Category Archives: Parenthood

Up In Arms

Talitha
Feeling Full of Life

I stay woke
Like for real
It’s 3am
And I can’t sleep
Because I feel my son
Kicking and swirling
Flipping and shifting
Readying himself for this world
And, fear has me wondering
If it’d be easier for him
If he was a girl.
If he wasn’t seen
As criminal before human
As violent,
As a threat,
As a suspect,
As a target
In Wal-mart,
As a nuisance
On the BART,
As a thug
In his ‘hood-ie,
As an animal
To choke,
As a disturbance
To silence,
As a reason
To provoke
His own murder,
As a weapon
To disarm
when his arms are up
In surrender.
I wonder,
While he’s cradled in my womb,
Unseen and unheard,
As it will be until he makes his presence known
By birth and simply living,
If it’s the safest place for him.

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Have a Seat at My Table

There are two older women cooking in my kitchen, and neither is my mother, grandmothwomanandchildcookinger, or close aunt. Considering the fact that for many southern American women such as myself, the kitchen is a sacred place where traditions are continued, future generations are pruned, and recipes are kept in furtive volts of the heart, to offer your haven to another without close supervision is both an honor and sort of a ritualistic trust exercise.  Though reluctant to pass the baton initially, I welcome this reprieve now with raised feet, a much more swollen baby belly, and a newfound confidence in the current keepers of the holy grail that is my book of recipes.

It’s been one week since our new home assistant, (“helper,” Foreign Domestic Worker) started, and I’m already living a completely different life. We’re on week two of training. (Of course my OCD forced me to develop a training and work schedule complete with tentative meal plans, emergency task lists, and duties outlined by the hour, day, week, and month. A bit much?) She spent this last week helping me reorganize my kitchen after we found a termite infestation (insert gag reflex) in one of the cabinets, (one of the many oversights of our previous assistant), and learning the tasks outlined in the training manual.

Today, she is enhancing her Western culinary skills by studying under the tutelage of another FDW who’s employed by friends of ours. I did not even waste the time, energy, and money to “invest” in my previous assistant in this way because the capacity just wasn’t there. To fully understand the contrast between the two, you’ll have to revisit the past eight months.

The Process of Getting Help

We hired *Joylyn after a debacle with *Mae (see “The Help(er) Part III” from Sept. 2013).  After a stream of crazy interviews that usually ended in tears and sob stories that bordered on deplorable and outlandish, we finally decided to hire Mae. Before we could even begin the process of completing the paperwork, she sent us a barely coherent text message stating, to the best of our understanding, that her employer wouldn’t release her from her contract.

Mae worked for a traditional Chinese family that employed very rigid restraints and practices; some of which included rationing her food portions, forcing her to sleep on the kitchen floor, and only allowing her to have one day off a month. This was just one of many sorrowful tales we were told as we interviewed dozens of women looking for an escape from their despots. Some spoke of abuse and compelled me to cry myself; others made me think they were vying for an Emmy for their role on “As the Teardrop Falls.”   Mae appeared more honest and less of a whimpering damsel who could cry on cue. We thought we were freeing her in a sense by offering her a much more amiable position that would bring her closer to her sister who lives just a few floors up as an employee of friends of ours.

So, when we got the text and realized she was unwilling to fight for her right to be transferred, we became a bit desperate. *Joylyn was one of two final interviewees, and was only selected because the one we preferred was in a similar predicament as Mae. We didn’t want a repeat repeal.

Please, Have a Seat

Her first night, she came to us one late stormy evening, hauling her life’s belongings in a single, bulging, weathered suitcase up the concrete flight of stairs leading to our condo building, instead of taking the elevator that would place her at our door step. I opened the door to her bright smile, as damp, limp, wiry hair clung itself to her forehead and cheeks like a fitted veil.

IMG3147-LJoylyn was twice the height of my two-year-old by a wayward hair, and probably no wider.  After first offering to sit on our floor, she timidly agreed to sit at our dining room table to discuss the employment contract and duties. My husband was out of the country, so it was just she and I, equally nervous, trying to grasp and make an ample first impression.   I made mine and broke the ice by pouring us both a glass of white wine; an unusual gesture that had a lasting effect.

