Category Archives: Motherhood

My Daughter Wants to Go to College to Learn How to Sew, Knit and Cook

Happy International Women’s Month! I have been struggling to decide how I should celebrate the month on the blog in a meaningful way and as they often do, my children provided me the answer without intending to do so.

This morning, my daughter informed me that she wants to go to college to “learn how to sew, knit and cook” …and I am perfectly fine with that. I can see the tips of your ears turning red right now. I can almost see the steam rising off of your heads. What! Spend all that money to go to college to become some stay at home cook who darns socks? Heaven forbid! Just wait, my friend. It’s not as bad as that.

MaryMcLeodBethune0“Maya and Kennedy said that they will go to Mary McLeod’s school when they go to college,” Aya chirped in her pleasant voice.

“You mean Bethune-Cookman University?” I asked.

“Yes! Bethune-Cookman,” she grinned. Then she settled back in her seat and watched the rain softly beat the windows of our car. “They teach you how to sew, cook and knit. Isn’t that cool?”

I’m the antithesis of crafty. Nothing about sewing or knitting sounds “cool” to me. But my baby is into that stuff, which means I have to put on a mask for her sake, just like I have to pretend I love trains for Stone or My Little Pony for Nadjah. I happen to like mermaids, so Liya and I have a grand time talking about them. The rest of the crew is missing out.

“Yes: that’s pretty cool. Would you like to visit the university one day?”

Aya’s face broke into a wide, toothy grin. “I’d love to!”

As I watched her from my rearview mirror, I could see the wheels in her head turning. Soon, she’d be in class telling all her little friends about how her mom and she would be going on a road trip – probably this summer – so she could see the school Mrs. Mary McCleod built. None of this has been discussed with me, of course.

I won’t lie: A small part of me is disappointed that she doesn’t want to get into science or computer aided drafting or any sort of 21st tech pursuit that will net her an easy six figure salary. But the honest truth is that we are always going to need people to sew, cook and knit. Obviously, Bethune-Cookman University most likely doesn’t over these as courses anymore. These were the foundations the school Mary McLeod began her Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1905 on. Although the school’s beginnings were humble, McLeod Bethune had high standards for her students:

“The rigorous curriculum had the girls rise at 5:30 a.m. for Bible Study. The classes in home economics and industrial skills such as dressmaking, millinery, cooking, and other crafts emphasized a life of self-sufficiency for them as women.”

mmc schholIn the early days, students made their own ink from elderberry juice and pencils from burned wood. The students seats and desks were made from converted crates housed in a rented home that served as the school. She began with 6 students and within a year, that number swelled to 30. The success of Black church was instrumental in her early success, and in time, Mary McLeod Bethune would go on to form alliances with some of America’s most influential businessmen and women, including J.D. Rockefeller, James Gamble and the Roosevelts. Through their financial support and fundraising efforts, she was able to expand her school. Soon Bethune added science and business courses, then high school-level courses of math, English, and foreign languages.

Mary McLeod Bethune was the daughter of former slaves. She herself began working in the fields at age 5 until education radically changed her life. Her passion for learning took her to heights that few Black women at that time could dream of. She was one of the few women (Black, white or otherwise) to be the president of a college in the 1920’s and beyond. She would later be appointed as an advisor to President Roosevelt. She was on the boards of numerous women’s rights and education organizations. She fought tirelessly for the rights of all children to have a quality education, and was an advocate for Black to take pride in and share their accomplishments. It was essential if they were to be seen as equal not only in the eyes of the American (white) majority, but in their own view as well.

“If our people are to fight their way up out of bondage we must arm them with the sword and the shield and buckler of pride – belief in themselves and their possibilities, based upon a sure knowledge of the achievements of the past.”

“Not only the Negro child but children of all races should read and know of the achievements, accomplishments and deeds of the Negro. World peace and brotherhood are based on a common understanding of the contributions and cultures of all races and creeds.”

