Monday, August 30, 2010

{Bringing Up Boogie} Spanking, Time-Outs and the Soul Train Line: Getting To the Discipline That Works For Us

When I was a kid, I was always in trouble for doing something stupid. I don’t have the space to go into detail, but just trust: If there was an absurd way to break a rule before it was even a rule, I found that way. (“No luging on the front steps!”) I was threatened with beatings um... I mean spankings. I was never grounded because well, I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere anyway so what were my parents going to do? Ban me from the kitchen? (“You can’t open the oven!”)
While spankings worked on me, they didn’t for my youngest brother. On the rare occasion that my other brother would get in trouble—usually inspired by something that was the baby’s idea—he didn’t need spankings. A stern word or yelling would send him into an avalanche of apologies and “I’ll never do it agains.” I don’t remember my sister ever getting a spanking or even in trouble.... I’m going to have to investigate that further. Mostly, my friends were grounded, given time outs, or deprived of their favorite toys or activities while they were encouraged to “think about what they did.” When I became a parent, I was so dazed and confused that I didn’t really read up or study various punishment methods. I just figured, like my parents did, that I would know based on the personality of my kid.
And then Boogie happened.
Let me start off by saying that generally, my son is a good kid. He doesn’t throw tantrums just for the hell of it. As a matter of fact, his tantrums consist of him frowning, folding his arms and giving me the side-eye. Sometimes if he finds the matter particularly troubling, he will also add an, “I’m never going to be your friend, mommy. Never ever ever ever ever.” He will then eventually find a grandparent to sing his tale of woes to, and I’ll usually respond by asking him, “Are you grandma’s friend?” He replies, “Yes. But not yours,” and I respond with, “Well, good. At least you have somebody.” And then I leave him to get over himself.
Still, I struggle with the disciplining. I’ve tried time-outs but I have to be honest and say, well... I don’t really know what the point is. I sit him in a chair and tell him not to move and tell him how disappointed I am in whatever it is that he did. But my son is 3. By the time I get to the “think about what you’ve done” part, he’s pretty much forgotten what he did. I now use time outs to calm him down when he’s crying but not really as punishment.
I did hit him once. He was cranky because he was tired, but he was still refusing sleep. I don’t get this. You’re tired, that’s why you’re acting like a crazy person, but instead of just going to sleep, you want to carry on like the Tasmanian Devil on that narcotic. I yelled at him and threatened to throw all his toys in the trash. That just made him more upset and he started screaming. Screaming. (Something you should know about me: I don’t do screaming. I don’t care if you’re a three-foot toddler or a six-foot grown man, you ain’t gon’ scream at me.) I couldn’t believe what was happening. I wanted to break down and cry watching this demon child scream and throw toys around instead of just laying his little ass down and going to damn sleep! I ran over and grabbed him by the shoulders and yelled, “What is wrong with you?!” Bad idea. My son paused in shock for a second and then resumed screaming. 
That’s when I made the executive decision: I decided to spank him. 
I didn’t want to do the whole pull down your pants/lie across my knee/BAM BAM BAM thing. First of all, he was a strong ass little boy. Like, I’m pretty sure at night, when the rest of us are sleeping, he’s lifting weights in the basement. I’ve already seen him do four push-ups in a row. The boy is not human. Second of all, that just seems so dramatic and more about submission and domination than discipline. In my opinion.
A quick smack would do. Boogie’s been potty trained since he was two, so there was nothing between my hand and his ass but a pair of monkey pajamas and Spiderman underwear. So I whipped him around really quickly and “Pop!” right on the butt. There was a silence after that. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to say something like, “And there’s more where that came from!” or “I wish you would!” or “Say somethin’! I dare you!”  Yeah, I had no idea what to say. Boogie was stunned, too. He turned around and gave me this “What in the hell did you just do?” look. He didn’t cry. Honestly, he kinda looked like he was going to hit me back.
The whole situation just felt… wrong.
I’ve never hit anybody in my life. To be honest, I’m not very good at it. I realize it was for disciplinary reasons and to get his little butt to calm down, but while Boogie was looking at me, I started feeling a little ashamed of myself. Like I had to explain. Sure, technically, it worked: Not only did he stop screaming, he put himself in the bed and said, “I’m sorry I was screaming, mommy.” But beyond the spanking, he was more crushed when I told him that because of his poor behavior, I was canceling our date at the park.
Boogie’s whole face fell but he nodded like he understood. I honestly don’t know if he does or if he doesn’t.
What I do know is that though I’m not for or against spanking in anyway, I have to find another way to discipline my child. If it works for you and your family, go for it. But time outs seem to work well for me, and telling him he can’t do something he wants to do seems to work best. Boogie doesn’t like to NOT do things or have his stuff taken away so I think that may be the go-to punishment as he gets older. 
As for the screaming and crying when he doesn’t get his way, I’ve learned to walk out of the room, shut the door and turn up the TV really loud. Eventually, he stops. He comes out of the room and apologizes. I hug him and tell him that he cannot act like that because he will never get his way that way.
I’m not sure how all of this is going to work as he gets older and bigger than me. I’m hoping that at the end of the day, what I have is a good kid who won’t give me too much trouble. But if it ever gets to the point again, that the only thing I can think of is to spank him, well, I’ve got an emergency bag packed. I’m going to gather my favorite shoes and some money and leave. He can have the house. I’ve always wanted to be a Soul Train dancer.