Day 1

She was awake before we were, waiting for instruction. That was a good sign. I gave her a brief tour of our home and explained the morning tasks again. She mentioned in the interview that she was familiar with cooking and could follow recipes, so I was eager to see what she could do in that area. I needed someone to at least serve as an assistant chef when I didn’t have time to make dinner or when I needed help with preparation. Having worked for a Chinese family for four years, and a British family for only six weeks, she claimed to be well-versed in Asian cooking and somewhat comfortable with Western dishes as well. To our dismay, we soon found this to be one of the greatest misleading fabrications since hearing, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” As kind as she is, Joylyn could hardly pour water, let alone boil it to make anything when she first arrived.

Whole_No.15_Chicken__96994_zoomThe first and last meal she prepared for us without guidance was steamed chicken and rice. The chicken was dry, chewy, and unseasoned, and it still looked raw in color. The rice, well the white rice (we eat brown or black rice), was perfect in texture, though bland. We soon learned that making rice in a rice cooker was her only specialty, and really, the only thing she liked to eat aside from chicken feet and fish heads.

She also claimed to be experienced with young children, but we found that this experience actually hindered her.  The original family she worked for used her in the capacity of a full-time nanny for their infant daughter until she was four-years-old. By nanny, I mean full-time servant. According to Joylyn, the child was not encouraged to do anything for herself and the parents were not involved in her care. Joylyn shared a room with her, fed, bathed, clothed, and obeyed (yes, obeyed) her every request. She was constantly appeasing her and acquiescing to every command from the pampered toddler. This type of servile behavior did not bode well with any of us, especially the kibibi, whom we’ve taught to be more independent and respectful.

Joylyn was constantly trying to appeal to our daughter. Sometimes against my instruction, she’d offer her certain sweet treats or allow her to speak to her in a manner that I did not tolerate or excuse. I’ve seen this type of behavior with other children and their assistants, and I’ve always winced at it. I actually had to intervene once when a young boy of about seven years, screamed at and struck his assistant repeatedly because she said it was time to leave the playground. This type of occurrence is not uncommon. It’s just something we cannot allow in our home.

I remember once, when the three of us took one of our first trips to the library, I left Joylyn and Lil’ Bit to charportrait_ivyread in a corner while I sifted through bookshelves to find at least one or two books with characters that reflected our family. After weeks of explaining to Joylyn that she must be firm with Lil’ Bit and uphold the boundaries we’ve set, she finally tried flirting with the word “no” to a request for pretzels.  By this time, my little one knew how to play the fiddle, and the request turned into a command. I didn’t witness it, but I was told by both, that when another “no” was uttered, my sweet, angelic, cherub morphed into a tiny torturous tyrant and snatched the pretzels before smacking Joylyn with them and stating through gritted teeth, “You don’t tell me no!”

Well, let’s just say, my child lost every bit of her precious mind in that moment and I, in turn, had to match crazy with berserk right there in the children’s corner of the public library in front of an audience of docile Asian women and children, grasping their books and dropping their jaws in awe. Nothing like that ever happened again, but I was constantly intervening to assert some discipline when Joylyn failed to assert herself. It confused my child, as it would any child. She hasn’t mastered giving respect even when it’s not expected or worse yet, when it’s rejected.

Joylyn’s deficiencies began to outweigh her usefulness over time, and my patience an2954269188_Bad_Cook_answer_4_xlarged tolerance began waning increasingly once I became pregnant. Simple blunders like going to the market to get “Cheerios” and instead retrieving “Oh’s,” or “Corn Flakes” instead of “Corn Pops,” began to gnaw at my nerves; especially considering I’d write down the exact name, brand, and its location in the store, and I’d text her an exact picture of the item I needed. I also noticed Lil’ Bit became less enthused to do things when Joylyn was involved and would ask for “Mommy and me moments” more often when Joylyn was near.  My husband was growing more annoyed by her adaptations to my recipes or alterations to meals I’d already prepared that she simply needed to heat and serve.

