Category Archives: Motherhood

Not Just in Africa: A History of ‘Hyenas’

An article on BBC about a man hired by a community in Malawi to have sex with children went viral this week. Eric Aniva, the man featured in the story, is locally known as a ‘hyena’ and is paid approximately $6.00 to have sex with girls once they reach puberty. The members of this community, and others across Malawi, believe the ritual cleanses the girls and has the added benefit of protecting their families from the wrath of the gods. If the girls refuse, their families could be stricken with pestilence, crop failure and/or death.

As these published pieces often do, this article elicited much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth by anxious Africans terrified of earning the reputation that we are ‘primitive’ as a continent, willfully bucking against the glories and benefits of human evolution. They swooped into the comments section on social media to condemn the practice (rightfully) and cry out to God, wondering when-oh-when we would see the light and be saved from our backwardness ( to my surprise). You can read the entire BBC article HERE

source: bbc.com

source: bbc.com

Beyond provoking an ick response in me, this article served as a reminder of trivia I’d picked up some time ago. Eric Aniva was not the first ‘hyena’ I’d read about. The first time I’d heard about a man using his erection to ‘cleanse and protect’ the community was in the church. Yes, you heard that right. In Jewish, Roman and Greek customs, women’s bodies were considered ritualistically unclean. Her menstrual cycle – or any issue of blood – was considered an abomination.

We women bleed for all kinds of reasons: when we’re on our periods, when we’re stressed, when we’re giving birth, when we lose our virginity. That last order of business was what powerful, despotic men were most interested in…and somehow successfully convinced entire communities that their personally handling of that particular women’s issue was in everyone’s best interest. Church leaders persuaded (and eventually mandated) that every new bride be brought to the priest – God’s representative in the earth – in order that he dutifully deflower her. You must understand; his phallus was consecrated and therefore protected from her demonic first blood. Now, voila! No more Bloody New Brides in the realm for newlywed hubbies to have to concern themselves with.

It was kind of like a magic trick, except in every instance the trick ended in rape.

The practice of powerful men using their influence and authority to coerce women and girls into having sex with them is one longer than memory. It cuts across race, cultures and continents. The privilege of droit du seigneur – the right of the lord – is well documented and was practiced across medieval Europe. It gave feudal lords, land and title owners, men of noble birth and other rich scoundrels the legal right to have sexual relations with newly wedded brides on the first night of their union. You might recall the scene in Braveheart when King Longshanks gathered all his noblemen to discuss Scottish malcontent and the uprisings mushrooming in the north. He said,

“Perhaps it’s time to re-institute an old custom – prima nocta. First night. If we cannot route them out, we’ll brrrrreed them out.”

braveheart7

Or something like that.

Point is, prima nocta was a real thing and poor red headed girls all over Scotland were made to spend their wedding night with some unctuous, obese English lord. *Shiver*

The English adopted prima nocta from the Romans, who had invaded and conquered Britain under Caesar. It was all fun and games until these jokers took the practice to a whole new level, when lords began charging men a fee for the ‘privilege’ of sleeping with their new brides. Men who could not afford to pay could not marry.

In the end, all this pretense about using old man cock to ‘cleanse’ a woman’s body, ward off potential evil events and the imposed idea that this is all very honorable comes down to one thing: Agency.

Who owns women’s bodies?

If we were to track the timeline of the human experience as a whole, there are only faint whispers of time when women have ever truly belonged to themselves. Cultures where women were given the same rights and privileges as men – including sexual agency – have been destroyed by crusaders of Abrahamic religions and replaced with the gender disparity we see now. If you’ve ever wondered why ancient Egypt was considered such a den of iniquity by the modern church, I would hazard that the culture’s permitting a woman the ability to rule as a Pharaoh would be a good place to start. And yet the land of Egypt served as a safe haven for prophets, kings and even young Jesus Christ Himself for a time.

Say what you will about feminism, but the movement has given young women and girls a powerful tool: the right to say “NO”. Where women are concerned and when I think about the church, Islam and the shadowy, ubiquitous myth known as African Culture, I think about obedience first and foremost. But rights? That’s somewhere down the line long after go and marry, if it even makes the list at all. Speaking as a former Muslim and a born again Christian, I confess that I have had to unlearn and reject almost everything I’ve been indoctrinated with as far as my gender is concerned.

When we teach young girls that they have the right to say no, we give them authority. They should be able to say no to female genital mutilation; no to dropping out of school in order to serve male whims and destiny; no to hyenas who are paid to ravish them just as they are entering womanhood’s doorstep.

