Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's Happening In 2009?

Marvin Gaye--please believe it. Not only was he incredibly beautiful and insanely talented (check him out in this YouTube video tickling the keys), his seminal album, "What's Going On?/What's Happening Brother?" was THE soundtrack of its time. Turns out it was also prophetic. He sings of mothers crying over their lost sons and husbands and brothers, and the war and joblessness and money being tight. "You know we've got to find a way to bring some lovin' here today."

True indeed.

Not that it's going to solve all of the craziness being caused by today's stressful economic times, but for sure, a little lovin' goes a long way, doesn't it? This is my prayer for each of you, that a little lovin' helps each of us through this mess--that in our embracing of one another, we find hope in one another.

My family is incredibly blessed, and while there's always room for improvement, we're not ones to really do the New Year's resolution thing. But we do have hope--hope that our country heals, that the best of us do everything in our power to help the least of us, and that each of us marches through 2009 a little smarter, a little stronger, a little wiser. A little happier.

We hope the same for you and yours.

Happy 2009.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

THE BIRTH OF THE COOL: Lessons On How To Be More Than The Class Clown


It’s around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, and my son Miles and I have to be at his elementary school in exactly 10 minutes—me to coordinate the weekly school-wide recycling program, him to serve as an officer in the environmental club his mother founded. I’m hustling. Miles is dragging his feet. As usual. And for the entire five-minute ride to the school, he is quiet, not offering up any conversation. All I’m getting is short, forced answers to my questions. And now I’m wondering if the kid is up to rounding up his team and sending them out to the classrooms to pick up the recycling bins. It’s a job my brilliant 10-year-old admittedly can do in his sleep. But still. I need him to snap out of it.

And then, we arrive and Miles sees his friends and, in a heartbeat, he morphs into an adolescent Jim Carrey on steroids. Every movement is animated. Every sentence is delivered with theatrical emphasis. The kid’s got a comedic timing that would make Chris Rock backslapping proud. Practically every one of his actions is meant to make his classmates laugh and play along; he is the ringleader, they fill out his captive audience. Now don’t get me wrong, the work gets done. Miles influences and motivates his peers by entertaining them, and the other children fall right in line and perform their respective tasks without fail and the project is completed on time every week.

So I guess I shouldn’t complain.

But I worry—worry that in the not-too-distant future, the kid will no longer be laughed with, but laughed at. You know, when, regardless of his brilliance, his classmates are unable or unwilling to listen to him unless there is a joke involved. Now this could lead to Miles being the next Dave Chappelle, sure. But I’m his father, and I get paid the big bucks to look at the bigger picture, and all I can see is my kid being dismissed as the goof bucket class clown.

Not good.

So I decide to sit down with my oldest son and have The Talk with him about how it’s all right to be funny, but now he’s got to learn how to be “cool.” It goes a little something like this: You really don’t want to be the class clown/that guy gets no respect unless he’s acting the fool/people only pay attention to him to see what he’ll do next/the moment he tries to convey a serious thought, he’s dismissed. With a quickness. “And then the new class clown comes along and the predecessor—that would be you—becomes a part of the audience, just another kid in class,” I say, leaning in for emphasis. “Next thing you know, you’re that kid, the one who sits at the table next to Hussein, the really smart guy. Just another kid.”

Now, the thing you should know about Miles is that he has no interest in being just another kid in the class. In fact, the mere thought of it nearly brings my son, who has enjoyed 10 glorious years basking in the center of attention, to tears. The look of horror on his face lets me know I have him exactly where I want him. But just to make sure he understands the words coming out of my mouth, I push the envelope just a little bit further. I’m his father. This is what I do.

“You do remember Georgia, don’t you?” I say, leaning in, reminding him of the daughter of a family friend who attended a dinner party we threw at the house a few weeks back. Georgia is sweet, smart, pretty, and very funny, but, unlike Miles, she doesn’t have to try as hard. At the tender age of 10, she manages to engage with electrifying conversation, and the humor comes naturally. Miles, not to be outdone, used all his best tricks to upstage Georgia, and they all fell flat. He did his dance moves. Told her about his position in the environmental club. Even tried a little Mandarin on her to seal the deal. But he just couldn’t steal the spotlight away from Georgia. She totally had center stage and there was nothing he could do but fall in line and cheer her on.

For Miles, this was a fate worst than death. Mediocrity.

I’d done my job.

Introducing “Cool Miles.”

(Please note: My goal was not to kill my son’s playful, entertaining spirit—no way! His infectious laughter and willingness to do whatever he can to make others laugh are the character traits that make Miles, well—Miles. But the boy needs to learn when to be funny and when to be cool without being predictable—to his own detriment.)

After weeks of intense training and study—okay, well, not really—the moment of truth arrived. We attended a Christmas party at my brother’s home in Atlanta. There were several other kids at the party and I could see Miles gearing up to lead the laugh parade. All I kept picturing in my mind was a gang of children running around my brother’s non-child-proof, multi-million dollar home, led by my kid, Miles. I immediately sprang into action, pulling Miles to the side and telling him that this should be a “cool” night, and this was an opportunity for him to lead the group in non-destructive play and activities.

The disappointment on his face was obvious. After all, what better setting to turn on the laugh machine? The absence of immediate adult supervision granted him the power as the oldest kid to have his comical way with the lot. Parents are off in another room, out of earshot of all those ridiculously gross jokes he couldn’t tell at school, and any crying that might be caused by the occasional neck slap.

But seeing the look on my face, remembering the past weeks of “cool” tutoring and, most of all, remembering Georgia, Miles agreed to play it cool for the night.

He was great! No leading the screaming kid parade. No piling on the little children to see who farts first. He conducted games that were fun and engaging. He coordinated the movie watching time, organized all the kids and ran the DVD player. He was still funny, but also constructive and authoritative.

On the ride home I asked him what he thought of the experience. He reluctantly admitted to having a great time as a leader and an entertainer, and was surprised that all the kids listened to him even when he was not joking around. “I like being cool,” he said simply.

I have to admit that as I negotiated the car through Christmas traffic, I was a little concerned: Had I taken it too far and changed my funny guy Miles into a starch, monotone kid?

The next morning, I awoke to a crashing sound coming from my 7-year-old’s room. I could hear laughing and there wasn’t any blood, so I wasn’t too worried. But I slowly made my way up the stairs anyway, and when I turned the corner to the doorway, I saw Miles sitting on Cole’s back, tickling him—trying to make him fart.

And instantly, all my concerns disappeared. He may be a little cooler these days, but Miles will always be Miles.

The boy can’t help it.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
A tireless advocate of land conservation, James Ezeilo is the Program Director of Greening Youth, LLC, an organization that helps develop greenways, preserve historic landmarks, and promote grassroots environmental advocacy throughout Georgia. The father of two is also effortlessly, beautifully, awesomely cool.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Oh, how I love Christmas--for the fellowship, the magic, the familial bonding. For the reminder of the miracle that brought us our Lord. Tonight, look toward the Heavens and thank God for sending us His son. Whisper it to your babies as you hold them tight. And remember that Jesus truly is the reason for the season.

I'm taking off a few days to celebrate my favorite holiday with my family and my incredible friends, but MyBrownBaby will return on Monday with a post that will do its best to make you think a little, giggle a little, and hold your children and loved ones just a little tighter--I'm sure of it. In the meantime, here's my gift to you: the insanely gifted and beautiful (with his fine chocolate self!) Brian McKnight, singing his new version of "The Christmas Song." And um, it's okay if you watch it two, three, four times. I sure did. Ha' mercy.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Most Wonderful Christmas Present

Every Monday, my little ladies sit at the table of one Kristie Horn, an instructor in the gifted program at a local public school here in Georgia. I sought her out last year when my Mari needed a little extra help in math; eventually, Kristie’s incredible instruction not only got my daughter’s ‘rithmatic up to speed, but helped her earn one of the highest standardized test math scores in her grade (that’s my baby!). And now, rather than tutor her, Kristie gives both Mari and Lila what we like to call math “enrichment”—the kind of instruction that will make my little girls beasts in a subject girls are traditionally steered away from. Kristie treats my daughters as if they are the most brilliant little children she’s ever met, and has become one of my closest confidants when it comes to the education of my daughters.

