Mother, have a seat…

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workflexibility.org

Dear mom,

For the last few years, I have been focused on parenting. I am a new parent, I’m a Capricorn, and I’m selfish – what can I say? I was in my own world, nesting, and trying to find my new normal. Needless to say, I wanted to be a hermit and really hoped the world would allow me an introvert’s reprieve to get my bearings straight. Welp, I’m sorry. I apologize. I repent. Maybe all my praying and wishing brought upon us “the ‘rona.” I know, I’m blessed and highly favored. So, maybe my words went straight to God’s ear and now we all are getting our third eye poked.

I mean, this can’t only be for my benefit. I have to believe that Mother Earth also wants a break. I mean, we’ve ignored Al Gore since 2006. Did we think Greta Thunberg traveled without back up? And it has been a solid half a decade since I first asked you to have a seat. I mean, over my lifetime, I asked you to have a stadium full of seats. And, you – unlike God – don’t always listen to me. You just recently started staying in the house one day a week and that, in fact, took years. But, alas, here I am thinking you’d listen to the CDC and the WHO, and whoever else is scaring Americans these days. But, nah…

I text you this week and you tell me that you are at Staples. Staples? F8CKING easy button… Staples? Like, delivers within 5-7 business days, only has office supplies and a cavity-inducing check out counter, basic everyday a&$ STAPLES!  Yes, my mother, is in there… looking for something they’re probably sold out of and that probably is fully in stock at a corner-man bodega or our neighborhood Walgreens. And, through the phone, I gave you this face…

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Credit: Getty Images – Getty of Greta Thunberg

So, this got me to thinking. Who else does God want to sit down? Clearly, me. And God and I agree wholeheartedly on that. For sure, China… like all of it. And clearly, also, you! But, why won’t you (and so many Baby Boomer/ Generation X cuspers) smell what the Rock is cooking? Remember all those expressions I heard come out of your mouth over the years: fast a$&, hard-headed, never satisfied, rushing to get to a red light, busy body, etc.? When I talked to you, they all came to mind.  I said came to mind, not my mouth (or fingertips). But, I’ve resorted to public shaming, because I realize I am not alone in my quest to get my parents to stop playing games. When news reports say that ‘VIDY affects older people – they are talking about you! Sit down… watch Netflix (and chill, if you must)… but please stay out of Staples.

Those of us who considered ourselves parents, employees, dog-lovers just a month ago, now are re-considering ourselves as children. In just a few weeks’ time, we’ve become the adult children of grown-ass kids who are super defiant and intent on telling us what they’re NOT going to do. It’s like adult teenagers were let loose on the world and they have their own roofs and their own money, so us kids can’t ground them.  They don’t realize we want what’s best for them. They think we’re being silly and over-reacting. After all, they think they can take care of themselves and all of the warnings can’t possibly be for them. They don’t realize that we are legit scared that they could end up a statistic. And, most of all, they don’t think they’re old…

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In spirit, mom, I’m with you. You’re not old. You can’t let fear win. If it’s your time, it’s your time. But, do we need to go tempting fate all up and through a friggin’ office supply store?

Do me a solid and extend to me a courtesy I never extended to you – stay put. Sit still. Relax. Chill B.

And if I call you again and you’re out doing some mundane, boring, unnecessary thing that does in fact threaten your life (i.e. going out to buy anything that can be delivered) there will be some furniture moving (when I get back to America).

Don’t make no sense…

XO,

Your big baby.

Everything is wet

When new parents ask for advice – which they seldom ever do – I offer that they should expect and accept that for the first few months, everything is wet. They look at me like, wtf is she talking about? And then they have a kid and get it in their heads to breastfeed and woah… then the WhatsApp messages commence! There are just so many liquids. Viscous. Oily. Watery. Dripping. Soaking. Clear. Milky. Yellowish. Red is the bad kind. I mean, and there’s the process of identifying the source, is it #1 or #2? Are you wet or did something (or someone) make you wet? How long will it take to dry? Do you have to put it in the washer OR will fresh air do the trick? Seriously. I never got so acquainted with the sensation of feeling wet as in those post-partum months, but it is a good lesson for parenthood.