That brings me back to my surprise at the responses of a good many people on Facebook who typed out their cries to God, pondering when things in Africa will change. The answer to that is simple: When WE decide to change them.

When we decide that women are full human beings.

When we decide that girls are not objects that we can physically mar for culture’s perverse pleasure.

When we decide to give women their place as influencers – not just through tokenism – in society.

When we decide to educate not just ourselves, but our communities about the benefits of a healthy, thriving female population and the positive generational ripple effects.

All of this requires a dynamic shift in power structure. What did it take to end this practice in churches, fiefdoms, kingdoms and remote outposts? Was it easy? Doubtful. The dominant classes do not relinquish their hold on power easily.

Even in different parts of the continent where we think we’re doing okay with gender politics, there is still room to grow and improve. I think about Africa and the type of girls self-proclaimed progressive men raise, but would never marry themselves. Girls who are assertive, intelligent and driven make impressive daughters but are not considered wife material. Now why is that? Perhaps this is a hyena tradition of a different sort.

I’ll Never Be Able to Make My Children Happy in Africa

Not that that’s a problem.

I’ve all but abandoned the quest to guide and ensure my children’s happiness.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t do everything in my power to make sure that they are healthy individuals, equipped with the tools to lead sorta successful lives at some point in the future. But happiness? That’s not something I can do for them. It took going to Shack Church to realize this.

Our family goes to worship at a church in Kwanokuthula (Kwano for short), a township just outside on Plett in the direction of Cape Town. In township hierarchy, Kwano is where Soweto was in the 1980’s before Blacks, now armed with middle class income, moved (back) into the township and gave it an economic shot in the arm. There is another township called Qolweni that is about 2 miles down the road, westward. The folks in Kwano call Qolweni a bad place to live. It’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, but not really. This pot has some shine to it, ya dig?

Anyway. That’s where we worship.

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Like any township, Kwanokuthula is subject to extensive power outages. These Sunday mornings without electricity don’t bother me. In fact, I prefer going to church without power. EVERYONE has to participate in praise when there it no electricity. There is no competition between the praise leader, her microphone and portable loudspeaker and the children in gumboots stomping their feet with the lights are out. It’s great. I love it. My children don’t.

The two Sundays that we have attended church in Kwano (two weeks ago we were in Port Elizabeth visiting at a colored church) my children have sat sullenly in their seats, their spoiled little faces curled up like sour milk, looking aloof and eager to do nothing else but leave.

They are not used to ‘doing church’ this way. In America, every charismatic church has a similar format: You have praise and worship in the main sanctuary, collect the offering, and send the children back to children’s church where they will be instructed in Biblical half truths and perhaps watch an episode or six of ‘Veggie Tales’. Then they’ll draw a picture of a cross with crayon and present it to their parents. It’s their reasonable service.

Ain’t no children’s church in the township. Ain’t no crayons and TVs. Ain’t no graham crackers in exchange for feigned obedience. Here, you have the word of God, some hymns, and for the next two hours, it’s all done in Afrikaans and/or Xhosa. If you’re lucky there might be a guy who speaks English in the congregation called up to translate a portion of it.

The first time my kids sat frowning and hunched over in their chairs after being so warmly greeted by our new church family, I felt sorry for them. This was new for ALL of us, and my husband was the only one who rushed into service with gusto and authority. I tried to soothe them with promises that it would all be over soon and we’d be home before they knew it; We couldn’t possibly sleep here, right? The guarantees did nothing to console them. They became more and more drear until the final song was sung and the township disappeared from view once we piled into our car. It was only then that the spirit of life filtered into their bodies and their attitudes became bearable again.

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The second time (this Sunday) I was having none of it. They had just eaten a warm breakfast and had plenty of time to laze about until we announced that it was time to leave for church. It began with the youngest caterwauling the moment we pulled up in front of the building, protesting about the length and decibels of worship. I ignored her, but she’s a persistent Muppet. Eventually, she got a reaction from me, although it was not the one she was hoping for. The other three were sitting stone-faced yet again and I began growling under my breath as the spirit of revelation hit me.

“All right y’all,” I snapped. “New rule: When everyone else is standing, YOU stand. When everyone else is clapping, YOU clap.”

Did they like that? Not one bit. Did I care? Even less.

