Archive for the ‘After 5’ Category

23
Dec

In Too Deep

Adrion poolYesterday I visited a podiatrist to address pain that I’d been experiencing in my foot since the summer. After 5 months of pain, I’d finally decided that I needed a professional opinion to confirm what I already knew. My foot was broken.

This all happened during a summer trip to my aunt’s backyard pool. My five-year old daughter had decided to test out her newfound swimming skills by playing swim instructor, and I was volun-told that I’d be the student. Obediently I watched as she first demonstrated each skill before commanding me to follow suit, one drill after another.

Plunging below the water’s surface, she popped up sputtering, Mommy, put your face in the water!

Her arms and legs splashing furiously, she ordered, Mommy, kick your legs!

Now, cannonball!

In she went. Splash!

Dutifully I lined up, happily poised in her fast-drying footprints.

Wait…what?!…Cannonball???

I glanced at the markings along the pool’s edge – No Diving  3’8”.

My not-so-common sense was loudly whispering – You know this might not be a good idea, right? Uh…maybe not. Yet, I closed my eyes and jumped anyway.

So many times in life, we make decisions in spite of the warning signs right before our eyes. If we’re lucky, we’re able to walk away from those choices with just a few emotional bumps and bruises, but sometimes we find ourselves hobbling away – broken – having to live with the pain of our decision.

If you’re anything like me, it might take you a while to even admit that there is a problem. You’ll ignore, hide, deny, and even make excuses for the pain. You’ll convince yourself that it doesn’t hurt that bad or you can live with it, trying to ignore that constant voice whispering inside. But, there’s a lesson even in our pain.

We all have made, are making, or will make mistakes in our lives. We’ll ignore the warning signs, jump, and sometimes come up broken. But, the healing begins when we admit that no one pushed us into the deep end or, in my case, the shallow end. It is a choice. I guess the lesson I learned in all of this was that I need to heed the signs that warn of dangers ahead as it could save me from a moment or a lifetime of pain and to listen to that voice inside when it cautions me to pause…slow down…don’t jump. Well, of course, that and to be smarter than a 5-year old.

 

02
Dec

Not Always the Best Policy

belly upFrom the day we arrive on the planet

And blinking, step into the sun

There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen

More to do than can ever be done

In the circle, the circle of life

Every time I watch the scene from the animated film The Lion King when Mufasa proudly holds his young cub Simba high in the air, I well up with tears. Something about the message being shared between a father and his son, coupled with the rhythmic beating of the drums, gets me in my get up every time.

I started thinking about this yesterday when chatting with a good friend about how to break the news to her 4-year old daughter that her beloved fish had died. My friend was debating on the honest approach – tell her the truth and take her to the pet store to buy another fish. A green one.

I, too, have always opted for the truth with my kids – with the occasional indulgence into fantasy (Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus) – so, I understood exactly where she was coming from. However, I learned a long time ago that the truth may not always be the best thing with young kids. At least that’s the lesson I learned years ago when trying to explain the circle of life to my then 5-year old son when his pet fish Oscar died.

Let me take you back to that tragic day.

Returning home from school one day, my son walked past me to greet his aqua buddy – only to find an empty fishbowl. You see, earlier that morn after taking my son to school, I returned home to find his pet fish Oscar – belly up. Sleeping with the fishes. For a moment, I panicked. I didn’t know how I would break the news to my son that his fish was dead.

Did he even really understand what “dead” meant?

He was after all only 5-years old, and it wasn’t like we’d ever sat down with him to explain birth or death. To be honest, the closest we’d probably ever gotten to talking about any of this was when trying to explain why mommy always started crying when Mufasa was pushed from the cliff and died. (Seriously, doesn’t that scene make your eyeballs tingle?) Anyway, suffice it to say that I was a bit nervous about how my son would react.

Well, at some point during the day, I began to irrationally rationalize that my son probably wouldn’t even be upset because most days he barely even paid attention to the fish and if he did get upset, then I could always refer back to a movie we’d seen at least a million times – The Lion King to explain a simple truth. Life begins and ends. Simple, right?

Wrong.

The kid had a straight up meltdown!

Once he’d scanned the fishbowl from every angle and realized there was no fish, he turned to me and said, “Mommy, where’s Oscar?”

I gently replied, “Oscar died, baby. He went to see Jesus.”

Wrong answer.

The boy dropped to his knees and sobbed “Osssssssssssssscaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar!”

O-M-G!

