Category Archives: Motherhood

Consequences for the African Child After Allowing Him/Herself to be Kidnapped

Kidnapping is real. It’s scary. It’s the reason I stopped watching Law & Order:SVU once I began bearing children. The very idea that a stranger could muster the unmitigated gall to not only initiate conversation with MY child, let alone approach him/her with the intention of stealing them away from our home causes ice to form around my heart. It drains the blood from my veins. It causes me to think irrational thoughts.

This is why I was baffled by the conclusion of this video.

There is a PSA that’s been floating around of social media for a little over two weeks. I’ve taken my time watching it, because in all honesty, I didn’t want to know HOW easy it was to kidnap your run of the mill American child with access to technology. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a few minutes to watch it so that we can discuss this in proper detail. Perhaps you will share my befuddlement at its end as well.

Seen it? Good.

I admit, if my husband and I had more resources (read: if we weren’t so cheap) our eldest two children would have access to a cell phone. We live in the age of technology, and despite my husband’s protests, I have gotten each of the kids a laptop. The compromise is that he has put stringent parental restrictions on them. They can only go on 4-5 websites, none of which has a social media feature. BUT, if it were not for my husband’s insistence, I’d probably allow them unfettered access to the world wide web and all its banes. And again, if not for my miserliness, they would have text and telephone capabilities just like all their little funky friends who wave their Apple and Samsung products in my girls’ faces simultaneously singing a rousing chorus of “nah nah boo boo”.

The kids in each of these videos had the trust of their parents. They had an “open relationship”. One of the moms screeched with incredulity at her daughter – who at just age 14 – had the impudence to leave her parents’ house at night to go and meet a boy.

“We’ve watched movies together…we’ve read stories about kids who get taken away together! These are real life situations…”

Herh! What does she mean? Do you know there are 36 year old women who are not permitted to leave their parents’ house after 6pm as we speak? Nonsense! African parents don’t trust their kids. That is why the 36 year old woman is sitting in her house right now, since she didn’t have the sense to find a husband at 23.

Then her father reached around and demanded that she give him her phone. Do you know this little American girl refused to hand over the device? Her father, the one who has gone out to work every day to provide for her, who cuts the grass so she can play in it, who provides at least half of the payment of her cell phone bill HAD TO FIGHT HIS KID to get the device out of his daughter’s hands.

Jesus. Come and take me now.

I understand what was happening in the minds of each of these children. They have been sheltered. They think the horror of being kidnapped and/or sex trafficked could never happen to them. They live in safe neighborhoods and only interact with “good people”. For that, I blame their parents. Jaren Fogle and Josh Duggar have proven once again that the Boogey Man wears khakis, not a hoodie. What I don’t understand is how each scenario did not end in exile.

Yes ooo. For the child of African immigrants, even if they are hybrids or second generation like myself, there are only three possible ways that putting yourself in a situation like this can end:

  1. Deportation back to Africa
  2. A beating
  3. Deportation and a beating

Take the girl who left her house at night. (I’m really stuck on that one.) How was her mother able to sit in the back seat of that white van for such a long time? As soon as I saw the door to my house open, the sliding door to the van would also be opening in sync.

“Hei! Hei! Hei! Akua! Where do you think you are going!?!?”

You think Usain Bolt himself could catch me in that moment? Think again! That is when the beating commence.

And after the nice white investigative reporter/prankster has had the chance to calm me and my husband down so we can have a “heart-to-heart” with our child, we would politely ask him to leave. We have the situation under control, we’d say. Your services are no longer required. Thank you for showing us the way.

Behold! Your return to Africa starter kit!

Behold! Your return to Africa starter kit!

“Ehh…Akua. Please go and pack your bags tonight. You have a flight in the morning.”

“Wait. What? Are we going on vacation, Dad?”

“Oh. You could say that. You will arrive at Kotoka by dawn. By noon, you will be in Kyekyebiase.”

Akua (who has hitherto gone by the name “Kelli”) is in shock. She cannot believe the speed with which things have escalated. She’s heard the stories her father used to tell about his ancestral homeland. Her heartbeat becomes irregular.

“No, Dad. Please. I don’t wanna go! I promise I’ll never do it again!”

The African Father acknowledges her repentance with a shrug, saying, “Oh yes. I know you won’t. The networks are very bad in Kyekyebiase. You’ll be lucky if you get one bar on your phone sef!”

“But how did you get a ticket so fast, Daddy?!”

Bemused, African Father lets out a soft chuckle. “Every African family has a special ticket on standby for wayward children. Based on the B’s and C’s you’ve been bringing into this house, we knew this day would come…although we hoped it wouldn’t. Oya! Why are you standing here? I say go and pack your bags quick-quick!”

Kelli is looking around for help from her mother, but the mercurial woman has busied herself by praying in tongues and pouring anointing oil all over the furniture, the door posts, the walls. And true to their word, Akua is on thing smoking, on her way “back” to Africa.

