Friday, August 18, 2017

Mama Llama, Playground Drama

*This is a long, personal venting post. But please read anyway.*

Last Sunday a familiar scene unfolded at the playground: my daughter was playing and some kid tried to get her to relinquish some object so that s/he could play. And each time I am caught in a dilemma--do I tell the kid to scram or do I teach my daughter to play nice?

The short answer is that it depends on the circumstances. In some cases when my daughter takes a toy from another child, I intervene to encourage her to either return the item or to share. In other cases when toys are taken from my daughter, I might let her retrieve the toy or I redirect her to another item. I do this because it is my nature to avoid conflict, and based on my observations of playground behavior by not just the other children, but also the parents. Let me share a few scenarios to better illustrate my point:
  • The Toddlersaurus sees the see saw. Other children are playing, and she jumps on, which makes sense because the very nature of playing on a see saw is playing with other children. But then some kid begins to complain that she needs to move out of the way. This is a common occurrence for us, and was essentially the scenario on Sunday, except her older cousin was there, so we shall revisit this a little later. *
  • The playground where we go once a week is kind of a graveyard for discarded toys, which means there is always a tricycle, wagon, or other push/pull toy of some kind that the children can all play with. There are always new toys each week and it is hard to say when the old ones are finally trashed (or by whom). There is no particular rhyme or reason for which toy she will obsess over, but invariably, it will be the same toy that some other kid wants and I typically have to step in to play King Solomon. 
  • On those rare occasions when the toys are all gone, the kids are left with the stationary playground equipment such as the sliding board, the aforementioned see saw, and a climbing station. On several occasions, my daughter has been told by another child that she must vacate use because "we were here first" or "we don't want to play with you."
  • Not at the playground, but maybe in some other generic play space or area with other children, my daughter often attempts to play with other children and is routinely rebuffed. As in some child either goes crying to his/her nanny or some child will act as a physical barrier to prevent my daughter from joining the group.

I used to think that I was being over-sensitive until the Hub witnessed the third scenario, and this past weekend when my Niece witnessed scenario first. And before you pose a series of obvious questions, let me interject with a quick story about how my daughter's front tooth got chipped at a public splash area. She was playing with another girl who was about a year older, and who was there with her mother and older brothers. Somehow, this kid ends up swinging a plastic racket and pops my kid in the mouth...

Thus, after the trauma of that splash park experience, I determined that certain play spaces were "safer" for my daughter. My definition of safe is to have her play in places where there is less of a likelihood that she will be physically harmed because: (a) it is a contained playground; (b) where I can see everyone; and (c) that has plenty of adult supervision per child. We have not ventured back to a public splash park yet for primarily those reasons. However, I wonder if I should just be less risk averse instead of nursing my feelings after each one of these micro-aggressive experiences.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Last Rebel Yells

