah’s frail 3 lbs preterm, newborn body shot through my head like lightening. I was incensed!

Marshall was already out the door by this time as Nadjah had spoken to him first before coming to make her report to me. He informed me that he had spoken to Rafiq – respectfully – and advised him on how he should speak to women or some such other nonsense. This was not good enough for me. I raced out of the house in my boubou, afro askew and told the other kids to call Rafiq back to me. He was already making his way down the road back to his house. I gave him the tongue lashing of life before asking why he would talk about my daughter’s vagina.

The boy became a mouse, squeaking his humble entreaty.

“No…no! I can never use such language. I am a Muslim…”

Saa? This boy doesn’t know I was also a Muslim once? I told him to clear out of my area and not come back until he’s learned some decency. I haven’t seen him since 2014.

Foolishly, I thought I could shield my girls from this sort of treatment by monitoring who they play with, but the devil is always busy and sometimes his agents slip through the nets.

My son, Stone, who is 6 has been playing with an 11 year old boy named Curtis* since last summer. Curtis shows him how to dribble a ball and they talk about Legos with Castillo from ‘Cross the Street (age 5). Something about Curtis has always seemed off to me, but I let Stone play with him because there are hardly any boys his age in our neighborhood. I don’t care too much for Curtis, but I never had a reason not to like him…until Sunday night.

Aya and her friend Carmen were riding their bikes and chattering incessantly about nothing, as 8 and 9 year old girls are wont to do. Curtis was staring at them, so much so that it made them uncomfortable. They said something to him about it.

“You’re both snitches and bitches and I’m going to call the cops on you,” he spat.

Aya and Carmen came into the house to report it to me, informing me that Curtis had called them the b-word. Again, I asked the girls what they meant by the ‘b-word’.

“Bitch,” Carmen said, her 8-year-old mouth forcing the word out of her face like it was a hot coal.

Oh…Oh, NO. Oh heeeeck no!

By this time, Curtis was long gone from the scene. You think that saved him? I knocked on every door in the neighborhood until I found his house; my husband, Carmen’s step-dad and Carmen’s uncle in tow. I felt some way about how it looked for two Colombian men forming part of my search posse for a little Black boy, but the kid called my daughter a bitch. There’s consequences.

I was like a woman possessed. I  didn’t care that it was cold or that I was still in my church attire or that I was tired. I needed to find this boys parents. He is 11, for holiness’ sake! Just as we were about to give up, Marshall knocked on a final door and was greeted by a sinewy man in red basketball shorts, black socks and beach shoes who confirmed he was Curtis’ dad, a hard looking man. He had the appearance of the type of dude would blink at a 5-10 sentence and serve it with the ease of a woodland elf running through a mountain pass. Just unfazed by what he was hearing – that is, until Marshall said these words:

“We’ve been looking for your son throughout the whole neighborhood, and now everyone knows that your boy…”

It was like he didn’t hear anything else after that. What? The whole neighborhood knows about this? A fire lit behind Mr. Red Shorts eyes. He promised to get on Curtis later on that ni-… No. Matter of fact, he was going to find Curtis right now!

I recognized that unique parental glare and momentarily felt bad for Curtis… but the boy called my 9 year-old daughter and her 8 year old friend a bitch. There’s consequences!

Y’all. Guess who came strolling up the street in the midst of all this discussion and wandered into a waiting wall of aggravated adults? Curtis. And guess what this misguided soul had the audacity to do? You guessed it. Lie, lie, lie! Oh, he was wailing.

“No, Daddy! THEY were the ones who called me a bad word. I didn’t do anything!”

Aya’s face broke. She was on the verge of hysterics, explaining that the girls had told him he as acting like a ‘hacker’ (I believe they meant ‘stalker’) and that neither ever cursed at him. She couldn’t believe it! Here she was the victim – who had been victimized in her own space – and Curtis commenced to falsely accuse her of initiating a verbal attack against him in order to escape punishment? Does any of this sound familiar?

Eventually he was made to apologize to the girls before his daddy hauled him off to face his fate.

Yet again, I was left reeling with anger and disappointment. The die has been cast. I know now that Rafiq and Curtis are just the tip of the iceberg. They represent the first link in a long, oily chain of eventual men and boys who will feel they have the right and privilege to slur or verbally assault my girls and then shirk responsibility for it like cowards.

I’d hoped we were raising a generation with better mores and sensibilities than the one I grew up in; one that would think harder about violating others’ freedoms and whose first instinct would be to treat everyone with fairness and respect. But giving participation badges and trophies for attendance to these kids has done nothing to alter or address the real cancer in our society: the grotesque way women and girls are spoken to, regarded and often treated. And apparently, that psychosis starts hella early.

