Friday, October 29, 2010

Mama On: Happy

"Some days you just have to smile; and some days, you should."

Ever have one of those days when you just wake up with inexplicable joy in your heart and a silly smile on your face?  Pretty much everybody has had one, but we don't remember or cherish them as often as we ought to.  My mother, the original Mamaknologist, thought that we ought to count those days and moments as special opportunities and then spend them liberally on sad, dark days.

I can remember walking into a hospital room to find her sitting in a hospital bed smiling dreamily.  It was on a day when nothing had gone right -- including her routine doctor's visit.  Her blood pressure was climbing rapidly toward stroke level and the doctor had moved to have her immediately hospitalized -- yet there she sat, smiling like a woman gifted with the keys to the Kingdom.

Before I could even ask, she turned the smile on me and said, "Some days you just have to smile." 

For just that one sliver of time, it came clear for me, and I did smile.  In fact, I totally got it, and it made me happy.  The Mamaknowledge of the moment was simple:  even if this was our last moment together, at least we had it.  If this was our last moment together, we could smile about it and share it, and that was a good thing.  This moment was good and we could smile because it made us happy.

All these years later, I can still feel the soft brush of her fingers on my skin and the warmth of her hand in mine and it makes me happy.  I am so glad to have had that oddly happy moment with my mother and it makes me smileThe Mamaknology of our moment was that you should take your happy where you find it, and you should cherish it just for the glow it gives you. 

Happy is a Good Thing.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mama On: Mothering

"What the daughter does, the mother did.  I hope you took notes."

Being a mother is hard work -- overtime work for some, and my mother took the job seriously.  As a direct response to her seriousness and focus on what she saw as her job, I too take the treatment of  children seriously.  So, I've got to tell you that it was kind of rough to hear the verbal abuse a mother saw fit to heap on the head of a little girl who couldn't have been any more than three or four years old.

Living in Atlanta I take MARTA, the public transportation system, a lot.  I got on the train and sat in the seat in front of a cute little girl and a young woman who was obviously her mother.  As I sat, the young woman scolded the child for pretty much everything she could think of, including breathing too loudly.  Her tirade grew angrier and louder as the train rumbled on and without turning, I could feel the little girl shrinking.  When the woman ran out of just about everything else she could have said, she blurted, "You funny looking thing." 

"Thing?"  Really?

This made me turn to look at her and the child.  Neither of them was, "funny looking."  They were both healthy and neatly dressed, care had been taken and given.  They were both clean and seemed well fed.  In fact, the little girl was quite cute, but like I said, she bore  very strong resemblance to her mother, which led me to blurt out a little bit of truth on my own... 

"She looks just like you."

Okay, admittedly the words had barely crossed my lips when I had a moment when all I could think of was, "uh-oh..."  But looking into that woman's eyes, there was nothing else for the Mamaknologist in me to do.  It was true, the child did look like her.  From the look on her face, I had no doubt she knew it, and now she knew that I did, too.  And I knew something else.  I knew that it was obviously true that the young woman was only doing what she had seen done and what had been done to her.  She was simply sharing the kind of treatment she had probably recieved and seen during her young life.  And she had clearly taken notes.

My mother would have said that all the daughter had actually done was to be a child.  She did what children do and as a result, she was taught that simply being a little girl would make her mother angry.  She was taught that her very existence was an inconvenience.  She was taught that the person she was probably most dependent upon resented her presence.  But, I'll bet that if I'd had the presence of mind to ask, they would have both told me that they loved each other.

That has to be confusing.

So the Mamaknologist take on this is that we need to be very careful what we teach our daughters because they will love us, and they will imitate us.  At some point in time, whether they know it or not, they will pass on our teachings to the next generation of daughters.  And if it is fact that we reap what we sow, it is our job to be our best so that our daughters will learn, love, support, and to do well from our lessons. 

Don't ever forget:  They're taking notes.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mama On: What Goes Around

"Always plant good seeds."

I was twenty-one and right out of college when this story began. I had just taken on my first teaching job at an inner city school in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. At first glance, the job was everything that a Special Education teacher could ask for: challenging, goal-based with clear objectives, and working across a broad span of elementary education. In reality, I was faced with a shortage of supplies, limited parental support, and twenty socially promoted first through fourth graders who’d never met anyone quite like me – a brand new teacher who thought learning was “The Bomb”!

