Thursday, April 30, 2009

So What I'm Saying Is That My Kid Might Have A Point



My 9-year-old walks around the house with her little flat chest poked out, making clear in word and deed that she thinks she's smarter, stronger, and faster than me. After last night's The Parents vs. The Kids' Soccer Team knock-down, drag-out soccer brawl ("game" is much too tame a word), I think she might be right.

At least about the stronger and faster part.

The score was 7 to 1, the 'rents.

In theory, we won.

My shoulder, back, right shin, and left elbow remind me of a much different reality.

Um, yeah.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

MyBrownSpotlight: BlackandMarriedWithKids.com


You all know how passionate I am about celebrating black love--I've written books and magazine articles about it, talked about it on television and radio, and, of late, dedicated many a blog post encouraging each of us to embrace, nurture, and protect African American couples working hard to make their unions work--despite the statistics, no matter the odds.

It's no wonder, then, that I stan HARD for BlackandMarriedWithKids.com, the incredible, award-winning site that Essence.com lauded for "spreading the message" that "black love is alive and well.. one blog post at a time." BMWK is the love child of Lamar and Ronnie Tyler, a happily married D.C-area couple with four kids who use their site to espouse their opinions on relationships, parenting, politics, current events and everything in between. Their story line-up is eclectic and ever-changing: You might find a post about how to get over an argument with your significant other, or a piece that asks you to consider what kind of marriage role model you are to your children, and even music and popular viral videos that'll make you giggle.

More recently, BMWK partnered with two other sites--Celebrity Black Families and Cocoa Familia--to add celebrity content (all positive) and product reviews to their mix. And, as if they're not busy enough, the two are producing their first movie (!), a documentary aptly titled, Happily Ever After: Stories of Black Marriages and Why They Work. Check out the trailer:



A round of applause for Lamar and Ronnie; I absolutely adore their site, and I know you will too. Stop by BlackandMarriedWithKids.com and say "Hello." You'll be glad you did!



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Bullying 101: How We Parents Can Better Protect Our Children (In Memory of Jaheem and Carl)



It started, first, with the two little girls telling Mari they didn’t like her outfit. The next day, they told my baby she smelled. The day after that, one of them touched her twists and said, “Ew,” and then trotted off, giggling, over to the corner of the classroom, where her gangsta boogie partner and she continued to whisper and point at Mari while she sat in a heap, struggling to finish her work through her tears.

She’d told me a couple of times that the girls were doing mean things to her, and each time she complained, I advised her the way a good parent should. First, I reminded her that no matter what anyone says, she is special and beautiful and loved. The second time, I gave her some choice words for her two nemeses. When they touched her hair, I pulled her teacher aside and made it clear: “You better talk to them before I do.” The next day, the teacher made clear that anyone caught being mean to a fellow student would get a note home.

Yeah, well, as you can guess, that threat fell on deaf little ears. See, one of the kids doing the taunting was the school director’s daughter; the other was her little BFF/sidekick. And the two of them figured they could just go on ahead and keep at my daughter, sans repercussion. And so they did—this time, picking on my Mari and a friend of hers out on the playground, saying words so ugly that by the time recess was over, half the class was in tears and my nephew, Mari’s cousin, was threatening to take both of the ringleaders out. The next morning, I found Mari in her room crying and fretting over her outfit, fearful that the Oilily skirt dress and tights I’d picked out for her to wear would bring down the wrath.

And that was the day that I said, “Nope—no more.” Now, I wish I could tell you that the resulting afternoon roundtable of parents, administrative liaisons, teachers, and the school director ended in one big Kumbaya moment. But er, um, yeah—I can only be nice but for so long. Let’s just say that by the time Nick and I stomped out of there, the administrators agreed to put into place a system for the kids to complain about bullying anonymously, so that the kids would feel comfortable seeking help. The teachers also agreed to be more vigilant in keeping an eye out for the troublemakers. But I also made clear that if either one of those little heiffas said word ONE to Mari again, she had the go-ahead from her mama to whoop that ass.

Period.

I’m all for taking the high road and working it through and hugging it out and all of that—please believe me. But I also believe that when you’re at the end of your rope with the niceties, you gotta let ‘em know. We finished up the year there at that private school with the girls keeping a safe distance from Mari (Note: the threat of the beat down was a scare tactic, not reality—Mari’s no bruiser, and I would never encourage her to fisticuffs. But the threat sure did move that school director to action and put an end to the bull.) More important, though, is that leading all the way up to that meeting and after it, too, our child knew that her mommy and daddy had her back.





All of this madness came rushing back to me this weekend when my nephew, Miles, was invited to sit on a panel of kids gathered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss bullying and the apparent suicide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, a Georgia 5th grader who hung himself April 16 after bullies at his school relentlessly called him “gay” and a “snitch.” Jaheem’s death came just a 10 days after another 11-year-old, Carl Walker-Hoover, of Massachusetts, committed suicide rather than face another day of bullying and being called “gay” and a “snitch.”

Their stories break my heart. Because they were babies, making the very grown-up decision to take their own lives. Because they thought death would be better than another day of taunting, hitting, choking, and threats meted out by their peers.

Because clearly, these little boys didn’t feel like any of the grown-ups had their back.

I can’t presume to know how much Jaheem and Carl’s parents did to stand up for their boys; both their mamas say they complained to school officials, but the response was either inadequate (in Jaheem’s case) or ineffective (in Carl’s case). What one can presume, though, is that each of these children felt like they had to take matters into their own hands.

Oh, how I wish that all the grown-ups involved recognized and practiced what Nick and I truly believe: That it was on us to handle the mess. What we were trying to do was to make sure that our child knew that whatever was going on, it had nothing to do with her—that somebody else was wrong and that the responsibility for responding to the bad things that were being done to her wasn’t hers alone.



The African American community has always had this complicated response to bullying; the clear message we’ve always sent to our children is that it’s up to them to go out there and handle the bullies on their own. Come on, you know the scenario: You get picked on, your mom or dad slaps you for being a punk, and then pushes you out the door and says, “Handle it, or I’m going to whip you myself.” It’s a tradition we have of trying to toughen up our kids—of making them feel like they have the power to stop the bullying all on their own.

There’s something to be said for this; our kids are going to face bullying throughout their lives. Bullies will be more clever when we get older—people will use their position and power to force us to do things we don’t want to do or make us feel bad about ourselves, and so there is some value to preparing our kids to fight, not flee, these battles. But one of the messages we send to our kids when we make them fight is that we don’t necessarily have their back—that if they “snitch” they’re being weak and we’ll be more upset by this than we will with any bully.

