Who are you trusting with their brain?

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My children started school today, and all around the country there are parents buying school supplies, new clothes, bookbags and countless electronic devices in order to prepare their children for the new school year. We spend so much time and money getting the “things” we need, but what is just as important for me is knowing the teachers, administrators and other support staff who influence the intellect and emotional health of my children for the majority of their day. As fortunate as we are to have access to a noteworthy school district and staff, I am still very aware that my children will be surrounded by children who will not look like them, teachers who will not look like them and more than likely the only people of color they will see are in the cafeteria or cleaning up after them throughout the day. It’s unfortunate that most of those in the schools they attend have never had the experience of being a “minority” or having a close relationship with someone of another ethnicity or religion. These truths concern me more than whether they have the correct number of sharpened pencils. Each year as August comes to a close, I being to make my presence known to those who will hold my children’s hearts and brains captive for six or seven hours each day. I have had enough experiences throughout the years with school systems (both public and private) and have learned the hard way that everyone hired as a teacher/administrator does not necessarily have my child’s best interest at heart. I will share a few tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned that have helped me get the school year off to a great start:

  1. Take advantage of your access to teachers the week before school starts : Most of your child’s teachers are at school the week prior to the first day of school, preparing their classroom for the kids as well as any open house events happening in the school. Take advantage of this time that they will be able to read email without interruption and send a quick “Hello, I’m XYZ’s parent, nice to meet you” email. This is a great time to quickly mention any emotions your child has about the new year as well as any emotional, intellectual or health issues that may challenge the teacher, good or not so good. The email I send for my middle schooler is much shorter than the one for my second grader, and if it is a new teacher,  I also will attach my “This is My Kid” note to the email which I’ll explain below.
  2. Type up a one or two paragraph note about your child that you can update from year to year: I started it in Preschool because it was requested by one of the teachers, and I’ve kept it up each year. Some people may think it’s too much but I believe that someone who has my child’s time and attention for the majority of their waking hours should know more about them than their name and address. I include a little about their favorite things and subjects, but more importantly, what helps them transition, how they handle change, any allergies or health issues, any extraordinary emotional issues that may distract them as well as what motivates them to learn. I have found that their teachers have really found the information to be extremely helpful. 
  3. Make every open house and/or back to school night: I know, who wants to work all day, fight traffic to get home to get dinner and then go back out at night to the school. Ugh! Not my favorite thing to do, but a great way to show not only the teachers, but your child that you have a vested interest in their happiness and success in school. You’re showing them that you care about where they sit, who they interact with, how long it takes to get from class to class and what books they use. You get to put a face to the teacher’s names, see how their teacher interacts with their students and feel their energy (yes, I said it…but energy transfers to your kid). It’s also a subtle message to those who interact with your student that you care about what’s going on at school and that you are ready and willing to work together as a team to make sure it’s a good experience for your child. I can’t stress how important this is. Your presence is a powerful statement.
  4. Keep a folder for each child: The beginning of the year causes an influx of paperwork and procedures that make my head spin! When I purchase their school supplies, I also purchase a two-pocket folder for the year that I use to keep track of all of the correspondence from their school. One side has paperwork etc that I need to act on and return to school, and the other side has information I need to keep such as school procedures, daily schedules, calendars, teacher contact information, report cards and any other teacher correspondence that I need to refer to throughout the year. Whew! I get exhausted just thinking about it, so the folder helps, believe me!
  5. Don’t assume everyone has your child’s best interest at heart: I can’t stress this one enough. I was paying for my son to attend a Montessori school that refused to customize his educational goals even after he achieved a 99 percentile on the IQ test administered by the State. The director wouldn’t even discuss his score with me and that was the last year he attended that school. Don’t assume that your child’s teacher is not biased just because he/she is a teacher; don’t assume your child’s teacher has ever had diversity training, don’t assume the social studies class will teach the truth about American History, don’t assume that your child will be treated fairly or even better because he/she is gifted or “bright”. Don’t assume that your child is being treated fairly. Talk to your children about their day, let them know how they should be treated and teach them to have the same expectations of their teachers. Hold their teachers accountable and make them aware of your expectations, just as they make their expectations clear to the students at the beginning of the year. Stay abreast of your child’s progress and don’t be afraid to make a phone call or send an email if you feel they are not receiving the help/support or enhancement that they need to succeed. Check out the school website, and take the time to get information about any awards, special programs or scholarships for which your son/daughter may be eligible. I have had several situations where their teacher did not nominated them. I must say that I have been fortunate to have had wonderful experiences in our school district, but there have been a few who have been a challenge. 
  6. Help your child look forward to their first day: Both of my children were nervous about their first day, but I try to set up some fun activities the week before school starts as an attempt to lessen the anxiety. If there is an Open House at their school, I attend it with them. If their teacher sends a welcome letter, I share it with them and ask them how it makes them feel. We go to the store and they each get to pick out a “have a great school year” gift or other small token; it serves as a constant reminder of my support of and belief in them. Of course there’s the back to school day outfit that they get to pick out and on the morning of their first day of school, I add something special to their breakfast. The evening of their first day, we go out to a celebratory dinner, whether it be pizza or someplace a more classy, they get to pick and even dress up if they’d like. It gives us a chance to talk about their day and serves as my way of showing them how important their education is to me and that I share their excitement. 