It took a minute, make that six weeks, for me to realize that a lot of my students had a less than firm grip on the basics. But that was okay, I was ready with a plan. I brought my Mother the Mamaknologist and my Grandmother to school with me – and of course, my grandmother brought home baked goodies. My Grandmother was a fabulous cook and an even better baker, so her presence bought me a little respect. But, when that wasn’t quite enough, I showed up for Show And Tell in my karate gi, complete with my newly earned brown belt and punched and kicked and yelled and broke boards, “just like in the movies.”

I got respect.

Thrilled that my class was paying attention and making huge strides, I turned my attention to one little girl who couldn’t seem to find her way. “Patty” was a ten year old fourth grader without a clue. She had no real idea of what to do with the alphabet, couldn’t spell anything beyond her own name, had yet to even complete a first grade reader, and had no understanding of math basics. The scary part was that because she was pretty and quiet, she was expected to move on to the fifth grade – because she was never disruptive.

I hated that!

As far as I could see, “Patty” was about to be victimized by social promotion within the school system. She was about to be set adrift on a sea of confusion, and destined to an adulthood of failure. That was not only unfair, it was just flat out wrong and nobody was showing up to fight this battle for her. So I came up with another plan.

I called her mother and convinced her to send “Patty” to school without breakfast. Of course, my own mother considered this to be cruel and unusual punishment, but you would be surprised to learn what a child will do and how focused they can become over a bowl of Trix in the morning. Throw in some fruit and milk, and you can come close to genius. “Patty” not only learned the alphabet, she learned addition and subtraction. She learned the required “sight words” and began to read independently. You can believe that I was doing The Dance Of Joy by the end of the semester when “Patty” actually passed the required proficiency exams. She was ready for the fifth grade!

Understandably, not everyone shares the same sources of joy, but I thought surely this child’s mother would share my enthusiastic happiness over “Patty’s” achievement. Unfortunately, when I sent a note home offering to tutor “Patty” over the summer, her mother didn’t think it was a good thing.

“Not so long as you are black,” she told me over the phone, “do you ever send another note home to me about that little dummy. It’s not my fault she’s stupid.”
I will never forget those words, or how hard I cried after that woman dumped them in my ear. I’m going to be black for the rest of my life, and at that age, it seemed like far too long to punish a child for anything. A much loved only child, I had never heard an adult, especially a parent, speak so harshly – not about their own child. My mother tried to comfort me, but those words will forever haunt me.
“You did your best,” my mother told me. “You gave her something and filled a place where there was nothing, and that was the right thing to do.”

Believing my mother, I let it go, and of course life went on. I transitioned from teaching to social service and wound up living in Atlanta, Georgia, but I never forgot “Patty”. A little more than fifteen years later, I worked for the Department of Family and Children Services and was concerned about my mother’s health. She had developed Coronary Artery Disease and was hospitalized in Cleveland.

I was at work when my desk phone rang. My stomach dropped and I stopped everything to answer. The caller was my mother, and she sounded happier and more excited than any woman sitting in a hospital bed was supposed to be. “I have someone who wants to talk to you,” she said.

“Me?” Hand shaking, I went into silent prayer mode.

“It’s my nurse.” I heard rustling and low conversation as my mother handed over the phone.

“Hello?” The voice was soft and sweet, calming in timbre. “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but you were my fourth grade teacher.”

All of the breath went out of me.

It was “Patty”.

I could hear the smile in her voice as she explained seeing the patient name and remembering it. I loved the warmth in her voice as she described coming into the room and seeing the patient for the first time. She said that she saw the same features that she recalled, but wasn’t sure about the patient’s age: “I can read, add, and subtract now,” she giggled, bringing tears to my eyes.

When she finally talked to the patient, she was excited to learn that the woman in the bed was my mother. And my Mamaknology-wielding mother, with her brilliant memory, fully remembered her. “Patty” said that when my mother offered to call me, she felt like she’d won the lottery. “How does that happen? That you find people who care, and then you get to say ‘thank you’?” she wondered out loud.

Then she stole my breath again. “Thank you,” she whispered into the phone. “Thank you.”

And I thanked her, because my mother said that “Patty” was an amazing nurse, caring and conscientious. “… born to do something like this,” she said.

I am so grateful to have been able to witness and participate in just a tiny part of what made that little girl into a woman, and I am more than glad to have planted a good seed in her, because what goes around really does come back around – this time for the good.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mama On: Gossip

"Don't believe everything you hear."

Okay, we all know that my mother (the original Mamaknologist) was good for coming up with sayings, but Ben Franklin got her on this one. Ben said, "Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear."

