Along Came A Spider: Our Daughter’s Growing Affinity with African-Caribbean Culture

I decided from the jump not to introduce a lot of angst into my interracial relationship, or make growing up biracial a special burden for my child. While a successful and well-adjusted life depends as much on how the outside world treats us as how we react to it, I took steps to ensure that everyday life is as full of as much positivity as possible.

From a library book on African folk tales.

Anansi, from a library book on African folk tales.

It’s working. And I have a clever little spider named Anansi to thank for part of it. I started reading stories, very small ones to my daughter almost as soon as I felt her kicking!It started off as a way for me to have something to say to her all the live long day. (I was really excited to become a mother, as you can probably tell.) After she was born, the reading choices ballooned from modern classics like “Goodnight Moon,” to global folk tales to classic children’s stories to contemporary American fare. When she was a baby, reading became an essential ritual to help fertilize her mind for learning. We wanted to cultivate a thinking and feeling child, who would be capable of logic and spirituality. We didn’t want her to be in the army of vacuous automatons who go through life not really doing much, and who are practically numbed to her own existence. Worse still, numbed and inert to an existence higher than themselves. And yet we didn’t want her to be overwrought, either.

Folk tales are helping big time with that. We learn about Africa, Jamaica, and the diaspora of blacks in general. And it’s all pretty much fun for us, because we’re doing it through the hi-jinx and pranks of a clever little creature. I kind of wondered how baby would react to stories about a spider. Would she recoil, frightened and put off, or approach them with fascination? None of the former happened, thanks to the fact that my daughter loves animals — all of God’s creatures, even the creepy crawly ones. And we also read “Charlotte’s Web,” which helped promote good spider-child relations.

My daughter's rendering of Anansi, inspired by her library book.

My daughter’s rendering of Anansi, inspired by her library book.

Those stories opened the door to other tales, like “Mama Panya’s Pancakes,” and “Summer Jackson, Grown Up.” When I attended the Circle of Sisters with a friend last October, I picked up a paperback in a series of books about the adventures of two Jamaican boys, Mark and Markus. And recently Hubby’s family in Seattle sent my daughter three books from the “Anna Hibiscus” series, about a little Nigerian girl growing up in Africa. So it’s all snowballing from there. When I was growing up, we had to make special efforts to find nicely bound books filled with African tales. Modern tales about Black kids doing everyday things were a little more scarce. I’m relieved that it’s easier to find the stories these days, so that my daughter will know her mother’s background and culture is just as accessible and inviting as her father’s. Even if Mommy “stands out” in all the family pictures. (Oh, yes. There’s a story about that, too.)

Mellody and George Welcome ‘Everest’

mellody_hobson_h_2013The news keeps getting better for George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, who welcomed their biological daughter via a surrogate last Friday. She’s named Everest Hobson Lucas, according to news reports.

Mellody herself received warm congratulations about her daughter’s birth during her appearance on “CBS This Morning.”  The part about the baby is at the end. I can’t wait to see photos, but knowing the Hobson-Lucases, who released only spare details about their discreet wedding (my favorite) we’ll get nary a glimpse of the little angel, who probably has her mama’s adorable smile.

I just think it’s wonderful that a guy who was probably done with raising kids loved his wife so much that he agreed to go ahead and dive in to fatherhood again for a young one, to make their family what they wanted it to be. God bless ’em.  Long happy life to all!  (Oh, and ignore all the milksop alarmists who will write snively comments on celebrity gossip sites about the longevity of the parents and who will be there for little Everest. In any case, George has three adult kids who could step in if need be.)

By the way, Mellody’s segment was largely about the pay gap among male and female top executives. I say cut the guys’ pay, because executive compensation is probably a little over the top across the board, and people have been complaining about it for years. But that’s just the influence of my New York Times-reading populist husband.

Our First Business Trip

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I have always seen myself as a working mother. Always. Not once in all my childhood did I ever imagine becoming one of those women lucky enough to leave the hassles and demands of a job behind, so I could focus on the hassles and demands of raising kids and running a household.

For me, this weekend took on a whole new working-mother dynamic, after I took a train up to Boston to attend a financial services conference. I’ll return early in the week, and the trip isn’t arduous. It amounts to a day and a half, all told. But that’s two mornings and two evenings when Hubby will be a single parent, effectively. He can manage meal, bath and play times well, but he’ll have his hands full trying to maintain the pixie-cute styling that I give Baby when I dress her and style her hair. I decided to minimize the guesswork by laying out her clothes for the two mornings I’ll be gone and labeling each outfit ‘Monday’ or ‘Tuesday’. They will do whatever floats their boat, I’m sure, but at least I did my part to make it easier on them.