Because in that moment – the moment where everyone else was singing joyfully about stomping Satan under their feet, complete with pantomime – I came to a divine understanding. If you can’t find happiness in a place where you’re within 15 minutes walking distance of a clean beach, have access to a river where you can fish and canoe, a big ol’ field to run around in, cable TV, snacks on demand and internet access (even if it IS sometime-y); and all it costs you is some obedience and/or gratitude? Then there’s nothing I can do to make you happy. That kind of joy is something you’re going to have to invoke from within yourself. In the meantime, you better sit up in this Shack Church and fake praise Him until you make it!

MOM Squad, can I tell you how free I feel now? I anticipate experiencing many moments of this sort of freedom.

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Now that summer break is officially on for everyone is the northern hemisphere, how has it been going for you? Do you feel pressure to keep your kids entertained every moment of the day? Do your children’s cries of “I’m booorrrred!” stir an unsettling emotion within you? Discuss!

Get free, MOM Squad! Get freeeeee!!!!

A rainbow and a sign of God’s covenant. Get free, MOM Squad! Get freeeeee!!!!

My Personal Choices From My Previous Life Lived in America Have Come to Haunt Me in South Africa

*Note: This is not a lament, nor am I disparaging my host country. These are simply musings based on my observations.

Today as I sat in the lobby of the local branch of Standard Bank and found my senses assaulted by the glare of LED lights that bounced off the newly waxed floors, I felt a small wave of nostalgia wash over my feet. (Not enough to engulf me completely, you understand. I do enjoy this new life on semi-permanent vacation.) I was reminiscing over the days when I worked in a corporate environment just like this one: One that required me to slip into pinstriped trousers, a conservative blouse and side- part my permed hair before scooping it into a ponytail. In those moments, I missed looking and feeling important. I missed office chatter. But above all, I missed my check.

The only thing I love more than living in semi-permanent vacation mode is a fat, direct deposited check.

The husband and I were there to add my name as a co-signer to this new house account. In the past and with a job at which I spent 40 hours a week, I was a regular contributor to that account. And then with the birth of each additional child, each needing more attention at home and daycare costs depleting the entirety of my earnings, I volunteered to sacrifice my 8-5, my 401K, my health insurance and in-depth analyses of America’s Next Top Model with my co-workers in order to stay at home with the kids. That’s how I joined the ranks of the SAHM’s in 2008. Being in the bank in a different country brought all of those memories of that decision into focus for some reason.

Let me not fib. The recollection wasn’t “for some reason”. It was for a very specific one. As I was being added to the account, it was incumbent upon a very sweet account manager to ask me a series of questions in order to determine my eligibility.

Do you have proof of address? (I didn’t, because my husband’s name is on the lease of the house we’re renting, not mine.)

What is your occupation? (Self-employed, I said confidently.)

In what industry? (Literature. I’m an author.)

For how long? (Since 2009.)

And what is your monthly income? (*Crickets…* I’m racking my brains to provide this woman with an answer, but all I keep seeing is the big fat $0.00 in royalties because I’ve sold NO books this month. And the crickets just keep on chirping…)

It is at this point that my husband snaps me out of my deer-in-the-headlights trance and informs the Sweet Account Manager that my monthly income is the same as his: $x,000. I make a wise crack about what’s his being mine and we all laugh. The uncomfortable moment seems to have passed, but it hasn’t. All I can think about is how I’ve failed the cause of women everywhere because not only have I earned no money this month, but I CAN’T earn an income here because I am an immigrant/expat on a volunteer visitor’s visa. A host of historical wrongs smack me in the face, unbidden and unwelcome.

I was reminded of the indignities women in the early part this century have had to battle; limits put on them based exclusively on their gender and marital status. The moment harkened back to the Depression Era when the dependency of marriage was taking shape, as societal attitudes about women working outside of the home were so negative that it affected federal policy. (Section 213 of the 1932 Federal Economy Act prohibited more than one family member from working for the government, barring many married women from federal employment.) Sitting there with my husband benevolently giving me access to HIS money in what is frankly HIS account, I was reminded of the horror stories I’d heard about married women being unable to open up lines of credit without their husbands approval, and single women precluded entirely. I thought about immigrants, both legal and undocumented who all have the very human instinct (and need) to earn a living in order to provide for their families….or damn it…just keep themselves occupied during the week, and all the laws that prohibit them from maximizing their (and my, now that I’ve joined their ranks) potential.