But this is only one reason why my family adores Kristie.

In addition to her kid-math prowess, she’s become quite a friend to our family; Kristie is a fantastic mother to her three beautiful children, a terrific wife to her husband—kind, intelligent, passionate, honest, and devoted to God first, and family a close second. And she’s always encouraging us to remember the importance of embracing all that’s sacred when it comes to raising up our little ones—invest heavily in their education, spend plenty of time with them, give them space to be kids, and love them with abandon.

To that end, Kristie gave us an incredibly meaningful gift this Christmas—one cleverly designed to bring our family closer together. It’s called “The Millner-Chiles Family Game,” and Kristie designed it all by herself. It’s a small vase simply decorated with ribbon, and filled with questions meant to inspire discussion between me, my husband, and our children. Some of the questions are introspective (“What makes a house a home?” “What does it mean to be honest?”), while some of the questions are meant to be revealing (“Name three things (besides people) that you wouldn’t want to live without,” “What would you like to be famous for?” “What is one thing about your family you would like to change?”). Others are just plain fun (“What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?” “What color makes you feel happy?”).

All of the questions are incredibly illuminating, and while we haven’t had the chance to play just yet, we’re looking forward to it, for sure. I mean, I really want to know what the 6-year-old has to say about our annoying habits, and what about our family the 9-year-old would like to change, and especially what the 16-year-old thinks is the best age to be. I can only imagine that all kinds of interesting conversation will be sparked—all kinds of insights will come to light. And we’ll feel more connected because of it.

And to think that this gift cost Kristie practically nothing; she put the questions in a cute little vase you can pick up at Michael’s for, like, $2, wrapped a pretty ribbon around it, and printed the questions out on heavy card stock.

But the benefits of her inexpensive but incredibly thoughtful gift are priceless.

Thank you, Kristie, for being such a blessing to this family. We love you madly.

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Monday, December 22, 2008



What the...wait a minute. Since when do doctors double as pigment police? Did my doctor just say what I think she just said?

At first, I thought it was the pain medication, an extra dose of laughing gas accidentally administered with the oxygen, something to that affect, because an educated medical professional criticizing my baby’s skin tone just doesn't happen, right?

Oh, but it did.

My C-section took place on a spring evening in 2006: after an uneventful pregnancy, 12 hours of labor and no progress being made by my daughter down into the birth canal, I was wheeled into the operating room, my anxious first-time-father spouse in tow. As he stood at my shoulder, squeezing my hand to give me strength, Dr. Bonehead (real name changed to protect the ignorant) began the incisions and offered her first dubious observation: "Why Mrs. Charles, you don't have much fat here at all!"

O...kay, maybe that was meant to be a back-handed compliment of some sort, since pregnant women can be insecure about overdoing the weight. I let that slide. But what Dr. Bonehead uttered right after my daughter appeared was almost enough to levitate me off the operating table: "Wow..." she mused, then there was a long pause. "She's really.....light-skinned."

Oh no... she...DIDN'T!

After hearing her lusty cry and my husband's sigh of relief that she was healthy, I watched as my beautiful, raven-haired newborn was swaddled and poised over my head in my line of blurry vision; as I kissed her before she was whisked away to the nursery, it took me awhile to process what I heard. I'm a Michelle Obama shade of chocolate brown, true enough, and my husband is lighter like Barack Obama. In the course of my full-term pregnancy, during the prenatal care visits, didn't this woman notice that my husband was a different hue than me and that maybe, just maybe, our baby would end up with a complexion that mirrored either one or the other? How could she, in all of her years on Earth and after probably a decade of medical training, not realize that African-Americans come in more than just a handful of shades? Aside from that, how was that an appropriate statement to make while performing surgery, for crying out loud?

Some would say that the important thing is that my daughter and I emerged healthy, and I do give her props for doing her job well. However, during pregnancy and especially childbirth, a physician should understand that a woman is at her most vulnerable and needs support, not unsolicited commentary. And honestly, would she have made such an off-color observation about a white woman's child, i.e., "Wow! That baby has some HUGE ears," or "Ooh, she's as white as a sheet"?

Probably not.

Did I report her? No---after all, I was engrossed in healing and taking care of my baby once I as discharged---but please believe that I would've chosen Dr. Pepper to deliver any future children before entrusting her with that honor again. I'm not naive enough to believe that racism or colorism is a thing of the past, but I never thought that I would be slapped in the face with such insensitivity in the midst of giving birth to my child.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Melody Charles, a freelance entertainment writer and married mother of two, is pregnant with her third child. She's sure that when this little one is born, her new doctor will know better than to say anything other than, "What a beautiful baby!"

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Yes, Mari and Lila—There Is A Santa Claus

This is how it’s gonna go down in the Millner/Chiles household from now on and forever more: Any kid who comes to my house talking about “There is no Santa Claus” will not be invited back until June, when nobody’s thinking about Christmas.

Nothing personal.

I just don’t need your kid ruining it for my kids.

On the real, my kids believe in Santa Claus—period. The red suit. The jolly laugh. The reindeer and the sleigh and the jingle bells and all of the reindeer—especially Rudolph. All of that.

And for this, I’m grateful. Because I’m a firm believer that children should be allowed to be children—that the magic and sanctity of being a kid should be respected and protected as long as humanly possible. In my house, letting my babies believe in Santa preserves that sanctity—helps them hold on to the magic of Christmas, and their childhood, just a little while longer.

Around this time of year, that magic sparkles. We’ve been making home made presents, eating festive cupcakes, and blasting Christmas music—classic offerings from Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Dianne Reeves, Will Downing, Tony Bennett, Faith, James Brown, and Stevie, and a bunch of new ones by Brian McKnight and Harry Connick. Last night, the girls were upstairs singing Donny Hathaway's “This Christmas” while they made “Santa Soup” on the play kitchen Santa brought them last year (the kitchen is the showpiece in their “restaurant,” which they lovingly christened “Lacey’s Grill.” No, I have no clue who in the world Lacey is.) Lila wore her blue tutu dress to the grand opening, and sang while she took my order. The “Santa Soup” was divine.

Seriously, can it get any better than that? They’re excited, you know? Bouncing around. Giddy. Because Santa is coming to town.

Here’s what’s also real in our household, though: My kids know that Jesus is the reason for the season. After they inspect their gifts from the big guy, we make breakfast together and, after Grace, we sing “Happy Birthday” to Him (the Stevie Wonder version, of course), and then remind each other how blessed we are to be surrounded by a beautiful, loving, close-knit family. That right there? That’s the true gift of Christmas—a gift that’s with us every single day of the year.

And Santa? He’s the icing on the cake for my babies—the cake that’s served only once a year, for one day.

Now, I’m not knocking the parents who tell their kids there is no Santa—what you do in your house, what you tell your kids is between you and yours. But please, before you send your kid to my place, have the talk with her—the one where you explain that people have the right to their beliefs, and that sometimes, those beliefs don’t necessarily jibe with everyone else’s, and so it’s best that maybe we keep the whole “Santa isn’t real” talk to ourselves.

Especially if you want to see Mari and Lila around the holidays.

Otherwise, they’ll send you a nice “we sure do miss you” note.

Speaking of notes, my ace, Melanie, over at Lucky Paperie, sent over the most adorable stationery for Lila and Mari, and some really beautiful note cards for their teachers’ Christmas gifts. Brava, Mel!

She’s also going to be sending two lucky MyBrownBaby readers—Stacey at The Blessed Nest, and Gina at Queen Rabbit's Realm, custom stationery the two won in last week’s Lucky Paperie giveaway. Congrats, my loves—I know Melanie is going to send you something breathtakingly beautiful.

AND, my girls over at ESSENCE are looking for super moms--African-American working mothers who manage to balance having a great career with their responsibilities to family. Want to share your secrets to success with the most well-read magazine for and about black women? Find out how here.