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About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Bassey Ikpi's "Bringing Up Boogie" is a new weekly feature, exclusively at MyBrownBaby.  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. Get more Bassey at 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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Friday, August 27, 2010

Two Words For This MyBrownBaby Weekend: Idris. Elba.

Bow your heads for a moment of silence.
Uh huh, yeah. Now we can proceed.
Please believe, I'm making it my business to hit the movie theater today to see The Takers, the new flick starring T.I., Michael Ealy, Chris Brown, and my man, Idris Elba.
Uh huh, I said it—yes I did. My man, Idris. I ain't skerd. Nick knows. Oh hell yes, he knows. 
I mean, I love my husband and my babies and this life we've built together and whatnot, but Idris makes me want to do things. Naughty things. Things that would make you want to go grab a pad and take notes...
Yes, I understand that these things could break up my happy home. But Nick would understand, just like I'd go on ahead and kiss him on the cheek and bid him a fond adieu if Beyonce or Kerry Washington and them came knocking on our door talmbout, "Look here, I'm just crazy for me some Nick and he's leaving you not now, but right now. We'll send the babies some checks." 
Some things you just don't get in the way of.
I digress.
Where was I?
Oh, right. I'm going to see The Takers today because dammit,  my man Idris Elba is in it. Delivering his lines with his natural British cockney and running all across the big screen in fine linens and toting guns, showing off all that chocolate goodness.
It ain't right, I tell you. 
Which is precisely why I'll be front and center on opening weekend. 
Who's with me?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wordful Wednesday: Celebrating Black Love On the Dance Floor

My good friends over at hipped me to this beautiful video of a couples' dance ministry at Chicago's own Trinity United Church of Christ. I mean, they had me at Babyface, but how lovely to see husbands and wives so publicly expressing their love for and commitment to one another through an art form so meaningful to us.


Indeed, love's the place to be.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Beautiful Black Girl Finally Says, "I Love My Hair!"

Mari was three when she practically scalped herself with scissors—fluffs of her curly afro clumped like polka dots across our beige carpet. With her father and I surveying the scene of said scalping in sheer horror, girlfriend asked us all slick and sly, “Now can I get long hair like Missy?” Missy, mind you, was her BFF in her daycare class—specifically, a white girl with long blond hair.
You want a black mom to die a thousand deaths? Have her daughter tell her that she would prefer long blonde hair to her kinky afro.
Trust: We considered a Drop Squad-styled indoctrination—you know, kidnapping her, putting her in a dark interrogation room with a harsh, bright light, with a table full of down-ass natural sistas who would spend hours reading “Happy To Be Nappy,” and “I Love My Hair” through a bullhorn until she publicly swore off any delusions of silky, swinging, blonde hair. But seeing she was still a preschooler and all, we figured that would be a little much.
So we decided to take a different tact. From that second on, not a day passed by that we didn’t tell that little girl how beautiful her hair was—soft like cotton candy, strong enough to break a comb, black as night, shinier than a new penny, curly and swirly and all awesome all the time. Perfect for parting. And a million little twists. And a bunch of beads swinging and clacking in the wind. Each of these things I’d whisper into her chocolate little ears as my fingers weaved fantastic styles through her kinky hair. She’d giggle and shake her hair and crack up when the beads bounced against her little round face. And soon enough, I was satisfied she was happy being exactly what she was: A beautiful, bundle of chocolate goodness with kinky black girl hair.
Of course, these days, I know that when she announced she wanted Missy’s long, blonde locs, Mari wasn’t so much rejecting herself as she was latching on to something new. At age three, kids start noticing simple differences from those around them and point them out, and if it’s different enough, they may just want to try it out for themselves. It’s no rejection of self—it’s simply an embracing of something interesting and new.
Still, to this day, there isn’t a 24-hour-cycle that goes by that I don’t tell her she’s stunning—because she is and because she needs to know that someone else thinks she is, too. Someone who loves her unconditionally and has solely her best interests in mind and is fully vested in her having a healthy dose of self-esteem, particularly in a world that goes out of its way to tell little black girls that their hair and their skin and their bubble butts and their thick legs and their wide hips and their dark eyes and their thick lips and their plump noses don’t fit into mainstream society’s beauty ideals.
And my work is paying off, I tell you. Just a few months ago, at the beginning of the summer, Mari decided she wanted her hair styled into locs, a process in which hair is left uncombed until it mats and coils and grows into itself. I’d long wanted to loc her hair, but because it’s such a permanent hairstyle, I needed her to decide for herself that it’s what she wanted to do. Sure enough, she started looking around and seeing all the beautiful women surrounding her who wear locs in their hair—her grandmother, a few dear friend of mine, including my girl Joyce and my other buddy Akilah and her two adorable daughters, and a bunch of women at our family’s church. And after a few months of admiring them, Mari made clear that she wanted her hair to be beautiful like that, too.
And so I set about finding a loctician who would love her hair and tend to it and teach Mari and me how to care for it properly and make it beautiful, from roots to ends. And beautiful, it is.
I tell you these things because just yesterday, Mari was standing in the mirror playing in her newly-forming locs and trying to decide which sparkly barrette to accentuate them with when she ran her fingers through her hair and said, with the biggest, juiciest smile, the four words I’d wanted so desperately for her to say that day when she took scissors to her twists: “I love my hair!”
And today, my heart is leaping for joy.

