A commentary on life like only momma can give.

Monthly Archives: August 2012

Living through your child has been called a mistake and yesterday, as my friend and I met for a celebratory breakfast to celebrate the return of our children to their educational babysitters (it was the first day of school), we discussed the plans for the school year. We began to talk about the plans we’d had for our children when they were younger and how those plans have had to change as the kids, now between the ages of 13-18, have become people and started to come into their own. They have discovered their likes and dislikes and have no problem voicing those opinions and said opinions don’t always go with the plan we envisioned for them when they were five and six years old.

When my daughter was in the 2nd grade, I found a Performing Arts Middle/High School that I felt would be perfect for the little musician I’d created. She’d been playing the piano for three years by then and knowing how important music had been to me in school (it was the only thing that kept me there) I wanted to make sure that she had every opportunity to not only perfect her skills as a musician, but also have a more positive experience with school than I’d had. We talked about it all the time. I took her on a virtual tour of the campus via their website to generate excitement and she’d even gone to summer camp at the school so by 6th grade, she decided that she would like to go there for high school…I was so happy!

The plan was on track and by the time 7th  grade rolled around, we began to look at the admission and audition requirements. She seemed really focused and talked about what she’d like to do when she got there and then something happened…she started to think for herself and her thoughts were no longer in line with the plan I’d (I mean we’d) been working on since she was 8 years old.

Our conversations slowly changed from music to boys and wanting to become a cheerleader and once she got on the kick of wanting to become a cheerleader…it was over. My child is very persistent and once she decides she wants to do something, she stalks you and (insert activity), so all I heard about was cheer, how to get involved and when I balked at the cost, she informed me about the ability to fundraise to bring the final cost down. She was passionate and prepared!

My initial response was “No.” No because cheer isn’t in the plan. No because you need to stay focused on your music and getting in to the performing arts school. Just no! But she wasn’t willing to accept my no and I started to realize that if I didn’t allow her to figure out who she was and wanted to be, I would be guilty of forcing her to live the life I wanted her to live, the life I wished I’d lived and not the life she was living.

Is it wrong that you want to give them the opportunities you wished you’d had? The whole point in parenting is you take the good and the bad from your own experiences so that you can more effectively teach your child but when you don’t allow them to have a say in what they want to do, you are indeed, encroaching on their ability to grow into a well-rounded adult with the ability to make sound decisions.

I gave in and allowed my daughter to cheer for the community youth cheer squad. I’ve begun to reevaluate my approach and I’ve begun to look at other options for high school in case she decides that the performing arts school isn’t the route she wants to take. Allowing her to have input on her life has made her feel more empowered and she is happy which is leading to success in school and in the end, that is all any parent really wants.


English: Hurricane Isaac

English: Hurricane Isaac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All over the news this morning, Republicans were crying about the fact that more attention is being paid to now Hurricane Isaac than the Republican Convention and the nomination of Mitt Romney for President. With Hurricane Isaac poised to hit New Orleans on the Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and with the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused still in our memories, political shock jock, Rush Limbaugh, claiming that the government and more specifically, Obama, have somehow rigged a natural disaster to conveniently hit just in time to rain on the RNC‘s parade shows more and more the extremes they will go to create a conspiracy where there is none.

Obama is so powerful that he was able to summon a hurricane just in time to interrupt the Republican National Convention? All the more reason I should vote for him…the man is connected! I believe Rush’s statements solidify Whitney Houston’s famous quote “Crack is whack” but it’s Rush so insert oxycontin for crack.

The cancellation of Monday’s opening ceremonies at the RNC has obviously taken the wind of the their sail and it reminds me of episode 312 of Mad Men when Roger Sterling‘s daughter’s wedding is upstaged by the assassination of  President Kennedy. That is exactly what has happened with the RNC. They have been upstaged and find themselves once again, stripped of any power…and we all know how Republicans respond to loss of power!

While I don’t know anyone who would wish a natural disaster would be the reason the RNC has less of a stage to showcase their ideology I do have to agree with Rush Limbaugh when he said–“…when you put this all together in this timeline, I’m telling you, it’s unbelievable!” and it is unbelievable because it seems even the Lord is looking to silence Republicans.

