Merry Christmas

J-Jo wishing for world peace (or Bratz
dolls, whichever comes first)

Best wishes to you, your loved ones and your little loved ones
this holiday season and throughout the coming year.

Mrs. J, Mr. J, J-Jo, L-Boogie and ZenBaby


Hasta La Vista, Barbie

My J-Jo's more into stuffing a Build-a-Bear, than actually playing with one. That goes for any plush toy or doll she owns. She still likes the idea of dolls, she's just not interested in committing to any of them. Most of her barbies now go without clothing, finding refuge in the dark under her bed. And I won't get into what happened to the one she took into the bathtub. Let's just say it had to do with soap (lots and lots of soap...). But it's all good, I'm proud that my J-Jo isn't caught up in looking like rapunzel and would much rather play with blocks and build structures that look like they came straight from the pages of Dwell.

Now her sister is an entirely different story. Just like the nurses at the birthing center declared within her first week of ZenBaby's life, she's "all girl". So I shouldn't be surprised she posesses a maternal instinct far beyond her seventeen months. ZenBaby selflessly offers up her bottle to pacify her twin brother without skipping a beat. She spontaneously grabs her daddy's face, presses her rose bud lips to his nose and says "mwahhh!" There isn't one doll or plush toy in the house that she hasn't done that to, either. ZenBaby loves her siblings, her parents and most importantly, her dolls. She was too young to beg me for a new one this Christmas (J-Jo's for now are just fine), but when the times comes, I want to choose one that's perfect.

How hard could it be? you might ask, "every toy store has black dolls now!"

That may be true, but do they have dolls that reaffirm? No really, dolls that don't look like the teenager you pray your daughter won't become. I don't think I want My Scene to be hers. Give us a doll sans cell phone. One with dark brown eyes and pretty caramel skin like ZenBaby's without the Mattel version of what's on special from the Beverly Johnson Wig Collection. I don't need a Bratz Baby, this child's sass-o-meter is through the roof as it is. And once that criteria's met, Santa, I'd prefer for the doll not to come dressed in a leopard bikini, complete with a pole in the box.

When the time comes, and ZenBaby begs me for a doll, I'll follow the lead of savvy mommy writer, Deesha Philyaw. Her girls are older than mine (respectively), and she's really done the research on what this buying brown baby doll thing is really all about. Quite brilliantly, too. Here's Deesha's sage advice for black moms – originally published at Literary Mama – on finding dolls that resemble the real live ones we have at home. It may be too late for Christmas this year, but next season, you'll have a head start:

The Girl is Mine: A Black Mama's Interactive Guide to Shopping for Dolls for Christmas: The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie

by Deesha Philyaw

In December, a Black Mama's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of celebrating Christmas. What will have the kids dancing with joy in the living room on Christmas morning and reassure Mama that she is affirming their wonderfulness and instilling good values? And eschewing rampant consumerism? And minimizing Santa? And not forgetting Jesus?

I make my list and check it twice:

_xx__Make sure girls know that Christmas is more about giving than getting.

_xx__Make sure girls know that Mommy and Daddy's hard-earned money buy their gifts (with one magical exception from Santa, per child).

_xx__Be joyful.

_xx__Dust off the collection of crèches and arrange festively.

_xx__Cuddle up with girls on the couch to read picture books about the Virgin Birth. Try (and fail) to avoid answering, "Didn't Joseph have a penis?"

_____Search for dolls which are not voluptuous and strip-club-ready, and which do not promote a blonde, blue-eyed standard of beauty.
To continue reading...


Looking for Parents Like Us...

I never run out of things to say, but I think it's time to mix things up a bit and gain some fresh perspectives. Interested in blogging about the challenges of raising black and biracial children in today's crazy, mixed-up world? If so, lemme hear you say "yeah" at okparenting@yahoo.com. A new team of contributors (including yours truly) will debut in January 2007.


