Monday, November 14, 2011

Mama On: Taking Responsibility

"I see you!"

I was talking with a friend over dinner the other night and the conversation turned to the things people do when they don't think anyone is looking.  My friend is from Boston, and she talked about the evening she realized that her mother was ready to step up and take a stand for more than herself and her own children.

My friend was young, six or sevenish, and she and her very happy brother were headed to a neighborhood store for the treat their mother had promised -- popsicles!  Walking along, the way children do, they never noticed the staring man parked at the side of the street with his hand working busily in his lap.  But their mother did.

Knowing that all of the neighborhood children, including her own, took this walk regularly and the kinds of bad things that can happen to children at the hands of people who didn't mind sitting around and masturbating on city streets, she took action.  "Hey!," she shouted, "get out of here!"

When the man was slow to move, the petite Tiger Mama found a stray brick on the sidewalk and used it to punctuate her message.  The man realized that someone was determined to take responsibility for his actions, and drove away.

Now, even after being on the receiving end of a Mamaknological defense action, we don't know that the man never "did his thing" (oh, the pun...) again, but we do know that my friend learned a couple of life lessons on responsibility by watching her mother.  She learned that one person can make a difference, and that the person who sees the problem can fix it.

My own mother, the World's Preeminent Mamaknologist, used to look at men or women who openly urinated against building walls, masturbated in public, or slipped their hands into other people's purses and wallets, and deliberately announce, " I see you!"  Don't ever think that those three words are a law enforcement panacea, but they call attention to the action and make it clear that not everyone is going to let it go uncontested.  Not everyone who is caught doing something wrong will stop doing it; but the Mamaknological magic is that now that they have been seen, someone else knows that they are doing the wrong thing, and witnesses have power.

The Mamaknology here is that we must take responsibility for what we see.  We cannot ask someone else to take responsibility for those things we let slide, and that covers everything from the people who watch while a child is mistreated, to politicians who try to pretend that they never said or did what the video clearly says they said or did.  Don't speak up, and you have to take whatever comes.  Pretend not to see, and you leave the responsibility to someone else who may not give half a damn about you, your life, your family, or your community.

So, as a practicing Mamaknologist, I'm going on record here and now.  I care about me and the people I love.  I care about the world I live in.  And while I may not be ready to pitch a brick, Boston style, I am going to speak in my mother's words:

I see you.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mama On: Resolution

"Figure out what you want to do, and then everyday, do at least one thing that will take you closer to your goal."

How easy does that sound?  Everyday, do just one thing to bring yourself closer to who and what you want to be.  The hard part is knowing what you really want and then moving toward it with consistent, faithful intention, and doing it everyday, not allowing life to get in the way of your goal.  Even harder for some of us is learning NOT to listen to people who tell us that we are wasting our time.

Whatever it is that gets in your way, you have to learn to ignore it, when you have a goal.  If fact, what you have to learn to do is resolve to do what it takes.  money, proximity, who you know, lessons, and personal style can all get in your way, but they should never be allowed to dictate where you go.  If you can't ignore the obstacle, then learn to step around it -- you have places to go and things to do.

My mother, the Premier Mamaknologist would tell you to sit down and do some hard thinking, and to be honest with yourself in the process.  Are you willing to work the extra hours, go back to school, submit to training, or just keep knocking on doors?  You may want to be a famous singer and believe that you have natural talent -- what are you going to do with it?  You may believe that you are destined to be a millionaire, you may even feel entitled to be one -- but how hard are you willing to work to get there?  How much are you willing to invest in yourself?

Once you know, make an action plan.

The Mamaknological take on this is a reprise of an old saying:  Fail to plan, plan to fail.  My personal Mamaknoligist would have told you that to fail to show up for yourself and your goals is a sure way to plan to fail.  

Me?  I'm working on my plan.  My next goal? Another novel...  Excuse me, my manuscript is calling.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mama on: Watching Your Step

"Watch your step, honey."

Okay, we're going to make this one short and sweet.  I just got the funniest question from a friend's daughter:  "Why do you walk like that in heels?"