I am no expert, but neither was Ali Wong or Jessica Grouse until the sh!t got real. And things got real for me when I had to call a lactation consultant a day after my son was born, because frankly, my boobs weren’t getting wet enough! And then I learned about nipple guards and skin-to-skin and La Leche League. All of which made it their primary focus to get my body to give this stranger, who had been kicking me from the inside, all the liquids he needed to live. And once they worked their magic, everything was wet. I was leaking. Bottles spilled. I cried when I spilled bottles of pumped milk (liquid gold!) all over the kitchen floor. He peed more. I was wet. He was wet. And we really didn’t take enough baths and showers to warrant how wet we were. But, somehow being wet was a sign that we were doing something right – maybe a lot of somethings. Parenting is really effing counterintuitive like that. The rules of adulting that you’ve been learning since you were a teenager go out the window when you become an adult newly responsible for a child.

For example, screaming is bad right? No. Actually, it means your kid is breathing. And if they’re screaming, it’s better than their silence, which could be an indication that they aren’t breathing or just deeply engrossed in coloring themselves red with a fresh new stick of “Lady Danger.” So, screaming is good. Screaming is very good.

Likewise, crying is also very good. You will cry. The baby will cry. There will be tears. And tears are good. You’re hydrated and signaling to the world that you need help – you probably need sleep, the baby maybe just needs a diaper change. And crying is your bodies’ way of ensuring that you both get that help, in spite of yourselves. Someone will hear you – a grandparent, a friend, someone who has a propensity to pick up a crying parent (I mean baby) and pitch in. Either way, liquids are our lizard brain’s way of saying things are working, maybe not smoothly, but they are working.

There’s no science behind any of this. But two years of field experience has shown that if things are dry, sh!t is going downhill. There’s too much powdered formula and no one has added the water to make the bottles. Dry hands have dirt, peanut butter, and unknown “outside” residue on them. Wet hands, my friend, are freshly washed. Frequently wet diapers are not nearly as scary as ones that have been dry for too long. And if you haven’t cried yet, new parent, trust me… you will…

So get used to all this backward thinking, because being a parent is like a really wet game of opposites. Go with the flow.

2019 where have you been all my life?

I look back on this year, and it’s hard to take stock of everything that’s happened. I moved my family from Angola to South Africa, worked with an amazing local team there, was mentored by peers and superiors worth their weight in gold, had a healthy natural birth, graduated with a doctorate degree, published a slew of articles, elevated my business, and fell in love with my family. On the other side of the coin, I have struggled with a toxic workplace and being on the receiving end of discrimination, individual and institutional. My body and my mind are still adjusting to being a mom of 2 very young kids. My spirit is learning what it really means to overcome and re-define priorities. To say this year has been a rollercoaster would be a gross oversimplification, but I’ve been tasked with figuring out why – on earth – it has been this hard. And I’ve come up with a few thoughts…

Being a working mother is hard. No matter how progressive your partner, being a working mother is exceptionally hard. I had no maternity leave, so I cobbled together vacation and sick leave for about 8 weeks to deal with birth, a breast abscess, and now chronic tailbone pain. I never recovered from birth. I have never been able to fully connect with my child, without the threat of work – its admin, financial and substantive demands – looming just hours or footsteps away. I underestimated how much my superiors would push me to overwork and be over-responsive, to “make up” for the time I wasn’t in their office OR to insinuate that I need to re-prove my ability to lead. It’s been punishingly unfair, but so many people – working moms included – feel the need to pass on the hazing they received. Mistreating and being mistreated this way is normalized and worn like a badge of honor. I work in a historically male-dominated field that waxes poetic about being female and family-friendly, but they really imagine families headed by men. I found that out after I had kids…

All change (even good change) is stressful. While ever my constant companion, change is starting to get on my nerves.With new dependents, routine makes life manageable. Change comes in and craps on the plans. All the plans. Every plan. It is hard to have so many variables in your life. Even when things change for “the better,” there are a gang of unknowns that can drive you mad. When we moved to South Africa, for example, we lived in an extended stay hotel. Lovely, you might say. It was a huge adjustment to have to live out of suitcases for months, when we had a perfectly set up home in Angola. The adjusting to having Uber and room service, functional internet and potable tap water – well that wasn’t so bad. But having to change childcare providers 4 times in 4 months, less so. On balance, constant change was no easy thing.