Until next week… * snaps fingers and hums “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”—the Jackson 5 version, of course *

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Now That's Love—Real Black Love

No less than five of my girlfriends sent me links yesterday to a New York Times story boasting a headline that made us all giddy: “Two-Parent Black Families Showing Gains.” It seems that the Census Bureau, in all its infinite bean counting, scratched up numbers showing that nearly 40% of black children in America now live with two parents, up from just 35% in 2004—a phenomenal gain, indeed. I swear, my girls and I were doing virtual high-fives over the piece; you would have thought it said, “Black Love Is Possible—Throw Your Ring Fingers In the Air And Say It Like You Really Care: ‘I’s Married Now!’”

For sure, these new numbers are a cause for celebration, no?

Well not so fast.

While the story lauded the stats as evidence of “an emerging black middle class,” it went on to use demographers to throw hella shade on the significance of the shift. Maybe, one said, the number increased because we’re including immigrants. They may not really be married—just shacking, another said. Well, yet another boasted, it might be higher now, but wait until the economy hits them in the wallet—those numbers will drop quicker than you can say, “I want a divorce.”

Well damn. They sure know how to slay a buzz.

It seemed that every crazy scenario they tossed up explained away the obvious one staring us in the face—that maybe, just maybe, there’s a remote possibility that black people are, oh, I dunno, actually falling in love, getting married, and raising their babies together. Is that at all possible?

I’m certain it is. I actually wrote about it not too long ago for, as my family celebrated my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the piece, I noted that I’m surrounded by loving, stable, married folks who live in wedded bliss (or pretty darn close to it).

But if you don’t spend a whole lot of time around a community of thriving, happy black couples, you wouldn’t necessarily know this, now would you? I guess if your introduction to the concept of black matrimony is through statistical surveys and news stories about the vast numbers of unmarried black women in single-parent families—if that’s all you know the black community to have—then it would be hard for you to conjure up images of newly black married couples out there, huh?

Blame the media (I don’t say this lightly, seeing as I am the media). Because all you ever see on TV and in the newspapers and magazines is a constant barrage of negative images of us—this constant message that the inner-city black experience is the common every day experience of all black folks. That this is the status quo—the default. That anything different from the image of black folks as poor/unmarried,/just-off-welfare/still on parole/under-educated scourges on society is, for sure, an anomaly, unless you’re talking about O.J., R. Kelly, Kobe Bryant, Bobby and Whitney, or *insert any other successful, dysfunctional black celebrity you can think of and their failed attempts at healthy relationships here.*

I can see how conjuring up images that fall outside the default is difficult for a lot of people, especially if all you have to go by is the aforementioned madness. With that as an image, it’s kinda hard to envision two happy and functioning black people finding each other and actually standing up in front of their aunties and cousins and mamas and them and saying, “I do.”

Dig it: In my world? The default is a happy marriage. Not taking anything away from my girls who are single or who are raising their beautiful babies all by their strong selves; I'm surrounded by sisters who are doing a fine job of raising their kids by themselves, and certainly making us married folk realize that there's more than one definition of "family." But I’m also surrounded by happily married black people. So it’s really easy for me to think of those new Census Bureau stats in a the-glass-is-half-full kinda way—to imagine that an increase in the numbers of children being raised in two-parent households means more black people are getting married. Or at least on their way to the altar.

Imagine that.

For the demographers who dismiss the numbers: Take a good hard look at the picture up top. That’s black love.

We ain’t perfect, my Nick and I. But we’re trying—toiling in the trenches, doing our best to make this thing work.

That’s love. It has no color. And your explanations are no good here.

Photo credit: Alison Rosa

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Happy Being Me

My daughters are incredible artists.

I'm not just saying this because I'm their mother.

Well, maybe I am.

But whatev.

They're fly.

Creative little buggers, the two of them.

They get it from their mama. And their daddy, too.

And a few wonderful artist friends who teach them about Jacob Lawrence and William H. Johnson, Faith Ringold and Ann Tanksley, Romare Bearden and Mose Tolliver, Jimmy Lee Suddith and contemporaries like Franks Deceus and Tamara Natalie Madden, too. They are taught to revere these creators--for what they've overcome as African American artists in a world that simply refuses to give them the respect due.

For the genius in their fingertips.

For the beauty they bring to our world.

To honor these artists, I sign up my daughters for classes with Jackie Ellett, a wonderful art instructor who teaches third graders in the public school system here in Georgia. She's always teaching them super interesting things about history's most incredible artists, and she doesn't hesitate to mention artists like Bearden and Johnson in the same breath as Picasso and Van Gogh. Indeed, she had the girls create these self-portraits in tribute to the folk artist Mose Tolliver. This piece is Mari's--reserved, simple, restrained. Just like her.

This orange one is Lila--fiery, wide-eyed, free. Just like my little one.

I remember the day they made these portraits; it was a Sunday afternoon, and they were particularly geeked because all of their buddies were in the class with them, including their cousins Miles and Cole. Jackie gave them a quick lesson on Tolliver (they knew him already, thanks to their mother, who regularly stalks Tolliver's work) and then encouraged them to really think about what they look like. Then she handed my babies the paint and let them have at it. Both of them went for the boldest, brightest colors they could find, and then proceeded to use at least a gallon of brown for their faces and went nuts with the black to fashion their twists. I was proud that they saw themselves as chocolate beauties; it certainly translates in their work. In these portraits, my girls seem happy--happy to be exactly who they are. Kinda reminds me of that Angie Stone song, "Happy to Be Me." (That's Angie singing it live up top. Listen. Think. Enjoy.)

My babies' self-portraits hang in our kitchen, along with a bazillion other paintings they've created.

I'm proud of them.

They make me giggle.

I hope they do that for you, too.

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The Sun Will Surely Make You Black


This is what I did for fun when I was a kid: I read. I cornrowed my doll’s hair. I read some more. I annoyed the crap out of my brother. And I waited anxiously for Fridays, when my Dad would let me ride shotgun while he drove around town, paying his bills. When we got back home, I read. Again.

Going outside to play wasn’t an option. Not that I grew up somewhere nefarious where little black kids had to negotiate dope boys or gang warfare to play in the park; I was raised in Long Island, in a nice house, on a nice street, with a really nice backyard. And I refused to play in it. There were bugs out there. And nobody wanted to play with me, anyway. And I took it really seriously when my parents said that I should avoid playing in the sun because it would only make me blacker. Heaven knows I didn’t want to be any blacker. At least that’s what my parents used to tell me.

Come to think of it, that was the general line of wisdom from the ‘rents whenever there was discussion of doing outside activities. “You don’t want to go to the pool—you’ll get blacker.” “Why on earth would we go to the beach? You just get black there.” “Play kickball? Outside? In the sun? Don’t you know you can get black doing that?”

I got so used to them coming up with excuses for why they didn’t want to accompany me to outside adventures that soon enough, staying inside became the modus operandi—a lifetime one, really. Several decades, three kids, a dog, and a mortgage later, I still don’t do backyards or bikes or parks or beaches too much. I sit out on the deck overlooking our expansive back yard and immediately start swatting at invisible bugs—toss the ball around with the girls and then find at least five reasons why I need to be back in the house. Alas, enjoying nature is not natural to me.

I never really thought about why that is until last week while Nick and I were watching The Today Show and Nick was reminiscing about how he used to see the celebrity who was being featured—Kevin Bacon—out in Central Park a lot, playing with his superstar wife Kyra Sedgewick and their kid. And I remember thinking, really? A celebrity in Central Park? Just playing with his kid and stuff?

I pondered this for quite some time (probably way too much time considering how much work I had on my plate, but I digress), and got to thinking about how many times I saw my parents just, like, playing. And it dawned on me that the last time I saw that was, um, well, never. I’ve never in my * mumbles age to herself * years on this earth felt my father’s hands on the small of my back, pushing me higher and higher on the swing as the air swirled around me, kissing my face. I’ve never seen my parents curl their toes in wet, salty beach sand or splash in the rush of seawater slamming against the shore. I’m quite sure that I’ve never seen my father’s hand in a baseball mitt, or his sneaker booting a soccer ball toward a makeshift goal, or his fingers lining up against the stitches on an oval-shaped piece of pigskin.