 

Mary McLeod Bethune was an extraordinary and resourceful woman – truly remarkable. It was her great faith that buoyed her in the most trying of times. And if my daughter wants to go to her school to learn how to sew, cook and knit, I can’t find fault with that, because I know she will come out with knowledge, skills and an experience that reaches far beyond that. If the school still holds to McLeod Bethune’s original standards, Aya will emerge from their halls as a true entrepreneur and inventive woman. I doubt she will end up merely mending anyone’s socks for a pittance.

mary bethune

Perpetuating Half Truths and Whole Lies: My History of Black History Failure

As Black History Month draws to a close in a few hours, I find myself reflecting over the past 28 days – as I do annually – to determine what grade I would give myself for how the month was celebrated. I fret over whether my family attended enough events, whether the information my children was exposed to was impactful or useful, and most importantly if they remember any of it. This year I would give myself a C.

As any parent will tell you, there is so much other stuff out there competing for ones’ kid’s attention, and I often doubt how much they can retain with their little brains struggling to recall anecdotes from Martin when Monster High demands so much of their grey matter. Nevertheless, kids have a strange way of surprising you with their powers of recall. Last night, I tested Nadjah with an easy question, just to see if anything she had learned since kindergarten had stuck.

“Who was the first Black woman to be arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus,” I quizzed. This was an easy one. Ask any third grader this same question, and they will invariably answer with an excited ‘Rosa Parks’!

But Nadjah is in fourth grade.

“Rosa Parks,” she said confidently.

“Wrong,” I replied.

“Wait…what? No! It’s Rosa Parks, Mommy!”

I nodded. “Yes. That’s what they told you in school, because that’s what certain people want us to believe and accept…but it’s not true.”

maxresdefault1I went on the tell her that the first Black woman to be arrested for sitting at the front of the bus/not giving up her seat was a 15 year old girl named Claudette Colvin. Though both women were summarily arrested for their “crimes”, it was a full 9 months after Ms. Colvin had been arrested first that Mrs. Parks would commit the same crime. Nadjah wanted to know why she didn’t learn about Claudette Colvin instead, and I was more than happy to tell her. It was the first step in erasing my shame for my part in erasing key elements of Black history.

“The SCLC – Martin Luther King’s organization – did not think Claudette Colvin would be a “good symbol of defiance” for the unjust bus laws in the South,” I told her. “They thought she was too dark, and she was also a soon to be unwed mother. (I left out the bit about her being impregnated by a married man. I’m not ready for conversations about statutory rape just yet.) Rosa Parks was married, lighter … and therefore prettier… and had the prestige of working for the NAACP. They felt she would be a better face for the cause.”

“Well that’s just stupid. Wasn’t the point of the Civil Rights Movement to protect people who had darker skin in the first place?” she seethed. This was a good segue into the issue of colorism in the Black community. I made a few statements on the issue that made her lip curl.

“I wish I could just go back in time and slap a lot of people,” Nadjah lamented. I told her I’d often wished the same. She then went on to declare this: “Just because someone made a mistake, doesn’t mean that they can’t help make a difference. It shouldn’t have mattered that she was a pregnant teen…even if it was awkward.”

Yes. Yes! I cheered inwardly and sent her on her way, reminding her to remember Claudette Colvin’s name.

The history we have been and are being fed in this country – and the world over, really – is a sham. It is a bleached down, candy coated version of events, made digestible for species that now has the same capacity for remembering as a gold fish. Time and again, we have found African history (and African American history, by extension) white washed to fit the 21st Century imagination. The horrid story put out by Jezebel a few months ago describing Saartjie Baartman’s captivity and sexual exploitation as a girl “looking to travel and monetize her body in the process” is only the latest in a trend to downplay the true horrors that came hand in glove with colonialism and slavery. What’s worse is when Black people perpetuate these outright lies because it makes us feel a little better and a lot less ashamed. I no longer want to belong to that camp.

bronzeI realized in early February that I had failed my children by not giving them a complete picture of their Black experience in America and in the world at large. We were at our local library and the Griot Society was hosting an Are you Smarter Than a Griot session. People of all ages were encouraged to participate, so even my 4 year old got a chance to come up to the podium to answer a number of questions. When one very pretty 5th grader took her turn at the podium, she was asked this question:

“Ancient Africans were astronomers, architects and mathematicians. True or false.”

She crinkled her nose, looked up at the sky and thought for a minute.

“False?”

“No…that’s actually true,” said the moderator.

She raised her eyebrows in surprise and took her seat. She shared the same look of surprise that clouded my children’s countenance. This is how I know I have failed.

