Saturday, December 20, 2014

This Revolution Is Women’s Work - Take One

I am the mother of a Black boy.  I don't get Thanksgiving and Christmas off. How can I stop holding in my heart the images of anguished, tear streaked, grim lipped mothers? How can I forget that a mother’s son’s last words have been printed on t-shirts and hats, the profit from which she will not see one dime?  How can I forget that some woman’s husband’s last words have become a chanted hashtag.  (Which a White woman wants to trademark!?!)

Think about that. I mean meditate on that.  Imagine that you are Leslie McSpadden, Mike Brown’s mother. You leave your bed.  Start there. Just start with the getting out of bed after your son has been murdered. That’s the part where I usually start crying a little bit. The part where I imagine my feet touching the floor.  

But, keep going. The hard floor connects with your soft warm feet. Your mind is slowly creeping out of the misty dream. As your feet hit the floor, you remember that you need to remind your son that his library books are due or that his college needs him to send in the health form.  You have to tell him something about the future you have planned for him. And he is dead. 

And your feet are on the floor. You’re sitting on the side of the bed. The phone rings. You answer it. Some activist you don’t even know on the East Coast wants to talk to you and forgot about the time difference. Because your son is dead.  You politely ask them to call back later.  Because your son is dead.  Everybody needs something from you.  Still.  You just want to go back to sleep. 

But, you don’t. You stand up. You can’t imagine how this body can defy gravity. What makes these muscles, these joints, these bones, these heart blood filled arteries so special other than life?  You have a bladder. It is full. That means your feet. Those feet which hit the floor ~  like your son’s body hit the pavement ~ have to rise. Like your son never rose.  They have to rise again and again and again to carry you to the toilet. 

And the urine releases like the blood released from your son’s body. In the streets. For four hours. Just leaking out and out and out.  And the tears, the tears, the tears stream down. And the mucus, the mucus leaks out.  You place your face in your hands. Your body heaves then spasms. His body heaved and spasmed. But, you clean yourself and stand up. He didn’t stand up. 

People are standing up in the streets. They want something from you. People are talking on the television. And they want something from you.  Everybody wants something from you.  And you are a Black mother. You don’t get the weeks and months following you son's death off. There are dead Black boys in the streets.

I think about the profits Arizona Ice Tea and Skittles made.  Who are we as people to race into the streets crying justice all the while lining the pockets of the unjust?  I get the politics of class. I get wanting to have something after generations of having nothing. I get it. It hurts. Our poverty legacy cripples us. 

But, unless we want it to get better, the real retail therapy we need is abstinence.  And this is where my revolution begins.  I have a two pronged attack. 1) Educate my son fully, comprehensively and accurately.  2) Live simply so others may simple live.   I have long known that the most definitive vote I have is my dollar. I don’t have any answers.  

I’m making this up day after day.  Every 28 hours, I get a new idea about how to resist. I am doing my own version of#NotOneDime. I'm not spending any money on any non-essential items. 

Pumpkin bread - 1 for today, 2 for the freezer
At first, I looked at one small way to reduce dependence on corporations. No more take out coffee. No more Saturday brunches at our favorite waffle place. But we like these things. Which means, I've had to become very conscious or mindful of our behavior. I know I like coffee. So, I pack a thermos. I know we get thirsty, so I pack water or juice. Once I got that down, I picked another battle.

For example, I know we eat everyday. It's not a surprise.  When I was engaging with corporations, hunger sometimes felt very much like a surprise. Like, “Oh, sh*t, it's 6:30 and I'm hungry. What the heck can I make for dinner? Oh screw it, let's just order pizza.” 

Then I think of Sybrina Fulton, Leslie McSpadden, Esaw Garner, Samaria Rice, all of the women, mothers, wives, sisters who put their feet on the floor every morning.  These women who lift that foot up and put the other foot down.  These women who keep moving.  I know, I can not allow this to creep up on me. 

But, I also know we keep a pretty good pace around the house. And that sometimes I'm too tired to cook. Sometimes, there have been one too many racist micro-aggressions in my day.  Or that feeling of helplessness at the sorry state of the world we are giving to our children makes me just too damn aggravated.  So, I've started planning for my shortcomings and distractions. I have to face them and be mindful.  

I'm doing some batch cooking on the weekends so, I have some easy, nutritious meals to throw in the microwave or oven and/or making a lot of things from scratch.  I’ve reduced or eliminated breakfast cereals, bread, cookies, crackers, snack items etc.  For example, waffles. A double batch of waffles can go in the refrigerator or freezer and then turned into toaster waffles. I'll do three batches of cookies. Save the dough in the refrigerator and cook them on demand. I just commit to one thing. One day. One thing.

my toaster waffles are better
In the past two months, we have used over 20 pounds of flour, 3 tins of baking powder, more than several dozen eggs and a bottle of yeast. We have eliminated over 8 different corporations from our budget. And if there is something you can not "live without," chances are you can find a copy cat recipe on the internet.  Here's a head start. This link has copy cat recipes for 17 desserts that people crave from chain restaurants.

