So … How’s the Baby?

Baby Silk is doing wonderfully. She just passed the two-month mark. She’s awake more often, an occurrence that has the effect of changing the way the baby looks, almost drastically. When she mostly ate and slept, her little face was a basic sketch, with thin curly lines for eyelids and lips. Dots for her nose. With the combination of weight gain (she’s up to about 10 lbs., at this point), and the natural development of her features, wide open eyes really do animate her beautiful face.

Each one of her gestures, no matter how minor, is so entertaining! For instance, I breast feed her, and she’s a ravenous little thing at meal times. Sometimes she becomes so anxious for food that her arms flail around like airplane propeller blades and she gropes and claws at me — all while she pants desperately for food!  This can all be very cute, but my breasts have been a tad sensitive since I started nursing her, and those groping little fists can deliver quite a jolt on days when I’m particularly sore and I haven’t fed her before she’s become frantic. 

There is also the matter of Grandmother Morrill. She hasn’t seen the baby yet, and to be honest I wanted to get settled, catch up on sleep and get my act together before another sleepover guest. She, of course, got really offended by this and wrote a really nasty typed, two-page letter to vent her anger at me. (The letter was a follow up to angry comments she made to me over the phone after I called to say Happy Thanksgiving. Actually, I had Little Sister speak to her first, then the phone was passed to me, and during that part of the conversation, she complained about unreturned phone calls and the fact that she hadn’t seen the baby yet.) The letter was her usual:  a haughty and obnoxious tone, rehashed grievances, grossly distorted retelling of events from the distant past, and contradiction after contradiction. She kept asserting the fact that she is Baby’s grandmother — as if I could forget — and arrogantly told me how wonderful a person Baby would turn out to be — by virtue of the fact that she was her granddaughter. The parts that stung most were the petty, mean-spirited predictions that what goes around comes around, and that Baby and I would have a bad relationship after she grew up as punishment for my own bad relationship with Mother. She also invoked Bible scriptures and what I suspect to be distorted comments from another individual as a pretext to calling me a murderer. 

I complained to my cousin Mary about the letter, and after a lengthy conversation, I realized that too many people are depending on the birth of my baby to magically close the breach between my mother and myself. Mary was in that bunch, but after I explained that the letter was a continuation of the brutal verbal abuse I grew up with, certain events that she witnessed started to fall into place and make more sense. I don’t believe that the burdens of domestic harmony should be put on my daughter’s shoulders. People always assume, wrongly, that the birth of a baby will bring harmony to domestic discord. No. Mothers and daughters and husbands and wives and siblings ought to get their houses in order before the baby comes along, so the child won’t grow up feeling tense and insecure about all the fighting going on around them.  

I truly believe in what I just said, but let me be clear: I won’t be docile and allow my mother to be mean to me, Little Sister or anyone else, all for the sake of maintaining good vibes for my daughter. Kids know when one adult is being unfair, mean or abusive to another. Mary’s children have explained to me how hurtful it was to watch their grandmother tear into their mom, and watch their mother sit there and take it, just for the sake of keeping quietness and order and, presumably, peace at home. Trust me people, even if you absorb the brunt of another’s abuse in a docile way, you do the child no favors. 

So, I chose to stand my ground. I finally, finally decided that my life is too full to dedicate a lot of time to a difficult mother. As it stands now, I’ve got a new baby, custody of my teenage Little Sister because their relationship had taken an abusive turn, plus a relatively young marriage and career responsibilities. My mother should learn to be supportive, instead of a drain on my patience. She needs to be civil. If she insists on falling back on the same arrogant, pugnacious, vicious and narcissistic behavior, then I won’t allow my mother to see the baby on her terms and continue her brand of chaos in my life.  

And the letter will be destroyed, of course.

NOT in Search of Black Women

Wintry storms are a mixed blessing. Normally, they provide the perfect setting for some hot chocolate drinking, DVD watching and if you are favorably paired with another, canoodling! Last night, however, the winter storm that hit North Jersey knocked out half of the channels that I normally watch, so I settled for programming on NBC. I saw the premiere episode of ‘Momma’s Boys’, a dating show similar to The Bachelor, but with an odd gimmick: three bachelors and self-described momma’s boys have brought along their mothers to help them decide on a suitable woman for a long-term relationship. All of the bachelors are white, and several of the 30-odd women are black. One of the mothers, Mrs. Bojanowski or Mrs. B, appropriately enough, is outrightly opposed to her son dating or marrying a black woman! She is very particular about whom her son would choose as a wife, and the list of untouchables includes Asians, Jews, Muslims and women who are outspoken. Only a woman who is white, Catholic, thoroughly domesticated and pliant enough to do what she says will do for her — and her son Jojo. I guess mama can’t stand the competition from any self-assured, or in her mind, uppity, women any more than she can handle the thought of a mixed-race or interfaith union in her family. So maybe she should steer clear of a black daughter in law!  