My children think that Europeans came to Africa and took away slaves. Nothing could be further from the truth. European slave traders and their African allies took away hairdressers, soldiers, princes and princesses, fiancés and nursing mothers. They took away little boys who loved to practice their aim with catapults and 16 year old girls who were to celebrate their rights of passage into womanhood. They stole the lives of people like me and you and turned them into slaves. This is what I must impress upon my children.

I am now trying to do better with presenting history – not just Black history – to my kids so that when folks say things like “Thomas Jefferson had a love affair with Sally Hemmings”, they can respond with reasons, and confidently so, as to why that was highly implausible as Sally Hemmings had no agency over her body as a Black female slave. What was she supposed to tell the old goat that was married to her half-sister in the face of his advances? No? Denying a white man his “rights” was a recipe for death and/or dismemberment. But doesn’t the idea that Thomas Jefferson really loved her make you feel better about her repeated rapes? This is part of that white washing we discussed earlier.

More importantly for me though is for my children to understand that our history as Africans/African Americans does not begin with slavery and end with Barack Obama becoming president. They should know that we are connected by blood with the Haitian, the Bajan , the Brazilian as well as the Georgia native. They are our cousins. There should never be a doubt that their ancient ancestors were medical practitioners or healers, skilled craftsmen and women, and architects who built tremendous palaces…because this was all true. The average person believes that there were no buildings over the height of one storey constructed in Africa outside of Egypt until the Europeans came along. This is another lie that I have perpetuated by not taking the initiative to introduce it into conversation.

I want us to know the truth, in all its beauty and blemishes. I think we must begin to speak the truth about ourselves, our past and our future, whether it is bitter or sweet.

Respectability Politics and Black Motherhood in America

Yesterday was Presidents’ Day, and like many stay-at-home moms across this country, I stayed at home with my kid. School was out and the older girls had come up with the wonderful idea to hold a mock election at home to see who would assume the position of “President for the Week”. As they busied themselves with poster making and decorating their ballot boxes, I realized that we were out of a few materials at home. We needed glue, cereal, shoes for Nadjah, a coat for Liya and Chick-Fil-a. The thought of driving around Roswell/Alpharetta and darting in and out of several stores with all my kids made my temples throb, nevertheless, I had put off purchasing these items for a week at least and decided it had to be done. Today.

I told the kids to put their coats and shoes on so we could head out, and locked the house door to a chorus of “YAY!!!” and “Where are we going Maawwmie?!?!” As I locked the door, I took a look down at my left hand, which was devoid of my wedding ring. I cringed and found myself confronted with another decision: Do I go back into the house and retrieve my ring and jam it onto my finger, or do I save time and energy and just leave without it?

I left home without it, but not before posting a quick status on Facebook about my decision.

Noring

You see M.O.M. Squad, I’m on this new diet, and one of the side effects for me has been puddling. I can literally feel the water puddling in my joints, and my fingers are no exception. I haven’t worn my ring in almost a week because it’s just that intolerable. Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: This can be a decision that comes with certain severe repercussions for Black women. Much like the young Black male who is “willfully courting danger” by leaving his home dressed in a hoodie and sagging jeans, the Black mother risks a particular set of repercussions for leaving her home in the company of her children sans proof of her betrothal, that evidence being the presence of a ring.

I’ve seen it happen on more occasions that I can count. The cashier or the passerby’s glance down at her left hand, the eyes roaming over the attire of the mother and/or her child(ren), the flash behind the eyes to quickly determine what level of respect this probable Welfare Queen should be accorded. I knew all of this when I left the house yesterday afternoon, but I simply could not bring myself to force the titanium and gold ornament my husband had given me a decade ago over my joints just to make other people comfortable. So out I went.

The first two stores I went into presented no problems. I shopped at Carter’s and Payless in search of clothing for the kids and struck out at both locations. Payless had tights on sale, so I snapped those up. The girls go through tights like Liberians go through rice. My next stop was Old Navy, and that was where the elements of respectability politics reared their ugly heads. As I walked into the store, my family was summarily ignored by the manager and the associate who were discussing a display at its entrance. I didn’t take offense, because I don’t always greet every customer that walks into the retail establishment I work at. No big deal. An associate way in the back was kind enough to point me to the clearance rack where I found a coat for Liya at a great price. The children were wandering the aisles – and not quietly – so I rounded them up and headed for the checkout lane. A woman with stringy brown hair and glasses sternly waved me over.

