Tuesday, November 30, 2010

MyBrownBaby Fresh: The 2010 Holiday Gift Guide For Brown Boys

Welcome to day two of the MyBrownBaby Fresh 2010 Gift Guide. I combed the web in search of goodies made and or sold by people of color and found THE BEST gifts—like dolls, stationery, jewelry, art, children's books, clothes, and beauty products you'll be proud to give to the favorite people on your list. Yesterday, I featured delicious treats for the little girls in your life. Next up: Great gifts for the little boys you love. Click on the headlines or the prices at the end of each listing to get to the online stores selling these precious goodies, all of which have the MyBrownBaby Fresh stamp of approval. Happy shopping! 

Because what’s better than setting the bar high for our boys? And how cute are these t-shirts anyway? Cocoa Babies has a bunch of great t-shirts for children with lots of positive messages; the logo that caught my eye was the one with “College Bound” written across the chest, but “Destined For Greatness” is adorable, too, as is the “Lil Brotha” bib (replete with the black fist), and the “Strong Black Man In the Making” onesie. Yessir! From $7.99, exclusively at Cocoa Babies.

And if you thought finding dolls that look like little black girls is hard, try getting your hands on a non-white action figure. I ‘clare fo’ sweet baby Jesus, I think it might be easier to find a black Santa in Vermont than a super hero/action figure with brown skin and African American features in a toy store. *church hand held high—and let the choir sang, “Amen.”* But after an exhaustive search, I found one, doggonit! It’s a 4-inch scale figure of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in all his chocolatey goodness. He’s got more than 20 points of movement for a wicked amount of posing options. Pair it with some imagination, and you’ve gotten the little boy in your life some maximum playtime. All day! $7.99 at Entertainment Earth.

Supersoaker Wars Shotblast Water Blaster

I  know, I know—here I am promoting toy guns. But dig this precious pearl I learned just yesterday: The Super Soaker, one of the most popular toy water guns in history, was invented by… wait on it… an African American rocket scientist named Dr. Lonnie Johnson. Which brings a whole ‘nother meaning to the beauty of this baby, touted as the hugest air-powered water blaster in the super soaker arsenal. Pump the handle for a quick load from the large-capacity tank and use the tactical rail to line up shots—and remind the special boy in your life that he should thank Dr. Johnson, a man who looks just like him, for all the great waterpower.  The Supersoaker Wars Shotblast Water Blaster - Red is $19.15 at Amazon.

I’m just saying—how fly would your brown boy be with one of these babies on his arm? I simply l-o-v-e Michele Verbeek’s do-it-yourself jewelry designs, which allow you to create eye-grabbing masterpieces for even the most finicky wearers. Choose a manly-looking leather (the chocolate brown is delicious), accent it with a nickel, bronze or silver metal, and pick the perfect message and—voila!—you’ve got a hot cuff for the styling brown boy in your life. And Michelle is great: She works from any style you conjure up on your own, and gets them to you, speedy and easy-peasy. A Michele V. cuff with “Brown Boys Rule” would make the little guy love you long time. Custom cuffs from $18, at Michele Verbeeck. 

Yes, I’m well aware that practically every little human being on the planet saw this flick when it was in theaters earlier this year, but Karate Kid, with the super cute Jaden Smith peeling back the black boy layers—tough as leather, but totally in need of love and hugs; bullied but determined to find strength; super cool but a total fish-out-of-water—is a movie every black boy should have in his DVD collection. The messages of love, acceptance, adversity, overcoming, strength, humility, discipline—all of these are wrapped up in this storyline in a way that we don’t often get to see when it comes to children of color on the big screen. And did I mention that the lead character is an African American boy? ‘Nuff said.  The Karate Kid is $17.99 on Amazon

Buy several copies of this book and hand it out like candy to the brown boys in your life. So rare is a jewel like this middle grade novel, by Ruby & the Booker Boys author and MyBrownBaby favorite Derrick Barnes, that we as parents of brown babies need to do everything within our power to make We Could Be Brothers a bestseller so many more novels like it can follow. In this critically-acclaimed, fast-paced book, two 13-year-old African American boys become friends during a three-day stint in an after school suspension—punishment stemming from run-ins with the school’s resident menace, Tariq Molten. During the three-day span, the boys bond over a multitude of subjects—from hip hop and black women to masculinity and the “N” word—and before long, the three boys are on a collision course, an intersection that will change their lives forever. “We Could Be Brothers” hits all the right notes, with themes that revolve around mentorship, brotherhood, and that old adage, “each one, teach one.” Your brown boy will love this young adult literary masterpiece. And you’ll love that he loves it! We Could Be Brothers is $12.95 on Amazon.