This is why Diasporans never completely lose touch with their connections back home. We never know when we will need the community to stand in where we’ve failed! You think I’m exaggerating? Turn to your Nigerian co-worker (and yes, you DO have a Nigerian co-worker. Everyone does) right now and ask him/her how many “American” kids were in their boarding school growing up. Those people went on to become exemplary human beings, didn’t they? They went on to take over the world.

You know why? There is nothing that can scare an American child straighter than an old village woman/a house master/school director with a mandate from your parents and their motivation to honor the ancestors by turning your leaf anew.

I pray my children never try me. Larteh Kubease is no one’s Disneyland. Someone needs to re-shoot this entire sequence of events and cast the Agbedu family so that children of African heritage understand what is in store for them should they every try this trumpery.

 

Are you the child of an immigrant? Would you ever send your kids back to India, China or Mexico to straighten them up, or is this only something only Africans do? Do tell!

 

A Little Something about Birth Certificates, Choices and Shaun King

Before I begin, I must implore Black people not to allow ourselves to get distracted. We must not be driven by sheep or led by the nose-ringed bull at an agricultural fair by its handler. Make no mistake: when we allow our focus to be lost to petty diversions – of any sort – we are being handled. For whose benefit is only revealed in time, but at the present, we know it is not for our own. In other words, please stay woke.

 

****

The most vocal voices of the Black Lives Matter group have found themselves under attack in recent days. The timing couldn’t be more conspicuous, if you ask me. In the wake of the terse encounters with Bernie Sanders and the placing of BLM representatives in “overflow rooms” (read, the Colored Section) at Hilary Clinton’s stops, it would appear that forces and will behind BLM have some folk rattled. There are no clear leaders for the Black Lives Matter movement. As far as I know, no one is on any sort of payroll or has been appointed head. That vacuum is occupied by a cadre of activists who speak with regularity and clarity on the ills of white supremacy and the need for Black liberation. Shaun King is one of those voices.

Shaun King may or may not be white.

Now, why is this important? For the thinking man/woman who has the capacity for foresight, Shaun King’s ethnicity is a nonissue. There is an old adage that says “not all your skin folk is your kin folk.” Indeed, many of the most famous rebellions and great escapes never to have taken place have been thwarted by Black people more beholden to white supremacy than their own freedom. The issue is in the long run, who is our ally? And the fact is, white people have always been an integral part in the struggle for equality and liberation in America. The homes of white Quakers served as stops on the Underground Railroad. White people marched, bled and died during the Civil Rights era. The enemy of Black liberation isn’t whiteness: It’s White Supremacy. This is what gets so many people tripped up when media outlets like breibart.com publish…well, anything. This week, the site just happened to post that Shaun King has deceived Black America and the world by living an impostor’s life as a Black man when he is “in fact” white.

Andrew Breibart. I bet that dude holds morning meetings in full Grand Dragon Klan regalia and lights his cigarettes with a burning cross. Ugh.

Breibart’s report casts suspicion on Shaun King’s credibility by asserting that his birth certificate has the name of a white man listed as his father, therefore not be Black (or bi-racial as he has intimated in the past), therefore he is a fraud and a liar and Black Lives Matter is based – in part – on fraudulent lies! Let me tell you a little something about birth certificates and lies and the American family.

Readers of this blog know that my husband is not my eldest daughter’s biological father. I’ve written extensively about the biological contributions her Douche Bag donor made to her existence while eschewing his fiscal obligations. Douche Bag is and always has been a Black man of the lowest quality…but at one point, I laid down with him and I conceived with him. Two days after my daughter was born, my head still foggy from the near stroke I had suffered, I had a decision to make: Should I put Marshall’s name on the birth certificate or Douche Bag’s?

Douche Bag actually robbed me of that choice (something else I’ve written about) when he slunk into my room after I had been on medication – barely able to make use of my limbs – and refused to leave until I had signed paperwork listing him as the father. He would proudly go on to call it a “pimp move”. When I told Marshall about it later on, he looked crestfallen.

“I thought you were going to put me down as the father,” he said quietly. He implied that it was not too late to ‘fix’ it.

I looked at this man who had just been ordained a deacon in our church, who had lived an upright life for as long as I had known him and yes –had protected and nurtured me during my pregnancy when I most vulnerable. Though I desperately wanted to put his name down as “father” of this child he had helped bring safely into the world, I couldn’t make a liar out of him. The ‘sin’ of having a child out of wedlock was mine to bear and mine alone. And even though I knew it would mean 18+ years of grief, inconvenience and ineptitude, I didn’t alter the document. That’s the only reason Douche Bag’s name is on my daughter’s birth certificate. It would have made life easier to strike him from the paperwork and put the more suitable man’s name on the document, but I decided not to.