She looked at my face, looked at my children ooh’ing and aah’ing over the knickknacks at the counter, looked and my left hand, and wordlessly rang me up. I pointed out that jacket she had rung up was $24.00.

“Yes? So?”

“So it’s on sale for $15.99.”

She continued to stare at me blankly.

“Ma’am,” I repeated, “it’s on sale. You rang it up for $24.”

She flipped the tag over and giggled sheepishly, repeating “oh, oh, oh” in mock embarrassment. I smiled as if to pardon her error.

As my children continued to play, she glanced over at them regularly. Again, I did not care. When you’re a Black person living in America, you become accustomed to a certain level of scrutiny and suspicion. This is why I enjoy visiting other countries so much. It was at that point that she called another customer to her counter – before finishing my transaction – as though to hurry me along. I saw the cashier look back at the customer standing behind me. The customer was wearing a khaki jacket and a burgundy infinity scarf. I saw her look at my left hand and smile and strange little smile. She and the customer exchanged knowing looks, at which point I began to stare them both in the face with my eyebrows raised expectantly. Was there a joke I was missing? Could I get in? For 15 seconds I did not break my gaze until the cashier asked for my email address.

“You guys already have it, but I’ll give it to you anyway.”

I finished up my transaction and left.

Some of you reading this who live in other parts of the world may not see the big deal in this encounter. If I was coming straight out of Ghana, I’d tell my present self to “get over it”. After all, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, is it? Well no, Ms. Immigrant. In the grand scheme of things, it is actually quite damaging. These microaggressions – acts of unintended discrimination motivated by racism – are problematic and can be injurious to the recipient. After I posted my status, a friend of mine responded with this:

TeBlack

I was thunderstruck by her disclosure, though I should not have been. As someone who has had to be on WIC for a short while, I am very familiar with the looks of disdain that the seller flings at the customer when payment in WIC is processed. Women who are on government assistance these days are “lucky”. In my time, you had to separate your food items on the conveyor belt by those approved by WIC, present a voucher and THEN hand it over to the cashier. These days, it’s all done very inconspicuously on a government issued debit card so that it normalizes the transaction and gives dignity to the impoverished/unfortunate woman. Still, as my friend’s case reveals, that doesn’t stop people from assuming a Black woman with three or more kids must be on government assistance, does it?

The impact of microaggressions can be deadly. As I was contemplating my own brush with the phenomenon, I came across this post on the Humans of New York Facebook page:

hony

In this mother’s desperation not to be seen as a parasite on American society’s benevolence and peculiar standards (which is what single Black motherhood is in this country isn’t it? A scourge.) she kept herself in a potentially deadly scenario for the sake of fulfilling the norms of respectability politics. The messaging women of color, but Black women in particular, receive is “Well, at least you got a man to marry you! That should be good enough. Don’t be ungrateful. ” Meanwhile, a series of microaggressions and the accompanying messaging almost cost this woman her life.

Now, juxtapose my shopping the white woman’s experience. If she walks into Old Navy, it is assumed she has a nice house, a husband with a good job and is a frugal shopper who is doing her bit to save her family some money. No one questions a white woman walking into Old Navy with her kids and without her wedding ring. She may have taken it off while she was doing yoga or gardening. Maybe she’s even divorced and just trying to clothe her kids as fashionably and affordably as she can. Either way, bravo for her! We make assumptions about white woman/motherhood too.

I was humbled – and further troubled – when a friend of mine made this observation about my observation:

nimi

And isn’t that true? The average ‘real American’ would take one look at me while on an excursion with my children and make several assumptions about me, none of which would include a private school education, a bachelors obtained with high honors, or three books published.

Be honest. What do you see when you see a Black woman in public with her kids. What assumptions do you make about her? Do you have your thoughts formed? Okay, now consider your thoughts carefully.

 

I Had to Pull My Son Out of Kindergarten…and I’m Thunderstruck

Out of respect for the institution that my other children have attended over the past 3-4 years, I will not mention its name or put it on blast…but Gawd A’mighty knows I want to!