What I’m calling for is balance. Perhaps we need to update our responses—to be a little bit more sensitive to the way that our children think and react to danger and threat. We need to let our kids know that we’re stepping in on their behalf—to send the message that people care about them and will protect them, no matter what. Some kids are going to be able to suck it up and face the bully down. Others are going to be afraid and do damage to themselves instead. It’s on us to give them a third option—to trust that their parents, the grown-ups in charge, will do something about it, and hold these schools and their administrators and the parents of the bullies accountable for not keeping sweet little boys like Jaheem and Carl safe from unbearable abuse.

Before it’s too late.



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Monday, April 27, 2009

Send Fear Packing: Learning To Trust My Gut, Speak My Mind, and Live My Dreams



By FELICIA RICHARDSON-BATTLE

This year I'll be 38 years old. Wow!

I'm happy to report that I am not approaching The Big 4-0 with the anxiety that some women feel as they hit that milestone age. Instead, I'm finding more confidence, humor at every turn, and a healthy new respect for life. But along with this introspection comes some discomfort. Taking a look back at your life with knowing eyes brings to light some things that perhaps you weren't so willing to face before.

Having my first book published last year was a dream come true. Funny how you can work on something so hard for so long, but when it finally happens, it's nothing like you thought it would be. Holding a copy of Feel Good, Girl! in my hands for the first time was amazing. Speaking to the crowds that came for book signings, answering questions and being the center of attention was not.

Hello, Fear of Public Speaking! (How many people are in that room?).

Come on in, Fear of Rejection! (NO one will even buy this book, probably).

And who's this? Self-Doubt! It's been so long! Come on in and have a seat.

A big part of me wished I'd never written the book—that I could just go home and hide. "You have no business trying to tell girls how to live their lives. You've messed up so many times. This book is a joke…and your hair is a mess, too." Oh yeah, my inner voice is harsh. And bending to it is what I've spent most of my life doing. Sitting on the side lines ("Keep those knees closed when you have a skirt on, girl!"). Never talking too much ("No one asked for your opinion."). Giving in, even when every bone in my body said not to ("He won't like you anymore if you don't."). Words that come from a place inside me that I wish I could shush and never hear from again. But that place is where the book came from. If I'm not able to talk about it—to warn every other girl-child I can get my hands on to never cave to her fears—then what the hell am I here for?



It's taken me 38 years, two children, a husband and a book to realize that I've lived my entire life in fear—guided through situations by a frightened little conductor whose sole purpose was to avoid confrontation, to be liked, and to remain "good" in the eyes of those around me. All at the cost of never speaking up for myself or uttering the word "no"—and rarely standing for what was right if it went against the crowd.

I've allowed myself to be driven through life from the safety of the backseat. Oh yes, I've lived my wild side; but in a lowly, secreted fashion that can in no way be called "living." Things I've done in the dark to build confidence in the light are nothing but covers for fear and shame. A lonely cry wrapped up in sequins.

I'm so done.

Trust your gut. Speak your mind. Live your dreams. Those are the things that I tell girls in my book. Time to take my own advice.

Tonight, I send my frightened little conductor on her way. Her bags are already packed. I wish her no harm, because she truly believed she was helping me. But it's time for her to go. She's boarding a big boat and floating away on her sea of worry and fear. Perhaps she will find some peace on her journey. A bit of moonlight to soothe her choppy waters.

But me, I've got work to do. Felicia is ready to take on the world, grab for stars, and taste what it means to stand confident and strong. Even if it means I must stand alone. For the first time, that doesn’t sound so bad.

Life is cheap, bittersweet,
but it tastes good to me.
Take my turn
Crash and burn
that's how it's supposed to be.
—"Sure Looks Good to Me" Alicia Keyes



About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Felicia Richardson-Battle is a professional writer and author who writes about girl empowerment issues at her hugely popular blog, Reign of the Girl-Child. She lives in Long Island, N.Y., with her husband and two kids—one girl-child and one rambunctious boy. Check out her book, Feel Good, Girl!, here.


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Friday, April 24, 2009

MyBrownBaby Is Road Trippin’ With The BlogRollers



Yup—I talked my way into the “BlogHer or Bust” Chevy with none other than the BlogRollers! I’ll be riding to Chicago to crash the BlogHer conference with Lorraine of Ask Wifey and Christie of A Work In Progress and BlogTalk radio’s Chatterbox. They’re the beauty and brains behind BlogRollers, the new blog venture that’s literally going to take social networking to the streets. We’ll be posting on Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, 12seconds and a bunch of other social media outlets during our 10-day trip, hosting blogger/twitter meet-ups in cities along the way, and, of course, doing lots of fun contests and giveaways to keep it hot.

The purpose of BlogRollers is to take the business and pleasure of blogging and social networking to the streets in unique and entertaining ways, with the goal of raising awareness of the power of female bloggers and their impact on the economy.

Now, I’m not sure if Chatterbox and Wifey know what they got themselves into with MyBrownBaby; I’m a veteran road tripper from way back. I’m talking bumpin’ playlists (Maxwell, Ledisi, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder and the elements we know as Earth, Wind & Fire), picnic baskets with sandwiches, fried chicken, chips, gummy bears, and Snickers, portable DVD players with great movies (“Love Jones,” “Love & Basketball,” “Hitch,” and anything with Idris Elba in it), and lots of real talk. About the kids. The husband, of course. Friendship. Work. My crazy dog, Teddy.

Nothing is off-limits.

It’s. About. To. Go. Down.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t have BlogHer tickets. Nope, by the time I got myself together to buy them, they were all gone. Like they were Hannah Montana tickets or something. So MyBrownBaby is on the wait list, praying/begging/lighting candles with the hope that someone decides she can’t go and turns in her tickets. If that doesn’t happen, well I’ll be out in the lobby of The Sheraton Hotel, holding court, talking mess, meeting my favorite bloggers, and pressing my ear against the door, hoping I can pick up some tips from the wonderful line-up of speakers who’ll be telling us bloggers how to up our game.


Oh, trust: We’re going to have a helluva time, tickets or no!


To see what The BlogRollers are up to, become a follower at the super cute site Chatterbox and Wifey created at TheBlogRollers and follow each of us on Twitter. Stay tuned, too, to see how you can win a seat in the Chevy as a guest Blogroller. If you’re interested in sponsoring a day (or two!) of our BlogHer Or Bust trip to Chicago, or would like to donate items to help us make it to the conference in one piece (with a smile!), email us at theblogrollers at gmail.com.