Shaun King’s mother did not make that decision. He wrote about his mother’s past and her choices quite eloquently here. Whatever her reasons were, perhaps to save face, perhaps financial, and certainly none of our business, she listed a man who had not sired her son as the father on his birth certificate.

Shaun King’s story is not unique by any stretch of the imagination. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who do not “belong” to their family in one shape or another. I just recently discovered that one of my most beloved cousins was not related to me at all. Her mother was my great uncle’s step child. When I was 15, it was revealed to me in hushed tones that my older cousin Steven* (on the Ghana side) was a foundling but he didn’t know. His paperwork listed my aunt and uncle as his parents, however. I was instructed not to say anything. I did my best to forget.

And that’s the problem with everyone who takes umbrage with Shaun King’s alleged deceit. There are too many people who are prone to forgetting that the average American family has been infiltrated and happily blended with the presence of people who do not share the same DNA, that every Black funeral features a revelation that the man you just put in the ground wasn’t your daddy after all; that if there were birth certificates issued in his day Thomas Jefferson would not have been listed as the father of Sally Hemings’ six children.

Shaun-King

Shaun King is fighting to preserve and improve Black life. That he may have some ambivalence about his genetic make-up is not the pressing question at hand. We have already put too much stock in his mother’s sexual choices and the morality attached to it, which is ironic given the liberties this generation regularly takes with copulation and sexual exhibitionism. Is he using his voice to ensure that fewer Black people are killed in the street and that more get justice from a system built to stand against them? If the answer is yes, kindly shun the Trump shenanigans and worry less about the birth certificate and more ending the hunt and gradual extermination of our people. Stop giving white supremacy a hand. We’re smarter than this.

I am an African Mother. Why Don’t My Children’s Friends Fear Me?

“Stone! Come and pick up all these strips of paper from my floor. Who did this?”

“Argh! I told Castillo not to do this, but he said he was Sharp Boy. He was using his head to cut pieces of paper.”

I paused and looked at my son, in order to process what I was hearing.

“On my bedroom floor? What in the… You know what? Never mind. Just put it all in the trash.”

 

*****

Image source: food.com

Image source: food.com

When my children are hungry, I give them rice. When I need to throw on something quick to collect the mail or answer a knock on the door, I throw an enormous bubu over my head. It’s purple and is embroidered with silver thread on the borders. I make it a point to inconvenience my children by calling them from downstairs to hand me something at the foot of my bed. I have all of the trappings of a “real” African mother…and yet I am lacking in one thing: the awestruck fear that washes over my children’s playmates upon encountering my presence!

I don’t understand it. My husband and I are not small people, and as a pair of Big Black People, there is a certain level of trepidation we ought to expect from people smaller – and infrequently, less black – than we are. And yet, when it comes to the snot-nosed, trilling little urchins our children have selected as friends, we are denied that satisfaction. These people do not fear me at all! This is distressing, because we’ve skipped over an essential step in the African parent/friend of the African child dynamic. They are not my co-equals, but they have already assumed the benefits of co-equality. They are comfortable in my presence, and I am not comfortable with that.

There are two children that my kids play with on a daily basis. Castillo* and Carmen* are from Columbia. Castillo is Stone’s age (5/6) and Carmen and Aya are in the same grade. Sometimes the other girls play with them, but Stone and Castillo have made it abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with the sticky, glittery, cardboard universe that the girls recreate day after day on my poor hardwood floors. About six months ago, I got tired of stepping over dolls, bits of cut out paper and rubber bands, and decided I would be safer (and saner) within the confines of my bedroom, watching Crackle. I don’t know what motivated these people to follow me into my sanctum, but a sanctuary it is no longer. Just two days ago, I realized a pattern had emerged because I had failed to be vigilant. Castillo was in my bedroom…and he had brought all of his toys.

Don’t be alarmed. I would never allow a neighbor’s child and I to be in private, secluded company with each other. This is America! Castillo was in my room, and so was Stone…and so was Liya…and so were Aya and Carmen. I was watching Star Trek and Worf had just engaged in battle. Covering his ears and closing his eyes, Castillo declared that the Klingon was scaring him! I picked up my remote and changed the channel to Sesame Street.

worf

I did this while leaned up against my headboard in MY room. He made this declaration while sitting on the ottoman at the foot of my bed. And for the next 20 minutes, we all watched Sesame Street until the collective decided they had had enough of Abby and Elmo counting and went to play in other parts of the house.

Dude. This is really scary.

Dude. This is really scary.

Why don't I stretch out while I make your moms watch Sesame Street? Awww yeah.

Why don’t I stretch out while I make your moms watch Sesame Street? Awww yeah.

