A Coronation/Diefication Gone Wrong

People who faithfully watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta are probably still shaking their heads over the recent spectacle known as Phaedra Parks’ baby shower. The woman came under heavy criticism for an event that some say was far too extravagant and tacky. I disagree. When a woman is named Phaedra and is married to man named Apollo, she owes it to the lowly masses, the mortals, to put on a show. In my humble and belated opinion, Phaedra did not go far enough. Here is the BravoTV take on the situation: The Real Housewives of Atlanta – Videos – Bonus Clips – Planning the Baby Shower | Bravo TV Official Site.

Here are my impressions of the splashy, showy baby shower that almost everyone who expressed an opinion seemed to hate. Baby Shower or Tasteless Free for All?

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I’m Her Mommy, She’s My Mami

Baby has been at daycare ever since she was a mere 2 1/2 months old. It really bothered me to leave her in daycare so soon, but since Hubby and I do need my extra paycheck and benefits from my full-time job, off she went. She has always been in the warm environs of family daycare. Just a handful of kids ate, napped and played together all the time. We live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, which means she has always had Latina caregivers, and Spanish is a growing part of her expanding vocabulary.

First there was Sula, a warm, efficient and bustling woman who always kept the kids content and her house super tidy. When Baby was tiny enough for the car seat and we rested her on Sula’s kitchen counter, Baby would greet her by arching her back and poking out her belly, a gesture for Sula to lift her up. Sula always chirped something like “mamita” to the girls (actually, Baby was the only girl in her set) or “papito” to the boys. If the children ever cried or fussed, she soothed them saying “mi amor.” Her second family care provider was Nina, a Puerto Rican woman. The situation was similar, but Nina spoke more English than Sula.

All of this happened as Baby learned to talk. When she said what sounded like “mommy,” I thought she was calling for me. But Hubby pointed out that Baby could be repeating the Spanish “mami,”repeating the term her Spanish-speaking caregivers use for her. It’s funny how that term has so many meanings. I’ve heard it used in a provocative way to describe voluptuous girls, and something much more harmless and even charming—when done properly, of course!

I like the fact that Baby can express herself in two languages. (Soon to be a third, as I am determined to share some French with her.) When she can’t pronounce ‘bread,’ she might asked for ‘pan-ney’. When she first learned to talk, the letter w gave her trouble, so she said ‘ag-aaa’ in what we thought was baby Spanish while reaching for her bottle or training cup.

Baby is in nursery school now, and the same Spanish-speaking caregiver scene is unfolding. The teacher is a kind young Latina, and there are two assistants to give all the kids lots of personal attention. Baby has taken a particular liking to one assistant, Miss Carmen. Baby greets her with a hug in the mornings, follows her around the large, cheerfully decorated classroom, and nestles in Miss Carmen’s arms as she is rocked to sleep before nap time. Despite the fact that I can’t be home with her more often, we’ve been lucky to have Baby situated with great people.

On a recent Saturday, in fact, I was trying to get Baby to count her toes with me. She was fiddling with one of her infant burp clothes, which had three flowers stitched in. I didn’t realize until after I played back the recording, but I think she was attempting to count the three flowers in Spanish! Take a listen and see: Three Flowers

Nowadays, whenever Baby says “mommy,” I know she is calling for me and not using Spanish slang. We went through a call and response phase when she would repeat “maa-aa-mee” and I answered “yes, Sweet Pea,” for minutes and minutes on end. It didn’t annoy me at all. I even look forward to the day when she can understand the difference between the English “mommy” and the Spanish one, and enjoys calling me by both. When used properly, of course!

Swaddling Elmo

Baby’s toys are mainly learning-driven: a half-dozen puzzles, lots of books, musical toys and a few sets of blocks. I’ve occasionally wondered whether I should add dolls and trucks to the mix. She might enjoy doting on a chubby little doll with long eyelashes, or filling a brightly painted steel Tonka truck with pebbles and then dumping them out. I decided to wait for a sign, a natural inclination to emerge from her, as to what I should get from the toy aisle on my next shopping trip.