Chatterbox and Wifey got the serious hook-up with BlogHer and Chevy, who are providing the wheels for us to get to Chicago. We’d love to be sponsored by companies that could provide the following (and anything you don’t see here):

• Gas for the trip
• Hotel accommodations for the entire trip
• WiFi capabilities while on the road
• Travel gear
• Fashionable clothing and accessories
• Snacks/beverages
• Tech gadgets
• Bath/body products and cosmetics
• Music
•Swag for our fans

We promise to make your donation well worth your while!


GOT MY MIND ON MY MONEY AND MY MONEY ON MY MIND...



MyBrownBaby had the extreme pleasure of participating in a mom blogger Q&A with financial guru Suze Orman, hosted by Avon and Mom Talk Radio. Girlfriend answered questions like nobody’s business—about how to start a company, how to save even when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, the best ways to save for our kids’ college education and refinance our homes, and even how to wow investors for your small business. Renee over at Cutie Booty Cakes gave a fantastic recap of the call, with links to some of the great resources Suze shared. Suze’s most poignant message for me, though, was the one in which she implored us moms to take better financial care of ourselves. We are so busy making sure that everyone else gets fed/taken care of/paid that we will literally starve ourselves financially in order to make sure that no one else gets left behind. The problem with this, Suze said, was that we’re the ones who end up suffering. If we can’t take care of ourselves, then NOBODY is taken care of. She parted with these simple words:

You will never be powerful in life until you are powerful over your own money.


Oh, amen to that! I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got A LOT of work to do. But after that chat with Suze, I’m definitely thinking about ways to handle my finances better—and I thank her for that.

As a gift to us mom bloggers for participating in her chat, and to celebrate the release of her new book, Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe and Sound, Suze’s offering up an incredible gift to MyBrownBaby’s readers: Suze Orman's Will & Trust kit... FREE! The kit includes all the paperwork you’d need to protect your family (don’t worry: it can be used in all 50 states). Let a lawyer fill out these papers, and you’d easily pay $2500. Let Suze tell you how to do it yourself, and it’s $13.50. Order it by Saturday afternoon and it’s f.r.e.e. FREE! Just go to suzeorman.com and click the "Will & Trust Kit" link in the blue bar on the left-hand side of the home page. Click the orange "Gift Code" button and enter "Moms Rule" into the gift code field. Click the green "Submit" button and follow the instructions to redeem your free copy of the Will & Trust Kit. This gift code will be valid until 11:59 p.m. EST on Saturday, April 25th.

Go ahead—load up.

And then follow Suze Orman on Twitter @suzeormanshow, and check out hashtag #suze to see what we were chatting about yesterday.

Thanks, Suze!


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Thursday, April 23, 2009

President Obama, the Handshake, and the Politics of the Playground



By THE PRISONER'S WIFE

So the GOP is up in arms about President Obama shaking the hand of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, at the Summit of the Americas. Somehow the President’s gesture of civility has been spun into a show of weakness and naiveté. As if his sheer expression of politeness somehow signals to America’s foes that we will fall for the okey doke and open ourselves up to attacks. But seriously, what would Newt Gingrich and his cronies have suggested Obama do? Snub a fellow head of state? Greet Chavez with a slap to the face? Or take the George Bush approach and say something really, really “smart?”

President Obama extended his hand because he knows what many of us have always known; It is better to make friends than enemies. And in order to accomplish what you want, you need to play nice with others. For the first time in years, America’s staunchest foes are lining up for a few minutes with OUR president. Take that Dick Cheney! All the chatter surrounding the infamous handshake made me think about the lessons I try to teach my son about being nice and kind to others.

Before my son settled comfortably into his terrible twos, he was a brawler. I would cringe when we went to the park because he was that kid. You know, the one that takes others’ toys and pushes them off their bike so he can ride it? Yeah, my son was that kid. No matter what I did—time outs, hand-spanking, and lots of long talks—he stared at me blankly with his big brown eyes and commenced to terrorize the playground as soon as his time out was over. Although I was angry with him, all of my pre-pregnancy research prepared me for that phase, when everything is “mine,” even when it's not. So I kept up the time-outs and the talks, and prayed God would speed up his terrible year.

When my son was about two and a half, something changed. His reign of playground terror ended, and he was all of a sudden sharing his toys with others. The first time I saw him sharing, I wanted to shout, "Hallelujah!" Of course, I praised his good deeds, hoping he had officially outgrown his that kid status. After a few relapses, it was official: He had successfully transitioned into a nice kid.



Today, when we go to the park or The Little Gym, my son plays very well with others. Even when he is pushed, or things are taken away from him by other kids, he doesn’t lose his cool; he merely finds something else to play with. Which brings me back to our President. We all know what President Obama means to little brown boys like my son. He shows what is possible, even when there are seemingly insurmountable odds against you. Like President Obama, my son is being raised by a single mother and a host of extended family. My son’s village constantly instills in him how he should behave in different situations. He knows how to say “please” and “thank you,” he knows how to sit still in church (well, most of the time), and he knows when to be loud and rambunctious and when to tone it down. At three, he has mastered the subtle nuances of behaving in different situations.

Even at this stage my son has leaned a lesson that will allow him to traverse several different social circles throughout his life. He has learned that being the nice guy gets you want you want. Being nice means you can play with others, keep your toys, and get little surprises from your mommy. As he grows older, being polite will give him access to scholarships, jobs, raises, and other advancement opportunities. Life will not be easy for my son, but he will be able to carry what we, and other prominent Black folks like President Obama, have taught him throughout his life. And at three, I think my son can teach Newt Gingrich and the GOP a few things about manners.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
The Prisoner's Wife blogs anonymously about her experiences raising a son while his father is incarcerated. She is a teacher, writer, and avid music junkie, and mothers over 100 brown babies a day in her classroom before coming home to her own. Check out more of her incredible writing and poetry at The Prisoner's Wife.




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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mercy, Mercy Me—Happy Earth Day



Neither Corinne Bailey Rae nor John Legend can do any wrong in my book, so it makes sense that when the two came together on the stage in London's Wembley Stadium for a 2007 Live Earth concert, the pairing was nothing less than magical—not just because the two have incredible voices, but because they chose a song whose lyrics, 38 years after their debut on Marvin Gaye's legendary What's Going On LP, stand the test of time. Mercy, Mercy Me (Ecology) is revered now, more than ever, because of its truth and its prophecy; the lyrics make me turn off lights and grab my Publix cloth shopping bags and rush the kids out of the shower and plant stuff out in the backyard—make me marvel at what God's created and vow to do better by it.