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Monday, November 29, 2010

MyBrownBaby Fresh: The 2010 Holiday Gift Guide For Brown Girls


Toys R Us, Target, WalMart, Macy's, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, The Gap—they're popular stores that get plenty of our cash come gift-giving time. But every year, I do try my best to throw some of my holiday shopping dollars to small businesses owned by blacks and other people of color—to support them, to make a statement with my gift-giving, and certainly because these businesses tend to cater to my style—our flavor. 
Admittedly, finding those companies can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you don't know where to start looking. But don't fret, my pretties: You know MyBrownBaby's got your back. This year, I combed the web in search of goodies made and or sold by people of color and found THE BEST gifts—like dolls, stationery, jewelry, art, children's books, clothes, and beauty products you'll be proud to give to the favorite people on your list. 
First up: Delicious treats for the little girls in your life. Click on the headlines or the prices at the end of each listing to get to the online stores selling these precious goodies, all of which have the MyBrownBaby Fresh stamp of approval. Happy shopping! 

To the rear, Barbie! In a sunny room in Austin, TX, a doll maker is handcrafting these beautiful dolls for our little girls, who all-too-often have slim pickings when it comes to toy playmates that look just like them. Each 12-inch Handmade Project doll has a hand-embroidered face, a 100 percent cotton body and hair made of wool felt—designed specifically to reflect the hair and skin tone of our little girls. The dolls are made in a pet-free, smoke-free studio, and come with a free PDF sewing pattern with easy-to-follow illustrated instructions for making play food for your kiddo. For kids 3 and up. $19.50, exclusively at The Handmade Project on Etsy. 

Pretty Puff Dolls, by Black Bubble
Another great doll option are these AH-DORABLE (!) Pretty Puff Dolls. They're plush by design but  come with—wait on it... afro puffs pony tails! The designer says she made them "to show minority girls, teens, and women that being different, having brown skin and kinky hair is absolutely a thing of beauty." Indeed! And so are these super cute dolls, available in four different styles. $24.99 at Pretty Puffs Boutique. 

And what little girl doesn’t like to write notes? Inspire her to jot down her “sweet nothings” and “thank yous” on these adorable note cards from She’s Got Papers, a line of whimsical stationery designed specifically for the little lady in your life. Choose between five different adorable folded 4x6 note card designs for little girls, three hip designs for tweens, or an entire collection of folded note and flat cards and playdate “business” cards for the grown ladies. $12 for a collection of  six Sunday Best note cards and matching envelopes, here at She’s Got Papers.

All natural everything! This handmade, all-purpose coconut balm, made with organic coconut oil, coconut butter and coconut wax and housed in this beautiful sustainable, albacia wood container, moisturizes everything from her pucker to her tootsies—and for a worthy purpose. Proceeds from the sale of this all-natural balm allow four girls to join in on the Peace & Beauty Project’s programming, which educates and inspires young brown girls to learn about the beauty products we put on our bodies, how they affect us and what we can do to be greener and safer—all-the-while boosting their self-esteem. Give your baby this coconut balm and help four more babies uplift themselves—a gift that gives! $25, exclusively at The Peace & Beauty Project.

Total cuteness in a bottle, that’s what these yummy polishes are. And if your girls are anything like mine, all that cuteness needs to be on nails. Choose from 28 colors—the Mint, Sun Kiss and Kiwi are girly and perfectly playful for little girls—and pair the polish with a nail file, fingernail polish remover, a handful of cotton balls and you’ve got the perfect little manicure set for your little fashionista. The beauty of these polishes is that not only are they free of harmful products like formaldehyde, toluene and DBP, but a percentage of each sale will be donated to aiding the people of Haiti, home of M2M partner Melky Jean, sister of Wyclef. $11 per bottle at M2MdamoreJon.com.

 Miss You, Mina, by Denene Millner
Yes, this would be shameless self-promotion, but even if I didn’t write it, I’d still think “Miss You, Mina” is a terrific gift for the tween in your life. If she’s a fan of the Scholastic Candy Apple Series—what tween girl isn’t?!—then she’ll be quite excited about “Mina,” the first in the almost 30-book series to feature an African American character. Mina is a 12-year-old soccer and art fanatic from New Jersey who spends her summer living with her uber-cool aunt in Ft. Green, Brooklyn, while attending an art camp in New York City’s SoHo. There, she learns how to deal with mean girls and who to count as a true friend, and in the process, she discovers her art—and self—while studying the history of  culture and black folk in Harlem. It’s a fun, meaningful read for the booklover in your life! $5.99, here on Amazon or wherever books are sold.  Miss You, Mina (Candy Apple)


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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Give Thanks, Loosen Your Belts—And Um, Yeah, Don't Hurt Yourselves...