Multi-culti Couture

When her daughter, Simone, was born a red head, savvy D.C. mom Leigh-Ann Jackson – who happens to be a black woman married to a white man – was inspired to create gear for infant and toddlers that needs no explanation. Her company, Swirl Syndicate, boasts adorable t-shirts with cheeky phrases like "I'm a Little Bit of Everything" (beneath a graphic of a blender) and "She's my mommy, Not my nanny" (perfect for an African American mom like me whose baby was born with blonde hair!).

Made from the softest 100% cotton, the tees range in sizes from 0 months to 2T and are a perfect way to respond to people who insist on staring – or better yet, asking crazy questions – in the supermarket.

A fresh choice for taking the taboo out of the race topic and celebrating every part of who multi-ethnic children truly are.


Getting Happy

I was thrilled to find out that Will Smith's story of an African American father who beat the system , found personal success and financial security for himself and his young son was number one at the box office it's opening weekend (grossing 27 million). No, that's not the Smart Guy on the movie poster with Will, it's his baby boy Jaden, looking all grown as he makes his big screen debut with his daddy. As if this movie wasn't enough of a tear jerker already.

Just the fact that a drama starring black characters that aren't cooning it up or shooting eachother up could make it to number one is enough to have me bringing the Kleenex to the multiplex. I'm so tired of the maudlin Soul Food wannabees and the buffoonish Soul Plane regurgitations make me hurl. And then we've got the stereotypical gangsta violent flicks that played themselves out more than a decade ago. Everybody knows that's not what black people are all about anyway (or at least I hope so...) Give me a "feel-good" movie starring some black people any day. And no, nothing by Cuba Gooding Jr. will ever count.

We couldn't find a sitter on Saturday night, but were fortunate to catch the incredibly charismatic, real life inspiration for the film, Christopher Gardner, being interviewed on the Wall Street Journal Report. In addition to Gardner's personal account of how he made it, I was struck by hearing his story about how he sold shares to a racist Texan who repeatedly called him nigger over the phone before buying options from him. And that his biggest problem is not being able to sleep at night because his "face hurts so much from smiling all day."

To be perfectly honest, the first question to cross my mind was "Did this brother make it without selling out?" Kinda hard to know without seeing the film. But just on speculation, I'm not sure how much it matters – Gardner obviously had the last laugh. In a previous life, I knew many a college educated brother who were perfectly content to live off mommy and daddy because they "didn't want to work for The Man." Where are they now? Not exactly uplifting the race. Last time I checked they were still unemployed, living in their parents' basements, spending entire days playing video games and smoking weed (sorry, but you know who you are).

Most black professionals, present company included at one point in time, have had to wear Paul Lawrence Dunbar's proverbial mask at some point. It's no secret that assimilating into corporate America isn't easy when you're black, whether you're holding a JD-MBA or – in Christopher Gardner's case – an eviction notice. I can't help but wonder if complete and utter desperation, as in this particular case, makes sporting that bad boy just a little more bearable.


Oh No She Didn't

"I HATE Sesame Street!!" she screamed, tearing out of the room like a lightning bolt. "Sesame Street is the stupidest show EVER!"

So my little girl turned five last weekend and apparently now thinks she's too grown for the only children's television program (besides the Backyardigans), that I can even tolerate. All she seems to be interested in is Dragon Tales which has brought me damn near close to self-mutilation on several occasions. What's next, calling Mr. Rodgers and a-hole? That's when I'll know we need counseling.

And I'm not even going to get into the fact that given where we live, she's probably seen more black, Latino amd Asian kids on that show than she has in her entire life. For years, I wondered if MJ and I made a mistake leaving New York Proper – I mean, um – City to raise a family up here in the sticks (but that's an entirely different post altogether.)

Before you remind me that it's okay if kids don't watch television because it's really not all that good for them anyway, possibly even harmful, please remember something: any time the number of children out number the parents – on any given afternoon or in life in general – a grown-up needs all the help they can get. With three under six and a nanny who has yet to fly in with a black umbrella, I can testify to that.

