I got my very first Annika-hand-crafted Mother’s Day gifts this year thanks to some very special and awesome preschool teachers.
On top of these awesome gifts, four years ago I also got the best gift ever, my daughter Annika.
Along with Annika teaching me about motherhood, she has also taught me about learning to think about some of the racial issues in this country and how they affect our society.
Today I’m guest posting over at another blog. Empatheia, written by another mama to biracial kids. She’s a great writer and a teacher, as well as being a mom to three kids. Her blog often discusses the disparity in our schools, as well as racial issues. She’s one of my internet buddies. So read my post and then please browse some of her articles. I promise you will leave feeling enlightened.
It seems strange to think that I am the mother of a 4-year-old. Except that it doesn’t.
Annika’s birthday was two days ago, but we were too busy celebrating and I didn’t find time to write a post.
With each passing year I become more and more comfortable with the idea that I’m a mom. Since I never planned on having children, and at some point had determined that I never would, motherhood came as a surprise to me. It was not something I ever really envisioned except in minor flashes and never really with any real attachment to the idea.
So, I got used to the idea while it was happening.
I can sum it up best with a (loosely paraphrased) quote from an old and dear friend who, when her oldest son was a toddler, used to say, “Sometimes it freaks me out that I’m the one in charge!”
Whether you planned for children or not, however, I’m guessing it’s a feeling most parents have from time to time.
Even though I never planned for it, I’m enjoying it. And as the moments come along, I do my best to savor them and collect them.
This is a recent favorite memory. Annika tells a ghost story.
Oh my god. I never thought I’d be the type of mom who would go overboard with my kid’s birthday.
It turns out. I am just that mom.
Somehow, I can’t manage to fit in the time to mop my kitchen floor or clean the toilets even once a month (oh my god, did I just admit that on the internet??). I don’t keep a running grocery list. I barely bother to manage my finances. And I worked at a bank for seven years.
But when it comes to planning my kid’s birthday party, I am ALL OVER IT!
And it’s stressing me out.
Annika will be 4 on Thursday and her party is the weekend after next, due to some unavoidable conflicts.
I sent out invitations a month ago. I have scheduled a magician, which was her pick. I voted for a clown.
I bought super awesome (imho) party favors on eBay and I am painstakingly counting possible attendees to ensure that I have enough.
We invited way too many people. But I don’t care. It’s going to be awesome.
But shit. It’s giving me an ulcer.
I can not even imagine how stressed I’m going to be when she is old enough to actually give a shit.
Then on top of it, I was thinking of planning an over-the-top family dinner on her actual birthday after a friend mentioned that when you have the child’s party on a different day, you still have to do something on the actual birthday.
I was all, “SHIT!”
Then, thankfully. Reason kicked in before I went whole hog and I realized that we could probably just take her out to dinner at her favorite Chinese restaurant and do cupcakes.
This whole birthday party planning gig is for the birds.
Next year, I’m thinking an out of town trip. No party. Just the wind in our hair and road at our backs. I really don’t think I can do this every year.
I know that by now Trayvon Martin is yesterday’s news to many, but the fact remains, he is still dead and his parents will have to live with that for the rest of their lives.
No matter what happens, George Zimmerman killed their son. If he goes to prison or if he goes free, Trayvon’s parents will still have lost their child.
I can’t stop thinking about them. About him. But mostly about them. Because while he is gone, they must still wonder every day if they could have done something differently in their parenting that would have saved him. Maybe his father wishes he had driven Trayvon to the store that night. Maybe he wishes he would have told his son these things about being a young, black man. Or maybe he did, and he’s thinking that he missed some other teaching moments.
Now, I’m not saying that they did anything wrong. Not in the slightest. But if it were me, I’d probably obsess over these details for years.
Parents tend to believe they can safeguard their children from everything if only we tell them all the stuff they need to know.
I think this. At least, I tell myself regularly that if only I make sure to mention this thing to Annika, yes, then she will be okay. Her life will be good.
But I worry. I worry that I won’t have a clue what to tell her about race or about being a black woman in the United States. And Toyin won’t know all that stuff either, because he’s a man.
Trayvon Martin’s murder was a huge wake up call to me. After reading articles about all the things we need to tell black boys about being a black male in the U.S. I started to wonder, “But what do we tell the girls?”