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And then there is Baby’s hair. She started swim lessons a couple of weeks ago, and readers, I realized just how completely reckless and plain clueless other people can be with Black children’s hair. As if the incident with the office supplies wasn’t enough, we ran into another mishap after her first swim lesson. I trusted Hubby to change Baby after her swim lesson, spray her hair, brush it back and put in a simple headband or ponytail for the rest of the day. It didn’t work out. Somehow, her hair ended in THE BIGGEST afro I’ve ever seen on a child her size. Oh, don’t get it wrong: She loved it and rocked it. But when it came to taming that puff, I wished Hubby (and at least one of her teachers, all female) had taken more care.

This time I decided to canerow (you full-fledged Americans say ‘cornrow’) her hair as her protective style for several days. I did not have the time to put all of Baby’s hair in canerows. She did not have the patience to sit still for that process, either. So I just braided the top and sides, and styled the back with a chiny bump-out (or Bantu knot-out). I just pray Hubby follows my instructions on doing a conditioning rinse for Baby after her lesson, and I hope he can twist and secure Baby’s hair into chiny bumps the way I showed him.

So for two days I will be listening to sessions, conducting interviews and writing and emailing stories. It will be like riding a bicycle, because I’ve done all of that before. This time, though, I’ll be pedaling along on a tandem model with a kiddie sidecar. 

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The Upside of Being Different

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Black like Mom?

I was drawing Baby’s bath one tranquil evening this past summer, watching the water pool in the tub, when I glanced at her. She was sitting on a high stool in the bathroom, swinging her chubby legs, and ad libbing the lyrics to ‘ Happy Birthday’. She paused, leaned her head back thoughtfully and said:

“I’m not Black. I’m not white. I’m different.”

I turned the tap to silence the torrent of water, then knelt in front of her.

“Sweet pea, who told you that?” She didn’t answer me. She simply started fiddling with her earlobe, the way she does when she is exhausted, and which is usually a signal for us to ask the waiter for the check, wrap up shopping and drop what we are doing to get her home before her meltdown. She was obviously too tired to explain how she had come up with that. She wanted to sleep. But a throbbing started in my chest and continued for the next couple of days.

Baby’s outbursts became more puzzling. While I was fastening her shoes in the morning, she cheerfully chirped:

“I’m not Black,” she smiled and shook her head. Then she pointed at me and said: “You’re black. I’m white.

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How do I explain myself to the other kids?

 

Baby seemed so pleased with herself, for having sorted out and declared her racial identity. Well, I wasn’t pleased. There was Baby, in the car on the way to daycare, chirping and pointing: “You’re black. I’m white. Daddy’s white.” Over and over. It took me a while to stop fuming to Hubby about it.  He agreed that Baby’s declarations were a little strange.  I was secretly nervous that she would say something like: “I’m white!” at a family cookout or something. People would think we were nuts, and neglecting to teach Baby about who she really is. They’d think we were pouring crazy delusions into her head and setting up Baby for an ugly and painful realization later in life. I just know it!

Someone, some ignorant meddlesome nitwit, was putting all kinds of nonsense into my child’s head, and I needed to find out who. No one else, except maybe her father, I thought, should be telling Baby who she is and what she is not. Certainly, others should not impose their bozo ideas about race on a biracial child. Who in their right mind would look at mixed little girl, whose mother is Black, and tell her, or lead her to believe, that she is white?

Well, I got nowhere. I couldn’t find out where Baby was getting these messages. Luckily, she eventually stopped blurting them out. Thank God! I, however, kept thinking about this whole issue, about how to properly teach Baby about her skin color and where she falls in the whole spectrum. She’ll need to know that so that no on else, whether through ignorant thinking or well-meaning meddling, can persuade her to believe something about herself that is not true.

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With Mom and Dad's help, I can take any plunge!

Personally, I don’t have a problem with Baby seeing herself as different. The term “different” delivered in the right context, can mean special or exceptional. I hope that Baby eventually strives to bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table in most situations in her life.

