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Black Shootings and Rainbows and Butterflies

Last night, Kam and I did something we have never done before: watched the news together. In shielding her from the harsh realities of the world via news broadcasts, I aim to allow her bubble of innocence to stay afloat for a bit longer. I don’t want her idea of the great possibilities of the world to come crashing down just yet. I want her to believe that the world is full of greatness and magic and she can be and do whatever she wants, period. No disclaimers. No if only you weren’t a Black woman… I do not wish for her to be aware of all of the obstacles that await her or the ugliness of mankind. She has her entire life to get thoroughly acquainted with real world issues and only a few to indulge in being a kid. For now especially, I want her to see the brighter side of life.

I find myself doing circus tricks just to keep her unaware of the way things are.

There is a part in The School of Rock (a movie that has recently been on repeat ever since I cut off cable…see My Consistent Inconsistencies) where Summer, the pretentious over-achiever, informs Mr. S that although he tried to glamorize the role in the band he has assigned her to: groupie, she has in fact discovered that they are “Sluts…they sleep with the band!” I promise you, whenever that part is about to come on, I direct Kam’s attention elsewhere. I ask her to shift a little to the right on the sofa so I can get some more covers; I point off to the corner, shriek, and ask her if that is indeed a spider on the windowsill; I tell her it’s supposed to be a mild day tomorrow and maybe we’ll make it to the beach, take her cousins with us for an all-out girls-weekend; or I ask her what was it grandma said was the best way to get rid of the tomato sauce stain on her white dress (a dress she hasn’t worn in months, due to said tomato stain, and is by now too short for her)? I am not exaggerating with these examples. She wears a look of puzzlement at these random inquiries and statements as I monitor the exchange between Mr.S and Summer out of the corner of my eye and wait until the coast is clear! Success! Until next time…

Then there are the train ads. I’m telling you, you aren’t safe anywhere! It’s as if the entire universe is conspiring against me and my plan to preserve her innocence. There are ads for this show on VH1 called Dating Naked in a train station we frequent. It is a dating show, which–you guessed it!–is about potential love interests…wait for it, wait for it…dating naked! This particular ad, which is right around the corner from the turnstile we enter through, shows a man and a woman from behind, naked. We are saved from a complete mooning by wording on their derrieres. Is it crazy for me to feel that subway and bus ads, well public ads in general, should be rated G for the general public? If an advertisement is going to be placed in a public place, is it too much to expect it to be family friendly? Obviously, if I don’t want my kid to be exposed to raunchy dancing and full-frontal T&A, I will not take her into a strip club or watch certain television programs with her. But now I have to take a different route in the mornings or have her face forward while we’re passing by the ad just to avoid crap that should not even be displayed for the public in the first place? I don’t mean to sound extra prudish…but I have to protect what my kid sees! I refuse to allow the media to expose my child to certain things before the time.

Last fall, I got extremely infuriated at a homework assignment she was given. I contemplated calling her teachers, the principal, Channel 12 news!

I was outraged! It was a writing assignment that asked her to “Describe a family member that you look up to. Why do you look up to them? Who is it? How would your life be different without them?” Well, when I tell you after Kam wrote a response to the prompt, she came crying to me…! I didn’t know what the heck to think. I had no clue what upset her. She told me she didn’t want me to die and then showed me her writing response. I took a picture of what she wrote and have been trying for a while now to post it but of course my phone has diva tendencies and chooses now to express them! In any event, towards the ending of her page-and-a-half long response she wrote, “My mom means everything to me. Let’s say I don’t have a shoulder to lean on or someone to talk to everyday, I’ll be lonely.” I grabbed her tightly and let her know I wasn’t going anywhere. I wonder at the way the question was worded… Did other students have a similar interpretation? I decided against making it an issue because I thought I would just appear to be blowing things out of proportion and that maybe we were both just reading into it: Kam with her interpretation, and me with my accusation that her school was forcing a topic on my daughter that I wasn’t ready for her to explore.