How do the young men and boys in your life treat or speak to girls? Have you spoken to them about it? Are we doing a good job of guiding them, or are we leaving the job up to Li’l Wayne n’ dem and hoping for the best in the end? Discuss!

Marley Dias’ #1000BlackGirlBooks Campaign is a Gift to Authors of Color

Marley Dias is an 11 year old 5th grader who saw a gap in what she was exposed to in her literary world and decided to fill it. When the New Jersey student expressed her frustration about the types of books crowding her curriculum – books about “white boys and dogs” – her mother gave the sort of classically Jamaican/African Mama answer that you’d expect from a woman of her stature. If you’ve grown up with at least one African(ish) parent, her retort will feel familiar to you:

“What are you going to do about it?”

Now, depending on the level of frustration and fatigue the African(ish) parent was experiencing at the time the subject was broached, this query might have been followed by, or coupled with, the rhetorical question: “Eh heh. And what do you want me to do about it again?” This of course would have been followed by a command to read all the ‘white boy and dog’ books in the curriculum with the advice that the child “…add Shakespeare on top, while you’re at it!” Naturally, there would be an expectation that A’s will follow and a tearful speech at graduation expressing gratitude for the long-suffering African(ish) parent forcing the child to consume excessive classic literature in. After all, when the African(ish) parent was your age, they didn’t even have books, but they managed to analyze and explain the significance of the conical bra in Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino to peers and presidents!

See your life! You have books in this America I've brought you to, and still you complain!

See your life! You have books in this America I’ve brought you to, and still you complain!

Fortunately, Marley’s mother, Dr. Janice Dias Johnson’s response was more reasonable and measured… And the rest as they say, is history.

I first heard about Marley’s #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign from Rasheeda Sheers on Instagram. (*Plug: Rasheeda sells houses and condos, so if you’re looking to buy or sell, look her up! Rasheeda will have her contact details in the comments section later today! *End plug. ) She tagged me the GrassROOTS account where they detailed the motivation behind the campaign and its progress so far. Marley’s solution to what she identified as a very real problem was to source and read one thousand books that feature Black girls as lead characters. The response from the literary community has been overwhelming.

In reading up on Marley’s remarkable story, I came across a line in an article that posed a very serious question: ARE there a thousand books that feature Black girls as lead characters? The author then went on to gushingly surmise that if Marley couldn’t find them all, she would/could likely write them herself. The question reveals the struggle that many of authors of color grapple with  today: A lack of exposure.

There already exist a thousand titles with Black girl leads – we’ve just never heard of most of them! That’s why Marley’s project is such a gift to all of us. It gives us a chance to meet a whole new audience that we may have never had the chance with to connect before.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 10.27.45 AMIt should come as no surprise that I nearly broke my neck trying to get to the post office to mail off copies of Sally and the Butterfly and Yaa Traps Death in a Basket in order to get them delivered before the February cut off date when the campaign comes to a close. Girls like Marley – kids who yearn to see themselves reflected positively, powerfully, realistically and ethereally – in literature are the reason that I wrote both books. Their affirmation is the reason that sequels will follow! The idea that a  child in Jamaica – where my and several other authors works will eventually land – will be holding, enjoying (or hating. That’s always a possibility) and sharing my book is thrilling. The idea that they might look at Sally, or Yaa, or the girls from the Sugar Plum Ballerinas, or the unnamed dancer from Firebird, and identify her as a favorite or a future inspiration makes my heart so glad it could break.

You can tell from Janice Dias Johnson’s interaction with her daughter that she couldn’t be more pleased and proud of her accomplishments so far. Marley is an exceptional child who has surrounded herself with exceptional friends. She forms part of a trio called B.A.M. (short for Briana, Amina and Marley) who blog about pre-teen struggles, interests and observations on their blog We Love BAM. Did I crow when I discovered their blog? Yes I did. I love me some budding bloggers!

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 10.29.57 AM

 

Finally, I hope that once the campaign has reached its conclusion that a comprehensive list of all the titles Marley was able to amass will be made available to the public so that other kids can see the oasis of literary choices available to them beyond the mainstream classics. There is a generation hungry to see itself represented in a culture of reading. I’m honored to be among so many talented storytellers and illustrators that have prepared a table to satisfy this appetite.

 

Did you have a favorite character of color growing up? Maybe she was Chinese or Mexican or Kenyan?  (If you say Dora the Explorer, I will find you and beat you.) Discuss!

Are you looking for strong female leads for your kids? Copies of Yaa and Sally are available at StoreFoundry and Amazon.

