Maintaining family traditions; stability in a world that often isn’t.

holding-hands-1My son and daughter are five years apart. My favorite picture of the two of them was taken the day my daughter was born. My son had taken a big brother class at the hospital and understood that she would look up to him and follow him as the older sibling. The first time they met, she gazed up into his eyes and I’m so grateful my sister-in-law captured it on film. He loved being my helper, getting her diaper or toys when I asked and I tried to give him all of the quality time I could when she was napping or down for the night.

Even after the separation, as a solo parent I would still be conscious of the attention that she naturally received as the baby of the family. I made sure they were treated equally regarding chores and rules and would let him stay up to watch television or play a game with me after I tucked her in at night. What I refer to as our night-time snuggle hour (it was cute then, not so much now that he’s a teenager) is a tradition now and even though he won’t admit it, I know he looks forward to it at least once or twice a week. Now that my son is a teenager and my daughter a tween, both are going through emotional and physical changes which naturally distances them. As an introvert, he spends a lot of time in his room and she commands my time and all of the rest of the space in the house with her creative endeavors. I understand that they need the space to develop in their own way but I have to admit it’s been difficult as a parent watching powerless, as age difference, school and puberty send them to their separate corners of the world.

I must admit I had given up on our family rituals. Running a household, business and caring for two school aged children is more than a full-time job. I’m usually ready to go to bed before they do, and I felt that they had grown out of our summer vacations, back to school gifts, end of school dinner celebration, church service (twice a month if we can), midnight or early morning movies in our pajamas, Friday pizza and movie nights and other traditions until recently. For the first time in close to a year we watched a movie together last night sharing pizza and the same couch! I almost always order pizza and this past year I would be the only one sitting on the couch watching the movie or most likely it would be just my daughter and I. Last night was different. I ordered the pizza and made plans to go out to a local fundraiser when I expected the kids would be retired to their rooms; but as usual when I make plans, God laughs! After the pizza was demolished I turned on The Dark Knight and invited my son to sit and watch it with me. Years ago he was fascinated by all of the Marvel and DC Comics but gave it up when he got the message from peers that enjoying action figures was childish. I walked out of the room and was floored when I saw him actually reclining on the couch waiting for me. My daughter, not to be outdone fought for her spot on the couch too. I had to play referee once or twice but we watched the entire movie together as a family. I was waiting for them both the bail mid-movie but they didn’t. I silently apologized to my conscience for missing the fundraiser so I could be present, enjoying the snuggle and bonding time with my children instead. I went to bed hopeful and determined to slowly reinstate the not so typical family traditions that we have created over the years. At a time when so much in their lives is changing, the ability to rely on mom’s sometimes quirky traditions offers the nurturing and stability they so desperately need. I am aware that every night may not have a fairy tale ending and that traditions may continue to be tested, yet I remain encouraged. Pizza and move night was a reminder that consistency is important and not to give up until the miracle happens.

What are some of the non-traditional traditions that bring your family together? Feel free to share in the comments below or email us at africanamericanparenting@gmail.com.

~African American Parenting

Technology Addiction: Are you a bad influence?

Cellphone-DistractionI have to admit. I jump in the car and drive off because I’m running late to pick up one of the kids from somewhere and as soon as my seat belt is across my waist, I reach over into my pocketbook for my mobile phone. It’s become an instinctual yet love-hate relationship with my phone. I have been tempted on several occasions when I’ve left it inside the house attached to my fast-charging cord, to turn the car around and go back for it. What if the school calls? What if someone is trying to text me? What if one of my family members is ill and trying to reach me? What if I have an accident and no way to dial 911? How would I have answered these questions before I had a smart phone? I guess that’s why we had pagers!

If I am about to go for a long drive I will go back and get it. One day recently I didn’t go far but planned on being out for a few hours running errands and decided I could live without it. I then realized how dependent we are on our mobile devices. Believe it or not , I did survive but like the days after you’ve ended a love affair, I felt like something important was missing from my daily routine and I thought about my mobile phone often. Wondering if it was plugged up or if I left it on in my bedroom with the battery slowly draining. I worried about what condition it would be in when I returned. I would reach for it every now and then. I realized how much I depended on it for directions and instead had to rely on my memory. I wanted to use my mobile app to purchase coffee and set up my grocery list, and after a few moments and a small internal tantrum I went to the ATM and took out cash to purchase my chai latte, then found a pencil and paper to make my grocery list. Before I knew it I had been running errands for over three hours and had not relied on my mobile phone for anything! I was proud of myself. I did notice just how attached I was to my mobile phone especially since most banking institutions make it so much easier to purchase and even deposit through phone applications. Everybody has an app, and it has created a mobile dependent society.