Hampton University

Hampton University (Photo credit: Kevin Coles)

When I read about the controversy surrounding Hampton University‘s ban on it’s young male business students wearing their hair in braids or dreadlocks my initial response was conflicted. Since 2001, male students enrolled in their 5 year MBA Leadership course have not been allowed to sport the sometimes controversial hairstyles because as the Dean of Business School, Sid Credle surmized, “The hairstyles may prevent students from securing corporate jobs.” The Huffington Post reported that many students didn’t feel how they wore their hair should have any bearing on whether or not their educational and professional pursuits and while it shouldn’t(this is where I’m conflicted)…it does.

Having worked in Corporate America for 15 years and having been an African American for 40, my mother always told me–“You have to look twice as nice just to get in the door” and that saying still holds true. Corporate America has  a uniform that they require all employees to wear regardless of race and while I always understood my mothers saying to involve my race as an African American, I later found that Corporate America has a set of standards for regarding how any employee dresses or wears their hair no matter their ethnicity.

I had a co-worker who used to wear his hair shaved. He was mixed race Filipino/Chinese and was climbing the corporate ladder fast but before he was given his big break, he was approached by one of the Vice Presidents of the company who “advised” him that if he wanted to “succeed in management”, he was going to have to grow his hair out. What an interesting dichotomy…for an African American male, having long hair was “unacceptable” to Corporate America and for an Asian male, the opposite was true. So how is one supposed to keep up on the rules and who is recording the changes? Well, if you look at the rate of unemployment and how difficult it is for everyone to find a job, looking the part is more important now than ever before.

One of the students interviewed by ABC, Uriah Bethea, was quoted as saying–“I don’t think it should matter what the hairstyle. It’s my life. I should be able to do whatever I want to do.” First, since when does anyone ever get to just “Do whatever they want to do” and second, the only way that statement holds true is if you become an entrepreneur. Even then, your field still dictates your look. Whether you work for the Fire Department or your neighborhood Supermarket, each has a dress code where they dictate how long your hair and facial hair can be and the dress codes are all-inclusive.

Whatever your profession, you are expected to play the part so having a University prepare you for the inevitable shouldn’t be shocking, rather, it should be appreciated that someone is willing to give you the tools to succeed. Think of it like this–Would you rather be told to cut your hair or be told you can’t have the job because you didn’t?

I understand that wearing dreads or braids is a cultural identifier and that is why I have mixed feelings about whether or not one should be allowed to keep them but in our society, everyone has a role to play. There’s no rule that says you have to conform and I’m not mad if you choose the road less traveled but I’m going to need you to be honest about your options and be prepared to fight to prove you aren’t how they perceive you.

First day as a certified Kumon student!

When I was pregnant with my son, his father asked me if I was nervous about anything? I think he questioned me because he was nervous (this was his first child and my second) but what I hadn’t verbalized to anyone, until then, was how scared I was to take on the responsibility of raising a black boy. Not because I was nervous about having a son, again, this was my second child, but because I had a duty to see him through his childhood…alive! Knowing what “our little boys” face at every stage of life (think Trayvon Martin) and having seen how my mother and father had to fight for my brother, I knew what I was up against and add to that the stress of just being pregnant…inwardly, I was a mess.

I remember, very vividly, how my brother was treated by adults who were supposed to be in charge of helping mold him into a responsible young man and instead tried to tear him down. There were teachers, church members, family friends, and neighbors who all had a hand in operation “Try to ruin a little black boy”. Thankfully, my brother didn’t listen to what adults were saying or care how they felt about him. God gave him the unique ability to tune out nay sayers (this is the nice way of saying, “He didn’t give a BLEEP!) and gave him a set of parents who were supportive, willing and able to fight for him at every turn. It worked and he went on to be very successful.

So for me, having seen how these adults systematically tried to break his spirits, the reality that the torch was being passed to me and I was now the one in charge of training and fighting the known and unknown forces that await every little black boy, was somewhat daunting. As my son grew, any fears I had (which were mostly due to my being pregnant) disappeared and it was time to get into mommy mode but in the back of my mind, the thought of what he was soon to face was always there.

My son was watched by my mother from birth and the best thing that came from her watching him, aside from the obvious, was that she was a retired Principal and when he turned two years old, they started to go to “Granny School” for fun. Soon, he was learning to read words and his numbers…it was brilliant! She made learning a game as opposed to something he had to do so when he wanted to stop, they stopped and when he wanted to learn, they learned. This went on until he turned four and then it was time for him to move on to a more difficult, structured program.

