A Funny Thing Happened…

littleboyI remember when I was 12 or 13, my brother and I used to make weekly treks during the summer months to the nearest public library.  The closest library to us was the main one that used to be on Peabody Avenue.  My frequent visits there are probably the reason why I love libraries and bookstores to this day.  Something will come over me and I will just have to go stand in the middle of an aisle of books.

Though summers are very hot and sultry in the South that still didn’t stop us from going. I liked the walk itself.  It lead us through the historic district of Midtown which made me feel as though I was peeping back in time.  We wondered out loud who lived in these large monumental houses with their walls of ivy and tall columns.  We guessed that they had to be rich or some used-to-be famous person now living quietly in the South.  Strangely though, I remember the way the trees made me feel.  They were tall, mighty, and stately – like kings and queens.  The boughs hung over the sidewalk protecting our small backs from the mean sun.  We were grateful for the coolness provided.  I remember how their roots passed the boundaries of the front yards and broke the sidewalks into.

After a while, we would finally reach the library.  First, we’d enter the downstairs area and perused through literature to visit Miss Havisham, Pip, Romeo, Juliet, and of course, Jane Eyre.  Next stop was the art section where Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt’s paintings left their mark.  Next, we would go upstairs where the music and videos were.  Even though having long thrown away our record player, the old musty wax albums were still fascinating anyway.  Any extra money we had was used to rent movies.  Like our tastes in books, our choices in videos varied as well.  We’d walk back home carrying our books or videos – laughing happily.

Lastly, we’d have to make the trek back home – which was fodder for fond memories as well. Especially on one occasion while walking under an overpass.  I remember it well, the one at Willet and Lamar.  Anyway, every sound was amplified underneath that bridge.  The cars sounded like trains going by and trucks sounded like planes.  So one day, while there weren’t any cars coming by, we passed through.  It must have been that way for a while because pigeons were everywhere – on the street, sidewalk, and underneath the crevices of the bridge itself.  We got midway underneath when a car shot by causing the birds to take off suddenly.  Their wings made sounds like gunshots.  Pow!  I was so startled I stopped in my tracks from fright.  When I realized what was really going on and turned to look for my brother, he had run at least twenty feet ahead, leaving me in the dust.  We laughed at that harder than the initial scare.  “Chivalry is dead,” I said.  “No need for both of us dying.  One gotta live to tell the story,” he kidded back. I still tease him about that today.

Now looking back, I realize how strange we were for children our age.  Why were we so interested in Shakespeare, Dickens, the Brontes, and the Renaissance Age?  But there we were, I can plainly see it now; he on one aisle and me on the other.  When either one found something interesting, it was discussed with as much fervor as our little selves could allow.  Till this day, this is the brother I have a special bond with.  We have our own inside jokes, gestures, and nonsensical goings-on.

Well, the main library on Peabody has moved.  It’s new and improved standing tall on Poplar Avenue.  My brother and I have grown up; he lives in the old neighborhood with his wife and two kids and I live across town.  You might have guessed that we don’t get to trek to the library anymore but another funny thing happened.  You go ask his son and daughter what’s one of their most favorite places to go and guess what they’ll tell you?  Right.  They like to go somewhere books are, and no, not necessarily the library (Barnes and Nobles to be exact). And yes, ages seven and four are a bit too young to appreciate Miss Havisham and Pip.  They prefer Cinderella and Builder Bob, but hey, it’s a start.  When I look at them receive so much excitement and joy from a book, it makes me remember.  I’d like to think I had something to do with that starting long years ago…during mid-summer, on my way to the library.


Diabetes, My Father, and Me

little girl with dadIt wouldn’t take me long to isolate the period of my life when I truly felt like a grown up.  It had to be during the last few years of my father’s life.  He died of complications due to diabetes – kidney failure, a double amputee, multiple strokes and seizures.

No one ever tells you how to manage your life in a healthy way while taking care of a sick relative.  You just try to do your best.  I had one brother who would drive dad to doctor appointments sometimes.  Dad needed a lot of physical assistance and my brother would help with that.  I had another brother that assisted mom with car and house repairs.  My role?  I lived at home during this time and helped out with practical things like chores, cooking, sharing household bills, and part-time chauffeuring.  I also administered my dad’s medicines, which happened to be many and scheduled down to the hour.  This did not faze me; I expected this.  Hey, it’s my dad so it’s the least I could do.