The Proverbs 31 Wife Sounds Like a Prime Candidate for ‘Burn Out’

This Sunday my Bishop (yes, David. I have a Bishop!) mentioned in passing that the wife of a certain predominant preacher was at a conference and decreed that the gathering of the saints was for our personal pleasure, not for God’s. He intimated that she intimated that our happiness was of greater import than that of God’s. When you whittle it all the way down, she was saying live to please yourself. Naturally, my Bishop vehemently disagreed with that line of reasoning for lack of foundational scripture to support it.

I don’t know who this woman is and I haven’t bothered to do the heavy lifting to search out the video on the Internet. I mention her because her alleged utterances coincide with a tweet I saw the following day got me to thinking: Does my happiness – as a woman, specifically – matter to God, my children, my husband…anyone? I urge you to read the tweet in question and decipher for yourself what is glaringly obvious according to him and millions of other people who think likewise: That mother’s greatest value is when she is being sacrificial.

(Note the glee with which he recounts how he thwarted her second chance at companionship and love.)

Just about every woman in Christendom has heard about the Proverbs 31 Woman: the noble wife as described by King Lemuel by way of recollections from conversations with his mother. The Proverbs 31 woman has been pandered and paraded to women of faith since their first youth camps. Different denominations have their own interpretations about who this woman was and what functioned she served. Some tout her as the ultimate boss chick; an entrepreneur who runs several businesses and an efficient household. Others explain that she her fundamental duty is to bring glory to her husband so that he can sit at the gate with the elders and boast. (She’s more of an admin not a boss, you understand. No woman is greater than her husband.) Still some see her as the perfect housewife. She can spin wool/cotton, she can sew, she’s the consummate interior decorator! Aaaaand she ALSO has servants, which means she’s rich.

The Proverbs 31 Woman is Every Woman! But was she happy?

 

My dear e-friend Sefakor revealed an observation about her grandmother that honestly broke my heart. She said:

She never smiled. And NO ONE even noticed. Is this really a life pleasing to God – dutiful drudgery in the service of people who take no note of your physical (or mental) well-being? I highly doubt that. Or at least, I hope it’s not true. I’ll have to ask God when I see Him/Her.

I read Proverbs 31: 10-31 again this morning and instead of feeling that fire of inspiration that I have in the past, I felt nothing but sympathy for this woman. In my 20s, I would read this scripture and get completely amped up! Those were the days when I was convinced of my invincibility and buoyed by my youth, was sure that I could be Dorothy Do-It-All. But today, all I could focus on were the following phrases, which inspired nothing but weariness:

She gets up while it is still night;

She sets about her work vigorously;

She makes…

She gets…

She goes…

Lawd have mercy. Can you imagine 30,40, 50 years (because them Biblical gals married young!) of fetching, stepping and carrying without taking a break for a vacation? Nowhere in here does it mention where she takes time for herself.

No mention of her friends.

No mention of her feelings towards her gate-sitting husband.

No mention of how she feels about her children.

This is honestly very concerning to me, now that I am approaching 40, for I know one day my children will grow up and leave me just as the Proverbs 31 woman’s own surely did. And even though I have nary a servant, I imagine that once her household became smaller, there would be no need for that much staff to cater to. And now my/her husband – now also elderly (and possibly senile) – would have no place at the gate and no reason to praise my name. What then becomes my present function, since I have lived in the service of others for most of my life? Indeed, you rarely hear messages directed at women over 50 in services. Once they’ve crossed “marrying age”, they are no longer a point of focus.

I ask these questions seriously because I truly believe that women have been groomed to see themselves through the eyes of other people, rather than encouraged to commit to self-reflection and introspection. So far as our husband/my children/my boyfriend, my co-workers/my parents think of us as a good and worthy person, then we must be so, right? And like so many women I know today, The Proverbs 31 woman did everything right. In today’s society and economy, she might be a degreed woman who owns/runs several properties or an online business. She may even be a self-made millionaire or an academic. And yet so many women just like this, who seem to have it “all together” or “have it all” are depressed. The number who have revealed their depression to me in private chats is alarming.

depression-quotes-pictures-1

I have written in the past about my own bouts with depression as well, despite the fact that I had “nothing to be depressed about” at the time. Like much of the Bible (and just about every publication since) we have been conditioned to look at the lives of women from a male’s perspective and for the purposes of male approval. No doubt this is why we never hear from the dutiful wife herself, even though her characteristics are described from the utterances of another older woman (who was possibly in league with the dark forces of patriarchy!).

MX5 and I are supposed to get together for coffee and dissect this scripture at some point. I’d hoped to share our epiphanies with you prior to this post, but it’s not always easy to stick to a schedule when you’re out here in these streets 31 Proverbing on an day-to-day basis. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear what you Bible-reading (or not) folk think. Do you think she was she happy – or merely conjured joy in the midst of her decades of labor? Did it matter? Does your happiness matter to your family? Does it matter to yourself?

