So, what color am I? Scroll to the end to find out

The other day Toyin asked Annika what color her hair was, she responded, (to my surprise) “Brown!”

To me, her hair looks black. To Toyin, it looks brown.

Her hair, just like her identity, will look to each side of the cultural equation, more like the other one.

I realized recently that I have already made a mistake about the race discussion.

I have been waiting for Annika to get older, or to see if she brings it up, instead of doing what I knew subconsciously what I should have done. I should have already started talking to her about it.

It’s not so bad. I mean, her language skills are still developing. As with many topics that are hard to discuss, I kept thinking I’d wait for her to notice that her skin color is different from mine. I mean, she’s only 2. It seems to be so obvious to other people, I guess I didn’t think she’d take long to notice.

But to her, we are normal. To other people, we are not, at least, not most people. Even our friends, who like us and don’t care that we are a blend of colors, it is still a noticeable difference.

I have been asked plenty of times now if Annika is adopted. Some people with less couth just say things like, “Is that your daughter?”

Then the other day a little girl asked me flat out, “Why is your skin different colors?” as she watched me nursing Annika. Wow. I was totally unprepared for such a guileless question.

It was the most refreshing exchange I’ve had with another person on the topic since Annika was born. I mean, this kid did not assume anything. She had no judgments. Her only agenda was to get her question answered. It was so simple. So wonderful.

I told her that it was because Annika’s daddy has darker skin than mine and so she was a mixture of our skin colors. Even after I said that, I fumbled more, trying to come up with something a little more…. profound, maybe? I don’t know what I was searching for.

Her mom jumped in and explained, saying something like, “You know how my hair and your dad’s hair are different colors and yours a mixture of ours? It’s the same thing.”

The little girl seemed satisfied with that.

I was grateful for the additional explanation. But even more grateful for the question.

It made me realize that even with all my reading and thinking on the subject I still don’t know exactly what I’ll say when Annika starts asking questions. It made me realize that maybe I’m not quite as comfortable with the topic as I thought I was.

So, I decided to test the waters.

Yesterday as I sat with Annika on the couch, I held our arms together. I pointed at her arm.

“What color is your arm Annika?” I asked her.

“Brown!” She said with a proud grin.

I pointed at my arm.

“What color is Mommy’s arm?”

She looked confused and then looked up at my face for guidance.

I could understand her confusion. I mean, really, what color is my skin?

In all reality, it is just a much lighter shade of brown. But I was pointing out to her that our skin color was different. She understood that much.

I said, “They’re not the same color are they?” I said.

She nodded, no.

“So what color is Mommy’s arm?” I asked again, curious what she would say.

“Grey!”

Heh, heh. Well, I guess that’s close enough.

And so the toddler years begin

I’ve been thinking about learning how to brew some sort of booze at home. Not because I think it would be fun. Honestly, I have some negative images of people who enjoy home brewing alcohol, based on some questionable characters in my past life.

But, really, I’m thinking about doing it because I have a feeling I’m going to need a large glass of something alcoholic at the end of each day for the next few (16 or 17?) years and I want to make sure it’s always available, even if it isn’t fully fermented.

It’s been one of those days.

Annika purposely dumped her lunch on the ground at the park; soaked through her shorts, threw toys all over the house, over and over again throughout the day; refused to eat her dinner unless she was holding the dish or standing up; dumped food on the floor, purposely and accidentally; stood in the bathtub screaming, tried to climb out before I had washed her, dumped water on the floor; and then ran around like a wild woman tossing books on the floor and alternately crying and laughing until I took her to bed an hour earlier than she usually goes to bed.

And today wasn’t even what I would classify as a bad day.

We had fun at library story time this morning. She actually slept long enough this morning so that I could have a luxurious shower and make my coffee before she woke up.

She was adorable and charming. She said, “I luff you,” for the first time. Granted, she was just repeating what I said to her, but still, she said it as we stood over the stove making soap.