On Monday I got my answer. While I curled my hair that morning, I noticed that Baby took one of her plush toys and began playing with it like it was a doll. She fed it from her sippy cup, carried it around gingerly and prepared to dress it in one of her bloomers. It was such a hoot to watch her intently pick up her garment and shake it out first. Later on in the week, Hubby told me that Baby got one of her burp cloths and wrapped it around Elmo, as if to swaddle him. And if all of that were not enough evidence, she took her plush macaw from Monday and she set it on her training potty this morning.

So I nabbed Little Sister to come with me on my after-breakfast errands, with Baby in tow. First I stopped at Babies R Us to get the right wipes, portable potty training seat for our upcoming vacation, and other supplies for a baby transitioning to a full-fledged toddler. After that, we went to Target, just across the way. We wheeled into one of the toy aisles , where a lot of the dolls must have had motion sensors in them, because whenever we moved this way or that, they would either coo, laugh or bounce up and down on their legs. I wondered whether we were in a robotic daycare, or if these creatures were all vying for our attention so we could take one of them home. Little Sister really got into it, a bit too much if you ask me, saying ‘I like this one,’ or ‘Look at that.’ I told her to focus. (We’ll have to deal with the gaps in her childhood experiences at another time.) We ended up getting a baby doll that had its own bottle. It laughs, snores softly while ‘asleep’, and whenever Baby puts the bottle to its mouth, its whole face scrunches up and it blinks its eyes, just like an enthusiastic eater. Baby seemed to be really into it, so I thought it would make a good starter doll.

After we got home and I attempted to feed her lunch, I settled Baby for a nap. That was almost three hours ago. I decided to get some shuteye too, after a bout of insomnia last night. About halfway through Baby’s nap, she woke up crying, and I brought her into my room, hoping to soothe her and maybe get her to sleep next to me for an hour. It didn’t work, because I (and my closed laptop) were distractions for her. So I brought her back to her crib and planted her there, ignoring her shrieks of protest until she settled back in.

There was an outdoor concert going on, with traditional-sounding Spanish music. It sounded a lot better than the garish forms of bachata and reggaeton that a lot of our neighbors typically prefer. The weather was (and still is) outstanding for late summer, with clear skies and a breeze that renders our ceiling fans unnecessary. I settled back down, hoping to squeeze in a restful 30 or 40 minutes before resuming chores. Summer seems to be getting ready to transition to fall, and Baby is changing too. I close my eyes and hope to get the most out of both.

Horror Show

I’ve heard of kiddie pageants, baby pageants and some of the extreme, over-the-top measures that mothers take to make their girls competitive. But I’ve never heard of putting a weave into a three-year-old’s hair until this evening, when I found this video.

This is shocking and appalling. How could this woman’s priorities get so severely screwed up that she proceeds to program a toddler to favor something alien, unnatural and debasing over her natural, God-given beauty? This is a blatant case of unfit parenting (and in this case, unfit grand parenting), to spread heavy makeup on a little wee one and perm, braid and weave that baby to an inch of their life. It doesn’t matter if this sort of artifice and PSYCHOTIC MATERNAL VANITY is repeated throughout the pageant circuit or has been for years and years. It is sick.

Come on, my sisters. Wake up! Do not teach our babies that natural black hair is not becoming on a black woman. Fake white hair doesn’t do it, and neither does over perming. If you teach girls how to handle their hair properly, their hair will look healthy and they will feel pretty. They won’t go overboard with the soul-sucking weaves and other crap. And don’t let them wear any makeup or flattering outfits at all until they can clock some Romeo who might try to take these enhancements as permission to be forward with her.

I know I get into a huff when little boys approach Baby and touch her face, hair or try to follow her around. I can’t imagine deliberately putting her through all this nonsense just to put her on display for adults. It’s creepy.

More importantly, someone needs to shut these pageants down and avert creating a generation of lost, confused and self-destructive women. And as African-American women, we don’t need anymore of that stuff. We need these girls to reach their potential as great doctors, teachers, moms and writers or whatever other calling and profession they like. They need to love themselves as God made them. Instead, these girls are being steered toward long lifetimes of disappointments and rude awakenings. They’ll all hit a peak when they are young, probably, and spend the rest of their lives either reliving glory days or pursuing unsustainable hopes of marrying rich and living glamorous, care-free lives.

Interracial Family Album

Someone put together this creative musical slide show of interracial families. All of the women are Black, and are shown with their white, Latino and Asian husbands and boyfriends. Enjoy. Unless I compile a new batch of emails concerning Duncan and Paulette, this will be the last post this weekend.

