New Years Resolution

Of course I am going to make New Year Resolutions. What would a New Year be, without resolutions! Lose 30 pounds in on one week!

Happy New Year 2016, Y’all!

Happy New Year 2016

We made it!

It ain’t a joke entering a new year! I sat down, waiting for the clock to ring in mid-night, for the ball to drop, pondering about the uncertainty of entering a new year!

Particularly because, I was on the road, traveling out of state, away from my habitual residence, to join friends in welcoming the new year. I left Child of Mine behind, the second year in a row! I have to shamefully confess that, this is my second year, in a row, welcoming the New Year, away from Child of Mine, third out of the last four years

2013 – I was in Uganda, and welcomed the New Year with fellow Drinkers with a Running Problem, Kampala Hash House Harriers. On NYE, I went on a group run around Kampala City, thereafter hangout with the group, and at close to midnight, proceeded to Kololo hill to watch the fireworks.

2014 —I stayed home with Child of Mine, and we tossed to the new Year.

2015 — I went on a two-year run with Pocono Area Running Club, starting 23:00 on New Year Eve. The clock ticked mid-night —New Year’s Day, while alone the route. But I went back home that night and kissed a Happy New Year to COM!

2016 — I traveled to the Big Apple to join my Scandinavian friend, and his international group of friends in welcoming the New Year. I decided not to take COM with me, to give myself a break from “Being Mommy,” and a chance to “Be Doreen”. I left him with his cousins and grandmother, until the following night of New Year’s Day.

I made it safely into The City, in under two hours. I took a public commuter van into The City, for my sanity and safety —no worry about parking, falling asleep in traffic or getting stuck on the road. I slept the entire ride to The City, and woke up in time to hit the bright city lights, and right on time for the party!

Thankful for rich friends, who can afford $2M high rise apartments right above Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. Reminds me of my friend’s kids who used to cal me “Our Rich Auntie from the Hilton” [Story for another day]. I had a clear “Point of View” of the entire city, on the top @the35th. It looked good, a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the streets below, packed with New Yorkers and plenty of its tourists, trying to catch a glimpse of the ball dropping. [Oh! “The Ball” dropping! Oh the fireworks!].

Great night! Barilla pasta, and french bread; of Norwegian candy, and french champagne, of Norwegian cheese and middle eastern humus; all courtesy of my former Norwegian landlord in Oslo. An international night! With the Norwegian host, a Norwegian family, an American, a Chinese family, and a Dutch Italian pasta-making man [who made the pasta dinner], and this very Ugandan very American girl. Impressed that all the European men present said, they are the main cooks in the family!

The crowd was a pleasure! All intellectuals, and academics in universities and research institutions. We laughed, cracked joked, ate, drank, shared parts of ourselves, exchanged resolutions, and our confusions at the ‘disappearance’ of the Ball dropping and fireworks at the tick of New Year 2016!

I spent soundly throughout the night, with a beautiful view of The City, the harbor and the Hudson! I woke up, then went back to sleep, until I did not have to. Woke up, drank tea, shared our life trajectories, interrogated our insecurities and our hopes and dreams and commitments with the Dutchman, ate bread, drank more tea. Went for a New Year’s Day run in Central Park in the company of the flying Dutchman.

Back to our 35th, took a shower, went out to the grocery store and picked up a couple of ingredients for dinner. Made another pasta dinner, and tuna sauce and leftover champagne. Then it was time to head back to COM, onto the subway, the bus and Exit 302.