There's a reason why those irritating station break fundraisers do so well: THEY WORK. Countless desperate mommies and daddies have sent their hard earned dollars to PBS just to keep Sesame Street on the air. And ensure themselves forty-eight minutes of peace.


The Forty Year Old Kwanzaa Virgin

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm actually closer to thirty than forty, but it's just as embarrassing that I'm a thirty-something black woman who has never experienced Kwanzaa. It's not for lack of drive, I love black people. And as far as Afrocentric celebrations go, you might not ever see me sporting an entire African ensemble, but I'd be fine to wrap some cloth around my head. It's when the lights are dimmed that I start to feel uncomfortable...I have no idea what I should do with a kinara, let alone what happens after that. I'm completely inexperienced in all things related to Kwanzaa. Sure, I've had fantasies about the whole experience, but I've never really done the deed. And at my age, it's a problem.

It's not for lack of opportunity – I've had plenty of chances, starting as early as twelve years old. In sixth grade, the principal of my predominantly white, suburban middle school announced that there'd be a competition to see who could create the most festive homeroom door. All of the homeroom presidents would be in charge, and given that I had just been elected, I delegated responsibility like we were hooking up the entrance to Oprah's Legends Ball. I completely threw myself into into decorating those double doors, decking them out in red and green on one side and a huge gold menorah on the other – dreidel next to it and everything. But much to my dismay, we were disqualified for forgetting to include Kwanzaa. I was stunned. Kwa-what? I was less shocked that I hadn't remembered it than the fact that the school even knew what it was. At the time, most of the other black kids I knew thought "Imani" had something to do with Giorgio. After being informed of my faux pas, my red-haired, aspiring Nazi of a homeroom teacher bawled me out in front of the entire class: "How could you – of all people – not remember Kwanzaa? You're black!"

Like many hangups people have, my attitude about Kwanzaa mostly had to do with my family's opinion concerning the holiday when I was growing up. They didn't have a negative attitude about it, they just didn't have one at all. The most Afrocentric thing I remember doing around the holidays was sitting between my mom's knees as she braided my hair to take pictures on a white Santa's lap. For us, the most important holiday of the winter season was Christmas. Every year, the house was decorated like a scene out of a Thomas Kincade painting. When we were very young, my aunt came over and baked cookies with my brother and me to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve. And Santa came correct, bringing us so many presents that there was no need to even bother wrapping them for us—he just stuck them all under the tree au natural. And that was fine. Because to us – like most kids – it really all came down to the toys. The goodwill, cheer and spirit of giving part came later. And the awareness of an African American seasonal holiday came somewhere after that.

People talked about Kwanzaa, but nobody I knew was actually doing it. Not even by my senior year at college, when I spent the Christmas holidays in West Africa. I was out a Ghanain nighclub, dancing to Naughty by Nature and watching BET videos on a large screen tv monitor when I ran into a classmate of mine from school. Never had I imagined that I'd be thousands of miles from Atlanta and run into someone from college. We lived in the same hall yet barely knew eachother, but that didn't stop her from being kind enough to invite me to a New Years Day party at her parents house. "Great" I thought, "maybe I'll learn the real meaning of Kwanzaa". I just knew I'd stumble across some reference to at least one of the African harvest festivals that Dr. Karenga based the holiday on. So I showed up to the lavish estate (a complete shock to me, considering my classmate's sterile dorm room only had a bed and a desk with a pile of books on it) only to witness all of her family members – servants included – milling around, eating traditional food, dancing to high life, talking about the jewelry they just got for Christmas and the types of cars they drove. There were no libations poured, no mention of the seven principles, and I really felt let down.

For the duration of the occasion, I snooped around the luxurious home, scrounging for signs of Pan Africanism. Nothing. I gave up and sat in the parlor, pissed off that I had come all the way to Africa simply to find that nobody knew or even cared about Kwanzaa. A little toddler waddled up to me as I sat there sulking, and started babbling to me in universal baby talk. His uncles just sat back and laughed "must be Kiswahili," one said. Instead of going off and screaming "What's wrong with you bourgie Africans?!" I became indifferent. I decided that if African people didn't care about the Nguzo Saba, then I didn't need to either. Just like a person having dreadlocks doesn't guarantee they're no sellout, I didn't feel that choosing not to celebrate Kwanzaa made me any less black.