Editor's Note: "A Beautiful Black Girl Finally Says, 'I Love My Hair!'" was written exclusively for's The Parenting Post. To get great mom-to-mom advice and tips on childrearing and motherhood, visit the MyBrownBaby Page at 

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Bringing Up Boogie: Black Boys Shouldn't Shoot


From the second my sonogram revealed I was having a boy, I vowed not to dress him like the lame little boys in sailor suits and rompers way past the age where sailor suits and rompers are acceptable. And then I went home and made it clear to all family and friends that all clothes for my baby boy were to be gender neutral. No little baseballs or footballs scattered across a onesie. Nothing that said, "Mommy's Strong Big Boy." I didn't want to politicize my child, but I also wanted to raise him from day one to be aware of the boxes this world wants to place little brown boys in and I wanted him to defy those boxes—to be an advocate by example and upbringing. A smiling revolutionary. Someone who would change the world with good in his heart and not a chip on his shoulder, because it is the right thing to do. 

Of course all my ideals and grand speeches fell on def ears. My baby boy got "Grandpa's Little Slugger" and mini-baseball uniforms, blankets spotted with every sporting utensil (or whatever). Everything was blue and blue and blue and boy and boy and gender stereotyped. Instead of having to constantly battle, I finally just let it go. But there was one thing that I've held firm for the last four years. 

No. Guns. 


No army anything. 

No military regalia.

And most of all, NO GUNS.

People actually respected that request more so than the other ones. There was the one uncle (from Texas) who brought my then 2-year-old a tiny neon-colored water pistol. My son never saw it or any other gun replicas. And despite constant warnings from parents of other boys that my son would use most anything—remote controls, dolls, straws—as a weapon, Boogie never did that. The coast was clear. I was convinced my son was going to stroll through adolescence without any gun play. 

And then came last weekend. Some friends had organized a block party in Addams Morgan in DC, and seeing as  Boogie is a high-energy people person who enjoys being outside, I figured this would be a good opportunity for him to run around and wear himself out and play with some other kids while I caught up with some friends. Thing is, when we got to the park, everyone was armed with neon-colored water guns—adults and children alike, screaming and having a great time spraying each other with the cool water in the hot sun. I saw my baby boy's wide eyes get even wider and I groaned to myself. I was hoping he'd be more interested in climbing the jungle gym and giving me a stroke by leaping off the highest point. But nooooo: He looked up at me with those beautiful brown eyes, silently pleading to join in on the fun. I tried to distract him by asking if he was hungry. He shook his head no and then added, "Maybe later." Then I saw it, those Golden Arches in the distance. 

And yes... I did. I distracted him with the promise of a Happy Meal—just marched him right on over to Mickey D's, hoping all the way that whatever toy that was in that magic box would be enough to distract him from the water gun fight down the street. He sat and ate, talking his usual mile a minute, even charming a guy cleaning up after a birthday party into giving him a balloon. Yes! Happy Meal toy and a balloon! Those water guns didn't stand a chance.

That stupid toy and balloon were soon forgotten, though, when we made our way back to the block party only to find that double the amount of people were there now and those who weren't dancing were... in an epic water gun battle. Now, though we've never spoken about it, somehow Boogie instinctively knew I wasn't down for the guns. He's never had one, and I wasn't about to let him get one, not even on this day. After all, this world is too unkind to little black boys and I really didn't want him to ever know what it feels like to shoot anything, even if it was just water.

Call me oversensitive but I'm convinced that because of this rule of mine,  20 years from now, we can call my  baby boy alive.

Anyway, I turn my attention to a friend and leave Boogie to play with some other children for just a minute when he wanders back over to me with a neon-colored water gun in his hand: "Look, mommy, I have a water blaster." Water blaster. He didn't even know the word gun. My heart sank as I took the piece from Boogie and gave it back to the person who'd given it to him. "Thank you so much but I don't allow him to play with guns," I said simply. As I was saying that, my son's body language completely changed. His face fell and his body sort of slumped into a physical, full bodied frown. It broke my heart. I weighed the fact that literally everyone in this place had one and the fact that I swore that he would never get to play with guns. I considered the fact that he called it a "water blaster" and decided, "OK, fine. He can play with it here. But only here."