Too bad for Mrs. B this show is stocked with no less than five — count ’em — black women hoping to make a fleeting love connection on this show and suffer a very public breakup. Not to mention the two Asians, the Jews and one woman who describes herself as so forthright that, well, you have to her her description of her boldness. Dear readers, listen to Jojo express herself on this issue, and then take a look at this clip of the women confronting the offending mama. As reprehensile as Mrs. B was in this premiere episode, I was a tad more disappointed in the sisters. Why did these eligible women feel the need to, first, appear on this show, but then list their accomplishments to Mrs. B, apparently to show her that black women like them are good enough for her son? If an ignorant meat head like Mrs. B writes you off, why respond by trying to impress her? It’s pointless. 

Do not let her disdain for us get you down, though. Judging by the preview reel, which shows her son making out in a hot tub with one of the sisters, he doesn’t agree with mama’s preferences on that point! Thank goodness the poisonous thinking stops with her!

Pay little heed to the show ‘Momma’s Boys’ and the offensive mother to whom it has chosen to give so much air time. Shows like this are broadcast purely for our idle entertainment, a form of guilty pleasure that no self-respecting ‘strong black woman’ should take seriously, even for a second. Beyond that, we all know the outcomes of these reality TV dating shows. The couples part ways in a couple of months, usually. That’s not what we really want for our fellow sisters, is it? Especially not some of the educated, accomplished and strikingly beautiful sisters who were picked as contestants for this show — and who really should have known better than to waste their time, talents and beauty this way.

Who’s Your Grandma?

grandmaandme

One of my treasured Thanksgiving traditions made a huge comeback this year. We had dinner at my ‘aunt’ Mary’s house. Mary is actually my second cousin, but because she is older than my mother, her first cousin, I’ve taken to calling her ‘aunt’. It’s a ‘black thing’. What’s the fun of being of Jamaican or Southern American heritage (heck, almost anyone who is not a WASP) if you can’t indulge in these little customs?

In any case, Mary and her late husband Larry have always been pillars in our lives, and their house has been a locus of familial togetherness for as long as I can remember. Their generosity extended far beyond family, leading them to take in wayward young people who needed a stable home environment as they regained their bearings in their lives.

Despite the fact that Mary and her late husband Larry moved further south years ago, they cannot escape the ties that have kept their family unit together!  Thanksgiving was just like old times: we gathered at my second cousin Mary’s house for a potluck dinner. Everyone’s contributions were tasty, from the jerked pork, a Caribbean favorite, to the sweet potato pie, cherry pie, lasagna and the beer-marinated ham.  There were modern updates on standard hits too: instead of cranberry sauce, I brought homemade cranberry bread. My other cousin Madeline did a nice update on mac & cheese, topped with Italian bread crumbs. These days, several whipper snappers have taken to calling Mary ‘grandma’, expressing their endearment and kinship with a woman who provided emotional needs that are either lacking in their own families. So throughout Thanksgiving dinner, it was ‘grandma’ this or ‘grandma’ that.

I’d like to sweeten my daughter’s life with as many cultural customs as possible, and because my Jamaican friends and family have all sorts of fluid connections with each other, she will likely take to calling Mary ‘grandma’ one day. It’s not far fetched at all. Aside from the long history and strong ties that Mary and I have, she was in the delivery room soon after Baby was born and she stayed at our house for a week to help take care of all of us. Ah, but WASPs, and their ilk don’t typically carry on such customs and that’s where Hubby and I differ. He doesn’t think Baby should take to calling Mary ‘grandma’, because she might be confused as to who her actual grandmother is.

Now, here is where I need to set Hubby straight on a few things. Doesn’t he know that children are whip-smart creatures, perfectly aware of whom their grandmothers are? Baby is no exception. Like other children, she will have a big, colorful imagination and be able to slip between fantasy and reality quite easily. One moment she will be navigating Everest (the stairs in our house), and another, the stairs will be objects to be scrambled over if she’ll escape hard time in the corner for attempting to pull off the Great Cookie Caper. 

Calling Mary ‘grandma’ will not confuse Baby as to who her real grandmothers are, even if Grandma Huntzberger (Hubby’s side) and Grandma Morrill (my side) each live in different Southern states and she doesn’t see them regularly. It’s really quite simple: she’ll observe other kids calling Mary ‘grandma’ and pick up the habit. I’ll explain to her that her real grandmothers live in South Carolina and Georgia, but she can let Mary borrow the grandma title whenever they are not around. Et voila!

I anticipate just one potential problem with her calling Mary grandma. My mother is the jealous type, and if she isn’t in South Carolina brooding about our family felicity here without her, then the thought of her only grandchild calling someone else ‘grandma’ is sure to bring the fire-breathing creature out of her.  

