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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Lost and Found

“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Recently I acknowledged something I’ve wanted my whole life. When I was a little girl, I used to love visiting my grandmother because as the designated keeper of the family history, she had like a gazillion photo albums and scrapbooks. Her albums held precious photos of people in my family dating back to the 1800s. She had postcards and letters my dad sent from Vietnam. And she had in her collection a children’s book written by my Aunt Leoncie about 2 poodles who fell in love. I remember sitting in her living room so awestruck that someone I knew, someone in my family, had written a published, actual book! It was amazing to me and I said out loud, I want to do that! So in 2nd grade, I wrote a book called The Adventures of Sheba and Diamond, based on my dog and cat. I won a Young Author’s Award for that book. I was presented with a book of poems and short stories with an inscription from my principal encouraging me to continue writing. I felt validated. I knew I could become a writer.

Somewhere along the way of growing up, getting sidetracked by religion, sowing my wild oats, and creating a family, I lost my focus for writing. Well, I should rephrase that to lost my focus for writing for me. I’ve written plenty for various jobs: articles, presentations, press releases, marketing materials. But my writing took a long pause. Even my journaling was shelved for late nights breastfeeding, researching newer healthier meal ideas, and eventually Netflix and Facebook. In the process of becoming an adult, a wife and a mother, my creative vision got blurry and I lost my passion. It got buried under all of my obligations, expectations of myself and stereotypes I bought into. “A responsible adult gets a job, works hard, remains loyal to a company, and retires after 40 years.” “A dedicated wife and mother puts everyone’s needs before her own so she can make a happy home for her family.”

Pah-leeze! Its 2016! My heart believed all along that writing was my calling. But my head needed a new narrative. “I create the life I want.” “I am responsible for my own happiness.” “If mama ain’t happy, nobody is!” Like so many other women, I have to learn to stop sacrificing myself like some martyr and take care of me. That includes feeding my passion. So here I am, finding my way back to my passion.

So, what’s your passion? What have you drifted away from that has never left your heart? Tell me in the comments!


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Why I Posed Nude

I am a mom. What that means is that 3 different times, I was poked and prodded by strangers in my most intimate parts. Three different times at the end of each pregnancy I had more strokes of creation added to my hips and stomach. And three different times, my breast got pulled down further and further. Suffice it to say that after 3 pregnancies, my body has gone through some pretty intense changes. (Not to mention the weight gain.) When you become a mom, it’s pretty standard for the world and us to look at our bodies as “disgusting” because they do not reflect society’s definition of beautiful. Magazine cover after magazine cover displays thin, Caucasian women, as well as TV and Hollywood. For the most part if I want to see someone who looks like me, I have to purchase a specialty magazine, either one directed at Black women, or a plus-sized issue. So its pretty easy to get sucked into believing that my current body should be covered up at all times. “Nobody wants to see that!” And I make a conscious effort not to criticize my body in front of my daughter because the last thing I need is for her to inherit my body issues. So when I saw a facebook post recruiting women to pose nude in Cleveland as an art action against the Republican National Convention, I thought, I need to do this! What better way to show myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of, than to disrobe in front of strangers for a photograph that will forever be etched in history?

Initially though, I was drawn to the message of the art installation. For Everything She Says Means Everything, artist Spencer Tunick, who says his wife came up with the copy for the website, describes the piece this way:

“The photograph involved 100 nude women holding large mirror discs, reflecting the knowledge and wisdom of progressive women and the concept of “Mother Nature” into and onto the convention center, cityscape and horizon of Cleveland. The philosophy of the artwork relates to the idea of the sacred feminine. By holding mirrors, we hope to suggest that women are a reflection and embodiment of nature, the sun, the sky and the land. We want to express the belief that we will rely upon the strength, intuition and wisdom of progressive and enlightened women to find our place in nature and to regain the balance within it. The mirrors communicate that we are a reflection of ourselves, each other, and of, the world that surrounds us. The woman becomes the future and the future becomes the woman.

The experience of the individual posing in a mass group nude art installation is as varied as the body types that exist within the works. Everyone has their own experience and story that they bring to the moment and the story and interactivity is always a subtext of the work at large. Spencer’s art provides a unique opportunity for artists and non-artists alike to take part in the creation of a contemporary work of installation/performance art and to become the medium itself. The way in which the participants take part in this collective artwork has a transformational effect both on the individual and the collective.”

I read that and thought about my own experience as a woman and how I rarely give myself the credit I deserve, as a creator of life, as an intelligent being, as a force of nature. The things my body has shown me its capable of is something to be celebrated! My contribution to the arts, my community, my family, my womanhood, my blackness, this world should never be diminished, by myself or anyone. Women all through history have sacrificed themselves and their bodies for the betterment of others. The saying, “behind every great man, is a great woman” didn’t come from nothing. We are the epitome of strength. We are the catalyst for growth, change, and a higher society. Women are Everything!!!

So why is it that whenever a woman is raped, the narrative becomes about what she did to deserve it? Why is it still a fact that women don’t earn as much as men for doing the same exact job? Why is it women continue to be punished for taking time off work to raise children? Why is it that only men are allowed to determine who and when we  take our clothes off? Why is it men who decide what we can do with our bodies regarding our access to birth control and decisions about whether we should bring a life into being or not?

As a collective, we MUST recognize our power. We must stand up for each other and stop judging and tearing each other down. The best part about being in a field with 130 naked women was the solidarity we had. There were people who were bigger and smaller and darker and lighter and taller and shorter and hairier and smoother and none of it mattered. What mattered was in our rawest, purest form, we were all women in spirit and in force and we sent that message and that positive energy out into the universe. Did you hear it?