In an effort to console him, I immediately began babbling about how all pets go to heaven (at least dogs do) and how everything lives and dies. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The more I talked, the more he cried, and somewhere along the way I started verbally moonwalking. I began rambling on about how Jesus can perform miracles and miraculously Oscar was alive and at the pet hospital (a.k.a. the pet store). We just had to go pick him up.

He stopped crying. So, off we went to the pet store to retrieve “Oscar 2.0”

The moral of this story is: honesty will only get you but so far with a 5-year old.

I can’t wait to hear how my girlfriend says it went with her daughter.

25
Nov

Parenting Black

parenting blackFrom the time that they were babies, I taught my children to be respectful of everyone, to hold their heads high, and to fear no one.

I was wrong.

Raising young black men, I haven’t had the parental luxury of painting a world that would open doors for them – if only they worked hard and treated everyone with respect. I’ve always known that I would need to prepare my boys for a world that would judge them often before even meeting them. However, I guess I always naively hoped that one day their world would be different from the one that I grew up in. I hoped that they would be judged on their merits alone, with no consideration to the color of their skin.

I was wrong.

To be honest, I’ve known that race would play a part in my parenting since before they were born. I had to reflect on race when naming them. Aware of studies reported in journals such as The American Economic Review and The Journal of Labor Economics that have shown racial disparity in hiring based on the names of candidates – not just the colleges they attended or their experience – I carefully crafted my children’s names, hoping to knock down at least one hurdle they’d have to face in life.

I taught them to be respectful of everything and everyone – parents, elders, peers, teachers, authority figures, property, animals.  Everything. When growing up in a country that places a higher value on an animal and or a piece of property over that of a child (namely one that looks like mine), we can’t afford to miss the tiny details.

I taught them to hold their heads high and to look someone in the eye when being addressed. Not just because it will show confidence, intelligence, and engagement but serves to dispel any misguided perception that they are insecure, stupid, or lazy.

I taught them to fear no-one and no-thing because God didn’t create a sense of fear in us. But, mama didn’t raise no fools. I explained that should they ever find themselves in a dangerous situation, their best bet would be to run.

I was wrong.

My children were born into a world in which a target was placed on their backs upon birth, and no matter what I teach them or how I parent, that clearly will not change. The only thing I can do is to pray for coverage over them and continue to reinforce that they should continue to…

Be respectful BUT understand that not everyone else will respect you.

Hold your head high BUT not too high should someone perceive that as being threatening.

Fear no one BUT be sure to keep your hands visible at all times.  

After all, you are a young Black man.

21
Nov

Carrot Parenting

carrotMost times I feel I’ve done a relatively good job parenting, but then comes those moments of self-doubt when I question where I could have gone wrong and what I could have done differently. I mean, my children are always polite, well-mannered, respectful…and if I dangle the right carrot, they can add honor roll student to their credentials. But, it’s that last point that continues to nag me. If I dangle the right carrot.

Why should I have to dangle anything to get you to strive towards excellence? What ever happened to having a little bit of self-motivation and initiative?

Listen, I get that they are children, but I don’t recall my mother having to incentivize me or my siblings to take a bath, clean our rooms, or get good grades in school. (Now, don’t get me wrong, we all understood that failing to do so could possibly result in a beat down, but that is beside the point. That’s just how it was back in the day.) There were EXPECTATIONS, and whether those expectations were communicated out-loud or burned into our psyche from our mother’s occasional glare, we understood what our role was and what we needed to do. And, there were no damn carrots!

So, why do I find myself having to dangle some sort of reward in front of my children to get them to do the most basic things for themselves?

If you shower before noon then…

If you do your homework then…

If you clean your room then…

Behind each of those pleas (because it is truly a plea for my sanity), I find myself offering either a simple attaboy or something more tangible just to get them to do. And, it is driving me insane.

I feel like I’m a broken record that can’t skip past the scratch on the CD (or the LP for you old heads), and I’m saying the same thing over, and over, and over again. And, quite frankly, I’m tired of listening to myself.

Like many parents, I find myself stuck in this groove where I can’t move forward because I think that deep down, I’m afraid that if I stop, I will discover that my children might actually be okay with body odor, dirty rooms, and average or below-average grades. However, if I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I believe that my children’s failures are a direct reflection of my parenting (with the occasional exception). So, I continue to dangle a carrot, a dollar bill, a threat of punishment, anything to get them to do whatever it is that needs to be done.