I was actually able to make the soap, start a scoby, chat with a friend on the phone and make homemade french fries that are sitting cold and barely touched in the refrigerator because she suddenly decided that she preferred peas over french fries.

By 7 p.m. I was exhausted. It reminded me of when I was a kid and my mom used to say, “You have to go to bed because I’M tired.”

I always thought it was unfair, especially when she said it and didn’t actually go to bed, but sat up reading or knitting, doing things that looked like work to me and I couldn’t understand why she needed me to be in bed for her to do them. (Yes, I used to sneak out of bed and sit in the darkened hallway, checking to make sure that it really was necessary for me to be in bed.)

So yeah. The toddler years have begun in full force.

I have a feeling I’m going to really regret complaining about feeling forced to take naps with her.

My parental screw up period is over

On Sunday morning as Annika and I rolled out of bed, I went in to the living room, put on a video and said to her, “Mommy is going to lie back down for a few minutes. Okay?” I swear I never do that, but I was really tired on Sunday. Honest. I really don’t.

As I flopped back into my bed she ran in and was like, “No Mommy. Gep up.”

As I lay there looking at her demanding my attention, something occurred to me. She might actually remember this. Oh shit. I better gep up.

Up until recently I have been operating under the assumption that I am still in my grace period for parental fuck ups because, well, she ain’t gonna remember, so if I do something wrong I can still plead the fifth during her therapy sessions after her first traumatic relationship where her therapist starts pointing out the parallels between our relationship and why she lets men treat her like shit.

I’m really looking forward to that.

But yeah. She really remembers things now and I have no idea when her first long-term memory might kick in.

My first memory is one of me wearing my Cookie Monster pajamas and chasing after my brother to bring him his lunch at the bus stop. My mom says that I wore those jammies when I was about 2. She was surprised that I remembered them.

So, really, do I want Annika’s first memory to be of me telling her to go watch TV while I sleep? I can see it now. She’s going to be blogging about her childhood and I will be all like, “I swear to all the gods in all the universes, I only did that ONCE!”

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that language and memory go hand in hand. And if that is accurate, then I suppose she really might remember a lot of what’s happening right now. She’s really speaking in full sentences now, even though a lot of them are not distinguishable to most people.

So I guess my grace period is up. I wonder if that means I’m eligible for health insurance now.

Dropping in to my life through yoga

I want my life to feel like ashtanga yoga.

About a month ago, I started a yoga class at my friend, Rhonda’s, new studio. I went to a couple of classes and then life got in the way, illness, lateness, and our trip to Michigan, so I missed class for a few weeks.

At Yoga Sunya, they teach ashtanga vinyasa yoga, which is characterized by focusing on a dynamic connecting postures. The movement between each posture is just as important as the posture itself.

I went to class on Saturday. I have done some stretching here and there in the past month since my last class, but I haven’t done a full hour’s worth or even more than a few minutes of yoga at home. But about halfway through the class, my body took over. It was easy. I just did the same thing over and over again. And soon it was easy. It felt good.

I don’t mean that it felt good physically, even though, it did feel good physically.

More importantly, it felt good mentally.

At one point, it didn’t feel good physically. Briefly I thought I might pass out because I was underneath the heat vent and I got my first glimpse into what menopause might feel like.

So I moved away from the vent. I continued on. And it was easy. It felt good. I liked it and I want to do it more and more. Instead of stopping, which, part of me wanted to do, after my short stint with fake raging hormones, I continued. And it was easy.

After class I sat down with Steven, Rhonda’s husband, and my instructor. We chatted for about an hour because I’m writing a freelance article about their new studio.

He shared how he learned about yoga. He gave me a brief yoga history lesson. And he talked about how his practice affects his life.

When he started doing yoga, he thought it was just another form of exercise. Something to help keep him in shape. After some time, his understanding of yoga morphed. He began to see the connection between his daily practice and his mental state.

After only a few classes, I have begun to see the connection. And now, I’m looking forward to continuing on with it so I can see more long term effects.

