Just like the birds and the bees, parents should talk about race

Annika has been learning her colors for some time now. She learned brown and orange pretty well several months ago For a while she confused all her colors, but in the past few weeks she’s really gotten the hang of it. Since she understands now that she knows her colors, she’s been excitedly pointing out the colors of things without being prodded.

A mama friend of mine, who is also a fellow Bi-racial mom, told me that her daughter started being curious about her skin color around the age of 2. So ever since Annika’s new proficiency with colors and labeling them I’ve been waiting with mild and somewhat increasing interest in when she notices our skin color is different.

A couple of weeks ago we were sitting in the living room with our dog, Baltar, and she looked at him and said to me, “Baltar brown.”

This was new, pointing out his color instead of the color of something inanimate. I wondered if she was going to notice her own skin color, and then mine. I still don’t know what exactly I will say to her about our differences. I think at first I will be matter-of-fact about it and then as she ages and the appropriate times present themselves I will delve deeper into it.

Then she looked down at herself and said, “Annika pink.”

She was wearing a pink shirt.

Then she pointed at me and said, “Mommy red.”

Yep, I was wearing a red shirt.

I wasn’t disappointed though. She’s a little young to talk to about skin color yet.

But that episode and a Facebook exchange with another mom about brown-skinned dolls led to a reminder of a couple of articles I read last year that I loved and I wanted to share. Even if you don’t have children, these articles are good reminders that we, as a society, are still not completely comfortable with the topic of race. But it’s good to talk about it, as you will read.

The first article is an excerpt from the book Nurtureshock. The article talks about how children are inherently racist. Not that they hate all people of different color, but they naturally select people who are like their parents, gravitate to them, and unless they are told differently, they believe that people similar to them are the best.

Studies performed at University of Texas, in Austin, showed that White parents didn’t want to talk to their children about race. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to approach it. These parents want their children to be colorblind. Their intentions are admirable. But silence on the topic was found to give the children the opposite idea. The researchers found that these kids, who could clearly see the differences, took it to mean that their parents didn’t like Black people, or they thought it was a taboo topic.

The next article is about a Black family who adopted a White little girl and the racist attitudes they encountered, especially the father when he was alone with his daughter.

Hair products aren’t black and white

After skin color, the other most obvious difference between the races is typically hair texture.

When I was pregnant I wondered about fixing Annika’s hair.

How would I comb it? Would it be easy? Would I mess it up? When do I start using product? Do I really need to use product?

Last week we visited Toyin’s family in Michigan. One of the mornings that we stayed at his parents’ house, I got in the shower with my toiletries from home and realized that my crappy little plastic travel shampoo bottle had cracked and most of the shampoo had leaked out.

I was reminded of why I had actually brought my own shampoo. Even though I had not given it much thought, I had this idea that I wouldn’t be able to use the shampoo at Toyin’s parents’ house. Toyin rarely uses shampoo on his own hair, so it’s never been something we have discussed. Plus, well, he’s a guy. I have never really talked about hair products with any of the men in my life.

So when I got into their shower, and realized I might have to use some of his mom’s shampoo, I examined it and realized that there was nothing much different about it than my own shampoo other than it was for curly hair and I don’t have curly hair.

I felt like an ass. This whole hair product myth in my head was just another one of those stupid stereotypes or just flat out pieces of misinformation.

I mean, it has never occurred to me to buy different shampoo for Annika than for myself. Conditioner, maybe, but not shampoo. And the conditioner would only be different because she has thick, curly hair, unlike my flat, limp hair. So why would hair products for Toyin’s family be any different than Annika’s?

After my shower I got myself dressed and I began cleaning Annika up the for the day. I haven’t bought any hair products for her yet, although I’ve been meaning to, so I decided to look at Toyin’s mom’s stuff and see if she had anything I could use on Annika.

I tried this stuff called Luster. It worked great. I barely even needed to comb her hair because it smoothed it out so much.

Then, in order to cultivate myself a little further into the world of African American hair products, I decided to see how it would react to my hair.