It was a personal decision that had nothing to do with my religion. I just decided to save it for after marriage. Mostly because I wanted kids. Today I have three, and considering they're not going to grow up watching Roots, I know I need to get busy. I can't take it for granted that just because this is a society that celebrates diversity more than when I was a kid, my own children won't need all the positive exposure to their heritage they can get. They're not going to have Public Enemy encouraging them to "fight the power" (like when when Flav was just a crazy brother with a clock, not showing out on national tv).

Principles like "faith" and "self-determination" are concepts I want my kids to have an understanding of not just as black people, but as human beings. And as a black person, I can't stress the importance of "collective responsibility" to them enough. So I'm ready to find out what everybody's saying is so great about Kwanzaa. Of course the first time, I want to exeprience it with someone I truly love. But after that, I want to go out and have Kwanzaa with anyone and everyone who wants to do it too. It might have taken me forever, but this will be the year I finally go all the way.


In Search of Black Santa

Writer Vincent Williams recalls his family's annual pilgrammage to find a brother from the North Pole:
From the Baltimore City Paper –

This will be my daughter’s first Christmas. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that much to her, her being less than a year old and all. I’m sure in her eyes it’ll be yet another day in the endless adventure that is Hey, I Should Put That in My Mouth. But for Mom and me it’s huge. We have presents to buy, cookies to bake, a tree to decorate, and a Nativity scene to set up with real hay for a little porcelain Jesus. We have to replace the stockings with our names on them with ones that say mommy and daddy. I have to teach my daughter the Cold Miser and Heat Miser songs and James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” and, oh, the pictures we have to take.

It’s the pictures that are going to be a little tricky. Our daughter is the first grandchild on my side of the family and the first in more than a decade on my wife’s side, so all eyes are on the inevitable Christmas picture. And in the moment when I finally became my parents, I realized that getting the perfect holiday picture means I have to find a black Santa Claus.

When people talk about “Black Nationalism” or “Black Pride,” the terms evoke images of Black Panthers in black leather jackets or Angela Davis raising a defiant Black Power fist. But I’ve found that cultural pride is more about the day to day. Black Barbies, pictures of relatives, and that ubiquitous bright orange The Best of Earth, Wind, and Fire Vol. I album had more of an impact on post-integration African-American youth than Soul on Ice. No disrespect to Eldridge Cleaver, but I was 18 when I was exposed to him, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the words to “September.”

I know for a fact that my parents never marched, sat-in, or protested, but they are some of the proudest and most quietly pro-black people I’ve ever met. Hell, I’ve been “acting like I come from something” since before I even knew what it was that I came from or what it meant. And they certainly weren’t going to let their children sit in some white Santa’s lap when it was time to take the Christmas picture. So for years there was an annual search for a venue with a black Santa Claus.

To continue, click here.


Going Back to Cali

Who doesn't love the left coast? The laid-back attitude and the dependable sunsets are only two reasons I often dream of MJ and I moving back west ('cept with kids this time). And if we ever do, I'd seriously consider relocating to the Bay Area, if for no other reason than the Berkeley Parents Network.

The site is amazing, they even have a discussion board for African American families where you can find a black doula, physician or a more diverse school. Even if you live miles away from Northern Cali, the discussion boards are interesting and often very helpful.

I'll be all up in that site this winter – pretending that's white sand I see outside, not snow.


A Girl Called Jackie Boy

It was J-Jo's first day at her new preschool program and I was thrilled to watch her jump in to the group and make friends with a child who seemed just as excited to find a new playmate as she was. I'd been nervous about that – the school was perfect, except it severely lacked diversity. Naturally, I felt a sense of relief when another (the only other) black child showed interest in playing with her. I hate to think that these things would be so important this early on, but one could never be too sure.