Yet for the sake of my own sanity, I feel like I need to cut the umbilical cord on this foolishness and pray that they’ll find a nugget of self-initiative to do what they need to do for themselves. But, in case that doesn’t happen, I might need to look into booking an extended stay at the local psychiatric hospital.

 

28
Oct

My Invisible Child

invisible childI’m convinced that I’ve given birth to another child who is constantly creating havoc in my house! I’ve never seen this rascal but, according to my other kids, he is clearly the one to blame for all the trouble brewing in the house.

Who made this mess?!

Notme.

Who’s making all that daggone noise?!

Notme.

Ok, which one of y’all left all the lights on downstairs?

Notme.

On one hand, I guess I should be grateful for my child Notme. He didn’t take me through a thousand hours of labor. He doesn’t always have his hand out asking for a new pair of sneakers or video game. He’s not eating me out of house and home. He’s not constantly debating with me about what his friends’ parents let them do.

Yeah, I guess I shouldn’t complain…but seriously, Notme, you need to sit down somewhere and stop tearing up my damn house!

16
Oct

Flying the Coop

Baby-Bird-Learning-to-Fly1Why is it that folks look at me cross-eyed when I say that after graduating high school, I plan to push my children out of the nest?  From the time they entered kindergarten, I’ve lectured my children about the next 16 years of education. Although I myself received my education through the College of Life, by way of the military with a brief detour through college, I’ve always dreamed that my children would make smarter choices. So, college has always been an expectation.

However, I’m a realist, so I know that there’s a chance that my kids will upset even my best laid plans. So should they choose to forego an immediate trek to college post-graduation, the only other option would be the military where he or she could learn a trade, travel the world, earn a living, and still attend college (on the government’s dime) should they later change their mind. No matter what, either of these options would come well packaged with tons of hugs, a starter care package, and a new set of luggage. This was, after all, the same parting gift that my mom gave to me upon graduation. At the time, however, I was naïve enough to believe that my mother was simply encouraging my spirit of adventure; now, I can look back and see her not so subtle hint on what my next steps should be.

At no point, however, have I ever entertained what’s behind Door No. 3 – an extended stay at home, whether it was just to “take a break from school” or work at the local McDonald’s. This is so not an option.

Let me say that I really do love my children. However, for the past 17 years I have lovingly sacrificed my body, my energy, and at times my sanity to raise my children. Is it wrong of me to view graduation as the finish line at the end of a double marathon; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; the light at the end of the tunnel?

Graduation is not just for the child. It is an acknowledgment that parents have successfully paid their dues and can finally reap what they’ve sown. So, pardon me if I choose to push my little birdies out the nest should they not feel compelled to fly the coop on their own. Fly, baby, fly!

15
Oct

Cinderella Man

glass bootMany of us know this guy. By day, he’s the charmingly witty guy at work who’s constantly regaling us with entertaining stories about his life adventures – where he’s been, where he’s going, who he knows, who he’d like to meet. He’s the Prince of the Ball.

He’s the fella chasing 50 and rainbows, reminiscing on the good ol’ days. He’s by himself so much that you can only imagine that he’s unattached. Or, was it because, as he says, his situation is complicated. Of course, it could just be the inconspicuous absence of a band on his left hand, or the impassioned tale that he’s separated but living in the same house (and likely the same bed)…for the kids, of course.

But, once the clock strikes…gone is the Prince of the Ball. Cinderella Man appears. I call him the single, married man. Do you know him? Or, does the glass shoe fit?

13
Oct

Taming the Beast

elephant-on-scaleI don’t think I’d ever acknowledged even to myself that I had weight woes. After all, I’d been blessed with good genes that, for most of my life, allowed me to eat whatever I wanted without fear of it hanging around too long. I was that girl who was actually trying to gain weight, regularly downing milkshakes, pasta and potatoes in an effort to round out my girlish figure. (Let me tell you, it’s hard being a black woman with no meat on your bones.)

Well, somewhere in the black hole of my 20s and 30s, my children entered into this world each bearing the gift of 10+ pounds that I toted around like trophies of post-childbirth. And, before I realized it, I was eyeballing someone else’s body whenever I passed by a reflection. Yet, I still wouldn’t give voice to what I knew was becoming an issue for me.

However, enlightenment came to me when I didn’t expect it – during a summer excursion with the kids to the National Zoo.