What unnerved me was to see my father cry.  He cried a lot during the last years of his life and I never got used to it.  I guess I still had that childlike view of him, thinking that this is the man who could save the world and then some.  But even more than that is when my mother finally broke down emotionally.  This lady not only married the man who could save the world – she was his rock.  My rock.  And now my rock was crumbling… and on my shoulder.  I listened to her.  I cried with her.  I even advised her.  Me, advise her?  That was a first.

But there are two moments that stand out more than all others, however.  One was when mom was helping my dad with his bath.  She was obviously tired and it was late.  She was trying to get him out of the tub but was having difficulty.  The door was cracked and as I walked by she looked up in sheer desperation and almost begged, “Help me.”  I don’t know whether I was just too shocked or embarrassed to stop and help, but I didn’t stop.  I kept on by and went to my room.  I thought dumbfoundedly, No, you see, that’s not my role.  My brothers and I had specific roles.  Helping him in this area was not it.  This, however, would soon change.

One day, mom took an evening off while I sat with dad.  By this time, he wore diapers.  On mom’s evening off, she really didn’t stay away a long time – just maybe long enough to get her hair done and browse in some boutique or something.  This day was different as I would soon learn.  Dad was feeling sick and didn’t quite make it to the bathroom in time.  In fact, he was too weak to get up at all.  Now, I’m easily shamefaced, but I get it honest – from my father.  He was so embarrassed.  I don’t really know by what most though – that he made a mistake on himself or that his daughter would be the one to help him clean up.  We even tried to wait for mom.  I once heard the expression that when a child falls and the father bends to pick the child up, they laugh, but when the father falls and the child bends to pick the father up, they cry.  This is certainly true on more levels than one.

So, as I mentioned before, mom decides (and deservedly so) to whoop it up.  After a while, I gingerly enter the bedroom and tell him that I’m going to have to change him.  Without looking up, he simply says okay.  I get the necessary cleaning items and begin my work.  It was very important to me to leave him with his respect.  Afterwards, to my relief, his attitude was one of gratitude and humility.  I kissed him on his forehead and sat down in the chair beside his bed.  We talked quietly until mom came back.

I had resolved not to tell mom until later on.  However, he beat me to the punch and blurted out as she entered the room, “Well, your daughter treated me better than any nurse I’ve ever had.  I made a mistake and she helped me.”  At that point, I knew I had changed in his eyes.  It seemed that I had been so careful to give him his dignity and respect, but with those few words, he gave me mine.

Dem Babies

Close-up of Boy

Where does time go? I remember when my niece and nephew were mere babes. Now they’re acne-faced teenagers. They used to keep me in stitches all the time when they were small. Like the time I was playing the kiddie version of the dozens with them – yeah, I did that – and was beat by a 4-year-old. I called him peanut butter toes and he called me booger face. Hi-lar-ious! Maybe another type of aunt would not have played this game.  But hey, that aunt ain’t me. I live to laugh at this crazy stuff!

And like another time my brother told me about recently. He said one day, while he was in his son’s room, his son (toddler age then and not talking so well yet) walked up to him eating a corn dog. My brother looked puzzled because he knew they didn’t have corn dogs that day. Corn dogs were definitely on the menu the day before. He asked his son where he got the corn dog. My nephew obediently pointed to the toy box in the corner! His own little refrigerator! He had obviously stuck it there for safe keeping. People…you can’t make this stuff up!

Or like the time my friend’s baby sister (2 years old then) decided to play make-up with her sleeping father. She put toilet paper between every crevice of his that she could – between his toes, fingers, behind his ears, and in his nostrils. He finally woke up when she was about to stuff the last nostril!

Dem babies…

National Child Abuse Prevention Month

logo-guideApril is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  This month and throughout the year, the US government encourages all individuals and organizations to play a role in making all communities a better place for children and families.  By ensuring that parents have the knowledge, skills and resources they need to care for their children the National Child Abuse Prevention Month helps promote children’s social and emotional well-being and prevent child maltreatment within families and communities.