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Where did all the blue sky go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north and south and east

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Radiation in the ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can you stand?
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord

Sweet Lord, indeed.

Protect our Earth—it's the only one we have.

Happy Earth Day.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MyBrownEarth: Discovering the Secret Life of Bees





[NOTE TO MYBROWNBABY READERS: I've invited the good folks of I (HEART) FACES to critique my photos and give me constructive feedback on how I could have made my pictures even better. Specifically, I'd love to know what I could have done to make the picture of my daughter, Lila (holding the honeycomb out in front of her) more crisp. I use the standard photo editing tools on my Mac; I do not have Photoshop (though I'm working on this. Okay--have at it!)


Sometimes we go great lengths to give our kids enriching experiences—we take them to museums, put them in the front pew at church, pay hundreds of dollars for summer science and art camps, all with the hope that each moment will create memories, expand minds, and make fuller, more rounded little people. But what we don’t realize is that sometimes, the most valuable lessons are literally right outside the front door.

That’s what we found this past spring break when we visited my Dad in Virginia. My cousin, who’d just purchased the fixer-upper across the street from my Dad’s house, invited me, Nick, and the girls over to his new place to watch as two bee keepers extracted a massive bee’s nest from a back porch wall—a front row seat to check out the secret life of bees. We were standing only about a foot or so away from the action, peering through a large glass pane door overlooking the porch, and when the bee keeper pulled back that first chunk of sheetrock, we were literally shocked and amazed by what we saw: A massive honeycomb that ran both the length and width of the wall, teeming with Italian bees.

What an incredible sight to see!



The funny thing is that we look at bees as such a threat (I had my first run-in with the pointy side of a bee while I was driving; that sucker stung me right in the neck—hurt so bad I almost drove off the doggone road!), but we watched that entire extraction standing only a few feet away from hundreds of bees, and they had no interest in attacking us. They were more concerned about tending to their home—and certainly protecting their beloved queen bee.





As much as I shudder when I remember the great pain I felt from that bee sting and as scared as my girls are of getting stung, both they and I were amazed by the miracle those bees created in the wall, and impressed by the bee keepers, who very carefully took the bees, the queen, and some of the honeycomb and put them into special bee boxes, where they were going to make their new home—and lots of the sweet, sticky honey.









Later, Mari, Lila, and I got on the internet to learn more about the little miracles makers. One of my favorite stores, Anthropologie, just happened to be doing an Earth Day homage to the honey bee, and had this to say about their importance:

…these hardworking insects are responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops nationwide—or in other words, $15 billion worth of U.S. agriculture.

Sadly, in recent years, beekeepers have lost more than one-third of their bees to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which bees mysteriously abandon their hives and die. Pesticides, viruses, poor nutrition and cell phone signals are often cited as culprits; however, the exact cause of CCD remains uncertain. Experts agree additional research is integral to the preservation of honey bees.

The girls and I then followed a link to helpthehoneybees.com, a site, run by Häagen-Dazs, that chronicles the plight of the honey bee, tells us exactly why we should be concerned, and gives us solid ideas for how we can help the little buggers live. The site also has a fun app that lets users create their own honey bees and email them to their friends; these are Mari and Lila’s creations.





Now, rather than run away from bees, the girls actually marvel at them. I’m not sure how I feel about this—I’m still a little scared of the damage they can do to an unsuspecting neck, but I can appreciate their importance, for sure. And I’m glad my girls got a great lesson—beautiful, informative, memorable, and free of charge!


MyBrownBaby wants to remind you that though tomorrow is officially Earth Day, it's important to celebrate our Earth and all it has to offer every day by recycling, reusing, reducing, and teaching our babies to be stewards of our beautiful planet.


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Monday, April 20, 2009

BOOTY IS BOOTY AT BURGER KING



Can someone please explain to me why Burger King is using Sir Mix-A-Lot's ode to ass to hawk 99-cents SpongeBob kids' meals to the babies? Please?! I mean, damn—I've written before about how I do what I can to keep the BET watching to a minimum; when the remote does slip and fall on the channel that seems to serve up all ass, all day (except on the Lawd's day, of course), I do my best to turn hyper-sexualized, misogynistic music and videos into teachable moments.

But how, exactly, do I escape the madness when women are popping their booties to a catchy burger beat while SpongeBob gets his boogie on in the background? Not in the middle of the night, but after school and during prime time, when my kids are watching? Oh, Mari and Lila get a good giggle when they catch this commercial on TV, which is way too often; they snicker and sniggle like they've just caught sight of something awfully naughty. Trust: My girls know there's something just plain wrong about a commercial that pairs their beloved SpongeBob with a blinged-out "king" waltzing across the TV, measuring women's behinds. And, er um, they're 6 and 9.

Really, Burger King? Nickelodeon? For real, for real? Were there any moms in the room when you all decided this was appropriate fare for children? Any daddies? Anyone who knows firsthand the devastation both fast food and misogynistic music have wreaked on American children in general, and brown babies in particular?

Now, I know there are a lot of other battles we need to focus our energy on—the economy is still in the toilet, Iran is testing missiles and jailing journalists, Afghanistan just passed a law saying that women have to wear make-up and have sex if their husbands demand it, and, have mercy, Octomom still has all 14 of her kids. But as a mom looking to raise healthy, smart, confident little girls who can be comfortable in the skin—and bodies—they're in without pimping them out for commercial purposes, I think I can take 10 minutes today to tell Burger King and Nickelodeon to get a clue.

The New Agenda, a non-partisan group for women's rights, is encouraging moms (and everyone else who actually cares about young minds and thinks the Burger King ad is a hot mess) to speak up and out until the commercials are pulled from the airwaves:

Take Action:

1) Write or call Burger King corporate headquarters. Tell them that unless women are not people, this commercial violates their Corporate Social Responsibility Mission Statement: Fundamental respect for all people, and our planet, guides our corporate conscience. Tell them you will not visit their restaurants until they withdraw the ad.

Burger King Corporation
5505 Blue Lagoon Dr.
Miami, FL 33126
Consumer Relations (305) 378-3535 Staffed M-F, 9am–5pm EST
Email Investor Relations at investor@whopper.com


2) Write or call Nickelodeon, which bills itself as “the only network that puts kids first.” Tell them that to profit by teaching children to objectify women is wrong, and that you will purchase no more SpongeBob merchandise until the offensive ad stops running.