I expect a lot from myself. Much has been written about Black women’s strength and our work ethic, our tendency to outpace our peers in educational attainment but to be perpetually underpaid and underpromoted. While I can certainly think of a few who genuinely don’t deserve to move up, generally I think the tropes are true. I, for one, expect a lot of myself. Nothing I do is mediocre if my name is on it. No amount of bait & switches can change that. I’m not exactly a perfectionist, but I have high standards. And that – I’m realizing – is both something that I need to adjust (given my new priorities) and that others don’t share. I will always be my worst critic, my biggest competition, my own coach. I’m learning to have more empathy for myself, rather than pressuring myself to persevere through adversity.  Working hard, despite obstacles, is not the only option. Some adversity is just abuse, and you don’t go through it – you go around it or rise above it.

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2020 will, no doubt, be equally as full of adventure and new challenges, but 2019 takes the cake for its frenetic pace, its defining moments, and life-changing lessons. It has been professionally hard, but personally rewarding. I am learning that when you know what really matters, you also know what doesn’t matter at all. And in 2020, I hope to be less reticent to commit restorative energy to everything and everyone that truly matter. I feel strongly that this year was a break out year, the one where I put my stake in the ground and was required to become the woman I want to be for the rest of my life. Next year, I can’t wait to introduce her to you all.

 

 

Money < Culture

I have been struggling with consumer intersectionality lately. Maybe struggling is a bit dramatic, but I have endeavored to de-compartmentalize and live a more cohesive, singular life. This means that these days, being a mom and a professional needs to feel less like 2 sides of the same coin and more like the whole value of the currency itself. A union I’ve been pondering seriously these days, post-Nipsey Hussle, is how to bring together my values on money and culture into a succinct spending pattern. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a finance geek, who is also well-read on things culture and feminism. As of late, I’ve tried to merge those passions in the way I choose to allocate my buying power. I’ve read a bit on the BDS movement in Angela Y. Davis’ recent book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” and for years I’ve been head over heels for Courtney Carver’s 333 minimalism and I’m a believer in knowing the entrepreneur who supplies whatever sliver of consumerism makes it out of your wallet and into your home. But what does that really look like in lived experience?

 

Honestly, it’s exhausting. I spend a great deal of time googling not just prices, but companies, before actually making a purchase. And, while I’m still a slave to amazon.com, they’ve seen a lot less of my business lately than in years past. Every holiday season there’s a new “shopping list” out of Black, women, trans, transcendent vendors out there, but considering I rarely spend money on traditional gifts I usually have long forgotten about these lists by the time I’m ready to buy. And, to be frank, every company has some problem. I was excited to buy Girl Scout cookies only to have them arrive and realize that the bulk of my stock was made with artificial colors and flavors. I recently bought a (great quality) bag from R. Riveter, and felt awesome about what it does to economically empower women, then I thought a layer deeper on all that supporting the military could mean. Then, there’s buying Black. I am a proponent of buying from small and minority businesses, but I have found that many are not as eco-friendly as I would prefer. For example, I love True Detergent (I know, I’m on a military roll here). They have removed the caustic chemicals from the liquid (YAY!), but what to do about all these plastic bottles (have you heard about the plastic whale)? And after all, I did buy a Sodastream to minimize plastic bottle consumption involved in my carbonated water habit, but that goes full circle back to the BDS movement’s recent calls for a boycott. I could go on…

Maybe my concern with intersectionality is just my most recent awakening to recognizing the challenges that a global economy brings. Products, like people, are a collection of many experiences. Nothing is as singular as it appears in an online store. Even your “African” clothing vendor gets their Indonesian-styled fabrics from Vlisco in the Netherlands, which has been living that neo-colonial life since been since. I say this to say, we are global creatures made local by choice and imagination. The products we create and the ones we consume reflect that reality. How can we live in the modern world and survive with our morals (perhaps competing ones) in tact? Here’s my strategy:

1- Save money. Buy less: I figure, if I buy less, I’ll have the time and the money to make smarter (though fewer) purchases. I’m trying to de-clutter my whole life – not just by Marie Kondo-style trashing the joyless items taking up valuable mental space, but by choosing to accumulate less with each passing day. After all, if I have to check the ownership structure, the eco-impact, and the “about us” page for every purchase, it’s highly likely that I’ll just give up before I even get to the till (British speak for the check out counter).