I dabbed a tiny bit on my palm and smoothed it on the tip of some of my strands. I was like, “Wow, this stuff is great!”

It didn’t take much, but it smoothed out my frizzies ever so slightly and made my hair feel silkier than usual.

The next day I tried his mom’s shampoo, Creme of Nature detangling shampoo. I really liked it. It was a bit creamier and a little heavier than what I typically use, but my hair was less frizzy than usual too. I’m planning on buying some and I will likely use it on myself as well as Annika.

Deep in my roots I am a bit more of a hillbilly than many White folks, so maybe I’m in the minority, but I grew up thinking that (big deep breath here, please don’t think I’m an idiot) Black people’s hair was greasier than White hair.

I have no idea where that idea came from. I’m not even sure I remember ever hearing it from anyone. Maybe it was because it was the 70s and the Jheri curl was a popular hair-do, which to me, always looked wet.

What I’ve learned from various Black friends over the years is that Black hair is typically drier than White hair. Heavier conditioners and less washing is a must for Black folks, also the reason many Black women wear braids a lot of the time or use hair weave to keep their natural hair from breaking.

I’ve learned a lot about the differences between the races in my adult life, and now that I have a child, I’m starting to see the similarities.

Success, a Bi-racial baby doll… sort of

We’re in Michigan this week visiting Toyin’s family, and I knew being in southeast Michigan, which surrounds Detroit, I would likely have a much better chance of finding a brown baby doll. I was right.

Of all places, my friend Tareeshia and I, found a whole shelf filled with Black babies at Big Lots.

When we got home we realized that the baby dolls were actually Spanish dolls, but I don’t care. I’m just happy to have another baby doll closer to Annika’s skin color.

Kwintshle kwintshle Little Star, I’m finally as important as my car

Annika mixes up her Ks and Ts. When she asks for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, she says, “Kwintshle, Mama, Kwintshle.” When she gets tickled, she laughs and says, “kittle.” This has nothing to do with health care reform and the bill finally passing, as this post does, it’s just fucking cute.

When I awoke this morning to read that the health care bill finally passed yesterday, I shed a few tears of joy and relief.

I’ve been without health insurance since Annika was 6 months old. I left my job to care for her at home in the first year of her life and with that decision came a decision to lose health insurance for myself. I was lucky enough to have an employer who would cover me for the first six months after she was born. They were not required to do so, but they did anyway because it’s a small company and they felt like it was a good decision for the company and their employees leaving on maternity leave.

My biggest fear with losing health insurance was not for my current health, but for some big unknown in the future. What if I get cancer and my then insurance drops me because it might be a pre-existing condition?

Now that we have health care reform in this country I am overjoyed at the prospect that I will soon (someday?) be able to pay a bill once a month that will allow me to be covered in the event of a catastrophic occurrence in my life, much the same as if I were to have a car wreck and my car is covered.

I’ve always thought that insurance was one of those necessary evils. I mean, it’s silly to pay into a system that you will never get anything out of unless something bad happens to you, right? In theory and with cars and homes, yes, it is sort of silly, however in such a large society, I suppose it’s necessary. The truth is, big companies have more clout than the average American and the reason cars and houses are required by law to be covered is because banks don’t want to take the fall for accidents. Human beings on the other hand, can just go piss off.

The odds that my body will fail at some point in my life are greater than my car getting into a deadly wreck before I trade it in for a new one.

My expectations of a great change with this health care bill are not great. It will be months, if not years (more likely) before people like me will be able to expect any great change in their lives. I might even (hopefully will) have some coverage through a job or another network by then.

But it’s nice to know that our lawmakers finally acknowledge that people are just as important as cars and houses. Finally.

Go Fly A Kite

Toyin and I took Annika to the annual Zilker Park Kite Festival today for some fun, sun, and toddler running.

She wasn’t that impressed with it. The festival was super crowded. Annika reacts to crowds much the way I do. They slow her down. She gawks at everything. She is overstimulated and can’t really enjoy the festivities. So we didn’t stay very long.