Answer:  Because I am a woman and my body is different from a man's, so I have to move with a certain sway, grace, and speed in these shoes.

Hmm...  Do I REALLY have to point out the Mamaknology in this?
Okay, just in case it went over anyone's head, the Mamaknology here is that a woman can't handle herself just any old kind of way when she steps out into the world -- and it doesn't matter whether she's wearing pumps, flip-flops, or going barefoot.  Women walk differently from men because of the way God made us -- you know, the wider pelvis and all that, but there's more.  Women are blessed with an intrinsic balance and grace, and that gives us an obligation.  It's up to us to figure out how to maintain and increase that balance and to manage it with grace, especially when we put our foot on the ground to make our moves through the world.

Girls can't do what the boys do and still be respected as women, and not every woman is a lady.  You have to learn to walk in the shoes you chose, and you have to make that walk count every day of your life. 

Simple.  Right?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mama On: Coincidence

"Everything happens for a reason."

This year Fathers Day falls on June 19th, and June 19th has a lot of importance in my life.  My mother and father were married on June 19, 1949.  If they were both still with us, this would have been their sixty-second wedding anniversary.  Sixty-two is a lot of years and a lot can happen over that much time, but almost right up until the day he died, my father smiled when he talked about my mother.  At 87, he still called her his, "Baby."

As it was, my mother passed in 1985, giving them nearly thirty-five years together. You have to know that I totally appreciate being a product of that kind of love.  But it makes me stop and think... what if that tall, good-looking soldier had never met the pretty statuesque girl from Philly?  What if he hadn't had enough respect for her to learn who she really was and to treat her like a lady?  What if she had been more of a rump-shaker than a wife?  What if neither of them was interested in family?
After all of that, all I want to know is:  How in her infinite Mamaknowledge did she know?  Could it really have been a matter of coincidence, or did God make an unavoidable plan that resulted in their marriage and me getting here?

One summer night a long time ago, sitting on the back steps with my head in my mother's lap, I asked that question.  Daddy smiled and looked at my mother.  I watched her smile back at him and felt loved.  In her infinite Mamaknowledge, the answer was simple. "Everything happens for a reason." 

Now all these years later, I think I understand.  Yes, she was trying to fill in a blank for me, but being who and what we were, when and where wewere, being in the midst of love was no accident.  And I hae to say that I am glad -- and more than a little proud -- to be a part of the reason my parents found each other and stayed together. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mama On: Taking Care of Business

"Take care of your own business."

If you really take the time to pay attention, and follow through on all of the associated actions, this bit of Mamaknowledge makes perfect sense.  Really.  If you pay attention to all of the little details of your life, there is simply no time to mess around in anyone else's business.  And the nice thing about not having time to play around in other folks' lives is that there is no time for gossip, no time for envy, and (praise Jesus!) no time for screwing up someone else's life.

Don't get me wrong, my mother the Mamaknologist did her fair share of "communal observation," but she let it end with the last word of the conversation.  She didn't let it drag on beyond the chit-chat over coffee or in the grocery store aisle.  She didn't pull raggedy coversations over the back fence and then spend her days and weeks tripping over them.  And she didn't let me do it either.

I actually remember her terminating one of my phone conversations when I was in junior high.  Uhm, I hear you thinking, "Oh, no she didn't!"  Well, yes.  She did, and I had better sense than to make an issue of it.  I think I made a face when I thought she wasn't looking, though.

Then, I got a lecture.  Included in the lecture were such topics as:
  • Who died and left me in charge?
  • What happened to make me right and everyone else wrong?
  • What right did I have to sit in judgment on anyone?
  • Don't you have anything better and more profitable to do?
  • Did you finish your homework yet?
And you've got to know that the last one was the one that was really important, right?  Anyway, you know that she actually stood there and made me answer all of those questions, right?  And of course the homework wasn't finished, but the whole incident made me think -- if I'd been doing the homework, I wouldn't have been on the phone and ... well ... caught.

