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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Being Bullied Made Me Awesome

Recently I had a conversation with a friend and fellow parent about classmates teasing. She relayed the advice she gave to her son who was teased about a bad haircut. She said, “I told him next time something like that happens, you tell him (or whoever it is) something like ‘my hair will grow back but you can’t fix your face.’” We laughed about the nice comeback. But then she went on to say something that triggered a funny feeling in my bones. She said, “see, I used to be a bully, so I know how to nip that in the bud. A good comeback is key to shutting a bully down.” My husband relates similar stories of him getting teased at times, but because he is quick and witty, his retorts always stopped a potential bully in his tracks.

A couple of weeks before this conversation, I ran into one of my bullies at my kids’ school. It just so happens that her son is in my daughter’s class. We had seen each other a few times last year and she hugged me and was very friendly. Shocked and surprised, I responded in kind. But this year at curriculum night, she said something that caught me off guard. We were laughing about how we keep running into each other when she said, “even though we didn’t get along when we were in school, somehow our kids insist on being together!” I chuckled in agreement, but in my mind, I was thinking, what did I ever do to you?

Yesterday, another friend posted one of those retro pictures of where we grew up on facebook. And it just so happened that the photo was of a department store that was on our way home from middle school. The parking lot of that department store is where seemingly everyone in my school would congregate to watch me get beat up.  There was a mean girls clique at school (some would say cool girls) and if I happened to do something to piss one of them off, the rumor mill would begin to swirl that they would be waiting to “jump” me in the May Company parking lot after school. The news bubble would swell with each passing period and culminate in the crowd waiting to see the fight. I was fortunate that my best friend’s mom would pick us up if we called and asked her to. On those days, I’d ask her to.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t notify teachers. My teachers said there was nothing they could do since it was just hearsay and because the fight was planned off school grounds. As you might imagine, it was pretty difficult to learn when you feared getting your ass kicked after school and had all day to think about it.  I was always looking for protection. My parents would tell me to ignore it and supplied me with dog spray if anything were to go down. (My dad was a mail carrier and kept the dog spray supply fully stocked.) It was then that I turned to religion. I learned to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘seek God first’. So, I prayed a lot and hard, and while the bullying didn’t stop, I never was jumped in the May Company parking lot.

But getting back to my friend and what she said, it made me reflect on my time being bullied and caused me to wonder if I’ve gotten over it? There’s plenty of research that talks about the long-term effects of bullying from low self-esteem and depression to anxiety, panic attacks and even suicide in adulthood. When I was going through it, my grades definitely suffered. I was often angry and contemplated suicide. I also contemplated homicide. Years later when the Columbine massacre happened and it was reported that the killers had been bullied, I knew exactly how they felt. If I had access to guns at the time, I might not be sitting here writing this article. Instead, I threw myself into my religious studies and waited for God to take care of it. I believe that God gave me the strength to endure so that I could learn from it and use it to fulfill my purpose.

There’s a Frederick Nietzsche saying that goes, “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. Do I wish I was never bullied? Hell yes! But none of us can change our past, we can only create our future. Being the victim of bullying bothered me for most of my life. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that turmoil made me approach the world from a place of compassion. It made me want to stand up for others. It’s probably what led me to work in social justice; to protect those not capable of protecting themselves. But I also know that going through that experience is what contributes to me being an awesome parent. It made me a fierce advocate for my kids and any other kid I come across who might be bullied.

Sometimes I think about looking my bullies up on google for a confrontation, telling them, “you know what you did, and I’m here to find out why.” I have wracked my brain trying to explain why I was picked on, why girls hated me, why people wrote “slut” on the bathroom wall next to my name when I was clearly a virgin, why people squirted ketchup all over my brand new pink jogging suit. The bottom line is at this point in my life, I don’t need to know. Because I love the person I am today and everything I went through, both wonderful and heartbreaking, contributed to who I became. Life is much too short to carry around heavy ass hate and hurt baggage and I have made my peace with it. So, to my former bullies who I may or may not run into, I say namaste and I hope you are happy with who you’ve become.


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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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Body Image

I got on a bicycle today, which might seem like no big deal. And it wasn’t really, except that it was my first bike ride in about 6 years. And only the 3rd or 4th time I was on it in the 11 years I’ve owned the bike. I’m trying to find a form of exercise I don’t despise. It was pretty hilarious though to see how worried the kids were that I would hurt myself. It felt like Freaky Wednesday where they were the parents and I was the child! “Mommy, be careful!” “Good luck mom!” I managed to make it around the block without incident. However, I did not lose weight with that bike ride.