The zoo’s elephant house has an exhibit where zoo visitors can step on a floor scale to see how they compare in weight to other wildlife. Good-naturedly, I waited as the man ahead of me stepped on the scale, absently noting his weight in my mind as he moved forward off the scale. Then it was my turn. I instinctively shifted my weight from one foot to the other, as if trying to recalibrate the scale, as my mind subconsciously tried to rationalize why the numbers on the scale went up once I’d stepped on the scale. Then I looked up at the wildlife chart, and everything went still.

I was the equivalent of a wildebeest. A wildebeest!

(Of course, this is where the story becomes blurry. I think I may have blacked out.)

I was completely devastated. My children spent the remainder of the afternoon – unsuccessfully – trying to talk me down off of the mental ledge.

Mom, it’s not that bad.

You look fine to us.

You look good for your age.

It wasn’t a wildebeest…I think it said you were closer to a baby African elephant.

I’m sure they meant well – in a let-me-kick-you-while-you’re-down-kinda-way – but I was inconsolable. No longer could I rest on my laurels that I was just carrying around “baby fat,” despite the fact that my daughter was going into kindergarten. I was lugging around a wilderbeast, for crying out loud!

There in the elephant house I finally admitted to myself that my metabolism hadn’t slowed down. I had. That lean, mean fat-burning machine that I’d lived in most of my life was decades gone. Milkshakes, pasta, and potatoes (preferably fried) were no longer close friends of mine. They’d become squatters who’d long overstayed their welcome. And, it was time to clean house.

While I would have preferred to come to this realization in a less traumatic fashion, I am now grateful for my elephant house epiphany. It was just the sort of shock trauma that I needed to wake up and face myself in the mirror. I can now look back on that experience, 20 pounds lighter, and laugh because I’ve finally learned how to tame my inner wildebeest.

10
Dec

Sexy Amnesia

love questionI was watching a talk show earlier today and an interesting question on relationships came up. Would you prefer a relationship that was emotionally blah with amazing sex, or emotionally amazing with blah sex?

For me, this was a complicated question with no easy answer.

I mean, seriously, I can’t think of anything more stimulating than someone who listens and is actually interested in what I’m saying. Someone who recognizes that I, too, am out here making the bacon so willingly shares in all of the household responsibilities. Someone who understands that I may not come to bed looking like an airbrushed beauty but recognizes that this woman knows how to handle her business.  Someone who treats me like a true friend not just the girlfriend or wife.  Someone who knows how to carry himself like a man but isn’t afraid of the fact that I am a strong woman.

To me, that is emotionally erotic, and I would take that any day over many things. But since this is just my dream, a good dose of mind-blowing, freak nasty, push-your-wig-back-kinda-sex can be just what the doctor ordered to give me a good case of amnesia, have me sucking my thumb, and mumbling ““oooooooooh , I love me some him…what was the question again?”

04
Dec

Dear Santa:

mailbox

Dear Santa,

It’s been a long time since I wrote you a letter, but if you really exist I could use your help. I know you specialize in toys, so what I’m going to ask you for may really sound strange. It’s just that I’m a little desperate right now, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask. However, before I tell you what I want under my Christmas tree, let me give you a little background so you’ll understand my request.

First, let me share that this is my favorite time of the year! I love all of the hustle and bustle, the good eats, and the time spent with family and friends. I just love it! The fun really starts at Thanksgiving but truly kicks into high gear the day after. No, not because of Black Friday sales….it has much more to do with the sounds of Christmas.

It’s the magic of Boys to Men harmonizing Let it Snow; little Michael, Jermaine, Tito and them sweetly singing Give Love on Christmas Day; and the soothing baritone of “Merry Christmas, from The Temptations” that officially sets it off for me.

Of course, we have to toss in the traditional Christmas songs and movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Even though I’ve watched these movies hundreds of times, they never get old and I never get tired of singing along with Frosty or the “misfit toys.” Seems like this time of year puts everyone in a good mood. Heck, even my husband is feeling the holiday cheer. Earlier today, I couldn’t hep but smile when I heard him humming the tune to The 12 Days of Christmas. I was singing and swaying along to his tune until I heard an unfamiliar – and unusually long – note that caused me to pause. It went a little something like this:

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaad.

On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaad.

On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaad.

[This went on painfully for “7 days,” until he got to the 5th day of Christmas and sang out…]

On the 5th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaad, and licking of the baaaaaaaaaaalls.

I’m at a complete loss for words. My husband is a bonafide nutcase.

So, Santa, please, please, please… bring me a XL straight-jacket and a wooden club for Christmas. My husband needs a good dose of get right.

Thanking you in advance,

Valerie