2- Make sure it’s healthy: Always search the Environmental Working Group to ensure that what I expose myself and my family to actually merits use. There are so many financial and health ramifications to each dollar we spend, the least we could do is know that before we buy. And, I always feel like I win double brownie points if I can go healthy AND zerowaste. It ain’t easy, but once I figure out what works well, it’s easy to replicate (or buy again).

3- Buy in bulk, if it makes sense: Expiration date and binge shopping not withstanding, I have gotten very good at buying in bulk to reduce waste. The easiest tends to be cleaning and household goods, so I’ve become a lover (and repeat customer) at bulkapothecary.com . From lavender to olive oil, and castile soap by the gallons, I haven’t been disappointed.

4- Check those niche holiday lists all year-long: Even for the smallest of purchases, I go back to lists from madamenoire.com & blackenterprise.com (among others) to see which new vendors are out there and which ones have been de-bunked. Below see a list of what I’ve been tracking lately, you know, in case you’ve got some holiday, birthday, household needs built into your budget:

5- Expect to get it wrong: If the VW emissions scandal has taught us nothing, it should be that well-meaning consumers also get duped. We can control very little outside of our own intentions, so even with the best of research and positive vibes, our money may land in the hands of tricksters telling us what we want to hear.

 

$h!t my son likes…

It is legend in Black families that Sunday mornings are cleaning days. There is an entire soundtrack to these days. There’s Blues and R&B, smooth jazz and more blues. As I recall, there was a lot of WBLS and Dave Koz in my house. Obviously, as we grew up, we listened to more hip hop and rap, which just killed the vibe because my parents didn’t start agreeing to listen to that until the likes of contemporary hip pop artist like Drake and DJ Khaled emerged. Now that I have a family of my own, I’m trying to establish traditions that make my third culture kids feel grounded in something, even if we pack up the ritual and transport it around the world every few years. So, Sunday music mornings it is…

Screen_Shot_2018_08_30_at_12.22.36_PM.pngMy kid is a ‘Little Baby Bum‘ addict, which means we live our lives in musical interludes of Baa Baa Black Sheep and Johnny Johnny’s lies. So, we know he likes music, but what does he like aside from London lullabies? I am on a quest to find out…

Last week, we tried a Bob Marley medley and he lasted about 2 songs before tuning out. Today, I tried to go a bit edgier and it was a bigger success. This was the playlist of what he managed to like…

Emile Sande – Hurts

Lenny Kravitz – American woman

Lenny Kravitz – Fly Away

OutKast – Hey Ya!

Stevie Wonder – All I Do

… before demanding that I read “Not Norman” by Kelly Bennett, which – oddly enough – is available on screen here:

So, with each passing weekend, I’m learning more and more that my kid is becoming a technology and animal aficionado, who needs to hear soul and trap music at frequent intervals.

 

Silence is a Choice

Social media is consuming – entertaining, absorbing, hypnotic, addicting. I have had my fair share of it lately. I often wake up to check Facebook and fall asleep on Instagram. Very little of the content is uplifting and it forces us, particularly disadvantaged and tortured communities, to relive our pain lest we forget. Though forgetting, itself, is a form of self-care, I understand the impulse to rehash, review, share, like, and proliferate opinions, injustices, happenings, and heartbreaks. But, I would be dishonest with you if I didn’t admit that I am feeling compelled to offer myself a detox. I should be able to take a break from it all, just as easily as I took a break from writing here and as easily as I did a silent meditation retreat in 2017. But, I’ve found it harder than expected to truly unplug.

See, social media allows me to stay connected with so many friends and family that I would – frankly – never talk to without social media as an aggregator. Some call it a skill, this contact building and maintenance that I do. I have learned that, with a toddler in tow and a demanding expat life to attend to, perhaps staying in touch is more time and emotionally consuming than it is worth. Further, there is so much waste in between connections – the ads, the videos, the stuff I didn’t come for. And even with my online presence at its peak, it is only months later that I realize that some of my online “friends” have passed away or have given birth… what to make of this kind of pseudo-cyber friendship?