This piece evolved from an initial intent to post an article on the FB page featuring the faces of the "Unite the Right" protestors from Charlottesville. When the article and my commentary failed to post on my FB page (very unusual), I began writing the piece below in response, also in reflection from having attended my family reunion in Fredericksburg, VA. Here is part of what I wrote:
Unfortunately, the article I tried to post yesterday with the photo of the Unite the Right protestors did not post, nor did my message. But today, after all of the chaos, terror, destruction, and the unfortunate deaths, I have another opportunity to express my utter despair at what happened in Charlottesville yesterday.
As all of that nonsense was going on, I was in Fredericksburg for my family reunion. As a child, we would travel to "the country", at least once a year the second weekend in August to reunite those family members who had remained in Fredericksburg with those who had migrated to DC and Philadelphia. I hadn't been to one of these events since my grandmother passed away more than 20 years ago, for a variety of reasons I may share later. On the drive down I-95, we passed an enormous confederate flag that has been erected just past Quantico and right before Warrenton, VA.
So, just over an hour's drive away from the Nation's Capitol, the confederacy has resurrected itself on the side of a major interstate. I saw it the last time I drove down to Fredericksburg for my Aunt's funeral last fall; this time I asked my niece to take a photo so that we could post it online. She didn't get the picture, and now that I have had a chance to digest what occurred yesterday, I believe it was the hand of God maneuvering things so that we would not continue to spread the hate that flag represents. Of course, my reason for wanting to post a picture was to highlight that very sentiment, but it doesn't need to be broadcast by me.
I don't know all of the details of what happened yesterday in Charlottesville because we were absorbed in our bubble of reacquainting ourselves with distant relatives. But I was reminded of the very powerful reason why my grandmother and her favorite cousin left the "county" for DC and Philly so many decades ago--they wanted a better life for their children. They understood the limitations of opportunity for black Southerners, so they joined that Great Migration as young women and later established branches of our family tree in northern communities like so many of their peers. I can only imagine that some incident or mindset, similar to what was on display in Charlottesville yesterday, is what spurred them to leave.
I posted it here because in the days since the protests, I have been reflecting a LOT about what this all means today in 2017. Not that I had no expectations that the backlash to the Obama era had begun and ended with the last election (because, sadly this is only the beginning of the counter-revolution), but it builds on a theme that I felt compelled to express a few weeks back on July 4th. I framed that piece about being woke enough to cautiously appreciate that holiday, but now I want to stake out an even bolder position--that our celebrations of this country serve to appreciate our evolution, and then to demand that we continue to strive towards becoming a more perfect union.

Because these grand American ideals are for everyone.

If your ancestors died to preserve ideals that did not expand rights or that were meant to exclude people, then that is a reason to mourn, not celebrate. Your pride is rooted in something that is the very antithesis of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the ideals of our Founders--not the Confederate generals whose cause you defend. When you choose to stand for racial segregation, gender inequality, religious intolerance, and any other form of systematic oppression, it betrays them and every person who has ever shed blood for this country.

And of course, as I was writing this piece, the Trumpet sounded off again...and so I'm convinced that whenever I think I've missed the window to respond to his nonsense, I just need to give him six hours to say or do something else outrageous.

Too much has happened to unpack everything in one piece. So here are some themes I hope to address as I continue to examine my counter position to MAGA--America is for all of us:
  1. We all hear your dog whistle, Mr. President, so no need trying to conceal it by deliberately changing the subject and getting angry. No more fake nuclear crises or hollow threats to fire members of your Cabinet.
  2. Ironic that no one thought to be this overt during the tenure of the first black President. The worst you could muster up against Obama were racist cartoons, but this angry white mob thing is really quite a step forward. Feel free to march through the hood on your way back to the suburbs.
  3. My Grandma Viola and her Cousin Ruth, and my other Grandmother Amanda and the many other thousands of black folks who migrated out of the South clearly understood why you march to preserve your old confederate monuments. And they aren't spinning in their graves over any of this because Barack Obama was the real shock...this backlash was to be expected.
  4. There is no slippery slope when it comes to venerating Founding Fathers and Confederate generals. While many people have issues with our slave-owning Framers, most of us can see the difference between honoring the first President of the United States and honoring the President of the Confederacy. They are not equals.
  5. Finally, thank you for leaving your bed sheets at home so that the world could really see your faces. Like many people, I was expecting to see more rowdies from the MAGA crowd because they are easier to ridicule. But color me shocked to see the IT guy at work, the guy who sells life insurance, the guy who manages the electronics store, and the kid's soccer coach. All clad in your Ralph Lauren polo shirts (he's a Jew, btw). 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Girl Trippin'

For the past couple of days on Facebook, I have been seeing the same video of a disgruntled movie-goer who saw the film Girls Trip. I won't be linking to her commentary because as far as I'm concerned, it has already gone viral and we ain't friends (and yes, I'm hating because I would like to go viral myself one day). Instead allow me to summarize her take on the movie:

In all honesty, I didn't get through the entire video because of my visceral reaction to her overuse of the word "female", but her chief complaint was the depiction of the characters as stereotypical. She is certainly entitled to her opinion, and most of the responses honed in on the issue of whether her criticisms were realistic.