My day around town without my phone taught me just how dependent I was on this small piece of technology. I realized that even at home I find myself often saying to one of my children when they want my attention “just wait one second, I just have to send this text” or “I’ll be right there after I finish this email” , or “get in bed and I’ll be up in a minute” as I return to see who that last Facebook notification was from. The minute usually turns into five then ten and the next thing I know my daughter has read herself to sleep. Yet and still I justify it because I am self-employed and I “have to rely on my phone” to keep me abreast of what’s going on with the social media accounts for my business and to respond quickly to my client’s email or phone message. I need my phone to update my calendar with an event that I saw on Facebook, twitter or text. I justify it and it keeps me oblivious to the control it has on my time and my quality time with my family. It wasn’t until I read this article at Common Sense Media that I realized that it wasn’t just the kids who needed to set limits on the time they spend in front of a little screen, but so did I.

My children are allowed one hour of screen time per day, and if they want more screen time, they have to read and/or do some form of physical activity that matches the amount of time they want to watch videos or play on the XBox. This rule is usually met with attitude but it works!

For myself, I’ve instituted a “you don’t play until you’re done work” policy for social media. I check it first thing in the morning and I am limited to 15 minutes liking, sharing and tweeting, another half an hour watching my favorite Periscope motivators and then it’s off the phone until I get my work done for the day. The phone gets put away again between the hours of 6-8pm when I am spending time making dinner, checking in with the kids and getting them ready for bed. I keep the phone in another room, and set it to announce calls so that I can choose to answer or ignore depending on who is calling. Any calls/texts I receive I will return after the children go up to bed.

This is the first step. I have to be honest and say that some days I just want to zone out and escape into the phone (literally!) when life and parenting etc. gets to be overwhelming! However, I am making a conscious effort to be aware of the wall I put up between myself and my children (and my spouse/partner) when I am obsessed with technology.

Check out the chart below and see if you think it represents your family. If it does, you may want to put yourself in time out.

Technology Addiction: Finding Balance

Are you the bad influence in your family? We’d love to hear from you and how you set limits on technology (if any) in your home.

~African American Parenting

The Need for Child Advocates in Our Schools

I’m almost exhausted from reading the numerous articles, surveys and studies written about the inequities in the school system when it comes to identifying and supporting both gifted and talented students of color. I am sharing the article below because it has a lot of valid and important information and insight. I have one extremely gifted child and one extremely talented child. They are both gifted, one intellectually and one creatively. My son was reading chapter books and starting multiplication tables at the age of six. My daughter, a Harry Potter fanatic started piano lessons at the age of 3, could read sheet music by the age of 4 and has started working on both original songs and book ideas. You would assume from the brief introduction that my son would have easily been identified as gifted and would have had no problem with access. If so, your assumptions are wrong. His pediatrician warned me at the age of 2, that knowing all of his colors and shapes and counting to 20 was not normal for a two year old and suggested Montessori school. The Montessori school told me he had a problem focusing, not realizing he was bored. One of the teacher’s assistants suggested I get him tested after I tried countless times to get the schools’ Director to accelerate him to no avail. I did my research and found out the only way to have him tested without paying was to register him with the district as if I were preparing to enroll him into public school for Kindergarten. I took her advice and he scored off the charts on his IQ test. I sent a copy of the report to the Director and not only did she not acknowledge his accomplishment but still refused to provide any specialized curriculum for him. As you can imagine I was frustrated and furious because I was paying full private school tuition and my child was not being supported. He graduated from their Pre-K program and we never looked back. I read the book A Nation Deceived, which changed my mindset about acceleration and realized then that he needed to skip first grade. My next step was to set up an appointment with the Principal, Psychologist and Gifted Instruction Director of the public school he would attend. Advocacy.

I was fortunate to attend a seminar on Educating Black Boys in Suburban School Districts, and met Dr. Juan Baughn, a former assistant to the Secretary of Education in PA. I shared my story about my son and mention the upcoming meeting and he offered to attend the meeting to assist me in my appeal to have my son skipped. Advocacy. Dr. Baughn did not request a fee and I never saw him again, but his presence at the meeting assured success and an appropriate individualized program for my son. The district was hesitant to admit it but at the time, out of all four elementary schools in the entire district, my son was the only African American male in the gifted program. I would bet money that at the time he graduated from middle school, the statistic was the same.