So, back to my resolutions

  1. Giving more gratitude to my family and friends
    i) My family, who love me regardless. I think, and I know, they love me unconditionally. Spoken or unspoken, they show me undying love. They don’t judge me, they don’t pressure me. They wait for me, to rise up, if I fall, and recuperate at my pace. They have outpouring love for Chid of Mine, steadfast love. I do not have to say it umpteen times, because they know I love them…as much as they love me…and I appreciate them. May 2016 be a year to see and enjoy the physical company of my family, more often.
    ii) My friends; I have the best friends in the world —one is Resting in Peace, around me! My friends, know me and appreciate me, regardless. I can call on them in an instant, and they will listen, and hold me down. They are the best the world could ever gift anybody. They inspire me, pump me up, remind me of the beauty of the life within me, and our shared friendships. They see the good in me, and remind me of my strength. They prompt me, knowingly or not, to hang on, hold on steadfast, and continue to pursue my best. May 2016 be the year filled with friendships. Hoping to see my friends in person this year.
  2. Understand Child of Mine (COM) much more. Continue working on being the best mother and father to this child. Work calmly and firmly with COM, listen as much as I speak to him. Support as much as I demand from him. Nurture as much as I suggest from him. Provide comfort and confidence as much as I teach him. Guide, as much as I learn from him. May 2016 also bring us another person into our lives —a partner and father figure for COM.
  3. Become Doreen, again. Do all the things I have always done to represent my brand. Lose the baggage — on my body, my mind, my head, and get back into my fit, healthy, fighter spirit again. Get back into winning and rising above all challenges. I am no stranger to this! Find the go-getter, creator and winning innovative Doreen.
    Keep an active on Social Media, communicating, learning, negotiating, and continuing to grow and thrive as a person and social being. Accepting the challenges of social media, challenge social relations and improve and grow my communication channels.
  4. Grateful, that social media has taught me not to take personal the differences of opinion, but negotiate my place and refine my views. I have become more accepting of difference of opinions and accepted alternative reactions, even when it is personal attacks against me or bitter responses against me. Social media is social living.
  5. Continue writing for fun, for meditation, for inspiration, to share, to relate to others, to learn, to teach and reach other. I hope to publish one or two writings in reputable fora. I hope to get back into writing for active citizenship of the African Diaspora and as a public intellectual.
  6. Focus on finding *meaning* in life, as a journey to *happiness*. 2015 gave reaffirmation that Emotional Intelligence/“Emotional Quotient,” is as important as “Intellectual Quotient,” or “Logic”. I felt vindicated by the social acknowledgement of “meaning” rather than just “happiness,” as key to a fulfilling life.
  7. I will keep treading the hard paths and staying the course. I will keep talking the hard talk, not shying away from it, irrespective of the audience. I will persevere, venture outside my comfort zone: commit to my social causes —of fundraising, building a brand; transforming my passion into my livelihood. I will bring my child with along with me, while we build a brand, to serve others, while also serving ourselves.
  8. Get back into the Dating Game. Intriguingly, 2016 started off with me in the “company of men”; the right kind of men, from the geographical zones I want to live. No! I am not running away; I am running into greatness. Never “actively searched,” but I am open to different avenues of finding love, real love and commitment. I want to date.
  9. Run four marathons in the year; three marathons will be fine. One marathon per season: winter, spring, summer and fall. If my finances will not allow me to sign up for one each season, at I will run a marathon on my own. I know I can wake up in the morning, and ran a marathon. But I hope to afford going out, and running with a group. I have identified four potential marathons, on my bucket list…two in my geographical location; one close to family [will need two air tickets] and will find another, possibly where another one of my family is located. Or another location without a need for a plane ticket or hotel accommodation.
  10. Finally, Give less Fcuks than POTUS gave 2015. With all the achievements on the economy, diplomacy, politics and social service, POTUS still got rotten eggs slammed at him, demeaned, undermined and belittled like a subhuman. So, rightly, he ran out of Fucks to give; haters gonna hate, and he just shook it off! Same here, I am plan to care less about failure, and more about trying again. I am going to pay less attention to disappointments, and devote more attention to rising up. I am going to devote less energy into self-criticisms, and more self-appraising. I am going to shut away the misgivings, misunderstandings, and under-appreciation. I will focus more on transformation, recovery, strength and achieving.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016 Y’ALL!

Santa Bebe Came Into Town!

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Yesterday was Christmas 2015. In our household, that means, first and foremost, “Santa Comes into Town,” per Child of Mine aka COM.
Yes, He still believes in Santa, I let him play along, or he is he making me play along! I am beginning to wonder, who is fooling who?
Oh well!

As well, Christmas is a day my family, who believe that, Jesus Christ is born and comes to bless their loves. So, I honor them with the privilege of being with them in spirit. I grew up in a Christian household, and we got gifted on Christmas with new clothes, shoes, and feasted on all sorts of special foods and treats on this day!

For 2015, we spent Christmas Day at the Lakshmi Cow and Animal Sanctuary in Bangor, Pennsylvania, a 30-minute ride from where we live. We signed up to volunteer to feed the animals, and share a meatless potluck lunch. We also volunteered to carry a dish/es with us. Everybody we hung out with, we were meeting for the first time. But we did not feel like strangers.

In fact, from the time at the Animal Sanctuary, I learned two things:

  1. I am a small god; my conscious and soul is that which makes me.
    I had never thought of myself as a “small god”; I call myself “a human,” and that’s the way I live my life. I believe in the notion of communitarianism, human living, I believe in Karma, in horoscopes, zodiac signs. I believe that we are the pioneers of our own lives.

Still, I will embrace my new-found realization that, “I am a small god,” because I believe our conscious guides our every action or inaction, thoughts or pronouncements. Our conscious cannot let us rest happily, whenever we are not representing ourselves or our social relations as we should.

  1. If I refuse to smile, I refuse to see positive about myself, and deny to live the beauty of life. I get myself stuck in negativity, stress, depression and agony. [Well, I knew that, but I guess I simply refuse to practice it. That was my mantra in 2013 —time has taken its toll on me. Challenge 2016

Well, I learned a couple of more things

  1. Just because you are Hindu Indians does not mean you are not scared of cows. Quite like the common stereo type that, “Africans live in perfect harmony, with no fear of animals or bugs, because, “They are Africans, duh!” I was shocked on seeing our Hindu lunch-mates running away from cows, while COM and I got into their face, up and close, feeding and patting them!
  2. Cows eat rice, they eat watermelon, they eat carrots, they eat bananas. Cows eat the same foods at humans. They eat cookies as well! Oh! Do not feed cows, by throwing food on the ground or in the dung; it is dirty and will get them sick!
  3. When a cow grows old or dies, do not ask, if it is slaughtered for food. It is buried or cremated. I had to bite my tongue, and not talk about those yummy beef cows in Uganda, that also give us Mulokoni [soup from cow hooves], hide for mats, and accessories, horns for decoration and accessories too, and lots of milk.
  4. By the way, cows farms exercise preferential treatment of their cows! Those who specialize in beef or milk cows do not keep newborn calves, but pass them onto other farms happy to take care of them.
  5. Turns out, I do not have to schlep myself all the way to an Ashram in India for a mom-free retreat, when there is one in my neighborhood, called Aisha Vidya Gurukulam! They’ve got classes for kids, as well, on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month. Me thinks, at my convenience! I might have to check that out.