I won't take issue with her opinion, nor will I offer up any substantive review of the movie. If you are in the mood for a laugh or a night out with your friends, then by all means go! See it, and be sure to pack a blanket, some snacks, and strategically hide a few adult beverages...which is exactly the complaint that one of my FB friends posted about her experience at the theater. Ironically, that was also my experience, perhaps proving yet another stereotype about going to see a black movie.

Can we agree that not every film will please everyone? Can we discard the notion that every black movie has to be "positive", which is code for respectable? Can we accept that some stereotypes are indeed true, and that isn't a reason to be ashamed on behalf of all black people? Can we just take a break from time to time?

I have gone on record before as a critic of black imagery in the media, and once believed that certain depictions were problematic. Then I realized that if we only limit ourselves to what is deemed positive, then all we have are biopics, historical dramas, and documentaries. We would miss the vibrancy and variety of seeing all of ourselves, and in turn, be limited to a rather narrow perspective of blackness, which then becomes its own stereotype. I mean, we all love Chadwick Boseman, but he can't portray everybody.

Let's get over ourselves and accept that most stereotypes are based on real life, and that comedy will always get a laugh by exploiting them. A whole lot of folks are hood rich. Some of y'all have gone to New Orleans/Las Vegas/New York/Jamaica and turnt ALL the way up. So many of us have a carefully curated public persona. All of us have family members that are beyond extra. You may have encountered a few stereotypes in your life: dumb blondes, loud Italians, sassy Latinas, sci-fi geeks, spoiled rich kids, annoying hoteps...or maybe you need to get out more.

There are plenty of other stereotypes to be wary of as well, such as the self-righteous killjoy. The sanctimonious church lady. The person who uses too many hashtags. The judgmental social media critic.

Not the Backup Singers

A few nights ago I fell asleep with the TV on cable news and I guess I heard some startling noise that awakened me in the middle of the night (accompanied by the reality that has been my post-pregnancy). After I stumbled back into bed but before I located the remote control, I learned that the source of the commotion was the vote tally for the "skinny" repeal of he Affordable Care Act. Senator John McCain had just voted against the bill, so the pundits and the Senate Gallery were all abuzz that he had single-handedly saved Obamacare. I found the remote, muted the set, and went back to sleep.

Of course when I woke up a few hours later, that was still the breaking news of the day. And as I was more fully awake, I learned that the bill had been defeated by three GOP defections, so McCain's 11th hour act of bravery had been preceded by the no votes of Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK). But it was McCain who was getting all of the credit.

I took note of that fact and as the pundits continued to analyze his "courageous" vote, I got mad. Busy Black Woman mad. The type of mad that led me to make myself late for my hair appointment to post this status update to my personal FB page and then this modified re-posted update to the BBW page. And I got madder still as I watched yet another panel of pundits applaud as if they had just watched a performance of Tony Orlando and Dawn.

Since I've already expressed my annoyance at all the praise, glory and honor heaped on McCain at the expense of Collins and Murkowski, I want to use the remainder of my time to celebrate how women have ascended to all areas of government--beyond being merely the gatekeepers to powerful men or just the fancy window dressing in the office. If our republic is meant to continue after the madness of Dumb Donald the Trumpet, then we will have the women who serve in all three branches to thank for that.

Being a woman in a man's world means being told to "dress like a woman". It means being judged by your looks instead of your intellect, and then having your intelligence treated like a liability instead of an asset. It means not getting invited to discuss business over drinks, at the golf course, or at the strip club. It means exclusion from participating in important negotiations, because the assumption that the men can represent your interests is taken as a given. It means having to demur during your Senate confirmation hearing because some fragile white guy got offended that you once referred to yourself as a "wise Latina". It means being treated like a high priced accessory. It means waiting your turn while watching the men get called to the front of the line. It means losing an election that you should have won, because had you been a man there is NO WAY IN HELL anyone sane would have reasoned that previously vetted duplicate emails from your AOL account that had already been vetted offered a plausible reason not to vote for you.