Once we had made our rounds, we headed back to the car. As we picked our way through the crowds of cars, families, dogs and random kite strings in our path, I overheard a snippet from a father who was clearly at the end of his rope. He was semi-chasing his son, who was around 5 or 6, with a candy bar. Shoving it up against is mouth and loudly saying to him, “Just open your mouth and TAKE A BITE!”

As the mother of a picky eater, I had to laugh. Before I had a child, I might have wondered what on earth was possessing this man to try to force-feed his kiddo a candy bar. I may have even given him a dirty look and then spewed things about terrible parents and child abuse.

But not now. I’ve never had to force feed candy to Annika. That’s the one thing she will gladly eat. But I have been known to chase her with food.

This poor dad, he’d probably been trying to get his kid to eat all day then finally broke down and bought a candy bar, thinking his son would eat that and at least he’d save him from malnutrition for another day.

“But I don’t LIKE peanuts!” the son wailed as we passed them by.

“JUST TAKE A BITE! IT’S ONLY PEANUTS!!”

My guess is that dude is having a huge drink right about now.

Anyhoo.

We had parked at Toyin’s office building right up the street. Annika really wanted to go inside and go up the elevator. Figures. Take the kid to a kite festival with junk food and bouncy castles, but she just wants to go press buttons in an office building.

So we did that and then we went to eat Chinese food at our favorite Chinese buffet.

The best part of the day was when Toyin made a mini ice cream cone as we left and Annika stood outside learning how to lick the “cream.”

Thinking about weaning, and thinking about not weaning

I always thought I would let Annika nurse until she was done. When Annika was an infant, I had no intentions of even night weaning.

But this past week I’ve been seriously considering weaning completely.

This topic has been no different for me than all of the other choices I have had to make when it comes to parenting. One minute/hour/day/week I want to go one way, then I think about it and I can’t decide if that might be harmful for my child. So, I put off making a decision. Then I get frustrated with it all and go back and forth, back and forth.

There are no easy answers for these things.

I didn’t read up much on nursing because I thought I knew it all. My mother was a La Leche League leader when I was a kid. Ever since I can remember I heard how great nursing was. I was nursed until I was 3.

I thought my decisions on nursing were set in stone. It was a relief to think that at least ONE thing I didn’t have to make a decision about.

The idea of mama-led weaning seemed laughable to me. Until this week.

Annika still nurses as much as seven or eight times a day. She’s been sick this week and it has been that much or more on the days when we are home most of the day. I did not think that Annika would still be nursing this much at this age. I had always heard that during the second year kids usually drop down to two or three times a day, usually surrounding sleep. I thought that was the natural progression.

Even in my peer group, where most of my mama friends still nurse their toddlers, it’s not typical to see them nursing in public.

Some moms make a point to stop nursing in public in the course of the second year.

I never even thought I would do that. And I haven’t so far.

For the most part Annika rarely asks to nurse when we are out and about, which is why most toddlers aren’t seen nursing in public. They just don’t think about it. If Annika does ask for it, it’s because she sees another kid nursing and even then she only nurses for a minute or two. If we do nurse out of the house, it’s usually in the car before leaving somewhere.

But lately I have gotten so frustrated with nursing that I started thinking about weaning.

I picked up a couple of books (How Weaning Happens and Mothering Your Nursing Toddler) from the South Austin API book library. It’s a local group I’m a member of.

I only read the first page of How Weaning Happens and I started to cry. All of a sudden all my frustrations began to become reality. What got to me was a passage that said weaning was equivalent to a mother’s rejection of her child.

It had taken some time, but I realized that what was frustrating me was not that Annika still wants to nurse. I think it’s that I’m not doing something right or I’m missing something.

I don’t know what it is, or if that’s even the case.

But I wonder if Annika is getting all the nutrition that she needs. She must be missing something if she still wants my milk so much. She also refuses to eat enough solid foods. Or maybe I’m not giving her enough attention, or the right kind of attention. Being with a toddler all day is exhausting. It’s not the same kind of exhausting as a baby.