 

 

How 18.65 Minutes Can Lead To 18 Years (Or More) of Misery

This is a story about the importance of condom use. Yes, some may interpret is as primarily being the sad tale of a young woman who’s bright future was dimmed over a decade ago – the wretched result of straying from the good and godly path for the sake of dick – but it’s mostly about condoms… Condoms and bad sex.

As your humble blogging servant of 6+ years, I still believe in my sacred duty to use my life experiences as an exemplum from which to draw wisdom or decipher a warning. After all, it worked out quite well for my younger sister. In secondary school, she once told me that her key to success has been to look at what actions I took and to do the opposite. Now she holds meetings at the Pentagon, while I hold side conferences with a man who can barely spell his own name.

The New Year being so young, I wanted my first written offering to be full of blessings and gratitude and gooeyness. Alas, it is not to be so and I have come with a different dispatch. And anyway, what would serve the youth better: saccharin or substance? Substance, I say! And so it is with that mission in mind that I come to you with a message about the importance of keeping certain substances as far a way from your precious cervix as possible, particularly if that substance is semen…semen issued from the loins of the most bottom-feeding of men. Fail to do that, and it will only lead to a lifetime of unnecessary turmoil.

 

Scene 1

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

 

1381947927bored-coupleThere had been two months between the space that I said my final goodbyes to him and the night I ended up back in Douche Bag’s bed. I don’t remember who called whom, but as usual, I was the one to make the long drive to Clarkston to “get some”, as he rarely had gas in his car or couldn’t be bothered to leave his home. Any effort to make our pseudo relationship functional was always inconvenient for him.

That’s how it was (and still is) with Douche Bag. Though well-endowed with an impressive hose, he was repetitive, unimaginative and selfish as a person in general and as lover. Him on top…me on top…ejaculation. That was our routine. I knew instinctively how many strokes there would be before we switched positions. One night, much to his surprise, I wordlessly rolled over for our usual position switch, without request.

He asked, “How did you know I wanted you to get on top?”

“Because we do the same thing every time we have sex,” I replied glibly.

The great tragedy is that I never experienced an orgasm the entire year I spent in sexual sin with Douche Bag. The entire affair was the equivalent of having thrown the best parts of my being down a financial and amorous sewer. Constantly broke and borrowing money, he felt entitled to all of me at 25, offering nothing but what the ancients call “a wet ass and empty pockets” in return.

So how did I end up back in his bed – sans condom, as was our custom – knowing all of this? The only explanation I can think of is that I was young and foolish and a glutton for the abuse. The last time I slept with him, the sex was mediocre enough to convince me I needn’t return for more. It didn’t matter though. At the moment he skeeted, about 18 minutes from the first kiss to the last, we both knew I was pregnant.

 

Scene 2

 

arrearsOver the next 5 years, Douche Bag took on his duties as a biological father with the same enthusiasm with which he approached any endeavor in life: middlingly. With casual indifference. With no thought beyond the next two hours. He paid child support when he wanted to. The first year he provided $1,115 for his child’s upkeep. Over the course of the next four he provided a cumulative amount of about the same…all this while daycare costs, diapering, feeding, clothing and transportation were costing me upwards of $350 a week. In the 6 that followed after he took me to court, the state has forced him to be accountable. (I’ve told you all how he’s conjured the cheek to ask me to relive him of his obligation.) God almighty!

I wasn’t thinking about Jesus the nights I spent sweating and pretending to climax in that man’s bed, but I thought about Christ and His mercy much in those days. I thought about why the Holy Spirit hadn’t whisked me away from those faded stripped sheets or why He had never sent a bag lady to my car window to screech a warning. God was not to blame for any of this, though. I knew that. He had spoken in a still, small voice even at the night of the first encounter – from the very moment the words “Aren’t we going to use a condom?” were uttered in shock – and I had swatted that voice away. I should have insisted on prophylactic use, but niggaz is always wenching about how “unnatural” a rubber feels, or how “uncomfortable” they are or how they are “too big” to wear a condom.

This is all garbage. You know what’s unnatural? Spending your European vacation money on childcare because you weren’t ready to be a single mother. You know what’s uncomfortable? Sitting at a desk at the WIC office while the snobbish caseworker scrutinizes and criticizes every aspect of your life. You know who is too big to go through any of that? You are, woman! A sturdy condom will prevent all of this heartache! Please listen to me!