Nancy Pelosi. Sonia Sotomayor. Maxine Waters. Loretta Lynch. Sandra Day O'Connor. Susan Rice. Amanda Powers. Sarah Palin. Nikki Haley. Elaine Chao. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Condoleezza Rice. Elana Kagan. Michelle Bachmann. Sheila Jackson Lee. Tammy Duckworth. Christine Todd Whitman. Marcia Fudge. Elizabeth Dole. Jennifer Granholm. Kamala Harris. Mazie Hirono. Barbara Mikulski. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This platform doesn't have the capacity for me to continue posting names, so this sampling represents many of the women who have recently held the line in some memorable way. These women represent cracks in that proverbial glass ceiling that still exists. Political ideologies may differ, the pathways to reaching their individual peaks may have varied, but these women demonstrate that we can perform at the same level as our male counterparts. And succeed.

I could write about inequity and hypocrisy every day and twice on Sundays. However, there is no need to belabor what has already become an obvious point--it sometimes takes more than balls to avert certain disaster or to lessen the resulting damage. Not every voice requires bass to be heard (when a mic will do just fine ;)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

No Defense

It must have been the day after I wrote that piece about discussing sex that the latest R. Kelly scandal erupted. And for the next few days, I read commentary on Facebook and wow, if my only worries about sex education were just about menstruation and age-appropriate magazine articles...

I was initially encouraged by the number of opinions posted by men in condemnation of R. Kelly's behavior, so I'm betting that their daughters probably will not end up in a pop star's harem. One brother boldly declared that he would gladly go to jail if he had to confront the singer, to which he received plenty of Facebook high fives and amens.

So my issue is with the equal number of women who came to Kelly's defense. Now there were plenty of women who condemned his behavior and certainly there were men who didn't see "nuthin" wrong, but I have to take issue with the sisters, especially the one who challenged my comments regarding the support he was receiving. Her position represented the "fans" whose affection for Kelly date back to the time before he was branded a pedophile...and she went on to argue that she could separate the sin from the sinner and still enjoy his talents. And then she finished up with how other artists have done bad things too, and cited the examples of Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby.

Well Sistahgurl, maybe YOU can enjoy his music, go to his concerts and toss your panties on stage, whilst a barely legal woman is sitting backstage in an outfit he chose for her to wear, applauding his performance under the watchful eye of a bodyguard or roadie or lesser accomplice who might report back that her excitement was insufficient, which might very well earn her some kind of kinky punishment (I thought in response). Maybe his alleged behavior is only problematic to me, the mother of a toddler who at present is in no immediate danger of being seduced by his fame, fortune, or talent, but one day she might be given that by the time he's 70, she would be of age...

But I cannot.

I haven't enjoyed R. Kelly's music since his Mr. Big phase that involved a series of collaborations with Ronald Isley, Chante Moore, and Kelly Price. On the way to my first wedding ceremony in 2001, my friends and I sang along to the lyrics like a chorus of eager background singers. Ironically, this was before Kelly had been accused of urinating on a 13 year old girl, but well after his marriage and annulment to Aaliyah (which we knew about since college), who had died literally weeks beforehand in a plane crash.

I don't remember if we danced to R. Kelly music at my second wedding the following year, or if the playlist included Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, Usher, Ronald Isley, or any other artist accused of doing "bad things". But I got her point, that we often enjoy the talents of people whom we don't really know, which could make our fandom seem hypocritical if we judged them all as harshly. And to be honest, I can appreciate her dilemma as a fan, since I just acknowledged my current position on watching Bill Cosby and had a similar crisis of conscience years ago when Michael Jackson was accused a second time of molesting a young boy.

I won't explain how I resolved the MJ conflict, but I will say that the not-guilty verdict certainly helped. And unfortunately, so did his death eight years ago. I could offer many of the same arguments about baseless allegations and folks not actually witnessing anything untoward, and if you called me a hypocrite for choosing to remain an unapologetic fan of Jackson's, then you might be right.

So, instead of questioning anyone's values, I will just offer a few questions. How are we supposed to argue that our children deserve protection from predators if we don't protect them? How do we explain why that creepy old ass cousin who always says inappropriate things is still able to live in the basement of Big Mama's house? What do we tell our nieces when they go off to college and experience an unwanted sexual encounter with the star athlete? Do we encourage that talented cousin to seek out the support of a well-connected mentor like R. Kelly or Bill Cosby, and do we allow her to be "groomed" by either? When we see the cuts and bruises that cannot be masked by makeup on our girlfriend, do we suggest that she should just pray over the situation?