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Creative Blue Balls

blue-ballsHow do I know when it’s time for a blog post? I get restless and irritable. I feel pain on my insides. Like my soul hurts. It’s been 4 months since my last post and that is unacceptable. After being ignored for too long, my creative mind throws a temper tantrum and gives me the silent treatment. I torture myself further by reading everything I can about making time for your passion, choosing creativity over fear, living your best life, bla, bla, bla. Anything to avoid writing, which is in fact my passion. I have yet to understand how I can love something and hate it at the same time. When I don’t write, I experience creative blue balls. I feel tightly wound and the pressure of my creativity builds and builds, desperate to get out, to give birth to my thoughts, opinions and stories. I realize the process of writing requires foreplay. I must nurture myself, and feel loved. I have to feel safe and protected and cherished. I have to woo the words out of myself. And once I get myself to the place of a completed piece, I feel a release, a high, a sense of contentment, a creative orgasm.  Ahhhhh!

I’m such a cliché. When I went back to work, I told myself, “you have to keep writing! You have to make time!” And some small part of me believed I could. But what happened, is what always happens. I got caught up in my every day routines, monotony, minutia, leaving no time for myself or my passion. It’s almost as if subconsciously I created busy work in order to avoid that which scares me, which is, what would happen if I gave my writing the attention and devotion it requires and deserves? What if I actually found happiness there?

I recently discovered (with the help of my therapist and a really good friend) that I thrive in chaos. So I invent it, then manage it in order to feel successful. This is why I constantly struggle, between doing what I need to do and doing what I want to do. But perhaps I have to stop experiencing my writing as a want and instead as a need. Writing is not a luxury, something to do in my spare time, when the stars are aligned and the kids are safely asleep and there are no dishes in the sink. Writing is a necessity for me, as evidenced by this dull ache I have when I don’t honor my creative spirit. Just expressing it now, I feel better already.


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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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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.


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Twelve Years of Marriage

There is something to being in the club of “the marrieds.”

I fell into the trap. You know the one where society tells young women that they must find a husband and be married by the age of 30, or risk forever being branded an old maid. I mean, once you’re out of college and enter the workforce, if you don’t already have a significant other, it seemingly becomes harder and harder to naturally meet someone. For me, my partner would either come from the bars and clubs, coworkers or mutual friends. Internet dating had not yet hit its stride and was still somewhat of a novelty.

I remember being in such a hurry to get married. We had lived together for 2 years and I felt like, why am I still auditioning? I should already have the part! (Because subconsciously I knew the clock was ticking until my 30th birthday.) And J’s attitude was, what’s the rush? I’m not going anywhere. I’m all in. Why do we need the pomp and circumstance? (That is not the only time I wish I had listened to him.) And it’s not that I would’ve made a different decision about marrying him. But I would’ve taken some time to find out what it meant to me to be a wife and what being a wife meant to him. We had the boyfriend/girlfriend thing down. But being married was more of a challenge. Years 1 & 2 were us trying to navigate the transition from 2 individuals becoming a united entity, and neither of us knew how to do that. So we hit some bumps. Then when we thought we had it figured out (although we didn’t,) we decided to start a family. I was reluctant, despite wanting to be a mother my whole life, only because I took it so seriously. I didn’t give being married much thought because I assumed once you found the person you were supposed to be with, everything would magically fall into place. All you need is love! J convinced me to start our family by saying both of our parents were getting older and he really wanted them to see and know their grandchildren. I couldn’t argue with that. So I threw myself into an intensive 13-month parent training. By the time Xander was born, I felt pretty prepared to be his mother. And its safe to say that the next 9 years of marriage that includes 2 more kids, 2 deceased grandfathers and a dog have been a blur. J’s father passed away 2 weeks before our first son was born and my dad passed 1 week before our second son arrived.

There are so many articles and books about how women can have “it all.” (Ironically, none about how the family can have it all, so much responsibility put on the woman-or that we assume.) Of course I’ve been too busy to read them anyway. I realized I did all my preparation on how to be a parent and barely any training on how to be a wife, let alone a wife raising children. Hence the reason I started this blog. I am on a quest to discover how these roles can best work together: wife, mother, individual.

In this day and age of 72-day marriages, 12 years is a long time. But its really all about perspective. If you’re miserable, then 12 years is forever. If you’re happy, 12 years is but a day. My parents were married 41 years, my husband’s parents 28. You don’t get to 20, 30, 40 years of marriage without some ups & downs. Some marriages are better than others, just as some kids are better behaved than others, some houses are nicer than others or some jobs pay more than others. And no one ever really knows what goes on in a marriage except the 2 people in it. The one thing I know about myself is I’m a long haul type of person. I want to be that couple holding hands and comparing  memories of our 40 years together.

Traditional 12th anniversary materials are silk and linen, representing luxury and comfort. While we definitely are not living in the lap of luxury, there is comfort in knowing someone else is in this life with me. Someone else has chosen me. It is a luxury to share responsibility of parenting. There is comfort in knowing someone has my back. It is a luxury now to be able to say to him “remember how we felt when so and so was born, or when we decided to…” Those shared memories and experiences, that commitment to be here day in, day out, this love that is real and complicated and fun and hard and luxurious and comfortable, this is what marriage means to me.

So, on this day, through:

12 years of Marriage
11 hairstyles
10 cars
9 years of parenting
8 weddings attended
7 funerals of family members
6 job transitions
5 family vacations
4 hospitalizations
3 amazing kids
2 places called Home
1 new dog
and countless “I’m sorrys” and “I love you’s,” I say thank you for asking me to be your wife 12 years ago, for giving me the best 3 gifts of my life, and being my partner in crime. Happy Anniversary Honey!wpid-20150613_211125.jpg


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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.