Last year a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I was drooling over this fantastic wood-carved bar at a furniture store in Atlanta when I started kicking it with a fellow customer with similar decorating tastes. What was a cursory, "Hey, how are you?" turned into a 45-minute conversation about everything from motherhood and family to art and scripture, and before I knew it, I was inviting her and her family, who were new to the area, to Thanksgiving dinner.

I know, I know—I'm a crackhead.

But they were super sweet, and proved as much at dinner. Well, except for the part when my brother-in-law James, a lawyer by day and rabble rouser by night, got into, shall we say, an "interesting" conversation about religion with the couple. Both of whom happened to be ministers. No need for particulars. Let's just say it made for fun times.

And that's what Thanksgiving is all about, isn't it? Family. Friends. An exchange of love and memory. A lot of it good. Some of it questionable. All of it worth sharing.

The origins of Thanksgiving make the holiday a little (okay, a lot) questionable for me, particularly since we know what happened after that "friendly" sit-down dinner between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  But the sentiment of Thanksgiving all these years later still holds weight with me, as I look at it as a time to really enjoy people I love and especially to be grateful for... well, everything. We're living in a time where the economy has plenty of folks reeling over finances, lack of jobs, losses and the like. But this is the day when I choose to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty—to simply say, "Thank You" to the universe for all the sweet things that DID happen to us and for us this year.

I didn't invite any strangers to our Thanksgiving table this year, but I do have a lot of new friends and old ones, too—40 in all—who'll be grabbing a plate from our buffet. Everyone is bringing something interesting and delicious to the table—just like family and friends tend to do in everyday life.

And with that sentiment in mind, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, and that tomorrow and every day after that, you push the bitter aside and really appreciate the sweet.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!
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Monday, November 22, 2010

{Bringing Up Boogie} For Black Moms Who’ve Considered the Cuss Out When the Playground Banter Is Too Much

Editor’s Note: I dug deep into the MyBrownBaby Crates for this piece, which I gathered together one Sunday afternoon while I was fussing around on Twitter and came across poet and writer Bassey Ikpi’s tweets from the frontlines—er, playground. What started out as a lazy, playful afternoon for the Baltimore-based mom and her deliciously cute son, Elaiwe, quickly turned into a “get it straight” verbal smackdown when another mom questioned whether her son was “slow.” Right. In one almost hour-long twitter stream, Bassey expressed the fears, frustration, and anger black parents face when others make foul, wrong-headed assumptions about our brown babies. Here, the blow-by-blow of Bassey brilliantly breaking down why it’s just never a good idea to “innocently” verbalize said assumptions about black children to their moms, as told through Bassey’s tweets.


• At the park with Boogs. Poor thing needs some friends. He's trying to convince some big kids to let him play soccer. 1:29 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• This kid isn't afraid of anything! Where did he get that from? I long to be that free and unafraid. 1:31 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Ugh! This is why I hate hanging out with parents I don't know. Just because our kids are playing together don't mean you and I should talk. 1:39 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• E is clearly smaller than your kid. Why would you ask me if he's delayed? Do people do that? Am I wrong? 1:40 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I was like… what? He's 2 and a half. She goes, what?? Then she wants to compare notes. He started walking when?? He says what??? 1:42 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Bitch, you started it! I wasn't trying to tell you he was a genius. I was letting him play with your barely talking yet 5 year old. 1:43 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• White people blow me with that! He can't be gifted? He has to be tiny and slow?? 1:44 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• My 2 year old is convincing your 4 year old not to be scared of the slide and you trying to say what to me? Ridiculous. 1:46 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• And yes I am tweeting in her face. 1:46 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Boogie is having fun but if this chick doesn't stop with the questions. Like I'm going to say well when his home planet was destroyed... 1:50 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• "Oh his father must be thrilled." Someone is about to be arrested. 1:52 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I'm taking my cues from Michael. I'm a lover not a fighter. I just explained to her that her questions come off both rude and racist. 1:56 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• She apologized and said that she saw how he was behaving and assumed he was older but because he is small she thought he was autistic... 2:01 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I'm not sure how that's better... but I asked her why she wouldn't assume that he was advanced for his age rather than slow for his size. 2:02 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Hell why not just ask me how old he is? She said she was just stunned bcuz her 4 yo 2:03 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Doesn't speak as clearly and isn't as self possessed as E is. I said that has nothing to do with me and my kid. 2:04 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Was that rude? I'm not trying to be rude but Boogie is just Boogie. I don't compare him to other kids. 2:04 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• She shouldn't compare little Dakota or Simon or whatever. No wonder he's so scared of slides. Let the boy live. 2:05 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Crap. Stupid bleeding heart. Now I feel bad. 2:06 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Boogie: What happened, mama? Me: That lady is stressing me out. B: Me too! Can I have ice cream? (Love this kid) 2:13 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• E is fine for his age. He's smart but he's not Doogie. So to think he's a tiny 5 year old that's slow? What time is your plane to conclusions? 2:14 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• It was more how she asked. He started walking early. He started talking early. Yes he eats fast food. Yes he watches TV… 2:17 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• These are just facts. I'm not all hmph.. give your kid a happy meal. That's what works for ME! (Kinda) 2:18 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• I get nervous about my parenting but I know I'm doing the absolute best I can. That's it. Leave me alone random white woman! 2:19 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Oh I don't feel bad. I know Boogie is awesome. I just was annoyed by the whole conversation. I don't like talking kids with parents.

