Me, MomSelf and I

Life's journey is full of twists and turns and sometimes we get lost. This is my journey to rediscover myself.


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Father Figures

1149629_10201364221443877_2121992537_oFather’s Day is the one day we pay homage to the men who raised us. For me, it is about acknowledging the father that is no longer here in the physical form, but is with me everyday and everywhere I go. My dad who was as lenient as they come, who would do anything for his girls that he could. And sometimes, he couldn’t. My dad was an alcoholic for most of my life. But that didn’t stop him from going to work faithfully everyday for 40+ years for the United States Post Office. It didn’t stop him from coming to my school concerts in which I always had a solo, even if it meant him being tipsy. It didn’t stop him from trying to make things right when he knew he messed up. And I love my dad, but he wasn’t the only male figure in my life growing up. Thanks to him, there were a host of characters, friends, family, that would all commiserate at our house after work. The post office crew, who would sit around the dining room table to complain about work and that micromanager supervisor they all detested. There was Mr. Grier, Jay Adair, Clayton, Cecil, Newt, and a few others. I would come home from school and put on the radio, WZAK for the latest R&B hits, but Clayton would always come change the station to jazz. (We would go back and forth, fighting over the radio like two kids! He’d tell my dad that he needed to discipline me and my dad would just brush it off.) Then there was the family that would come over on the weekends for a “taste” and stay way past the time they should, but they seemed to have too much fun to leave. My Uncle Jesse, Uncle Ali, Uncle Donald, Cousin Leon, Artis,  Gene the Gasman (cause he worked for the gas company), Tony Clark, Uncle Wilbur, Uncle Bill. Those were all the men on my dad’s side. Sometimes my mother’s brother, Uncle Eddie would also hang. It wasn’t always the same group but every weekend, some of these men were there. Now as I’m grown I wonder how did my mom deal with people being at the house all the time? She didn’t say much about it, though sometimes as she moved through the house, I could feel a chill in the air. But I imagine some part of her had to think it better for my dad to be home and have company than to be out who knows where. She’s always been more quiet and reserved, whereas my dad, if you can’t already tell, was the center of the party. He was funny and lighthearted and honest and grounded. People felt comfortable around him because he made them feel that way. I think he made them feel needed and let them feel he needed them. I would listen to them tell stories about the old days (since most of my dad’s friends knew him since childhood.) They loved to rehash the off the wall tales of my dad crashing his car with him and the car being suspended in a tree on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and how the firemen got him down. Or the multiple times he fell into Lake Erie while fishing and his friends swearing he walked on the water to get back to the boat (he never learned how to swim, but somehow always managed to get out of that water!) They would crack themselves up as the drinks would flow as easy as the stories. And I listened.

One time my mother had gone out with her friends, a super rare occurrence. So my dad and my Uncle Donald were home watching my sister and I. Well, I got into my mom’s whole jar of noxema and was covered in it. When my dad discovered me, he scolded me in his gentle way. My Uncle Donald thought daddy was going to easy on me. He convinced my dad that he needed to spank me with a brush or run the danger of me being a spoiled little brat and my dad being a softy. Not wanting to look bad in front of his twin brother, he told my sister to grab the brush and sure enough, he spanked me in front of his brother. I’m sure I cried because my dad had never hit me before and I could not believe my uncle could influence him that way. Looking back, I’m positive my dad hated to do it just as much as I hated to have it done, because he never hit me again.

When I was about 17 my driver’s license got suspended because I had too many speeding tickets and I had to go to court. Instead of telling my parents, I called my Uncle Ali and asked him if he could take me, which he did. I’ll never know if he told my parents because they never said a word to me about it. I had the type of uncles who made me feel that they could keep my secrets. I was incredibly lucky to have some many strong, black male figures in my life. All I knew were strong black men who worked hard to support their families.

There were always men around the house. All of them someone else’s dad and all imperfect. But for one reason or another, they loved my dad and he loved them, therefore, I loved them. Mostly all of them are gone now, but each one has a special place in my heart. And when I reflect on Father’s Day, I think of each one of them.


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Thanks 2016, You Broke Me

I hate The Walking Dead. I’ve never liked zombies or demons or sci-fi anything. I’m a rom-commer or tearjearker emotional TV show/movie watcher. (Hello This Is Us!!!) But my husband tried to convince me to watch “his show,” TWD, by reasoning it was not in fact about zombies, but about how humans respond and react to each other under extreme, dire circumstances. Eventually, in an effort to be closer to him, I gave in and watched. And it was gruesome! But he was right, it’s not about the zombies at all. It is about human survival. And if you are a fan of the show (or not, like me) then you know that 2016 is Negan. Negan is the worst of the worst human. He is cold-hearted, selfish, manipulative, and evil. That bastard is chopping heads off and taking names. Literally. And 2016 is that bastard.