Nickelodeon
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-6000

3) Forward this action alert to a friend.


Don't have time to write a letter or make a call? Simply hop on over to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and sign their online petition. It'll take two seconds. I'm going to sign mine with my kids when they get home from school today.

You might consider doing the same.



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Friday, April 17, 2009

Home Made Love: Basil Sausage Peppery Pasta





By MARI and LILA CHILES

We have some pretty busy days around here, and some evenings, when soccer and Mandarin lessons and Environmental Club, and Math Enrichment clog up our schedule, we help Mommy hook up something quick and healthy and delicious so that we can make it to our activities on time or we don’t have a lot to fuss with if we eat dinner afterward. The best part about this dish is that we get to make the sauce from scratch, and peel the sausage all by ourselves. (Who knew you could peel sausage?!) And considering how easy it is to make, it sure tastes yummy!

Ingredients
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, diced
6 plum tomatoes, diced
6 basil leaves, chopped into strips
2 tbsp olive oil
1 package of sweet sausage (we use Johnsonville), cases removed
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp garlic powder
1 cup white cooking wine
½ cup heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper to taste



Directions
1. Brown the sausage bits and fennel seeds in a large sauté pan with the olive oil; set aside.
2. Sauté garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes in the pan drippings until translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Gently add in tomatoes, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and sauté.
4. Add sausage back to the pan; pour in white wine and heavy whipping cream; gently stir all ingredients until incorporated.
5. Add in basil; let sauce simmer for about 10 minutes, until tomatoes break down into sauce.

Serve on top of penne; garnish with fresh basil leaves. Pair with a nice crusty, buttery bread. Mommy makes us eat this with salad. We're okay with this. Well, kinda. We like the sausage sauce and bread much better.

Serves 6.

This recipe is from the MyBrownBaby series, "Home Made Love: From The Chiles Girls' Kitchen To Yours," the cookbook in which Mari and Lila share special memories behind the beloved dishes they create in our house.

This Home Made Love series is sponsored by The Young Chef's Academy of Sandy Springs, GA, a cooking school for children. Learning food preparation skills is the main ingredient at YCA, and each class adds a heap of kitchen safety, a scoop of etiquette, a handful of table setting, a pinch of menu planning, and laughter to taste. To find out about classes, summer camps, and more at The Young Chef's Academy of Sandy Springs, click HERE.



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Thursday, April 16, 2009

MyBrownBaby MOM OF THE WEEK: ANGELOU EZEILO


Okay, let me just put this on out there: When it comes to Angelou Ezeilo, I’ve no power to be impartial. I told you why I absolutely adore my sister-in-law in a “Happy Birthday” post I wrote about her back in December, and this excerpt sums up why bet not nobody say nothin’ bad ‘bout my Angie:

…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… 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.

Biased as I am, this isn’t why Angelou is the MyBrownBaby Mom of the Week. I picked her in honor of Earth Day 2009, coming up next week. Girlfriend single-handedly made green the new black in our neck of the woods: She’s got us recycling everything in sight, taking two-minute showers to preserve water, unplugging electrical sockets and turning off lights, and downright scared to go grocery shopping without those reusable bags. So dedicated is she to the green movement that she started her own non-profit environmental education program for kids, Greening Youth, which encourages and teaches children how to be stewards of our Earth. Her free—yup, FREE—six-week, hands-on program takes environmental education directly into classrooms throughout Georgia; she’s got those kids playing with worms, planting trees, learning how to pack environmentally friendly lunches, and generally how to harass us parents into respecting and loving what the Lord has made. This Saturday, she’s putting on her very first Earth Day Fun Festival here in Georgia, with five schools participating (if you live in Georgia, come on out—find information about it HERE) in what is sure to be a spectacular, fun-filled event.

Simply put: My sister-in-law/bestie is the w.o.m.a.n. And below are more reasons why she's MyBrownBaby's Mom of the Week!



My name is… Angelou Ezeilo.

I live in… Snellville, GA.

My brown babies are... Miles, age 10, and Cole, age 7.

I make a living… As the Founder and Executive Director of Greening Youth Foundation.

The last time my kids cracked me up… was during spring break at Red Top Mountain State Park. They were both doing a goofy dance on a big rock—where everyone could see them.

The last book I read with my kids was… “Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt,” by Deborah Hopkins.

My favorite place to take them is… to the park. We ride bikes, walk the trails, skip rocks in the lake, and toss around the football while we enjoy nature.

My proudest mom moment was… when both my sons said they want to own their own businesses when they grow up.

My most embarrassing mommy moment was the time when… Miles had to take his sneakers off at a party and his socks where not only dirty but had a big hole in them! You should have seen how fast I got that sneaker back on his stinky feet!

The thing I most want my children to know is… there are no limits in life.

The one family tradition I hope my kids continue when they grow up is… getting together with all of their family members and close friends, not just for special occasions, but just because. We’ll gather everybody at our house for dessert and drinks just because it’s Tuesday!

If I could invent one thing to make being a mom easier, it would be… mommy clones!

The best invention for kids ever is… the trampoline. Ours is a total kid magnet. There isn’t a child who comes into our yard and doesn’t snatch off his/her shoes and bounce around on that thing for hours at a time.

The kid snack I’m most likely to get busted eating is… Jellybeans. Love them!

The most important life lesson I want my kids to learn is… to always think outside of the box and passionately follow their dreams—the money will always follow.

The one thing no one knows about me is… my name was going to be Miriam. Mom? Dad? Really?

The thing I lost as a mom that I wish I could get back is… the ability to be spontaneous.

My “I’d Rather Be…” bumper sticker would say… “I’d rather be in Madagascar!”



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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A MyBrownBaby Spring Break: The Mari and Lila Edition



We're back from spending a beautiful and quite peaceful week with my Dad out in Virginia. There's something about his place that just makes all of us kick back and appreciate the simple things, like...

The rollicking road leading to Papa's house—perfect for bike-riding...





And lots of green grass for exploring...





And chubby papa cheeks for kissing...





And giggly pretty brown girl pies, with goofy goober grins...




And yellow flowers in their hair
.





SIMPLY.

DELIGHTFULLY.

DELICIOUS.




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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A LOVE LETTER TO MY UNBORN CHILD



By JENNIFER JOHNSON

My dear, sweet first baby,

This is the only letter I’ve written to someone who isn’t even alive yet. I wonder what it’s like for you where you are now. I wonder if you’re getting impatient with me and anxious at the same time to come down to this world. I imagine you may be a little nervous too; it’s a scary place sometimes. But don’t worry—I’ll take good care of you.