Research shows that when parents possess six protective factors, the risk for neglect and abuse diminish and optimal outcomes for children, youth, and families are promoted.  The six protective facts are:

Nurturing and attachment

Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development

Parental resilience

Social connections

Concrete supports for parents

Social and emotional development well-being

April is a time to celebrate the important role that communties play in protecting children.  Everyone’s participation is critical.  Focusing on ways to build and promote the protective factors, in every interaction with children and families, is the best thing our community can do to prevent child maltreatment and promote optimal child development.

October – Domestic Violence Awareness Month

DV logoI thought about something the other day that I had not thought about in a while. I remember seeing a young man slap his girlfriend.  The reason?  She evidently stayed in the restroom too long.  People, we were in Jr. high school so that put us between the ages of 12-15.

Consequently, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month with good reason then.  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) states, “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States.”  And no, this does not include women only because NCADV continues, “During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.   One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.”  And lastly, “1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

Clearly, this is an epidemic. So much so that I wanted to get information from someone who has a bird’s eye view of this issue.  I interviewed Michelle Allen, a Child Protective Service Assessment Worker from the Memphis and Shelby County Department of Children’s Services.  She has 13 years of experience in case management. And even though the following information is slanted to when the perpetrator is male, as we discussed earlier, the perpetrator can be female.

Michelle, what are the main reasons why men hit women?

Many times a man could have been exposed to a violent environment growing up and now believes this is the way women should be treated. Other times, the man involved has severe anger, mental health, or substance abuse issues.

Why does domestic violence have little to do with economics, education, or intellect?

Because low self-esteem or lack of confidence has no boundaries. Traditional norms of how the person was brought up or raised are key factors as well.

Why does it seem harder to leave an abusive mate the longer a woman stays?

It may be financial reasons (he controls the money). Additionally, the woman may not have work skills, a driver’s license, or even transportation.  Other reasons may include: emotional abuse or suppression, physical abuse, low self-esteem, she has been cut off from her support (family/friends), and just wanting to stick it out for the kids so they can grow up with a father.

Lastly, how can a woman identify early in the relationship that the man is manifesting traits of an abuser?

The woman should become familiar with his background. For instance, what kind of relationship does he have with his mother?  Does he have overly controlling behaviors?  Is he jealous?  And it may sound odd but try to be objective when the man ‘seems too good to be true.’

For those who are suffering in an abusive relationship, please reach out for assistance. If you have no one you can personally turn to, then call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).  And for those of us who are not in an abusive relationship, remember these tips for not only yourself but for others in need as well.

You May Be a Mean Girl If…

Image by Microsoft
Image by Microsoft

I thought almost everybody wanted to be known as a nice person until I met a coworker of mine some years ago.  Let’s call her Amber.  Amber calmly stated that she did not want to be a nice person at all.  She had tried being kind and people either took advantage of her or were very mean to her.  So, she decided that it was not worth it.  She actually felt that it was better to keep her dukes up and always be ready and rocking on go.

Wow.  I was amazed at such an honest admission.  But after some time and life experience I now understand why Amber made this statement.  Just look at the news and count the news articles, blogs, and websites on bullying – people who are purposely mean to people who they think they can dominate over.  Oh, I am not saying that Amber was right.  Why become this angry person with a hair-trigger temperament?  Why allow others to dictate what you become?

This article is not for those of us that have decided we will be the kind, reasonable and sound individuals we were meant to be.  This article is for those who may or may not realize that they have caused a domino effect as described by Amber earlier – people who are mean to others may cause others to decide to become mean as a defense.

Ask yourself if you find yourself constantly and consistently doing the following things.  If you do, then you may be a mean girl if:

  • Do you use sulking, sarcasm and ignoring people to get your way or punish people?
  • Do you understand that bullying is the emotional equivalent of physical violence?
  • Are you a manager, supervisor or head of your household?  People in lead positions are the ones most likely to abuse their authority.
  • Do you feel like you have to blame others for your difficulties?
  • Are you relatively a happy person?  Or are you unhappy about major aspects of your life?