• So if I'm saying yes he knows a lot of words. Yes he's pretty fearless. Yes he's very confident. LEAVE ME ALONE. 2:23 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

• Ok. I'm done talking about this. You can't be mad and eat ice cream. It's like illegal in 4 countries. Thanks for listening to me! 2:24 PM Aug 30th from twidroid

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, who, as you can see in the picture above, be flyer than most, even on a sick day. Get more Bassey at basseyworld.com

If you would like to be a featured contributor on MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas/blog posts/rants/musings to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

On the Parenting Post: The Baby Who Never Was

The cramping started in the car—sharp pains that felt like the spasms I get when my period is imminent. By the time I got back to our apartment and settled in from an afternoon of pedicures and massages at a spa party with my girlfriends, my groin felt like it was being shanked by 20 angry men. And the blood would not… stop… coming.

Hushed calls to Nick… Rushed ride to the hospital… Needles and pokes and questions from men in white coats… uncertainty. Tears. Fear. Maybe I had a cyst on my ovaries that burst. Maybe I had fibroids. Maybe it was a period more painful than usual, they said. An ER room full of physicians, but nobody knew what the problem was—just that I was in pain and bleeding and then suddenly not, and whatever “it” was, it was for my doctor to sort out, but it probably wasn’t anything too major.

Turns out it was major.

“You had a miscarriage,” my OB-GYN said easily—too easily. Like she was telling me “Oh, by the way, you have sleep in your eye,” or “There’s lint on your shirt,” or “Here’s tissue—you have a booger.” These things happen, she explained in measured, clipped, technical terms. You get pregnant and the embryo isn’t sufficient and your body, knowing it’s not sustainable, expels it.

I could barely process her words; the four most hurtful ones—you, had, a, and miscarriage—crackled like thunder over all the others, and the tears—oh, the tears—rushed from my eyes like the endless torrent of water down Niagara Falls.

“You’ll be fine,” she said. Insisted, really.

But I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine at all...

Check out the rest of this post on The MyBrownBaby page at Parenting.com's The Parenting Post. For more great stories about child development and motherhood, check out Parenting.com.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Congratulations, Mari—The Newest Scholastic Kid Reporter!

Yes, that's MY baby—top line, first photo on the left, looking all cute and reporter-ish. It's the purr-fect pose, especially considering Mari was chosen this week to be a member of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corp! Oh yeah!

Mari became a huge fan of the Scholastic magazines this year when her teachers implemented them into the class curriculum, and when she was tapped for an interview in one of the November issues, she started tooling around Google, trying to find information on how to become one of the kid reporters. Sure enough, she found the application and spent weeks preparing it—interviewing people for an article, writing an essay about why she would be a good journalist, filling out page upon page of information about herself. And, with her fingers crossed, she put all of her hard work into an envelope and sent it on to be evaluated and judged.

I can't tell you how geeked she was when she got the email welcoming her to the Press Corp. She was chosen along with 41 other kids out of some 200 student applicants. Here's a snippet of the press release Scholastic sent out announcing its new reporters:
Today Scholastic (Nasdaq: SCHL), the global children's publishing, education and media company, welcomed 42 new members to the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, a group of student reporters age 10-14 who cover current events, breaking news, entertainment stories, and sports events from their hometowns and on the national stage.