Because I realize all of these things which have traditionally been classified as “women’s work” ~ cooking, cleaning, shopping, child care ~ are the revolution. It is why they have been dismissed and undervalued.  If women walked out on everything that was expected of us, society could well, 

change. It would take a minimum of $113, 586 a year to replace me.  See for yourself the annual value of women's unpaid labor.

What you can do is pick a few battles with specific corporations.  I can’t tell you which one. Just try eliminating The Koch Brothers from your household budget. They are actually easy to replace with a Black owned company called Freedom Paper. Walmart is good to boycott. In addition to the fact that the Walton's combined wealth is bigger than the combined wealth of Americans, they have simply terrible labor relations.  Try Nestles. They believe water is not a human right.  Then don’t buy from just that one corporations until you are ready to eliminate another one. 

Do your best to shop locally. Do your best to support individual craftspeople. Do your best to reduce spending on non-essential items until #BlackLivesMatter. It’s making a difference.  The #notonedime campaign cause a 7 billion dip in Black Friday and Cyber Monday revenue.  But, more importantly, speak out. Often. Relentlessly. Until your friends join you. Just do one small thing loudly.

I am the mother of a Black boy.  I don't get Thanksgiving and Christmas off.  But, together, we can start trying to take them back. 

Before you go shop.  Finish the meditation at the beginning. Cook the breakfast. Go to the funeral home.  Look upon that child's bullet ridden body. Poke at the dinner. Don't turn on the tv. Follow that meditation all the way through to the part where you climb exhausted into the bed knowing tomorrow will be the same and the same for another mother and one after that.  Every 28 hours, a Black mother somewhere is putting her feet on the floor and standing up after her son has been killed.  Then think about how much you need that whatever it is which seemed so important five minutes ago.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Everyday I Have The Power To Change The Future: Black Mamas Of Sons, Diahann Caroll, & The Deer

From time to time, I will take in some television. I have rules about it. The show has to have Black characters. They can't be seriously jacked up stupid. (I don't watch a lot of tv.) There are more rules, but, that's something else.
Never have I ever had a Forewarned Is Forearmed television moment until tonight. The below monologue is what the mother of a very handsome (Black) surgeon said right after she meets his girlfriend.
"Of course, you'll choose a less time consuming specialty once you marry Character-Name-Sounds-Like Winston. I don't know a young woman who wouldn't want to marry my Character-Name-Sounds-Like Winston ~ given half the chance. He's handsome. And he's brilliant! He's the best thing I've ever done in my life. He's the most important thing in the world."

& in that moment, I knew I had the power to change the future.

The woman in my show was played by Diahann Carroll. Same vocal cadence I would have used. Same imperious bearing. For a moment I thought I was in a televised time travel moment.  

This story is all about how that Mother character could very likely be me one day and how I really need to not be like that in the future. 

That tv time traveling moment evoked strange thoughts. So much of the way in which I parent necessitates being in the moment.  I do my best to attend to what is happening right now, between us.  It is important for me to be present with my son. 

The news stories of Now makes that difficult.  It creates hyper-vigilance, a second guessing reflex; an over the shoulder neck cramp; a continuous urge to furtively glance around.    (That is the default coping mechanism for persons who have been repeatedly traumatized.  And every Black mother has been routinely and systematically traumatized since we set foot on the shores of this country.) Black mothers are always on guard.  And because of this, we love our sons into cliche. Beyond reason. Beyond logic. Beyond politics. Beyond life, Black mothers love our sons.

That’s why I laughed so hard when I watched Diahann Caroll give that monologue.  But, for the grace of God/dess, go I.  I could hear that coming out of my mouth. I could.  She made me look around at what I think I’m trying to do here as a parent.  And how easily the tricknology of Heteronormative Patriarchal White Supremacy can take us out of ourselves.  So, I find myself on notice to be observant.

We recently moved. Here on The Acre, the deer here just don’t care. They are bold. They will watch me come outside on  my patio. They will wait for me to take their picture. Sometimes, I even think they pose for me.  They have no fear.  Those deer are White mothers.

I think about the deer back home in Pennsylvania.  They bolt if they hear a twig crack. They flee when you open a door. They run. They never saunter. They eat with one eye watching. They eat quickly. They are scared.  Those deer are Black mothers.  But, we don't have to be.  No Black mother has to be.

Everyday, I have the power to change the future.

I like to think my new deer friends reflect the emotional space I’m trying to occupy as a Black mother.  This here grass is good. I’ll eat it.  This here shade feels nice. I’ll be in it.  There is another energy. I see you.  This here fence is big and I’m strong enough to jump it, if the energy shifts. But, the energy here. It is good. And the grass. It is tasty. So, I’m here. Eating grass.