None of this internal struggle was my husband’s fault. We discussed the implications of becoming a one-income home and I’d made the choice voluntarily. It’s just that when you’re covered in smashed bananas, watching Yo Gaba Gaba(!) in 2009, you don’t see yourself in a newly built bank tussling with these emotions in 2016. I didn’t realize how much I was affected until I was interviewed by a PhD doing an analysis of non-conformist Ghanaian feminists later on this evening.

I was explaining that if I were forced to categorize myself, I’d call myself a “womanist”, rather than a “feminist”. My issues with white, liberal feminism a la Patricia Arquette are well documented. The Good Doctor seemed rather miffed that I would not call myself a feminist until she assured me that she was not. Out of nowhere, she hit me with:

“Do you work?”

The question sucked the air out of me. Again, it was as if my absence from the traditional workforce diminished my value. A value that’s intrinsically tied to a paycheck or summons to meetings in Prague or TedEx Talks or whatever activities women/feminists of “worth” engage in.

I muttered that I cannot work because I’ve just relocated to South Africa.

“I can’t even sweep the street for pay.”

“Oh. So you’ll just have to be a stay at home mom for a bit,” she said. She took the tone of someone who’d just discovered pond scum on her lover’s scrotum and advised him to wash it off. “Well, since you’ll have plenty of time on your hands, there are some Black feminists works you should read. I’ll send them to you.”

I resisted the urge to cackle at the notion that I’ll have – or will ever have – “plenty of time” because I’m a SAHM. I opted to thank her instead.

At the end of the day, I recoil at my present reality because I KNOW how tough it is for women who have been out of the workforce to re-enter after a certain period of time. It is assumed their skills have atrophied and therefore make more of a charity case than valuable contributor to any corporation’s cause. I’ve seen their resumes rejected and have in turn been instructed to reject their resumes by my recruiting manager(s). I’ve seen them come in and struggle with opening an Excel document after being given a shot a position. I’ve seen them escorted off the premises because they’ve oversold themselves in the interview and it has become apparent after 2 days that “this isn’t going to work out”. What becomes of these once promising lives…women who can’t open lines of credit or bank accounts or Microsoft based programs because their earning potential is no greater than $25.00 a month selling homemade hair gel or books about trapping things in baskets for that matter?

 

You tell me.

 

I peddle books on Amazon and StoreFoundry.com

Why I Let My Girls Jump In the Frigid Pool Waters at the Holiday Inn

We were stinky. We were cranky. We were happy to have the cylindrical flying ship that had borne us from one hemisphere to another at our backs. Finally! We were in South Africa!

After making small talk with the man at the reception desk at the Holiday Inn in Jo’burg and tipping our very happy porter R50 (about $3.45 or the price a one piece meal at KFC), I instructed the girls to get washed up so that we could go to bed.

“But we’re hungry,” they said.

How could they be hungry? We had just spent nearly 24 hours doing nothing but eating, sitting and watching outdated films! Whatever. If they wanted to stuff a few more items down their already engorged colons, so be it. The sooner we ate, the sooner we could get to bed, and the sooner I could get my swollen feet elevated.

Dinner was a buffet that night. There were two types of rice, a curried fish, some sort of red meat in gravy and a spicy chicken. The vegetables were oily and the salad fixings were dull. But the desert table? Whew! That was on fleek! I allowed the girls to have their fill of sugar, knowing that I’d regret it later. It didn’t matter. We were outchea now! In the middle of a mouthful of chocolate pudding, Nadjah spied the hotel’s outdoor pool just beyond the lobby’s glass doors.

“Can we go swimming tonight, Mommy?” Her voice was sodden with hope.

I sighed, mentally running down a litany of reasons why it was completely impractical and utterly unlikely that they would be swimming that night. Finally, I decided to allow them to employ reason and self-determination, rather than enforcing my own will.

“Go outside and put your hands in the water. If you think it’s warm enough, then yes. You can go swimming.”

Nadjah’s jaw scraped the floor. She asked me to repeat myself. I obliged, to the disbelief of all.

“Really?” said Aya, her voice a squeak.

Yes. Really. I assured them that it was okay. The three girls walked hastily to the pool to test the waters while I waited at the table, knowing what the verdict would be. It was 56 degrees in Johannesburg that night, which meant the water was no warmer than 50 degrees. That’s mighty cold. The receptionist had already informed them that the pool would not be heated, but they were welcome to swim if they wished. They rushed back to the table with their discovery.

“It’s COLD!” they whispered loudly in near unison.

“Are you still going to swim?”

Initially, they were all down to take the plunge until Nadjah changed her mind. She would rather sit in the room and watch TV, she announced.