Unless you've been under a rock, we have all heard what was said about Shirley Sherrod over the past week or so... And this was a bit of ugly, crude, mean gossip that the world could have done without.

You remember: Rightwing blogger, Andrew Brietbart and Fox news released a tiny clip (less than 20-seconds) of a speech made by Sherrod at an NAACP meeting. Brietbart intentionally choose words geared to bigotry, tagged it racism, and released it to the world. The clip showed Sherrod saying that she had not used the full force of her power to help a white rural farmer.

Of course we later learned that her father had been killed in a racially motivated incident and that she surmounted her personal pain and provided the best possible service to the farmer and his family. We also learned that she uses the incident as a teaching tool for her staff and her community.

And we only learned this after the farmer and his wife (who still own the farm that she helped them save) made their thoughts known. "Something in the woodpile ain't clean," the now elderly man insisted. His wife went on to tell every listening source that Sherrod was being unfairly persecuted and vilified.

It was not until AFTER Sherrod was badgered into resigning that the truth surfaced, OMG are there ever red faces aplenty!

Sherrod hasn't decided what she plans to do, whether she will return to her job or not, but I'm betting that there will be lawsuits to match the ever-growing stack of apologes. And there should be... And, yes, the government and the country as a whole should consider this teachable moment as an opportunity to reflect upon knee-jerk judgements and mudslinging in media and politics.

But what do you want to bet that Brietbart and a few others are wishing that they had taken Ben Franklin's advice?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mama On: Labels

"Don't let labels define you."

The first time I remember hearing my mother say this I was really young, maybe five or six years old, and I don't remember what it was linked to. But I do remember being ten years old and having my earnest parents try to explain the 'n' word -- and for some reason, my mother felt the need to tell me that the 'n' word was a label. She also told me that it was a label that I would always have control over, that no one could ever apply it to me if I didn't allow them to.

I liked that. As a matter of fact, I took it to heart and have applied it to all other areas of my life. This bit of Mamaknology allows me to hold my head high and live a life of dignity in spite of the ugliness I have to traverse to get to who I am meant to be. I really like that.

And it makes sense to me. I don't understand why others don't get it.

Okay, in the real world, maybe I do understand. But I don't want to. I don't want to understand that people are so desperate for attention that they will subject themselves to criticism, ridicule, vulgarity, and even assault to get it. I don't want to understand that people think so little of themselves that they will objectify themselves in an effort to claim an identity.

Case in point: I was on the train and a young(ish) woman boarded. She was short and carrying a good bit of weight. She wore tight jeans and a tee shirt with her label on it. On the shirt, in BIG letters, splayed all across her ample bustline and thick torso, her label said: "I've Got An Ass That Can SWALLOW A G-String!"

And while the observation was obviously correct, why did she think she had to share it? Now, I know that the trend is to embrace the obvious, but this was ridiculous. Faced with less than respectful treatment, we all know that this woman would have objected, but yet there she was out in the world labeling herself. And while her shirt might have been an intimate joy to be shared with a significant other, was it really meant to be dsplayed on public transportation?

The Mamaknologist in me has to agree with my mother. This was a label that, especially if she enjoyed it, should have been kept private. For some reason, this woman didn't get the idea that the label she was willingly applying to herself was going to define how she was received in the world, that people would treat her in the manner she showed herself to them. She didn't get it that if she showed herself as less than valuable, she would not be received or perceived as valuable.

I'm gonna guess that this goes back to childhood (so much does, right?). That maybe this woman lacked nurturing... Okay, I feel you rolling your eyes. At some point we have to nurture and cherish ourselves. At some point, we have to take stock of the labels we are willing to accept and act as whole people to realize them. I don't want to be known as the dirty, the crude, or the stupid one. And goodness knows, I don't want to be known for my behind's facility for swallowing g-strings.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you, the woman wearing that tee shirt was the recipient of several off-color comments before she got off the train. Not only did she try to ignore the comments, she even seemed to be offended by some of them (but you already knew that, didn't you?).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mama On: Keeping Your Mouth Shut (Sometimes...)

"Everything you think, you don't say."

Okay, for the pragmatic 21st century Mamaknologist, this may seem almost absurd. But on the other hand, it might be regarded as common sense. Think about it . . .

When is the last time someone said something to you, a "back-handed" compliment, if you will -- and you wanted to slap the spit out of them? But you thought about it, decided you didn't want to spend the night (or the rest of your life) in jail, and parted your lips to say . . . Nothing. And the biggest reason you said nothing was because (as my mother, the Original Mamaknologist would have told you) there was nothing to gain by speaking your mind.