I think the deer are reminding me to keep holding onto these right now moments.  I imagined the Diahann Carroll character to have been a very similar mother.  A mother for whom the survival of her son was never the goal, but, the side effect of a daily celebration.  A mother who has built an impregnable castle around her son made out of the tiniest simple victories.  One stone is tying shoes. Another is a successful project. The next is learning a new song. We just keep adding stones.  Only seeing the stones.  Until one day she is confronted with the surprise that it is done. It is magnificent. 

A living son doing the work he is called to do who navigates his world safely and successfully is rare and precious. That can do something to a woman.  It can turn her into Diahann Carroll’s character - unconcerned for anything or anyone but her son.  Ready to challenge anything.  Acting subconsciously on the fear that everyone is going to try to undo everything she has done.  That all of it, all of it, all of it has been a waste of time.  

She has history on her side when she worries.  Any (Black) mother - especially bright, talented Stay-At-Home and/or home educating mothers - are told that mothering their children is a waste of time. They could be out blazing new paths, having careers, doing anything. Anything except listening and loving. And when all too often our sons are violently transgressed upon, we wonder.

But, I’m thankful for better role modeling.  I used to be a little skeptical of the way my Grandmother doted on my father.  How she and my mother had a carefully nuanced Understanding. (I would say detente, but, that would not convey the warmth and mutual respect they shared.)  I think my Grandmother and the deer would understand each other.   This right now, right here is good.  This woman. This life.  His choice.

And I can only hope, that I have the privilege to see that letting go, being here moment with my own son.  To experience what must be the most heady, exhilarating, adrenaline charged moment of any woman’s life.  That moment when you simply have to let go and trust your child to have their own life.  

In the meantime, I’ll just keep building my castle, listening to the deer and asking the ancestors to keep me open to the always of right now.

Everyday, I have the power to change the future.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How A Bee Taught My Son How To Survive

It has taken me a long time to write this. I could never figure out “the angle.” For one moment, I must let go Adrian Peterson and the legacy of corporeal punishment.  Let go the school to prison pipeline. Let go of Ferguson.  Leave Tamir Rice to rest.  Just tell this story.  How this moment happened.  

A perfect Autumn Day. We woke to rain in a drought stricken area. Plans for a picnic on the beach followed by pumpkin hunts and minotaurs in hay bale mazes. According to pictures on Facebook, all of these things happened. None of these things were important that day.

The real story is what happened for fifteen minutes that afternoon on the beach. The most powerful, frightening and beautifully intense minutes my son and I have shared.  It was the day I stopped fearing, as much, for my son's life.   No matter what he faces as a Black male, he already has within him everything he needs to survive.   

It goes like this. 

After a short, half mile hike, we stood on the cliffs above the beach.  Win read me a Tsunami Danger Zone sign.  

“Umm, I don’t think we should go down there.” he said, looking up at the cloudy sky.

“No, I’d know if there was a possibility of a tsunami.” 

“No. I don’t think it is safe.”

“If I had any idea it would be unsafe, would we be here?”

“No,” he said kicking the pebbles. 

Reluctantly, hesitantly, we walked down the 45 odd stairs to the beach. At the bottom of the stairs, he felt the pebbly sand and decided this might not be a very good beach.  

“The sand here.  It’s not good.”

“Oh. Hmmm.” I said. “I like it. It reminds me how ancient and powerful the ocean is.  How many millions of sea creatures it has held, nourished and transformed into these small pieces all making a beach together.”

“Oh.” He said looking down at the sand.  And we stood a moment.  

So, I asked him,  “Are you still thinking about tsunami’s?” 

“Yes. I am very worried. I’m not sure I can stay here,” he said.  

“Oh. Hmmm. I feel pretty confidant there won’t be a tsunami today. I didn’t see any warnings in the news.” I said.  “Should we go? Or do have it in you right now to trust me with your safety?” 

He stood for a moment. Thinking. 

I waited. This is the hardest part of parenting. Giving your child information.  And then allowing your child to make decisions.  This moment is always followed by the most excruciating part of parenting ~ allowing your child to experience the consequences of decision making. And sometimes supporting them through those consequences without being judgmental or self-congratulatory.

“I’ll try.”  

I nodded.  I was so relieved and delighted. Not because he trusted me.  But, because I really didn’t want to walk back up those 45 steps, carrying the picnic cooler, and my purse, and the blanket.  I really didn’t want to find another place to have have lunch. And furthermore, I had researched this and made a plan for the day and we were proceeding according to plan.  We were on schedule. And every other truly trivial reason.

