Don’t Stand in Front of the Microwave

This morning, like many, I woke thinking about the many nuggets of wisdom I still need to share with my kids. I find that if I’m not consciously thinking about this, I can look up and a whole year will have passed before I remember something I should have taught them a long time ago. It’s usually the little, sometimes silly, things like how to put on socks properly so that the grey area around the toe is in front, or how to floss properly (teeth, not the dance). But sometimes, it’s the bigger stuff like what to do if a stranger knows their names or why they should be cautious of some police.

The “heavy” stuff makes me procrastinate–I want to delay sharing anything that could lead to bursting their bubble of nonstop joy. When I first started teaching my youngest our phone number, for example, I created a song out of it to make it easier to remember (I do know how to do some things right). It led to more questions. “Mommy, why do I need to know your phone number when you’re always with me and when you’re not, I’m with an adult you trust?” he asked. Then, he continued, “Will I ever be separated from you?” The fun song shifted to five-year old, eyebrow-frowning concern. He continued, “Is someone going to take me away from you?” Bam! Joy bubble bursts. A little bit of his innocence melts away. My heart saddens as I’m literally watching my baby mature.

But I do feel horrible when I’ve overlooked something important to teach them. Fortunately, I inevitably get reminded when I hear another mom tell her kids something. It goes like this: my neighbor tells her kid not to stand in front of the microwave. I make a mental note: talk to my kids about why they shouldn’t stand in front of the microwave. Then I make another mental note: get rid of the microwave because, well, it’s just not the healthiest way to heat things up. Then all the mental notes get shelved and I wonder, isn’t the microwave thing just a myth? Final note: research microwave safety before I teach my kids something that’s simply not true.

Not only do I often forget to share important tidbits with my children and I am perplexed by the notion of what, when and how much to share, I wonder, is what I’m teaching them even true? And, if it is true for me, will it be true for them too? Am I telling them what something should be instead of allowing them to define it, or learn it, for themselves? Will my “truths” be theirs? Am I totally messing all of this up?

This Mommy-ing thing is exhausting and the truth is, being a parent is a weird dichotomy–protect and teach children and yet let them fail and learn on their own. Um, which is it?

Until I figure that out concretely, I’m going to keep focusing on protecting and teaching as best I can. I’m sure to overlook something and that will be their opportunity to fail or learn on their own. So, here are my latest nuggets of wisdom to share with my kids:

  • You are not perfect which is why you are enough: That thing that you don’t like about yourself is possibly one of the things that makes you very special. In time, if you learn to love that thing, it will help create a source of pride and give you a certain self-confidence that isn’t easy to harness. Being different is good and this notion of wanting something you don’t already have, getting something that’s “better,” is baloney. “Better” is a mental construct that can lead us down wrong paths and everything but our best selves.
  • Set boundaries: Be cautious of people who don’t have any boundaries, who don’t know the line in the sand around friendship, around love, around communication, around using technology, around how to dress and more. Boundaries are needed, from an early age in life, and that doesn’t stop as you age. To that point, if someone crosses a boundary, accept that this is a character trait that will create challenges. Understand what that might mean and make decisions with that knowledge.
  • Find your calm: Nature has a way of soothing and resetting things for me in a way that can’t be properly articulated or replicated. It is the way I reconnect with my faith and gain perspective—there’s nothing like looking up to the vast sky and being reminded of just how small and insignificant things are in the grand scheme of things. Figure out what brings you calm and helps re-center your perspective because life will do everything to distract you.
  • Learn about yourself and be honest with yourself about what you learn: Do you get easily addicted to things? Do you have a great sense of direction? Are your instincts strong about certain things? Do people gravitate towards you for any reason? If you figure these things out about yourself, own them and use them to serve you better throughout life. These nuances of who you are, make you who you are and it is a gift to know and accept these things so that you can use them wisely.
  • Communicating well is underrated: Communication is an anchor in life and yet few people consciously examine their own communication habits, styles, preferences, etc. We almost take it for granted and grow up assuming that everyone knows how to communicate, more or less. But that more or less is everything and not everyone can communicate effectively. Don’t be that person that assumes you’re being clear, or listening and responding appropriately–be self-aware about your communication style and to the previous point, own it.

 

The Private School Diversity Struggle

**Note: I’m defining diversity in terms of ethnic diversity unless otherwise stated.**

I am the product of a predominately white private school in Atlanta, The Westminster Schools. I was one of two Black girls, maybe three for a few years, in our grade from sixth until graduation.

In middle school, I remember sitting in a religious studies class when the teacher referenced the South side of town, the Black side of town, as a horrible area full of violence. I lived on the South side and I knew well-educated people living in nice neighborhoods. They were teachers, doctors, business owners, and lawyers and had homes with tennis courts and swimming pools; even the mayor lived down the street. Despite this, I felt shame and singled out as I was the only one that lived in that part of town in the class.

I remember stressing about a big, annual, Sadie Hawkins school dance that was always held at the Whites-only private member club. It meant having to ask a (White) boy to the dance and going to a historically racist facility where the only faces that looked like mine would be in service positions, probably looking at me like I was crazy. I was conflicted, trying to fit in and wanting to go to the dance, but also hating that it was even being held at this club in the first place. I was alone in having that concern.

I recall a lot from those days but unfortunately, I don’t often think about a favorite teacher or experience. I remember counting down the days until graduation. I remember the many instances of feeling bad or angry because I was in the minority and most of my peers were clueless about what that meant and how it impacted me each day.

Yet, now as a parent, my kids attend a private school where they are often one of two or three in a grade. I know, I know. What am I thinking? I evaluate this decision often but for a host of reasons that I’ll save for another post, I am back in a private school community repeating experiences from over 25 years ago.