The other parent apologized for not checking with me which was really cool. Before I let Boogie run off to play, I told him that this was only for fun and he shouldn't aim it at anyone who didn't have one too. No grownups unless they're playing. And if someone says stop, you stop. He gave me an "Okay, mommy." Then he tried to shoot the thing. My boy had no idea how to even  hold it. It was clumsy and awkward in his tiny hands. He finally figured out which finger was supposed to go on the trigger and the best way to aim and hold it and then he was off. I watched him play with some other kids and he was less shooting and more flinging the water in the gun at people. Another little boy showed him the correct way to shoot and, even as I turned away and continued talking, I could hear him laughing and screaming with joy and having a great time.  When I turned my head to make sure he wasn't climbing on anything or anyone he shouldn't, I saw my sweet, little baby boy, coming down the slide with two water guns in each hand shooting. 

He went from a "what's this" to an assassin in 10 minutes. 

All of a sudden, he's Rambo. 

I watched him leap from behind poles and attack. He stuck the pistol in the waistband of his jeans and climbed the jungle gym so he could rain water on an "enemy's" head. It was scary. 

I called him over to see if he was OK and he trotted over smiling and soaked to the skin. 

"You all right, buddy?"

"Yes. I'm having fun. I have to go back!"

He runs off and I lamely yell, "Well! Don't shoot anybody in the back! If you have to shoot make sure you shoot them from the front!"

What am I saying? I knew I was taking it all too seriously. It was just fun and games, but with all the attacks on black men and children accidentally shooting each other, and children shooting each other on purpose, I'm just not comfortable with him and guns. I'm not comfortable with him being comfortable with guns. But I have to find a way to get over it. 

I watched him for the rest of the time we were out. Then in the car, I tried to have a conversation with him about safety and not touching one unless I'm around. Somewhere between my explaining to him who Amadou Diallo was and what the NRA is, my little boy fell asleep.

He's 3 1/2 and he just had the time of his life playing water games with other children. I watched him in the rear view mirror, his tiny head slumped to the side, still clutching his "water blaster." He had a slight smile on his face and his T-shirt was just starting to dry. I put my attention back on the road and decided that all my hard fast rules needed a bit of tweaking. I can't protect him forever. I can only make sure he leaves with enough information that he makes choices that he can be proud of. 

And, I decided, I need to hide that water gun before he wakes up.

* * * * * * * * * *

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
I am so pleased to introduce Bassey Ikpi's "Bringing Up Boogie" as a new weekly feature, exclusively at MyBrownBaby.  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. Get more Bassey at 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. 

Photo credit: Jenster181 via Flickr

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

GET IT, PHARRELL WILLIAMS: Doing Big Things With Despicable Me

Mari and my nephew, Miles, were bored silly yesterday so I agreed to take them to the movies. The flick of choice: Despicable Me, starring Steve Carell. It's about an evil, thick-headed villain who hatches a sinister plot to steal the moon, only to have three cutie pie, cookie-selling orphan girls turn his cement heart into total mush.

It was a cute plot—reasonably funny. But what really got my attention was the music. There was just this surprising flavor running all up and through the score—bouncy, space-age tracks with delicious beats that gave a keen edge to what was clearly kiddie fare. I tell you, every time I heard a song, I'd turn to Mari and Miles and say, "Wow, that song sounds kinda hot!" I couldn't be sure, but two vocal offerings sounded so much like Pharrell and Justin Timberlake that I insisted we stick around to see who wrote the score and picked the musical tracks to what turned out to be a pretty cute movie.

Sure enough, big and bold up on the screen, Pharrell Williams' name popped up in the credits as the artist who provided the score, soundtrack and overall musical direction of the movie. The song we were bouncing to during the credits, "My Life," was written by Pharrell and performed by Robin Thicke (sounding just like JT).

How hot is that?

I've long been a fan of Pharrell and his N.E.R.D. crew, just because it seems he/they don't get stuck in conventions; there's always an aura of whimsy to the music—fresh, inviting, spicy, spacey. A lot like the kids. Which is why Pharrell's guiding the score and soundtrack for Despicable Me made total sense.

Even more, his star turn as the musical master behind a mainstream, big-release children's movie is downright inspiring. Mari, Miles and I talked all day long about how cool it is that Pharrell, a rapper, songwriter, and producer, didn't let other people's stereotypes of hip hop artists limit him—that his gift opened the door to his being able to stomp all up into a space traditionally dominated by white men. That talent, and that bravado, speaks to Pharrell's ability to cross all genres, all bounds.

To steal the moon.

Go 'head, Pharrell!

This song, My Life, was written and produced by Pharrell and performed by Robin Thicke for the Despicable Me soundtrack. To hear some of the other music on the soundtrack, check out these Despicable Me videos on YouTube or, do like I did, and buy the soundtrack on iTunes or Amazon for the kiddies. Mari, Miles and Lila LOVE it, especially the title track, "Despicable Me," and "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Prettiest Girls," and the SUPER CUTE "The Unicorn Song."