I am re-living the fact that:

  1. Children bring blessings. Plenty of COM’s Christmas gifts this year were courtesy of my BFF, and golden Aunty Jude. And thanks to Cyber Monday, if at all there was any difference in price! Yes, I contributed, but I cannot thank my BFF enough for her kindest generosity; she always comes through! Living proof, you don’t need religion to do good, if you have a human heart!
  2.  Surprises are always welcome and greatly appreciated! Child procrastinated on writing his “Dear Santa List,”Christmas and thought he was not getting any gifts. Then Christmas morning he climbs upstairs, face to face with a living room full of gifts! He loved all his gifts, so he said, when I asked him. No special preferences!
    He was animated about plenty of the gifts, “No! No way! It’s a Wii U control [from his Dad]…Now I can play with Cole!”
    “Minecraft Legos! We can build together, mommy,” immediately co-opting me.
    But then he saw The Guitar, “This is all I ever wanted!”
  3. Live Life freely, wildly and be earthy! Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. In fact, take your child to venture out with you. If it is to feed animals on a rural farm on Christmas Day, go for it. Meatless potlucks, partake, and bring a dish! Hang out with retirees, like you are one of them; there will always be commonalities — running, gym, health eating, and vegetarianism. Experience is the best teacher!
  4. Always prepared to be flexible. Allow another person to dictate your schedule, sometime. Done with the Christmas Day, I planned to pat myself on the back and pop my collar for my “Santa Hat-trick,” settle down, sip my ginger tea, and read 109 pages of #JanetHalley’s Genealogy of #FamilyLaw.

Child of Mine had other plans, to drag me into building a Minecraft Lego City. I went in kicking and screaming, but in fact enjoyed becoming a “Minecraft Lego City Builder,” earned a “Stamp of Approval,” and very much enjoyed learning to lego- and Minecraft-away! Learning never stops!

I guess my biggest challenge is gonna be, returning to myself. Saying no to all the luring things that are not good to this body. It is gonna take 20 lbs under, to measure success — I literally need to tuck away that much! Yes, I am sick and tired of seeing this face, and have to drop it. I cannot give up on myself! Never!

And throughout all my experiences, I reconnected with the value of keeping positive, and letting positivity surround you. Yet, I still heartily believe that it is ok to share one’s sorrow and sadness, as a phase in life, a true testament of the human spirit and beacon of hope and optimism that things will always get better!

This is to hoping that everybody, near and far, had a fabulous Christmas Day. Let us continue to give, let us continue to love, and be loved. Celebrate!

Non-Religious Celebration of Christmas

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I never thought I would willingly and consciously arrange for Child of Mine to celebrate Christmas at my own volition. Not since I quit organized religion umpteen years ago! But, that is before I became a parent.

Before I realized that parenting is a totally new era in one’s life; of undoing one’s beliefs and comfort zone. Before I realized that parenting is not about you!

This year, I am gonna let Child of Mine experience a Christmas celebration, as part of my parenting.

On one hand, parenting is scripted. There are tons of books for new parents – the indisputable What to Expect series, starts When You’re Expecting…going all the way into the Second Year. It is so influential, that it was ‘canonized’ into a movie released in 2012, starring Cameron Diaz.

The alternative new parenting scripts include lessons that mothers of the Expectant mother/parents eagerly share, either unsolicited or unwelcome. Plus, Old Wives Tales, passed on through generations to expectant mothers and the new parents. Not to forget that, if the expectant parent(s) was/were born around little children — siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews, or friends children, The Parenting Script is available through first-hand observation.

Parenting, we tend to think, is easy peezy, right? Plenty of resources —reading all the books, listening to ‘experts’ advice and watching other parents! You swear to an entire Parenting Script of NEVERS!

- You vow never to repeat the ‘mistakes’ other parents commit against their children. 
- You will not allow an unruly child in your household. 
- You will not bend your rules to accommodate your child’s needs or demands. 
- You will not introduce your child to any systems of socialization that you do not adhere to, including religion, entertainment, schooling or relationships. 
- You will not babysit a five-year old child!

And many more!

Until one day, you actually become a parent! And wonder, whatever happened to your self-avowed script, the script passed down unto you by parents before you, the script you wrote when you were expecting, and the script you re-wrote as a new parent. Some among us even wrote our own What to Expect: The Birth Plan.

We also had our post-birth parenting scripted in our heads, laid out well-tested rules and regulations to maintain order, transmit culture and ‘good moral character’ into all children in our household.  Then, one wonder why you are making so many compromises to accommodate your child’s comfort over yours!

But none of the tolerable comforts include intimacy with organized religion or becoming indolent.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not have any problem with the religious. In fact, my best friend – RIP was religious. She is one of the very few people I know, beside my mom, and my mom’s father, that practiced the humanity of religion. She was more human than religious. She was never judgmental, yet she subscribe to the new religious revivalism. The pentecostals, baptists, and the whole nine yard, who scare you and ostracize you, that if you do not convert to JC, you will go to hell fire. Or that Allah is the only true path to afterlife, and there is “Judgement Day”, when everybody is gonna be judged according to their religious practices.

See, I come from a family of multiple religious beliefs. My mother’s father came from a Catholic family, but converted to Protestantism, growing up with a Protestant family. He went on to become a Reverend, serving the Protestant Church. Two of my sisters are married to Muslims; one of my sister’s ex is Catholic; my paternal family has plenty of other religions that I can only relate to old school protestantism and veganism. So, religious pluralism was never an option for me, nor religious tolerance a luxury; it was the humane way of life.