I could keep on asking questions. And perhaps there is reasonable answer for each one until we get to the uncomfortable truth.

I made up my mind about R. Kelly when the urination allegation occurred. To date, there has been no reason for me to reconsider that position, despite the fact that plenty of artists continue to work with him. I cannot speak for them, nor am I in a position to question their choices. So I am left with making my own choices, and I am capable of deciding for myself whether an artist deserves anything from me that I am under no obligation to give.

It is courtesy of this episode of The Boondocks and this speech delivered by Huey Freeman that I pose my last open question:

What the hell is wrong with you people?...You a fan of R. Kelly? You want to help R. Kelly? Then get some counseling for R. Kelly! Introduce him to some older women...hide his camcorder. But don't pretend like the man is a hero!

All Things Local

I imagine that there is/was a Jim Vance in most other major metropolitan areas--a local legendary newscaster known for his authenticity, humanity, and plain-speak. The cool guy who remained that way even as the years brought gray hair, fresher faces, and new technology; yet we continued to look for him because he was the guy we knew and trusted.

Among the various names that are synonymous with growing up in DC--Marion Barry, Donnie Simpson, and Chuck Brown, Jim Vance's name definitely comes to mind. Yet in a more subtle way since he was in the news business, so perhaps it would be more appropriate to name a few of his peers: Tony Kornheiser, Maury Povich (yep), Arch Campbell, Bruce Johnston, J.C. Heywood, Maureen Bunyan, Patrick Ellis, Candy Shannon, Pat Collins, Gordon Peterson, Susan Kidd, Courtland Milloy, Donna Britt, Kojo Nnamdi, Diane Rehm, Joe Madison, and Cathy Hughes.

If none of those names resonates for you, that's okay. You probably aren't from DC or maybe you haven't lived here long enough to know why those names are so significant.

Having grown up in a city that most of the rest of the country does not quite understand (which is a discussion for another time), I just want to remind you that we are a distinct place with a local culture. So your congressman who lives here three days a week and then rails about how hard it is to live in Washington? Nope, he doesn't actually live here. Neither do the folks who move into the White House, so as much as we loved Barack Obama, he only just started living here after his term ended.

Because if you grew up here in DC, or if you have lived in this area for any length of time (more than say, 10 years), then you know why everyone is mourning the death of Jim Vance this past weekend.

I am not an obituary writer and I never knew the man personally, so I could not begin to write anything eloquent enough to shed any light on why his impact was so great on this little city. But I can share an anecdote that might illustrate how he endeared himself to us over the years. It was about 20 years ago that Vance served as the Master of Ceremonies for a benefit concert for my Dad and brothers' high school alma mater. He was super cool and handled the task with aplomb. He strolled to the microphone and introduced the headliner, the incomparable Phyllis Hyman (another DC favorite) and could be seen clapping and dancing along with the rest of us during the show. He served as the MC for the next several years, and we looked forward to seeing him as much as the acts, so the year he didn't MC was the last year they held the benefit.

I can tell you that whenever we saw him outside of the job, maybe on the street or at a local function, he was exactly as normal and down-to-earth as he appeared on television. A little over a year ago we saw him at the inauguration of my alma mater's new president in Atlanta, and at some point he spotted my daughter engaged in some typical one-year old toddler behavior. He seemed quite tickled by her antics, and when we saw him again at the end of the program, he offered us that reassuring smile that all veteran parents give to newbies...too bad I was too frazzled and shy to ask him to pose for a photo with us because I KNOW he would have obliged.