 

Now, I don’t know about you, but as an African child, it would never even occur to me to enter the bedroom of a friend’s parent. As a matter of fact – and depending on the friend – it would never occur to me to try to gain entry into their house. And yet, Carmen and Castillo feel perfectly fine coming into my house, eating my popsicles and leaving a trail of Lays chips on the floor without a hint of hesitation. They don’t even call me “auntie” in deference. They don’t even call me “Miss Malaka” in mock politeness. But they are consuming my food like I birthed them.  How did this happen? When did this happen? Do you know how bad it is? Listen to this:

Marshall often gets home around 6 pm. His A/C in his car has been out for well over a year. He hasn’t bothered to get it fixed. We live in Atlanta. People do not live in Atlanta without A/C. By the time he gets home, he is a sweaty frustrated mess of a man. The house is destroyed from where six children have been playing for hours. He takes it all in stride, stepping gingerly over the mess to make his way up the stairs where I am hiding in my bed. Except I’m not “hiding”, because Stone and Castillo are in the room with me. Marshall walks to my side of the bed to salute me with a kiss. Then he turns to greet the boys.

The boys have not greeted him ooo… My husband is greeting these two impudent small boys.

“How was school today, Stone?”

“Fine, Daddy.”

“Castillo…how was school? Do you like your new class?”

Castillo looks at him as though he has asked him to define and explain quantum mechanics. Like Dude. You know I don’t know the answer to that, and you’re a douche bag for even asking me that.

Eventually though, he takes a break from sucking on the popsicle he has retrieved from MY freezer to answer with a single, sullen word.

“Good.”

What is this?!?!?

My sister says I am entirely to blame. She cannot imagine sitting in her bedroom for some kid from across the road to perch in her bedroom and inform her that Matlock is boring, with full expectation that she will change the channel. She says Marshall and I have gone mad.

“It’s not that we are mad,” I reply gloomily. “It’s just that we are tired.”

My sister is disgusted with my explanation and summarizes her feelings with “Humph!”

No, but seriously. Even amongst the many Americans who are reading this now: Could you ever see yourself just chilling in your friend’s parent’s bedroom with your little Hot Wheels and racetracks and doll clothes like it was YOUR house? Like you belonged there? No! You cannot! I only recently got comfortable entering my BFFFL’s mom’s room two years ago, and we’ve been friends for 21 years. Na you 5 year old boy?

I have accepted that these people will never fear me. I have accepted that they consider me their co-equal. By the time they are taking your wrapping paper from your craft box in order to execute the pretend powers of Sharp Boy, it is futile to think otherwise, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

My Great Aunt Was ‘Rosie the Riveter’

(…or she may have been Wendy the Welder. I can’t ask her, because she’s dead.)

The years between 1939-1945 must have been an intoxicating time, fraught with uncertainty, new possibilities and loads of change. The Second World War had changed everything for Americans, and my Aunt Clara was not to be exempted from the alterations that the global conflict would bring.

We-Can-Do-It-Rosie-the-Riveter-Wallpaper-2-ABAlmost everyone is familiar with the image of Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon representing the American women who worked in factories and shipyards during WW II. It was drawn by Norman Rockwell, who gained mass appeal because of his whimsical (and detailed) depictions of American culture and life. A singular glance at Rosie elicits several emotions (and assumptions) about the type of woman called to serve her country in its greatest hour of need: Young, confident, brave, selfless and of course, strong. This being America and it being the multicultural and racially diverse country that it is, it cannot escape notice that Rosie the Riveter is white. A white woman was chosen to embody all the attributes needed to fill a void created when all able-bodied American men were called off to war. It therefore wasn’t hard for me to make the leap as a child (and admittedly, as a grown woman) that white women exclusively worked in artillery and machine production factories across the country in the service of the war effort.

Black weldersMy assumption has been that during that era, Black women were most likely serving as maids or still in semi-bondage on tobacco and cotton fields, and certainly would not (be able to) answer the patriotic call to duty to work in manufacturing in the war effort. So you can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that my Aunt Clara was an employee at an industrial plant that manufactured airplanes during WWII!

To look at Aunt Clara (who passed away in her 70s in the late 1990s), you would never guess she had ever been anything but a demure housewife whose sole goal was to attend to the needs of my cantankerous Uncle Clarence. As for as I know, she never made any demands of Uncle Clarence, save one: she did not like the name “Clarence”, so she would call him “Johnny”. Everyone referred to him as Johnny from that day forward. My memories of Aunt Clara include her moving slowly around the kitchen making pots of greens, dispensing Uncle Johnny’s meds and wheeling the miserable old man around in his chair at his frequent request. Nevertheless, she smiled easily and had a warm bosom that made for excellent snuggles.

When we were in Detroit this summer, it was my Aunt Cynthia (Clara’s daughter), who casually mentioned that her mother used to work in an industrial plant. I have never known much about that side of the family, and now that I was old enough to ask questions and receive honest answers, I hopped on the opportunity.

“When I was a baby, my mother left West Virginia to come to Columbus, Ohio to work. I used to sleep in a tin wash basin with a pillow in the bottom. I don’t even remember it. Anyway, she used to work making them big airplanes for the war.”