Really? You’re just going to plant this ridiculous idea in your sisters’ heads and then back out? I see how it is now.

Aya and Liya were still game. They rushed back up to the room and changed into their swimming suits, swathed in the hotel’s enormous white towels to guard against the chilly air. I followed behind, taking one apathetic step after another. All I wanted to do was go to sleep and rest my swollen feet! However I knew that if I were patient, the elements would do the work of getting them back into the room for me.

Aya was the first to leap into the water. She broke through the surface with a mighty splash and let out a yelp when she re-emerged. Liya followed after her, screeching as soon as her feet touched glassy water.

“AAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!”

“SSSSHHHHHH!!!!” I hissed. “You wanted this! Don’t yell and disturb the other people resting!”

They giggled and reiterated how COLD it was. I leaned back in my lounge chair, stifling my laughter until the exercise became futile. I don’t know what was so amusing about watching my children punish themselves again and again by submerging themselves in the frigid liquid, but I was thoroughly entertained. (I suppose it’s for the same reason we laugh when the athletically challenged darn near destroy themselves on America’s Funniest Home Videos or Ninja Warrior.) We weren’t out there for more than 5 minutes. 5 minutes of self-flagellation was enough for my girls to test their limits.

As we re-entered the hotel, we found ourselves subject to stares both quizzical and disapproving. It was for that very reason that I allowed my girls to do something as “foolish” as jump into the pool on a mild winter’s night in South Africa.

Because Black people don’t do that sort of thing.

Because ‘Black girls don’t swim.’

Because Black girls should have more moments to live carefree.

Because my children should not find my reactions so predictable.

Because their father never would have let them.

Because their grandmother would disapprove.

Because I don’t remember if my own parents would have let me or my siblings.

Because they were perfectly safe in my presence.

Because everyone should have fond memories of a crazy incident or daring do.

Because they were not afraid to try.

Because they should never fear a challenge, especially one of their own making.

Because it was out of character.

Because we outchea.

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Sisters: Try to Find a Balanced Approach to Mothering… If You Can

Once upon a time, in a town just like yours, there lived two mothers. There were seven children born between the pair, each child in possession of the average needs that you’d expect: food, shelter and love. These the two mothers provided faithfully.

One night, a terrible frost struck the town and all of the inhabitants therein trembled with frightful palsy for the sake of the chill that overtook them. The two mothers looked upon their children and cried out to Heaven, saying “Lo! Why must my children suffer this gelid hell? Indeed I shall warm them, and they shall live!”

And so the first mother lit herself aflame for the sake of her offspring as her children watched in horror yet warmed their bodies with the heat of her melting flesh.

The second mother looked upon her shivering brood with compassion, rose in the night, took an article of clothing from each to protect herself from the elements, and left their abode giving the following instructions upon her departure:

“My children – watch each other well. See I have taken cloth from each of you to warm my own body as I set upon this journey that I must take for all our sakes. I beg you to look after one another. Support each other with the strength and warmth of the shared blood that flows in your veins. I shall not be gone long.”

The children, not understanding all that their mother said took heed nevertheless, and huddled together in the dark of the night and were warmed. At dawn, their mother returned with firewood from the forest and marshmallows from Publix and the family was content and happy.

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In the meantime, all the Twitter Niggaz of the realm had gathered together to hold a great feast in honor of the mother who had set a fire in her flesh, calling her most blessed among women, extolling her virtues among all others. They ate meat and drank wine but did not share the abundance with the now orphaned children.

“God will look after you all,” the growled.

Their uproarious caterwauling piqued the interest of the second mother, who passing by paused to listen to the banter of the cabal. One among them – a malodorous voyeur who shamelessly stalked “ungovernable” women – alerted the group to her presence saying: “See here! This is the very woman I old you all about…the self same slattern with the stinking pussy who refused to sacrifice her body for her children. See how she stands here unashamed…and alive!”

It takes two to whore though...

It takes two to whore though…

And so it was that all the Twitter Niggaz began to pelt her stones and lobby curses at her genitalia, since the are generally incapable of participating in intelligent deliberation if it precludes derision of a woman’s reproductive machinery.

“Whore!”

“Slut!”

“Ashawo!”

“Prostitute!”

they screamed.

But the woman could not hear them. Something in the sand had caught her attention. Seeing a seed on the ground, kicked to and fro among the shuffling feet of those in the enraged crowd, the mother dove into the press took it into her bosom. She returned to her children. She planted it in the ground, watered it and waited to see what would spring forth. In time, it grew into a mighty baobab, the fruits of which fruits fed her children and the branches and bark of which warmed them and their offspring to this day.