I mean really, what can you do about situations like when people who owe you money have the nerve to get mad at you -- yes, you could sue, but remember that they already don't have the money to pay you. Or what about the folks who are determined to be rude and vulgar? They already know that they are rude and vulgar, and because they don't have a clue how to be anything else, they make everybody else's life miserable. And lest I forget, what about the people who bring chldren into the world and then refuse to parent them? So, of course you have to be victimized by the random disorder caused by the heathens (parents and children).

So, what do you do?

Mostly, you keep your mouth shut because one word would result in a few hundred too many. A lof of folks will turn their heads and go socially deaf and mute Personally, I take the Mamaknologist route -- I quietly lose my mind. Yes, I turn into that sweet and determined little old lady who speaks softly to the problem and then smiles at the perpetrator(s). I used to see my mother and my grandmothers do this and it looked crazy, but it rarely failed to bring about the desired result -- temporary order out of social and emotional chaos.

So, in my many years of studying Mamaknology Theory, what I have learned is this: you don't have to tell folks exactly what you think of them (and every other lousy human they have ever encountered) to get them to shape up and act right. You don't have to slap anyone hard enough to make thieir grandchldren flinch to make a point. And you don't have to rant and rave to put the fear of God in a "bad" child or errant parent.

You do have to pick your battles and your words carefully, though. You have to learn to be a person who can walk in this world armed with enough love and respect to choose your words and actions appropriately. You do have to think before you speak -- and sometimes you have to bite your tongue, because you are not here alone.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mama On: Random Acts Of Kindness

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- just because you can."

You already know that this is the Mamaknologist take on the Golden Rule, and I already know that your mother probably gave you the same guidance because... well... it really is the right thing to do for all of the right reasons. But it just struck me today that maybe this is one of those "bringing the universe into alignment" things. Oddly, this is the second week in a row that I have consciously left home to do something of benefit to my community and wound up doing something completely random that was of undeniable service to another. And it happened because it was the right thing to do.

I do some work with a community blood pressure project, and I thought that I did it because of all that I have learned from my own family health history. (Uhm, and by the way, do you know YOUR numbers? I'm just sayin'...) Anyway, I was on my way to a screening event and I got lost. As it happened, the man that I asked for directions gave them to me, but he didn't look well. He asked me what I was going to do, and I told him about the screening and that the case I was carrying held my b/p equipment (no, he didn't ask).

Blood Pressure? he finally did ask, and I said yes, then asked if I should take his, and he said yes. So I did. And as you've probably already guessed, it was at stroke level. He rubbed his head and said that the reading did not surprise him. While he refused medical care, he did promise to see his doctor asap and resume his medicine. In perfect world, he did, and my stopping to take that reading helped.

Today I took the train to another event and of all things, got off at the wrong stop -- just in time to hear a newly diagnosed blind woman yelling for help. Everyone else in the station seemed oblivious to her plight, so I went back, offered my arm and led her to her stop on another level. The happy part of this is that a lovely young woman stepped up as I was trying to find someone going toward the blind lady's stop. This young woman was bright, pleasant, and willing to help the blind lady on the next leg of her journey.

See what I mean? Random. It was just all about being in the right place at the right time. And that brings me to another bit of Mamaknology: God never puts you where you're not supposed to be.

Especially when it comes to Random Acts Of Kindness.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mama On: Prayer

"Aren't you glad God hears prayer?"

My mother, the Original Mamaknologist would be proud of me. Today I signed up to be a part of an online prayer ministry. This may not sound like a lot to you, but for the past two years I have let a lot of things get in the way of my prayer life. Just stuff like:

  1. I don't have a car and my church is not on a busline (like there are not other churches in the world, right?)
  2. I don't know if I am qualified (What? You know what I mean... I don't want to mess up anybody else's Heavenly chances just because I come to the Lord on the short yellow bus).
  3. What if ______ (Yeah, right. You fill in the blank).

So, applying my belief in prayer (and I REALLY DO believe) is kind of a big deal. Then I thought about it. If faith is not faith until it is all you have, then what is prayer?

For a lot of the people in need of prayer (and that would be MOST of us, right?) faith and that image of a mustard seed are all that they have left. I know how I have felt when I needed intercessory prayer -- shoot, sometimes all I've had left was the stain of where I'd crushed that itty bitty mustard seed by holding it so tightly.