 

When we took Stone to kindergarten I was ecstatic. Finally, my son was entering the world of elementary education. He could ride the bus. He could wear the same uniform that his older siblings had donned for years and he had so admired. He was ready, and so were we. I was especially ready not to have to deal with the dash of picking Stone up from Pre-K by 2:45 pm and then sitting in carpool until 3:30 pm with a weary toddler in the back seat. Yes, sir! With Stone in KG, it was all a downhill coast from the day he hopped onto the school bus and waved goodbye.

The kids get quarterly report cards, and while I was very critical about the girls’ scores (they are in 3rd and 4th grade), I looked at Stone’s report card with a certain nonchalance. Kindergarteners in our charter are graded on the SNU scale:

S= satisfactory

N = needs improvement

U = Unknown, Underperforming, (U)dunno

None of my kids have ever gotten a ‘U’ in KG. I mean, it’s kindergarten. You play, you count, you learn your vowels and how to sound words out and sing songs, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Kindergarten for the 21st Century child has turned into some reinterpretation of the plantation experience. I imagine the trepidation that the very first slaves experienced when they finally stretched their limbs after that 3-6 month cruise and were confronted with the sight of a vast forest. The overseer hands them a toothpick and says “Use this to go fell and clear this land. Oh, and when you’re done, plant me some cotton.”

This, my friends, is what kindergarten has become; a bastardization of reality. I don’t know who the dunces are who created these expectations are, but I imagine it’s the same sort of vapid bunch who thought it was a good idea to take music and recess out of public schools. If I sound more incensed than normal, it’s because I am. Perhaps you might empathize with me if I let you into the details of our daily routine. This is what sending my 5 year old kindergartener to school looks like.

  • First, he gets up at 6:10 am (and that’s sleeping in) so that he can groggily submit to my husband dressing him as his sisters help pack his lunch.
  • Second, he wolfs down a waffle and takes a sip of his almond milk so that he can get on the bus by 7:00 am.
  • Next, he sits in assembly before transitioning on to class where he is expected to sit quietly and still until designated bathroom times or snack time. He is expected to sit still and quiet until 3:00pm when he gets out of school.
  • I meet him at the bus stop between 3:45 -3:50pm and at 4:05pm we walk into door. I offer him a snack and let him play until his father gets home around 5:30pm to help him with homework and to study for that week’s sight word test. Marshall wanted to take personal responsibility for his literary acumen and I was happy to let him manage that project. Besides, education is such a female dominated industry (and it is an industry) that it would do the boy good to get some male instruction.
  • From 5:30 until 7:30, the pair of them are working on homework. Part of this is because Stone has to complete assignments he didn’t do in class, and the other reason is because he has – and this is no joke – sixteen pages of homework a week he has to turn in. Oh, and the reading log. He’s expected to find 20 minutes to “enjoy a good book” while he’s at it.

He has repeated this absurd schedule every day since September of last year. At 5, he is already burnt out. He’s antsy and irritable and he dislikes going to school. Stone is my only son, but I have noticed a marked difference in boy energy as it relates to girl energy. Boys, for the most part, need to burn that ish off. They need some sort of outlet for all the guffawing and rough housing that is innate within them. I wouldn’t expect a 5 year old boy to sit quietly for 9 hours any more than I would expect the Man in the Moon to come down and offer me a slice of cheese.

Ahhh…but this is what his teacher wants; and if she doesn’t get it, we hear about it. Day, after day, after bleeding day.

“Stone was talking during transitions.”

“Stone was looking at his friends work instead of doing his own.”

“Stone really needs to get control of his emotions.”

Stone, Stone, Stone! Every day Stone!

The narrative my husband and I were receiving is that our son was/is an unruly illiterate who was incapable of learning. His only task as far as the teacher was concerned was to be silent if he could not refrain from disruption.

I tiya sef. I bore. But that’s not the worst of the matter. What is worse is that my son may not graduate from kindergarten.

Yes! You heard that right. You have to graduate from kindergarten now. You must pass a final, state approved EXAM. If you don’t pass, you will repeat. Who repeats kindergarten?!?! This is how we are making American kids “competitive”? By draining their life force and robbing them of any potential memory of carefree KG days? Kai! I reject it! This coupled with his teacher’s inability to grade his tests or assess him effectively finally broke the camel’s back. She would subtract 15 points from a test and give him a 65%. Multiply that by the number of exams/tests he’s taken, and now we understand why he is a ‘D’ student. Warrenthus? This is nonsense, I say! All this from a woman who demands perfect sentence structure and will deduct marks if she doesn’t get it, but has the audacity to send parents emails thanking them for their “patients”. Do I look like I completed medical school? Patients from the where? Tseewww.