It wasn’t natural for them.

Wild stab at it, but I’m going to guess that they didn’t like being outside because they both grew up in the South, on farms, where being outside was all about work, hardly ever play. The two, longtime factory workers when I was growing up, also worked ridiculously long hours and, to be fair, spent their free time trying to rest up for more work on the job, or church. Not much else.

Thank God—and my sporty husband—that the great outdoors is much beloved by my girls, even if their mother is a total lame. They think nothing of tumbling out the garage, tennis rackets, soccer balls, basketballs, bikes, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and hoola hoops spilling from their arms, for the great driveway/backyard/front yard adventure. They erect humongous chalk cities—replete with cafes and movie theaters and gas stations and malls—on the concrete, and perform Olympic-worthy somersaults and back flips on the trampoline, and duel to the end in front of the soccer goal, sometimes with their bare feet digging into the dirt and grass while our dog, Teddy, looks on lazily. Sometimes, they hang upside down on their humongous Rainbow swing set, talking about everything and nothing. They dig in the dirt and make seven-course mud dinners and pile rocks and study bugs, even as they scurry across their little fingers. Neither finds any of this gross.

I do. But I don’t try to steal their joy. I just watch them from afar, wondering if I would have been a different, more outdoorsy girl if I had neighbors like them to drag me outside (a few of mine were forbidden by their mothers from playing with “the niggers”—another post, for another day, promise), or parents who just, like, made the time—a few minutes or so to enjoy the backyard they’d worked so hard to have.

My Daddy lives in Virginia now, on the land he tended when he was a young boy helping his father with his burgeoning wood business. My father tends to his grass like a mother does her newborn; the greatest of care is extended to practically every blade. He’s always been a stickler about his lawn, my Daddy. Except now, he encourages his grandbabies to run circles on it and cartwheel across it and dance in the rain of his sprinkler until they are drenched and giggled out and all shriveled up. Occasionally, my girls talk their Papa into taking them to the local park, where the walking trail stretches so far you can walk from Virginia to North Carolina without leaving its bountiful borders. He walks with them slowly, steadily, tossing bread toward the ducks and geese and pointing out the beauty of the great outdoors.

He doesn’t point his face to the sun—you can get blacker that way—but he doesn’t stop my daughters from doing it.

I don’t judge him.

I understand.

And I promise myself to try to do a little better.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

A Child To Call My Very Own


My father was murdered when I was young—and it killed my spirit. It was my brother’s child, my nephew, who brought me back to life. When he was born, I knew for sure that true love, in its purest form, really exists. I mother him, and love him. Love him, and mother him. And many others in my life, too. Momma Bird is the name many of them have called me.

And now, finally, I’m going to be a mother. Somebody’s mother for real. To a child of my own.

My bundle of joy hasn’t arrived yet. And he is not in my belly. I found him in a book. He’s 12 years old—one of the most beautiful children I have ever seen. His eyes, shaped like almonds, sparkle like diamonds. Looking at his picture captivated me. And in an instant, I fell in love.

He is not the first child I’d considered adopting. I’d seen pictures of others and asked about them, but I was told those children needed two-parent homes. My hopes kept being dashed, but only briefly. I am resilient. I prayed, and waited, and got myself ready while I did. I even made a to-do list. A few things I decided I needed to do before becoming a mom:

• Travel out of the country at least three times
• Get my learner’s permit and license so I could drive legally
• Cut down on my shopping addiction
• Convert my walk-in closet, formally the dining room, back into a dining room.

(This list is just part of a list of things I want to do in my lifetime. It is not a “bucket list.” It grows and changes and sometimes I put it down for years, but it’s always in the back of my Bible should I need to review it or edit.)

As I checked items off my list, I worked hard on those required by the adoption agency. I completed the mandatory New York State Foster/Adoptive Care training classes in early November. My apartment will be certified at the end of this month. And I expect Lorenzo to arrive in late January/early February, just in time for my February 4th birthday. What a gift!

I am very excited about this transition in my life. It’s not what most people would expect from a 26-year-old single woman. Even I struggle with the idea of being a single mom. Mostly I struggle with other people wondering why I would want to adopt, rather than carry a baby in my own womb. To those I say that I do want to have a child naturally. As far as I know, I’m capable of this. But I would like to bring into this world a child created with a man God has designed for me, who is deserving of me, who will marry me, and be a good father to our children.

While I wait for this, though, I embrace the fact that there are many other ways to be a mother. And by adopting, I’m going to fill a need. Not only for myself, but for my son-to-be. He, and many more children like him, need parents—deserve grown-ups in their lives who will love and care for them unconditionally. There are so many children in the American foster care system who need this. How could anyone sit around doing nothing while they languish? Or continue to be abused? Forgotten? Discarded? Dogs are treated better than some children are right here in America.

I learned this by volunteering—speaking to teachers, parents, students, social workers, and prison inmates. And mostly, what I saw was that balance is missing in all-too-many homes. The stories all sounded the same: “I didn’t have a mother or father,” or, “My grandmother or auntie raised me,” and “They did the best they could do with what they had.” Some told me they were in foster care and group homes all their lives, and jail was the next step. They were being left behind—robbed of their future.

This compelled me to check out the New York State foster care/adoption website. It didn’t take me long to figure out that America is full of children who deserve, but don’t have, the tender loving care of parents, and the guidance and support of a family. And somewhere in the midst of it all, I prayed to God and asked Him for a little reassurance—to let me know that I was doing the right thing. And, just like that, I decided to give a child and permanent home. A family.

A mother.

So many people ask me why I’m doing this. My answer is always, “why not?” Adopting my son-to-be is about responsibility, and growing up, and doing right by our brown babies—all of them, not just the ones we carry in our wombs.

I have been blessed to lead a really great life. And I can’t wait to share it with Lorenzo—my child.

Author’s Note: If you’re interested in adoption, check out your state’s government-run foster care agency. The National Association of Black Social Workers also has a list of private adoption agencies it says have successfully negotiated the adoptions of African American children. If adoption or foster care isn’t the right fit for you, consider being a mentor or volunteer. The National CARES Mentoring Movement is a great resource for finding mentees in your area.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Nicole McNeil is a native of the South Bronx, enjoys traveling, and will have a brown baby of her own very, very soon.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Mommy's Marvelous Macaroni & Cheese

It seemed almost every weekend when I was little, my mom was taking us somewhere to visit with her best friends/church buddies/play sisters. While the kids splashed around in the pool or conjured up fantastic adventures in the basement, Mommy and her girlfriends played Pokeno for pennies and talked about church. Bible-thumpers they were, indeed.

A huge part of those get-togethers, of course, was the eating. My Auntie Tina always brought this butter pound cake that was so juicy and spongy it practically melted between your fingertips. My Auntie Sarah always had fried chicken and mustard greens on the stove, hot and sweet. Auntie Ragland's specialty was black-eyed peas and, if we happened to be at her house on New Year's, chitlins (she was one of the rare women in my mom's life trusted enough to clean them properly). And my mom? A party wasn't a party unless Bettye brought her famous macaroni and cheese, juicy and moist on the inside, a skooch crispy on top. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could touch my mother's famed mac & cheese recipe. I mean, a few tried and all--would show up to Sunday dinners at St. John's Baptist Church with their pitiful offerings. Alas, they were feeble, sorry attempts that could never compare to the delicacy my mother always seemed to whip up faster than you could say, "Let's eat!"

I grew up watching my mother make her mac and cheese--started pitching in when I was nimble enough to grate the huge blocks of sharp cheddar cheese on her beat up grater. A few Thanksgivings before she passed away, I convinced her to give me lessons on some of her most prized recipes; she taught me how to make her homemade stuffing, her sweet potato pie, her southern lemon pound cake, the potato salad, and, the mother of all her recipes, THE mac & cheese. It took me quite some time and a lot of practice to get it to taste like hers, but now my mac & cheese so closely resembles my mom's that my dad is finally convinced I know what I'm doing. This is huge.

