Teaching School Children is Blissfully Rewarding!

In many ways, Child of Mine aka COM reminds me a lot about myself. He is a very popular kid, just like his mother was back in her young days. Well, she still is, for a fact [smile]. Except, my child is not the “naughty childish-type” I was. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I used to skip compulsory school meals and church services, just because I did not want to!

My child is loved! And for that, I am so grateful.

It’s a pleasure watching a kids’ stampede, just to touch, speak, or sit next to COM. Even in his absence, kids tell me how he is the best thing ever invented! Not even sliced bread [or should we say, pizza] comes close. He’s everyone’s favorite, super nicest person, ever! “He does nothing wrong, never” as I was told by one of his former classmate.

At his elementary school, I am now known as “Biko’s Mom” —“because I do not have a name of my own,” or “Mrs. Henderson” —“because I derive my relationship from my child!”

Please believe that I had no influence in getting renamed by these child friends of COM. It is just because, most kids I now know are through my child —at his elementary school, on the school bus, martial arts school, library, birthday parties, community activities or play parks.

These are kids who know COM from the same Kindergarten, First or Second Grade class, belong to the same school Recycling Club, met him at birthday parties of their relatives and friends, through Cub Scout, Tae-Kwon-Do or Tang Soo Do. Some even recognize me from dropping him off at the school bus! They all rave to me, how amazing he is, and spoil me with outpouring attention, and free hugs!

These past couple of days, I’ve been with a Second Grade class where literally, everybody knows my child! One of the kids decided to call me, “Mommy.”

“She’s Biko’s mother!” said another.

Then, they had a change of heart, “Can we all call you Mommy?”

And just like that, I was no longer, “Ms. Lawenger,” but “Mommy!”

The change of name came with showers of favors: ushering me to comfortable sitting, “rest while we complete our work.”

They covered me with my coat to keep me warm; I became the class pet.

Two girls offered to bring him to me from his class at the end of the both school days. I completely forgot he had Recycling Club on Day Two, when I gave them a go-ahead to bring him to me. He came in, confused that I had called him, and went back in haste, “Mommy, I have Recycling Club!”

My day ended with smiles, hugs, spontaneous “Thank You cards,” colored pictures, and unwavering attention throughout the day. One brought a gift bag from home containing an assortment of candy, with a “Thank you for helping us learn and play” note.

 

At the end of day, I told COM about all the love I got, thanks to him, and the many “children I am now mommy to”. He was overjoyed to partake of his celebrity moment! No surprises, his dreams  in the night were loud and filled with laughters, which he told me was because he heard “choruses of mommy,” from the kids my class in his dreams.

 

Ready for more surprises? The next day, as Art Teacher, my first morning class was, “my kids” from the last two days! They all engulfed me in a big family hug, as their teacher looked on in astonishment. She, too, thanked me for a wonderful job! Honored, is an understatement; had to fight back teary eyes!

I love kids, and I love teaching. I am so grateful that I allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone of teaching college and graduated school level, demystifying to myself “Teaching in K-12.” Day by day, I become more comfortable in the classroom, more savvy with teaching aides, more technical following lesson plans, incorporating, or developing my own whenever need arises. I am more energized by the students in my classrooms, and more strategic navigating tough classrooms.

I now know how to command a classroom, dealing with badly behaving students, extending incentives for good behavior, and “putting the shine” on those students making great choices. My students, naughty or nice are as memorable to me, as I am to them.

I meet them at the grocery store or community events, at our local library or COM’s after-school events. Some tell me when they see me running along the streets, during morning or afternoon “bus duty,” or walking in the hallway.

As a friend once told me, “Children Bring you blessings.” Thus, my commitment to share of the blessings of education to children everywhere in the world, by mobilizing as many people to join me in giving a part of ourselves, to promote access to education.

Every change you give can make a change. To you it might be a roundtrip bus or train fare to work; to children somewhere in rural Uganda, it is a dozen of school books and writing materials.