 

Scene 3

RafikiNow it’s been 11 years since the baby has been born. We’re financially stable. We’re debt free as a family. The kids all have savings accounts. Life is good. We’re ready to make some major moves – including a move out of the country. After years spent answering insipid court orders about surnames and visitation schedules that Douche Bag doesn’t adhere to and putting my life and pursuits on the back burner to accommodate his whims, we’ve made a decision to move out of the country and strive for better things.

I call Douche Bag to inform him of this possibility. He has the audacity to hit the roof. Him. The man who has spent the better part of his 47 years on Earth relying on the financial assistance of women has the audacity to try and stop MY flow? Oh, I wasn’t having it.

I cut him off in the middle of his growling “Oh no, no, no…nuh uh!”

“No! You don’t get to go high and mighty with ME. Who do you think you are?”

“You know, Malaka, I done put up with a lot of mess with you…”

“What?!?”

“…as you have with me, but we’ll talk about this face to face…”

I was livid about the tone he was taking. So supercilious and condescending for a man who’s about to loose another job, has been homeless for almost a year, whom I have fed on more occasions than I care to recall and who only sees his kid because I frequently have to transport her to his house.

“When? How? When are we supposed to speak in person? You’re so unpredictable! You’re unreliable!”

I wouldn’t have started yelling if he hadn’t set the tone for the conversation. He reiterated that he wasn’t going to discuss the matter over the phone, and that’s when I asked,

“Why can’t you ever have a mature conversation for once in your life? What is us talking in person going to achieve that a phone conversation can’t?”

“Now you’re being kind of insulting…” he snapped.

“No I’m NOT. Your immaturity stems back to your refusal to wear a condom, your reluctance to pay child support, the way you conduct your paltry business endeavors!”

 

There. I’d said it. I said it on behalf of all the women on several continents whom Douche Bag had impregnated while in the Marine Corps. For the women who had aborted scores of his babies. For the woman who bore his son who is 4 years my daughter’s senior. For the chick he’s probably going to screw this weekend. I said it for 25 year old Malaka, who’s life got taken off track because of one man’s selfish refusal to bag his seed and flush it down the toilet.

 

Finale

image source: elanneka

image source: elanneka

A wise woman once said, “I’ll consider sex outside marriage when they make a condom for the heart”.

Many of us will enter into new  romantic relationships this year.  (Not me. I’ll be celebrating 11 years of marriage.) Let us do so with wisdom and circumspection. Not all will heed this warning. Some of you will be caught in the fire. Just remember you are not the first and you are not alone. 18.65 minutes (the combined length of a Teena Marie, Aaliyah and some other female R&B songstress that was playing that night) changed the entire trajectory of my life. I will have grandchildren with this insufferable man. Look at the guy who doesn’t care enough about you to wear protection and protect your future and ask yourself if he’s really worth your life? Make better decisions than I did. There is also a heart issue during that 18.5 minutes one has to consider. Although a condom can prevent a pregnancy, remember the heart is also vulnerable.

I Should Have Chosen My Own Happiness Over My Children’s

“If you could go back 10 years and advise your younger self, what would you say?”

As much as I hate this question because of the impossibility of the phenomenon ever taking place and therefore for the insatiable craving it creates, I find myself pondering and eventually answering it. If I could go back 10 years and advise 27 year old Malaka, I wouldn’t be sitting here tapping furiously away on this busted Gateway in my granny panties talking about the changes I’d make to my life. I’d actually be on a yacht tapping furiously on a sleek Mac in lime green bikini, watching dolphins moonwalk for my pleasure.

My life would look completely different if I’d had the foresight to avoid two people in particular at that critical juncture in my life. But this is my life now, and daggonit, I just have to live it such as it is. So do you. You have to live your life, such as it is. We all have to come to terms with and accept the life events that have shaped who we are and our present circumstances.

The biggest life event(s) I’ve had to date would be the births of my children. I always knew I would have kids, but I never considered exactly how I would raise them or what that process would entail. So when I found myself pregnant with my first baby unplanned and ahead of schedule, I went online in search of guidance. I spent hours on Babycenter.com and several “Mommy blogs”. It was from them that I learned what motherhood ought to look like: what feelings I ought to be feeling; what achievements and goals I ought to be setting up for myself; whether I should breast or bottle feed; if going back to work would make me a bad mom; what my future in general as a mother ought to look like. Most of these centered around feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and a life of sacrifice. And oh, was I a good pupil! I would feel more guilty and inadequate than any mother before me and I would sacrifice harder than I’d ever sacrificed before. I committed myself to the humblebrag misery of 21st century motherhood.

Yeah…I wish I hadn’t done that. It’s taken me 11 years to realize I never should have done that. I never should have subscribed to the idea that I was only doing the mommy thing right if I was feeling bad about it. You know what’s worse? I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own. This was not an epiphany I woke up with one day. As they often do, it was my own kid who showed me how wrong I’ve been mothering all these years.