I grew up in the same two-family house as Mary’s family, and I referred to Mary’s mother, as ‘grandma’, because I was always around my cousins and she didn’t mind that I called her that, right along with her own grandchildren. No one corrected me and it would have been unnecessary, anyway. I knew full well the story behind my own grandparents: my maternal grandmother was far off in Jamaica, my grandfather died when my mother was little. My father was not in my life, and I would never meet my paternal grandparents, so I put them out of my mind.

Maybe I’m imposing expectations on Baby based on my own experiences, but I don’t think we’ll slight the Huntzbergers or Morrills, or confuse the poor kid by allowing her to carry on a harmless custom. So rather than saddle Baby with unnecessary angst stemming from not wanting to offend overly sensitive people, I’d rather allow her to have fun with her heritage and make her life a little sweeter.

Maturing in Relationships and Motherhood

Have I mentioned that mine is one of several interracial marriages in my family — all of which involve black women and white men? Let’s see now: three older female cousins (on my mother’s side) have intermarried. Two of them are sisters and are from the part of the family that settled in England. We’ll call them Loretta and Paula. Of those sisters, Paula has two daughters, with one from a relationship before her marriage. Her sister Loretta did things in a traditional way. She got married and then had her two daughters. 

My American cousin, Marlinda, got married at around 42 — past the traditional age for marriage. Marlinda is such an accomplished and resilient person, so strong-willed and independent that she shocked us twice with the news that she planned to marry her husband Jeff: first, that she would consent to be any man’s wifey and second, that her husband was NOT BLACK!  Understand the gravity of what I just said. Marlinda was one of those black women who simply preferred to date black men, and, as far a we knew (because she is very discreet about how she lived her life and did not kiss & tell) did so exclusively. Imagine our shock, then, as she introduced us to Jeff, with his Caucasian self. Where was Marlinda’s determination to find her Ideal Black Man (IBM)? For her to settle down with a white dude seemed so unreal! We were positively befuddled, but all that disappeared after we watched them interact. Jeff is hilarious and irreverent and he complements Marlinda’s madcap personality perfectly! Plus, Marlinda floors him with her dark-skinned beauty and fun-loving personality and he is openly affectionate with her. Three years ago they welcomed a beautiful baby boy into their family. 

Marlinda is representative of women who marry and have children later in life, especially those black women who take their time to get it right before settling down. No ‘baby daddy’ situations, with all of the series of debilitating dramas that those can entail. She waited until Mr. Right came along and did not settle any sooner for anyone inferior. Women like Marlinda should be applauded for sticking to their guns. Why should they settle in their 20s or 30s for some lame dude who won’t make them happy? Men would never entertain such a thought, probably because Mother Nature gave them the perverse ability to sire children well into their latter years of life. Despite recent research that has linked certain birth defects to older fathers, don’t believe the hype:  biological clocks do not haunt and taunt men the way that they do women. 

hallenahlaaspx    garcelle_petit-bijouMarlinda’s experience should be familiar to everyone: plenty of celebrity women are either remarrying or waiting to marry in their 40s, and some are having children in their 40s. Some call it mature motherhood. Idiots out there, uncharitably, call it stupid. Whatever the case, mature motherhood probably confers a calmer, more sensible approach to child rearing than the frenzied way of people in their 20s and 30s. Halle Berry is one example of a woman who tried and tried until she found happiness. And just ask Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, who had twin sons at 41 and recently did an interview with Tasty Baby.

3.    How has having twins at 41 differed from the first time you had a baby in your 20s?

I feel like I am more woman now. I also have more patience & I don’t sweat the small stuff as much. In my 20’s I felt a need to have a big career.

4.    Your twins were born 6 weeks early because you had signs of “pre-eclampsia.”  Was this scary for you?  Do you have any advice for Tastybaby readers who may be coping with similar worries?

It was definitely a scary time for me, even though my doctor was more worried about me than the babies. I prayed & prayed that we would all be ok. My advice would be to listen to your doctor & try not to read everything online, because sometimes theres’ too much information out there to scare you & with modern medicine now there’s so much they can do to help.

Good for Garcelle for starting over and finding happiness. And good for all of my intermarried cousins for maintaining strong marriages with solid husbands. They are, by all appearances, wonderful guys who honor them and who are always there when my cousins need them. These guys are in it for the long haul and they have made very comfortable lives for my cousins. They have lots of adventures together, be it traveling or living overseas, cooking, entertaining and raising children. I have to say that these couples are great advertisements for marriage. And for those women who are waiting decades for their Mr. IBM, face it: he might never show up, for whatever reason. Just relax your rules a bit and learn to heed the resonant buzz that kicks up whenever you and Mr. Not Black are around each other.