After you do all of the above, go to your nearest coffee shop or masseuse (or both!) and celebrate yourself for the amazing job you’ve done to get them and their brains in good hands! I hope these tidbits have helped. Please feel free to comment and add any methods that help your child/ren get off to a positive start.  Wishing you a successful school year! 

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

The Kids To Do List this Summer–Daddy Style 07/19 by RikkiRJones | Self Help Podcasts

Great information to help Dads with ideas for managing kids activities during the summer, hosted by Rikki Jones and facilitated by Joel Austin, President of Daddy Univercity, Inc.

http://www.daddyuniv.com

H&F continues the series: The Kids To Do List this Summer–Daddy Style 07/19 by RikkiRJones | Self Help Podcasts.

Why this Independent Mother doesn’t want a card on Father’s Day

wpid-img_2214353150976.jpegFather’s Day has been bittersweet for me these past two years, mainly because  my father transitioned shortly before Mother’s Day a year ago. My dad was not everything that we needed a father to be, but he loved and protected his children, parented the best he knew how, always brought his check home, and although was not always connected to us emotionally, he kept a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and never in his entire life did he miss a birthday of his children or grandchildren. I miss him dearly, mainly because as most women, I was a daddy’s girl. I didn’t always like his choices and I knew he was not perfect but he always let me know how beautiful and special I was to him and spoiled me whenever he could. I expected for my daughter to have a similar experience, and also wished for my son to have a strong, supportive man in his father to look up to.

Unfortunately, my ex-husband has chosen this year to withdraw from his parenting role and I have no choice but to raise my children independently, which means they do not have the comfort, nurturing and stability of two parents cohabiting or even co-parenting. I am thankful for the financial support but for a Mother, the emotional support and presence are much more valuable. I choose not to label myself as a single mom because their father does make an appearance from time to time at special events like recitals and most baseball games and does contribute financially, but chooses not to co-parent. It wasn’t until I participated in a live video chat with Iyanla Vanzant on Co-Parenting that I understood the true definition of co-parenting. Iyanla says that “there is a difference between being a parent and co-parenting”. If you are co-parenting , the other parent is first and foremost willing to be involved in their children’s lives, available and willing to make agreements regarding the welfare and custody of the children and willing to negotiate any agreements that are made if its necessary for the welfare of the child(ren). It was then that I realized I was doing the job of two parents. I make all decisions regarding the kids’ health and welfare alone as well as manage the household, getting them to and from their extracurricular activities and any and all correspondence with school including parent teacher conferences. I do it all alone. Not because I want to, but because the other parent chooses not to. And it’s  for that reason that I am more sad on this day than usual. I grieve not only for the recent loss of my own dad, but also for my children’s loss. It is definitely an emotional and physical strain for me, I believe selfish and unfair on his part especially since we both agreed to give life to these children. I would rather not have to be “supermom”. I practice forgiveness almost daily being extremely aware that the emotional scars of resentment are left on the children. It is for this reason that no matter how unfair it is, how angry and frustrated I become with unmet expectations, broken promises that leave me wiping away tears, I will not bash their father. I will not speak ill of him to them, I will not call him a deadbeat or any other words to degrade him or denounce him as their father. Now I’m only human and believe me when I am angry, lonely and tired and I vent to my best friends, many words I cannot even begin to write here may come out of my mouth in frustration (I’m just being honest!), but you will never see it on social media, and neither he nor his children will ever hear it come out of my mouth. Do I have the responsibilities of two parents? Yes. Could their father do a much better job of parenting? Yes. Do I sometimes do things for and with my son and sometimes my daughter that their father should be doing? Yes, but that does not make me their father. Even if I have to tell my son about the birds and the bees or take him to buy a jock strap for baseball it doesn’t make me a Father. It  just means that I am a mother doing twice as much as I would be doing if there was a co-parent. I could never take the place or the name of their Father. I believe that fathers have a place in our community and our families that no one else can fill. When they are absent, the absence is felt deeply by the entire family and especially the children and if try to assume that role then I am not allowing the children the dignity of accepting their reality, processing  it and healing from the loss. Healing. As much as I sometimes hate to admit it, the reality is that their father’s blood flows through them, his DNA is intertwined with theirs and you can see it in their features, attitude and emotions. To degrade or denounce or dethrone their father would be negating an integral part of their being and that in my opinion would cause irreparable harm. Even if he never embraced them as his children, I would not tell them that they “have no father” because that would not be their truth. We benefit from knowing the truth about who our parents are, good or bad, so that we can use that knowledge to understand the nature of our own choices and either embrace or change them. But that’s just my opinion.

