Don't ask me who the crazy looking guy on the wall is, just trust me, this place is amazing. I'm still catching my breath after a whirlwind weekend visit to Mass MOCA in North Adams, MA (about two hours and some change from here). I was a studio art major in college and although my medium is now words, I have a sincere passion for high art and an extraordinary amount of respect for those who create it. Walking though contemporary art galleries is one of my favorite things to do in life and just setting foot in the museum's gift shop is damn near transcendental. So needless to say, mommy was one happy camper.

If asked whose work I admire the most, that of Ellen Gallagher and my former classmates (well almost classmates, they went to Morehouse), Kojo Griffin and Sanford Biggers would come to mind most easily, but there are a ton of contemporary artists I jock. I could care less about a painting matching my couch, I'm most impressed by the concept. The artist in the main gallery had an amazing usage of color and exploration of light. But my favorite part was J-Jo standing in front of an installation that was comprised of about 44 fans stacked on top of eachother, blowing at different times: "Fans are not art mommy, they're for blowing air." She was all over the Ugly Dolls, though:

Road trips like this one have me almost wishing we weren't getting ready to leave the northeast at the end of this summer. Yes, you heard me right, the J Family will soon be leaving upstate New York, due to Mr. J's new tenure-track gig. I'm ecstatic for my honey, but hate moving, so I'll leave the details to him (for those of you who haven't already heard).

For now, a few more shots from Mass MOCA, starring the J Trio:

A stranger offered J-Jo the purple balloon (at least it wasn't candy).

Check out the trees hanging from above.

J-Jo reminds me how much creativity I've lost in the third floor art studio dedicated entirely to kids.

Blowing off some steam before the ride home. Better there than in the car, bugging out all the way through the Berkshires!


How to Be a Playa (or just accused of it)

No sooner than Michelle Obama announces that she's leaving her job to hit the ground running on her hubby's campaign trail, she's accused of having a chip on her exfoliated shoulder. A new website, Jezebel (from the good folks who bring you Gawker), speculates that said chip is because old boy "messed up".

Not that they actually know anything. But according to the gals over there, Mrs. O's comments about "he's just a man" and her referring to him as the "the brother" somehow indicate that she got played. They go on to rant about how it was a City Hall aide and how "he's supposed to be all fresh and clean". No proof or anything, just a silly, speculative, rant passed off as snarky humor. For the record, even if it makes white people uncomfortable, calling someone "the brother" (even if it is one's husband) is not a diss. Especially when, in context, it is to say "The brother is smart", as Mrs.O actually did recently (to an all black crowd).

If the jezebels at Jezebel would slow their roll a minute — and put down their assumptions that all black men are dogs...no comment on politicians in general — before jumping to conclusions, they'd have realized that Michelle Obama is 100% behind her honey. And for better or for worse, that's really all that matters. This is a serious presidential candidate we're talking about, ladies, not you're effing ex-boyfriend. Save the cheap shots for someone else.


Sparkling Wiggle (say that ten times fast)

Nice try, racist morons, but black people are pretty used to this kind of thing by now. That's not to say it's okay for parents to make fools out of their children by "innocently" taping them making unintentional racist slurs and broadcasting it on YouTube for the world to see. I'm just not worried about your kid sitting next to mine in AP classes, spewing racial epithets at her or anything. At the rate you all are going, she'll be lucky if she makes it past fifth grade.

So I'm just going to go about my life as you all go about yours. Where do you live, Anchorage? If you ever make it back to civilization, say in your retirement or something, maybe I'll run into you when we're taking our black grandkids to the park. Don't worry, I might be a little bitter in my old age, but I won't bite.