Religiosity is rife in Uganda, where I come from. There is a prevailing expectation that everyone is religious, and anyone who says s/he is not religious —that is— does not subscribe to any of the Judeo-Chiristain or Islamic religions—is often frown upon. Yet, there is a laissez-faire approach to religious tolerance.

It is not uncommon to hear the Catholic church bells toll at the top of the hour, or the Muslim call for prayer every morning and evening. Yet, the loud noise from these places of worship has not caused a societal revolt, but taken for granted as part of social living. To some, like my mother, the morning call for prayer from the neighborhood mosque has served as her wake-up alarm clock, since I was a child. Similar to the morning cock crow in the villages.

But in America and other western societies that count themselves as “civilized,” such loud ‘noise’ cannot be tolerate, as part of social living! Or perhaps there is selective tolerance of noise in different parts. For instance where I live, the church bells doth toll, yet it is unfathomable to imagine a tolerance of the Muslim Call for Prayer!

Exposure is fundamental to nurturing tolerance of others. My siblings and I attended Catholic schools, even though we were raised Protestant. We went along with the Catholic rituals at school—going to mass, reciting the rosary, observing lent period, and anything catholicism required of us.IMG_3347

None of us grew larger or smaller because of practicing a religion outside our beliefs, None of us felt indoctrinated and coopted, because outside school, we were still Protestant and went to Protestant Church. Plus, to reiterate, I have catholic family, whom I love regardless of their religion, and who I do not have the luxury of discriminating against.

Coming to America changed my relationship with religion. I ran away from religion, as soon as it started confusing me. I had never imagined that one can be religious, yet pray and support dropping bombs on others.

I don’t understand religion that welcomes strangers, yet excludes those who do not profess the same religion. I do not understand a religion, that also preaches love, then practices hate and prejudice. I do not understand a religion, where “sisterhood” is built on the notion of religious belief, not family connection or our common humanity!

Although I must say that I have been embraced by some religious communities — among the Mormons, Mennonites and Catholics—whose religious convictions is informed by a sense of community and a shared humans. I have felt very comfortable among them, never felt judged, ostracized or evangelized to, but welcomed and supported as a human being.

Coupled with my upbringing, I have remained open to embrace the religious, and allow my child get a glimpse into the various religions. We participate in religious festivities with family and friends.

But, I am not about to push him into any form of religious indoctrination. I realized that his family was not willing to incorporate him into their religious festivities because of his non-religious status, and stopped trying to get him introduced to their beliefs. On the contrary, my family takes a laissez-faire approach to him or myself, recognizing that we are more than our religious proclamations!

Still, religion is not too far from Child’s mind; he is learning about various religion from school teachers. Forget about separation of church and state, in public schools! We are talking about PA, not in NYC, where a school principal recently banned Santa, The Pledge of Allegiance, replaced Thanksgiving with “Harvest Festival,” and Christmas Celebration with “Winter Celebration!

Recently, curiosity caught the best of my Child,

COM: "Mommy, what is my religion?"
Me: "You don't have a religion."
COM: "Why don't I have a religion?"
Me: "Because I do not have a religion."
COM: "Can you check my DNA and find out what my religion is?"
Me: "So, I can know your religion from your DNA?"
COM: "Yes."
Me: "Child, you are clearly a Pennsylvanian."
COM: "Noooo! I want to be Ugandan."
Me: "Ok, you are that, too!"
[Thinking to self: Oh! It gets worse...Religiosity gets worse in Uganda!"]
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Still, we will not be subscribing to any organized religious gathering or denomination soon! But, we will accept any invitations for celebration. What better time than now in December, when we welcome Santa and his the elves, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, al bearing gifts on Christmas Day! While we do not put up any trees, decorate or sing carols, he gets opportunities of making trees with his Cub Scout Pack and makes Christmas wreaths and talks about JC in school.

At home, we are making gingerbread cookies, dressing up in green and red, and eagerly await Santa’s gifts under the chimney. I have already taken him around our neighbor to watch Christmas decorations and musical shows stationed in yards. No religious recitals! No religious talk!

And we will spiritually join our family in celebrating Christmas, as they do every year, and the years he was in Uganda. I doubt he remembers the celebrations in Uganda when he was three and four years. I want Child to learn that some people celebrate Christmas because of their religious beliefs. I strongly believe that exposure to religion, or other social experiments/systems, breeds understanding, and breeds religious tolerance.

The religious intolerance, witnessed among some Americas, is symbolic of when religion is treated as an “exclusive club” open only to the believers. Religion in America is largely about exclusion than inclusion of those who do not profess the same faith. Those who convert from one religion to another tend to ridicule the religion they left. Some religious groups are not receptive to curious non-religious, nor encourage partaking in the celebration of customer of other religions.

Contrary to my experience growing up with religion in Uganda. Eid Christmas and Easter are all designated as public holidays. Unlike America, only Christian holidays are accorded public recognition — Christmas is conveniently scheduled as “Winter Break,” and  Easter as “Spring Break,” celebrated as days-off from work, and big shopping weekends at commercial establishments. A few establishments, employers and cities would grant “a day-off” for Muslims to celebrate Eid; in New York City, Jewish holidays and recently the Muslim Eid are designated as days-off in the school calendar. Of course the atheists and satanists aint celebrating all these religious display, in their faces!