During my years of making the mac & cheese, I've added my own twist to it; I don't grate anymore, now that Kroger and Publix have those handy bags of cheese already shredded. And while my mom used only three cheeses--sharp, mild, and American--I use up to 11 in my recipe, including asiago, monterey jack, mozzarella, parmesan, romano, and gouda, among others.

This macaroni and cheese is simply sumptuous—the secret is in the roux. Remember to take your time with the egg, butter, milk and flour mixture; get that right, and this will be the juiciest, cheesiest, yummiest macaroni and cheese you’ve ever tasted! Don’t forget to credit Bettye Millner, my beautiful mom.

For a 9 by 11-inch pan you'll need:

1 ½ small boxes of Mueller's macaroni elbows
4 eggs
2 cups of milk
2 bags of sharp cheddar cheese
2 bags of mild cheddar cheese
4 slices American white and yellow cheese
2 bags of assorted cheeses (like italian six cheese,
monterrey jack cheese, or mexican cheese)
1 stick of butter
about 3 tablespoons of flour
salt and pepper to taste

To cook:

1. Boil your macaroni until tender (put a little oil in the water so the elbows don't stick.

2. Drain the macaroni, then put a layer of macaroni on the bottom of your pan. Then layer the cheese, then macaroni, then cheese. End with cheese.

3. Melt your butter in a pan on medium heat. While the butter is melting, mix your eggs in a large bowl, breaking the yolks. Add milk to the eggs, and put in a little salt and pepper to season; stir until it's all mixed together.

4. After butter is melted, add the flour to the butter and mix so that the flour dissolves into the butter. It'll be liquidy.

5. Pour in milk and egg mixture into the butter and flour mixture in the pan; whisk it until all of it is mixed together and the liquid gets a little thick. DO NOT LET IT GET SUPER THICK OR ELSE IT WON'T DRIP BETWEEN THE LAYERS.

6. Pour the egg/butter/milk mixture into the macaroni and cheese layers; the liquid should reach the top, but do not let it flood the top of the pan.

7. Cover pan with aluminum foil, and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes to an hour. You'll know it's close to finished when it's bubbling. When it starts to bubble, take the aluminum foil off so that it can brown.

Don't forget that today is the last day for the Lucky Paperie stationery give-away. Click here to enter and find out how you can up your chances to win!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank Heaven For BFFs (And Birthdays)!

I had no idea that Angelou and I would hit it off like this. I mean, I met her in a whirlwind weekend back in 1995; she graduated law school in Florida on a Saturday, and got hitched on the Sunday. I walked around the wedding in a borrowed African caftan, hiding behind a video camera, feeling way nervous about being introduced to damn near every member of my then-boyfriend’s (now-husband’s) family, but especially his beloved little sister, who seemed so hip and worldly and fresh. Iconic, to hear Nick tell it.

Angelou put on no airs. Just opened her arms and welcomed me to the family.

And slowly, steadily, surely, she became the sister I never had—my giggle partner, my retail therapy enabler, the co-president of my “We Love Black Movies Unconditionally—Even the Bad Ones” club, my “girl you ain’t gonna believe this!” confidante, my shoulder to cry on… no questions asked. She wears my shoes; I borrow her purses. A fiercely independent businesswoman (Angelou is an environmentalist who founded Greening Youth, her own non-profit environmental education program for kids), she gives me advice on running my own company and coaxes me to get out more—I whip up coconut cakes and 11-cheese macaroni & cheese for her holiday parties and hook up her music collection with Chrisette Michelle and vintage Teena Marie. Our children are the best of friends, as are our husbands.

And somehow, we never tire of one another.

I love my husband for many reasons, a big one being that he has a little sister who inspires me—to be a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, and a better woman, especially to myself. Every girl deserves a bestest friend like this—the one ready to run to the wall full speed with a rocket strapped to her back, just for you. For sure, Angelou is that friend to me—not the one who would bail me out of jail, but the one who would be sitting right next to me in the jail cell, talking about, “Damn, that was fun!”

The one who is as close to a sister a sisterless girl could get.

Happy *mumbles age under breath, into palm of her hand* birthday, my love. Here’s to family, friendship, camaraderie, and, above all else, love. May you be blessed with the years it’ll take to see the success you want, the happiness you deserve, and some great, great grands.

Live your life like it’s GOLDEN.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MBB Contest: Custom Lucky Paperie Stationery!

Gretchen, a dear friend of mine who also happens to be an extraordinary educator, recently hooked up my Lila with a new pen pal—a 5-year-old kindergartener from Taiwan named Chieh-An. The two have been exchanging emails, and yesterday, Lila got her first letter—a sweet, handwritten note, replete with pictures, about Chieh-An’s day: She changes her clothes in the morning, and goes to school in her mom’s car, and sings songs with her teacher at school, and watches TV when she gets home. Lila, too geeked by this incredible letter full or crayon drawings and Chinese characters (Chieh-An speaks fluent Mandarin, and limited English, so her mom helped her with her letter, which was written in Chinese with English subtitles), immediately set out to write her new buddy a letter and capped it off with about 10 (TEN!) hand drawn pictures of everything from her big sister and Teddy the boy toy, to the school bus, her teacher, her best friend… the list goes on.

Of course, the girl used up all my computer paper to hook up her new pen-pal, but the next letter Lila writes to Chieh-An will arrive in style, on a new set of purty stationery designed by my super fresh friend Melanie, over at Lucky Paperie. Mel and I go waaaay back, to our days at Honey magazine, where I was the features editor and she was a designer making our words look fly. Now, she runs her own Atlanta-based custom design studio, for which she designs some of the yummiest letterpress stationery, invitations, business cards, calling cards, menus (and the list goes on!) MBB has ever seen. Her fonts, color choices, and designs are impeccable—very modern and funky, with a slick vintage feel. Simply put, she’s nice.

So, are you feeling lucky today? Because Melanie is going to hook up two lucky MyBrownBaby readers—one with a set of custom-designed Christmas cards, the other with a custom set of teacher stationery. Each comes in a set of 25; the winner of the cards (click on the "Holiday Greetings" illustration at the top of this post to chooose your fav) can send incredible custom Christmas cards to a grip of super special folks, and the winner of the stationery (one of either the "Scallop Circle" or the "Bird On A Branch" designs pictured to the left) can hook up her child’s teacher with a really thoughtful, original holiday gift. I’m SO all over the “Peace” cards for Christmas, and both Lila’s and Mari’s teachers will find custom-made Lucky Paperie stationery in their Christmas stockings this year. Yup.

Want the Lucky Paperie hook-up? Here’s how you get your chance to win: Visit the Lucky Paperie website or Lucky Paperie Etsy Shop, then come back to MyBrownBaby and tell me something good about Melanie and Lucky Paperie, AND, which of the MBB featured Christmas cards and teacher stationery you’d most like by 11:59 p.m. EST on December 12, 2008 (yes, this is a quickie—you want your designs in time for Christmas, don’t you?!).

Want to enter more than once? Boost your chances of winning by completing one or more tasks on this list:

If you haven’t already, sign up for MyBrownBaby’s email updates by 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, December 12, 2008. To be eligible, you must verify your email subscription when Feedburner sends you a verification email. Your entry will be invalid if you do not verify. If you would prefer to get MyBrownBaby updates via an MBB RSS feed, please leave a comment letting me know you’ve done so, and include an email address, as RSS subscribers are anonymous.

Order one or more items on Lucky Paperie’s Etsy Shop, and email a copy of your confirmation order to

Blog about MyBrownBaby and post a link to your blog entry here.

Fave MyBrownBaby on Technorati. After you do this, come back to MyBrownBaby to leave a comment with your Technorati user name so that I can verify it.

See? That means each of you can receive up to 5 entries. A winner will be chosen via, and contacted via email. This contest is available to U.S. mailing addresses only.

And, drum roll, please! The winner of the fantastic lunch box giveaway offered by Che’ Demi’s Boutique in last week’s MyBrownBaby contest, is… Ms. Bar of A Place of Comfort! Yes, this means that Ms. J will be super sporty orty with her new lunch box, just a swinging it by her side while she and that glorious afro puff strut through the school hallway. Don’t hurt ‘em, baby!