So today, I decided to put my faith and my prayers to work for more than just myself, my family, and my friends. If I can ask for me, can't I ask for a stranger? If I can believe for me, then I will believe for another. If I need peace, then I will rejoice in seeking it for someone I have yet to love.

Pray for me, because I am going to pray for others.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mama On: Are You Kidding?

"A job worth doing is worth doing right."

I just want to say that my mother (the original Mamaknologist) would not have liked this, and neither do I. I applaud the Naional Park Service for wanting to do something special, but why didn't they give the project the attention it deserves?

This February, in "honor" of Black History Month, the U.S. National Park Service Division of Interpretation and Education developed a brochure. The brochure is entitled, NATIONAL UNDERGROUND RAILROAD NETWORK TO FREEDOM. It is big and bright and glossy, 8.5" x 11", and available throughout the country. Now on the surface, it sounds like a great project, right? Offering photos and locations of historic sites of slave oppression and the road to freedom, this should be an awesome project, right?

Yeah, I thought so, too. Then I turned to page 14, and found information on the (Clarksville, TN) "STORIES FROM DA' DIRT" program. And this is what it says ...

"Stories From Da' Dirt" is a living history dramatic presentation that utilizes music, dance, and storytelling to tell the story of African American men and women who went to Fort Donelson (Dover, Tennessee) as laborers, cooks, nurses, and soldiers during the Civil War. Specifically, the play focuses on several families who lived near the Fort who still have connections to the area. Several of the soldiers from the 8th USCT enlisted at Fort Donelson as early as 1864. Though some of these soldiers escaped from nearby farms to enlist in the military, it was quite common for freedom seekers to join the Union Forces under assumed names in effort to hide their identity from slave owners who searched military camp sites for human property. Generally, the Union forces forced enslaved recruits to perform menial labor such as railroad construction and repairs, and fornications. Even more unfortunate, most freedom seekers that sought refuge at Union camps were sometimes sold back into slavery."

Okay, did YOU spot the typo? According to the NPS, the word "fornications" should have been "fortifications" . Yeah, I called them about it (404.507.5635) and of course the project coordinator was SHOCKED! She asked ME why no one else had caught the error (mind you, I don't work for the agency). When I asked her about proofing and editing, she simply got quiet. I asked if this was the result of a bad joke, and she sighed. On top of that, this was about to go into an additional print run -- Teachers are using this in classrooms around the country!

As an African-American woman who can trace her family back six generations on my father's side (yep, got the pictures, too!) and five on my mother's (yes, the tax records and sales papers are available), I am shocked and dismayed. As a taxpayer, I am ... well ... pissed. I don't have kids, but I don't want yours or anybody else's receiving this "error".

Maybe it's just me. What do you think?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mama On: Her Birthday

"Happy Birthday, Baby!"

Today would have been my mother's 82nd birthday, and though she really hated this picture, this is her. We've already talked about her health challenges, and then there are those other challenges . . . You know, the ones inherant to being a woman of color in the twentieth century. But that's not what I want to talk about. Today, I just want to wish my mother, the Original Mamaknologist, a happy birthday. I miss you, Mommy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mama On: A Personal Note

"Don't EVER forget, I am your mother."

Today is a very special day for me and my mother. Today, is the anniversary of our very last day together. My mother, the original Mamaknologist passed on February 5, 1985. It was ten days before her 57th birthday. And her death, almost as much as her life, set so many bars for me.

Today, because of my mother, I am not only a reader, I am a writer. Because of my mother, I am not only a daughter, I am a woman. Because of my mother I am not only a friend, I am a sister -- though I have no biological sisters. because of my mother, I know how to admit when I am wrong, and to be gracious when I am right. Because of my mother, I know how to laugh, and how to walk away. Because of my mother, I know that I will never have to stand up in a crowd and be loud, obnoxious, or vulgar to define my place in the world -- my character and actions will do that for me. Because of my mother, I know that no one can ever stand you up if you don't let them -- and that you should never LET them.

But here's the gift my mother has left for us all: My mother was a heart patient. For those of you who knew her, you may recall that she endured eight (8) major heart attacks, and never let her cuteness sag in the process. She believed that you need to take full responsibility to for your health and wellness -- that you owe it to yourself to take care of your heart, in every way possible. Her philosophy was that God gave you everything you needed for this life, so there is nothing wrong with being fabulous and healthy.

I like that. So today, I am going to wear red for women's heart health, and hope that you will, too. I am also, going to wear red for my mother -- because she will Always be my mother.