Meanwhile, I’m going to take some action and help her formulate ideas about race.  I’m not talking about intense, persuasive indoctrination. She’ll be told, gently and occasionally, that Mommy is black and Daddy is white. Baby is learning her colors now, so I know she’s going to process this with some skepticism. (“Okay, Mommy. You just said licorice is black. And now you’re saying we’re black. So…) I’m also going to carefully introduce black children’s books into her daily reading, thus pouring a solid foundation into her mind, which I’ll use to build a nice structure about what being black means and the many complexions represented therein. Including her own.

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Interracial PDA: Take Our Poll

Warm weather has finally settled onto the New York City area, which means it’s time to break out the strollers and get some exercise with your little ones!  Or, if you are in a couple with no young kids, its time to be outdoors for some quality hand holding.

Don't worry. I sprang into action and shook that twig out of her hand.

Last year, a day after this photo was taken—around early Spring—Hubby, Little Sister, Baby and I went to Liberty State Park in Jersey City to enjoy a relaxing afternoon before dinner. We tossed a frisbee, snacked on nachos and took in the sights on the harbor promenade.

We also saw at least a couple of other Latte Cafe types of couples, which is not unusual. We’ve got loads of nationalities and ethnic groups represented here, so it wasn’t surprising to see more couples like mine and Hubby’s. I was on a business lunch less than a year earlier in one of the hotels in downtown Jersey City, and spied a Latte Cafe type family having breakfast, probably before heading into Manhattan to soak up the atmosphere and take in the sights for the day.

This year, I expect to see lots of mixed families like ours, because well, I work in Manhattan and live in the New York area. The hordes of European visitors never really ebbs, with their generous vacation benefits that make me green with envy! And I’d safely say that I see about the same the percentages of European mixed couples as American ones I think that says Europeans are far less hung up on interracial dating than their American peers, but it also says that I do lot of people watching, doesn’t it. 🙂 Don’t worry I don’t stalk them!

But Spring weather does get me to wondering: How many mixed couples and families and I going to share a sidewalk with this year?  Will there be more than last year, as Americans keep warming up to this idea of looking past racial and ethnic difference to form relationships? Am I going to hear more mixed couples talk to each other with Southern and Midwestern accents? Are people from other parts of the country becoming as comfortable with interracial dating as the folks in the coastal cities already seem to be?

I’ve decided to really pull readers into that discussion with a quick poll. I’d love to hear stories from other American cities, especially ones that are not as foreign tourist-attractive as New York? It’s a first for The Latte Cafe, so share it with your friends. Enjoy!

Keeping Up With the Past

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Baby has outgrown her onesies, not because they are tight on her, but because she is in full potty training mode. The snaps on the inseams get in her way as she prepares to go. And since we inhabitants of the Northeast are putting up with a frigid, wet spring, where we haven’t had a single three-day stretch of clear and warm weather, I thought those two inducememts were enough to convert her onesies into long- and short-sleeved T-shirts.

The thing is, until I took on this project I had not sewn much beyond basic hems and re-attaching buttons. I had never even owned a fully functioning sewing machine until I picked up the Singer Esteem II model at Target last winter. See the serious-looking Singer in the photo, the one with the foot pedal that comes inside the cabinet? I picked that up from an Italian woman who was clearing out her parents’ house to move them to smaller place. I mean to have it refurbished and get it up and running again, because I admire the workmanship that goes into these machines. I can’t see the sense in having a beautiful piece of work like that simply lay fallow and rust in my house.

I also like having it around because it makes me feel connected to my Caribbean past, and to a generation of women whose practical knowledge I envy and admire at turns. I know at least 10 very talented seamstresses. Aunt Mary is one of them, and she has a serious professional model. When Baby, Little Sister and I drove down for a visit on one of our (many) snowy days last winter, Aunt Mary let me take a few practice passes on it to hem up Baby’s “new” T-shirts. Readers, I was very rusty. But I was also determined to make these hands do something useful. Something that gave me something in common with some of the most creative and self-sufficient people I know. It is one thing for a family to assimilate into a culture, and send its second generation, myself included, into the professional workforce. Journalists like me tap out words for a living. (And a mean living it is, too. Generally speaking, journalists are among the most underpaid professionals you’ll find. Makes me mad.) For me, that’s not enough. I need something to do to take my mind off of work. Work, money, careers and getting ahead. It can’t be about that ALL THE TIME.

