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.