I have read the various tributes and accolades and I am cognizant what his passing means to our community, to his colleagues, to his family and friends, and to his profession generally. In addition to sitting behind the anchor desk for as long as I can remember, he was the last man standing from his era as many of his colleagues and peers faded from the scene due to retirements, management changes, and sadly even death. The last time DC mourned a local newscaster like this it was George Michael, Vance's very good friend who passed away a few years ago. From my recollection, Vance offered up a rather stoic on-air tribute but I remember it being classic Vance--he understood the job that he had and the tone that he need to strike in order to do what must have been the unthinkable. It was well-known that Michael had saved both Jim Vance's life and his career back in the 80s.

Those well-documented personal struggles made him even more like us in ways that perhaps we are only now coming to appreciate. His issues were never airbrushed or spun to be anything other than what they were, which is why we regarded him like that favorite uncle who doled out pearls of wisdom while cracking on his wife, right before asking her to bring him a plate. Because we knew him like that, it was no surprise that his image was chosen for inclusion among the various local faces now immortalized on the mural outside of the historic Ben's Chili Bowl uptown. How did we not think of honoring him like that before now?

Thankfully, he got to see how much his city loved him last month at the dedication of the mural. And so we say goodbye to a pioneer of local broadcast journalism, always dapper, poignant, and an all-around cool dude. Be sure to say hello to a few others that have been missed around this way: Max Robinson, Melvin Lindsey, Glenn Brenner, Tim Russert, and of course your BFF George Michael. Godspeed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Facts of Life

A recent debate on FB has opened my eyes to an eventuality--my child will not remain a child forever. At some point, God willing, she will accept potty-training, then she will be arguing with me about what she wants to wear, then she will be telling me what to buy from the makeup counter, then she will want a phone, and by then I might just throw in the towel and let her raise herself (kidding). But you get my point.

And as I marvel at how quickly the time has already passed from her babyhood to toddlerhood, I also think back to my own childhood and marvel at the same rapid progression of time. If she could articulate it for herself, I imagine my Mom has those same feelings (and it makes me misty eyed to realize that).

One day I am going to have to talk to my daughter about sex. Until this past week, that was probably the absolute last thing I worried about since she is two years old. And you might be reading this and thinking: (a) umm, yeah; or (b) why make such a premature declaration given that she can't even say the right word for whatever she is depositing in her diaper?

It started with a debate over an article in a recent issue of Teen Vogue, but it was another unrelated conversation about menstrual cycles that caused this great awakening panic. As far off in the distance I assumed these developments might be, they are not. I have only about six years before I will need to deal with a pre-tween in my household, but that does not mean that I get to breathe easy as there is the matter of my seven year old Niece.

It was just this Spring when she and I got into a debate at the Target over bras and hipster panties. BRAS AND HIPSTER PANTIES AT THE AGE OF 7!!! Yet, I am the same Auntie that routinely bought her Niece two-piece swimsuits because I thought they were cute, so yeah, serves me right. We compromised, but you get where this is going. Not that long ago she was just a baby too. I am not ready.

But I need to be because if trends in the early onset of puberty hold true, there is a strong possibility that it will be an issue for us soon. And as much as I love my mother, her talk with me about menstrual cycles was, umm...terse. Luckily, there was sex education in school that filled in the blanks, but I was so ashamed of what was happening to me that I never even told her when I first got my period at 11 years old. I don't a repeat of that history for my girls.

And then there is the controversial article in Teen Vogue about anal sex. Opinions may differ about the appropriateness of it (and I haven't read enough of it yet to make a determination), but let's get real. By middle school, our children will no longer be those sweet-faced little innocents that enjoyed dolls and robots. They will have evolved and we will need to be woke. I am not suggesting that we give them porn, but I don't think that we should assume that saying nothing or shielding them will yield the desired results either. Remember those classmates who became teen parents?

Thus, I plan to be prepared. I will read this TV article and possibly collect a few issues to use for future reference materials. I will pull up the You Tube videos of old Cosby Show and Blossom episodes that dealt with menstrual cycles (both featuring my favorite Busy Black Mama, Claire Huxtable aka Phylicia Rashad). I will answer questions to the best of my ability. I will host sleepovers where we can watch marathons of age-appropriate sitcoms like Full House and That's So Raven. Heck, I might even bake cookies!

And right after I repeat the process for my daughter, they can witness how I handle menopause...