I dream about you a lot. Sometimes I picture you as a handsome little baby boy and sometimes I see you as my darling daughter. Maybe it’s you and your siblings I’m dreaming about. You’re all beautiful—beautiful little sprits I’m already in love with. Sometimes the dreams feel so real, I wake up wondering where you are. Those dreams scare me a little, and make me think you’re ready to come down right now. It makes me feel like we’ll be together soon—much sooner than I thought.

I can’t wait to meet you, baby, but let’s not be too hasty—first things first. When your dad and I start trying to get you to come down, don’t get cold feet ok? We’re hoping and praying you’ll be ready when we are and make your debut right away. I have friends who say the first time was was a charm—or even better, they conceived while they were still preventing. I guess their children weren't taking "no" for an answer. I'm glad you've obeyed me so far—we're getting off to a good start. But I have plenty other friends who tell me it took them awhile—years, even. That seems like such a long time. I’m glad you’ve obeyed me so far and stayed put; we’re getting off to a good start. But when the script flips and I ask for you to come down, please do, okay?

I hope you and my system get along. I don’t get sick a lot, so if while you’re growing inside me I don’t feel too good, don’t worry; I’ll still be just as happy to have you. It may not always seem that way. But I will. Promise. Especially when I can feel you in my stomach. I have friends who are pregnant now, and one mommy-to-be tells me she can feel her baby in her stomach already, at just a few months. She says it feels like tickles. I’ve heard other people say it feels like butterflies. I can’t wait to feel that beautiful feeling.

I hope you understand how big of a life change this will be for me. I thought I’d be much older when I was ready to have you, but lately I’ve been thinking about you all of the time. I think you and I are both ready for you to be here. I’m not saying things are going to be perfect right away… actually they’ll never be perfect. If I’ve learned anything in my 23 years of life, it’s that things don’t always go the way you plan. But I’m a firm believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. No matter the challenges we face as a family, I promise to love you more than anything.

I’ve heard it said time and again that once a mother holds her baby in her arms, the amount of love that swells in her heart is overwhelming. It’s something I’ve been told I can’t imagine until I experience it. For me, it’s not that hard to believe, actually. Though we haven’t met, I love you already. I know my love for you can only grow, and I’m excited for that. I’m excited to meet you—my first child.

Love,

Your Mommy


About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Future mama Jennifer Johnson chronicles her journey toward motherhood on her blog, Baby Makin(g) Machine.



Related posts:
She's Got Love And Marriage—Now What About The Baby Carriage?
Baby Talk At It's Finest: Oh, The Things They'll Say!



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Monday, April 13, 2009

When Death Steals Away, There Are No Pretty Words


A dear friend of mine buried her husband last week—the father of her children, the household provider, the man she dreamed with and planned with and told her secrets to. The man whose 1,000-watt smile made hers shine as bright as the African sun at high noon.

The love of her life.

Her heart is absolutely shattered—as are those of all her friends. Because we know what he meant to her. The pain of his loss is visceral. Searing. Late at night, when she and her man and their children are on my mind, I can hear her crying out. And my heart breaks all over again. For her. For him. For them.

I have no pretty words to make it all better—can’t find the nouns and verbs and adjectives to console. Because what has happened is an ugly thing. Something that’s hard to look in the face and take head on. Something that requires much more than the obligatory, “He’s in a better place now,” or “You have your beautiful memories to hold on to,” or the command to “be strong.”

He should be here.

And though memories are great, having her man here, in the presence of the living—to love and to hold and to cherish and to be with—is just better.

And being told to be strong in such a time of incredible vulnerability just seems so… so… trite.

My dear friend has the right to her anger. And her incredible sadness. And her deep wanting.

For things to be as they were.

With her family intact.

Ha’ mercy, I have no pretty words.

Just open arms and a shoulder for the leaning.

I love you, Jamilah.

Thomas: Soar with the angels.



RELATED POST: I'll Always Love My Mama


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Friday, April 10, 2009

Falling On My Knees: How Becoming A Mom Made Me Prayerful



By ZUAQUIS ROSS

With all of the advice given to me before becoming a new mommy, no one ever told me about the amount of worrying one does during and after pregnancy. Parents worry themselves with questions like, will my baby be healthy and will I be a good parent? My best friend's daughter has the flu; should I keep away? I’ve gained so much weigh—will I ever get my old body back? I haven't felt my baby move for a while—is everything ok? Will my baby make it through?

It didn’t get any better after I gave birth; I’ve found myself constantly stressing about my daughter’s weight and whether she’s getting enough to eat. I constantly question myself—“How does she compare with other children on the percentile charts? Has she had enough wet diapers today? Is she crying too much? Oh my, her hands just touched the germy restaurant table… she’ll definitely be sick tomorrow!

New mommies are constantly in stress mode.

After suffering a miscarriage with our first child, my husband and I were very nervous about our second pregnancy—we worried about everything. And then we’d remind ourselves that it’s bad to stress out during pregnancy, and do our best to calm ourselves. To help, we turned to prayer, realizing how important it is to talk to the Lord about our baby while she was developing in the womb. We can eat all of the healthy foods we can, abstain from drinking alcohol, exercise, and do all the things necessary for a healthy baby, but we also need to rely on God and his ultimate protection.

Philippians 4:6-7 reads:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”


We prayed a lot for our unborn child and found that only through prayer did God give us peace and strength about being pregnant, giving birth and raising our daughter.



On January 16, 2008, God answered our prayers and I delivered our daughter Abigail into the world, weighing 6 pounds and 5 ounces. My husband was able to be in the delivery room during my cesarean. And together, we thanked God for Abigail's safe birth. We both now understand what the expression, "Children are a gift from the Lord" means. Our little one is, for sure, the perfect gift: Healthy and cute as a button. With just one look into our eyes, she filled our hearts with pure, unadulterated joy. She is a blessing. We pray that she will grow up healthy and learn to pray to God during the good and bad times (especially those teenage years). And we pray that one day she will have a peace that transcends all understanding.

For those that are now expecting, my best advice to you is to enjoy being pregnant, but also pray for your unborn baby and allow God to have an active role in helping you raise your child. And for all of the veteran mommies out there, let us not forget that we are not alone in raising our children. We have a heavenly Father waiting to help us. All we need to do is reach for His hand.