But, there it is. That hard part of parenting.  If I want my son to be strong enough to leave a situation in which he doesn’t feel safe, I have to be prepared to honor those moments when he needs to practice what it feels like to say, “I don’t feel safe. I’m going.” No excuses needed.  So, I would have abandoned my picture perfect plan for a Autumn picnic on the beach if he couldn’t be right there, in that place, in that moment.  And thankfully, we didn’t have to practice that core life lesson. 

Not long after I laid out our lovely luncheon, a bee buzzed around scouting out our offerings.  I instructed Win, “Remain still. Be calm. Find your center.  Stay in your absolutely peace place. Send out go away energy to the bee.”  Together, we did that for a few minutes.  

The bee landed on my face.  I closed my eye.  It crawled over my eye.  I could feel him watching in absolute horror.  Then, the bee flew off.  We laughed and joked about how well we communicate with the bees. We continued eating talking about being in harmony with nature and oneness with the world. And of course, Halloween and candy. 

And then the bee came back. It came back with a friend. It buzzed around Win’s head.  Again, I reminded him, to go to his solid, immoveable center. Breathe slowly.  He closed his eyes.  I instructed him to stand up. 

He stood. Walked slowly away from the food. He took ten steps away from me.  The bee kept at him.  
“Keep walking” I said. 

He kept walking.  The bee stayed with him. He turns around very slowly and walks back. 

The bee would not leave him.  

“Come back,” I tell him.   His eyes slowly glanced over at me. I can not describe his eyes - simultaneously far away, alert, focused, terrified, calm. “You’re doing great! Stay in your place. Be in your quiet place.”

He slowly walks back to me. “Kneel down,” I say quietly. 

He kneels. The bee is on his face.  He closes his eyes.  I see his pulse racing in his neck.  

“Breathe with me.” I begin to breathe slow, deep breaths.  His breath matches mine.  “Stay with the breath,” I say as I blow gently at the bee. 

The bee stroll across his cheek. It saunters slowly across his lips. It pauses on his philtrum, antennae waving as if deciding whether to climb into his nose.  

“You’re doing great. Stay in your center place,” I encourage. 

I light a cigarette. (No comments please.)  I breathe smoke on the bee. The bee moves off. Climbs up his cheek.  Crawls over his right eye. The bee lingers above his tear duct. The bee crawls under his eyebrow. The bee pauses between his eyes. 

I blow more smoke on it.  The bee ambles down to his left eyelid.  I can see he’s starting to break under the strain. It has been a full 10 minutes. His eyelid starts twitching. 

“Okay. The bee doesn’t want to go. The bee can’t hear us.  That’s okay. We can help it.”

His jaw clenches and unclenches. “Okay listen now. “ His lips quiver. “I’m going to tell you to stand up. When you stand up. Walk slowly down to the ocean. You can hear her. Follow her voice.  When the waves touch your feet. Slowly reach down. Scoop up some water and splash your face.”

His eyelid twitch.  His lips tremble. 

“Okay. Stand up.”

He stands. Slowly, he walks toward the ocean. The tension in his gait, shows every ounce of willpower not to run.   I fold the napkins.  Pack up the cooler.  Fold the blanket.  Put my shoes on. Jam his shoes in my purse. 

As he reaches the edge of the surf. He bends down just as the water recedes. He walks closer. Another wave comes in.  He misses it.  I can see him fighting the panic. Just then, the surf swells and a big wave comes slamming in, wetting the bottom of his shorts. He reaches down and throws the water in his face.  Turns and runs back to me.  

The bee is gone.  I hug him.  He breathes out a deep, shuddering breath. “I am so very proud of you,” I say. “Let’s go.”

He races up the stairs.  Halfway up, he turns back. Sees me carrying everything. I see the debate in his eyes. And the resolve before he asks, “Do you want me to help?”  

“Oh, no! I’ve got this! I’ll meet you at the top.”  And my heart truly pounded for a moment. In spite of calmly managing to handle this awful threat, he was able to hold onto who he is as a human being.  He was able to remain the person I affirm daily that he is. And I was so grateful.

At the top, there were hugs and high fives.  We had a lot of life lessons that day.  How when we live in a place of fear, the universe has a way of giving us something to really be scared of.  How important it is to not give into unreasonable fear.  But, most importantly, how to handle reasonable fear with grace.  

On the ride home from Half Moon Bay, he said, “Prayer really works, Mama. When I was at the ocean, I said, help me.  Please help me ocean.  And then that really big wave came. Right when I couldn’t do it anymore. The ocean, she came to help me.”  

And I said, “Yes. Yes you are loved.”

We’ve discussed it frequently since then.  We keep coming back to it.  When he is unsure. When he needs courage.  The other day, I don’t know how it came up.  We slip into it so naturally.  We were playing that game we play called “Where you going boy.”  He said, “Yeah, but before I say “My lawyer answers questions. Am I free to go? I have to be in the place that the bee showed me.”

That's right son, "Always go to the place the bee showed you."