I was intrigued and was motivated to do a little research. As far as I piece together and based on the few facts she provided, Aunt Clara most likely worked at Curtiss-Wright, which became the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States by the end of WWII. Women worked on all points of the assembly line, starting from cutting and sewing the upholstery for seats, to welding the sides and panels of the aircraft together, to finally testing the integrity of the aircraft. Oftentimes, they worked in racially integrated teams per a federal order. I frequently find myself wondering how many good friends women like my aunt made on the assembly line – and consequently lost – when the war ended and life was expected to resume to “normal” with men returning from the battle front to work and women to their kitchens and parlors. It would also mean a return to strictly governed/divided racial interactions in public, especially in the South. I imagine that the memory of working and eating alongside a woman whom you were previously forbidden to by law never really fades.

coworkers riverter life

Stories like this are not told often enough…not in film, not in literature, not even amongst ourselves at family gatherings. When men, closer wedded to the privileges of patriarchy than good sense, puff out their chests and spout off about the “natural order of things” – how men are meant to provide and women are meant to wait meekly for their rations – it makes me want to puke bile. Clearly, as situations such WWII, the Asante-British war of 1900-1 (led by Yaa Asantewa), or as far back as 1588 when the Spanish Armada was defeated by the English under Queen Elizabeth’s leadership, or countless other lesser known events demonstrate, women have as much a mind and ability for defense, tactical planning, engineering, construction and execution as any man; Because women are human.

I wrote a post earlier today about the abysmal soon-to-be-released pop-tart movie called Jem, and how disgusted I am that it stripped the title character of all her agency and power as a young woman. (The film’s creators even embodied her as a waifish teen – and not a woman closer to her 20s – to ensure that the very notion was ensconced in the viewer’s psyche.) There is no hope for that particular film, but the message needs a strong contradiction, also set to film. It’s my sincere hope that a film maker/storyteller will see it as necessary to tell the story of all the Black, Irish, Polish – American – Rosie Riveters and Wendy Welders who served this country when it needed the strength of those women the most. I believe it’s as essential a task as the making of Wind Talkers, Red Tails or Glory. I believe it is vital.

perched

Dear God, please make this post and bird and fly straight to Ava Duvernay!

School’s Back in…And You May Notice That The World is a Little Happier This Morning

I’m sure this post would have been more impactful if it had been published at say, 8:00 this morning, but like many parents in Gwinnett and Fulton county, I was a bit busy outchea in these here streets, sans offspring. That’s right folks! School is back in session and all is right in the universe!

The resuming of school means different things to different people, depending on what stage they’ve achieved or path they have chosen in life. For everyone in, it means a return to a glut in traffic patterns. For the teacher, it means a chance to implement all the training that has been acquired over the summer. For the singleton who works from home, it means a chance to sit by the pool without all that daggum noise from the neighborhood kids. And then, there us: The parents. It’s hard to describe what the First Day of School feels like for us.

This is our Christmas.

This is our Hanukkah.

This is our Guy Fawkes Day.

This is the Day of Reckoning after having been tried by fire for the 3 months of summer.

We’ve managed to keep our kids healthy, occupied, fed and alive without completely losing our sanity and that is why we jubilate today. Nobody knows de trouble we dun seen…nobody knows our sorrows. How we’ve spent countless hours in the lonely, watchful nights asking ourselves again and again: “Dear Jesus, WHAT am I gonna do with these people tomorrow?”

You ask yourself this every day. For 3 months. Because the fear (a well-founded one, based on science) is that your kids will grow duller, dimmer and dumber over the summer if you do not keep them perpetually engaged in something beyond television. If you are not one of the parents who is lucky enough to afford summer camp – or qualify for subsidies that allow your kids to go to camp for free or a reduced rate – the burden of planning, executing and scrimping together the cash to do stuff is completely on YOU. And do you know what the worst part is? Your client (i.e. your child) is never satisfied with the result(s).

“Oh…so we went to the sprinkler park. What else are we doing today?”

“All we have to eat is chips, a sandwich, and a drink? Can I have your pretzels then?”

“What do we have planned for tomorrow? I think I’m going to be bored…”

Dude. How can you be bored in advance of tomorrow? It’s only today?!?! What the…!

No. No. It’s okay, Malaka. That’s all in the past. School is back in session today and all is right with the world. Things are back to normal.

Two years ago, my friend Tosinger wrote a post on Facebook when back her two boys made their way to their classrooms. Tosinger balances a career in the performing arts as well as being a full time mom. (She’s crazy.) She said: “Kids go back to school; mom goes back to creative.”

That simple explanation of the rhythm of the creative who also functions as a parent has stuck with me ever since. There is little time to dedicate yourself to your craft over the summer when you are a creative or social entrepreneur or any other profession that requires your undivided attention. You can’t give your craft your best, because you have to divide your attention and give the bulk of it to your kids. Your creative passion becomes anemic, withers and almost goes specter thin over the summer. Why? Because if you allow your kids to go anemic and wither over the summer, DFCS will come a-knocking at your door and a-carting you (or your kids) away. And that is why I woke up with a song in my heart and a spring in my step this morning. Like Tosinger and any other parents or guardian who has a personal passion outside of rearing children, I can finally devote some time to my much beloved craft.