When you do turn to Him to help you navigate your job as a parent, remember this verse:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” —Phil. 4:13




Zuaquis Ross, a former event planner and marketing and Web site manager for Atlanta magazine, is the author of the parenting prayer journal, “We Are Expecting! A Keepsake Poetry and Prayer Book For the Expectant Parent!” The stay-at-home mom makes a home in Atlanta, GA, with her daughter and husband; they enjoy serving on mission trips, spending time with family, and traveling. See more about her book at www.We Are Expecting.com.

If you would like to contribute to MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com.


HAPPY EASTER!


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Thursday, April 9, 2009

One Mom Says: "I'm No Claire Huxtable, But I'll Enjoy Motherhood While I Can."




By LISA ELLIS

I was going to talk about motherhood, my plans for it, and what it's like for me.
I was going to tell you how I wasn't very maternal growing up.
That I wasn't the girl who babysat during high school.
That I didn't really do kids.
But that I've wanted them for as far back as I can remember.

I was going to tell you how I was going to be like Claire Huxtable and Carol Brady.
How I was going to keep a spotless home, cook three fresh, organic meals a day, and spend all my time making my kids happy.
How I wasn't going to raise my voice at my kids, we'd be the of best friends, and how I'd always have the right thing to say.

Then I was going to tell you what actually happened when I became a mother.
That the Claire Huxtable/Carol Brady thing never really took off.
That I'm more like Roseanne.
That on any given day, you'll see a fresh load of laundry sprawled across the sofa.
That sometimes I'm raising my voice, tired as hell, dinner is in the
microwave mommy.
That I spend so much time making everybody happy that I lose myself.

I was going to tell you that being best friends isn't the goal—being respected is.
And that no, I don't always have the right the thing to say.
I was going to tell you how incessant questions and grocery store tantrums make me want to disappear.
That my maternal gene didn't immediately kick in when my first child was born and that sometimes I cry ‘cause I don't think I'm doing this right.
I was going to tell you how I now know just how much I really don't know and that being a mommy isn't always cute, baby powdery and sweet.
That being a mommy, a lot of times, for me, is hard.

But last night as I was trying to get into my car to leave Trader Joe's.
There was a slightly handicapped middle aged man parked next to me.
We had a conversation that went like this...

ME: (trying to get my little one in his card seat, steps to the side)
HIM: That's okay. You go right ahead.
ME: No, you go. He doesn't like being strapped in and he's going to wrestle
me. So it may take a long time.
HIM: Oh, I remember those days.
ME: Then you KNOW what FUN I'm having (I said as I rolled my eyes)
HIM: But it's so beautiful isn't it? And it goes so fast.


And then it hit me. I knew this already. But something at that moment just struck me.
I looked over to see my oldest son trying desperately to buckle himself into his car seat;
And my little one climbing to the front of the car.
And I whispered what the man said to myself.

So instead of telling you all that other stuff that I was going to tell you,
I'll just say this:
I am a mother. I am tremendously blessed to be a mother.
Sometimes it is difficult and I don't always get it right.
But that's okay.
Cause really, I wouldn't change it for the world.
And yes, it is beautiful and fleeting.


About our MyBrownBaby Contributor: Lisa Ellis, a poet, writer, mother, and wife, hails from Newark, New Jersey, but makes a home with her sons, Ryan, 6, and Sean, 2, in Los Angeles. You can read more of her work at her blog, Essays and Things.





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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Stick To It: Lessons On How To Keep Breastfeeding, Despite The Odds



By ELITA KALMA

When my son was born, I was told he needed formula because he had low blood sugar and jaundice, and for five hours, he was stuffed with the artificial milk, despite my pleas that he be brought to me so that I could nurse him. I was the one with the good stuff—colostrum, that early sugar milk brimming with antibodies. But I was scared for the welfare of my son, and too exhausted to fight the power. And by the time my baby finally was brought to me, my nurse, a sistah, was, let’s say, less than encouraging. She took one look at my breasts and declared, “You have terrible nipples—you’ll never be able to nurse!” Then she roughly shoved my boob into my baby’s mouth.

That was the beginning of my breastfeeding journey.

On my way out the hospital door, a nurse practically forced a diaper bag full of formula on me, insisting that my son would need it if he got hungry—as if my always available, always sterile, always-full-of-just-enough milk breasts just wouldn’t do. My discharge papers revealed that my son had been supplemented with formula every time he left my sight!

Lucky for us, this early introduction of artificial nipples and formula didn’t ruin our breastfeeding relationship; my son has been breastfeeding for 16 months now, with no signs of letting up. But there are plenty of moms and babies who aren’t as fortunate. Although our breastfeeding initiation rate is currently at an all-time high (about 60% of black moms are nursing when they leave the hospital), only a paltry 30% are still nursing at six months and only about 12% at one year. Our society has set moms up for failure, often starting from day one. If the nurses aren’t shoving a bottle full of formula down your baby’s throat, we’re often forced to run a gauntlet of well-meaning friends and family who don't know much about nursing and offer bad—and often discouraging—advice.

And don’t get me started on nursing in public! It's as if people expect a breastfeeding mother to never leave the house! Women are so scared of other people's reactions that they hide in bathrooms or their cars or give the baby a bottle to avoid breastfeeding in a public place. You have the legal right to breastfeed your baby in public but sometimes you wouldn't know it! I have nursed my son everywhere: Target, restaurants, my in-laws’ home, the mall. I will whip out a boob to feed my child whenever and wherever necessary. Some people won’t like it and you may get looks or worse. I was asked to cover up in a hotel lobby by a teacher chaperoning a high school field trip. I pretty much had to tell her where to go and how to get there!



I say all of this not to discourage you from nursing, but to encourage you to work through the obstacles because it is so worth it. Breast milk is a living, changing organism designed expressly for your baby. The bond you create with your child when you nurse him is unmatched. There are a million reasons to breastfeed, and for black babies especially, breast milk saves lives. Did you know that 8,000 black babies die before their first birthday in this country—triple the rate of white babies. Did you know that diseases and ailments that plague the black community, like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and obesity, are prevented or lessened if you breastfeed and were breastfed?

I know that it is more difficult for black women to breastfeed. Often we don’t have the jobs with the flexibility needed to continue breastfeeding. Our partners aren’t supportive. Our families think of breastfeeding as something weird that only white women do. Our bodies have been so hypersexualized in music and the media that we think our breasts can only serve one purpose. It's a disgrace that if you want to breastfeed it takes a mix of good luck and tenacity. If we, as a nation, a world, a community, want women to breastfeed, want our babies to be healthier, then we have to truly start supporting them. That means fewer unnecessary medical interventions during childbirth, longer and paid parental leave, on-site daycare, laws requiring employers to give women breaks for pumping/nursing, and normalization and acceptance of breastfeeding in public.
Then, and only then, will we see women doing what the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend: exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and nursing until age 1 and beyond.