If you really can’t tell, then ask somebody whom you can trust and is not a kiss-butt.  This means someone that will really tell you the truth about who you are and how you act.

Baby Love

Baby Lying DownI ran upon this article entitled, Signs Your Baby Loves You, on Parenting.com and thought it was just too great not to share. Every good parent knows that their baby loves them, right? But just in case, here’s what to look for if there’s any doubt.

Babies do flirt.

Soon after birth, the little ones will begin to react to your expression. Of course, this tickles you pink causing you to laugh and giggle which creates a vicious cycle of coos, smiles, and delight on both sides. Yep, by now, baby is really into you.

Babies love the staring game.

You ever wonder what your baby was thinking when she stares at you for long periods of time? Well, according to Debbie Laible, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at Lehigh University, the little one is now trying to connect what she hears and smells with what she sees. My mom says babies stare at you because they’re trying to make a memory. Turns out she was right. Since mom (or dad) is the face they’ll see most and is where a lot of love and affection comes from, babies memorize their parents’ faces.

Babies know their mommies.

That subheading may sound like a given, but take a minute to consider an amazing fact. In a recent study conducted, nursing newborns were placed between two breast pads. One of the breast pads belonged to the specific baby’s mother. Which pad did the baby turn to? You guessed it. Her mom’s!

That lovey, binky thingy…it’s all about you.

Alison Gopnik, Ph.D, author of The Philosophical Baby and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkley, pointed out that usually babies pick out a favorite toy at around a year old. This toy really represents mommy and all her love. That’s why she may want her stuffed toy or blanket when she feels insecure. With her toy, which represents you, she feels safe, especially when you can’t be physically present.

OK, there you have it – just four ways babies express their love. Hey, it’s not like all moms didn’t know this all along. It’s just nice to hear that after all the blood, sweat and tears – yours, not baby’s – that one of your rewards comes wrapped in the smile of your own child.

Single Mommas Do It!

Soccer Mom with KidsWhile there are a lot of things going on to celebrate being a women – March 8, 2013 was International Women’s Day – many feel that the government and secular authorities have declared a war on women.  These attacks range from empty rhetoric to trying to enforce policy changes that would seriously impact healthcare options that many women need and depend on.

But we as women are resilient and strong on many accounts.  For instance, by now everyone knows that the divorce rate everywhere is staggering.  Additionally, even though the number of teen pregnancies has decreased, particularly for the US, the number is still high.  As a result of these and other factors, there are a lot of single-parent families – many of them headed by mothers.

Can single women raise children successfully?  In this economy?  With this job market?  These questions have caused many to wonder.  So I took the question to task and asked two single mothers – let’s call them A and J, of whom both are career women who’ve raised both sons and daughters – and this is what I found out:

Initially, single moms probably had no plans of parenting alone:

A:            I saw my mom with all her children and it was so hard  so I didn’t want children before I was married because I knew it would be harder for me to make it.  People look down on you if you were not married and had children.  Children poke fun at other children without both parents.  But I [knew that I] could end up in divorce if my husband was not being a good provider nor (caretaker) of my children and me.  I would not stay in a marriage as I felt my mom did just because my dad was her husband and father of her children – although I’m sure she loved him.  Sometimes it is better for the children if you don’t stay with the father/husband.

J:             It never occurred to me that I might become a single mom.

Most single moms don’t let setbacks hold them down:

J:             It is never too late to achieve the things you want to accomplish in life.  Being a single mom is hard, but you must never give up.  You may not be able to do all the things you want, but with prayer and the help of the Lord you will be surprised at the things you can achieve.  Even the goals you set before becoming a single mom you can achieve.

Many single moms develop a strong determination and fortitude that have helped to brave hard times:

A:            Take one day at a time.  Prioritize at all times with bills and the children’s needs.  Just do the best you can each day and let it go.  Children won’t always understand why you don’t have or why they can’t get what they need at that moment.  Explain as simply as possible.  Be positive at all times.  Stay prayerful and take out time to access things.  Write it out.  Try to do something with the kids – go to the park, find out about some free activities for them and/or play games with them.