Babies are at least easier to interpret. Babies need four things. Food, sleep, diaper change, or holding. Toddlers need those things, but they also need mental stimulation. They want you to sing with them or to them. They want you to dance with them. They want you to give them food. Then they throw it on the floor. They want you to play games and read books. They want to leave the house. But then when you are ready to go they don’t want to leave. You spend all day cajoling, helping, stimulating, feeding, dressing and undressing.

And then on top of it all, parenting experts tell you that you have to set “loving limits.” What the hell does that even mean??

So I wonder if I’m setting the “right” limits around nursing. I don’t want to give Annika the wrong signals. But I also don’t want her to think I’m rejecting her.

As I write this I’m still at a loss. A big part of me says that I should just continue down this path and let her determine when she wants to nurse. We’ve night weaned and even though she still asks to nurse at night, she has stopped fussing and mostly it seems to be mumbling in her sleep out of habit, and not actual wakings.

So that’s the one limit I’ve set and I wonder if I should be setting any more limits. After all, they grow out it.

Right?

Right?

A good relationship with Annika is my “good enough”

Over the weekend I met with my Personal Renewal Group to discuss this month’s topic: Good is good enough.

I hastily read the chapter the day before our meeting. It did not resonate with me in the slightest, so I skipped all the questions and journaling exercises. The author was talking about her perfectionist attitudes about always wanting more. Never being satisfied with what was already good in her life.

As I sat listening to my friends talk about how they were hard on themselves, I realized I had misinterpreted the chapter.

In the chapter, the author talks about how she was always wanting more, more, more. How she never felt like she had done enough for a client and always thought the next thing would make her life better.

I am not that much of a perfectionist, so I didn’t think the chapter applied to me. I didn’t get it.

What it was saying, as my lovely friends explained to me, was: My good is good enough. If something in my life that I have labeled as good, is good, then all is well with the world.

I realized I needed to define my good enough so that when I’m getting down on myself for not having things as I would like them, I have something to fall back on.

Right now my good enough is just having a good relationship with my child. I have other goals for the future, but right now my goal is to set a secure base for Annika as she grows up.

I forget that sometimes and I get irritated that I can’t get other things done. Sometimes Annika wants sooo much attention, just sending a quick e-mail or cooking an easy dinner can be an hour-long task.

This week Annika has been sick and it’s been like that times 100. The clinging toddler was really starting to get to me.

Then I remembered that I needed to look at what was good today, right now.

Right now I have a good relationship with my daughter. The reason I chose the path I’m on right now is because I wanted that.

My other goals are on my priority list, but I only have a set amount of time to build my daughter up, construct a good relationship with her, and give her a secure base to hold on to when she approaches the world on her own.

So we left the house, and instead of gritting my teeth, I sang a song, I made faces at her in the mirror. I took her to the park. We played and ate. And when she insisted that she did not want to leave the park even though she was bleary-eyed and yawning, instead of getting angry, I held her close and whispered in her ear as I walked quickly to the car. There have been way too many screaming and struggling trips to the car lately.

So what’s my good enough? It’s always changing. I realize that. But for right now, today and tomorrow and then next couple of years, my good enough is to have a thriving and healthy relationship with my daughter. It’s hard for me because I didn’t/don’t have that. I don’t have a good model. So I need constant reminders and I have to read a lot of books to help me along this path.

As she gets older and more independent, I’ll have time for other things.

But for now, that’s my good enough. The rest of the world can wait. Every day when I get up and I spend time with Annika I remind myself that I’m doing this for a reason.

What’s your good enough?

Just one of the things nobody warns you about parenthood…

I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things that nobody warned me about parenthood. (Okay, okay, I’ve got a long list documented on my computer just in case I ever find someone to blame.) But ANYWAY this one was just too pathetic not to share.

Yes, I drew that. Being a parent makes you revisit all the things you were really bad at when you were a kid. Let’s just say none of my teachers ever told me I should take art classes.

When Toyin stopped by tonight to pick Annika up, he saw this and said, “Oh, Mommy drew a cat.”

No.

It’s a pig.

I was doing okay until I had to draw the body.

Here’s hoping that I never have to write out notes to any of Annika’s teachers when she starts school. I really don’t want to get red penned for my handwriting again.