So if you are pregnant, take the time to learn as much as you can about breastfeeding. Read Kathi Barber’s The Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. Create a birth plan before you go to the hospital, spelling out your wishes for both labor AND breastfeeding. Talk to your friends who have nursed and ask for advice. Call the African-American Breastfeeding Alliance or your hospital’s lactation “warm line” at the first sign of difficulty. Bookmark http://www.KellyMom.com.

And of course, you can always contact me. I think I’ve become a bit of a pro! Breastfeeding is seriously one of the most amazing things I've ever done in my entire life. Snuggling my son close while he stares at me with those big brown eyes?

There is nothing better.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor: Elita Kalma is a librarian and the mother to 16-month-old Miles, who is still nursing. She blogs about breastfeeding at The Blacktating Blog and can be found on Twitter @blacktating.

If you would like to be a MyBrownBaby contributor, email your essays/ideas to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com.



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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In The Bag: A MyBrownBaby Spring Break

Mari and Lila are hanging with their Papa Jimmy (my Dad) for Spring Break this week, and of course, we had to pack some old stand-bys for their trip to Virginia: Their American Girl "Addy" dolls; Crayolas and notebooks; their iPod shuffles; their favorite DVDs (this week, "The Game Plan," and "Akeelah & The Bee" are making a strong showing); and, of course, their Dominoes set. But I added a few new things to their suitcases, because what girl goes on vacation without something special and new in her bag?

Check out Lila and Mari's Spring Break swag:

Find me on Polyvore


Clockwise: The Great Word Race ups the spelling skills, but in a super fun way that even the 6-year-old can get into ($25 Fatbrain Toys); Lila will pay homage to the Easter bunny in this vintage brown bunny tee ($16, Mini Boden); and how fly will Mari look cozying into this polka dot terry jacket? ($38, Mini Boden); Derrick Barnes' Ruby and the Booker Boys series is a huge hit around these parts, and "The Slumber Party Payback" will be perfect for curling up with before the girls get tucked in ($5, Amazon); What? Should I get to look cute too? This is my new, adorable large leather tote ($130, Banana Republic), and; I'm tempted to keep these bad boys for myself; alas, they only fit Mari's perfect moon-pie face ($26, Boden (yup, I'm kind of addicted)).




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Monday, April 6, 2009

THE BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Lessons On Learning How To Love My Daughter's Hair, Even When I Have Issues With My Own



By EKENE ONU

Aunty come make I fix you.

Aunty come make I fix you.

I can hear them calling from Nigeria's Tejuosho Market.

Correct Chinese.

Expensive Brazilian.

Virgin Indian.

No one sells African hair.

I have always had a love hate relationship with my hair. More hate than love. From the time I was young, the mamas who used to braid hair would argue over who would be forced to do my hair. “Isi mpulu ose,” our maid used to call me. Little balls of pepper. My hair broke many a comb. My parents bought a metal comb—bright imposing little thing. Sparks flew when they used it. I cried because I thought my hair would catch fire.

Whenever my mother traveled, my father, who had long since given up on taming my hair, would herd my sister and I to the barbershop and tell the man to cut it. “Gorimapa!” he would say. The barber, looking at our sad faces, would beg for him to change his mind. “My friend, I said shave it,” my father insisted. Resolute. So began the first of many schoolyard taunts. Other girls had ribbons and hair clips. I had only Vaseline.

I can laugh now, but it devastated me then, because even at that young age, we were told that our appearance was important. “Fine girl. Fine girl! Ye pa, why you allow your papa shave your head like that? See as your head just dey shine. Gori Gori!”

My hair has been tortured, never loved. Always looked upon with derision. My mothers taught me how. From Dark and Lovely relaxers to too hot straightening irons, it has been burnt in more ways than one. Damaged. Each cuticle cries out for affection. But like me, it is resilient. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Never a bald spot—chopped but grows back. It keeps coming back for more, hoping that one day I’ll do it right.

When I discovered weave, it was like my crack. Take it down, put it back in. I was always surprised to see my tight curly pattern underneath my long silky weave: “It is growing,” I would announce with glee., as if this should surprise me. I wore a weave when I took the pregnancy test that announced my Sina’s impending arrival. Did I wear a weave at her birth? From the moment I learned she was a girl, I prayed for her to be well.

I prayed for her to be perfect.

I prayed for her to have my husband’s hair.

He has softer hair that grows quickly. I envisioned pigtails that hung down and ribbons. God is on the throne and he smiled as he created her hair. As she grew from a practically bald baby to a toddler finally growing hair, I became aware of one fact: You can run but you cannot hide. You must deal with your issues one way or another.

My daughter has hair just like mine.

I look at it and I take it for the first time. “Your hair is beautiful,” I tell her as I struggle to plait it into presentable braids.

“It’s beautiful and she’s beautiful,” I tell her teacher when she asks if my daughter has had a haircut every time I wash her hair.

“I love her hair, it’s beautiful,” I growl to my sister when she makes a seemingly innocuous remark about whether or not to buy Sina ribbons.

I shout it to the rooftops. To anyone who will hear. “My Sina is beautiful, with her kinky, kinky hair!”

But for all my yelling, all the noise I make, I fear my wise and perceptive Sina hears a different message loud and clear. The other day she brought me a hairpiece, a long silky affair. She smiled and said, “I gave mummy her hair.” She watched as I covered up most of my own kinky hair. I wondered what impact this was having on her—how her two-year-old mind was processing that mummy has hair that grows out of her head, but somehow also has this hair. Wouldn’t it be easier for her to get hair too, instead of being forced to endure the pain of braiding or combing?

Finally I am forced to deal with this, because I won’t have her harmed. I won’t have her thinking that she is anything less than perfect. I won’t have her damaged, not in body or soul. How do I teach her to love herself when I struggle with this myself?

How do I teach her to love her hair, when I never let mine see the sun?


Ekene Onu is a 30-something writer who was raised in Nigeria and currently resides in Atlanta, GA. She is the founder and editor of Nouveau Africana, an online lifestyle magazine for African women in the diaspora. "The Mrs. Club" is her first novel. Ekene's beautiful daughter, Sina, is pictured above with Anuli, Ekene's sister. And MyBrownBaby thinks Sina's hair is beautiful, too.





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