But I want my own child growing up, with an understanding that, while mommy is non-religious, some people celebrate religious holidays. I also want him to understand that there is nothing wrong with the religious and non-religious, and none is better or more knowing than the other; they all belong to the same global society.

In fact mommy’s family is religious, and mommy friends who are religious. Mommy’s best friend who died was religious. But Auntie Jude and mommy are not religious.

I want to know that parenting involves setting goals, and exercising flexibility when raising our children as social beings. Most importantly, I want Child to know that what binds us together is our common humanity. We should be good and strive to do good to others, not because we are bound by some religious doctrine or conviction, but because it is the human thing to do.

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An article in Chicago Tribune profiles former Stanford Dean Lythcott-Haims, among other writers like Jessica Lahey (“The Gift of Failure”) and Jennifer Senior (“All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood”), speaking to “Helicopter Parents” to Let It Go! Let the children be, children! Have a life of your own! You can also call them “Socca moms” or Drill Surgeons, they are in the face of their children, and anyone involved with their children.

Lythcott-Halms cites statistics on the rise of depression and other mental and emotional health problems among the nation’s young people, as justification that, perhaps Helicopter Parents are doing more harm than good, by micromanaging their children’s lives, trying to churn them into super-high achievers. Points to the growing concern that many young people are “adultscents” stuck in “waithood”!

I wrote recently about Parenting on a Shoe-String of Hope, that, regardless of how much we invest into our kids, there is no guarantee that they will turn out with the discipline, commitment, self-drive, kindness and love, we so strive to impart in them and desire! Parenting is not a game, yet it is a “Hit and Miss”!

Now, we have more parents, parent psychologists and scholars sharing their experiences and views on how we, as a society of parents, are fairing in grooming our children, the critical thinkers, national builders and leaders of after years. Or could it be “now years,” since children no longer waiting till adulthood to woo their societies as inventors, leaders, scholars, business gurus, artists, and employers.

At least children are gaining some recognition, that they are not just diaper-clad, video game, Minecrafters, demanding their “me-time” and “me-decide,” while expecting for papa and mama to make their bed, provide a food and monthly allowances, after-college rent, and plane tickets to global vacation destinations! Perhaps, here, we could boast that our “Helicopter parenting” has paid off, or are the ‘mature’ ones not products of helicopter parenting?

But, are we “Helicopter Parenting” out of unfounded paranoia, or are we justified?
Fear of the “known unknown” — rapists, kidnappers, murderers, has driven us to safeguard our children much more. I would argue that they rise of the known-unknowns could be an outcrop of the diminishing family size, progressively excluding aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandparents [referred to in Western Culture as “Extended Family”], and collapsing into a nuclear family of mom, dad, plus one or two children. Additionally family is increasingly “private and estranged from community relationships and neighborhood watch.

Back in the days, a child belonged to the community, which kept a watchful eye, disciplined, freely interacted and played with one another. Today, our children need [in]formal permission, an invitation and scheduled playdate with the neighbor’s child. We are scared of our neighbor(s), do not always know our neighbor, and have replaced innocent trust with restraint. The neighbor [though not all neighbors] is no longer looking out to protect but harm our children and restrict our children’s play.

Ironically, the “fear of thy neighbor,” has undermined our much celebrated “neighborhood watch,” diminished social responsibility to protect our kids, instead churning out more predators with harmful and malicious intent and practices in our neighborhoods. We as neighbors are distancing ourselves further away from each another, with a diminishing obligation to commit and love one other.

Nothing speaks to the shrinking “modern family” size, values and protection than the ‘disappearance’ of blood relatives in raising our children. Not even the unconditional support of family in raising our children, can be taken for granted anymore! Grandparents and younger siblings are no longer “automatic babysitters” for our children; they have lives to live! Growing up, I babysat my nieces and nephews, supported my older siblings households without question, protest or bitterness.

Today, the true meaning of family is not a social network you can take for granted, or a social guarantor of love and support, unconditionally. Family is now a site of wary, each on collision course of survival for the fittest. Parents are struggling to stay afloat on their own, as the main guardians of their children, sometimes separately.

The expectation that every parent contributes to parenting, regardless and with no emphasis on how much overt love was expressed toward the children. Now, the phenomenon of absentee father is a huge blight on parenting, and the survival and proper functioning of families, The absentee father is not only non-custodial, but also pops in and out of his child’s life at own convenience, or lives-in with both child and child’s mother, but is more focused on his own life than family welfare.

Thus, the rise of the “Helicopter Parent(s),” not primarily to outpace others children in a survival for the fittest, but also to compensate for the burden and responsibility of raising children as single parent and/or without the additional support of relatives and society. Helicopter parents are as much concerned about the future success of our children and ability to stay afloat in a cut-throat world.

Yet, we are constant bombarded with parenting practices, suggestive but guilt-tripping us, national laws and policies to adhere to, ‘concerned neighbors’ and ‘social watchers’ quick to condemn our parenting skills, and tell on us to the authorities, because in their view, we are not good parents.

Amidst the Economic Hardship, Parents are Still Raising their Children on their Terms

Even amidst the economic hardship that has defined America’s workforce for nearly a decade, parents are still raising their children on their own terms. Many couples and single parents are finding ways of staying on top of their children’s learning, health, nutrition, wellness, sports and social engagement, while at the same time negotiate their economic survival above water.