This year, especially around the holidays and the start of a new year, everyone laments about all the celebrities we lost because the In Memoriam reel will be a who’s who in entertainment. There are way too many to name, but suffice it to say, this is the year my childhood died. All the people I grew up watching, being entertained by, inspired by left the earth, seemingly too soon. The reality is that everyone dies at some point. In fact, millions of people die around the world every day, every minute of every day. (And when I think about that too much, it hurts.) I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watching The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, Barney Miller, One Day At A Time, the Die Hard movies, Spike Lee movies (Radio Raheem!), Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, listening to Prince and Vanity, in between all of the Miss Cleo commercials screaming “Call me NOW!” Its hard to reconcile the fact that I’m an adult now raising my own kids (REALLY????), but couple that with those I grew up on passing away and it feels like a blow to my armor.

Then there was the election.

I remember being disappointed both times George W. Bush “won” because, like crazy Kanye, I too believed he didn’t care about black people. But this election broke my faith in America. It broke my liberal spirit to see an overqualified woman lose a job-the most important job in this country-to an inexperienced, sexist, racist, xenophobic, imbecile of a man because he was white and had a penis. What does that mean for the rest of us women who already struggle with feelings of self-doubt, and the impossibly high glass ceiling? Where does that leave us when we try to advance to the next level? The message was clear: you can be the worst human being ever, as long as you’re white, rich and a man, you will win every time. And the resurgence (or unearthing) of the spirit of hate has been another gut punch. The rise in reported hate crimes since his election has skyrocketed with his message of deporting immigrants and banning Muslims. Every minority group has felt the sting of hate elevated.

2016 also dragged in “All Lives Matter,” the most concise way to tell black people we are once again 3/5ths of a person, or that Black Lives Don’t Matter. Anyone that tries to argue otherwise needs to engage in some serious self-reflection. Those are the same people who want to be colorblind in a society that is set up to favor one color over all others. It’s a privilege to be colorblind! The rest of us POC (people of color) are reminded daily, hourly of our color, when we’re followed in stores, when people clutch their purses or cross the street when they get near us, when people try to pat our hair like we’re zoo animals, the many ways some politicians try to suppress our vote, or when police officers (and even those wanna-be cops) outright murder us with no consequences. The proof that people do indeed see color is in the pudding and 2016 was a pudding smorgasbord. And the infuriating thing about all lives matter (which there are many) is that people who say it don’t even believe it. Those same people are not against immigrant deportation or banning Muslims. (What about their lives??)  The rationale is that a few bad apples in the bunch have committed acts of terror (nevermind that some bad apples in the white race have also-looking at you Dylan Roof, and Timothy McVeigh) so we have to get rid of those lives to protect all lives (aka white lives). Some of those same people say we need to roll back rights for the LGBTQ population because gay marriage will demean and erode straight marriage, (as if the destruction of marriage wasn’t already happening waaaay before gay marriage was legal). They argue that trans folk can’t use the bathroom of their expressed gender because, pedophiles! and “what about the children??” (as if one has anything to do with the other!) So, we say All Lives Matter-in theory. In practice, black lives, LGBTQ lives, Muslim lives, immigrant lives, Indigenous people’s lives and women’s lives don’t matter.

2016 tried to defund Planned Parenthood too. The nerve! Some of these all lives matter peeps screamed, “I don’t want my tax money to pay to kill babies or pay for condoms!” Nevermind that the majority of services performed  are general women’s health, you know, making sure we don’t have cervical cancer or breast cancer or if we want to avoid an unplanned pregnancy giving us access to birth control. No, they’d rather women have unprotected sex, then have an unwanted pregnancy so they can find the baby a great home to raise it in with all the resources needed for a healthy productive life! Wait, nobody’s going to adopt that baby? So all lives matter until the baby is born, then its every man or woman (or baby) for themselves, walking dead style. And by the way, let’s be clear, all lives matter did not develop in relation to those other lives. It was a direct, counter response to BLM, again, a gentler way to say Black Lives Don’t Matter. (And if you insist on arguing this point, you are not listening and part of the problem!)