In Excess

I can’t imagine my life without children. That said, there are certain things about having them I could easily live without. At the top of the list: toys. The ones I trip over constantly, that get played with for five—make that two—minutes before being discarded like last week's Times. Toys that make repetitive, annoying noises. Toys that do nothing to enhance the visual appeal of a room. That’s mean, right? Where do I get off being so superficial, selecting their diversions based on looks or their sound? Isn’t it more important that the children are happy, stimulated and fulfilled, regardless of the packaging the aforementioned entertainment comes in? I don’t think so.

The worst part about it is that my children barely even notice when plush animals and plastic playthings disappear because they’re bored with the toys they have anyway. Within what seems like a matter of days, they outgrow and abandon them faster than the small town girl who gets dumped by her high school sweetheart after putting his butt through med school.

Provided they even want to play with toys at all. My oldest would much rather play games on the computer, my younger daughter would much rather get her cute, chubby fingers on some crayons and proceed to add her personal touch to anything within arm’s length (except paper). And my son just wants to eat. So when I finally realized that collectively, my kids’ M.O. involved dumping their toys out of the various baskets that pepper their playroom and our home before abandoning them, something clicked. Loud. I could very well maximize my time and productivity—rather greatly, I might add—by eliminating at least half of the random things that piss me off.

I began with the Happy Meal toys because these weren’t even supposed to be here in the first place. My kids practically live on Yo Baby yogurt and Annie’s Mac and Cheese, not Chicken McNuggets and fries. But on certain occasions, I backslide. I’m not proud of it; it’s just the truth. It’s way too easy to give into the Golden Arches when daddy’s working late, my back is killing me and just the idea of slaving over a hot stove would be the final, rusty nail in my coffin. That said, I hate Happy Meals and the associated accoutrements. I resent the fact that they linger around the house, in all of their tacky, plastic glory, evoking my guilty feelings for even going there. So into the trash they go.

Next up, the noisemakers. I swear the people who design them hate their parents, but is that really our fault? Rowdy toys are not my friends. I don’t really care if their intention is to “teach” something. They make computers for that. And that Fisher Price tea set, the one whose little teapot makes muzak every time you touch it can go, too. Along with the toys that player-hate me for having an adult life. The ones that, without any prompting at all, decide to pipe in with their two cents after hours, once the kids are asleep and I’ve wound down with a glass of merlot and my husband’s putting on the Barry White. Noisy toys are just evil.

Maybe if the majority of the toys we had actually got any play, I’d feel differently. But it took me three kids and (at least) thirty trips to the Salvation Army to realize that when it comes to toys, most kids are cads. To this day, my five-year-old only consistently only “plays” with one thing, and that’s Zozo, a stuffed bunny she named at age two that my dad’s friend picked up for her at Harrod’s when she was born. Sure, Zozo’s fur is matted, his (her?) green, grosgrain ribbon is missing from around the neck and it smells a little funny. But that bunny s a survivor. Zozo’s seen many a plaything disappear from this house. He (she?) has also seen many toys get used and abused, loved and left in this house. Zozo’s also seen mommy send many a stuffed animal down the river to Goodwill—faster than an antebellum slave master. Zozo ain’t going nowhere. The rest of them better watch their backs.

On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column will be called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.


Meet Teddy P. Brains

After fussing with the remote for a while, J-Jo flung it down on the couch, obviously demoralized. "Whatever happened to Little Bill? I always look for it, but it's never on."

I'd noticed that too...but did my best not to shatter her image of a pollyanna world by telling her what I really thought. I hesitated for a minute, kind of hard pressed to find an answer, but she quickly summed it up for me: "Oh, I know mommy. Maybe it comes on while we're sleeping."

"Maybe". Riiight. Just like "Perspectives" featuring Tim Meadows on the old Saturday Night Live episodes. And every other black talk show on public access tv.

Good thing for Teddy P. Brains. He and Little Bill might look similar on paper, but J-Jo's decided that Teddy's actually the better catch.

In the new 3-D animated children's program, Teddy P. Brains, his cousin Tempest and his dog Dartagnan seek knowledge on their missions back in time, through space and around the world. It begins with Teddy getting a very special present for his kindergarten graduation: a magic diploma that summons a rocket capable of traveling through time and space. Must be nice.