I don’t know many women who DON’T complain about their weight. And I try not to unless I’m prepared to do something about it. Which I am not. But I will complain anyway. I’ve made the same resolution every December 31st for the last 30 years (save for my junior year in high school when I lost a bunch of weight basically because I stopped eating. Thanks depression!) Then, I inevitably find myself with my hand in a bag of potatoe chips or on my 3rd slice of pizza and into the 3rd week of January say, well, I’ll start fresh next month after the gym clears out. Fast forward to the beginning of summer when I can’t hide behind layers of clothes and reality of my undiscipline eating habits smacks my jiggly thighs and I think, “oh no, the season of exposure!” I would love to be one of those people who accepted themselves in all their glorious body. And sometimes I am. I mean, I’ve posed nude twice in the last year!  I admire people who don’t let their extra weight stop them from living life. I am just not that person right now.

A friend of mine who I don’t consider overweight at all lamented to me recently about how disappointed she feels about her post baby weight 2 years later. Yet she told me that she looks at me and thinks, “Darlene looks great at any size!” We both found it interesting that despite having very different bodies, and despite other people’s perceptions, we both struggle internally with the same exact feelings. So it all comes down to body image. What is body image?

Body image=The mental image of one’s own self, or the picture you have of yourself. Basically, it’s what you think you look like. The problem I have is that I’ll think I look good (in my mind) until a mirror tells me otherwise. The mirror is like my 6th grade bully pointing out each and every flaw and laughing at me for having the audacity to imagine I looked anything other than fat. Sometimes I feel embarrassed and ashamed that I can’t live up to the image in my mind. And I wonder what my kids think of my body? (Though with the amount of times theyplay with my belly and tell me I look pregnant, I have a pretty good idea.) Bottomline is, I know I’m not the best me I can be at this weight. I don’t play with the kids like I want to and I don’t wear certain clothes like I want to. And logically, I know the importance of getting to a healthy weight for me, for medical reasons. I understand what it takes to lose weight. All the resources are out there from online diet programs to streaming workouts, couch to 5ks and motivational daily texts . But like anything else, until you are ready to commit to the work (not the program or the trainer-but the work of change) you will remain stuck. Which is where I am with my hand in a bag of chips.

I believe that one of these days I will get it together. I mean I have to! But apparently I’m pretty stubborn. I just hope I can make it sooner rather than later. I’ve taken some baby steps, like climbing on that bike. And maybe this December I’ll have a new resolution like, jump out of plane next year! because by then, I could fit in the harness.


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Women Marching for Women

Until recently, I never considered myself an activist. I was always a rebel. But I was pretty complacent when it came to social justice issues, despite my job as a fair housing advocate. Three years into my 40’s and I’m ready, willing and able to put myself out there for causes I believe in, particularly after the election of a U.S. President who has been recorded saying he could grab women by the p**** because he was a rich man. So one day after his inauguration, I joined my sisterhood to march in downtown Cleveland for Women’s RightsCleveland for Women’s Rights, which this President and his cohorts seem determined to abolish.  It was only my second march and third protest action, but it certainly will not be my last.  Why did I do it? And why now?

Admittedly, I am a last-minute person. I take ‘live in the present’ a bit too literally. While I’d heard talk about the Women’s March on D.C., I thought it was totally unrealistic for me to participate. Then I heard there would be one in Cleveland. The week leading up to the marches, I began to see friends prepping for the events. One friend asked me if I was going, as she was on the fence about it. I was stuck in between a perpetual state of disbelief that our country was really going to continue disrespecting women the way it has, and a paralyzed state of not really knowing what I could do to make a difference.  We gave each other until Thursday to decide. The more I thought about things, I reflected on the Civil Rights Movement and how disheartened I was to learn that my parents had not participated in that historic event. I didn’t want my kids to look back and say, “Mom, what did you do when Trump got elected?” And my reply be, oh, I took you guys to basketball and did your laundry.  Everything I do at this point in my life is to make myself a better person, and someone my children can be proud to call their mom. Once I looked at it in that context, the answer was clear. I would march.