The MOM Squad knows what type of person I am, so none of you will take offense when I say what I’m about to say in the way I am about to say it. (You Random Readers, however. Oooo weee! Just save it.)

I have been DESPERATELY looking forward to the day when my kids grow up and leave so I get my life back. I feel like these last 11 years and the 13 more I have to go feel like a prison sentence, and I can’t wait to break free. Why? Because I have made my life’s work about making my children happy. I take on extra hours at work so I can buy them new gadgets or enroll them in clubs. We take day trips to North Georgia and neighboring states so that they experience what it’s like to be in a different aquarium/zoo or navigate a corn maze in a new city. I don’t want to work extra hours, and I don’t necessarily want to spend half the day driving with four bickering kids in the back seat, but I’ve done it anyway because it made them happy.

Mind you, none of these are particularly damaging pursuits, except for one thing: they meant me giving up time for my passions and my interests for the benefit of theirs. The only thing I’ve kept intact from my life prior to motherhood is writing. Everything else withered and died. And I have been a very unhappy person AND mother for it. Again, it was my oldest – who of all my children is singularly adept at conveying truth in the most subtle, yet gut punching way – who made me realize how foolish I have been for this.

A few weeks ago our school celebrated Teacher Appreciation week. I always do my best to get meaningful gifts for our teachers and admins because consistently they do a fantastic job with our kids. Nadjah’s math teacher this year is a gamer and a geek with GQ swag, so finding his gift was proving particularly hard. I could only think of one place source something appropriate for him: Little Five Points.

L5P is a district in Atlanta where creativity feeds on steroids and Jamba Juice. You can literally walk around it all day and never uncover all the visual (and culinary) surprises that are lurking behind doors painted in blue, purple and azure. Once upon a time, I could recommend a shop or three to pick up odd and exotic knickknacks. But now? Not so much. Until the weekend in question, I hadn’t been to L5P since 2005, and believe it or not, I’d even forgotten HOW to get there. After querying a maintenance man and a tattoo artist, we found our way to Junkman’s Daughter, a store that is a treasure trove for the sexually depraved and the chaste alike. I know, it’s weird. And yes, I took all four of my kids in the store with me.

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Nadjah was elated by the trinketry for sale. There were amulets, wizard hats, Star Trek paraphernalia (other paraphernalia) all over the store. Finally, she found an Adventure Time themed gift for her teacher which she deemed “perfect”.

“Mr. Nguyen came dressed up as Finn for our Character Day. I think he’d like this.”

We put it in the bag and that solved our gift idea dilemma. Of course, Nadjah wanted to know why we’d never been to this particular (so awesome, Mommy!) store before.

“You like Star Trek n’ stuff, Mommy. Aren’t you a geek? How come you don’t come here more often?”

“I used to be a geek,” I mused, (my sister and husband will dispute this) “but I became a mom instead.”

Nadjah bristled. “Just because you became a mom doesn’t mean you had to stop being a geek.”

Well daggonit if she wasn’t right. Suddenly, all those years and hours wasted on pursuits that were near tortuous for me seemed like a waste. I had wasted the first half of my motherhood experience for nothing. I could have been happy…and that would have made my children happier. (‘Happier’ because I defy these Negroes to tell me I haven’t provided them a delightful existence thus far!)

A few days ago, my younger cousin Nikki posted this picture on her social media page. She and her mother have a great relationship, primarily because they love each other so much. You know how some parent-child relationships only thrive because the child turned out exactly way the parent wanted? It’s not like that with these two. They love one another down to their warts. Look at this:

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I’ve been doing it wrong all these years! Message received. From now it, it will be different.

If you’re reading this, and you’re thinking about how much being a mother sucks just go on and admit it to yourself. Then change your perspective. Then choose your own happiness. Your kids will thank you in the long run.

 

…Of course, as long as that happiness does not entail you trading them for meth or stealing from their piggy bank to fund your gambling habits. That would make you a despicable human being. If that’s you, ‘sacrifice and guilt’ is your best course of action until they turn 18.

 

 

Did you know I write books about heartbreak, love and magic? Check out all my current and upcoming titles when you click here!

 

My Daughter Wants to Start A YouTube Channel. Tssseeewwww….

No.
Nope.
We said “You can NOT!”
Ok, then tell me why.
I’ll think about it.
Make a list of all the items you’ll need to make a YouTube channel successful. We’ll go from there.
Yes. That means you can have a YouTube channel.