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010


MyBrownBaby was selected as a finalist in the 2010 Black Weblog Awards for BEST PARENTING AND FAMILY BLOG!

*insert image of Denene doing the wop here*

With more than 32,000 nominations made and 10,000 ballots cast, MyBrownBaby is proud to be recognized as one of the best blogs about parenting and families on the web. I work hard to advocate for and celebrate black moms and moms of beautiful brown babies in every single post that makes its way onto this site, and I’m so pleased that you, my readers, cast your votes in support of the work I do here. For you. For us.

Now, you all know how much I like those “Black Weblog Awards Winner” buttons. They’re fancy. And so am I. And I want one. So I neeeeeed you, my dear sweet MyBrownBaby readers, to vote for MBB one mo’ gin. You have the entire month of August to vote to make MyBrownBaby a winner, but you might as well go on ahead and do it now, my sweets—while it’s on your mind. Please, please, PLEASE go through the entire six pages of the voting, include your email addy (they do not use it to spam you, promise!) and VERIFY YOUR VOTE, or else it will not count. And I'll lose. And you won't be able to see the YouTube video of me wopping it out to one of my favorite late '80s songs.

Oh yeah, you read that right: I will post on my YouTube page a video of me wopping. Want to see it? CAST YOUR VOTE FOR MYBROWNBABY HERE.

Winners will be announced sometime around September 1.

I invite you, too, to check out—and vote for—a few of my other blog favorites, including:

Thanks for your help! 

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Monday, August 16, 2010

My Son, Too

I can’t stop the water.

He’s gone.

And I know that, really, my tears are perfectly ridiculous. I mean, the boy had to grow up some time, right? His moving out was inevitable—the starting of his life without us as essential as water.

The sun.


And besides, this was the point of it all. We raise our children and love on them and pray for them and prepare them as best we can to go out into the world and succeed. Maybe even be better than us. And if we’ve done our jobs right, then their leaving should be met with pure, unadulterated joy.

Still, it’s the leaving that’s the hard part—the day you hug them and kiss them good-bye and close the door behind them, knowing full well that when the lock catches and your hand, clammy and unsteady, loosens its grip on the knob, everything is… changed.

I can tell you this much: I didn’t expect that I would feel this way about Mazi going on to college. If I’m being really honest, I didn’t think I would feel this way about Mazi ever—at least not in the beginning. He is, you see, my son. But not really. Specifically, he is my stepson, the product of my husband’s first marriage. I’ve known Mazi since he was a 1-year-old and, despite my better judgment at the time, I’ve been in his life since he was three. When his father and I decided to date, I was of the firm belief that while Nick was a perfectly lovely guy, I didn’t want a long-term relationship with a man who already had a son. I had no interest in raising someone else’s child and plus, I wanted to share in the first-time parent experience with a man who didn’t have to split his love between our child and another who wasn’t mine. Naïve and selfish, I know.

But then I saw Nick with Mazi; he was loving and responsible and fully vested in his child’s upbringing in a way that reminded me so much of the way my dad was/is a father to me. And I realized that I was getting an up close and personal view into the kind of father Nick would be to my own babies—a valuable trait that played a huge factor in why I said, “I do” to the man. And why I said “I do” to being Mazi’s step mom.

Being a step mom wasn’t always so easy. In the beginning, I was none too pleased about losing weekends with my husband, who was busy traveling four hours each way to visit Mazi where he lived with his mom. And when Mazi came to visit us, especially after I had children of my own, I walked the delicate tightrope between treating Mazi in every way as if he were my own and being afraid to treat him like he was my own because, well, he wasn’t. How do you mete out rules for and discipline a stepchild without being viewed as the wicked step mom? How do you gain the respect of a child who calls someone else mom and you by your first name? How do you not resent the bond between father and son, who, in their excitement to see each other in the small spaces allotted non-custodial parents, seemingly close out the rest of the world to focus on each other, to the detriment of your own girl children? It was an uneasy arrangement, but an arrangement I signed up for and had to make work.

Things got especially testy when Mazi’s mom made the incredibly brave decision to send her son to live with us. He was 14 and having one-too-many Boyz ‘N The Hood moments and needed the firm man hand on his shoulder to usher him through the testiest of adolescent and teen years, and that safe haven had to be with us. I expected Mazi to come to the home I’d made with my husband and our daughters and turn it upside down, but who was I to deny Nick the chance to be a hands-on father to his son—something for which he’d prayed for 13 long years? The boy needed his daddy. His daddy needed him. Compared to that, my needs were inconsequential.

But the slow fusion of our worlds—the blending of our families—was valuable. For all of us. Nick was blessed with the ability to parent up close. Mazi was blessed with the ability to learn what it takes to be a real man—smart, respectful, dedicated, strong—from his father, in a world where all-too-many black boys never get that honor. My girls, who’d always adored their big brother, got to bond with him in ways that never would have happened had he continued to live in another house in another state. And I got to see just how special this child was—how funny and protective and responsible and loving he could be, even to a woman who hadn’t given birth to him, but was/is an integral part of his life.  We bonded over music (we could discuss a Jay-Z rhyme or a Go-Go beat by Wale for hours on end), food (our family makes a point of sitting down to dinner every night, schedules be damned), girls (the boy was never shy about asking why all those little girls he called himself dating did what girls do) and football (he plays, I watch and learn). And the day he called me “Mama” instead of “Dee” was absolutely unexpected and unforgettable. Our bond was cemented.