I used to plan and think of all the ways I could ensure her happiness and contented life. Now, I wonder what things I need to stress to her so that she will just stay alive, and/or without suffering an assault.
Maybe it’s selfish of me. But I don’t have a boy. I have a girl. What do I tell her?
I don’t know. I have vague memories of learning such things about black people, black women, when I was young, but I have forgotten them all. They came from a place of ignorance, immaturity, and just plain stupidity. I came to learn that they were not true. I forgot them. And I am sure that with a new generation of youngsters, there are probably many things I have never even known.
I am that place of mid-life where past memories have become hazy and new information is not always so easily accessible. It’s a dangerous place to be when you are the mother of a child of color.
I need to know these things. Or at least, I need to find out how Annika can learn about them.
Annika will grow up having to learn much of these things on her own, from friends, from relatives, but not from me. Sure, I can ask around. I can assist. But I do not know what it feels like to have certain stereotypes put on me. I think that I’m not even sure what they are, and even if I do know some of them, I don’t know what it feels like to be in those shoes.
It worries me. And for the first time since becoming a parent, I feel completely absorbed with the not knowing.
Before, and especially when she an infant, I told myself there would be time. I could learn it all. But there comes a time when you are faced with the fact that there are just certain things you will not be able to protect your child from. And there are some things you will never even know.
I have this belief that if I explain all things to my daughter in an age appropriate manner that will make me a good mom.
I was a very curious child and often, the explanations I got about stuff were lacking, in my young opinion.
So when Annika asks me a question, I always try to answer it honestly.
I’ve really got to start watching what I say around her though. Often, my mindless comments lead to questions that I’d rather not answer just yet.
So last week, as we were driving down S. Lamar I noticed a new bar had opened up and I surmised that it might be a nice place to meet for happy hour drinks with friends. The name of the place is “The Corner Bar,” which I immediately thought was catchy. So I said it aloud. “Ah, The Corner Bar, cute.”
Mistake number one.
“Mama, what’s a corner bar?”
“Well, honey, a bar is a place where grown ups meet together to talk and have a good time. And while they’re there they usually have grown up drinks like beer and wine.”
For the past few years, sex has come and gone in my brain in a variety of ways that it never had before becoming a mom.
Before giving birth, I had heard of women losing their desire to have sex. I always figured it was because of the sensitive nature of the body part that was healing. But honestly, that part healed up a lot faster and easier than I thought it would.
However, I had no desire, even when I could. Luckily for me, it was a non-issue.
It wasn’t healing that hindered my desire.
I had a new person to cuddle with. And that person needed me for everything, love, food, warmth, reducing fear, mobility.
Added to that, I was newly in love. The idea of giving any part of me to another human being, even the person who helped me make the new love of my life, felt like an adultery. It made me queasy.
When I told Toyin this, along with the tidbit that simply watching sex scenes in the media made me wince, he said there must be something wrong with me.
Since it wasn’t really an issue between us at that point (our sex life pretty much died with my pregnancy, TMI much?) it was more of a rational conversation than it would have been if we were still a couple.
As usual, when discussing these types of issues with him, I thought he was probably wrong. I figured that eventually the old girl would come back around.
And she did. But it took much longer than I thought it would.
Like two years.
When the appeal came back over a year ago, the thought of having a new relationship with a man who had not fathered my child was hilarious to me. I couldn’t fathom how this could possibly work.
I was a single mom still nursing a toddler who seemingly planned to take my breasts with her to college.
No matter who you’re sharing them with, breasts are –in my mind– a one-person body part.
I imagined scenarios where I’d get lovey dovey with a new man only to dribble breast milk on him during a passionate act. Or have him encounter a new bedtime snack that neither one of us enjoyed.
Gross. I can’t imagine any scenario where that would have been acceptable for either one of us. If I met a guy who was okay with it, I’d go running for the door. Best case scenario is that I’d have a new story named the “Breast Milk Incident” filed under, Hilarious Yet Embarrassing Stories that I Only Tell When I’m Drunk.
And in case you’re wondering, oh yes, it not only could have happened; it almost definitely would have.
I was like a cow with my milk. I leaked out of the left side for the first four months. I was probably a wet nurse in a previous life. Given this talent, it’s really quite a shame that I only had one child.