You know something's working when your child and her playdate (who looks just like a character from a Hans Christian Andersen tale) ask to watch a character (who isn't played out on backpacks) over, and over. And over. Again. The animated series targeting 3 to 8 year olds does an incredible job helping kids learn about history and natural science while letting them live vicariously through its protagonists. Smart.


Why God Made Moms

Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions:

Why did God make mothers?
1. She's the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
2. Mostly to clean the house.
3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?
1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.
3. God made my Mom just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of?
1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
2. They had to get their start from men's bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

What kind of little girl was your mom?
1. My Mom has always been my Mom and none of that other stuff.
2. I don't know because I wasn't there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
3. They say she used to be nice.

What did Mom need to know about dad before she married him?
1. His last name.
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your Mom marry your dad?
1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.
2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
3. My grandma says that Mom didn't have her thinking cap on.

Who's the boss at your house?
1. Mom doesn't want to be boss, but she has to because dad's such a goof ball.
2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What does your Mom do in her spare time?
1. Mothers don't do spare time.
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your Mom perfect?
1. On the inside she's already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
2. Diet. You know, her hair. I'd diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your Mom, what would it be?
1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I'd get rid of that.
2. I'd make my Mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.
3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.


The Little Things

My firstborn forced me to wonder what I did with all of the hours in a day before giving birth. Once my husband and I got her home from the hospital (elated that they didn't expect us to bring her back) I soon learned that things like taking a five-minute shower was no longer a basic right, it was a privilege. Activities once taken for granted, like spending an entire Saturday morning in bed before heading to brunch by three pm, devoting an entire Sunday to laying on the couch reading the Times or taking my sweet old time in Sephora quickly became things of the past. All indulgences that used to be routine, like shaving my legs, for instance, suddenly felt slightly naughty. Slipping out to the mall child-free evoked even more guilt. A regular trip to the hair salon felt like a full-blown affair.

Yet just when it seemed as if those days were here to stay, somehow - almost as if by magic, I swear - they faded into the ether faster than acid washed jeans. I got over feeling guilty about pampering myself and remembered that it was something I not only needed, but also actually deserved. And now that all my children are far past the infancy stage, I can actually leave them with daddy for a few hours while I jet off to loll around in a white robe. I love the idea of a day when all I have to think about is me. What I wouldn’t give to have a hot stone massage, facial and pedicure before rolling out of heaven, I mean, Haven, feeling like whole wheat fettuccini. After taking my sweet old time waiting for the toenail polish to dry, I’d drive home barefoot, climb into bed and doze off for as long as I pleased.

Sounds like the perfect Mothers Day, doesn’t it? Of course it does, unless you’re me. Because, believe it or not, all I really want to do this Sunday is hang out with husband and kids.

I'm no masochist, really I'm not, but aside from a homemade card, I don’t even want gifts. I’d much rather spend time remembering the real meaning of the Hallmark co-opted holiday through the words that the activist poet Julia Ward Howe penned so long ago about all of the mothers of the world rising up in the name of peace. I want to call my mom, and then my ninety-one year old grandmom to thank them. I want to think about the day my kids were born and then I just want to enjoy them.

And then we'll pack up the car and head for the hills for some fun. Up here in the Mid Hudson, there will be plenty of mom-friendly things to get into that are all within a days drive. For one, there are at least a dozen historic mansions all along the Hudson River. Unless you're into antiques it sounds kind of boring...until you actually set foot in one. And there are day trips a plenty: in the time it takes for Dora to come on, followed by Diego we could drive to Dia:Beacon or Great Barrington. And if we're really feeling adventurous (and nobody's too cranky) we could hightail it to North Adams, MA to check out MASS MOCA. And last but not least, thanks to the CIA, there are a myriad of fine places to absolve me of dinner duty.