Over time, I've applied this to a whole lot of other scenarios.  I take care of business first and chat later.  I have also noticed that gossip is a whole lot like lying -- if you listen to it, you'll almost always pass it on, and it will only get stronger with each passing.  And in the end, a whole lot of time gets wasted.  And what couldn't you do with a little more time? 

For one thing, you could take care of a little more of your own business.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mama On: Love

"I'll kill a rock over my baby."

**Sigh**  I think that these are almost the sweetest words I ever heard from my mother.  In all of her wisdom, she found a way, to define love and motherhood in just a few completely understandable and indelible words. And isn't that what we trust and expect the Mamaknologists of our lives to do? 

My mother, the World's Premier Mamaknologist, not only had a way with words, she had a way with love.  Whenever she promised to kill rocks over me, I believed her.  I kid you not, I even believed her into and far beyond my, "you gotta prove it to me," teens.  And whenever challenged, she cloaked herself in love and showed up and showed out in that boldly amazing way that only women of color can do.

Never above or beyond taking a stand in her Mamaknowledge, my mother was there to climb the cherry tree I got stuck in when I was five.  She was there, almost before it happened, on the day I ran into a giant tree and broke my wrist, blacked my eye, busted my lip, and sustained a concussion.  She was right there the first time some big-headed boy broke my fragile little heart, and she was there when I declared my independence and left my childhood home to explore the world.

Born to love, I watched my mother lead our entire family into the foster care system.  I watched her take on three unwanted infants and love them into secure childhood.  One of the best examples of this love was a little boy who came into our home at two-months of age.  Born to a heroin and alcohol addicted mother and abandoned at the hospital, he was skinny and cried constantly.  His health was so tenuous that the hospital no longer wished to care for him, but my mother never gave it a second thought.  "I'll take him," she said.  The social worker worried that the child would have severe mental issues.  "He just needs love, and he's going to get it," my mother promised.  Then she did everything she could to be sure he did.

I guess this is a good time to tell you that my mother was 5'8" tall.  And I should remind you that she was determined that this child do more than survive.  She was determined that he would thrive.  So, when he refused to eat, she spent a day in the kitchen singing, cajoling, and urging.  He ate.  When he cried at night, fearing the dark and his crib, my mother climbed into the crib without a second thought and spent long sleepless nights helping a baby to find comfort and security.  He slept.  And never doubt that she spent months and years reciting nursery rhymes, singing songs, reading, and helping with lessons.  Mental issues were never a question -- her Mamaknowledge didn't allow it. 

Of course, you have to pick your battles in this life.  My mother's greatest battle was with her health, and it meant that she and my dad were unable to adopt the child because of their ages and her health, but the love contribution had been made.  That deposit of unstinting love from someone willing to kill a rock was a goo thing.  The funny part was that family friends wondered if I was jealous of the love my mother showered on her foster children.  I have always had only one answer:  No, why would I be?  My mother would kill a rock over me. 

One of those foster children is my daughter today, and I can celebrate the love bequethed me, and I have to tell her that diamonds are forever and so is my love for her.  I think I would kill rocks over her, because my mother taught me that love makes you able, but it goes even deeper.   Because my mother was willing to wield her Mamaknowledge, many of my friends are able to claim Grace by Exposure.  A lot of them are excellent women and superlative mothers, and I am flattered and proud when they salute my mother as a role model.  That's a good thing.

The Mamaknowledge lives on, and all because my mother was willing to take on the world and kill rocks over her baby. 

Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mama On: Thinking

"Did you hear what you just said?"

My mother, the World's Premier Mamaknologist, was really big on the power of words -- maybe that's where I got it from.  She believed that if you used words indiscriminately, it was kind of like screwing up a magical spell.  She believed that words had the power to hurt or to heal and she never understood why people would use them carelessly.  She believed that if you put the wrong words out into the world, the return would never be good or useful.  She believed that a lack of caution in the use of words could only bring confusion, waste, pain, and a sorry wash of ignorance.

I kinda think she was right.

Once, when I was around sixteen, I wanted to go to a party and she turned me down.  Flat.  I weedled, cajoled, pouted, and then turned to the angry tool of every teenaged girl, "Everybody else is going."  Of course she told me that she wasn't everybody else's mother: she was mine.  You know that didn't work, right?  I really wanted to go to that party, so I lashed out with, "It's not fair!"