Finally, your girl found a way for you to get a home theater system—for the cost of a bag of salad. Seriously. All you have to do is cop a bag of Fresh Express Complete Salads (we go through at least three bags of the Mediterranean and Caesar salads every week—we like salad like that!), grab the code, then enter it in the Dine-INN to Win Sweepstakes for your chance to win. One lucky winner will be watching the new season of her favorite shows on the home theater system; 1,000 others will get a chance to instantly win a Netflix subscription (six months, two movies each month).

Don’t want to buy the salad (even if it is delicious and nutritious)? Use the free code I found on the official rules: 5243-2435-8763-2345.

Good luck!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This Is Much More Than Puppy Love


See, here’s the thing about my new boy toy—we weren’t supposed to fall in love. He wasn’t even my type, this shaggy blonde. Too big. Too needy. (Not a particularly good combo.) Plus, he’s got a taste for toilet water, and I don’t mean perfume. He can’t even hold his ham.

Still, I gaze longingly into his eyes and caress him and have long, deep conversations with him, too, especially when my husband Nick isn’t around. We do try to keep our contact to a minimum, my boy toy and I, when Nick is in the room; he just can’t stand our chemistry. Jealous, really. But no matter, because my boy toy treats me right—anticipates my moods before anyone else in the house, and extends to me unbridled, unconditional love.

He is my Teddy Bear.

My road dog.

My dog.

And none of my people understand us.

This makes sense to me. I mean, dogs just aren’t usually a black man’s best friend. Been to a Falcon’s game lately? Black folks are still showing up in their Mike Vick jerseys, shaking their heads between downs, wondering why the disgraced pro baller went to prison, lost his millions, and got kicked out of the NFL for breeding and fighting pits. The young former millionaire now has no prospects for a job doing what he does best, and he’s got a grand total of $96.63 in his retirement fund. Black folks are like, The Hell?

I’m not saying this attitude is right. But I understand.

Dogs are, after all, animals, doggonit—meant to put teeth, literally, behind the “Beware of Dog” signs on the gate. You feed them gunpowder and raw eggs and hot sauce to make them mean, toss them table scraps (so as not to waste food and keep down the expense of dog food), and tie them up out back somewhere so they don’t get under foot or, Heaven forbid, get dog hair all over your good couch.

This is what I was raised to believe.

Under no condition are you or the children to get overly attached to the dog, or show any great affinity for them, or actually snuggle and cuddle and kiss all over them—or, ugh, let them kiss you. If their tongue comes anywhere near a 2 ft radius of your mouth, any black folks who catch sight of it will look on, aghast. Throw up a little in their mouths. Dogs, after all, lick their asses with their tongues, for goodness sakes. And sniff other dogs' poop.

This is also what I was raised to believe.

Which brings me back to how wholly unnatural it is to certain family members of mine (who shall remain nameless) that I have such an unbridled affection for my darling goldendoodle, Teddy. He was purchased in a moment of weakness, when my daughters kept begging for a pet and my friends kept strutting their cute little purse doggies into the school lobby during morning drop-off, and the sleigh bells were ringing and stuff. The lady who sold him to me over the internet promised me he was a cavapoo—a mixture of a cavalier king spaniel and a poodle, which means he would be small enough to sit in the girls’ laps and shed-less and super smart and calm enough not to jack up my wood floors.

She lied. At least about the size part. And the breed. Turns out he’s a mixture of a golden retriever and a poodle, which means that he’s shed-less and super smart and calm but far too big for laps and purses. This almost got him kicked off the Millner/Chiles team. Seriously. I was going to drop his big butt off at the nearest pound and go get me a for real cavapoo.

Except by the time I got Teddy home from the airport, he’d hypnotized me with his big brown eyes—just laid right there in my lap and let me brush his shaggy blonde ‘do without so much as a whimper before falling asleep at my feet. How could I resist? He’s a giant Teddy Bear (thus the name). The girls, I decided, would love him.

And Nick was just happy he wasn’t one of those little “yappy” dogs that jump all over the furniture and stuff. Turns out the bigger dog makes him feel more manly.

And my Teddy Bear makes me feel more girly—all warm and fuzzy inside.

I know that uttering this out loud breaks all kinds of black people rules. My uncle and dad made this clear over the Thanksgiving holiday as they practically lifted their feet and cowered in the cushions of the couch like little girls whenever Teddy came their way.

But you know what? I can’t help it.

And I don’t really care what they or anyone else thinks.

Because my boy toy and I? We’re in love.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Yeah, I Ate The Cookies—And?


Like many children of the 1970’s, I had my visions of fatherhood formed not only by my own Dad but by the fatherly icons that marched across my television screen every week. Characters like James Evans on Good Times, Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch, Tom Bradford on Eight Is Enough, even that knucklehead George Jefferson on The Jeffersons. They were strong, (sometimes) decisive, and they were undoubtedly the Alpha Males of their households. As Alpha Male, part of the deal was that no one messed with their stuff—their favorite chair, their newspaper, their prized collection of fill-in-the-blank. Sometimes there would even be a show constructed around the hilarity that ensued when one of the kids messed up their stuff. When dinnertime came, in the words of Chris Rock, they always got the “big piece of chicken.”

I just knew that when I eventually became a dad, my household would surely be an exact replica of these TV standards (though I’m sure I hoped the house looked a lot more like the Bradfords’ on Eight is Enough and a lot less like the Evanses’ on Good Times).

Cut to December 2008 and the actual, real-life version of the Chiles household. We are somewhere in the early evening of Wednesday, December 3, in the kitchen, about four feet southwest of the kitchen table. I am making my way away from the refrigerator when I find myself staring at the snarling, irate visage of my lovely wife, (the talented creator of this website, known to me as MyBrownWifey) who is clutching a bag of Pepperidge Farm’s Snickerdoodle cookies, the delicious cinnamon-spiced favorites of my 9-year-old daughter.

“Who ate Mari’s cookies?!”

With the cookie crumbs still visible on my t-shirt, I fight off my first impulse in this situation, which is to shriek like a little girl and run from the room in terror. I even manage to fight off my second impulse, which is to blame my teenage son. (When confronted with the mystery of suddenly missing food, you can’t go wrong blaming the 16-year-old.) But then I get a flash of James Evans, standing proud and strong in that old tired-looking kitchen on Good Times. Surely James wouldn’t run from the kitchen, shrieking like a little girl (or like his son, Michael).

I square my shoulders and look MyBrownWifey in the eye. I summon the ghost of George Washington and, in my deepest baritone, I say, “I ate the cookie.” I see her eyes narrowing, so I feel compelled to add, with more mumble than baritone, “But I only had one.”

As I make my way up to my bedroom a little later on, trying to understand why the scene in the kitchen has left me a bit queasy, as if my testicles have shrunk a few inches, I see that my side of the large king-sized bed in our spacious master bedroom is being occupied by the lean, wiry little body of my 6-year-old daughter. In the sitcoms of the 70’s, one of the TV children in such a situation would have scurried from the bed in a flash, horrified to be caught so conspicuously enjoying the comfort of Daddy’s favorite spot. In the real-life Chiles household of 2008, my darling little Lila casts a skeptical eye up at me, making not even a minimal effort to get the hell up from my spot. Her facial expression says it all: “What?”

When I tell her, with that same baritone, that the “What” is that she needs to move her narrow behind from my spot, she rolls her eyes and proceeds to scoot over maybe six inches, as if that should be enough to satisfy me. MyBrownWifey manages to pull her gaze away from her laptop (Hey, the care and feeding of this blog is more than a full-time job!) long enough to suggest sweetly to her youngest that perhaps she might want to move over a bit more so Daddy can lie down.