Please join me in giving to the Fishing Communities of Ssi Bukunja in rural Uganda, through the African Social Development & Health Initiative, an organization founded and run by native-born of the area. This is my Birthday Wish and commitment 2016

https://www.crowdrise.com/celebrate-d-lwangas-b-day-with-uganda-fishing-communities

Children bring you blessing. Be Blessed!

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!

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.  

Everyday, I have to understand Racism

Dr. Jeremiah Gibbs, a white married christian male shared his “coming of age with racism in America”, when he wrote, The Day That I Started to Understand Racism, inspired by his experience as an adoptive/foster parent (with his wife) of a black child.

“Our first weekend together we were on our way to a birthday party and had to stop to get a last minute addition to our gift. We had to stop at a store that was in a town not far from our own. That town had a long and well-known history of racism. So as we got out of the car to walk into the store, I began to run scenarios through my head. What might I do if someone in this store makes a racist remark to this boy that has been given to my care? Should I just ignore it as if the comments don’t matter? Surely I cannot let that be OK for my new son. Should I confront the racist jerk and tell them how ludicrous their comments are? I couldn’t imagine what I might say. Would I just respond with violence and stand up against injustice? That didn’t seem like a Christian response and no one likes to go to jail.(March 18, 2014, http://jeremiahgibbs.com/2014/03/18/the-day-that-i-started-to-understand-racism/. Accessed May 13, 2014)”

I can perfectly related to all these questions, even though I am neither white nor a parent of a white or multi-racial (white and black) child. I am a black woman of continental African origin, living in suburban America. I am a mother of an African American child of lighter skin color than myself, that he has sometimes thought of himself as white. Well, he is five-years old, and recently returned to America from living abroad where racism or race was not a fronted identity or discussion. He is just a lovely baby, an American baby, and since I have lived in America for most of my adult life, I consider myself an American.To my friends and family back in my country of origin I am an America, though not the same with my American friends here. In a way, this is a good and a bad: good because it gives me “a pass” with white friends (“You are not like those black people,” I have been told more than once). A bad because it allows me that uncomfortable pass, which I ride with, because I do not want to “disturb the status quo”. Partly, this is why I can relate to Dr. Gibbs’ story, most especially when I am running outdoors, and when I go around looking for work.

Let me tell you why running in my neighborhood revokes feelings of fear, anger and insecurity in me, similar to Dr. Gibbs’ experience. I love running and jogging in my neighborhood, through the trees and waters. I barely see anyone running in my neighborhood. Perhaps they do, but not at the time I go out at 8:30am, when many are either out for work or are on their way, during the week, or sleeping in over the weekend. My neighborhood has plenty of older retirees, who got tired of the back and forth vacation travel up here, and decided to settle for good. The neighborhood is within a ski mountainous zone, attracting plenty of winter sports and vacation in the mountains. There are, as well, middle-age couples who got tired of the bustle and hustle of city life in New York and New Jersey, and settled here with family. Many commute everyday to work in New York City and New Jersey. That group is for the most part open-minded to folks from all walks of life; in typical NYC experience. Then there are the “original settlers” or long-term residents, some who still have the confederate flag on their big trucks. That group scares me.

Generally, I run around my neighborhood with no incident of disrespect or attack on me. I run mostly along the roads/streets but without pedestrian walk/run platforms, most motorists politely move over to allow me running space. Sometimes, I get a High-5 or honk, and sometimes I catch a smile. Most often I do not make eye contact, in respect of the “societal taboo” against staring at people, but as well due to my inner “insecurities” of running in a predominantly white neighborhood. I fear offending anyone, if I am caught looking at her/him. True, I get the rude pushovers. I have been honked at rudely, literally ran off the tarmac, given a finger, and near spat at by a drive-by male in a passenger seat. I have also been intentionally hit with leftover foods. Please believe it! One Winter Sunday, while running back home on my last leg, a car slowed down while approaching me with two middle-aged white folks. They threw leftover foods out of their window targeted at me, and drove off. Fortunately, it missed me by a thread, but I did not survive a bruised ego. I cried running my last leg home, and I wished that I had recorded the registration plate, said something or chased the vehicle to the stoplight and told them off. Since my instinct is not to fight, especially when dealing with a people of ‘higher’ societal privilege, I let it burn. Still, it haunts me, and I cry again sometimes when I remember that incident. I ask myself similar questions like Dr. Gibbs, how can I let such evil acts flyby? But I did.