And totally weary of my arguments, she finally turned from me and blurted, "Do what you want.  I don't care."  It took all of a second and a half for her to hear herself.  She turned back to me (and I thought I was going to die).  She looked me dead in the eyes and softly said, "Yes, I do."

I had no need for further clarification.  I knew exactly what she meant and I was glad to know that she did mean it.  In that very teachable Mamaknological Moment, I learned that my mother truly listened to me and wanted to know that I was listening to her.  I learned that my mother placed value in what I did, who I did it with, and where I did it.  I learned that my mother cherished my opinion of her -- enough to not only listen to what I said to her, but to also listen to what she said to me and how she said it.

As it happens, I did go to the party and I had a good time, too.  But the Mamaknology of the moment, that little listening turn from my mother taught me to be careful in the words that I use with others.  She taught me that making a statement of value is far different from just talking to fill space.  She taught me that while nature may in fact abhor a void, a loving relationship is worth a moment of deliberate thought.

We've all heard the old saying, 'think before you speak.'  Makes sense, doesn't it?  Hearing what you've said to another person and realizing the impact of your words takes a moment of deliberation -- not a whole lot of time in the Grand Scheme of Things.  I kinda think that we owe it to each other to literally weigh the impact of the words we use, and to realize that they can trigger the responses we get.   

The Mamaknology here is that a good life and full loving relationships are worth listening to the words that are coming out of your mouth.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mama On: Friendship

"Be the friend you want to have."

I think I've already said that I am an only child.  So was my mother, and that leads me to wonder if being an only child is an intrinsic factor contributing to my onset of Mamaknology...


I am so glad that I was taught to select my friends carefully.  I am happy to say that I have friends that I have known and loved for most of my life and am still in touch with.  I am even more happy that I have friends who treat me the way that they want to be treated.  My friends, both male and female, over the years have become my siblings.  They have become my family, and with the loss of my parents, I treasure them greatly.

The Mamaknologist in me knows that my mother was right, we need friends who will stand with us for more than the next big sale at Macy's.  We need friends who will do more than hang out with us at the club -- in fact, we need friends who will tell us to stay the heck OUT of the clubs sometimes.  We need friends who are smarter than we are about ourselves sometimes -- whether we want to admit it or not.  We need friends who are too smart to not love us when we forget that we are worthy of love.  We simply need the kind of friends who want to be our friends.

And if we are lucky enough to have those kinds of friends, don't they deserve more than our raggedy and thoughtless baggage? 

My vote is that they do.  So... how about a random act of love for those friends.  This may be the day to send flowers, bake some cookies, make a phone call, or even fall on your knees and offer a sincere and heartfelt prayer for that exceptional friend of yours.  How about making this the day that you are the friend you'd like to have?

I'm just saying...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mama On: Disaster And Faith

"Sometimes you just have to pray."

The news has played the disaster over and over, and it is beyond anything any of us can imagine.  People are wondering how and why God would let anything happen like the earthquake and tsunami that swept Japan.  There have even been the terrifying recordings of the earth rumbling before the horrific events, and it is awesomely frightening -- a reminder of how small and insignificant we are in God's Grand Scheme. 

The amazing thing, after the earth stopped moving and the water receeded, has been the grace and efficiency the Japanese people have shown in their recovery efforts.  There has been a request for international support and the nuclear implications are more than scary, but the survivors are carrying on.  The weather is cold and thousands have been found dead, but there is something else.  Something that is incredibly atypical of events like this. 

We are not hearing about looting, fighting for food and water, price gouging, or other social abuses.

We are hearing requests for prayer for the people and the nation.  We are hearing about the daily prayer and the groups who come together to pray.  We are hearing more and more about the school children who gather to offer prayer for the souls of those lost to the disaster.  We are even hearing that members of the rescue groups are wearing traditional prayers in and on their uniforms as they face the rescue attempts.