"Such a cute kid," I mentioned to one of the teachers as we observed J-Jo playing with her new friend who looked like a brown cherub, with apple round cheeks and a soft halo of kinky curls. If I thought I could get away with kidnapping, I would have tried – the child was really that cute. Friendly, too. "What's his name?"

"Luna," the teacher said quietly.

"Louis?" I asked politely.

"No, Lu-na."

I thought she must be crazy. There was no way that child was a little girl. He'd be a pretty little boy, sure. But the oversized basketball jersey and the Timberlands? Surely somebody in the office had made a mistake on the paperwork. How were they going to emasculate this little black child at three years old? I wanted to call his parents right then. I knew this child had been at the school longer than mine...how could they not know his/her true gender? Clearly, Luna was not a she. There must have been some kind of mistake.

"You mean she's a...girl?"

"Oh yes!" the teacher ran off to make sure a little blonde haired child with pigtails didn't fall off the wooden slide, thus risking putting the school out of business because her parents decided to sue.

As the children were lining up to go back into their classroom, I quietly went over to J-Jo and "Luna" and very discreetly began looking for any signs of femininity. I saw none. Hair was in a 'fro, no barette in there or anything, so that wasn't a clue. Every single article of clothing the child had on came from the boys department. Except for those socks. The socks that coyly peeked out from under navy blue nylon sweatpants. They were white socks, with ruffles around the edges. J-Jo had the exact same pair at home. They were girls' socks.

Shut me up real quick.

The next morning, Luna's mom brought her to school. She told the teacher that on that particular day, Luna was only answering to the name "Jackie Boy". And that she'd cry if you called her anything else. Here I was thinking we had it tough because J-Jo refused to eat her vegetables.

"Yeah," the mother continued, "last week she only let us call her Vinnie."

Lord have mercy. In the weeks to come, I watched J-Jo and "Jackie Boy" interact in the classroom, curious to see if they would remain friends. I was hoping that J-Jo would have another child of color to bond with, regardless of gender. But my girly girl prefered to stay in the kitchen area. Luna? Not so much. Luna liked playing with the blocks, the trucks and whatever else the boys were into at the moment. She loved racing on tricycles in the gynasium where the kids were herded to on rainy days, not playing with the giant dollhouse like the rest of the girls. It was nothing against J-Jo – the two would always acknowledge eachother...but that was about it. They had seperate friends and interests. Their race drew them to one another just as much as their gender identification repelled them.

It was at that point I realized that – much to Mr. J's dismay – there'd be nothing I could do to prevent our son from asking for a tutu when he's old enough to talk. Not that I'd feel obliged to buy it for him, I just couldn't be sure he'd never ask. Just like there'd be nothing I could do about either of our girls asking to be called Tito or Latrell. It wouldn't matter if they watched me put on lipgloss everyday. Kids come into this world the way they are, and will eventually define their gender for themselves.

How we parents are supposed to accept this is something I'm still trying to understand.

Sunday's New York Times offers further reading on this topic.

That's My Mama

ABC's Wife Swap is currently recruiting for the next season. Any mom who is domestically adventurous enough to actually do this gets paid $20,000. I'm not so sure that would be enough to make me put up with this:


A Dream Deferred

I am floored, heartbroken for the family and especially the mother who is one of the sweetest women I've ever met. People in my old neighborhood who were close to this family tell me that the father and son often fought over the son's grades, his expensive lifestyle (while refusing to get a job), and his future. A friend of the mother said that she recently mentioned that their sons "were giving them so much trouble". But nothing else seemed unusual.

I know tragedies like this know no color boundaries. Still, I wonder if the added burden of our race heightens the pressure to succeed. Is the average middle-class black father's pressure to raise a responsible son great enough to lead to something like this?


Flashback Friday

Remember the Sesame Street classic, "Eleven Twelve"? My almost five year old seems to like watching this (over and over on You Tube) better than the actual show itself these days.