But there is another very vocal resident of in my neighborhood that repeatedly outwardly disapproves of my presence in the neighborhood – “Holy dogs”. That fact that white people’s dog generally hate and bark at black people is hidden in plain view. That these dogs generally do not like black males or look-a-like males is also an established truth, especially if you are walking or running in their neighborhood. And if like me, you have low cropped hair, typical of a male, I wonder if that is an additional disadvantage. It is so humiliating when dogs – small, large, old or puppies bark at me through their house windows, fences or chase after me from their yards when I am running on the main street, not on their property. I have been bitten by dogs, so I do not take “my dog is sweat, nice to us and our cats and eats from our plates” crap. I also believe that dogs are trained and socialized to respond differently to different people. Most white people’s dogs are socialized [intentionally or not] to respond to black people harshly. From experience running in my neighborhood, I have witnessed a white person walk past a home in front of me without the dog(s) barking at her. When I came in sight, they started barking. There is a house by the road, where dogs chase after me from their yard, even after seeing me run past multiple times. Another time while running through the neighborhood, a dog charged me and barked at me repeatedly, while its owner sat on the front porch merely calling it back. I stopped running but the dog would not bulge. Each time I tried to move, it charged toward me. I begged the neighbor for what seemed like five minutes to come restrain his dog, until he felt ‘kind’ enough to get up and call his dog back home, by throwing a bone or play toy at it.

Once again, I asked myself why I did not notify the police? I guess my hesitation to involve the po po comes from my internalized understanding of racism in America, and fear that racism could prevent the police from responding to me. Even as an educated woman from an elite US university, sentiments about the unfair US criminal justice cannot simply fed away. So, I keep on running, hoping my neighborhood and the dogs would get used to my face and body, and accept that I am not gonna stop running unless they knock me over or eat me up. But for now, I keep on the main streets, and wear bright neon colors, to avoid giving anyone an excuse to run me over because, “they did not see me; I was too dark”. As much as I would love trail running, I keep away to avoid stirring anyone from shooting me for “trespassing” in their backyard. It is a privilege white folks can risk, well, unless you are a German exchange student at a high school in suburban Montana (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/father-german-exchange-student-killed-montana-homeowner-slams-u-s-gun-culture-article-1.1775600).

Similar thoughts came to me once, while trail-running with a team in a predominantly white neighborhood or Marietta, Georgia. We run through woods and streams, and in people’s backyards, without anybody shooting or shouting at us or calling the police on us. Well, I was running with a predominantly white group, and the only one of two black folks. A week later, while running in South West Atlanta, I did not feel brave enough to trail-run by  myself, ironically in a predominantly black neighborhood. Why? Randomized surveys done on street racism have showed that blacks are as much likely as whites to profile black people. In a staged “bike theft” in a public park, part of ABC TV series, “What Would You DO?”, results showed that when it was a young white male cutting a bike chain off a stand,  people looked on, asked questions and expressed shock when he told them the bike did not belong to him. All except one (out of 100) continued on without confronting him or calling the police. Even more revealing, when the “staged bike thief” was a white female, as passerby’s offered her immediate help to free the bike from the chain. Only one woman protested to her husband helping free the bike, and another called the police after she had left the scene. However, when it was a young black male wearing identical clothes as the white male, passerby’s immediately (white and black people) confronted him, congregated, confiscated his tools or immediately called the police. When asked to account for their actions, both blacks and white people pointed to their biases against “personal appearance”. Black people said “first impression matters”…..and…”they thought the white guy worked in the park.” White people generally said they were looking out for private property, some even claimed race did not matter. So, there you have it!