That’s why I pulled Stone out of Kindergarten this week. Thursday was his last day at his charter school. He was tired, my husband was exhausted/exasperated and irritable and I was tired of everyone looking at my face as if I had some sort of solution. My only solution is to go into First Born Mode and fix it myself. I WILL TEACH my child. I graduated bleeding Summa Cum Laude. I can tell someone how to count to 100. It’s not a big deal.

I was dumbstruck when I realized what Stone’s primary goal (and I know my thoughts are disjointed. I apologize) in going to school was…or what he thinks his goal is. I kept him home today and conducted a sight word test. I asked him if he was ready to learn, and he answered with an enthusiastic “Yes, Mommy!” I handed him a pencil and a notebook and told him we were going to spell his words.

“But what about my clip, Mommy?”

“Eh? What clip? We don’t need a clip to spell.”

He shook his head emphatically and said we needed a clip to “show if he has been good or bad.” He needed a clip in case he needed to be on ‘parent contact’ before the day could start.

Aba.

But suddenly, all those afternoons when he hopped off the bus and announced where he was on his behavior chart made sense. Not once has Stone told me what he learned in class for the day. His first announcement is and has always been about his demeanor and what his teacher thought of it.

“Stone. I’m your parent,” I said simply. “If there is a problem, I will address it. It’s just me and you buddy.”

He looked at me skeptically and we sat down to work. However, he was SO obsessed with this bleeding clip that we went to Wal-Mart, picked out some poster paper and some clothes pins and created a makeshift “behavior chart”. I told him our chart was different. I am not monitoring his behavior, but his effort, rather. He helped me do some laundry and in one hour of instruction, I corrected the legibility issues his teacher had been bitching about all year.

All this suffering… for what?

So this is where we are. I have to go through some formal process to take him out of the school and I’m waiting to hear back on what that is. We will spend 3-4 hours every day focused on doing work, and no more than that. We will go on field studies to local establishments. He will be a successful student, and that’s the sum of it.

This morning, Stone climbed into our bed asked me why I was homeschooling him.

“Are you happy at school?” I asked.

He quietly shook his head ‘no’.

“Then that’s why, son. It’s that simple.”

There is enough time in life for sorrow and grief. Kindergarten is supposed to be the one time every student looks back on with fondness. We should all be pining for paper mâche dragons, and songs sung with our KG teacher and graham crackers gone soggy in milk. Kindergarten is not supposed to be child bondage.

 

NB: I have disabled comments on this post because there are really weird people out there who say cruel things about folks who decide to homeschool their kids, and I don’t feel like cussing no one out this week. My friends know where and how to reach me.

My Funny Valentine

Not every couple celebrates Valentine’s Day. In fact, some go to extreme measures NOT to make a fuss over the Hallmark Holiday for personal – and very intense and passionate – reasons: those reasons being a passionate disdain for the commercialization of love.

I used to hate Val’s Day in high school. I went to GIS (Ghana International School) which at the time was Accra’s micro version of Beverly Hills 90210. We had the nerds, the alternative kids, the rich kids, the jocks, the kids who paid their school fees in cedis instead of dollars, each with their own standard of cool. I was kind of a social misfit, so I didn’t belong to a particular clique that was covered by any of these genres. My 4 best friends did, however. They were either rich or brainy (or in Mamissa’s case, both) but they accepted me and saved me from self-destruction for the 3 years I endured GIS.

No, really. You’re talking about a girl who belted a nightgown and strutted around in it after school because the article of clothing came from America. I had long forgotten what a night gown looked like!