She knows death happens. A few years ago we came home after a long weekend to find our gold fish floating at the top of its bowl, lifeless. So she knows animals, things, people, don’t last forever…at least in the worldly realm. But I don’t want her to think about her own mortality or me not being there. Just the other day she discovered a gray hair in the front of my hairline…because of course when they pop up, the intention is to be put on display for all to see! I had seen it there for a while, after my hysteria that followed the initial sighting, I had been too nervous to pluck it out. They say you pluck out one and 10 more grow back in it’s place. So I saw it but chose to ignore it and style my hair in ways that concealed it. She grabbed me and said, “No, momma! Don’t get old! You’re too young to get old!”She then yanked it out and handed it to me.

Last night, though, I felt it was appropriate for her to watch the 20/20 special on the recent Dallas sniper attacks against police officers by 25 year-old Micah Johnson. The attacks were in response to the horrific killings of two Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police . She was intrigued by the footage and reporting. She kept saying it was all so sad. I didn’t get a chance to ask her her thoughts about what she just saw. I admit that I attempted to hide the image of Philando Castile, covered in blood after being shot be police, seemingly dead, as it came across the screen. I didn’t want her to see all of the graphic images. I didn’t want an image of a dead man covered in blood to be imprinted on her eyelids. I didn’t want to start a series of never-ending night terrors.

I’m happy I allowed her to see the special. She needs to be aware of some aspects of how Blacks are regarded in society. I don’t want her to be afraid to seek out a police officer when she is in trouble but I need her to also know the history of relations between Blacks and law enforcement. It’s a slippery slope: making her aware that hate is not the answer, but to “love” with one eye-open. These issues are part of American history, current events. I fully intend on raising a well-informed child, so I understand she needs to be appropriately enlightened. I do not want her to be afraid, but she needs to be aware.

I do not foresee us watching the news together every night. I won’t tell her of the latest homicide statistics in New York, or of the mugger who beat the old man over the side of his head for the $37 in his back pocket. She will not know of the rapist who is on the lose or of relatives who kill for inheritances. No. She does not need to know these specific details. What I do tell her is to always be aware of her surroundings. I tell her to look around her while we’re walking. Observe the people on the bus and train. I tell her to speak up when she knows things are not right and to trust that voice inside of her…because it will never fail her. She must trust the Holy Spirit who lives inside of her! I especially tell her that just because someone is an adult, it doesn’t mean she has to feel compelled to do what they say. If something seems off, she is to react immediately. I tell her if she is walking and someone tries to grab her, to yell like crazy and kick and scream. I have given her what I think are subtle glimpses into the negative side of things, without getting too graphic. I’m making her aware without doing away with her rainbows and butterflies.

I do understand that in a few short weeks she will be entering 5th grade (what her charter school considers the beginning of 6th grade…something I still wander about…)and topics will come up. I will be ready for her when she has questions, but the thing with childhood is to know when to introduce info and when to hold back… You have to know your kid and what they are ready for…

What are some things you shield your children away from? Have you had the discussion about the recent or past police-involved shootings of Blacks? If so, how did they go?

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My Consistent Inconsistencies

I worked out this morning…if it could be called that. I rolled out Kamryn’s blue yoga mat, that I purchased two years ago so she could use while out and about at various parks with her summer camp. The director of her camp, Ms. Ama, who always effortlessly mixes some African print fabric into her ensemble, is an enlightened vegan, Benin-born naturalista who is determined to infuse her kids and the kids she oversees with various aspects of culture and solid meaningful experiences. For instance, the schedule for this summer has them taking sewing, drama, and cooking classes, and painting and drawing in the park, all with seasoned professionals. They’ll of course be visiting a couple of museums, and other landmarks, pools, beaches, and a water park as well (because what summer is complete without splashing around in some body of water?) Last summer (I neglected to write this up) she orchestrated an event that showcased what I must say were the kid’s pretty impressive performance skills (pics and videos posted below). Please note:…well scratch the video part. WordPress insists I upgrade, i.e. more $$$ so I can upload videos. I wanted to show you some dope videos of Kamryn, Ms. Ama, and another young lady performing at last year’s event, but I only have the pics. I will fork over the cash…at a later date…) as well as other talents. She was even planning a trip to Africa for this year. That has unfortunately been postponed but as soon as the opportunity resurfaces, we’ll certainly be on board.