Then the Twitter Niggaz gathered themselves around the eldest daughter of the mother who had sacrificed her body that fateful night and convinced her that it was her solemn duty as a woman to burn her own body for the sake of her children, should such a frost hit the town again.

“There are many benefits to your sacrifice,” the cooed, “burn your body as you would unto god. Sacrifice is the province of women…not of men.”

The Eldest Daughter did not question the Twitter Niggaz, fearing reprisal; for what does it profit a young woman to stand in defiance of Twitter Niggaz who spout “grown man thoughts”? Seeing what they had done to her Auntie and not wanting to be labeled a whore, she swore an oath saying “Amen” every time a passing Twitter Nigga or Facebook Fuqboi dropped by her domain with a meme.

And one day, years after she too found herself impregnated by one among their ranks – like her mother before her. And as the Twitter Niggaz predicted a bitter frost struck the land once again. Recalling her promise, she did her duty. She lit herself aflame and died that her children might live, never witnessing the great deeds that her descendants would one day achieve as a result.

But is matters not. Her reward is veneration from Twitter Niggaz.

As for the mother who planted the tree: She prospered, lived on to a ripe old age and sucked on peaches brought to her by her great-grandchildren. Her ingenuity was never celebrated, because it was not mired in victimhood and because she refused to lay herself on the brazen alter of Fuqboi sacrifice. They never forgave her for having the audacity to choose life. 

It still unknown whether she cared or not.

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And so my friends, the debate rages on: Both sets of children were warmed, but who is the ‘better’ mother? What say you?

 

My Daughter Asked Her Teacher When She and Her Boyfriend Were Going to ‘Do It’ and now Hell has Broken Loose

Last night as I was wearily putting the kids to bed, there was one thought that subdued all others jostling for dominance: God! Just one more day until the weekend. The thought of Friday night set my heart racing. Friday is a euphemism for ‘Saturday Eve’, a day when we can get out of bed at our own leisure; when we’re not slaves to an alarm clock; when I don’t have to pile my kids into the car and fight traffic on 400.

School is hard. It’s hard for the kids, it’s hard for the teachers, and it’s hard for us parents. Even with formulas and standards (like uniforms and down to the minute time tables), the endeavor of educating a child is a challenge. That’s why teachers who are able to wing it and step outside of the proverbial box and restrictive standards while still getting results are so commendable. Some people are really good at going off script. Others should never deviate from their firmly defined roles and the structures built therein. My daughter’s art teacher apparently falls in the latter group.

As I said, I was relishing the thought of an end to this 5-day hell cycle when my bliss was shattered. At 7:49 pm, I got a strongly worded email entitled “Your Daughter’s Behavior in Art Class Today” which read:

 

Good Afternoon Mrs. Grant, 

This is Ms. X, your daughter’s Art Teacher and I am informing you about her behavior this afternoon in Art. I have taught your daughter for three years; however, today she was extremely disrespectful and inappropriate towards me. 

Today my boyfriend volunteered to help with the Art Show. He came to my class at the end of a transition to put his bag down. In front of the whole class, your daughter asks, “So when are you guys planning on doing it?” and warranted a reaction from the entire class. 

I do not tolerate extremely rude, disrespectful and very inappropriate personal questions from a 5th grade student. Our school also does not tolerate inappropriate innuendos either.   

The expectation is for her to write me a public apology and she will deliver it. The class is receiving a counseling session about this issue and will also be writing apology notes. If there is an issue about my expectation or the school’s, we will have to send your daughter to the counselor/admin. If this happens again, it will warrant a referral. 

Please let me know if you need any more information. 

Sincerely, 

Ms. X

Ah ah! My daughter say whot?!? This girl wan’ kee me ooo!

Naturally I fired a response to the email, apologizing profusely and assuring said teacher that my child would indeed be writing the letter as expected. But before I hit ‘send’, I asked my child what happened in class to get a better understanding.

“What did you say to Ms. X’s boyfriend today?”

“I asked when they were going to do it, but I didn’t get to finish asking my question. I was trying to ask when they were going to go on dates n’ stuff.”

“Why were you asking about that?”

“Because everyone was shocked that Ms. X had a boyfriend. We didn’t know she had one, so she told us we could ask them any questions.”

 

And so she did.