Right here is where I give you the point of this whole exercise. With each passing day, it has become much clearer to me that I ain’t James Evans. Not even Tom Bradford. I don’t know when was the precise date that it occurred, but the household has changed quite a bit for the modern dad. One day we woke up and discovered that not only were our households no longer our dominions, but we were lucky if we could get hired as manservants or court jesters up in these joints. The rulers of my world are the tiny people who march into our bedroom in the mornings and tell us they are ready for breakfast. Mom is the queen who bestows them with greatness, the warrior who defends them to her last breath and the handmaid who takes care of their every need. I am that dude who busts into the room just when the show is getting good to tell them they have to go to bed.

What am I going to do about this? What can I do about this?


I know they all love me and adore me and all that, and this is what counts, I guess.

As long as I stay away from their cookies.

About Our MBB Contributor:
Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of six books, and the editor-in-chief of the travel magazine, Odyssey Couleur. He loves Snickerdoodles, and occasionally eats them while watching football—when he can commandeer the TV from his brown babies.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Best Of Us: MBB Mom Of the Week LaTonya Yvette Riley

You know how we do: MyBrownBaby is dead-set on giving credit where credit is due to parents who are raising and loving their beautiful brown babies. A round of applause for MBB Mom of the Week LaTonya Yvette Riley! She is the owner of the beautiful Che’ Demi’s Boutique, a store specializing in spectacular children's clothing, furniture, and decor, including the lunch box up for grabs in the latest MBB contest. To find out how you can win one of LaTonya Yvette's super cutie personalized lunch boxes in time for Christmas, click here. And then come back and find out more about MBB's incredible Mom of the Week!

My name is… LaTonya Yvette Riley.

I live in… Rochester, New York.

My brown babies are… Kiara, age 19, and Che’, age 13.

I make a living… as an administrative assistant, Avon representative/recruiter and the founder of Che’ Demi’s Boutique.

The last time my kids cracked me up… was when my daughter Che’, who is trying to lose weight, weighed herself and realized she’d actually gained weight. She picked up the scale, shook it, and then weighed herself again, as though the numbers would somehow change… too funny!

The last book I read with my kids was… A Piece of Cake, by Cupcake Brown.

My favorite place to take them when they were little was… The Strong Museum.

My proudest mom moment was… watching Kiara receive her high school diploma. Talk about tears of joy!

My most embarrassing mommy moment was the time when… Kiara’s Sunday School teacher told me my child wanted the class to sing “I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto,” by Tupac.

The thing I most want my children to know is… that I love them.

The one family tradition I hope my kids continue when they grow up is… disguising Christmas gifts so nosy kids can’t try to figure out which one is theirs. Each Christmas, I use character names on their gift tags instead of their names; they have no idea which gifts are theirs until Christmas day. I also hope they continue my tradtion of buying new pajamas to sleep in on Christmas Eve.

If I could invent one thing to make being a mom easier, it would be… a gadget that would allow me to go back in time and witness the special moments I missed while my girls were growing up.

The best invention for kids ever is… prayer.

The kid snack I’m most likely to get busted eating is… cupcakes.

The most important life lessons I want my kids to learn are… to be very selective when choosing friends; to always put their trust in God, not man; to Be themselves; to recognize that they don’t have to hold on to a relationship that is not working, and; that the only person who can hold you back is you.

The one thing no one knows about me is… that I wish I had a son.

The thing I lost as a mom that I wish I could get back is… time. I would have taken more pictures of my girls while they were growing up.

My “I’d Rather Be…” bumper sticker would say… "I’d rather be sipping a Bahama Mama on the beach!"

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Beautiful Flowers

I can't get out of my mind a post written earlier this week by my new friend over at A Thorn Among Roses. She and her husband are the proud parents of four beautiful girls, including two they adopted--an adorable little chocolate girlpie named Jada, and a vanilla sugar cookie named Brooke. In her post, Sadness, ATAR recounts how Jada told her the other day that she doesn't like her brown skin and she wants "peach skin like Brookie." Of course, this totally freaked ATAR out because the last thing she wants is for her African American daughter to hate the skin she's in. This, indeed, is a common struggle for all of us moms charged with ushering chocolate girlpies into adulthood with their self-esteem intact--particularly in a society that puts such incredible stock in perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards that never, ever seem to embrace the wonders of brown girls. We've got our work cut out for us, that's for sure.

I'm so happy that ATAR instinctively understood how important it is to make sure that Jada appreciates her beautiful chocolate self (and equally impressed that Brooke insisted that God got Jada's coloring right the first time!). The video I've posted here, of India Arie singing an acoustic version of her song "Beautiful Flower," is dedicated to little Jada and all the little chocolate girlpies who should know what I make a point of telling my daughters every single day:

You are beautiful like a flower
More valuable than a diamond
You are powerful like a fire
You can heal the world with your mind
There is nothing in the world that you can not do
When you believe in you.

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Baby Talk At Its Finest: Oh, The Things They'll Say!


I was the girl who was never going to get married—never going to have children. I mean, I'm not even all that convinced you're supposed to eat EVERY SINGLE day. And I’d rather spend my rent money on a really cute pair of shoes. And I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to do with a baby. So when I saw the blue line on the pregnancy test and decided to become a mother, I had some explaining to do—to myself and a whole lot of other people in my life who thought they’d never see the day. The following are the very real, very true reactions to my statement, "I'm pregnant."

Sister: If it's a boy, it's going to be gay.
Me: Really? Why do you say that?
Sister: Well... you're a girl and you've always been kinda gay.
Me: Oh.

Me: Mommy, I have to tell you something...

Mom: Nyono, it's your mother. You called me on Friday and you told me something. I'm going to need you to repeat it. I don't think I heard you properly.
Me: *repeats it properly*
Mom: Oh Lord... that's what I thought you said. I've been hiding from your father for two days. I need you to tell him today.

Me: Daddy, I'm pregnant.
Dad: Oh. What does that mean?
Me: Huh?
Dad: What happens next?
Me: Huh? What are you asking me?
Dad: What are you telling me?
Me: Huh?
Dad: Do you want to talk to your mother?

Friend 1:
What the hell? I thought you didn't want kids.
Me: Well... I didn't. Now I do.
Friend: Why?
Me: uh... tax write off.
Friend: Really?!
Me: Uh... no...
Friend: Oh. 'Cause I'd get one too then.

Friend 2: You do realize that you can't play the "Go hide in the closet and Bassey will find you eventually" game with your own child, right? Right?

Every friend I have in various forms: OH YIPPEE! We're having a baby! You realize that once this child is born it is no longer yours?
Me: What kind of cult shit is that...
EF: Silence. We have to decide on names... .

Friend (when I first found out): So I can start shopping for it now?
Me: Well, it's not anything now. I don't think you can really shop for a collection of cells.
Friend: YOU can't. You apparently don't know me very well.

First person to use the word "preggers" or ask to touch my belly or tell me I have a "bun in the oven" is getting cussed out.
D: *instant message being deleted*

Friend 2: I don't care what you name it as long as the middle name is Stacey Ann Chin.
Me: The entire middle name will be Stacey Ann Chin?
Friend 2: Yes.
Me: Even if it's a boy?
Friend: Especially if it's a boy.

Tim: What up, 'Nancy!
Me: What?
Tim: Get it? Preg NANCY
Me: Niiiiice!

Former friend: You're crazy if you think keeping it is a good idea. I just don't believe you'd be that stupid.

Everyone: I'm going to be an Auntie!
Everyone else: I'm going to be an Uncle!
Lara: I'm going to be a baby daddy!

P: I will refrain from singing and dancing to a chorus of "I Told You So."

Lab Tech: And this is the embryo in the amniotic sac...
Me: Oh... look at it all... embryonic...
Lab Tech: Ma'am, not that.
Me: Oh.
Lab Tech: That would be the thumb print you just left.
Me: Oh.


Mum: So you're not sick at all?
Me: Nope. Just really tired. I feel fine.
Mum: Not sick at all.
Me: Nope.
Mum: Not even a little bit?
Me: No....
Mum: Well that doesn’t seem fair.
Me: What? Why?
Mum: Well, I was sick as a dog when I was carrying you... I just knew my grandbaby would return the favor.
Me: *Blink* Can I speak to dad?

Friend 3: You know what's a lovely name?
Me: What?
Friend 3: Joi... it's such a good name.
Me: Thanks, Joi.