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Last year at Ms. Ama’s event. Another child painted her face.
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Last year at Ms. Ama’s event. Another child painted her face.

But I digress.

Kam used to workout all of the time on that yoga mat. At one point, she had become obsessed with the practice. In the afternoons after returning from the summer camp, she couldn’t wait to show me the latest position she’d learned from Ms. Ama. I’d be sprawled out on the sofa, semi-conscious after my second or third serving of ice cream and Kam would be somewhere in the corner, intertwined in what looked like a pretty painful arm, leg, and elbow pose, while I’d ask her to toss me the remote control which was only a few inches away from me. Now, however, things aren’t quite the same. I mean she uses her yoga mat all of the time…just not in the same capacity. It is laid out, parallel to her bed, and is in the perfect position to shield her feet from the cold wooden floors when she gets out of bed in the mornings. Now she uses it as a rug, a floor mat. She sits on it while playing Barbies. It acts as the community her Barbies, as well as Monster High dolls, Moxie Girlz, and La Dee Das, inhabit. Nothing happens outside of the parameters of the 6 1/2 foot long, 1/4 inch thick blue rubber. It is where the fanciful tales she conjures up are carried out. She uses it during pretend play with her cousins. They wrap it around themselves fashioned after capes and transport one another on it while running deliriously down the hallway as I threateningly yell, “I’m not going to anyone’s hospital today!” Presently, it is wrapped around the balloons and teddy bear she received a few weeks ago from her graduation (more on that in another post). Smh…This is what it has been whittled down to.

And I digressed again…

But this morning, I grabbed her yoga mat, laid it out in my room facing my wall-mounted vertical mirror, slid into my two-tone orange sports bra and five-year-old pair of white, gray, and blue Pumas, and started doing some jumping jacks. I then stumbled into a series of lunges, sit ups, and arm curls with the use of some half-full paint cans that have been taking up space under my kitchen sink for months. While my goal was to work out for at least 20 minutes, I struggled to make it to 10. My ultimate aim is to wake up every morning at 4:00 and work out for a half hour before starting my day. Sadly, I can count on one hand (and still have fingers left over) just how many times I have carried out this routine.

I am not consistent with many things…

Some time ago, I decided that I would begin giving Kam an allowance of $10 a week. An odd number of weeks later, every payday without fail, she likes to remind me of the sum of money that is owed to her. She claims I am now up to $70.

I am supposed to be keeping monthly lists of all of the spectacular miracles God has bestowed upon us this year. I’ve jotted a few down in my planner in January, but since then, they have all just been mental notes.

I fluctuate between sending Kam to bed at 8:30 or 9:00. The latter time has been the victor lately.

I allow her to eat in her room on some days but forbid the act when I step on cookie crumbs and I am hampered from crossing from one side of her room to the other due to random spots of sticky juice residue. I am apparently hit with amnesia because days later, she is munching on nachos while laying in bed.

I personally do not allow her to paint her fingernails, but a few weeks ago at school, she won two “Mani and Pizza” events with her favorite teachers at a Scholar Dollar Auction due to her overall superb performance. So within a span of five days, she went from rocking a glittery blue sapphire hue, to a shimmery berry violet.

I went from never turning down any category of food, to transitioning into a vegetarian and dragging Kam (with nose turned-up at the night’s sometimes unidentifiable fare) along for the ride. I continue to fluctuate every now and then.

In an attempt to bring my family closer together, I called and texted them all and told them I would be instating a mandatory dinner at my place once a month (every third Saturday to be exact). I harassed them until they agreed they’d show up, and informed them that not coming to the dinner was not an option. They were advised that they need only bring their appetites, and I would take care of the rest. I imagined we’d play Uno and Charades and reminisce about the good ‘ole days that weren’t all that good but weren’t all that bad either, while Marvin Gaye (who I’m sure is the most happenin’ stud behind those Pearly Gates) would serenade us in the background. I’d serve a meal whose recipe they would all beg for and they would laugh at the jokes no one but Kam ever does. Their glasses would never run low of homemade iced-tea and their palates would be thoroughly satisfied. I’d be the perfect hostess. That dinner has only happened once. I made lasagna that the younger members of the family just picked at, left the garlic bread in the oven for too long, ran out of iced-tea and we didn’t play Uno once!