This is the story of how my pre-teen goaded me into permitting the creation of her very own YouTube Channel. The name of said channel has not yet been decided on, but I’m sure it will be very Nadjah-centered. I have no idea why this girl is dead set on making a spectacle of herself, but I also don’t understand how suspension bridges work. Some things just are. I have had the whole summer and part of the winter to consider her entreaty, and it is with shame that I admit to you that the only reason I am honoring her request is because I have succumbed to fear. Fear that one day, she’ll be laying on some shrink’s sofa – or worse, swinging around some septuagenarian millionaire’s pole – purging her soul of the pain and disappointment of never becoming the next Ava DuVernay because her mom forbade the creation of a YouTube channel.

The struggle couldn’t be more real.

My daughter is very cunning. I have to admit, I’m very proud of the way she manipulated me into getting what she wanted. Knowing that I am hardly moved by any melancholy she may display (because what moody 11 year old isn’t melancholy about something), she enlisted the support of her younger, sweeter sister whom I cannot bear to see upset. Aya, though the second of four, is my baby. So when Aya asked if she could be on Nadjah’s YouTube channel “if you say yes, Mommy”, I was further motivated to acquiesce. In time, Nadjah even went as far as to suggest that Stone and Liya participate in the production of their skits. Armed with the knowledge that she will get more out of me if she makes it a point to include her siblings in a project, she released this arrow and shattered the target. And that is how we went from a stern “No!” to a placid “Okay… make a list”.

Unlike my firstborn, who is so like me in myriad ways, I am not naïve about what it means to be on YouTube. I have a YouTube channel – a very poorly maintained YouTube channel – and it is sometimes a hotbed for vitriol and disparagement. You’re letting the global public view and pass judgment on your content. The same goes for my blog. Part of the reason you see so few comments here  on M.O.M. is because now that it’s been active for six years, I don’t feel the need to allow just any old comment on the page. I don’t crave the public’s approval. Did you know that most of the comments come from Random Readers… and that those comments typically go to spam or the trash? Random readers don’t understand M.O.M., and they are  after all, just passersby and yet are responsible for the worst comments on the site. I used to devote hours explaining myself, locking horns or trading barbs with these strangers. No more. My dedicated audience is largely silent, and I’m okay with that.

But my 11 year old… ahhh, that’s a different kettle of fish. Because she is an active participant on other kid YouTube channels and ALWAYS leaves nice comments, she’ll be looking for that in return. She’ll be looking for approval from strangers and THAT we cannot have. That’s why although I’m allowing her to have a channel, it will be private. It will be as airtight as Fort Knox. No one gets in without a pass code. No comment gets approved without me or her father approving it first. I know this will make her incredibly unhappy as she has often gabbed about the thousands of subscribers she hopes to garner, but she will deal.

Humph. These people. I have just recalled the list. Are you curious about what she’s put on it? Look at this:
• USB microphone
• Camera and lenses (maybe waterproof)
• Slider
• Tripod
• Crane
• Lights (maybe)
• Boom mic
• Computer with editing program
• iMovie
• Capture card
• Editing software
• PC
• Screen recorder
• Very good computer
• Black wig

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You are laughing. Stop laughing! Somebody’s child in Detroit just wants a warm bath for the winter, and my child wants a waterproof camera to go and do what? To go and film what? Does she think she is Jacques-Yves Cousteau? Ahnba!

If I purchase ANY one thing on this list, they will officially strip me of my African Mother title. They won’t even let me stand at the gate for the African Mother of the Year Awards ceremony. They will tell me to sit in the house and eat toast and beans, since I want to behave like a UK woman and indulge First World Problem nonsense.

I have no witty conclusion for this post today, no epiphany or insights to share; only a sincere request that you all pray for me and mine. However, if you are in possession of any one of the items on this list and are purging/upgrading your hardware this Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Festivus, feel free to holla at a sista. I think I can handle the black wig. Don’t send any used wigs to my house.

Have your kids ever asked you to participate in a venture that have you pause or caused you concern? How did you handle it? Tell!

 

People frequently want to know when I am going to write a book. I’ve written four. You can check out your new favorite titles (with more to come, Netflix and God willing) by clicking this link right here. Go on. It’s easy! See? *CLICK*

 

 

It’s High Time For a Discussion About Postpartum Depression in African Communities

I gave birth to my eldest daughter 9 weeks premature. Her early delivery by C-section was the result of external factors plaguing me; mainly stress. Between the numerous healthcare professionals, well-wishers and hospital cleaners, I was also visited by a number of consultants: lactation, AM Care, etc. However one of these professionals was not on the list of people I expected to meet after having a baby.

“Here is a list of all the numbers you can call or centers you can visit if you feel like you’re going to harm yourself or you baby,” said the mental health advocate after a brief but pleasant chat. She put a brochure on the table next to me.