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The woman is not correct. If you ask a classroom full of 10 and 11 year-olds if they have questions about your boyfriend, you better bloody well prepare yourself for all manner of nonsense. An African woman would never make such a mistake. First of all, an African teacher wouldn’t bring her boyfriend to school and introduce him to the class. She would have him wait in the car park with Fan Yogo until classes were over so that he could take and molest her off campus like respectable adults do. Now I was indignant. What was wrong with this Ms. X? What kind of poor decision making was this on her part?

I told my daughter to go and finish writing her apology letter and to bring it to me when she was done for approval. When the task was complete, I asked her if she knew what “do it” meant. To her credit, she didn’t feign knowledge.

“It means to have sex.”

Her eyes widened in horror. Then she teared up. Finally, she buried her face in her hands.

“Poor Ms. X! She must’ve been so embarrassed!”

Her voice was breaking and she strained to say the words. That’s when I knew that she was sufficiently repentant and that the act was one borne of ignorance, not of malice. I hugged her and told her it was okay. She just needed to make sure that she verbally apologized in addition to handing over the letter. Then I sent her to bed and asked God why S/He would burden me with these trials. And then God spoke to me in the midnight hour in a dream…

 

In 1990, when I was about my daughter’s age, we hosted a young man from New Jersey named Cedric. His parents were Ghanaian but he’d grown up in the States his whole life. He was about 17. He didn’t seem like one of the bad boys that frustrated Ghanaian parents sent back to the continent as punishment for their misdeeds. On the contrary, Cedric was well mannered, well dressed and well-spoken.

One night at dinner, my mother asked about his hair. Cedric (who preferred to go by Sed) had an impressive high-top fade that was angular, shiny and constructed for the gawds. In a world where all the area boys had nappy Gumby’s or close crops, Sed’s hair easily distinguished him from the pack. My mom asked how he achieved the look.

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“You have to blow dry it and pick it upwards to get this height,” he replied demonstratively with imaginary tools. “But I’m having a hard time finding a barber here in the city who understands how to finish off my hair. It normally looks better than this.”

My mother hummed sympathetically. Meanwhile, I was so pleased that I was allowed to participate in adult conversation (Sed was 17 and therefore qualified as a grown up) and not banished from the table like my younger siblings that I felt now would be a good time to proffer some commentary of my own.

“So next time you go to the barber shop, why don’t you ask them to give you a blow job?”

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My mother’s spoon fell on the table with a clatter.

Sed almost killed himself laughing.

I looked at both of them in bewilderment. What? What did I say?

My mother whispered at me harshly and asked, “Do you know what a ‘blow job’ is, Malaka?”

“Yes! It’s when someone blow dries you hair…?”

“No!” she said, still whispering harshly, “It’s sex!”

She forced the word ‘sex’ through her lips with the determination of Andy Dufresne breaking out of that sewer pipe in Shawshank Prison. As the gravity of what I’d just implied slowly took hold of me, I felt it only right to ask if I could clear the dishes and exit the dining room immediately. This only made Sed laugh harder. Why wouldn’t he stop laughing? If he had been a bad American boy, it would’ve been easier to dislike him for finding so much mirth in my folly; But as I said, Sed was really a nice kid.

 

I’m sure this ‘do it’ fiasco will serve as a non-fatal lesson for my daughter. One day, she too will tell her kids the story of how she inadvertently asked her teacher about her sex life and got the entire class in trouble in the process. I’m sure it will also serve as a reminder to Ms. X not to leave herself open for open-ended questions from pre-pubescent Earthlings. Sometimes people forget that just because today’s American kid is built like a young adult, there is still the mind of a young, not-fully-developed child in there figuring out semantics and vocabulary, and struggling to understand when to apply those appropriately. In cases like these, the child is more likely interested in what shoes you’re going to wear on your next date and most likely has zero interest in your genital gymnastics.

In the meantime, we have to figure out how to keep this from escalating up the food chain as Ms. X has threatened. The classroom to prison pipeline is very real. Come on summer. Come!

 

This is why I miss the diaper stage. What is the most inappropriate thing your child has ever said to an adult? Naw! Don’t try to act like they haven’t. You know your kid(s) is as nutty as mine.

The Country Club Latch Key Kid

One of my first duties as First Lady was to have breakfast with the Bishop of our church’s international fellowship.

I know what you’re thinking. Pause. Hold up. What do you mean ‘First Lady’, Malaka??? First Lady of WHAT?!?

Just give me a few days and I’ll explain in delicious detail. I don’t want to rush through the telling of that story.