As I pondered this possibility, I also recalled a story I heard once about a stripper who squirted breast milk on a guy because she was (supposedly) aroused and that’s just what happened. (As told to me by someone who was in the company of the man to whom it happened to. Don’t ask me how I end up with these stories in my life.)
These imaginary and supposedly real scenarios stopped me in my tracks every time I thought about finding ways to put myself back on the market.
But Annika is finally (FINALLY!) almost weaned. Need I say more?
It’s time for my yearly bitch about how I can’t find black/biracial/dark-skinned-in-general dolls in general stores.
My biggest complaint is with stores like HEB, Walgreens, CVS, (Wal-mart if I shopped there often enough) and Target. I”m mainly focusing on these stores because I hate to shop, I don’t go to malls, and I’m not going to pick on small, locally owned stores.
So, here goes.
Why the fuck can’t I find a doll for my daughter in a store that I shop at regularly? Is that too much to ask in this day and age?
We have a black (biracial) president. Dark-skinned populations are growing at vastly enormous rates in this country. (Don’t read the census, it’s skewed based on how they define “white,” etc.)
Here in Texas, it’s one of four states that has a “minority majority” population. Which means that white folks are the minority. Yep, that’s right y’all. We got more brown skins than white ones here. (Don’t even get me started on politics. Really.)
And yet, and yet, I still can’t find a damn brown-skinned baby doll at my local five and dime. Not even the ones on the brown side of town.
I paid three fucking times more on Amazon than I would have paid if the local grocery stores would stock a few on their pristine little shelves. Luckily she was eligible for super saver shipping, or I would been really bent out of shape.
I know that I posted last year about my joy at finding that Big Lots stocked some brown babies, which I bought.
But this year, Annika specifically wanted a life-sized dolly. She has been drooling over these girls everywhere we go.
When we first saw them in a Walgreens last summer, I started watching for them everywhere. They were on shelves in just about every store we went into for a while. Surely, the HEB on the east side of town will stock some dark-skinned dolls I thought stupidly. They did not.
Really? I mean, for real? I go into stores on those sides of town without Annika and people stare at me. (Okay, not really, but my skin color is, without a doubt, in the minority.) It amazes me that they only stock white dolls there.
The stress over this issue runs deeper still. Annika has started to show interest in doll houses and smaller dolls. Gah. I have been searching for about two years various ways I could put together a biracial family for her dollhouse. The only solution I’ve come up with is to split two families with another biracial family. Or buy them all separately.
I realize that this is not the worse thing in the world. My daughter isn’t being ousted for being racially different. Her life isn’t going to be dramatically affected by this doll obsession of mine. What this all boils down to is the fact that I hate to shop I just want my daughter to be able to find her place in the world at every step of the way and I can’t believe that stores are so fucking far behind the times socially.
One night not too long ago, Annika and I were lying in bed. I was waiting for her to drift off when I noticed that the metal chain on the ceiling fan was catching a tiny bit of light from the outside every few seconds as it twirled.
I immediately had a GREAT idea.
(You should probably keep in mind here that I had, at this point, Annika had not been introduced to fairies in any stories.)
“Annika look,” I whispered conspiratorially.
Surprised, she opened her eyes.
“What mama?” she whispered, sounding a bit worried.
“It’s a fairy,” I murmured.
Swish. Swish. Swish. Around and around the tiny dot of light glanced at us every few seconds. I thought it seemed magical.
And at first, it seemed, so did she. She squeaked in delight as we watched out little dot of magic hovering over our bed.
The next day we set up a fairy house on the floor in the bottom of the closet.
We made twig and leaf soup for the fairies, gathering items from our “garden” near the front door.
We set up some doll furniture and Annika made the fairies a bed out of two of her baby blankets.
When she wasn’t looking, I’d remove some of the “soup” and wait for her to notice that the fairies had eaten it.
The fun lasted for a few weeks.
Then one night, the light showed up again.
“Mama, I’m scared,” she whispered upon noticing that our fairy was back again.
“Why?” I asked. “Fairies are magical. They will keep us safe.”
“I’m afraid the fairies will bite me while I’m sleeping.”
Ah, fuck, I thought. There’s no coming back from this. I mean, fairies are magic. They can do whatever the hell they want to. I can’t stop them from turning on us in our sleep.