Have you seen the Back to School meme of the orangutan? Here. I’ll show it to you.

Now, last year, I didn’t understand why anyone would create this. In 2014 and hitherto, I would mourn the ending of summer. The days leading up to back to school would mean the ending our little excursions to the zoo or the Verizon Amphitheater to watch show tunes on screen or all the little things that made summer wonderful. I didn’t understand all those “mean” parents who would look forward so eagerly to getting their kids out of the house. But this year…ahhh…this year was different. My children changed on me. They grew up. They didn’t want to do all the whimsical things that made summer fun. They wanted to do things that cost ridiculous amounts of money. They also didn’t want to do their required reading and math assignments before we could leave the house. This made them less pleasant people to hand out with. This made me pray in earnest for the ending of summer to come with haste.

(I even enrolled Stone is back in school. Can you imagine that he’d rather spin time in the classroom with his friends than spend 9 hours (alone) at home with me? Quelle surprise!)

I tell you, I danced this morning. I sang a song. I made up a melody and lyrics in my head about what had just transpired. I was a much sweeter person in traffic. No, no…you go, sir! Please. Cut across me in the lane. Nothing matters. The kids are back in school!

If you’re sitting at your desk today, wondering why your co-worker is a little friendlier this morning, or why the mom in the checkout lane is smiling silently to herself, or if your boss has suddenly experienced a burst of goodwill and is offering to take the office to lunch, know that these people have probably been touched by the magic of Back to School.

To our teachers: We salute you, we thank you, we pity you. Thank you for your sacrifice. You and the troops are what make America great. And now, if you will all excuse me, I’m going to watch Gotham for the first time without any background commentary or insipid questions since May.

 

Did your parents dance when they sent you off to school? You should call them and ask them – then come back here and tell all of us! Of course, they will lie…just like I’m gon’ lie to my babies today when I tell them how much I missed them and how GLAD I am they are home…dirtying up all my dishes and leaving their crap all over my floor. :/

I Talked to my Daughter About Caitlyn Jenner

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

I honestly wasn’t going to talk about Bruce becoming Caitlyn because of all the accoutrements and accessories that come along with engaging in thorny topics such as these. If you find you are not on the side of rabid celebration of an unorthodox decision these days, suddenly you’re branded as an x-phobe or anti-y. (Insert your own term for any of these variables.) I wouldn’t have broached the event it at all on MOM, but several people have asked how my chat with Nadjah about Ms. Jenner went and MX5 is constantly reminding me that it is my duty to “give the people want they want!!” So here it is.

gladiator

****

Yahoo! News released images of Vanity Fair’s cover featuring Caitlyn Jenner two weeks ago. In the social media world, this is ancient history but I remember the events surrounding it clearly. People were in an uproar, both in celebration and confusion. Someone on my social network left a comment on the Yahoo! page asking “how he was supposed to explain this to his 14 year old son?”

I snickered at his question. I was a loooong way away from that. My eldest is only 10, and topics about sex, sexuality, gender reassignment and thermal expansion were way down the line of our list of things to tackle in conversation. Poor sod, I thought. I rolled over and continued scrolling through the news. Oh, look! Old Navy was having a sale on flip flops. I have to get some for the whole family…

“Mommy?”

“Yes?”

It was Nadjah. Her forehead was wrinkled. She leaned against my bedroom door and mumbled something I didn’t catch. Surely I had misunderstood her.

“I said ‘Would you ever dress up to look like a man?’”, she repeated.

“I guess if my life depended on it,” I mused. “You know, Harriet Tubman sometimes had to disguise herself as a man to help slaves get to freedom…”

“Yes. I know that,” she snapped. “I’m talking about would you change who you are to become a man?”

Her question came 3 days after the Caitlyn Jenner story broke. I peered at her sideways. How did she…?

“No, I wouldn’t,” I answered. “But why do you ask?”

“I saw this story on the news at Ms. Babette’s house about a guy who became a girl and now he…I mean she…has long hair – but I forgot her name.”

Crap.

“Caitlyn Jenner.”

“Yes!”

We stared at each other for a moment. Finally, my first born loin fruit asked me the question that no one but Almighty God truly knows that answer to. She wanted to know why he had changed. I sighed. What was the best way to approach this? I tapped into the ancient African mother in me. I answered her question by not addressing it at all.

“People have always changed their outward appearance. We’ve been using surgery to do it for thousands of years. During the Greco-Roman period, battle scars on the back were removed since they were a sign of shame. It meant you were running away from you enemy and not facing him. Overweight men with ‘moobs’ also had them removed. They were considered shameful. The first nose jobs and facial reconstructive surgeries were done in ancient India using Ayurveda.”