The Scholastic News Kids Press Corps delivers news for kids, by kids, and its stories are published on the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps site and in issues of Scholastic News® classroom magazines. In recent months, the Kids Press Corps has produced in-depth special reports on the midterm election and the Gulf Coast recovery efforts, explored the issues behind education reform at NBC's Education Nation, and conducted interviews with high-profile personalities including Taylor Swift,Tony Hawk, and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
"The Scholastic News Kids Press Corps has been a trusted source of news for kids, by kids, for 10 years," said Suzanne Freeman, Editorial Director of the Kids Press Corps. "Kids love being informed about what's happening in the world in a kid-friendly way. Our reporters are serious journalists and writers who supplement hard news coverage with their personal behind-the-scenes experiences on the Kids Press Corps blog and on Twitter."
I'm so very proud of my girl. She's got SERIOUS writing talent—and I'm not just saying that because I'm her mother. Mari is nice with the verbs, for reals. Remember her opening up THIS poetry and short story shop to make a little cash? She got p-a-i-d. And now, all that writing and creative goodness is paying off in a big way.
I'm proud of you, baby girl! Keep making us proud—keep following your path. Keep using the gift that God gave you. 
You totally rock!

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ruby Bridges Integrated the Schools, But Her Parents Were the Brave Ones

And never one to disappoint, my favorite show, Sunday Morning, came with it this past weekend with a story about the 50th anniversary of little Ruby Bridges' brave march up the steps of and into the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans—a solemn, scary walk that made her the first black child to integrate a public school in the South. The picture of Ruby Bridges flanked by federal marshals and walking past throngs of white anti-integrationists—cowardly adults who took time out of their busy days to jeer, threaten and scare the crap out of a 6-year-old brown baby—is an iconic symbol of a civil right that is forever etched into America's law books: Black children deserve and have the right to study, learn, grow, and get a quality education in the same classrooms as white children.

But while we celebrate Ruby and remember her bravery, I think it important to remember the two people who gave that child her heart: Lucille and Abon Bridges. See, they were the ones who made the decision to dress their brown baby in that pretty dress and send her on out the front door—to let their daughter leave the safety of their loving arms to take those measured, dangerous steps toward a better education, not only for herself, but for all African-American children.

Watch the Sunday Morning segment, replete with footage of the crazy that circled like buzzards over that little girl's head, and you understand just how big were her parents. Honestly, I don't know that I could have sacrificed my baby for the cause, knowing that that walk could have been her last.

So to Lucille and Abon Bridges, and their lovely daughter, Ruby, I simply say, "Thank you."

And after you watch the Sunday Morning story for yourself—it includes an update on Ruby, the school, and a sweet reunion between Ruby and the sole white child whose father allowed her to attend the school with the black kid—consider showing it to your babies. Mari and Lila watched with wide eyes and closed mouths. It's one thing to hear the story—a whole 'nother to actually see it played out.

We must never forget.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

With Catastrophe Looming, Let’s Hand African American Boys a Book

"In My Mind," by ZOBEL


Have you ever spent time in a kindergarten classroom? The kiddies are unbelievably cute, with their bright eyes, big sloppy grins and all-around eagerness to please. But the thing that’s most striking about them is their excitement about learning. It’s like they know they are about to be handed the keys to unlock all the mysteries that swirl around them, the secrets to this vast and perplexing world that has confounded them for the first five years of their lives. If the class is diverse, you will notice that there is no gender- or race-specificity to this excitement. The white girls are just as excited as the black boys who are just as excited as the Asian boys who are just as excited as the black girls. Ask a question and most every hand shoots up to answer, each throbbing with an impatience to show the teacher—oh, the magical, beloved kindergarten teacher—how brilliant they are.

I was reminded of my forays into kindergarten land—both as a parent and as a longtime education reporter for a New York City daily newspaper—when I came across a set of statistics about black boys that were the most depressing numbers I have seen in a very long time (or at least since election night). Clearly, for black boys, some kind of poison invades their system soon after kindergarten. That kindergarten light in their eyes is snuffed like a candle. According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP):

    • Only 12 percent of black male fourth graders performed at or above proficient levels in reading. (White males at the same grade level are at 38 percent proficiency.)
    • Only 9 percent of black male eighth graders perform at or above the proficient level in reading. (For white males it is 33 percent.)
    • Black males score an average of 104 points lower than white males on the SAT in reading.
    • In 2008, black males ages 18 and up only accounted for 5 percent of the college population, while black males make up 36 percent of the prison population.
          These statistics are so scary that they should be accompanied by a horror-movie soundtrack—the screeching violins that tell you Jason or Freddy Kruger is about to devour some comely blonde. These numbers point to a community whose very future is in peril, to an entire nature whose decline is spelled out with every unimaginable percentage. Less than one of every 10 eighth graders is a proficient reader? Really? If we don’t reverse this trend, all of our children and grandchildren will be grappling with its effects for much of this century and beyond. 