Friend 4: I can't wait to see you pregnant!
Me: Awwwwww
Friend 4: I'm going to laugh so hard...
Me: Hmph.

Love my family.

About our MBB Contributor:
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic. She’s half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the left over bit is a caramel creme center. She’s also the single mother of an amazing man-child. Elaiwe Ikpi. And though she doesn’t think motherhood is very fun, she loves every second of it. Including the moments when she wishes it was 1993 and the only thing she had to worry about was how she was going to get home from Pom practice. Check her out at

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

MBB Contest: For Kiddies Who Love To Lunch

Okay, seriously? I’m so addicted to giving away fabulous gifts on MyBrownBaby. I love introducing my blog friends to fantastic goodies produced by some of my favorite authors, designers, and boutiques, and today I have another sweet treat up my cyber-sleeve. This one comes from the uber cutie Che' Demi's Boutique, an upscale, special occasion store that has some of the most adorable baby clothes, gifts, bedding, décor and nursery furniture I’ve ever seen. Seriously? I want one of everything!

I met Che Demi’s owner, LaTonya Yvette, over on the Mom Bloggers Club, and the connection was instant. She won me over with her Sunday Piece of Cake. (I’m easy like that—bring sugar, I love you long time.) Sunday Piece of Cake is a weekly feature on the boutique’s blog that serves up inspirational stories and recipes for perfectly decadent delicacies like peanut butter cup cheesecake, strawberry shortcake and my personal kryptonite, coconut cake.

When she’s not using her recipes to win over friends and influence people addicted to sweet treats, LaTonya, a mom of two beautiful daughters, is running her posh boutique and introducing her customers to, well, more sweet treats—like this Pink Poodle Lunchbox. It is, perhaps, the coolest lunch box on the planet; it’s a hip, fresh, remix on an ol’ school metal lunchbox—colorful and fly, but lead free, food safe, and water-resistant. It’s like a Bentley for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The lucky winner of this MyBrownBaby contest will get to choose one out of eleven of Che Demi’s lunchbox designs for a special little one; LaTonya will also personalize it for you and deliver it in time for Christmas.

Oh, you know you want this!

Here’s how you get your chance to win: Visit Che Demi’s Boutique then come back to MyBrownBaby and leave a comment about something you’d buy in a heartbeat by 11:59 p.m. EST on December 7, 2008.

Want to enter more than once? Boost your chances of winning by completing one or more tasks on this list:

If you haven’t already, sign up for MyBrownBaby’s email updates by 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, December 7, 2008. To be eligible, you must verify your email subscription when Feedburner sends you a verification email. Your entry will be invalid if you do not verify. If you would prefer to get MyBrownBaby updates via an MBB RSS feed, please leave a comment letting me know you’ve done so, and include an email address, as RSS subscribers are anonymous.

Buy one or more items on Che Demi’s site, and email a copy of your confirmation order to

Blog about MyBrownBaby and post a link to your blog entry here.

Fave MyBrownBaby on Technorati. After you do this, come back to MyBrownBaby to leave a comment with your Technorati user name so that I can verify it.

See? That means each of you can receive up to 5 entries. A winner will be chosen via, and contacted via email. This contest is available to U.S. mailing addresses only.

And finally, drum roll, please! The winner of the fantastic gift-pack of autographed books from the fabulous children’s book authors Andrea and Brian Pinkney, offered in last week’s MyBrownBaby contest, is… Angie from The Arthur Clan! Angie is an absolute sweetie, and takes some of the best photos ever. Maybe she’ll send me a picture of her kiddies enjoying their new reads. Enjoy, Angie!

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Starched Pillowcases and Chocolate Bon Bons


I’m not a slob. Well, not really. Okay, okay, already—I might have some junkyard tendencies. Yes, my walk-in closet is so flooded with abandoned shoes, too-tight jeans, and nostalgic Busta Rhymes t-shirts that you can’t walk two inches into it without tripping on something. And I’m sure that a fire inspector would shut my bedroom down if he got a gander of the taller-than-my-six-year-old pile of dog-eared books, half-filled photo albums, and thumbed-through O Home, Essence, Real Simple, and Domino magazines. But the common areas at the Millner/Chiles abode? The kitchen, sitting areas, dining room, and kids’ quarters? You could lick butter off the floor.

Especially if company is coming.

Oh, you can count on me sweeping floors, fluffing pillows, dusting the high shelves, laying out the good towels, ironing pillowcases—all of that—if somebody’s coming through the crib. Bad habit I picked up from my mom. Seemed like the minute she got the three-month schedule for Bible study classes, she’d circle her date on the calendar and then put me, my brother, and my Dad on notice that for the entire week leading up to her turn to host the Saturday Good Word fest, we would all be getting real cozy with the mop and bucket. The woman was generally neat, but if company was coming through, her house was impeccable. The deaconesses were watching. She had a rep to protect.

Be clear: Bettye was a working mother—toiled in a windowless factory room at Estee Lauder for 10 hours a day, starting at the cosmetics company as a lipstick flamer (she actually flicked dull tubes of pigment under Bunsen burners to give them their shine) and ending her 25-plus-year career working her way up to quality control, where she gave the nod to bags, umbrellas, and the like. She’d be dog tired, dragging in from work, barely in the door before she had dinner on the stove, and then on the plate, and then in a pan of hot, soapy water, and then herself in a bathtub of hot, soapy water, and then to bed, ready at 5 a.m. to do it all over again. Surely, somebody would have forgiven her if there were a little dust on the étagère. She never yielded to the excuse, though.

She just handled it.

So that her baby girl wouldn’t have to.

But on my worst days, I don’t—can’t—extend my own self such benevolence. I come from a lineage of women who went from the fields and the big houses to the factories and the office desks and yes, to the boardrooms, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Wasn’t nary one of them talking about “work/life balance” and “having it all” and all the hub bub parent magazines and pop psychologists assign to today’s beleaguered working moms. You wanted to eat? You worked. And you kept the house and kids clean because, well, who else was going to? It was what it was.

And my situation is what it is because I made it so; I just walked away from a good job with benefits to do what black women for many generations before mine simply didn’t have the luxury of doing—stay at home, raise my kids, and work when the assignments come (and I feel like being bothered). This is called choice. And on more days than not, I nod my head and give thanks that my parents (my father, too, was and still is an incredibly hard working man), my husband (a fantastic provider), and my years as a New York journalist and editor afforded me the ability and the opportunity to make one—a choice, that is.

Still, I can’t help some days but to think that I broke the rules, somehow. That I hit the Pick 4—didn’t earn this great fortune the legit way, with blood, sweat and tears (though my DNA can be found in newsrooms and magazine offices scattered all over New York). Sometimes, I feel like I need to slip off and clock-in at the nearest factory—to prove I know how to do the honest, hard, back-breaking stuff.

But seeing as even the factory jobs are hard to come by, my self-reproach manifests itself instead in my perfectly starched pillowcases, and my sizzling pans of made-from-scratch smothered chicken, and floors clean enough for you to lick butter off of them.

I want to say this is just my own hang-up.

But really, it’s not. I’m constantly pulled in this direction and that—asked, no, expected, to just say yes. To classroom projects. And neighborhood functions. And friend obligations. My Dad, perfectly loving, sweet man that he is, has suggested on more than one occasion that I have plenty of time on my hands to do (insert your random errand/appointment/just-do-it-dammit project here). “You ain’t doing nothin’ no way,” he’s said matter-of-factly. Out loud. Of course, this is by no means true. Each request, though, confirms every sneaking suspicion lurking in the back of my mind—that though I toil away on the computer literally all damn day, nobody really thinks I, a writer, am working. Indeed, a writer works in silence and solitude and anonymity. I don’t get dirty and greasy or take orders from people I don’t like, but I do sweat and think and sweat and think some more. All the time. Non-stop. Even when nobody thinks I am.

For sure, I ain't one of those bon-bon eating housewives.

But on some days, I have a hard time convincing even myself.

The next time that day comes around, maybe I’ll tackle that closet.

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