(Fortunately, I had stumbled across all this information when I watched something on the History Channel one evening when I had the chance to close my bedroom door for once. I knew it would come in handy one day.)

“Okay…but WHY did he do it?” she quizzed.

“I don’t know why anyone does what they do,” I answered honestly. “All I know is this is one of those things that have always existed as long as people have been curious about who or what they are. There are some people who feel like they were born in the wrong bodies. I can’t explain how they feel. Like I can’t explain how Dippin’ Dots or Wormholes are made – I just know they either make a delicious treat or transport you through dimensions. The only person who knows what lies in the heart of a person is the one who created them. Get it?”

“Yeah…I think so. I guess I really need to check out the background of whoever I marry. I don’t know what I would do if my husband decided to be a woman 2 weeks after we were married!”

Herh. You are 10. What is this nonsensical talk of marriage? I advised her to scrutinize her future spouse’s background with caution and detail regardless.

“The fact is: You are who you are, down to the cellular structure. You can change your outward appearance, but your DNA is always going to tell another story. Bruce Jenner felt like he was supposed to be a woman.”

“She,” she corrected.

I grunted in retort.

Satisfied, she thanked me and left the room. Nadjah hasn’t brought it up since, but our conversations always lead me to ponder a little longer. And then before I could finish framing further thoughts on what it must be like to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, Rachel Dolezal took the internet by storm. If you don’t know who Rachel Dolezal is by now, you’re one of the lucky few people left on the planet. She is a woman of Czech, German and Swedish decent, masquerading as a Black woman. She is the current president of the NAACP’s Spokane, WA chapter and adamantly declares that she IS a Black woman.

I mean…how Sway?!? I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed the NAACP’s white roots here before, so we won’t have to readdress it. But basically, Rachel Dolezal could have taken office as the Spokane NAACP head as a white woman and been just fine. DuBois founded the organization with predominately white staff with an agenda to assimilate into American whiteness.

Moving on.

Both Jenner and Dolezal’s identity conundrums remind me of a clip I saw on the Tyra Banks show years ago. It was about a Black man named ‘Lawrence’ who believes he is a white man condemned in a Black man’s body. Tyra’s make up team makes him white for a day, and his whole perspective and attitude about life and himself is radically altered for 24 hours.

Lawrence talked about hating the look of himself in the mirror quite a bit. When Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono was interviewed about transitioning, he talked about hating the sight of his womanly features as well. I can’t imagine what it’s like to hate the body you were born with so much that you would go to such lengths to radically alter it. I can sympathize, but I can’t truly empathize with these struggles.

For me, it all comes down to the heart. It’s not for me to judge another person’s heart. I don’t have that power. But I do know that Jenner, Bono, Dolezal, Lawrence, you and I are looking to be made whole to some capacity. What is lacking in each of these people and thousands of others is a sense of needing a completion…and a desire for power.

Look at the type of woman Caitlyn Jenner became. S/he didn’t transition into a tea-picking woman from India or a Pakistani woman covered in black, or even Hilary Clinton. S/he became a Kardashian remake; someone who can command dollars and elicit a sexual response. Sex is powerful.

Lawrence wants to be a white man because white male privilege is powerful. It runs global economies. It gives you access to any corner of the globe. No one interrogates white male presence in the way they do a Black man’s.

Dolezal on the other hand is a little tricky. The Black woman’s struggle isn’t easy to get down with. But even masquerading as a “Black woman”, she still enjoyed a certain measure of light skinned privilege. Damn you, Dolezal. You’ve just come and put sand in everyone’s gari! Now everybody is claiming to be trans-something. Trans-Black. Trans-Racial. Trans-Fat. Trans-Slender even!

In 40 years, when our grandkids look back on our generation, I wonder what they will say. Each decade is marked by some traits. The 1920’s was noted for excess. The 1960’s was noted for drugs and free love. Ours ostensibly will the era in which we redefined what it means to be human…or at least attempted to.

 

 

 

Help! My ‘Torso Beads’ Are Too Tight and I’m Afraid…

“Hey Malaka! What are the credentials for wearing Krobo waist beads?”

“Have a waist, I suppose. I dunno. I’m not Krobo.”

“Ah.”

My younger cousin from my American side of the family was the one making this inquiry. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and to my knowledge, has never been out of the country. Now, she was asking me about waist beads…Krobo waist beads, specifically. What had piqued her interest in this particular region of Ghana?

Krobo is a small town in the Eastern Region of Ghana, and as far as I am concerned, is an enduring bastion of our fast-fading culture. Krobos are known for hot girls, hard work and elaborate beadwork. Still, the do not hold a monopoly on bead making/wearing in the region, so I was a bit miffed that my cousin did not inquire about Akuapem waist beads. I suppose it’s because Larteh people are more famous for their juju than their accessories.