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My friend Danielle offered to drive and my friend Becky made us signs, and we joined an estimated 15,000 other women, men and children who marched for equal pay, reproductive rights, violence against women protections, religious freedom, gender equity and a myriad of other causes. When an election of this magnitude leaves you feeling powerless, you can find power in joining a movement. Regardless of whether you were black, white, Asian, Latina, Native American, Western European, lesbian, trans, bisexual, rich, poor, middle class, heavy, thin, short, tall, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, a woman with a disability, a mom, married, single, childless, and everything in between, under the bright sunshine of hope and solidarity, we all marched together and had each other’s backs.  Now the challenge is to keep going, keep marching. If that means calling your representatives weekly to make your voice heard-keep marching. If that means mentoring another women to lift up those coming behind you as you climb the ladder-keep marching. If that means driving someone in need to Planned Parenthood or Preterm to get necessary medical care-keep marching. In Girl Scouts we say be a sister to every girl scout. In life I say to the best of your ability, be a sister to every woman. None of us got anywhere without help. Be a help to women in your community. When women are stronger, the world is stronger! Everyone knows women are the backbone of society, yet in 2017 some still insist on trying to break that backbone and then wonder why they can’t walk. We must strengthen our core with daily exercises of finding a way to support another women every day. While I will still drive my kids to basketball and do their laundry (while drinking wine!) I will no longer sit on the sidelines waiting for someone else to pick up the baton. None of us can afford to be complacent any longer. We have some real work to do, and if you have been like me, and watched and waited for someone else, I urge you to look at the beauty of this day and these marches, and be inspired by the sea of pink out there ready for you join the fight. Let’s go!

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Where are they hiding the black people?

Warning: Awkward Blog post below!

Attention Black People: Come out come out wherever you are!

I am a people person. I love meeting new people and I place friendships high on my important life pyramid, directly below myself (not selfishly, but in the healthy way) and my family. But I’ve come to the realization that my group of friends is pretty homogeneous. In other words, they are predominantly white. That in and of itself does not bother me. I grew up in an integrated community and learned early on to judge individuals by their character and behavior and not by their color. I’ve had friends of various races and ethnicities. What bothers me is the seemingly few black friends I do have.

I went to college with my best friend who happened to be African American. And she was, (and still is) everything to me, so I didn’t feel a need to collect other friends (until much later when she moved away.) I also had many males friendships in college. But somehow as people joined with their significant others, opposite sex friendships became taboo and tended to dissolve. (In my experience, it seemed to bother the women that their boyfriends/husbands were friends with me.) Also, the college I went to was more of a commuter school. A lot of us came downtown to go to class, then went back to our lives elsewhere, so I think I missed some of the camaraderie that usually accompanies college life. I wanted to join a sorority ever since I saw Spike Lee’s School Daze, but their presence at said college was minimal. And even when I did discover the few there, my parents were not into fronting me the money for pledge fees. Towards the end of college, I started doing internships. It was almost culture shock. That was the first time I really realized I was living in a white world. At each different internship, which later turned into jobs, I was struck with the question over and over again of: Where are they hiding the black people? Just about every job I’ve had, I’ve been either the lone black person, or one of a very few.

Once I started having kids, my social circle prominently featured “parent friends”. Most of these friendships developed as a result of school functions, parent committees and the kids sporting activities. I have been very deliberate in making sure my kids attend integrated schools like I did, because I value that experience. But continually, I find myself asking, where are they hiding the black parents? Now, I don’t believe the black parents are absent from parent committees because they don’t care, or not at the sporting events because my kids play “white sports” i.e. soccer, swim team. I believe that they are absent for the same reason my husband is, they are working really hard, sometimes 2 and 3 jobs to allow their kids to have these experiences. They just can’t necessarily be there.

There is something beautiful about having children that forces you to take a closer look at your life and your decisions. I do not want my kids to look at my friendship circle and see this imbalance as a slight to people who look like them. So I realized I have to take action. Which seems kinda crazy to me. I never thought I’d be in this position. But here it is: I am a black person looking for more black friends. And some of my white friends have expressed a sincere interest in expanding their black friends circle beyond me.

Friends ratios

Ironically, I currently live in the 7th most segregated metropolitan city in the country. In my professional life, I educate people on the effects of housing discrimination on our society. Studies show that people benefit more from diverse communities than segregated ones. Because where we live affects who we know, and who we become comfortable with. For many, growing up in a segregated community limits your exposure with dissimilar people. And this goes both ways. If you are black and grow up in a black community, you might be less comfortable around white people because you’re not used to interacting with them. Similarly, if you are white growing up in a white neighborhood, attending a white school, and your only experience with people of color is what you see on TV, then there may be some awkwardness when you encounter them in real life.

All that to say, growing up in an integrated community, I’ve always felt that I could interact with and befriend anyone. So it surprises me to have this particular challenge. (By the way, none of this is meant to discount other races, because I also have those friends, as well as some black friends.) And don’t get me wrong, I have been accused of “acting white” about as often as I’m accused of being “ghetto.” (None of which bothers me. As someone who strives for balance, I consider myself a success!) But what I’m most concerned about is being a great role model to my children. And for them to appreciate all races and cultures including their own, they need to see me not just talk about it, but be about it. So I’m taking suggestions on where to find black people because I’m making a conscious effort to make my friendship circle more diverse. I’m not trying to start a black friends thermometer, (only 14 more black friends to go to reach our goal!) but I do want my kids to see equality in my inner circle.