As I was saying, I was having Belgian waffles and egg whites with the Bishop and my husband this morning, when a little boy of about 11 years walked by us wearing a silver backpack and a blank expression on his face. His blonde ‘Leave it to Beaver’ hair was perfectly brushed to the side, and he appeared to have been wandering the dining room looking for assistance as we arrived. His presence at the venue – a posh country club in the city of Norcross – at that hour truck me as odd… But who was I to say who belonged at the club at 7:30 am and who didn’t? I mean, this is burp ‘n scratch Malaka we’re talking about here. I checked myself and let him pass without interrogation or further scrutiny.

And so did everyone else at the country club…

…Which is really the point of today’s discussion. How did a boy of no more than 13 find himself eating breakfast unaccompanied at one of Atlanta’s premier country clubs without getting the police or CPS called out to the scene? As a Black woman and mother of Black children, this was just beyond my level of comprehension! So I did what any woman in my position would do – I eavesdropped on every word the unnamed boy said in order to learn as much as I could. I wanted to understand!

“Can I get the chocolate chip pancakes? And I have to be in class shortly, so can I get a rush on my order?”

The waiter, a sturdy man with a reddish brown beard, replied that he would be happy to get it as quickly as possible for the young man and strode purposefully toward two oaken doors to place the order. I had my back to him, so I was unable to observe him as keenly as I desired. However I did hear his cellphone camera take a few shots, and since there was nothing but a yellowing golf course outside of the window to his left and an empty dining room to his right, I think I can safely assume that he was taking pictures of me …or my intricate cornrows. I’ll have to scour Reddit tonight to see if I’m right.

Beaver’s pancakes arrived before our food did, despite the fact that we’d put our order in first. Which was fine. I didn’t want him to be late for class. We passed a school that was about a 10-minute walk from the country club property and likely his final destination. Within 15 minutes he’d finished his plate, gathered his massive backpack and offered half-hearted thanks to the waiter for his help.

“No problem.”

Judging from the rhythm of their interaction, it was obvious that this was a fairly regular occurrence; something the waiter confirmed.

“Yeah. He comes in here somewhat often… Just for breakfast before class.”

(He didn’t divulge any information beyond that, which as a mother, I appreciated. I wouldn’t want anyone discussing my children’s eating and migration patterns with a stranger.)

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source: my1073.com

But then that’s what had me stumped: Why were his parents comfortable with sending Beaver down to the country club’s dining room for breakfast unaccompanied in the first place? Is this one of the benefits of privilege? Because honestly, I can’t see any one of my lower middle-class peers sending their 5th grader to the McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts on foot and alone without drawing the attention of the police or some “concerned” citizen. Not unless we had no other choice. Kids are hardly allowed to play in their front yards without the watchful eyes of an adult roving over them for fear of some overbearing municipal authority reporting said adult for child endangerment. So I repeat, the entire sequence of events left me baffled!

There’s no doubt in my mind that people who live in and are reading from other countries like Australia, or Japan, or Nigeria, my confusion seems absurd. Children who live and grow up outside of the United States (or its urban centers, specifically) enjoy much more latitude and physical freedom than their American counterparts. The culture and the laws simply do not lend themselves to the type of independent development and exploration that make human beings – well – better. A lot of American parenting is being performed and executed from a place of fear. There’s a lot more I want to say about how this breeds the homogeneous American that finds him/herself at the butt of international ridicule, but I’m a First Lady now and I’m trying to find a new leaf to turn over. I will say that I was amazed by the ease with which the young man navigated the entire situation.

To be sure, there is not much difference in the situation that privileged country club kid found himself in, and that of say, the oft-disparaged inner city boy who probably had a pop tart before school. Neither had the luxury of a parent preparing their meal. Neither had the pleasure of their parent’s presence to coach them through the day or indulge in conversation. Both took a solitary trek to school. Only one was guaranteed to have a community to look after his well being, since he does not live his life under a cloud of suspicion and innate fear. Despite their twin scenarios, it is the former who will discover that the world will deem his solitude as “brave” and “responsible”, whereas the latter will be likely be considered a “thug” from a “broken home” with “no parental supervision”. One is being groomed to take over the world, and the other to fear it. Both mindsets are being developed subconsciously.

I couldn’t help but wonder if my son could rock up into a swanky country club dressed in a black tracksuit and burdened with a 13 lbs backpack and received the same treatment or results.

We’ll probably never know. I don’t have $40K a year to fork over in club fees in order to find out.