As much as we enjoyed her colorful stories about her Filipino upbringing, or her current events about what was happening in the Philippines or in the park on Sundays, we were not entertained at all by the fact that we were paying for services that just weren’t being provided. I was still handling a great deal of the domestic work and missing time with my daughter because of it. I found myself more frustrated with her presence than relieved by it. Because, as employers, we are completely responsible for the salary, food, shelter, medical care, insurance, dental care, and overall well-being of our employee, Joylyn became more of a burden than a blessing.  It was time to make some moves.

To Be Continued….

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Blue Ivy & the Hairistocracy

Blue Ivy and the Hairistocracy

Everyone, hide your eyes! Blue Ivy has once again had the nerve to leave the house and not care about what we think about her hair!! And, her weave-wearing, designer handbag toting, “FlapicCouncilBrownPaper-BagTeswless” mama is to blame and should be forever condemned to the seventh layer of Hair Hell! Gather your banners of judgment and arrows of shame and aim them directly at those “matted,” “nappy,” “linty,” “unkept,” baby locs to remind her that she, regardless of her (parents’) fame and fortune, is not permitted the freedom of wearing her hair unless it is coiffed to societal liking and passes the road to assimilation paper bag test. I mean standard of beauty.

I didn’t think it was worthy of discussion initially, but after seeing my own daughter shine most brilliantly when she is free to make choices regarding her apparel and appearance, I thought more about baby Blue and why her “disheveled” appearance was causing such uproar.  I really had to wonder and research why we, mostly middle-class black Americans, care so much about a toddler’s hair. And, the reasons given were quite telling. 

“It’s not about the texture. It just appears uncombed.”- The Appearance Patrol

I think the real issue here is that we, regular everyday people, care more about perception than the affluent ever have to or the impoverished ever care to do. This has been generational, out of survival and as a strategy to try and impress others for our own praise or advancement, (Massalittle-girl-with-natural-hair, Boss, other people in positions of power in our lives regardless of color, our community, etc.). We, collectively, clutched our pearls out of embarrassment, judgment, & disgust with the audacity of even a child to have the freedom to have IDGAF hair. Doesn’t she know the world is watching? How dare she embarrass (black) mothers everywhere and let her daughter wear her gravity-defying hair without any attempt to straddle and tame it? Blue can’t do what other children can. I’ve heard some say, to my disgust, with a matter-of-factness sharp as cheddar,”It’s a shame she got that nappy hair. It’s a waste of light skin.” Can we agree, we still have issues?

1511681_10203963778644606_5173442313471575513_nWhat’s the difference in the children pictured? They all have wild, IDGAF hairstyles going on here. Yet, they aren’t all critiqued in the same manner. Why aren’t they all {insert every epithet hurled at little girls with coarse kinky hair}? If it’s not about texture, then why didn’t anyone address Halle’s child’s hair, which also looks like she “woke up like this?”

Regardless of who the parent is, who are any of us to judge a child’s appearance strictly based on appearance? I’m not defending the celebrities on trial as much as I’m defending every little (especially black) girl’s right to be unrestricted by her hair. We see non-black celebrity children ALL the time with frizzy, unkempt hair, and we say it’s adorable and whimsical. The only reason ANY of us style (not take care of) our hair however we choose is because of the pressure of society to care about image. It shapes many of our choices.

The celebrity mother in question here has chosen to invest in her image to appeal to the masses and it has reaped her millions. (She would not be on the level she is had she not, & that’s a sad fact. Just compare her status to the natural, and darker-hued entertainers.) That is her personal choice. I, for one, am glad she has not imposed this choice on her child.

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“I don’t have a problem as long as the child’s hair grooming matches the mother’s because she doesn’t have a choice at this age.”   – The High Court of Parental Judgment 

I do have concern with parents who do consistently and selfishly put their superficial wants before the care of their child, which I’ve seen across classes, but I don’t think that’s the issue here. If Blue had what the hairistocracy has deemed “good hair,” I don’t think there would be a word uttered.