As any GIS graduate or current student, I suspect, will tell you, Valentine’s Day is a galactic deal on campus. If you were a girl, the fate and weight of your integrity depended on how many valentines you received on the assigned distribution day. Your boyfriend’s love for you was measured in helium balloons, roses framed with baby’s breaths and cards from this one shop in Osu whose name has long escaped me. Every year, the usual suspects received colossal arrangements. The Baetas, the Olypios, the Ampals…those were the girls who received the best gifts, which included cakes and at one time (gasp!) a bottle of wine, which was duly confiscated. The next tier down was the Kumahors and the Mensa-Bonsus and their ilk. They got cards and/or a rose. Then there was me. In the course of 3 years I had dated 2 guys who went to different schools, and unlike the Baeta girls who had a string of would be paramours off campus and had no qualms about making their affections known, they simply couldn’t be bothered to send anything. So for 3 years, I got nothing on Valentine’s Day.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. While I was kvetching about how much I loathed the day with my boy Percy, I unexpectedly got my period. Bled all over the wooden seat and had to wait for the class to empty out before I could leave. W. Cofie may have forgotten me on Valentine’s Day, but Auntie Flo hadn’t! I can always count on my period for a warm surprise.

I carried a deep dislike for Val’s Day in my chest for a decade more, until I met and married Marshall, who has gone out of his way to make each one special. Now that we have a family, I have gotten over my distrust of the “holiday” and have formed an expanded vision of love as well. There are several types of love, and we’ve discussed them on M.O.M. and in other circles before. There’s brotherly love, romantic love, the love between a parent and their child and love for friends. I have discovered a 5th type of love; that being the love of one’s teacher…or in this case, my daughter’s third grade teacher.

Let me tell you, I love me some Ms. McNeil. I call her K-Mac(!). The woman is just phenomenal. Aya looks up to her with such reverence that it warms my heart. I can tell she genuinely appreciates her teacher, which makes me appreciate her all the more. In the two years that K-Mac has been teaching my daughter, there has never been a day that she has woken up in a bad mood or reluctant to go to school. K-Mac keeps her engaged, encouraged and excited to learn. That is why she is my funny valentine this year.

teacherI have already picked and wrapped Marshall’s gift, but I am fretting over what to get Ms. McNeil. I have gone to extreme lengths to make sure her gift is just so. Yesterday morning, I jumped out of bed and braved the morning frost so that I could rummage through my recycling and retrieve a forgotten coupon for a local gift shop for her. Yes, I dumpster dived for this teacher I love so dearly! Put my dignity on the ground and everything for this woman!

I spent 15 minutes picking out the perfect bag that would serve as the temporary housing space for said gift. I spent half the morning agonizing over what my note in the card I’d picked out for her should say.

I really dig you, Ms. McNeil… Nah. I couldn’t say that. That sounded so creepy; almost grave digger-ish.

You’re the best thing that ever happened to us, Ms McNeil!…. Jeesh! Desperate much, Malaka? Erase that!

Finally I settled on “You are beloved” and sealed the card before I could damage the parchment further.

lopezNow that we have had so many other bad teachers (or teachers who have been bad for my kids, to be fair to these hardworking ladies), I cannot state enough what the value of an educator who keeps your kid inspired and focused is. There is no currency conversion for this. It’s priceless. One has only to look at what has become known as “the Lopez Effect” for proof of this. Passion, dedication and genuine concern for the outcomes of your students is not something they can teach in a course. It’s something that’s either innate in the fiber of an educator, or it’s not; and K-Mac is chockfull of all of those things and this is why I love her.

But what if she doesn’t like my gift? What if she thinks I’m this super weird Black chick with inordinate feelings for her instructional gifts? Gosh, I feel like a hormonal 15 year old boy trying to gather the courage to ask the girl in the cat sweater to the school dance. It’s so unsettling. This sucks! Nevertheless, I will not chicken out, and I will give her my carefully selected gifts. Do you see the difference between true love and obligation to love? True love cares if it gets it right! If the giver of your gift isn’t a bit shaken when they are handing over their gift, they ain’t really care.

Are you giving an unconventional Valentine’s Day gift this year? Why don’t you give a li’l something to the janitor or your bank teller? Valentine’s Day is not just for boyfriend and girlfriends. It’s a day for love of all kinds! Try expanding your scope too. It helps with the nyashing. ;)

Oh, hey! Are you in Accra and still looking for a great last minute gift for Val’s Day? Treat yourself or the one the love to some hot MAKSI fashion and fiction! You can find copies of The Justice (Boakyewaa Glover) and The Daughters of Swallows (Malaka.)

Get some hot “prints” for your body and your eyes! ;)

Maksi

MAKSI is located at Palm Street, East Legon (opposite NVTI)

Tel: 050 4529393

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! ↓