Sometimes I worry about running into a serial killer or kidnapper along my route, especially while running new, quiet and isolated neighborhoods. I guess it comes from watching too many “Forensic Evidence”, “Unresolved Mysteries”, “20-20” and “48 hours” TV shows. Pretty much all of the crimes featured happened in suburbs similar to where I live. I have heard from moms at my son’s bus stop that they are plenty of drug users in the neighborhoods, and some have been busted in the police. Then I worry whether, being a black person, anybody driving or walking by would care if they saw a guy forcing me into his car? On my recent Saturday long distance run, while trying to discover a new running route in the neighborhood. I got onto a new street with a few houses. From a distance, I saw three white males and a white woman standing by the road and “burning something”; there was smoke likely from a fire. My heart skipped, but I was scared of showing my fears by turning back. I worried they could chase after me, so I proceeded on. I guess they sensed my fears and said, “hello”, when I got close to them.

Perhaps I am too paranoid, but that goes to show how institutionalized racism is experienced differently by black folks. I always wonder whether a white person would have to skip a beat at such an encounter! The feeling of “I do not belong here” is so real to me everyday in this neighborhood, even when I am inside my home. I hate it when sometimes I say hello to person across walking or running in my neighborhood, and they do not respond.

Similar experience and sentiments with finding work in this neighborhood. I took a break from online application and decided to walk-into several professional establishments in the neighborhood. As the black people in the “bike theft case” said, first impressions matter. Pretty much every place here is staffed with white folks. Like I say, “You know the place is white, if McDonald is predominantly staffed with white people.” Welcome to my neighborhood! Although, I did not look for work at McDonalds. I went to Doctors’ Offices, Departmental Stores, Restaurants, Grocery Stores, education institutions, and several small businesses. At most places, I was asked to apply online, or bring a resume – including restaurants! I know times are tough, and jobs are not coming by easily. However, when you do not see anyone who looks like you in most workplaces, including the front desk, it is hard not feeling unwelcome. Still, I did all as requested, with follow-up call back and walk in, but no rewards yet.

I bet some of you are wondering, why I am still living in this neighborhood, if it is that traumatizing to me? In the words of Dr. Jeremy Gibbs…

“This isn’t the only thing that we learned from raising our son (that we gladly adopted last year). We also have learned that parents that want the most for their children are often faced with a dilemma (even when they have the means to make educational choice) about whether they will give their kids a school environment that is supportive of their identity. Or shall we choose a school where lots of children look like him and he can learn about being black in America? Usually the schools with large African-American populations are struggling and under-resourced. Do I use the means that are within my reach to send him to a school with opportunity that will ensure that he has very few friends that look like him? Is that somehow better? The thing that I’m learning here is that racial minorities have to ask questions that majority populations get the privilege of ignoring. I still don’t know all the questions that I need to be asking.”

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Job Interviewing Taboos –

We have all been to a job interview. By the time you get there, you have done a little bit of research about the institution you are interviewing with. At the very basic, you know a lot about the job profile and requirements, whether it requires travel, and have an idea about its clientele. You are told it is taboo to ask about ‘compensation’, until the prospective employer brings up the topic. Even then, it is safer to bounce the question back to the employer, and let them tell to you how much worth they think of you. Another ‘silent taboo’ is talking about family life at a job interview. Perhaps, if you are a man, indicating  you are a family man during a job interview could present you fairly, as a good family man, who wants a career to afford a good life for his family.  More than likely, if you are a man, you are not expected to spend most of your life as CEO of Home Affairs. Even in ‘liberal’, women are the primarily child rearers and homemakers/ home managers. But how about if you are a woman and a mother?