The first few classes I took with Steven, I grunted and stretched. He adjusted almost every pose I did. I tried really hard to pay attention to my breath. Inhale, stretch. Exhale, stretch. Oh, crap, I inhaled before I was done with the exhale pose. “Hurry, hurry,” my mind said. “Catch up.”

I started out like that during this class. Then something happened. I don’t know what it was. Somehow, my body took over.

I didn’t have any great realization. The only thing I did differently this time was tell myself not to worry.

I told myself to stop thinking that everyone else in the class was noticing how bad I was at this. I chose to tell myself, “It is okay if you aren’t as fast or as smooth as the other students. Nobody is judging you. Nobody else cares if you stop or if you do a wrong move.” I paid attention to my breath. I did the moves. I stopped over thinking every little thing. I got behind a couple of times and instead of skipping the in-between movement, I just followed my breath. Instead of staying behind, I caught up. Pretty soon I was feeling stronger and more powerful than I had only a few minutes before. I was flowing.

During our interview, I told Steven how my body just took over during class.

When I told Steven this, he smiled and said, “You dropped in.”

I didn’t ask him to explain because I thought I knew what he meant. Maybe he meant something else, but I interpreted it to mean that I let go of what I was thinking.

I let my body drop into the flow of the movement. I stopped trying to control my body with my mind.

I want my life to look like that.

Whenever I attempt something new, I know what I want to do. But I find myself constantly worrying that it’s not good enough. Or somebody will tell me that I’m doing it wrong. Or that I can’t do it. Or that I won’t be fast enough. I won’t be good enough.

But the truth is, I’m the only one telling myself that stuff.

Well, no, that’s not true. I didn’t completely make it up. My parents told me that stuff during my childhood. I was expected to get A’s in school because “You’re smart.” If had questions, I was told, “Don’t be stupid.” I wasn’t given choices. I was limited on food and television. I wasn’t allowed certain activities because of religious beliefs. I was forced to go to church, which gave me a neurotic fear and unhealthy obsession with my afterlife.

I didn’t like sports so I always got picked last because I wasn’t fast enough, even though in eighth grade I almost beat the fastest girl in track during a fun run. I would have at least tied with her, but when we rounded a corner, out of sight from the teachers, she pushed me off the road. I was slowed down just enough so that she beat me, but I hauled ass right behind her even so. Bitch.

There have been many moments in my life where I had small realizations that I was fast enough and smart enough. But I always talked myself out of that awareness. I told myself it was a fluke. Somebody else wasn’t feeling good. I caught a break.

I’m not going to do that to myself anymore.

After my class and interview with Steven, I decided to start doing what came naturally. I decided to listen to what I want. Not because I’m feeling particularly selfish, but because it will help me practice doing what I want in life.

I went to lunch at Mr. Natural, a local vegetarian restaurant. I’m not a vegetarian, but I have been craving vegetarian food lately. I ate there with a friend last week and the entire week afterward I kept thinking about the milanesa patties with green chile sauce, nopalitos, gorditas and their freshly made corn tortillas. So I went and ate there. I didn’t think to myself how I really shouldn’t be eating out, or tell myself that I needed to get home and do some work.

When I got home, what I really wanted to do was watch a TV show and drink a beer. So I did. While I was sitting there, I noticed that what I really wanted to do was organize a space in my living room that has been badly out of whack since I moved in. It’s been four months.

It is finally clean. The clutter is gone.

Over the past several months I’ve been working on organizing my thoughts toward what I want and what I want my life to look like. I’ve been telling myself that if I just work toward those goals, they will come.

I do believe that is true, but what I’ve realized that may not work for me because my mind is constantly fighting with me about what I should do.

I am constantly trying to remind myself what I need to do.

But this doesn’t work for me because then my needs and my wants start to conflict and I do whatever I need to do in order to avoid the conflict.

Now, though, what I need to do is to stop. Listen to my breath. Watch my inner thoughts and let them flit away. Let the actions arise effortlessly.

I want my life to look like yoga. That is what I want.

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.