Two days ago, Facebook reminded me that it has been two years since I started this blog. Two years and 11 (this will make 12) posts later…I’m still trying to consistently write…

Yes. I am inconsistent with many things, but I am also becoming consistent with many others.

I don’t know if I would call it a ritual, but one of the things I have religiously (no pun intended) begun with Kamryn is what my maternal grandmother, Maisie, may God rest her soul, started with my sister and I when we were little ones. Every night, before she tucked us in, she had us kneel at the foot of our beds and read Psalm 91. She would sit on our beds, listening, ensuring we didn’t skip over any words and pronounced every thing just right. With Kam, I do the same (I have also snuck in Psalm 23). So this isn’t just a practice in Rote memorization and her early experience with the Word will leave a positive impression, I have also had her tell me what she feels the chapters are saying. I need her to be able to pull from scripture when she is faced with a difficult situation and needs encouragement. I need her to be able to know who she is according to who the Lord has ordained her to be, and what He has promised for her life.

I have also made a concerted effort to faithfully tithe. Although it makes it onto my list of what needs to be paid on payday, as I sit at my kitchen table amidst all of the bills that routinely flood my mailbox (some admittedly unopened because ignorance is sometimes bliss), it has more often than not been one of the first to go when I just couldn’t see how ends would possibly meet. Phew! Was that really just one sentence? If Virginia Woolf can do it so can I, gosh darnit!

What I’ve come to realize, especially through my pastor (Tyrone Stevenson at Hope Christian Center in Brooklyn, New York) and the debt-free teaching he recently finished, is that tithing is not about money. It is money that is reserved only for God. Tithing is about being obedient to God. He has watched over me my entire life. He has given me what I have prayed for and kept those things at bay which He knew would harm me. He has seen to it that through the struggles (and boy were there/are there many) that no matter their weight, we never capsize under pressure. I have seen His hands at work and I have been left in great wonder. With all that He does, He only asks for 10%. How can I not give that to the kingdom? What I’ve also come to realize is that tithing is a great management tool. We give 10% and manage on the 90%. Looking at if from that perspective, I am able to prioritize my allocations.

My debt upsets me because I could be doing so much more with the money I’m forking over to credit card companies and my charge accounts. That money could be used for our travel expenditures. By the time I was Kam’s age, I moved to another country from the States, and traveled to quite a number of places. Kam has not traveled far and wide as of yet. That money could be used for Kam’s savings for college or as a down payment for a house.

I’m obsessed with watching HGTV. At first, Kam wanted nothing to do with these viewing sessions, but I’ve slowly won her over. On some nights, we’ll snuggle close and watch potential homeowners search for and renovate their dream homes. We learn lingo like short sales, subway tiles, farm sinks, and crown molding. I anxiously wait for the opportunity when I can impress an audience and ease those terms into conversations. The other night while we were watching the network, she turned to me and said that when we get a house, she wants a tire swing in the yard. I want to be able to do that for my daughter (she’s ten…so a little sooner rather than later). I want to be able to give her that tire swing and set the foundation for her not to have to struggle the way I have. I know for a fact that that day is imminent. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind. I just have to be consistent in the ways in which I spend my money, and the ways I do not…

So I’ve embarked on a journey to cut costs as much as I can. The first thing I did was cut the cable off. It is something I would not have done months ago. I would have argued that not having a TV was not normal. It was simply un-American! What would Kamryn watch in the afternoons and weekends? How would she feel? Pressing a button on the remote when we plopped down onto the sofa was second nature to us. How would we function without it? But we haven’t had cable since the end of April and I don’t miss it one bit. We are able to live stream some shows or watch them after they have aired, and Netflix keeps us pretty content, so we haven’t been missing out on much. There is a huge difference in not being able to automatically press a button at the ready. A little more work is required: turning on my laptop, searching for a DVD, turning on the DVD player, closing the DVD player… These acts barely break a sweat but they are less automatic. Not being able to turn the television on and allow in an onslaught of varying highs and lows has set the tone for a new kind of peace in our home.