Bottom line is it takes time, money and resources to advocate for our the best interest of our students, especially students of color who are in suburban school districts where there are hardly any administrators or teachers of color able to look out for their best interest. I was fortunate as an entrepreneur to have the time to do the research and attend numerous meetings and phone conversations during the work day. Most working parents don’t. We need to have third parties inside the schools who are there to identify and support the parents as advocates for our children to be sure they are supported intellectually, creatively and emotionally.

I am always happy to share my experience and resources with any parents facing concerns and needing support for their gifted or talented child. This article I believe has great information and insight, yet I hope one day there is no need for these words to be written. Let me know your thoughts…

A direct quote from the article written by Staff Writer Madhu Krishnamurthy : “Nationally, among the reasons for the under-representation of minority and low-income students in gifted programs are the use of subjective teacher referrals in the identification process and lack of parent advocacy, experts say.”

‘”When given an enriching academic environment and emotional support, gifted students despite their background, go on to achieve incredible things,” said Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development and professor of education and social policy. “It’s our responsibility to close the gap for these kids.”‘

http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160330/news/160339961/

The Psychology Behind Your Mess: Why Creative Geniuses Often Flourish in Clutter

It’s funny I had just posted yesterday about not wanting someone to film me in my day to day life because of the clutter in my home and  this article by Anna Bashedly pops into my Facebook news feed. I grew up in a home where children were seen and not heard and we each had chores that had to do with keeping the house clean. As the only girl I spent more hours that I’d like to remember doing dishes for a house of six people, dusting as well as keeping my room clean as my assigned chores. Today I despise doing dishes (unless I’m at someone else’s house) to the extent that I would rather go to the store to purchase dish washer detergent before I’d tackle a sink full of dishes by hand. Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that ten years as the household dishwasher has brought me to this point! The ironic thing about being the “duster” of the family is that twenty years ago I found out that dust and mold are my major allergens and being around a large quantity of either can give me a full blown allergic reaction. I have to wear a contractor’s dust mask to clean my house. I say this all to say that I am not a neat freak, I usually hire someone to clean my home and I was afraid I had passed my disdain for cleaning to my children. I felt guilty until I learned about the connection between gifted and talented minds and what others see as clutter.

I once attended a conference sponsored by S.E.N.G. Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted to get insight into my son who at the age of four figured out how to count to 400 in Mandarin. One of the speakers spoke to us parents about not shaming our children because their rooms appeared to be “messy” all of the time. He told us that creative minds cannot start with a blank canvas and that what seems like clutter to us is inspiration and organization to them. I specifically remember him saying “unless there’s an old moldy slice of pizza under the bed, shut the door and leave his room alone!”. It’s a struggle but I do exactly that. Every few weeks I survey his room when he’s not there for moldy food and so far so good. I don’t invade his room, I ask him to collect his dirty clothes and bring them down to be washed, and I ask that he leave a path to the closet so I can use it for storage. I remember trying to “tidy up” his room and he would get so frustrated because although it looked like piles to me, he had his own method of organization and if I asked him to get something out of his room, he knew exactly where to go to put his fingers on it. I used to worry that I was creating a nightmare for his future wife but now I realize that allowing creative space for him to discover the cure for cancer is a better use of my concerns for his future.

Source: The Psychology Behind Your Mess: Why Creative Geniuses Often Flourish in Clutter