I actually felt this sentiment before I had a daughter, especially one that came here expressive and free-thinking. I also cared so much about the perception of others at one point that it paralyzed me to a degree. I wouldn’t go out unless my hair was laid! That was crippling and definitely added to my insecurity.

I realized this began in childhood. We were always shoe-shine sharp whenever we left the house. I was warned not to play too hard because I would mess up my hair, and it would “go back.” All of this carried over into young adulthood. I’m so glad I’m free from that now.

I don’t want my kibibi to go through that at all. On days when I don’t care about the impression we make (truth statement here), I let her decide how she wants to wear her hair. Sometimes, she wants three barrettes, sometimes a head full, sometimes it looks like pictured because she did it herself. Her hair isGabby-Douglas-Medal always healthy even when “it looks a mess.” Why isn’t Blue Ivy’s hair given that benefit of the doubt?

I’ll certainly teach my daughter to take pride in herself and take care of her body, which will inevitably display itself in her appearance. But, I don’t want her so focused on what other people think she looks like, rather than how she feels about herself. Our girls have it hard enough without our judgment of their hair. (I remember cringing about the attack on Gabrielle Douglas too.)

It doesn’t matter if MY grooming of MY hair matches MY daughter’s hair on any particular day. She is an individual, not my accessory. She is also not my reflection in the sense that she has to mirror all of my actions and choices. She only reflects the lessons I instill in her. She has no need or desire to impress anyone at this age, (what a freedom), and her ckahlil-gibran-on-childrenare is never in question by her parents (the people who actually care for her.) The only people that should have an expressed negative opinion about a child’s hair are the people caring for the child and the child her/himself. (Interestingly enough, many of the negative opinions I’ve heard and seen are from people who don’t even have children, let alone young daughters.) Every other negative opinion is only self-serving.

How many of us groom ourselves to impress people we either don’t know, don’t like, or who don’t care? We were trained to care about appearances, and many of us are crippled by image. Let our children be free from superficial societal standards as long as possible. Why does Blue, or any other child, need to impress YOU? What can you do for Blue?LACEFRONT-BABY-WIGS

I wonder if we would prefer seeing children adorned in the same hair styles as their mothers.  Would we be satisfied if little girls rocked weaves or short sassy coifs to “match” their mothers?

 

“It’s about the health and care of her hair, not its appearance. It looks dirty.”                                                   – The Genuinely Concerned Black Hair Police

I’m not sure why it’s assumed that this look means no care was put into their hair. We have absolutely no idea what the state of health of this child’s hair is. We have no window into the daily care of any child, regardless of the media’s invasion of this particular family, so her care cannot be assessed. I also don’t know why it’s assumed that the child doesn’t have a choice at this age. I can’t SPEAK for the other parents pictured here, but my daughter is allowed the freedom of choice when it comes to her hair on most days. It’s my way of teaching her that she has control and ownership of her own body, to the extent of her understanding. It’s the same reason I’m waiting until she asks to get her ears pierced.

The truth is when I don’t care about the impression her hair will make regarding my parenting and her appearance, I let her rock out the way she wants. At this age, that really is the only reason people style their children’s hair. Styling and caring for are two completely different things. No one’s really concerned about the health of any of these babies’ hair. We’re concerned about the appearance. If Blue had two barrettes holding her hair into two puffs, the care of her hair would be no different. No one can tell what the care of her hair is based on the few pictures the media decides we see. We are just offended that she doesn’t try to impress others every time she steps in public, as we were taught to do ourselves.

My daughter’s hair is always clean and cared for, & sometimes we still leave the house looking as pictured; just like we did that day. And, I happened to not match her hair grooming. Both of us were happy, still beautiful, & had healthy hair on our heads. She felt empowered by her choice to wear her hair the way she wanted, and we were not at all phased by what strangers may have thought. Freedom.

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