Here’s something else 2016 did: break me financially. Its like everything came to a head in 2016. I do not claim to be the best budgeter (okay, I’m clueless). But you throw in stagnant wages, lost overtime, 2 job loses, rising costs of raising 3 kids, a 100-year old house, and you have the makings of a financial breakdown. Its hard not to feel like a failure when your whole family says how much they wished to move to a “better” house, because this one is well past its prime and there is no money to fix-her-upper.(Rational or not, my inner voice whispers that it’s a woman’s job to make a house a home, and if my family hates where they live, then its my fault.) The struggle is real, and it has taken an emotional toll on me. Have I made bad decisions, sometimes robbing Peter to pay Paul? Unfortunately, I have and its a hard lesson to learn that it doesn’t work long-term, especially when I’m old enough to know better. And not to bring it back to race, but the wealth gap in this country is yet another harsh reality. Not only do POC earn less money for the same job as whites, we also don’t have the same resources or access to money. I don’t have family members who can loan me money (or gift it,) because we’re all in the same boat. Banks are not loaning to minorities even if they have good credit and higher incomes. Before you think this is a woe is me, I’m broke because I’m black, that’s not what this is. I’m broke because of three kids, student loans and bad decisions. (Apparently, it costs a lot of money to grow the next female black president, world renown psychologist and the first black EGOT-Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony- award winner! #DrewDoesItAll) But let’s not pretend that there aren’t also systemic disparities at play. Discrimination in all its forms has not stopped, it has evolved, continuing to present challenges for those on the receiving end of it. This is where some people say, “see, President Obama has failed to make things better economically! That is why we voted for change!” And I would concede that people, including me, are still experiencing real hardships, (although I would argue that has more to do with the people who swore to block any initiatives put forth by this administration, than the administration itself.) But the thing about living in a civilized society is that it’s not always about you the individual. President Obama advanced gay rights, positioned America as a leader in climate change, put initiatives in place to make housing more inclusive and affordable, including reducing homelessness, increased funding for Planned Parenthood, and supported criminal justice reform and reentry initiatives. While there were limits to what he could do and definitely other things I think he should have done, he did much for Americans and people living in the United States. But the truth is, to see a black man-THIS black man, who showed intelligence matters, science matters, decency matters, kindness matters-get elected twice in my lifetime and for my kids to have only ever known a black President, well that’s priceless and incredibly affirming.

So what now? I would like to take a 4 year sabbatical to live at a spa retreat, have someone patch up my wounds, massage away my pain, stretch out my kinks yoga-style and let me meditate on all lessons I’ve learned, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I have wallowed in election defeat, but beyond that, real legitimate fear, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I have felt paralyzed the past few months. Every day, each news report of confirmation hearings, random spastic tweets, and unprecedented political maneuvering feels like I’m watching a scary show about a zombie apocalypse that I can’t turn off. I want to retreat into a bunker and wait for the all clear. But after listening to President Obama’s  farewell speech (and watching the latest keep-in-all-the-way-real Black-ish episode,) I know what I have to do. The pain and frustration I’m feeling, while new to me, is not new to black people. And neither is the hope that things have to get better. Just as much as we have struggle in our DNA, we also have overcoming too. And not just black people, but American people. THIS is us! (See what I did there?) We make a way.

As we begin the new year, the spirit of Negan is still in charge. We have a lot of fighting to do. The zombies are upon us and we have to bandage ourselves up and figure out what kind of humans we’re going to be. Are we going to turn on each other, or turn towards each other and say, hey, how can we make a better way together? Yes, I’ve been broken. But my plan is to heal myself and be stronger for what’s ahead. I’m going to polish up my passions so I have something to contribute to this new world. As my President said, “All of this progress is because of you — because of workers rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done… and because of all of us taking care of each other. Because, when we’re united as Americans, there’s nothing that we cannot do.”

 

How are you feeling after the election? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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Heavy

This is not a happy post. This is not a Susie Sunshine post. This is a heavy post. Heavy with despair about the state of America. Heavy with the grief of so many black lives that didn’t matter to the point of their murder. Heavy with the accepted racism that is rearing its ugly head instead of staying hidden just beneath the surface. (Was that any better?)

I’m supposed to be working right now, but I can’t. I’m just too heavy. I’m supposed to be happy right now, its a “New Year, New You!” But I can’t. My year is just too heavy. My safety and security have been shook. I have seen myself reflected in too many who have lost their lives over a bag of skittles, a toy air soft gun, a loose cigarette, a pack of cigarillos, words. Words. I’m a writer, so I cherish words. So when I see a woman, not unlike myself, questioning a police officer about why she was stopped, using her words, and then see this woman murdered because of her words, I’m heavy. But then when I hear things like “well, if she had just kept her mouth shut…” or “just like a black woman, talking too much…” or “all you have to do is listen to the officer and respond to his questions and nothing will happen to you” type of words, this heaviness becomes too much to bear.