Teachable Moments: Why I took my seven year old daughter to see Selma

Selma Pic

As a child born right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, exactly six months after the assassination of Malcolm X, I have only my parent’s memories of those horrific and powerful moments in American history. When I started seeing the trailers for the Selma Movie I immediately felt the energy of the movement pour into me from the visual presence of powerful African-Americans moving forward in spite of the immense opposition. The pictures are always so powerful, and tell the stories that are starting to fade with the passing of each legendary activist and committed ancestor. As a woman I was both surprised and proud to see that this major motion picture was directed by Ava DuVernay who was also of African descent and extremely accomplished. I was excited and couldn’t wait to take the kids to see this film! I assumed that it, like the few MLK movies made for TV, would be rated PG and I set off immediately to secure tickets for us to see it after we volunteered on Martin Luther King Day. I was proud of myself for being so proactive until I saw that it was rated PG13. My heart dropped. My son was twelve and soon to be thirteen in a few months, but my daughter was seven and a half at most. Did I really have to deny her the opportunity to experience this African-American female director’s opportunity to tell the story of the March to Selma? Did she have to sit and listen to stories like I did as a young child never seeing the beauty and ugliness of those who both fought for and stood ignorantly in the way of universal love and freedom? I was torn between my own strong emotions about the project and being a responsible parent. My daughter, a very sensitive and loving soul was also practically begging me (no, literally) to take her to see the movie. I decided to poll my friends in social media who are teachers, parents, directors, storytellers and activists for their opinions in order for me make the best decision. Surprisingly I didn’t receive a resounding “YES, you should definitely take her” from the majority of those polled, but I took all of the suggestions and comments to heart and eventually decided to take her to see Selma. These are the reasons why I chose to ignore the film rating and take her anyway:

  1. She is the granddaughter and daughter of storytellers: My father wrote great short essays about his experiences growing up a young black boy in the fifties as well as experiences in the Air Force and the emotions and struggles that followed him into his adult life. Unfortunately he never published any of them. I started writing poetry in third grade and am just starting to tell stories that have been waiting to come out. My daughter is watching and may one day be a great writer too and I think it’s important for her to see stories unfold in front of her eyes. It’s her legacy, her reality and too important of a story to exclude from her growing library.
  2. She begged me: It was a different plea than the one I get a the toy store. My daughter has learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and other great men and women in American history and she wanted to know more. I thought about one friend’s comment about how she is “my child” and how she has been listening to and enchanted by storytellers since she was an infant. Some things you just do by instinct, but she was right. I even had a storyteller at my son’s 5th birthday while my daughter watched from her baby carrier. After enduring too many “please Mommy”, how could I argue?
  3. I prepared her ahead of time: A few of my friends warned me that there were a few graphic moments in the film, especially in the beginning that could be too harsh for someone her age but felt that with the right preparation and conversation beforehand she could handle it. My daughter promised me that she wouldn’t be scared and she wasn’t going to have nightmares and that she wanted to see anything that involved “her people and their struggle and Martin Luther King”. So I Googled “Bloody Selma” and sat next to her while she viewed the actual footage from the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge and she didn’t flinch. As I watched I realized that children such as my father and mother birthed in the midst of segregation didn’t have the option of being sheltered from the brutality of their oppressors.
  4. She would walk out more proud of her ancestors’ strength and perseverance: I did get a few strange looks when I walked into the theater with her in tow and I just knew every parent secretly shamed me. I even started to doubt my decision after the opening scene (which was both powerful, shocking and necessary) but when the movie ended and she turned to me with a big smile on her face and said “that was awesome!” I knew that I had made the best decision for her. Not only did she get to see images of courageous women of color in both strong and supporting roles, she saw them fight for their men, children and communities in a way that is not depicted in history books and definitely not on the Disney channel. The Civil Rights struggle was told from a different angle and with a different voice all guided by the vision of a female director and producer of African descent. Definitely a teachable moment!

Of course you have to take all of these factors into consideration before choosing to take your younger child to see this  PG13 movie. I have to admit even with her excitement over seeing Selma I was worried that she would have nightmares, but none came. There was also one moment where my Mom instinct kicked in and I covered her eyes, but she abruptly moved my hand! The sad truth is, our kids are so exposed to brutality, injustice and violence today, that ‘Bloody Selma’ is not as jarring as we would expect. We cannot expect our children to reflect the qualities that we do not mirror back to them. Sometimes we are the mirror, sometimes it appears in the form of a book, a writer or motion picture but I believe it has to be done by any means necessary.

SaveBlackBoys.org

James Hilley_Art Exhibit 2010

My son recently had the opportunity to attend the summer science institute, a program at The Franklin Institute. He LOVES science and math and thrives in those environments so although it would have meant a 40 minute drive into the city and back each day, I was willing to make the sacrifice for him as an investment in his future.  By God’s grace, my youngest brother, who also travels into the city every day for work offered to have him stay with him during the week and he would be responsible for transporting him back and forth to camp. What a relief! If my tween was going to experience being away from home for the first time, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation than for him to be with a family member who just happens to have a houseful of boys for him to hang with. Win. Win.