          If we are going to halt the American slide into second-class-country status, we all must focus on this national crisis.

          As the parent of three high-achieving children, I am convinced that the solution to this catastrophe is so simple that it almost brings tears to my eyes. The solution is a book. If we can develop a love of reading in these boys in the early years of their academic development, the arc of their entire lives changes, curving away from failure and disappointment and directly to success and achievement.

          A book is inoculation against many of the dangers that a boy will face as he bobs and weaves his way through adolescence. I saw it happen with my own son, now an 18-year-old college freshman and engineering major. Once he latched on to reading as a little boy, his verbal and language skills soared, carrying him through those painful middle school years and the conflicts with teachers, adolescent idiocy, regrettable peer groups, and a raft of distractions. In high school, when football became a huge priority, he learned—while so many of his peers didn’t—that without performing in the classroom, he wouldn’t even get a chance to perform on the field. It was the rock-solid foundation he got through reading that sustained him, that buttressed everything he did in the classroom and on the all-important standardized tests.

          Getting a child to enjoy reading is like handing him a winning lottery ticket, over and over again, every day of his life.

          But, Lord, I know it’s not easy. I have gotten that message loud and clear with all of my children. The distractions that explode around us like land mines are almost impossible to stave off. Television, cell phones, texting, the Internet, those damn video games. The video games are fascinating, thrilling, addictive, toxic. Whenever I sat down with my son and allowed him to draw me into NFL Live or one of the boxing games on his Xbox, I marveled at how life-like and exciting the games were—and I thanked the Lord that nothing like that was around when I was his age, otherwise my life might have gone in another direction. As I write this, I just realized that my 11-year-old daughter, who is downright addicted to books—so addicted that we sometimes have to remind her to put the book down for a moment when she is crossing a street or walking across a parking lot—is entering her fifth straight hour playing some street racing video game on my wife’s iPad. It’s a Sunday afternoon and she hasn’t looked at a book yet. When I asked her why she was sitting on a throw pillow as she played, she grinned sheepishly (without taking her eyes and fingers off the screen) and said that her butt had started to hurt from sitting in the same spot so long. Yes, addictive and toxic.

          But we can’t give up; we can’t let the distractions win. We have to keep reminding ourselves that if we can lure that 7- or 8-year-old boy into the pages of a book, where he might discover a world as transporting and magical as the images in that video game, we have just placed him squarely on a path to adult accomplishment. We have changed his life. This is about as close to a guarantee that we parents will ever be given. Let’s not blow it. The future of an entire nation is in our hands.

          * * * * *

          About Our MBB Contributor: Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestselling tome The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms co-written with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. Nick also writes for several publications including Essence, where he frequently pens stories about fatherhood and manhood. 

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          Friday, November 12, 2010

          New On the Parenting Post: Bones, Baggage, Black Girl Curves and Mama Bears

          Okay, yeah—I’m sensitive about weight and body issues, particularly when it comes to my girls. I lay blame squarely at the feet of my childhood best friend’s mom. I’ll call her Evilene. Because Evilene was evil. Particularly when she stopped everything she was doing to look at my adolescent body with all its curve and thick and awkward and proclaim, “Humph—you sure are getting fat.” The first time she said it, I wanted to die. The second time, I started thinking maybe she was right. Each subsequent time after that, I’d figure out more ways to hate my body and secret it under mounds of sweaters and baggy pants and other stuff that would hide my hips and butt and thick legs from her scrutiny. And I’d tuck myself into the basement of my childhood home and exercise like a lunatic.
          The good thing is that I was exercising. The bad thing, of course, is that I was doing it for all the wrong reasons—had, at age 13, internalized this grown woman’s criticism and processed it in a way that made me hate me for years to come. That I didn’t develop an eating disorder is a small miracle.
          Now, finally, I love me just the way I am. But I’m a woman and a mother. And like Erykah Badu so poetically put it in her song, Tyrone, I’m sensitive about my shit. And the second someone says something sideways to my girls about their weight or their hair or their skin color or whatever, I go all the way in. Hard. (Nope, I guarantee you not even Sarah Palin can do “Mama Bear” like I do “Mama Bear.”)
          Which explains the what-the-crap conniption I had when Nick recounted a conversation he’d had with Mari’s coach, who, earlier this season, pronounced my 11-year-old needed to get “more fit.” In front of her. Took me right back to my days standing in Evilene’s kitchen, getting the “you need to lose some weight, don’t you think?” talks.
          “So,” I said to Nick, fire in my eyes, hands on my hips, spittle on my lips, “after you flattened coach and he got back up off the ground, did he at least apologize to Mari?”...
          It didn’t matter what Nick was saying. I swear, all I could channel was these two grown men towering over my daughter, telling my baby she was slow and fat and lazy. And yeah—the rest of that conversation isn’t fit for a public parenting site...