It is also true, once again, that educated parents are more likely to take the drastic decisions that put their children at the center of their lives. Yet, single or married, parents are also trading in financial comfortable and higher paying jobs and taking on low paying less stressful jobs that allow them more time to lounge around, and avail them with more conveniency  and time with their children. It is not uncommon now for parents with graduate and post-graduate degrees to opt for elementary teaching jobs, work-from-home, start-up own business or volunteer with a local charity, church or coop, in the name of managing their time on their terms. Couples are either working together or ‘trading spaces’, dividing the time as “stay-at-home’ parent or the ‘main-parent-of-contact-at-home’ at a particularly time. Granted it is typically mothers taking on “CEO-of-Home Affair”, but fathers working from home or with more flexible professions, as academic professors, for instance, are  increasingly taking on more time at home with their children. Single parents (often mothers), without the support network of an extra parent are also finding ways of risking it for the sake of their children.

Among these parents, plenty are now homeschooling their children, for various reasons ranging from – concern about the quality of public education available to them, the constraint against their beliefs (often religious) and values absent in the public school system, the love to engage their children in ‘alternative education and learning’, and their sedentary work lives that do not allow them to settle in one geographical space all year-around. Once again, the economic choices such parents have embraced are also a huge determinant of how they are raising their children. I know a couple who quit their permanent habitat and employment, rented out their house, and took on a travel lifestyle with their two 4 year and 5 year old girl and boy respectively. Preferring a minimalist lifestyle without much material possession, and opting for chance to expose their children to the world, both parents took on a career in photography for a living,. They live in their car, on the road, camp out in open spaces, and occasionally spend a night or two at any of their friends for a chance to do laundry and enjoy a warm meal. I have married friends, where the mother opted to teach in Virtual School so she could stay at home with their growing children, while the father went out to work. Another mother-friend works from home, as director of programs at an organization with North American offices. Husband goes out to work in the office, a couple of days a week, then comes home early to spend some time with their daughter. Another professor friend, with a career in international politics, spends a larger part of the year traveling abroad for conferences, research and teaching. Her husband, who runs a home business has been more available to take care of the kids since their childhood and run the household.

I know you may be saying that I am talking about well-to-do parents or those who have made choices of convenience. Not the “real-world” struggling parents, whose life choices may not  put their children center-stage. The “real world” couples and single parents, who may not have the luxury to decide that being around their children transcends all other parental responsibilities. In most cases, these parents trust a “third party” with a larger part of their children’s upbringing, either a grandparent, a daycare/nightcare center, school or friend, while they are out to work. Yes, their children do matter very much to them, but they have to earn a living to afford to ’satisfy them’ and ’shower them with love’.

Yet even couples whose careers are “child-centric” can still attend to clients outside the home or out-of-town, take vacation alone or with their partner, go out to dinner and meet up with friends. They just have to call on the grandparents, some not living too far from them, or living with them. If not, CARE.com is an e-click away. I am also aware of single mothers, not receiving lavish child support from the absentee father, who have decided to run their careers and lifestyles around their children. It is a huge sacrifice, especially without the support, even if occasional, of a second partner or a family network. Like a friend, a single mother of two girls, with a full-time night-duty job but still on top of her children’s education. She enrolled them in the state online/cyber program, and hired a coach to oversee their study when she wants time off to run errands and take care of family business. She does not like to enroll them in public school, which she feel does not provide a respectful place for their religious beliefs nor a good learning environment, yet she cannot afford a private education. A single mother friend living in The City, quit her job at a huge private philanthropy with international travel opportunities to dedicate more time to her six-year old son and budding home business. Another mother chooses opportunities that fit within her single parenting lifestyle and resources availed to her, to allow her drop her son off at the bus everyday, pick him up from the school bus after school, and spend as much time venturing outside over the weekends. He professional career choices include taking up research fellowships abroad, home-based consultancies, work-from-home paid employment and building her social entrepreneurship. She also wants to ensure proper health and wellness, social skills, manner and a well-rounded development for her son.

Yes, there is a cost to pay, but life is a “cost-benefit analysis”! We all live by “opportunity cost”, choosing and picking from the ‘bountiful’ of menu availed but not always accessible to us. After all, teaching and learning continues across geographical spaces. One can attained a US education, while living on a military base in Germany or providing humanitarian assistance in a refugee camp in Nakivale. The opportunity to engage in one’s child[ren]’s learning is a highly courted luxury not affordable to many. Those opportunities are especially so lost on many parents without high education or financial independence. They work two to four jobs a day, just to make the next paycheck (or not), with no time left to sit down and immerse themselves in their children’s learning and development. Without much flexible to make it to their children’s next game or music concert, play, or the doctor’s appointment. They do not have plenty of time to read to their kids before they go to bed, sit down and do homework with them or play outside with them. Yet in the end, their lives might end as miserably as the Portuguese woman, who had four jobs, took a nap in the car, where she lost her life —and there ended her American dream!