My daughter had been going to Kumon for math support and since they were there waiting for her, my mother looked into enrolling him into their reading program. He was excited to be receiving a “blue bag and homework like sissy” so he dived right in and really began to learn how to read. By the time he was five and ready for Kindergarten, I began to realize that if I put him in the public school system near us, we may run into the problem of them telling us they were “unable to teach him” because he was advanced and already reading and writing at a 1st grade level. Instead of teaching the other children to the level of the most advanced child, they will hold the most advanced child back so that the others can catch up. This is a trick reserved for “children of color” and one that was tried on me when I was in 3rd grade. Not mine!

So now the task of finding a school with a program that would push my son as opposed to hold him back began and after talking to some customers that worked at a private school near my job, I found one that did everything I wanted and expected from a school. They continued where my mother left off and they complemented what he was already doing in Kumon. Success!

As we revise the blueprint created by my parents and take control of his education, we’ve ensured that any adult who attempts to interfere with his learning process is unsuccessful and we’ve eliminated one major obstacle my son was sure to face… giving ourselves a little breathing room to prepare for the next obstacle, which is inevitably coming his way.

Flag of the NSDAP during 1920 to 1945. Used to...

Flag of the NSDAP during 1920 to 1945. Used to accompany File:Flag of German Reich (1933–1935).svg as National and commercial flag during 1933 to 1935. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a customer who I used to call “The Nazi“. She was a little German woman who had fled Germany and Hitler when she was fourteen years old. She was always very nice to me and my staff and without fail, brought everyone a gift for every major holiday. We looked forward to seeing her and when I was transfered to a different office, she was one of the customers I missed the most. A year and a half after I had moved offices, I was transfered back to my original office and when I saw my Nazi walk in for the first time, I got up and gave her a big hug. We talked about how much we missed each other and started “catching up”.

I do need to say that I didn’t start calling her “The Nazi” until the day I returned to the office. She was one of those customer’s who loved to talk and could  easily keep you for 30 minutes. There were times when her husband would have to come looking for her because, as I found out later, she didn’t drive and he was always outside waiting for her. On this particular day, she was so excited to catch me up on what had happened with her in the year and a half I’d been gone, stories were just pouring out of her.

She and her husband had recently moved to a senior community and she was telling me how she felt that she had never fully fit in and felt comfortable in the predominantly white, bedroom community she had just left. Where she had felt most comfortable was her little cottage home in Oakland, Ca. I love to hear life stories about where people have been, so it was interesting to hear her talk about Oakland. The Oakland she described was pre-Huey Newton, Black Panther‘s, Civil Rights Movement and White so it was interesting to hear how neighborhoods that I know as being predominantly Black or Hispanic, once were.

She went on and on about her little home and the life they had there and then the music stopped because the next sentence is what earned her the “Nazi” title. As we strolled down memory lane, she forgot what year she was in and who she was telling her story to so when she started to get upset because she “had to move from her home” the next statement took me back to Dave Chappelle‘s 2000 comedy show, Killin‘ Them Softly, where he asked, “Have you ever had something happen that was so racist, that you didn’t even get mad? You just said…damn, that was racist!” Yes. Yes I have.

As we walked down the once white neighborhoods of Oakland, Ca., she hit me with, “Kirsten, you know who I blame for the way Oakland is? The blacks…they ruined Oakland!” WTBLEEP? I sat up straight and said, ” Actually, Black people didn’t ruin Oakland” and she cut me off and said, “They did! They did ruin Oakland.” I had just been hit with some unexpected racism! I had a choice, either I flash on her and act a damn fool at work (I wanted to so badly), or I figure out how to get through this…I chose to keep my job  because as my momma always said, “You can’t argue with crazy” so I just glazed over and went to a different place…one that didn’t include my Nazi.

There were several thoughts running through my head: “O.k…remember you’re at work. This old woman is crazy! I’m sorry…am I not black? Who does this? Ooh I wish I could hop this counter!” When she completed her rant about how “The Blacks ruined Oakland”, I had to laugh because she came too and realized what she had just done and her face changed and she smiled nervously! She was so nervous that she couldn’t get out of there fast enough!

It’s funny how people allow themselves to get comfortable with someone who they don’t have a close relationship with to the point where they forget to self-sensor. Just because you have known someone for a length of time does not make them your friend and in my case, we had more than the counter separating us. Needless to say, the Nazi knew that she had gone to far and from then on, she didn’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out at my counter…if only she’d thought of that before she inserted foot in mouth!