I choose to protect my children from unsafe environments and I am honest as I can with them about how their father’s choices have caused him to distance himself, but I cannot allow the anger, disappointment , hurt and frustration to consume me or them. I always leave the door open for their father to enter their lives as long as it is safe for the children. Many women unfortunately choose to distance their children from an unsupportive father, but I believe that the choice to reject them is often a result of prioritizing the hurt feelings between parents over the needs of the children. Good or bad, they will love their father for life. I am so blessed to have three brothers who are strong, loving and supportive and many “play-brothers”  and friends who step in and help provide the male role models that both my son and daughter need. Some may disagree but I believe in the village and I have learned to accept that no matter how strong and loving I am, children need a male influence in their lives and I am not a man.

Well, I did something this Father’s Day that many of my independent mom friends would have never done, but I believe that hate doesn’t solve anything, and only compassion can heal. I received an email a few weeks ago from the Franklin Institute about their new Brain exhibit (which is fascinating by the way!) and  made plans for the kids to attend a hands on workshop. When I made the appointment and realized it was on Father’s Day, I added an extra person to the reservation. Did I have to include him? No. Did I want to spend father’s day with someone I don’t even like especially while still mourning my own father? No. But in that moment I put my feelings aside and thought of what would be good for the children. Normally he doesn’t make plans to spend time with them on Father’s Day but I decided for their sake I would extend the invitation. So with no consideration of if he would even respond or accept, I emailed the information and let go of the outcome. I knew that I wouldn’t tell the children so as not to set unrealistic expectations, and I knew that if he didn’t show, we would still have a fun day and that his choice would be left as an impression upon him and not me. Thankfully he showed up  for the children and I was happy for them. I honestly would have rather been in the dentists’ chair (I know many of you understand!), but for the first time in over a month my daughter spent  some quality time with her dad and didn’t burst into tears when he left. In those few hours she was daddy’s girl and those few hours I believe his presence provided a balm that only a father could apply to her heart. I can hug her, kiss her, wipe away her tears but I cannot give her what she needs from her father. I set aside my feelings about him for a few hours for the sake of the children and the small sacrifice was worth it.

That’s why I say thank you to friends who applaud me for doing the work of two parents and even want to acknowledge my efforts on Father’s Day, but I respectfully decline that title of “surrogate father” because it will never be mine. Our children are aware of how much I give to them and do for them and I get twice the love and hugs which is the supreme acknowledgment . I do hope that one day they will have a Step-father in their lives to be a consistent source of male support, love and encouragement in their home, and I hope for their sake that one day their father has a change of heart and becomes more involved in their daily lives. But just for today, I accept my role as an Independent Mom.  Give me twice as many flowers, gifts, kisses, hugs and chocolate on Mother’s Day, but this mother does not want a Father’s Day card.