Well, he had the time of his life visiting waste management plants, meeting kids his age, working with petri dishes and laughing with his Uncle “T”.  I missed him but as an independent mom,  I am learning to let go and trust the village and accept that there are lessons that I cannot teach him. Sometimes the village is family, and sometimes it comes in the form of an unexpected phone call from a major museum about a  subsidized science program that is the perfect fit for my kid. I accept it all and give thanks.

In the meantime, I spent some much-needed quality time with my daughter. We have a special bond, but because of some other issues going on in her life she has a yearning for nurturing that I normally have to divide between the two children. We did the typical girlie things and talked about her beauty, her gifts and how to respond to girls who laugh at her hair when she wears it out in a curly natural style (I’ll tackle that subject in another post!). We took ‘selfies’ and the Black Girls Rock t-shirts that I ordered the previous week came in the mail and she said that she felt like we were sisters. Win. Win.

When my son came home, full of testosterone and erupting with information about his two weeks at science camp and spending time with his uncle, aunt and cousins he was surprisingly clingy. He had a ball but actually missed his nagging mom and his overly dramatic sister! We’ve since spent many an evening with him huddled up next to me on the couch after I tucked his sister into bed, watching anything from Transformers to the Cooking channel. He is really a great kid, and extremely bright but the reality is that too many kids just like him go missing, get lost in foster care or the criminal system, or just expire on the streets. And although we live in the suburbs which lowers his risk somewhat he as a young, gifted black boy is still very much a target. So when I recently came across this website, Save Black Boys.org, and saw the t-shirts, I thought of the matching shirts worn by my daughter and myself the previous week. What better way to show my love and support of my son and to keep our boys in the forefront of the minds of all that meet us, than to get matching t-shirts for my son and I as well. We all need to save our black boys;  they too are America’s promise. They too hold the key to making this a great nation. Each time we lose one, we lose  ourselves because we all are one. We need to save them from being racially profiled, save their minds, save their souls, save their self-esteem, save their pride, save their brilliance, save their masculinity, save their lives. What will you do to show them that we care? How will we save them? If you don’t have time to write your congressman, mentor, start an non profit or teach, you can show your solidarity. I am not connected to this program in any way, I just love their boldness and the shirt is nice too! 🙂

Get yours here:

http://saveblackboys.org/pages/about-us?customer_posted=true

Expand your village; get support for your young male warrior!

BMDS 2014

BMDS 2014 my son (l) James and his cousin, Hammad.

I grew up with three brothers so I admire and understand men more than many friends of mine who didn’t grow up with brothers.  But as much insight I may have into them, I am not a man and cannot provide my son with all of the tools he needs to thrive in school, in the community and in social media. My son’s father is not as knowledgeable , so I search for outlets and resources for my soon to be teenager so that he can get the support he needs as he begins to navigate through this maze of  hormones, peer pressure and girls!

Thank goodness I came across the Black Male Development Symposium. I believe I read about it on someone’s Facebook post and was intrigued. I visited the website and immediately got excited about all of the different workshops that they offered. For an extremely low price (and some attended for free if they were members of a community-based tutoring or development program), your son is able to attend a full day of workshops AND receive lunch! There were close to 400 young black men in attendance from middle school through college age, and extremely popular concurrent workshops for parents. The unconventional workshop subjects for the young men ranged from learning to play the drum  and navigating rap music lyrics to  managing social media, creating your own black superhero, creating your own comic strip and what to say and what not to say if you were stopped by the police. There were also the typical workshops geared towards college preparation and navigating the college campus as well as peer pressure and bullying in middle school.

I was so impressed with the quality of the information provided as well as the experienced workshop presenters and I am already looking forward to going next year and getting someone to take care of my daughter so that I can attend the parent workshops! My brother facilitated a workshop on Mothers raising boys, and there were other workshops to help with college applications and educating parents on the safety of the social media sites that are popular with our youth. Even if my son’s father were more involved, I would still have urged him to attend this symposium. I try to allow him to make his own decisions, since he is twelve so I showed him the website and let him have the final say (even though I had already signed him up!) He did have a baseball game and Mandarin Chinese class the same day as the Symposium, but he chose to forgo his normal Saturday activities and I supported his decision. And as one friend reminded me, “this happens only once a year.”

The organizers have posted a few pictures and videos from this year’s Symposium and plan to post more so I would visit their website  www.blackmaledevelopment.com or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BlackMaleDevelopment to get an idea of the quantity and quality of information available. My son is still talking about it.

Hope to see you there next year!