Somehow, I don't think that this is an acident or coincidental.  I think that this might be called faith, and the true Mamaknologist understands and appreciates the biblical definition of faith:  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) 

The true Mamaknologist understands that faith is not faith until it is all you have.  Moreover, the true Mamaknologist understands that the only way to go forward after disaster is with the assurance and confidence that God hears and answers our prayers.  This is one of those times when we all just need to pray.  My prayers are with the people of Japan for recovery, for health, and for the determination to continue to hold fast to their prayers and their faith.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mama On: Daddy

Leon McFarland
"You only get one -- and one should be enough."

I was fifteen when my mother said this, and I have to believe that in and with all of her Mamaknowledge she knew that this day would come.  My daddy passed last night.

As sad as that is, it is more cause for celebration than for sadness.  At age 87, he'd covered a lot of ground -- most of it good.  A soldier, business owner, artist, husband, and father, he was mine.  And while he might not have been the best father in the world:  God knows that he would never have passed for Ward Cleever ("Leave It To Beaver"), or Cliff Huxtable ("The Bill Cosby Show").  My father was one heck of a Great Daddy. 

I wish that everbody could have a Great Daddy. 

I think on it now, and I know without a doubt that I am a reflection of what he was to and for me.  Because of my daddy, I understand teamwork.  He took me to ball games and explained the rules to me.  Because of my daddy, I understand physical strength.  He taught me to ride bikes and hit golf balls straight -- especially when I didn't want to.  Because of my daddy, I understand patience.  He helped me plant and nurture those little plants in my first gardens.  Because of my daddy, I understand the eloquence of color and balance.  He wa a gifted painter and sketch artist who never laughed at my efforts. 

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't always sunshine and lollipops.  We had our trials, some of them bordering on epic, but we always found our way back to each other.  Maybe because my daddy incidently and just as a function of being who he was taught me courage of conviction.  Or maybe it was because he taught me that fear was only a reaction to a moment, not a life plan.  There is a ton of other stuff I could remember, but I think that I will stop here because I want this to be a little celebration of Daddy/Daughter love.  And I just want to remember that my mother was right: you do only get one.  But when it's done right, one is all you need.

Love you, my One and Only Daddy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mama On: Falling In Like

"Every pot needs a lid."

Okay.  This, again, is not totally original but my mother had a specific Mamaknological point to make when she said it to me.  My mother loved the concept of love.  She was completely dediated to the ideas of care, passion and fidelity.  More than that, she really liked my father.  She thought he was funny, smart, creative, and pretty darned good-looking.  The fact that he was crazy about her was icing on the cake.  She loved that my father was as enamored of her a she was of him, and she wanted that for me.

Heck, I want that for me.  Don't you want it for you?

Anyway, I remember once asking her HOW to fall in love.  I was about 13 and saw other girls with boyfriends and they all seemed to be in love, but the boys they chose seemed less than desireable to me.  Not that the boys were failing to make advances ... they did, but they were just the same little boys I'd always known.  Not one of them felt like anyone destined to be the Love of My Life.  Where was THE ONE for me?  When would he show up?  Would he ever show up?  Did he even exist?

Yes, my personal Mamaknologist assured me.

Yes, what?

"Yes, the right boy is out there for you and some day he will be the right man for you.  You'll know him because what you have with him will be different from the fun times you've had with every other friend in your life.  He will show you that it is good and right to trust him, that you are safe with him, and that being with him will make your life better in every way.  It may take a while, but you will find each other because every pot has a lid, but you're going to like him a lot.  And you've got to like your lid before you can find love with him."

It really is funny how the older we get, the wiser our parents become.  Over time, we all slide into like with a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, but it is rare that like ripens into anything sweeter.  When it does, wow, pots can find lids. 

I think my pot may have finally found the right lid -- not what I thought it would be, but definitely a good fit.  Only time will tell.  The lesson in Mamaknology that I am taking from this is that any relationship is worth the investment of time and that if you can't / won't / don't LIKE the person, you will never find a way to love them.  I've learned that even if it feels like the right person is never going to show up, you have to like the people around you.  Falling in like is the first step to falling and staying in love.