That would really be enough, because as much as I adore Red Envelope, there's nothing that can replace the fact that I already have my gift. I might not be able to go to the bathroom without a small army standing in front of the door as if I’m plotting to escape through the commode, but my children are more than enough (in a good way). Their laughter sounds better than anything I could download onto my ipod. Their eyes sparkle far brighter than any token I could receive in a little blue box. And although I can often feel them peeling years off my life with their unwarranted whining, there’s really no place else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing and nobody else I’d rather be but their mom.

I say all of this knowing full well that one day down the line, at least one of them will wonder what I once asked my own mom out loud: “Hey wait a minute, how come there’s a Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Grandparents Day…but no Kids Day? And I’ll patiently respond with the patented answer: “Because every day is Kids Day”. I'll leave it at that because hopefully, one day in the distant future, they’ll realize what it took me until now to understand: every day is Mother's Day, too. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go treat myself to a massage (my mother didn’t raise a fool).

Old School Thursday (courtesy of J-Jo)

She almost picked ABC, but this one wins this week.

I Want You Back, Jackson Five
(the year was somewhere around the time I was born!)


No Comment

Sorry about the lack of a comment button on Friday's post (you know I love to hear what y'all think!). For some reason, there was no no way for anyone to leave the comments I look forward to reading over the weekend. I even cut and pasted into a different document (so now it technically says last Thursday), but that didn't help. Anyway, so sorry about that. Hmm, Wordpress is looking more and more appealing to me these days...

The Apology

Little Marvin: 3

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This Little Marvin vignette is the funniest comeback to the Imus controversy I've ever seen (thanks for finding it, honey!).


The Immunity Challenge

While I can admit I've finally grown accustomed to country living, there are still certain things I miss about city life. Mostly the cliches that people who live as far as Idaho have heard of, like being able to get a gallon of milk at three am, the first-rate culture and the world class cuisine. You know the rest. But as a parent, I have to come clean about something: I don't miss the germs. I don't long for the days that a trip to my Manhattan cubicle meant being exposed to the virus of the week, the one that even folks in Queens were catching. I couldn't afford it then, but I definitely can't afford it now. Holding on to the lukewarm metal pole on the D train takes on a whole new meaning when you're chiefly responsible for keeping a family of five alive.

For some reason, I thought that moving to a rural area would somehow grant our kids instant immunity from a multitude of contagious diseases. But just because the sweetly-scented, mountain air we've got up here could put Glade out of business doesn't mean there's nothing floating in it. It's gorgeous country, but we're not exempt from the less idyllic aspects of everyday life. I guess that explains why the coxsackie virus, also known as the lovely hand-foot-mouth disease, is also the name of a real town just several miles up the road. I'm not even going there.

And I'm not sure what the city preschoolers are into, but amongst the preschool set up here, sickness is tres chic. My almost kindergartner is quick to let me know this through her regular updates: "Ella has an ear infection! She has this fabulous pink medicine for it that she gets to bring to school." Even if I remind her that ear infections aren't fun, she persists, starry-eyed: "Okay. Can we paint my room that pink medicine color?" With her pointed, red carpet-style reportage of the pint-sized, A-List infirmed, my girl's well on her way to becoming the next Tanika Ray. She even has the nerve to get upset when she's not invited to the hottest chicken-pox party (I'm not offended in the least).

I guess it doesn't help that my husband's career requires regular exposure to coughing college students who survive on Lucky Charms cereal and cigarettes (Dear student: Being nineteen and having your own apartment does not mean you have common sense). Last week, when he was forced to cancel class because he was laid up with strep throat, tonsils the size of red globe grapes, I ran around like a nut, trying to figure out how I could possibly prevent the rest of the house from coming down with it too. And how I could possibly even know if the twins had sore throats when the only language they're fluent in is Toddlerese? Somehow, my honey's illness passed and the remaining eight tonsils in the house were left unscathed. But soon everyone except mommy had a runny nose and our youngest daughter had some suspicious looking goop coming out of her bloodshot eyes. Great.