I don’t know about conditions where you are, gentle readers, but the Northeast is expecting temperatures to get neat a sizzling 100 Fahrenheit on Saturday!  Wooo!  If those temperatures are going to sweep through your area, then crank up the AC, or set yourself up near a pool with your Wi-Fi and enjoy. And don’t forget to leave a comment!

New Spring Dos

Baby and I both got new hair styles last weekend. I got a simple touch up of a perm that had significant thick new growth, and I took Baby to a children’s hair salon to cut her hair.

Yes, I finally gave in. I simply didn’t want to see anymore patchiness along the sides of Baby’s hair or in the front. So, in the interest of giving her locks a fresh start to even out, I took her in to hare everything cut off.

The salon where I took Baby occupies a converted first floor of a brownstone on Halsey Street in downtown Newark, cheerfully decorated in vibrant primary colors, where two owners braid, cut, ponytail and do just about anything else mothers want for their daughters (and sons). There are two styling stations and a couple of dryers. Too cute. About a third of the floor space is dedicated to retail, where they sell colorful tutus, sportswear, accessories and other adorable finds for little kids.

After settling Baby into one of the two styling chairs and snapping on her apron, I expected the hair dresser to use clippers. I didn’t know if I wanted her hair shaved all off all the way down to her scalp, but I thought clippers would have been able to handle Baby’s four inches. But the hairdresser slid her fingers through Baby’s downy, fine hair and said: “I’m not putting clippers into this baby’s hair. It’s going to totally change the texture.” Her co-owner agreed, and predicted that were clippers to be used in Baby’s hair, her new growth would be a challenge to manage. She kidded that I would rush back in after a few weeks holding Baby and say: “Do something with this hair!”

So we decided to just go with shears. Baby handled the process a lot more calmly than I imagined she would. One of the salon owners daughters offered Baby a Spider Man board book. Baby turned through the pages, but started to become unnerved. Then the little girl fetched a pink teddy bear, which she had created at Build-A-Bear workshop. Smiling, Baby accepted and hugged the little ambassador. Before long, however, Baby started whimpering and trying to climb up on me. I managed to get her to hang in there until at last, her new haircut was done.

I think she looks adorable, and her short curly afro (with the slight ducktail in back) complements her perfectly round head, plump cheeks and long eyelashes. I understand where other women are coming from when they decline to cut their daughter’s hair, or gave me plenty of alternatives to this route. But Hubby and I thought Baby’s hair started to look lopsided, and felt that her scalp needed a breather, a time out.

After this, Hubby and I will probably part ways when it comes to managing Baby’s hair. I don’t know if I’ll ever cut her hair again this drastically. I don’t want strangers mistaking her for a boy, classmates at nursery school or beyond taunting her or Baby herself to feel like a cherished possession was taken away from her. Little girls tend to love their hair, and this is something that I have to constantly remind Hubby about. He thinks hair styling is frivolous. I showed him the Beads, Braids & Beyond Web site, expecting him to marvel at all those creative hairdos, and he recoiled. He said making a little kid sit still for all that styling was torture. I told him to get a grip on reality and understand that even if sitting still is a pain, a LOT of little girls enjoy getting their hair all done up, and like the results. He just huffed and puffed and shook his head, calling it stupid. And I just told him to can it, and that little girls are not middle-aged curmudgeons who don’t care about their hair. They want to look nice, and as long as they’re not obsessed, there is nothing wrong with it. And I told him to stop being so hysterical and calling black hair styles “torture.” Really!

Well, he’s in for a rough time, because Baby is an adorable little girl. She is also young enough that we can reasonably expect her hair to thicken up to a texture much closer to my densely cropped mane than his. It’s not hard to imagine that she will attract lots of offers to get her hair braided, curled, pony tailed and whatnot to play up her pretty face. Besides, after I buy her those colorful tutus, it just follows that she’ll need to rock a cute ‘do to go with it!