The Trials and Tribulations of a “Strong Personality”

A strong personality is often admired in business, professional, personal and family relations. One is applauded for ‘keeping their head, when all others around are losing theirs”. There is no pride in being a wimpy child, a loose canon, or loose lips. Even as a parent, it is admirable to be strong for one’s child(ten) at all times to reassure them that “everything is gonna be alright”. Moreover, a mother is often expect to hold it down stronger than the father, as the key nurturer and builder of her children’s characters. So, we do not really have an ok to cry in front of our children (some psychologists might say otherwise), or go on a rant about our challenges and frustrations in marriage, parenting and relationships between co-parents. For the sake of our egos, even amidst torment and torture from life’s miseries or challenges, plenty of us often tend to keep a strong face to appear sane and happy. Thus the most common cliche, “I am fine, thank you” or “I am doing great, thanks”, even when one is dying inside. A strong personality is also a measure of good mental, psychological, emotional and personal health. What happens, then, when that “strong personality” is eating away at one’s heart, comfort, confidence and emotional stability?

strong personality

I am one of those [self-] identifying as having a strong personality, which I attribute to circumstances from my childhood that were not always beautiful and simplified. No! I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, even though I have tested food on ‘silver platters” many a times. I do not know if my strong personality has anything to do with the fact that I was the only child of my parents born outside my family home? Perhaps, maybe? But I know that as the second last child of my mother, I grew up observing the lifestyles and life choices of my older siblings, some of which I committed myself never to repeat. My family household was not all too beautiful, either, as do plenty of families I know with children from multiple maternal sources. Though I should add that, I grew up around family friends who got along so much easier than our family, without a glaring indication that they were from multiple mothers. I attribute this to their father, the source of the multiple mother, successfully ensuring that all children felt ‘equally’ loved and represented in the family.

Anyway, the other attribute that shaped my “strong personality” has to be growing up around children from very well-to-do or upper class families, while my family was pretty much “lower middle class”. The beauty about Uganda back then was that, one could afford to “rub shoulders with the rich and famous”, without coming from an upper class lifestyle. Children from peasant background made it to elite schools with children of the rich because of their good grades. Not exactly the same anymore, as money now dictates the kind of school one goes to, which are a strong determinant of one’s future life trajectories. Elite lifestyle is pretty much pre-determined for the rich, who can afford an ‘elite’ education from childhood, ultimately preparing their children for an elite higher education, and most certainly elite post-school employment.

Once again, the need for a “strong personality” seems more than necessary if anyone is to breakthrough the gutters to active belonging and participation in society. This implies that one has to withstand all sorts of humiliation, bullying, dirty talk and discrimination to become “a person”. To breakdown or cocoon under pressure and feeling of “a nobody” is not an option. In fact, it is a demand of “Survival for the fittest” in a cosmopolitizing global culture, as well as ‘successful’ parenting in mother-only households. A breakdown in front of one’s children is not a desirable option. In fact, sharing one’s frustration about an ‘absentee’ and disrespectful father with the children is scorned upon, lest they grow up damaged and not able to live normal lives in future. Even at job interviews and in personality tests, a strong personality is expected to reign supreme over any discomforts, trials and tribulations, which are considered ‘insignificant externalities’ in the pursuit of professional success. Moreover, it takes a strong personality to depart from ‘the established norm’, like women who revolutionized women’s dress code to include pants, and black people mainstreaming afro and natural hairstyles in white social and corporate culture. The introduction of non-white European cultural celebrations, foods, dresses, language, education, and languages in school systems of cosmopolitan settings  like New York, all demand a strong personality.

The question is who helps the helpers? Who helps the strong personalities when they need a little tender love, reassurance that everything is gonna be alright? When they have to put up with plenty of other beings who depend on their effort to remain strong? I was talking to a Muslim American woman the other day, who shared her discomfort that her husband was in the process of taking on another wife. Of course, she accepts that as part of her religious practices, and was well aware at marriage that time will tell. Though, acceptance of a norm is not agreeing to nor comfort with the practice. I could tell, she wished she did not have to welcome a “sister-wife” aka “Co-wife” into her marriage, but it is too late. She was born into this religion, and practices all its tenets sacrilegiously, including staying in a polygamous relationship. She has to put on her strong personality for the sake of her sanity, her family and her children. Yet, it is her strong personality that eats up her heart. Plus, she is a product of a double culture (may be more than a double); she is muslim and she is America. The latter preaches individual consent to a monogamous marriage, while the former involves family and religion in blessing the potentially polygamous marriage. I guess that same is true with African women who subscribe to polygamous family relations, not because they are happy ever after, but perhaps for the greater good. I have one such friend, and I have always thought I would be comfortable under such circumstances. Now I wonder! Perhaps it is not so easy and simple in practice. Perhaps my strong personality would fail me. For now, I believe that is pretty much all we got to hang onto and cherish for the sake of survival, acceptance and interaction within our social living. Over and above, a strong personality is what we need to get our next shelter, next meal and next paycheck; it is what is required of “belonging to society”.

Of course! You can be a Single Mom and Career Woman!

Photo on 3-23-14 at 10.33 #3I have heard the kind of talk that “you cannot be a single mom and a career woman”. To which I say, such are short of big dreams….! After all, a typical woman, married or not, typically raises child(ren) as a single mom while balancing more than one career. For clarity, I define a “single mom” herein as a mother predominantly in-charge of the major task of child rearing – carrying a fetus to full-term to delivery, caring for the newborn by nursing, clothing, feeding, bathing, aiding in growth milestones, and responding to all her child[ren]’s emotions and attachment, until the child[ren] is of age to be called an adult. I am still insist that unless one is devoid of own parents, siblings, daycare, nannies and babysitters, friends and school community, the notion of “single mom” is an oxymoron. But that is a battle for another time.