          Want to know if I got all "Mama Bear" on the coach? Check out the rest of this post on the MyBrownBaby page at Parenting.com's The Parenting Post. For more great stories about child development and motherhood, check out Parenting.com. 

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          Wednesday, November 10, 2010

          Kid Networking At Its Finest: How We Teach Our Girls To Speak Up

          So there we were, my girls and I, strolling through the department store, drooling over cute purses and fancy shoes, when a sweet little old lady, for sure the most unintimidating person on the planet, smiled, said “Hello,” and then got to talking to my daughter, Mari. The kid had on a t-shirt featuring the logo of a local cooking school for children, which made Mari a walking billboard for the camp she’d attended just a few weeks before, and so it was only natural for someone who had questions about it to, well, ask questions about it. So ask, the old lady did.
          Mari replied to all of the old lady’s questions with “umms” and “uhhs” and one word answers. She had a case of mumble mouths, as our family calls it. I mean, I get that my kid is a tad reserved and can’t always summon up the perfect words for every conversation thrown her way; she’s still a kid, and talking to grown-ups can be a little intimidating. But I do think it’s high time that this extremely smart, well-spoken, thoughtful 11-year-old start to exercise her networking muscles. She needs to figure out how to start and hold a conversation, answer questions thoughtfully and use her communication skills to get comfortable in not-so-comfortable situations.
          Knowing how to talk to others, after all—whether on the playground, at a birthday party, on a job interview or at the office soiree—is a part of etiquette 101—as important, in my book, as using the right fork at a fancy dinner table or saying “thank you” to the person serving you. It shows not only that you have manners and a firm grasp of the King’s English, but that you’re confident and in control of your own thoughts and opinions and quite capable of expressing yourself—things that serve the most successful among us well as we navigate everything from the workplace to our closest relationships.
          That’s why right then, right there, as soon as Sweet Little Old Lady got out of earshot, I ran Mari through the paces...
          To see how I teach my girls to speak up and be heard, in this post written exclusively for Unilever's Don't Fret the Sweat campaign, CLICK HERE. For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out www.DontFrettheSweat.com.
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          Monday, November 8, 2010

          {Bringing Up Boogie} My Boy and the White Barbie—Cozying Up Under the Christmas Tree

          By BASSEY IKPI

          Boogie is in that “can you buy me that?” stage of life. I dread commercials with anything that races, flies, explodes or turns into a robot-monster-dinosaur truck. If it looks like it might kill you, Boogie wants it. When we’re out shopping and he goes through the, bug eyed, mouth wide open, “OH MY GOD!” process, I tell him that I don’t have any money or I only have enough money to buy exactly what we came for. He’ll pout and “oh man!” or say, “Well, do we really need toothpaste?”  but he’s fairly good at listening.

          One day at Target, he asked for a Kindle (Yeah. I know.), and I said, “Boy, we’re in a recession.” He looked at me and responded, “Mommy, we’re in a Target.” I’m grateful that he doesn’t throw tantrums like the kids I step over in the toy aisle but still the “can you buy me that” gets a little annoying. 

          So this morning when I woke up and found Boogie upstairs watching The Fresh Beats (you know from my post a few weeks ago how I feel about that) and thumbing through a Wal-Mart  Christmas mailer, I groaned to myself. Halloween was last weekend. It’s  not even Thanksgiving yet and can I get some pie before I have to wrap presents? Damn. I watched him for a little bit ,waiting for him to ask for a super Transformer Monster Truck Bicycle Power Ranger Batman car... thing. (He knows better than to ask for a gun.) But when Boogie noticed that I was in the room, he looked up with those  massive brown eyes, long curly lashes and big smile and  said, “Good morning! Can you buy me a Barbie?”

          I’m sorry what?

          I said, “Do you mean a Barbie like a bar-b-que?”