Talking About Mixed Kids

Author and photographer Kip Fulbeck has recently published a book of portraits of mixed-race kids, with a foreword by Maya Soetoro-Ng, an educator, author and maternal half-sister of President Barack Obama.  I like the idea of getting kids to talk about how they see themselves. It’s very important that they be comfortable with their identities and that they talk about it. And if they feel like their parents’ different backgrounds play a part in who they are, then they should talk about that, too. I don’t think that as humans or as Americans, etc., we will ever come to any consensus on race and ethnicity. It will always mean different things to different people for various reasons, BUT as long as we keep having healthy conversations about it, we’ll always be heading in the right direction. Here is a video about the book, and a link to the Amazon page, if you want to buy a copy.

That Look in Her Eye

Last Friday I went with Hubby to pick up Baby from the family daycare. This is a pleasant errand that I normally don’t get home in time to do. But that day, I watched Hubby carry her down the sidewalk and to the car, and as he settled her into her car seat next to me, she saw me and her face broke into a smile. She made a happy noise, and she started clapping. I hadn’t seen Baby in a little over a week, because I was in the hospital with a sickle cell crisis. The sight of her reacting like that made my eyes and nose sting with tears, and I cried a little as I helped buckle her into her car seat. It seemed like she missed me, and that possibility made me feel really sad and a little guilty. By getting sick and then staying away from her all that time, had I messed up and neglected my job as a mother?

When we got home, Baby seemed anxious to jump on me, hug and snuggle up a bit, which I was game to do, as well. But I had just gotten out of the hospital and was still sore from several procedures. So at one point when she threw her 18-month-old energy at me, I winced in pain and gently pulled her back a little. She stopped and looked at me, almost like she recognized that something was up. I wonder how much Baby realizes about my condition and what effect it will have on her life. During the evening, I thought Baby looked at me differently more than once, like when I was slow in picking her up, half-heartedly chasing her up the stairs (which would normally have her squealing in delight) or not bounding down the stairs, which she also loves to see. Maybe she was just taking in the sight of me at home again. I hope she was not wondering why I wasn’t operating at full throttle. Obviously, she doesn’t understand how sickle cell works, but so far she knows that on two occasions I have left her for a few days, and when I came back, I didn’t lift, swing or toss her around like I am used to doing. This time, however, I did manage to play with her a bit, and go through the whole bedtime routine, from bath through story time and the final kiss goodnight. Hubby had to gently lower her into her crib, because I just didn’t have the strength to do that.

Even if Baby doesn’t have those questions now, I know that I will have more crises and one day she’s going to ask me about my health. One night, she might ask Hubby why I’m screaming (in pain) and where he is taking me. One day she might wonder why I didn’t come home from work, or why I’m delayed getting home from a trip out of town. We will have to talk about my disease one day, and when we do, I’ll tell her everything that I can, except for the part where I thank God that she escaped my fate. If she’s as sharp then as I think she is now, it’s something that will be quietly understood between us.

Time Out for Discipline

Isn’t this a pretty little chair? What mommy wouldn’t want a beautifully decorated “time out” seat as a way to firmly, but stylishly, reinforce the rules of good conduct? That’s what I thought when I bought it, but Baby took one look at it and decided that it was her new step stool. She pushed it across the floor. She picked it up and carried it. She brought it over to our big windows, so she could stand on the seat and look outside. The first time she did that, she gave me a huge smile. “Thanks mom!”

So I took away the beautifully decorated “time out” chair, which she protested, loudly. She’ll get it back when she understands that it’s not a toy. Or maybe I should have understood that the chair is not a serious discipline tool, and left it in the store.

So it is with our discipline routine. I think I’m being serious, while Baby just toys with me. Take the Sunday Showdown, for instance. She threw me for a loop on Sunday when she threw a shrieking tantrum in the Lord’s house. But not in the crying room, where one would expect that kind of behavior, and where she’s spent so much time that I’m almost on a first name basis with the mothers of other restless tots. The reason for her fit? Me. I had picked her up from the nursery, where the teacher was delighted to report that she had a good day. That means she behaved so well that I didn’t have to be summoned from the sanctuary to check her out of the nursery and bring her to the crying room. So after picking her up, I carried her from the back of the church to the grand foyer, and set her down so I could rest and organize her diaper bag. And anyway, I had hurt my shoulder on Saturday after some overzealous gardening. Baby wasn’t ready for me to put her down, however. After a brief, but strong and definite windup, she threw herself on the floor of the large entry hall and let out a peal that had never before been done in public. She wanted me to pick her up, and she meant it! Anyone who is anyone, including one of my friends from Bible study, could see and hear the adorable but petulant little girl, and pity the mama who spoils her by picking her up every time she cries.