My late aunt Lena, my mother’s sister had a Singer similar to my vintage model. She kept it near one of my cousins’ bedrooms in the teacher’s cottage where we lived in rural Clarendon parish. I remember being a small child, about four or five years old, and sitting on the floor of that room while she sewed. The sultry air outside pulsed and teemed with noisy birds, monger out on the road hawked coconut water from homemade carts. Tiny lizards skittered along the verandah. Aunt Lena pumped the broad iron foot pedal and sent the machine whirring, joining these country noises, as she fashioned dresses, hemmed clothes, shortened or made drapes, or worked on whatever else was needed around the house. Aunt Lena’s son is married to a dynamo, Patrice, who is just as inventive as Martha Stewart, B. Smith and any other domestic taste maker out there. She just doesn’t have a syndicated media powerhouse to ply her wares, is all.   🙂  In any case, Patrice is a fantastic seamstress, who makes beautiful drapes, furniture covers and all sorts of other things. My mother is also proficient, and she made herself a few outfits during one of her particularly lean years in the early 1980s. I remember going into fabric stores with my mother. Colorful fabrics jutted out from everywhere, and the quiet was only broken up by one of the shopkeepers flipping the bolts of cloth around on a table to measure out the yardage, or the scrape of heavy tailor’s shears along the table as they sliced off what she wanted. I remember listening to her rev her Singer as she sewed her clothes. My mother looks great in pretty much whatever she wears—always turning heads—but I don’t remember any of her clothes (except for what she wore to my wedding) as much as I do her handmade outfits. Not to outdone by the women, my uncle Rowan worked as a tailor in London, where he lived for many years.

These women and uncle Rowan are all out of my league when it comes to sewing. We’re not even on the same planet, or galaxy, for goodness’ sake. There are times, like when I purchased drapes for Little Sister’s room and the kitchen, then brought them to a local dry cleaner to have the tailor shorten them, when I feel stupidly helpless.  With all this knowledge around me, why couldn’t I make simple, sturdy and attractive drapes for my house? Or just buy them and make them over myself? I regret taking such a late interest in developing this skill, which is just as relaxing as it is practical. For the few hours that I put into changing Baby’s onesies, sewing actually made me feel good, once I practiced. I got to feel a little more like a self-sufficient, can-do Jamaican than someone who has to run out to a store and swipe a card for every little necessity.

My Nature, His Nurture

A few months ago, the bracing winter cold back off for a few days, so I drove Baby to a nearby playground for 30 minutes of old-fashioned run around exercise. Baby is still too small, and her legs too unsteady to master this iron caterpillar, but she was still fascinated by it. She stood three feet off, looked up into its massive cartoonish eyes and said “ooooh.” Right away, I recognized Hubby’s influence on my daughter. He is the hiking, fishing, camping and roughing it type. The one who will take her into the surf at the beach, introduce her to wild animals and crawly creatures. It’s all in an effort to introduce her to the real world. She has to try things, he says. I agree completely .

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Then there are times when Baby is impatient and demanding about how things should be done. Spilled yogurt should we wiped up right away. She always shrieks when she has a runny nose: “Boo-ger. Boo-ger!” Until I clean her face, there is no letting up. And if I ask her where her white mary jane shoe has gone, or her toy dinosaur, she’ll walk me straight to the spot. In that way, she’s a lot like me. I hate messy dwellings. Can’t stand dirty ears or noses, and I’m usually good at putting everything it is particular place or tracking it down when it is not.

As Baby continues to develop, I see so many instances of her responding to her father’s guiding hand, and coming out of thin air, apparently, with something I would have certainly done at age 4 or 5. This will help her in life, I hope. We live in a part of the country where it almost seems like everyone we know is driven forward by an agenda for their own lives and that of their children. That’s where my ambition, as Hubby puts it, might help Baby identify something she loves and pursue it wholeheartedly. Hubby is a diligent go-getter on his own, to be sure. He is a freelance writer who works very hard, and is able to provide well for us. But his work is a means to an end. He likes to sample exotic cheeses, the smellier the better. He takes hikes and goes on annual camping trips with friends from university.

He tries and tries to get Baby to nibble interesting foods, like the ones he enjoys. And he has already informed me that Baby will be going camping and fishing with him, at some point. Fair enough. I think the explorer in Hubby should inspire an adventurer in Baby. We are both avid readers and professional writers, so she’s got the intellectual curiosity mapped out before her. When I get hold of that curiosity, and start to teach her about her black and biracial l background, I hope she’ll attack it with gusto. The same kind that she had when she went barreling down the slide in this photo.