I have been asleep, dreaming that I was like everyone else. Dreaming that because I grew up in the suburbs and went to college that I had assimilated. Dreaming that because I grew up with a father and a stay at home mother, I was acceptable. Dreaming that because I spoke well, and had a diverse pool of friends that I was alright. Dreaming that because I was married, with a house and 3 kids and a dog, and working a full-time job I had achieved the American Dream. Dreaming that because I’m registered to vote and recycle and work in social justice, that I was honoring all those that gave their lives in the Civil Rights Movement. But then Trayvon Martin happened. And then Eric Garner happened. And then John Crawford happened. And then Mike Brown happened.  And then Freddie Gray happened. And then Sandra Bland happened. And then Tamir Rice happened. And countless others happened. And then #blacklivesmatter happened. And then #alllivesmattered happened. And then I woke up.

I woke up to a nightmare. We talk about progress to appease ourselves so that we feel accomplished. We tell ourselves, Martin Luther King Jr. dreampt of equality and now that we have a black President, we’ve achieved it. And that is a lie. I’m heavy with the lies. The level of disrespect he’s been subjected to as the President of the United States is unprecedented. And the disrespect is accepted, because he’s black. Right now today, there is an American City that is poisoning its residents. The poisoned water in Flint, Michigan has been acceptable because it’s mostly being given to poor black people. That water is heavy. Heavy with lead. #FlintWaterCrisis. It’s been 76 years since Hattie McDaniel became the first (of only 12 African Americans) to win an Academy Award yet, here we are in 2016 with no black nominees because #OscarsSoWhite. Some will say, “maybe blacks just haven’t been good enough to deserve a win.” More lies. The justifications for racism always fall back on “blacks aren’t good enough.” No matter what we do, or how we speak, or how we walk, or how we perform, or how we drive, or how we shop, or how we play, we simply are never good enough to deserve equal treatment. The racists say we want special treatment. Perhaps that is because they realize how special they are treated. #WhitePrivilege.

Being awake is not quite as comfortable as being asleep and dreaming. And now I fear I have insomnia. I’m irritable, uncomfortable, angry, sad, discombobulated. I’m heavy. I can’t go back to sleep.

 


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Nostalgia [no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-] noun 1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time

DNE age 7

As summer winds down and the kids head back to school, we fall into my favorite time of year. But the arrival of cooler temperatures and changing leaves always makes me nostalgic for my childhood, of which there are two versions. Today I’m yearning for the idealistic one. The one where my sister and I were home for the entire summer break, (which used to be closer to 3 months and not this “barely there” summer vacation our kids get!) The summer where we built popsicle stick houses and raced our Charlie’s Angels van against our Barbie corvette down the driveway. The summers that included playing with all the kids on our street until the sun went down, which is when we should make our way back home. The summers where we rode our bikes to the mall, and walked to the library. The days when I could follow my dad on his mail route, which just happened to include our street and surrounding ones, where neighbors would yell, “Hey little David!” because I was his mini me. Or the days when my mother would put on a .45 record and get her groove on to Minnie Ripperton or the Bee Gees, and I would sit and watch her, taking in the words and sounds. I couldn’t fully comprehend the meaning, but today when I hear “Back Down Memory Lane”  or “How Deep is Your Love” I can close my eyes and transport to my easy childhood.  Now, when I reread my childhood diaries, they are filled with angst about being in love with just about everybody, being overweight, overdeveloped and bullied. But nostalgia is funny in the way that when you replay the events of your past, it can be as though there is an instagram filter, shading the not too pleasant parts and illuminating the wonderfulness of the moment. Middle class life in suburbia. Ahh, good times, good times. If only I could have cherished it more.

I’m sure one day, years from now I will look back on this time and remember how great it is. Raising my beautiful kids, finding my voice, building a community. But more often than not, I find myself saying,  “I don’t want to adult today!”  I long for those simple times when my meals were cooked for me, my clothes were washed for me and I was given allowance on my Dad’s payday. I possessed a talent that granted me confidence despite the bullying. I was known as “the girl who could sing.” I didn’t have to do anything but be me.

Now ‘being me’ means worrying all the time about everything! How can I stretch this money until next payday? (Nevermind, I’m buying shoes!) How do I get the kids to learn responsibility and do chores (unlike myself growing up)? How do I give my kids all of me without losing myself? How do I stay connected to my husband when we’re both so busy trying to make a better life that we hardly see each other? How do I comfort friends and loved ones through illnesses and unexpected losses that usually come around this age? How do I keep us safe in a world where black people can’t even be happy without getting in trouble, let alone drive, walk down the street or enjoy a friend’s pool party? It’s no wonder I sometimes need to bury myself in nostalgia-it’s self preservation!

Adulting is hard. But there is something redeeming about being grown and that is the gift of wisdom and perspective. I know, having lived almost 42 years that things always get better, that you can’t live in the past and that as an adult, you can choose to keep the parts of your life that you like and disregard the parts that you don’t. I am responsible for creating the life I want. And that is both hard and simple.