I did pick her up—right after a brief word (stop!) about polite behavior in public.  She stopped short for a second, but because I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, I just picked her up. She stopped crying right away, and the more experienced moms nearby shook their heads knowingly. One of them is from my Bible study group, and without being mean or judgmental, she said Baby was spoiled.

My friend from Bible study is right: Baby is spoiled, but I haven’t turned her into a brat. Baby will cry incessantly when she’s hungry or teething, but she generally good-natured. I always hug her when she wants, snuggle when she wants, and try to get her to communicate all her needs to me as well as she can, so I can get right on the case.  But I realized that Baby, Hubby and I have some work to do in the area of discipline. I indulge Baby on all those things I just mentioned, but we have gone through many an exercise where I tell her to stop that behavior that’s not nice and be a good girl. And she does. I just hope we can raise a child who knows she can absolutely count on getting everything from us when she needs them, whether its hugs and snacks or firm and reasonable boundaries.

My first stop is probably going to be reading this article about a new study that says spanking only makes kids more aggressive later in life. I’ll have to refute that. Mommie Dearest (if you only knew) never hesitated to hit me in public or private, with a borrowed leather belt or one of her own, with her back hand or a slipper, for whatever reason that got into her head. And aside from when someone pushes my last button for the 50th time, I don’t go around picking fights. I’ll never be the same kind of mother to Baby that Mommie Dearest was to me, but you can bet that I won’t apologize to anyone, PhD or not, for the rare and well-placed bottom swat if Baby tries something like … running out into a busy intersection. Or dangling a younger sibling out the window. Or lighting matches in the coat closet (like Hubby and his broker Malcolm). These are real stories, accompanied by accounts of hearty spankings and “I never did that stuff again.”

The Mixed Kids

Last year I asked readers if they considered President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to be an interracial couple. I think they fall into that category, because President Obama brings a biracial experience into the relationship, much like Halle Berry does in her relationship with Gabriel Aubrey. Now I want to extend that question to kids. I’m not talking about the the children from either of those couples, but my 17-month-old daughter, and her cousin Walter.

You might remember that Walter is the 4-year-old son of my cousin Melinda, who married an awesome guy named Jeff, who is French Canadian. They adopted Walter when he was tiny, just 11 months old, and in my mind, the adoption is a moot point. That little boy is the perfect amalgamation of madcap Melinda and Jeff.

Baby and her cousin Walter will have very similar experiences growing up: a black mom and a white dad. They will both hear foreign languages at home—Italian for Baby and French for Walter; travel abroad almost certainly to the Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, and wherever else their insatiably curious parents want to explore; sample cuisines from all over the world and have all of the other experiences that come with a multicultural upbringing. The one difference between them is I’m not sure if Walter has racially mixed biological parents. Actually, I never think about his biological lineage. But the fact remains that his upbringing will be very similar to Baby’s. So can they both be considered biracial kids?

It is an interesting question, and one that I hope will flex people’s minds and get them to stretch their perceptions a little bit about race, culture and all the things that make up our identities. Walter cannot be considered biracial. Even if he had interracial parents, the world would take one look at him and pronounce him black. He loves Jeff, his white dad, to bits and his relationship with Melinda is strong, too. I predict right now (you all are witnesses) that he will be Melinda’s partner in crime. With such strong attachments to each parent, I think he will share experiences with other kids who come from interracial parents, especially when the families remain intact. More often, I see famous biracial adults asserting that they are more than just black. It doesn’t matter if they look more white (like Mariah Carey), black (like Frederick Douglas) or even Pacific Islander (like Tiger Woods), they have insisted that people recognize the parent whose physical traits are more recessive. Otherwise it might seem like they are slighting the less visible parent and subverting an important part of their identity.

Walter will love his parents equally. Similar to famous biracial people, he probably will not want strangers to take one look at him and slap on a label that diminishes the influences that his Canadian-born dad will have had on his life. And like other biracial kids, I can see him diplomatically—but firmly—telling people that ‘Hey, my mom is black, and my dad is white. This is who I am.’