We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I do believe in that statement however, sometimes it just takes you. For the past 15 months, I have been unemployed and re-learning how to be a “Stay at Home Mom“. I say re-learning because staying at home with your children full-time takes a completely different mindset and I had to learn how to do simple things like, pick your kid up after school (I forgot the early pick-up day more than once…don’t judge me) and making sure the youngest one had a lunch, you know easy stuff. It’s funny I seemed to be more organized when I was working than when I was at home with nothing but time to think about but them!

When I was working, I had a great village to help me raise my kid(s). When my ex-husband and I first split, I hadn’t worked since my daughter was born 18 months prior so when I had to make the switch from SAHM to Working Mom, I was fortunate enough to have her great-grandparents takeover for me during the day and my mother pick her up for me after she finished her workday.  This set up went on for a year and a half and then she went on to pre-school and then school and my mother continued to facilitate the pick-up.

When my son was born, my mother had just retired (she was not expecting to become the SAHGranny) and she took over for  me when I had to go back to work. She handled certain Doctor appointments and she kept my daughter when she was sick and unable to go to school. She worked full-time and I worked full-time and then came home and continued to work my parenting job. I always felt bad about the amount of time that I spent away from them and at times, they looked to my mother more than they did me but there was nothing that could be done…we had to eat!

When I found myself unemployed for the first time in 10 years, the adjustment period was interesting. They had to get used to me and I had to get used to them and there were times when we all wanted to run away from each other. As we all became adjusted to being around each other… all the time, I realized how wonderful it had been for them to have the time they had with their grandparents, but me losing my job came right on time because what they really needed was me.

As we learned how to interact with each other on a full-time basis, I learned how important it is to just have your parents be there for you and just be parents. Growing up, my mother was a teacher so summers were free and we had her for two months straight. While it probably drove her crazy, we benefited from having her be there and do simple things like make our lunches or just spend time going to the Library together. Until you’ve missed out on something as simple as making dinner for your kids, you don’t know how inadequate one can feel as a parent and since I hadn’t had the opportunity to just be a parent since 2001, in some respects, my kids suffered.

This time off has given my family the opportunity to really be a family. My son now knows what it is like to have your mother be your primary caregiver and my daughter can be involved in extra-curricular activities and have me be her chauffer/cheerleader. None of this would have happened if I was giving my everything to a company rather than my children and I now have the ability to say I have raised my children instead of relying completely on the village.

Last year, my daughter had the worst year of her school career…7th grade. With all of the changes that come along with being 12/13 coupled with family drama, my father’s heart attack and the death of my grandmother, you can imagine how school suffered. To top it all off, she hated her science teacher and math was kicking her behind. It was one of those years you wish you could just erase. Needless to say, there was a lot of talking going on in our home about homework, grades and  responsibility.

Through all of this talking, I learned something about my daughter and how she worked. If she liked a teacher she gave it everything she had but if she didn’t like them or she picked up on their dislike for her…it was a wrap! It didn’t matter what I said or did, she would completely shut down and her grades suffered. So as we got ready for 8th grade registration (by the grace of God she made it in) we found out that the classes she had requested were not given to her and in fact, she now had to take a math class and a math support class. As you can imagine, she was NOT happy!

When we got home, we had several conversations about what she had to do to be successful this coming school year  and by the next day, she was accepting of her situation and she actually acknowledged that having this new class would be beneficial for her. As we talked about the teachers she was going to have, she commented that she wasn’t fond of her new math teacher and that is when I had to just stop the conversation.

She and I have talked before about her performance, or lack there of, when she isn’t feeling a teacher so when she made the comment about her new teacher, it was time to put an end to how she responds to adversity. I told her, “Your success cannot be dependent on whether or not you like someone and you don’t have to like someone to be successful. It’s time you change your mindset! Do you understand me?” She nodded and said, “Yes.”

If we could only be successful when we liked someone, how many of us would truly be successful? As a Bank Manager, I encountered customers who didn’t like me and customers I didn’t like but I still had a job to do. My success depended on how well I did my job despite how I or my customers felt and it was time she learn that her success in school was dependent upon her and only her and not how the teacher made her feel.

Success, for everyone, is measured by how well the highs and the lows are handled and if I allowed her to continue down the path she was headed with the mindset she had, she would inevitably become that adult who we’ve all met who blames others for their lack of success. You know the one you always wonder what their parents were doing and why they didn’t do their job? Not on my watch!

So the deprograming has begun and armed with the knowledge she and I have gained over this last year, I’m looking forward to the possibilities and a child whose mindset has been altered to believe in herself no matter the circumstances.

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