I recently read an article, “US Foreign Policy Gender Gap” by Sarah Kendzior writing in Al Jazeera, that perception and money affect the number of women in senior level foreign affairs positions. According to Kendzior, perception is related to the assumption that women are particularly diplomatic, or empathetic, or kind, while money dictates that one should be able to afford their way around, especially when competing for an internship in the nation’s major international affairs hubs like New York or Washington. As well, one should afford to fly to interview with The Economist in London or take up an unpaid internship with the United Nations involving temporary relocation to expensive global cities.

What we learn is that while money affects male or female alike, very few ambitious and talented young professionals or students from poor backgrounds can afford these opportunities, even worse mothers with small children. Already, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing for The Atlantic in summer 2012 told us “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, not because they are not super-ambitious but due to a lack of structural support to juggle family and work life.

But something these two writers did not mention was the “deafening silence” to the “Don’t Talk about family life when job interviewing Taboo”. Sure, we can liberally give the prospective employer our physical address, indicate that we are an email or phone call away to “further explore our job interests with the recruiter”, and are “available to start work immediately ”. But we are not exactly at liberty to talk about our family situation, although I have encountered men who ‘comfortably sneaked” in their family life during a job interview. My assumption is they do it because, it projects “a responsible family man”, who prioritizes his family obligations as central to his career success. But for a mother seeking paid employment, it is quite taboo talking about “family life” in a job interview.

Picture this, you are a single mother, with a toddler and would like to be in his life, while equally working a 9-5 job, the standard full-time work hours. I have no doubt that plenty of single parents have had to ask themselves these questions, and many have excelled at work. But I doubt any or many ever brought up their marital status and family life in their job interview, maybe until after the job was offered.

I have been living abroad for the last four years in three different countries, working excellently at my job, with a balanced family, work and “me” life, thanks to the flexibility of my scholarly research career. While living abroad, I scooped plenty of interviews, and job offers, even when I brought out my family status at the first interview. At one job interview, I stated upfront that I am was a single parent, and wished to balance “family, work and me life”, and asked for a flexible work schedule that would allow me drop off my son at school, and pick-up him up at the end of the school day, before the typical end of work day, and also take a personal day off each week. I got the job on my terms, with my son at the center, and with me as a single mother.

Now that I am back in the United States with a richer career experience, I am having trouble articulating “my three-tier life” to any prospective employer. In typical consultancy or NGO employment, plenty of work is done offsite of the employing office – we carry office work on our mobile phones, at home, on the plane and in coffee shops. And while we sign up for a 9-5, we usually put in more hours than we are paid. For one of my employers abroad, I had agreed to a 10:00a to 3:00p from Monday to Thursday work schedule. Yet, I arrived two hours earlier every work day, and also worked on some Fridays, my weekly day off. Whenever I went out to conduct field research and training of village communities away from my office and home base, I spent three days away from my son, without compensation for the nights-out for work.

So, why is it a taboo to ask a prospective employer to factor in the life of a single parent, trying to balance work-family-and-me life? I am aware that having an international career and a degree from a US university might have reflected favorably to my employers abroad, most of whom were in the international affairs realm. But I would like to be accorded similar consideration from employers in international affairs back here in the United States. Most probably though, employers in the US have in the back of their mind concern for, “who will take care of her child while she is at work”, especially when she has to travel to sites away from home? Similar concerns exist whether one is applying for international affairs positions, as a waitress at the local Red Lobster Restaurant, or as a Sales Associate at Walmart.

But all is not lost for single “family-centralist” mothers. As Sarah Kendzior says, for women, [and for single mothers [or single fathers] one has to recreate their professional ambitions, by perhaps becoming a writer or blogger. I know plenty of [single] mothers who have quit lavishly paying and professionally rewarding careers to go on their own and have afforded the ability to put their children’s central. Handy and artistic work is another option that single mothers could pursue. If you are into academia, there are possibilities of teaching, student counseling, or organizing summer camps and student internships abroad, with a flexible schedule. However, getting your footstep in the door is the first mighty step to take. Still, that might not come easily, by telling the prospective employer that – “I am a single mother and I have a five-year old”. That is still a Taboo to Job Interviewing! Image