Regardless of past mistakes or mishaps, single moms can always look back at something that makes them smile:

A:            [What makes me smile is] when I was bold enough to leave home although I was very afraid.  I believed God would take care of me and my child.

J:             The thing that makes me smile is that I raised my children and they are good, hard-working children.  Later, I got the chance to go back to school and get my degree in accounting.

So, can single moms do it?  By all accounts and based on the information above I think the words best to answer that question is – done and done.

Ancestry.com is the Bomb!

old pic of lady

Before I start, let me just say that I am not or have I ever been an employee or paid advertiser for Ancestry.com.  I just love their product!

Just think of it, you can access records that you’d probably never could before, but due to technology, it’s totally possible.  And ever since watching Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS’ Finding Your Roots, I have always wanted to do this.  I thought surely it’s too much for me to afford.  

On that last account I was blissfully wrong.  How much?  A little under 200.00.  Wow.  So I gladly paid my fee and in a few weeks I received my DNA analysis kit in the mail.  I had to spit in a vial and close the lid down on it.  When I gave the required amount, I repackaged it (packaging included) and sent it back off. 

Once again, I thought:  Well, this is going to be a minute.  But in just several weeks my results were back by email.  (At that particular time, the DNA analysis was being offered with a six-month membership to Ancestry.com).  Talk about ex-cit-ing!  I was 84% West African which includes the countries Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Gabon, Congo, and various other nations along Africa’s west coast, from The Gambia to Equatorial Guinea.  Great, but no surprise there – many African Americans are from there as well.  But interestingly, I was 6% Scandinavian (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), 6% Southern European (Italy, Spain, Portugal) and 4% uncertain.  Although this was a pleasant surprise, I would have guessed anywhere but these areas.

I thought the rest of my DNA would show up Native American.  I know, right?  It’s a running joke (especially in black families) that somebody in yo’ fam’ly was a full-bloodied Indian!  But then, this leads to the question, what was the 4% uncertain?  According to Ancestry.com the 4% uncertain was determined when “small traces of a specific genetic population may have been found in your DNA, but the probability levels were too low to pinpoint to a specific ethnicity.”

My interest was piqued.  Brain storm!  Get my mom’s DNA tested and I might fill in some of the holes.  Since my paternal grandfather was mulatto according to birth records, I was pretty sure the Scandinavian and Southern European part came from dad’s side.  So naturally mom will be sending her DNA off soon.

What did I really learn from all of this?  How did this make me feel?  How does information and knowledge make anyone feel?  You are better for knowing – always and without a doubt.  A puzzle piece had been snapped in.  It is a well-known fact that it is rather difficult for most African Americans to list their complete family tree due to slavery.  Even though I didn’t feel forlorn about this fact, it did make me wonder from time to time what was in my history or my bloodline.

And finally, in honor of my new-found heritages and to represent each of the countries of my descent, I requested that my friends, family and coworkers call me by my newly adopted names: Dita Fatou Sidsel Adalina. Of course they pay me no attention.  Peasants! Clearly, this discovery has brought excitement to my life that kept me talking all that weekend when I first received my results, and will no doubt make me smile when I think about it from now on.

So in the end, it’s worth it.  Believe me.


Roller Coasters, Tea Parties and Hot Flashes

roller coasterI remember when I was 17 years old.  I thought that I was young and would never die.  I thought I was witty, good in a pinch and a sound, quick thinker.  I did things in a hurry but I did them well.  It was a talent and I relished it.  Now, it’s a different story.  I’ve entered a different phase of my life, people. 

I’ve heard some use derogatory terms like mental pause.  Others refer to it in more graceful terms such as the change or the change of life.  One of the names it probably should be called is, “Whatcho say?” Why, you ask?  Because that’s what you ask just before going off and just after your nerves click.  Generally though, it’s known as menopause.

Before I start, I want to publicly apologize to my mother.  I remember when only a teen, it was so funny to see her suddenly sweat profusely for seemingly no reason.  I giggled with delight when she ran through all of our names (there are four siblings in my family) when I knew full well she was talking to me, especially since I was sitting right next to her at the time.  Yeah, I know.  I admit it, in retrospect, it was a little mean spirited, and for that I apologize once again.  But mom needn’t worry, life has paid me back – or in other words she who laughs last is the one still laughing at you when you get hacked or something like that.