And now, he is gone from here. And every time I pass by his room or think to tell him to take out the garbage or hear a new Wale song or see his status updates on FaceBook or get an update from his Dad, who helped him settle in on the campus, I get teary all over again.

Everything has… changed.

I haven’t told him this. Maybe I won’t ever. He doesn’t need to stress about my sadness. I think I’ve hid it well. When Mazi left, I avoided the big, slobbery “good-bye”—just hugged him hard and told him to “behave” and “make me proud.” I know he will. Mazi is a good kid.

A good man.

His father, mother—and I—had a hand in making this so.  

This post originally was written for the MyBrownBaby column on's The Parenting Post. To see more of Parenting Post musings, or to get great information and mom-to-mom advice on pregnancy and childrearing, click here.  

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

We Need More Black Children's Books On Borders's Bookshelves NOW.

My neighborhood Borders was running a children’s book drive for a local hospital and since Denene loves the children and books, I offered to purchase two books for donation. Grateful I was participating, the cashier offered up a stack of books for me to choose from. And what do you know, not nan one of them—save for a lone "Princess and the Frog" book buried all the way in the back/bottom of the pile—featured children of color.

Not. One.

Now, you know how I do: I’m a huge proponent of children’s books featuring characters that look like my girlpies, and I’m especially gangsta about getting these books into the hands of ALL children, not just black kids (as chronicled in my post EVERYBODY Should Read Black Children’s Books). So I insisted that I be able to by-pass Borders's pre-selected (white-washed) offerings to select and donate a few of my favorite children’s books from the children’s section.

Problem was, they didn’t have any black children’s books. There was no "Ruby and the Booker Boys." No "Tar Beach." No "Wilhemina Rules." No "Pruella and the Boo Hag" or "Dancing in the Wings" or "Home Made Love." Not one book with a child of color—ANY color—up on those shelves, within arm’s reach for kids to grab and read and giggle at and enjoy. And with every second I had to dig, my anger became more palpable—much to the chagrin of the Borders employee charged with helping me pick books to donate.

Me: I’m not really clear why there aren’t any books for or about children of color here.
Borders Chick: Well, if no one buys them, we don’t order them.
Me: Well if they’re not here to buy, then it’s kinda hard for us to buy them, isn’t it?
Borders Chick: It’s headquarters that decides what books will be stocked, so my guess is they have more of a selection at Stonecrest Mall. (Note: This would be the “black” mall. About 40 minutes from where I and many other black moms who buy books for our children actually live.)
Me: *massive side-eye* I don’t live near Stonecrest. I live two minutes from this store.
Borders Chick: I found one! *triumphantly waving in my face a copy of Sharon Draper’s “Sassy,” which she dug from the back of a dark shelf near the floor. As if she'd just found the solution to world peace.* 
Me: *another massive side-eye and a lip twist* Y’all need to do better.

I was still ranting by the time I made it to the register with my book donation purchases—the lone copy of “Sassy,” and a copy of my latest book, “Miss You, Mina,” a tween book in the popular Scholastic Candy Apple series. (Amazingly, they had three copies in the Candy Apple section, but it took longer than it should have to convince another Borders Chick that I was the author and that it would be a good thing if I autographed my book.) While it is honorable that Borders was collecting books for kids, why didn’t it occur to them to include a mix of books that feature kids of all races—white, black, Latino, Asian, Indian or whatever?  And why should I have to drive 40 minutes to the “black” store to get black books for my kids? And good God, why was the Borders Chick STILL perpetuating the ridiculous notion that somehow, books featuring black children should only be purchased and read by black children?

“I mean, I’m buying 'Artemis Fowl'—arguably, a white book—for my daughter, who clearly is African American," I said, handing over my debit card to pay for the two black books and the third in the Artemis Fowl series, which Mari is completely flying through as I write this. "Why shouldn’t her kid read ‘Miss You, Mina?’” I demanded, jabbing my finger at the white woman waiting on line behind me, trying her best to pretend like she wasn’t listening to the conversation.

The cashier shrugged and mumbled something about corporate making those decisions and it all being out of her hands. Curiously, corporate didn’t seem to have a problem filling up the “African American Interests” section with a crap load of street fiction titles so risqué I had to steer Mari clear of it, lest her 11-year-old eyes got singed by shelf upon shelf of book covers featuring scantily-clad vixens and chocolate hot boys in compromising porn positions. Apparently, none of us should have to drive 40 minutes out of the way for the mess that makes us look like a bunch of sex-addicted, skank stripper hoes chasing random peen between drug deals and jail breaks. Nope: Those car rides, which use up a good $15 worth of gas, are reserved for $4.99 black children's books.