In addition, I must admit that in spite of my job as a professional newswatcher, I really struggle to absorb news shared outside of my own social media networks. I used to scour the BBC News (because, really, I can tolerate it much better than CNN – can’t you?) and I’d devour an Economist, even if was months out of date. Now, I’m tired beyond line 5 on a screen and I’m satisfied with not having learned the facts. Some of this is about trust. I trust my circle to tell me what I need to know – not just interesting and screwed up facts about the world. I mean, the relevant stuff, like when am I going to get paid next and where to donate to help Jazmine Barnes’ family bury her. But everything between the important stuff is leaving behind emotional residue. And I need a serious rinse.

I’m not sure what moderation looks like anymore, but I do know what an overdose feels like.  Is it possible to produce content and not consume it? Can I post here and on FB and on Insta AND not read anything from anyone else? Or do I have to choose one and let the others go? Does WhatsApp count? What is responsible use? Is withdrawing “fair” to my “friends”? What exactly does a social media detox look like for a media manager? I have no idea, but over this year I will find out. While I try to disengage from consumption, I’ll hope you’ll bear with me as I shake off the cobwebs of writing for an unknown public. In the process of finding balance, I hope this experience will bring us all a little closer.

Happy 2019!

 

 

…i think i remember

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Kidspot.com.au – http://bit.ly/2o4qFP0

I was a candy striper for all of 5 hours. And… i think i remember becoming a feminist, a naturalist, and a home birther that very day.

My mother got it into her head that it would be great for me to volunteer at a local hospital. She got many such ideas. I was in a girls’ summer science & tech camp. I spent many a weekend in a bowling league. She’s got quite the imagination. In any case, this candy striper business was all her idea. I didn’t even know what the term meant (I wore my regular clothes) or what they’d have me doing, but if you’ve ever met my mother you’ll know that I didn’t have a choice.

It’s the morning. This hospital is on the Portuguese and Puerto Rican side of town. I’m assigned to the maternity ward. There were just a few names on the white board. Next to them were times and the names of prescription drugs. For example, 4:15am Petocin. Let’s just say, it was 9:00am.

 

I sat at the desk with a quiet nurse for a while and I accompanied her on her next set of rounds. I only saw one patient. She was pregnant. I now know she was in labor. She was disoriented, in obvious pain and clearly drugged. She was alone in her room, save the nurse and me. She woke up to moan. The nurse did something for less than 30 seconds. And then we left her room. We left her alone. It was then that I remember thinking 1) this is my last day doing this candy striper crap. And then i think I remember thinking 2) I’m never delivering my baby in a hospital. Last, I recall knowing 3) no woman in her right mind would want this for herself.

I’m not sure if this was before or after the candy striper incident, but i think I remember watching my very first reality tv show, Brandy’s “Special Delivery.” I watched then with the save avid intensity as I currently watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop every city in America, so on and so forth. This is to say, I was addicted. I distinctly remember watching Brandy cry as she toured hospital maternity wards, saying how she too didn’t want to have her baby in a hospital. (Though, she ultimately did. And we later found out that she totally lied to all of us about being married! So, I blame her for the beginning of fake reality television…alas…) I remember being disappointed that even the most famous, wealthy, positive, female, Black icon of my generation (Don’t you dare contest me: see Moesha, Thea and ‘the Boy is Mine‘ music video as proof) didn’t find a way out of a hospital birth that she didn’t want. This was just the rich & famous version of the woman I left writhing in drugged up pain in a lonely labor room in New Jersey.

I think I remember shortly thereafter deciding that I would be unapologetic about NOT delivering my baby in a hospital. And I think that might have been my first declaration of feminism. It was the beginning of setting boundaries on my health and well-being that would mean that, in the future, my adult self simply couldn’t be trapped by modern medicine, conventional wisdom or popular belief to enter into a situation where I too would cry as I toured hospitals and imagined myself as that lonely woman trapped in pain purgatory.

I did tour a hospital. And I tried to do it Brandy’s way, but I refused to see the likes of Pitocin and I kept feeling that I’d be pressured to accept in the moment. Ultimately, my inner compass guided me swiftly away from the hospitals and doctors, who I feared would do to me just as I had done many years before – leave a scared, helpless woman to fend for herself against nature and her own body, with not so much as half a care to holding her hand, reassuring her, or letting her know that she was not, in fact, alone.

 

People now ask me how it is that I managed to have a home birth. And for a while I really didn’t know where the conviction came from. But looking back now, I think it’s because… i think i remember knowing from a very young age that women deserved better care and that children deserved to enter the world in a better way. So, really, I didn’t have a choice.