Why would I ever harm my baby? I gave her a quizzical look, one I’m sure she was accustomed to receiving from patients, as she stood to leave. She re-iterated that someone would always be available if I ever experienced “baby blues”. I scoffed inwardly. I would never need any of those numbers because I could never harm my baby. It was a happy event, after all! But even the most joyful of occasions can be the impetus of a tragedy. Many years and three more children later, I’ve often wondered where I lay that brochure. The stress of raising children in virtual isolation can drive one to harbor very dark thoughts. The chemical and hormonal changes that take place in a woman’s body after having a baby can sometimes act as kindling for a pending firestorm. And if you’re a mom reading this and are familiar with that sense of anxiety, moodiness, despair or hopelessness I’m referring to, you are not alone. You are one of a reported 14% of all women who experience Postpartum Depression (PPD).

The national conversation surrounding mental health in Ghana is sorely lacking in general, but when it comes to PPD it is barely whisper. It seems no one wants to admit that it is a very real and – albeit unfortunate – very natural occurrence. Our attitudes towards childbearing is that a baby is the ultimate gift, but every gift comes with its responsibilities. Oftentimes, we measure a woman’s value by whether she’s given birth and masculinity by the number of children a man has/can sire. There is little talk about the physical, emotional and financial changes – and appending assistance required – after a baby arrives…just an admonishment to “go and marry, go and born.” The adjustments required can drive even the most stoic person to the brink.

A preventable tragedy

This week we saw what happens when postpartum depression and mental health are not taken seriously in the harrowing case of Naana Bray. Bray is a 45 year old former chartered accountant who allegedly killed her two daughters ages 8 and 6 by mixing and administering poison in their beverages. According to her family’s spokesperson, she had a psychotic break after the birth of her 6 year old daughter and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her mental condition was severe enough to cause her husband to seek refuge away the family home, yet curiously not harsh enough for the courts to get her children away from her and under his care after he had sued for custody. The court’s judgment was that the children were young “and therefore needed to be with their mother.”

Naana Bray's arrest with the backdrop of a hooting crowd demonstrates how little compassion or understanding about mental illness there is in our society. image source: mdernghana

Naana Bray’s arrest with the backdrop of a hooting crowd demonstrates how little compassion or understanding about mental illness there is in our society.
image source: mdernghana

It’s true. Little children do need their mothers…but they need mothers who are whole, healthy and able to function independently. According to a Joy News report, Bray had been committed to two mental wards and was on medication. The psychotic effects of mind altering medications come with numerous warnings about side effects…thoughts of suicide among others. Her family says that there was no warning that she would ever harm her children, but how could there be? Mental illness, like any other ailment, is not predictable.  I doubt we will ever really know what happened in Naana Bray’s mind the day her children died. The court’s job is to work in the best interest of the children ALWAYS, and it failed these two girls with its ruling on that day. I pray it doesn’t fail Bray again when she is tried.

Gaps in delivery of service

At present, there Ghana employs only 18 psychiatrists to service the entire nation. Like the patients they serve, social stigma also affects the professionals who work in the field. For one, psychiatry is not afforded the respect of other medical professions like pediatric surgery or oncology, even though the practice of psychiatry is just as life-saving. Because mental health is so misunderstood and so stigmatized, people frequently suffer in silence or secrecy. There is therefore no understanding of it by the wider population, giving rise to what I call the Myth of the Superhuman African. There are millions of people, many of them “educated”, who think that depression is a white man’s disease and that if they had not heard about it from Europeans, an African could never claim to suffer from it. In effect, these people think an African can only be evangelized into depression. Like homosexuality and women who cannot cook, depression is “un-African”.

The time has come and passed for there to be a long term, ongoing discussion about mental health so that people in the community can be watchful for signs, and so that this tragedy is not repeated with more frequency. Trust me when I say Naana Bray is not the only woman who has or will kill this month. Her case has only managed to get press because of her social class and proximity to a metropolitan area.  The women in the hinterlands with PPD go unseen, and therefore do not exist.

There are many barriers to the mentally ill seeking and receiving the help they so desperately need. Cost, availability, provider choice and stigma are but a few. Sometimes depressed people don’t think they can get better, and give up before they even get in the fight. Until we can fix the overriding hindrances, we have an obligation to look out for our neighbors, friends and family. We need to be supportive – and not condescending, offering empty platitudes –  towards their very real issue. We need to have an honest chat about what it means to live with mental illness and how we can all serve as allies.

Before my 89 year old aunt lost her faculties to depression, she told me about what she was suffering in a moment of cherished candor. “Many, many people are walking around here in despair. They look like they are alright. They look normal. But they are not. They need help.”

Let’s not let the window dressing fool us.