One of the realities of being a mom of three kids is accepting the fact that quite often, for months at a time, somebody is always going to sick. The only upside to this phemonena is that I've developed an accute awareness as to which symptoms to ignore and which are actually worth interrupting our pediatrician for while he's at home on the couch, watching Lost. On the pediatric terror alert scale, I decided the pink eye was probably somewhere around yellow. I knew that meant a trip to the doctor was required. While coercing my baby girl to stay in my lap as her twin brother pointed and cracked up at the doctor's Disney tie (what can I say, the boy's got good taste), we learned that not only did she in fact have pinkeye, but she also had her first ear infection.

Even though I wasn't glad to hear it, I was rather impressed that it took almost two years for the first ear infection to catch up with her. Still, I left that office feeling somewhat defeated, convinced that even if I spent the next sixteen plus years wiping down counters with tea tree oil and Mrs. Meyers Clean Day (the harsher stuff scares me), someone in our house would always be ill. All the echinacea in the world couldn't help us.

Sure, it's great to live like Swiss Family Robinson (minus the actual Swiss part of course), but that doesn't mean we upstate people are immune from real life. I don't miss packing into suffocating elevators and and impromptu trips to ebola-ridden public bathrooms, but my family still gets sick. I won't give up though. I'm not about to stop making sure they get their fresh air, their 5 a Day and whatever else seems to work (plus, I love the fact that the staff at our small town health food store treats me like Norm from Cheers and provides first rate customer service, so I'll keep going back for more home remedies). I'm determined to conquer each ailment as it comes and hopefully the warmer months will provide a nice respite from the nasty winter and colds we endure. I'll just keep a travel-sized version of hand sanitizer in the cup holder on the jogger stroller (and in the diaper bag and the glove compartment). That should do it.

On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column will be called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.


The Me Nobody Knows

It's almost been four years since Mr. J and I packed up our belongings and J-Jo (who was, at that time, the same age as the twins are now) and headed north to our current home in the Hudson Valley.

When we first got here, I was very conscious of the fact that I was the only black woman up here. For miles. You'd be more likely to see a wild turkey crossing the street than a sister at the supermarket (yes, we really do have wild turkeys up here).

It was a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. Even in the 'burbs I grew up in, there were other black people. But with time I learned to stop worrying about people's stares and just go about my business. Instead of worrying about how the lady at H & R Block began filing out as single (never mind the ring or the fact that I was seven months pregnant at the time), I got the terrific accountant we have now and never looked back. I ignored the stares at the supermarket. I even stopped caring if the old lady at the pump across from me just jumped in her car and locked the doors after seeing me get out of my Honda Odyssey (yeah, they say most muggers drive those).

I got over standing out. Or at least I thought I did.

Until yesterday, when I took a huge bag of clothes to donate to a local charity-based thrift store. For some reason, I felt the (odd) need to apologize while handing the bag to the lady over the counter, because nothing was ironed or on hangers or anything. She took one look at me and replied:

"As long as everything's clean."


I tried to recall what I looked like when I left the house that morning. My hair was pulled back into a neat pony tail, I had on a black peasant top and jeans. And my favorite chandalier earrings (they weren't these or anything, but so what?). Sure, I'd been running around with the kids all morning, but we weren't rolling in the dirt. Of course my clothes were clean. Of course the huge bag of used clothes were clean, too. So why'd she have to go there?

I felt the sudden urge to write Barack Obama, something tells me he'd understand.

One of the biggest things that annoys me about race in this country is that just when you're going about your business just thinking you're a person, somebody has to point the finger at you and shout: "No! You're not a person, you're a BLACK (or whatever else that's not white) person!" As if that's all that matters. As if there's nothing else. As if I owe anybody an explanation, just for being me.

At least she didn't call me "inarticulate".