Let me explain.  A few years ago, I suddenly got hot.  It was like a wave of heat from the middle of my back to the top of my head.  Hmm…was this a flu symptom?  I asked around to see if anyone else was hot.  No, no one else was.  I pulled off my sweater.  You know it was rather big and bulky anyway.  I continued to sweat and overheat. 

Right after that someone joked that I was having a hot flash.  Then it hit me, I really could be having a real, live, honest-to-goodness hot flash.  I say it that way because before my surgery a few years prior, my doctor gave me a certain medicine that threw me into fake menopause.  Thereafter, for three months I had induced hot flashes.  So I knew full well what they felt like.  They felt like what I just was feeling.  I sat there contemplating what that meant or could mean. 

For some reason I thought of roller coasters.  When much younger, I used to let peer pressure force me onto roller coasters.  Let me preface it this way:  I absolutely hate roller coasters.  You know how people smile, laugh and hold their hands up over their heads when riding?  Well, not me.  I dug in, white-knuckling it all the way.  I kept telling myself, “People do this all the time.  You won’t die.  Just hold onto this really wobbly bar.  That smoke from the wheels doesn’t mean a thing.  Close your eyes and dig in!”  I was completely miserable, but honestly, I could have either learnt to enjoy the ride or simply chose not to get on.  Either way I still could have made a better choice.

Did this epiphany immediately lead me to some amazing life changing plan?  Truth be told, no.  Sure I realized that I a needed a plan, but I needed a little more time to wrap my head around the fact that menopause was in the offing.  Meanwhile I began to experience crawly skin.  Next, I started having mood swings and a foggy memory.  Now that last symptom shook me to the core.  Was I going crazy?  Of course to the doctor’s office I go.  Although my doctor is a great doctor in many ways, he was no help here.  You are too young; you still have your ovaries!  Blah, blah, blah.  That still did not explain why I was hot, had crawly skin and was irritated to the ‘enth degree.  You know the homeless people who come up to you swatting, scratching and poking at themselves?  Yeah, that was me. I was fanning, scratching, rocking and talking to myself.  Someone should have put me on a park bench and placed a cup next to me so at least I would get paid for the show.  Sigh.   

Finally, I drug myself to the person I was sure would know, my mother.  As I explained my symptoms, I could see her fold her arms slowly, sit back deeply in the soft couch and try to hide the smug look just underneath the corners of her mouth.  I tell you her eyes twinkled.  They sparkled mind you because at that point, yes, at that point she knew.  She knew full well what I was in for and she loved it.  Pay back sucks.  Let me tell you something else that I have not told a soul until now.  If you don’t remember anything else from this article, I want you to remember this.  At that point when I saw her expression, the smugness, and sheer delight across her face…I wanted to pinch her really, really hard.  But needless to say, hormonal I am, but crazy I’m not.

In the end, through help from Mom (who ran a household, buried a husband, a brother and a son during the change), personal research and practical life changes, I have to say I’m doing pretty well.  Yes, stickies are my friend now and I leave myself voicemails on the regular.  And so what if I easily get distracted in mid-sentence? That just gives me a second chance to rethink what I was going to say to the repair guy who showed up four hours late.  And so what if I forget where I was going mid-step?  It gives me the opportunity to stop and look at that lone hawk circling the sky – right in downtown Memphis.  If I was in my twenties, I would have zoomed by and missed that miracle for sure. 

It starts with getting over the fear of the unknown and telling yourself, “Now unclench.  Lift your hands over your head and enjoy the ride, lady.”  Actually, after the first few incidences, I only have mild pre-menopausal symptoms anyway.  But it was a jolt.  It was probably the jolt that I needed to make me clear away clutter and pave a way for my new type of life that honors my being.  Instead, now I feel like I’m in on the joke.  I can and do laugh with other women about this uniquely female phenomenon.  It’s like a private club, an exclusive tea party but without those ridiculous hats. tea party