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It’s no wonder that not much has changed, really. The very foundation of private school as an institution is rooted in racism. These institutions were created after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling because White families did not want to send their children to school with minorities. That’s a heavy historical fact that most families in private school don’t know but it is the subtext to what Black students in private school experience each day.

How to Prepare Kids: When Life Happens

(Written several weeks ago)

Life happens folks. And it’s happening bigtime for me these days. And by happening, I don’t mean in a good, fun way. I mean the tough stuff. The stuff that challenges everything you know to be true. The stuff that tests your faith and piles up conflicting emotions like a Jenga tower waiting to tumble. The stuff you can’t do much about and yet you have to deal with each day. The things that happen to a lot of us, at some point. Thoroughly confused? I thought so. My cryptic and vague wording is by choice–I believe in sharing but I also believe in not oversharing and being more specific doesn’t lend to making my point. For the record, I am fine. I’m basically just trying to say, life just got more challenging and that’s what happens sometimes. Life can be hard and then sometimes it gets even harder.

As an adult, I’ve been through enough to know how to plow through, keep the faith, trust the universe, learn from it all, and focus on what I can control. But it’s made me wonder–how can I prepare my children to cope? Having key coping skills is an obvious necessity in life but we very rarely talk about it in specific terms with children. Heck, it’s not always clear even for adults. Learning to cope is part of the journey of life and it often evolves right alongside it. That said, this has to be one of the most important parenting responsibilities aside from keeping them alive and healthy.  The ability to cope not only has significant mental health implications but also, it’s what can make or break a happy and productive life because, as we all know, life happens. What can I arm my kids with now? How do I prepare my children for the inevitable times when life happens?

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As parents, we shield our children from pain and failure but often these things are the best ways children learn to successfully cope. But to what degree do we let our child fail or experience pain? How do we know when they’ve really learned? Every kid is different so figuring this out varies by family. But one thing parents can do immediately is to talk with their children about feelings from an early age. Help children learn the right words for what they are experiencing and then intentionally talk about how best to cope, what that can look like, what has worked and what has not. Helping our children become emotionally aware and learning to vocalize feelings is a great first step.

Your Mama Is An Outsider

It finally hit me. I am an outsider. I’ve felt different more times than I care to count but until recently I’ve not given it much thought or embraced the notion of being an outsider.

When I was born, my older twin siblings didn’t want much to do with me as they had each other. I tried desperately to make them play with me but mostly, I was left to play by myself.

What I Hide on Social Media

I have a fabulous life. No really, I do. I have two amazing children, a loving husband and family, good friends, and many interests. I get to travel to amazing places, meet amazing people, and do amazing things. Mostly, I get to raise my children and revel in the routine of going outside to play with our neighbors, shuttle from activity to activity, volunteer at school, manage our home and cook dinner. I get to do these things and so much more. It is nonstop work but it is a blessing. If you’re not convinced of just how blessed I am, check my social media feed. It’s a reflection of my life and proof positive that everything is wonderful. Or is it?

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This is me….way too much.

A few weeks ago I posted a short video of my son enjoying some grape jam at breakfast, a picture of my friend’s “Sexy Lips” necklace and a reference to one of my favorite poems, Desiderata, in honor of national poetry month. In weeks past I’ve posted pictures of date nights, spring break, sporting events and more. See? Wonderful, right?

The Things We Tell Our Children

Last school year my daughter, Gigi, came home distraught one afternoon—she had her first misunderstanding with a good friend. It was drama filled and in her young mind, she didn’t think they would ever be friends again. She didn’t have perspective, just hurt feelings and sadness. Like most young children, all was better within a day or so. Gigi worked things out with her friend and that began our journey teaching Friendship 101.

After a recent disagreement with a neighborhood friend, I paused while giving Gigi my normal advice. “Friends go through things from time to time,” I told her. “If you care enough about the friendship, you will find a way to work it out. All you have to do is try to communicate as best you can and that goes both ways. You have to listen as well and it will all work out.” And that’s when I heard myself.

How Bruno Mars Helped Me Become a Better Parent

Last night my daughter and I went to the Bruno Mars concert in Los Angeles–it was everything! That young man is truly talented and reminds me so much of Michael Jackson around the time he moonwalked during the Motown 25th televised show. Bruno performs with the same intensity and passion. Aside from having great music, a good voice with range, and backup dancers and singers that take you back to the boy-band era, Bruno Mars feels the music and makes people enjoy it in a way that’s truly special, like mid-career Michael Jackson.

 

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Bruno Mars XXIV Karat Magic Los Angeles Concert, November 2017

It’s probably important to note that Michael Jackson was my childhood idol. From “Blame it on the Boogie” and “Everybody” to “Lovely One” and “Beat It,” I knew almost every lyric, to every song, after first discovering him through the Off the Wall album (his best album, period). The childhood nostalgia came flooding back to me last night as Michael was my first concert and here I was with my daughter, at her first concert. It was incredibly special.

Naturally today, we are paying for it. My daughter was up and out last night much later than I’d anticipated and both of us are slower than normal. But it was worth it and a tremendous reminder to me to bend the rules occasionally and just enjoy my kids. And not just through big firsts like last night, but each day. Chucking the responsibility of managing the family schedule and making sure everyone does what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it, is necessary from time to time. I’m so happy I overlooked my daughter’s bedtime and initial concerns that the content would be inappropriate (an aside, there was a lot of cursing but if you’ve heard the album, you know as much and my kids have indeed heard the album. Judge me if you want but they now know which words they can use, and which they can’t). I’m glad that I let her have this fun experience. It’s one she (and I) will cherish for the rest of our lives.