 
First off, motherhood is a career on its own; moreover the hardest job in the world! So, hats off to any woman who agrees to lose a part of self to spare time and effort toward this very worthy cause. As mothers, we should give credit to that career, by embracing and applauding out loud, rather than ‘conveniently forgetting’ to remind the world that we are working full-time, even when we are not in an ‘brick and mortar’ office outside our households. The challenge is that the main public face of a “career mother” is the feminist-mentality that most often equates “career” with holding  9-5hrs job, in a ‘brick and mortal’ outside the family house, and earning a monetary reward.
 
I recently read a statement from a female academic scholar who claimed that, “good mothering”, … when mothers stay at home to hug their children, cook for them, wash their clothes, works well only in households where there is another adult who works for an income outside the household. Otherwise, single female-run households daring to be “good mothers” are doomed into poverty and death. I immediately thought of how absurd and dangerous such a statement is! Especially coming from an academic, often given much credibility  as “über intelligent” by the public, that regards them as possessing higher levels of reasoning and capacity to supersede ordinary and extraordinary achievement. Moreover, women in academia typically overcome too many obstacles regarding family and societal expectations and labeling, the classroom environment, and support systems [or lack thereof] to achieve the highest honors and credentials of a PhD. By implication, impossible is nothing! Yet such pessimistic statements go against that thinking. 
 
Let me just say that, while I do not hold a PhD yet, I can fully attest that it is possible to be a single mothers or single-headed household and not wallow in poverty and death, as Ms. Academic lady says. Moreover, you can still be a career woman, and hug your kids at home, cook for them, give them a bath and tuck him into bed. As I have said, being a mother is already a career, and plenty of women around the world are already multitasking as “single-mothers-career-woman” married or not. 
 
Most women who get pregnant do not sit down and cease all active lifestyles. Instead, they carry the growing fetus while managing homes, working in the shambaas, growing food for the family, washing clothes, cooking food and carrying their load, and working in “brick and mortar” offices. We have encountered pregnant women carrying firewood and food on their heads, and those with little ones carrying children on their backs. Or mothers harvesting cotton, while carrying children on their backs. Mothers of multiple children cook, prepare meals and weed the gardens with children in their back. Even in academia, women walk back and forth classrooms as students, writing papers and conducting research, or teachers preparing lectures, grading exams, supervising dissertations, while attending to their children at home or carrying another pregnancy. The same applies to women working in the corporate sector, pregnant or with small children also catered for in the 24 hours each day.
 
I am not saying that any of these women are having it easy, nor can I claim with certainty that they are not. I do not know their circumstances. If I step into their shoes, I would imagine they deal with life on a day-to-day basis, while striving to fulfill their goals -short or long term. Perhaps they put off some dreams, and sacrifices personal wishes. That is what I do as a single mother with a child, trying to pursue a professional monetary rewarding career. Of course, I have had moments of shared motherhood for my son, with my mother, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, friends, my son’s teachers and a once upon a time baby sitter. When I made the choice  to have some “me time” -taking care of my professional, social or fitness and wellness life. 
 
Reading a piece by Kathy Caprino about Why It Is So Damaging To Tell Women They Can’t Have It All (And Why I am So Tired of Hearing It) in Forbes Online, July 4, 2014I love this piece! Particularly because, like Caprino, I hear so often from women of status, of privilege, of class, in a position of mentoring younger women or budding female leaders with the mantra that “trying to have it all comes at great pain and sacrifices.  It saddens me that this the “new breed of feminism”, highly likely to influence young female minds with the rhetoric that you have to choose either or, instead of letting people embrace the limitlessness of the sky…Life is not about 9-5, ‘corporate suit’ or ‘academic gown’ or ‘sitting in a brick and mortar’ outside the household establishment! It is about “lemons into lemonade”

 
I agree with Caprino that, “… to frame the entire discussion  –  and the way you view your life and your world – in this negative, limiting and pessimistic way sets us up to believe, “I can’t have everything I want in my life when I want it, and I’m doomed to fail.  So why try?” It also makes us think that there is some objective standard of “all” that we have to live up to.”
 
Life is about the choices you make and how you balance your choices. On my part, I have had to work around my son’s schedule, and traveled with him whenever I went. When he turned one, we went to another country and my day-time schedule allowed me to drop him off to day school and pick him up at the end of the day. The same happened until his fifth birthday. I refused to take on a nanny or baby sitter, preferring instead to put my son in pre-school, where he would interact with other kids of his age while at the same time learning. Yes, I was earning a living, and had a thriving professional and personal life. Those I engaged with professional knew that I had a young child came first in my life because I had sole responsibility for his welfare. They agreed to with my time schedule, and I made sure that I gave them a worthy return on the time they invested in me. I picked my son up from school, made him dinner, gave him a bath, read to him and tucked him into bed, woke him up in the morning for school, bathed him, fed him breakfast and drove him to school. I did not feel any pain or regret for doing any of that nor a loss of wages or career success. I also learned to trust my family to help out with my son when I was unavailable, especially during the long school holidays or when I was off with my running group when I shared motherhood with them. 
 
So, it is not so much that female-headed households cannot balance professional career and family welfare, it is about the kind of choices we take on. There are plenty of women whose careers involve working from home as virtual teachers, online and tele-communication women or run own businesses.  There are plenty of ways women can recreate themselves, even as single mothers/female-headed households, to afford a paying career and the luxury (yes it is so much now) or tucking their kids into bed, if that is something they would really love to do.