          He said, “No. I want a Barbie. This one.”

          And sure enough he pointed to the iconic toy. That’s what he wanted. I took a closer look to make sure it wasn’t some sort of Barbie-shaped gun or torpedo launcher. Nope. It was Barbie in all her Dream Townhouse glory. And I was confused.

          Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind buying my son a doll. But he’d never shown any interest in dolls before and I really wish if he did, that it wouldn’t be Barbie, of all hideous things. Before I could say anything else, my brown-faced gorgeous baby boy said, “I want the white one.”

          *record scratch*

          What? What do you mean you want the “white one?” I immediately went from “You want a doll?” to, “Oh, and now you want a ‘white one?!’ Boy!” Somehow, I calmed myself down enough to say, “Baby, wouldn’t you rather have a black one?”

          He said, “No. I want the white one.”

          I said, “But the black Barbie is so pretty. Don’t you want a black Barbie that’s pretty?”

          He said, “No. I want the white one. I saw the black one in the store and it was nekkid. I want the white one.”

          I had no idea where this conversation came from or where it was going, but now I was firmly in Parental Confusion Land. You know, the place when your child says or does something so outrageous that your only response is a confused, “Oh... okay.” Like when I asked him why he had on two watches and he said, “Because I need to know what time it is all day.” Oh... okay.

          Now let me clarify the “black one was nekkid” thing. In Boogie’s world, “nekkid” means shirtless for boys and/or wearing a bathing suit for girls. “Naked”means without clothes. I have no idea how he decided to make this distinction, but like with most things Boogie, you just gotta accept it and move on. He gets it and that’s all that matters. So I’m pretty sure that the black Barbie had on a bathing suit and he didn’t want anything to do with that. But still, if I’m going to buy my son a Barbie, I’m buying him a black one, dammit!

          So I said, “E, I’m not buying  you a white Barbie.”

          And he said, “Why not?!”

          And I said, “Because YOU aren’t white! Why would you want white Barbie?”

          And he said, “Because it’s cute.”

          Me: “WHAT?! Are you trying to say that the black Barbie isn’t cute?!”

          Before I knew it, my neck was rolling and I had the black girl finger up. (Let me interject here by saying I knew how ridiculous this conversation with my not-quite 4-year-old son was, but I felt like we needed to have it. I’m not raising no color complex!)

          Boogie looked stunned for a second and said “No... the Black Barbie is pretty like you and Kanke and Grandma, but the white Barbie is cute and not nekkid.”

          “So why do you want a white one and not a black one? I don’t understand.”

          Boogie could tell that he had somehow upset me, but he wasn’t sure why, so he spoke very slowly: “Because I see pretty black people all the time. Plus the Barbie in Toy Story was white.”

          Oh... okay.

          It’s true. The Barbie in Toy Story was white. I’m still trying to figure out why I reacted so strongly to his declaration that he wanted a white Barbie and not a black one. Raising a brown boy into a black man in this country is difficult; all the subliminal messages about what’s good and what’s bad and who’s good and who’s bad sneaks in before you know it, and I got a little scared that my baby was starting to feel like his brown wasn’t beautiful. Boogie’s concept of race is all over the place. He thinks light-skinned people are white, and he identifies my friends by skin tone. “Chris That’s the Color White.” and “Mychal That’s the Color Brown not Michael That’s the Color White.” (Both of them are actually black men.)

          Outside of distinguishing features, ethnicity doesn’t mean much to Boogie and I felt wrong for injecting race in a conversation that was simply about the toy he wanted because of the movie he loved. But at what point is the conversation valid and necessary? 

          I want Boogie to love his skin and his heritage and his people, but I want him to respect and love the culture and heritage of others. When I was in college, I was all Arrested Development, Badu-ified, and I just knew that any child of mine would go to an African school and wear African clothes and speak African... like Africans! Apparently, being half Nigerian wasn't enough.

          Now that I’m older and my worldview has expanded, I know I want my son to have a more layered approach to loving himself and respecting others’ differences. I know I have to teach him that before the world teaches him different. I just don’t know how to raise a child who is proud of who he is and accepting of others without upsetting that delicate, child-like innocence that makes so much sense in his big ass head. 

          I do know this much: I'm still not buying him a white Barbie.

          Oh... okay.

          * * * * *

          About our MyBrownBaby Contributor: Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic who is the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi. She's half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the leftover bit is a caramel creme center. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is currently working on a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Find more Bassey on her site, Bassey's World.

          If you would like to be a featured contributor on MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas/blog posts/rants/musings to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com. 

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