I’m. Tired. Of. This.

Exhausted, really.

Aren’t you?

And more importantly, what do we do about it? I’m open to suggestions…

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Party Goods Featuring African American Children: What Would YOU Like To See?

I can throw a helluva kid’s party—for real. I mean, I go all out, you heard? Mari’s first soiree was an all-white party in the middle of an animal reserve we dubbed “The Secret Garden,” and for her second, I invited all of her friends to “buzz on over” with their blankets for a lady bug picnic in our backyard. By her fourth, I was hand-rolling marzipan daisies for a really live garden of flower cupcakes I served up at a backyard carnival replete with homemade games, personalized t-shirts, and enough food to feed a small army of preschoolers and their ‘rents. And don't get me started on my annual Halloween parties; what do you know about neighborhood costume parades and spooky basement antics? Let's just say the kiddies who came to my New Jersey spooktaculars are still talking about them!
Of course, I'm a creative being, but I forced to be that way. I mean, until the MyBrownBaby Princess and the Frog Party I threw for Mari, Lila, and a few of their buddies last year, there really weren’t ANY party supplies—from invitations to decorations to plates, napkins and banners—that featured children who looked like mine—chocolate brown girls with curly hair. So princess themes were out. Same for anything having to do with ballet. Barbie was a no-go. Indeed, we were stuck with generic party decorations—lady bugs or flowers or just fancy colors—to illustrate the joy we were trying to create for our little ladies. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why somebody—anybody—couldn’t just break down and make a plate, a napkin, a balloon—hell, anything!—with a little black girl’s face on it so that African American children could celebrate themselves at their own birthday parties, just like every other child.
There is one company that is trying to help a sistah out. Birthday in a Box, an online store that packages and ships more than 100 high-quality, imaginative children’s party kits, wants to up the ante on the offerings they have for black parents. So they’ve put together a survey they want African American moms and moms of  children of color to take to gauge what, exactly, we’d like to see in party kits featuring our kids. And get this: They’re giving away a $50 gift certificate for to one lucky MyBrownBaby reader to find out. Simply take the quick and easy three-minute survey (it really is only three minutes, promise—I did it, too!), sign up to receive BIAB's weekly newsletter (full of great party planning tips and ideas like this sleepover party I’m totally going to hook up for Mari and Lila’s next birthday bash) and you're done! 
Take the Birthday In a Box Survey HERE.
In the meantime, check out some of the super cute multicultural offerings Birthday In a Box already has online, and click around the site for some great party ideas.
Thanks for participating! 

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Tweens and Cell Phones—A Lethal Combination

There they were, a restaurant table-full of 11-year-olds in their glittered shirts and multi-colored sneakers and dangling neon earrings, holding their cell phones at arms length and making googly faces as the built-in cameras took goofy shots. Honest to goodness, to me, it was like a tween cell phone convention. But to my daughter, Mari, it was a deliciously brutal form of tween torture.
Mari, you see, is not allowed to have a cell phone. Oh, she’s begged, pleaded, bribed and prayed to the Good Lord Above for one, but yeah—no matter how much she claims it’s “just a gadget” and promises not to glue it to her hand and dial up friends willy-nilly, her father and I refuse to budge on this simple rule: no kids of ours shall have cell phones until age 14.
There is a method to our madness. First off, we see absolutely no good reason to add upwards of $200 in annual fees to our already out-of-control cell phone bills—particularly for a kid who makes, like, $6 a week for getting straight A’s. Second, we have a house phone. It works just fine—especially for 11-year-olds who just have to talk to their 11-year-old friends.
However, most importantly, we absolutely refuse to put a gadget that doubles as a ticking time bomb into our daughter’s hands. Sure, she can take pictures with it and call her girlfriend to talk about the start of school or even download a couple of games to play when she’s bored, but she could also unwittingly share her number with people who shouldn’t be engaging an 11-year-old, leaving her vulnerable to receiving explicit photos and having inappropriate, unlimited conversations with folks her parents don’t know, when her parents don’t know it.
I believe one of the biggest parenting responsibilities of kids this age is to slowly allow them more freedom, all-the-while controlling the risks. For example, they’re old enough to go to play dates and sleepovers sans their parents, but only at homes that have been properly vetted; they’re mature enough to go to the mall with their friends, but only with a parent close by; and, they’re savvy enough to surf the Internet but only when an adult is in the room.
What tweens are not ready for—at least not in our book—is a world in which they can talk to anybody, give their number to anyone, take pictures of anything anywhere and do all of that without our knowledge or permission. I think they simply don’t have enough common sense to detect situations that might be bad for them.
Of course, Mari’s girlfriends’ parents seem to disagree.
Still, Mari knows that even if she argues this until she’s blue in the face, we’re holding firm on our rule. After all, she’s the kid and we’re the parents and it is that way for a reason. One of these days, she’ll understand. Until then, call her at the house, thank you.
This post was written exclusively for Unilever's Don't Fret the Sweat campaign. For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing "moments," check out