Kam, who would arrive home and before I could close the door behind us, had already dashed passed me and tuned to the Disney channel, now doesn’t have that same urge to seek visual entertainment. To be honest, days into the no cable shocker, I didn’t know how she was going to survive it. She would brood about like she had just been told there would no longer be any mac and cheese in the existence of the entire universe…like ever! Anyone who truly knows Kam knows that if she could have one dish for the rest of her life, it would be that. She would ask me every other day, when the TV would be back on. But she has since taken up a new hobby. She has been trying for days now to get the cobra lanyard stitch down pat. She recently obtained a lanyard bounty and it is all that interests her. She’ll watch how-to videos on YouTube, manipulating the plastic strings through loops and hoops until she throws them down in frustration because it doesn’t look like the one on the screen. But she is trying though and I know she will eventually master it. This is something I could never accomplish when I was a child so I commend her dedication.

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The cobra lanyard design that has become her new obsession!

Not having cable has in fact brought Kamryn and I closer together. I was always the kind of person who never saw the point in watching a movie or reading a book more than once. But ha! Now that I’m training to be an English teacher…that reluctance has long gone out of the window. But since cable is a thing of the past, we cackle at the impersonations of the sketchy potential housekeepers Mrs. Doubtfire gives and laugh out loud at Jack Black’s ridiculous antics in The School of Rock. I look forward to these moments. Before, we’d often watch TV in separate rooms. It’s been cool having more of these shared experiences.

Making a conscious decision to get a handle on my debt has also meant that I’ve cut costs in other areas as well. I have taken on the arduous task of forgoing the hair salon and resorted to attempting to style our hair myself! Those who know me know that styling hair is not my forte’. Cornbraids have never been my thing (and still aren’t) but I have (with the help of countless much appreciated natural hair YouTube tutorials) learned how to flat-twist! (Pats self on back!)

Example of when Kam has gotten her hair done at the hair salon…
Another hair salon style…

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And when I have done Kam’s hair… For us…flat-twists are the new black!

But geesh…looking at my above inconsistencies, I really hope I don’t/haven’t confused the heck out of Kamryn…

Parenting is a series of trials and errors. Just when I do a back flip for finally getting it (whatever that it is that perplexed me at any given moment with Kam) I am placed in another maze to meander my way through.

What I am learning, and realizing (especially from reading all of my inconsistencies above), is that there are times to be flexible and times to really lay down the law. There are times I refuse to bend, and times I bend a tad. The trick is knowing when to do both.

The one consistent aspect of my adult life has been Kamryn. She has been a reality since I was given my due date at 18 and barely wet behind the ears…

I was a member of Planet Fitness and Lucille Roberts at the same time for about one year. One was closer to Kam’s after school, the other, our home. I figured if I couldn’t make it to one, I could to the other. During that time frame, I probably worked out at the gym maybe five times. Will I ever join a gym or workout in the mornings at home on a consistent basis? I have yet to start back up our family dinners and because I am occasionally repulsed by meat, I have banned it from my home and brought back Tofu Thursdays. On those nights, Kam opts to make her own sandwich instead. Will I ever completely bend one way? Will my world ever be filled with just black or white and not gray? Will I always have gray areas? Will I faithfully commit to a standard blogging schedule or will the next time you hear from me be in five months? Truth is, I don’t know. I can’t answer any of these questions at the moment.

Truth is, ten years in…as a momma, and 29 as a person and there are many things that I am still figuring out. I have my absolute non-negotiables, but I negotiate the negotiables, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you negotiate?

Whether we have tofu or beef tacos and Kamryn eats at the kitchen table, while playing Barbies, or while doing a pirouette in last year’s Halloween costume after having painted her nails a neon green, one thing that will never change is my dedication to being the best momma to Kam. It comes first above all else. So sometimes I blow with the wind, other times I do not. Either way, I will continue to nurture and care for Kam like she is the best present I have ever received, because she is.