It got worse when I tried to make a comeback.
“The fairies are good. They sprinkle fairy dust on us to help us become sleepy.”
This was during high allergy season.
“Mama, I’m ALLERGIC to fairy dust!” In between sneezes.
Damn, my timing was off on that one.
The fears of being bitten went on for a while. One night, I was annoyed by the continued insistence that she would be bitten in her sleep.
“Annika, I’m going to level with you. Fairies aren’t real.”
“Yes they are mama. I can SEE them on the ceiling.”
She had me there.
“Okay, I’m going to tell them to leave. ‘Fairies, we don’t want you here anymore,'” I proclaimed.
The next day.
“Mama, they’re still here! The fairy house door is opened!”
Part of me was starting to think she was just screwing with me.
To be honest, I still haven’t come up with a solution. The fairy house is still in the closet, but the real estate is getting squeezed out by some stored items. Annika still mentions the fairies occasionally, but she’s no longer worried they will bite her in her sleep. Now, she just blames missing items on the fairies. When can’t find something her solution is, “Maybe the fairies stole it!”
To my surprise, Annika popped the big question to me the other day.
“Mommy, is Santa Claus real?”
I stammered for moment, wondering what to say. It had never occurred to me that she would ask at such a young age.
I guess my critical nature is rubbing off on her.
Let me just say, I was not prepared.
After stammering for a few seconds, I said, “Well, some people think he’s real.”
LAME ANSWER! My brain screamed. But at least I didn’t tell her a blatant lie.
Apparently it sufficed for the moment, because she began babbling and I vaguely remember something about Mrs. Claus and Rudolph before the conversation changed to more important topics like what kind of dog to be and the next thing I said was, “Stop licking my face!”
However, it wasn’t enough for the long term; the conversation didn’t end there.
A few days later, right in the middle of several days of learning Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I referenced Rudolph in conversation as if he was real.
“Mama, Rudolph isn’t real!”
“He’s not?” I questioned.
“No Mama. Rudolph isn’t real. But Santa is real, and he’s fat because he eats too much sugar.”
She’s mentioned Santa again several times since then. And to be honest, my answers still haven’t become less lame because I honestly don’t know what to say to her.
What I Thought Before She Was Born
Before Annika was born, and even when she was still a tiny infant, I always thought that I wouldn’t do Santa.
I would never lie to my child, I swore on it. It had been so long since I had looked at the holidays through the eyes of a child, I had forgotten the fun of Santa.
But then she started to grow. And we had our first Christmas, and our second.
I began talking up Santa without even realizing that I had soften my stance on the issue. It just came naturally.
I realized that I wanted her to experience the magic of Santa Claus. The letter writing, the excitement on Christmas Eve, lying awake, hoping to catch a slight tinkle or clip clop of reindeer feet on the roof. The wonder when she awakes on Christmas morning to find gifts and candies.
I don’t know why it’s so important, but there seems to be something so special about believing in magic as a child. And Santa is just part of it.
I recently made the mistake of introducing fairies in a poor manner and now she’s afraid of them and tells me she’s allergic to fairy dust.
I really don’t want to screw Santa up.
Then and Now
So when she asked me last week if he was real. And then brought it up again. And again, I began to wonder, what is the right effing thing to do?
Do I play it off? Do I outright lie? Do I distract? Do I encourage? How will she look back on this as an adult and will she wish I had done it differently? Will she be pissed that I lied to her? If I told her the blunt truth, would be happy about it? Or would she be angry that I didn’t give her the magic of Christmas for a few years?
She’s so young. She could easily believe in Santa for several more years.
Part of me says that I’m obsessing over it way to much. “Just answer her GD question,” my pragmatic brain says. Any other question, and my parenting philosophy declares that I should give her an honest, age-appropriate answer.
But the other part of my brain says, “But she doesn’t know what she’s asking you to do. She doesn’t know that if she finds out the truth at age 3, she will lose several years of magic and make believe. She doesn’t know that she will have to be in on an adult secret while her friends still believe that the North Pole is home to elves who make toys and believe in a man who can fly around the world in one night.”
So for now, I’ll be lame. Because I can’t honestly say to her, “Yes, Annika Santa is real.” But I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell her that he’s not. Not yet.