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wordful Wednesday: Summer in Paris With MyBrownBaby

I shared earlier this week the sheer awesomeness that was the MyBrownBaby summer vacation to Paris with the girlpies, Mari and Lila, and our son, Mazi. Simply put, we had a blast. And when I wasn't leaving my Nikon D-50 laying around creperies and subway station seats across Paris (thank goodness Mazi was more mindful of my equipment than I!), I was snapping away. Here, I present some shots of our most memorable moments in Paris. Super good times! 
An outdoor club settled between the foot of the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine.
A beautiful Merry Go 'Round near the River Seine

Mari, Lila, and Mazi chillin' on a nighttime ride down the River Seine

We took an amazing Black History Tour of Paris with the fabulous Ricki Stevenson of Black Paris Tours. Ms. Ricki took us all around the city, nourishing our minds with stories about African Americans who found solace in Paris and pointing out all the landmarks of significance to our history there. If you ever find yourself in Paris, this tour is a MUST!

Our tour guide, Ricki Stevenson, breaking it down so it'll forever be broke 

Parc Monceau, the elegant park where African Americans, barred from parks in the U.S., strolled, including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Mary McLeod Bethune, Katherine Dunham and many more.

A monument to France's most prolific writer, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and 600 other books he wrote in his lifetime. In 2001, the French Government gave Dumas its highest honor, reburying his body at the Pantheon with the greats in arts and letters and science, including Voltaire, Madame Curie and Louie Braille. And yes, Dumas was black (African, Haitian and Creole).

This sculpture, erected sometime within the last year, is a tribute to Davy Thomas de la Pailletierre, father of Dumas and a fiercest generals in Napoleon's army. His name is engraved on the Arc de Triomphe. This monument also acknowledges France's involvement in the enslavement of Africans.

This obelisk was donated to France in 1831 by the Viceroy of Egypt; it's the oldest monument in Paris—3,300 years old. It's also home to the guillotine, where 1,300 people lost their heads, including Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

The Theatre des Champs Elysees, where the 369th Harlem Hellfighters band was honored with a post-war command performance, and where Josephine Baker made her Paris debut in the musical "La Revue Negre."

Place de la Madeleine, the church where Josephine Baker's funeral was held, four days after she made a triumphant return to the French stage at age 68. She received a state funeral, attended by an estimated 100,000 people.

That's me and the girls up top, and Nick below, hanging in Little Africa.

For the past 125 years, church attendees have continuously prayed here at the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur,  making good on a promise when the church was erected to stay in continuous prayer to atone for France's involvement in war. The church is in the highest point of Paris, in Montmartre.

Of course, the food in Paris is divine, as are the desserts, especially here at La Duree, an ornate pastry shop and tea room that's been serving up its world-famous coconut-less macaroons since 1862. We had champagne and cookies for dessert back in this stunningly elegant champagne room. (Don't worry: Mari and Lila had milkshakes!)

Of course, we couldn't do Paris without taking a day trip to Versailles, home to Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. Opulent doesn't even begin to describe this place. The fountain-filled gardens, the golden gates and staircases, the marble, the art, the sheer size of the place? Yeah, let's just say that if I was starving and I knew my king and queen spent all the tax money on this madness, I would have chopped off the heiffa's head, too. #justsayin

The golden entry gate to Versailles

Mari getting her giggle on in a maze of hedges in the gardens of Versailles

One of the many houses gracing Marie Antoinette's chalet

The gardens are even more amazing when the fountains are running

The Centre Pompidou is an ultra-hip modern museum with lots of amazing and super weird art. Of course, when there's a mirror around, the Chiles girls are going to pose. Take note of Lila, who can't ever be still, even when the camera is clicking!

The Stravinsky Fountain, in the square outside the Centre Pompidou

The Arch de Triomphe is just as amazing inside as it is on the outside—and good God, you have to climb more than 230 steps to get to the top. Nobody warned me. I barely made it up. Clearly, I need more people. And exercise.


And what would a visit to Paris be without a stop at the world-famous Louvre? Mona Lisa smiled at us, and Mari and Lila took their beauty star turn in front of the Venus de Milo. 

We really enjoyed our lunch at Cafe Marley, a delightful restaurant just off the Louvre's square. And there goes Lila, twirling again. And for the record? Panna Cotta topped with fresh raspberries is officially my favorite dessert, like, ever. I'm on a mission to find a good recipe for this.

Notre Dame. 'Nuff said.

We spent our last night at Publicis Drugstore, a delightful restaurant in a "mall" type building with shops, book stores, and magazine stands. The food was delicious and the desserts, especially the generously proportioned ice cream sundaes and the pistachio creme brulee, were nuts.  

Nick getting a good laugh at something Lila was doing, no doubt. She's a riot. All day, er'day.

My Lila, the goofbucket.

Mari, handling her strawberry shortcake ice cream sundae.  She barely put a dent in it!

The Arch de Triomphe, just steps away from the restaurant, at night. Our last view of Paris...

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