Anyway.

My cousin’s inquiry gave me pause, and made me reminisce a little about my own waist beads. Even though I’ve worn traditional beads at some point in every stage in my life, I began wearing them consistently back in 2002 as a nod to our ancestral beauty practices. On a visit to Ghana in that time, several women of my parent’s generation were quick to share their disdain and disapproval for the presence of the beads around my waist.

“This is something villagers do,” one woman spat.

Ah, ah. It wasn’t her waist, and she didn’t buy them for me. I resisted the urge to spit back at her and roll my eyes, instead nodding like the “good African girl” my father silently implored me to be in public.

My favorite waist beads were crafted by an old woman who lived in Osu behind Kikiriki Kitchen. She had strung some for one of my best friends in colors and shapes I had never seen before. She even had 3 or 4 gold spun beads strung on the line, which had such an alluring and hypnotic effect that I have to confess that it was nothing but pure envy that took me on the perilous trek over a 20 foot wide gutter bridged on either end by a rickety piece of wood.

“Her beads are not cheap o,” my friend warned in advance. “She is a master bead maker.”

“Oh, it’s just beads. How expensive can it be?” I scoffed.

The elderly woman greeted us with the cool of a woman who had seen and done it all. A halo of curly grey hair crowned her round head. She was in no particular rush to service us. I liked and disliked her instantly.

“Where do you want your beads to sit?” she asked.

“Here,” I said, pointing to the top of my hip. “I want them to sit low.”

After I had been measured and fitted, the old lady named her price. I balked, but then I remembered that beads were once a unit of currency and a measure for one’s wealth and status in the community. I empty my wallet and stare imploringly at my friend.  I think I still owe her money.  It was well worth it though. I have always loved those beads.

It is those same beads digging into my torso today.

Yes, you heard that right: The beads that once sat demure and seductively across my hips are now cutting off my circulation around my rib cage, digging into my skin, causing me nightmares in my sleep. And it’s ALL my cousin’s fault! If she hadn’t gone poking her artsy, inquisitive nose into this aspect of our culture, I would have left this vainglorious past with my waist beads buried in the past! You see, I took the beads off in the middle of my first pregnancy and haven’t thought about them since. After Aya was born, I got another set that were strung on elastic, but I never considered them quite as beautiful as the ones I’d gotten in Osu so I stopped wearing them, too. But once my cousin asked about (Krobo) beads, I fished them out of my jewelry box, inhaled and slipped them over my head and breasts. Now they are STUCK.

I can’t believe how much my body has changed! The transformation has been radical, and not for the better. They always tell you how having kids changes your body, and I have accepted the man hairs on my chin and chest, the feet that have grown in both length and width…even the kangaroo pouch that is the hallmark of four C-sections. Am I now expected to accept that my torso in 2015 holds the same dimensions of my waist 15 years ago? Heaven forbid!

While trawling through Poka Arts’ images on Instagram, I came across two images that sum up my demise perfectly. No, no. Look! It will help you understand my struggle.

Me, before my first kid:

photo 2(1)Yeah, I believe my body is a temple… but I pretty much eat whatever I want. It’s all good, because I work out 3-4 times a week and I play in a Gaelic football league. But you know, whatevs. Ooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of your chocolate ganache? Can I have it?  I’m going for a run later. No, silly! I don’t “diet”. I don’t need to. LOL!

Me, after all my kids:

photo 1(5)Yeah, I believe my body is a temple. I try to eat a plant-based diet, primarily…but then I get super hungry and end up eating pizza for breakfast…and lunch. Look, I just like to eat pizza. It’s quick, it’s easy, and the kids like it too! I try to work out whenever I get the chance, but I’m usually busy stressing over the kids…which leads to more stress eating. Oooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of that chocolate ganache? I have a PTA meeting coming up because one of the girls roundhouse kicked another kid on the playground. It’s okay. I’m going to cry myself to sleep later. Maybe the pain from my tears will mask the pain of these beads digging into my back…

Nevertheless, I was happy that I could at least get my favorite beads onto my body, even if they weren’t fitting me in as appealing a manner as they once did. I excitedly sent a picture to my sister, anticipating her approval and matched excitement.

photo(16)

“What is this?”

“These are my waist beads, Adj! I haven’t worn them in years.”

“Why do they look so tight?”

“…Because they are tight.”

“I don’t think our ancestors intended for them to look this way.”

“Look. Just be happy I can get them on, okay? You always outchea jackin’ up my high.”

She floods my inbox with celebratory emojis  – illustrated applause, confetti and champagne glasses – and then goes silent. I hate my sister.I am looking miserable.

Marshall offers to lift my beads over my head if I would agree to simultaneously smash and lift my boobs so he can slide them over. I refuse. I hate the pain these beads have caused me, but I loathe the idea of them defeating me even more.

That’s all I have to say about that. Until memory becomes my reality, my rib cage beads and I remain ever yours!