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Keeping the ‘Do

Now that Baby’s hair is long enough to style almost every day, I feel like I should make an effort to send her out-of-doors putting her best foot forward. A few weeks ago, I decided that I didn’t want to deal with brushing and parting her hair every morning. Hubby and I both have jobs with frequent writing deadlines, so minutes in the morning are precious.

I decided to do one style a week. I part Baby hair in the way that I want the night before, then brush in shea butter and a small dab of coconut oil onto each section. Then I plait (platt, if you are Jamaican) each section. Baby’s ends are sometimes too slick to simply roll into place and tuck under the braid itself to secure it, so I double the braid over and secure it with a small Goody Ouchless band. In the morning, I let down the sections and put a light amount of Curly Q milkshake on each section, then brush it and put it into a ponytail holder. Each section is already neatly parted, so it saves me about 5 to 10 minutes. I’m sure that’s a trick every Black mom has used since forever, but hey. It’s my first time, so I thought I’d share my results. Here are a few shots with Baby’s hair in pretty much the same sections on different days. I changed the ponytail holders to match her outfits.

 

Parting and "platting" the sections to prep for the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's a pink day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking preppy in her white polo shirt and blue ponytail holders.

 

 

 

 

She Looks Like Her Dad

If you intermarry and have kids, it is never safe to make assumptions or predictions about what physical traits your bi-racial child will inherit from each parent. In my case, I thought Baby would have deep brown skin, and inherit a lot of other dominant, prominent black features. When I saw her first sonogram photos, especially the one where she seemed to already have my grandmother’s serious jowls, I was convinced she would look like me.

Well, guess what? Most of the time, people draw similarities between Baby and Hubby. It is understandable: Hubby is her father. She got her paternal grandmother’s overbite, which is very cute, and most of Hubby’s facial features, from the small set eyes to the perky nose. She is very tall for her age, which she gets from both our families, as we both have tall parents and tall siblings. Also, she inherited a very light complexion from Hubby. Indeed, she is honey colored, and when the two of them are out together it is obvious that her mother is not white. But when Baby and I are together, the difference in our complexions sometimes strikes me as dramatic. What she got from mommy, was the frame of her face, which explains the jowls from Mississy (a lot of Jamaican kids call their grandmothers that). Her forehead, cheeks, dimples, chin, and the thoughtful, downward curve of her mouth all came from me. And all that thick, jet black hair!

I came across “Is That Your Child?!!” recently, a terrific weekly podcast for women of color with mixed kids. Take a listen. I think in this episode, host Michelle McCrary talks directly about the issue with Monique Fields, a writer, blogger under the moniker Honeysmoke, and a mom whose two girls emerged with lovely—yet unexpected—features.

Is That Your Child 118 Special Guest Honeysmoke 3/25/2011 – MMcCrary | Internet Radio | Blog Talk Radio.

Racing Around in Red

A cute and durable style for a mom and toddler on the go.

Here is a quick, working-mom style that I put into Baby’s hair a few weeks ago. I did the two cornrows near her temples, not too tight, and secured the ends with small rubber bands moistened with coconut oil. That pretty much left the rest of her hair in pre-parted sections. For the rest of the week, all I did was put twists or plaits into the large sections at night. In the mornings I swept them into ponytails with a Goody rubber-based styling brush. I secured them with ponytail holders, and changed the colors to match her outfit everyday. If we had extra time in the morning (often we didn’t) I twisted the ponytail ends and clipped them into little barrettes. Now I’ve accepted the fact that I have to twists the ends, otherwise they will frizz and split, maybe lead to breakage. So that means getting up 15 extra minutes in the morning to do everything right. Hey, I wanted a girl, and I sure got one! LOL.

Baby’s hair is coming along really well, as you can see. No more of the drastic shedding and thinning that used to drive Hubby and me nuts. Her hair type probably in the 3 range—although she is still very young—has adapted really well to the routine of shea butter and high-grade natural oils I started last year. I mainly use Curly Q products and Cantu’s daily shea butter moisturizing oil, but with a light hand.  I’ll detail my list of products in another post.

Now, that doesn’t mean I spend a lot of time styling her hair. I can’t. I have a demanding full-time job and a long commute just about every day. Baby’s styles have to be cute and quick. I focus more on putting small plaits (or platts, as Jamaicans say it), twists, or bantu knots (chiney bumps) into her hair to get a pretty curl the next day.