The Joys and Pangs of Being a Single Parent and Black…..

Time and again, reality check strikes me that I am Black and a single parent, in a sea of Whites and Marrieds. I have felt both the joys, and pangs of being Black or a single parent, even when I am the ‘token’ in the group. It happens where I reside, in my travels, social engagements and networks, and at community events.

Not that I am blaming anybody for my “black-single parent status”; it is the story of my life! Particularly now that I am a parent of a child – a single parent. That reality set in during the recent Child of Mine (COM)’s Cub Scout Pack #85 2015 Annual Weekend Camping at Knoebels Amusement Resort and Campground in Elysburg, PA.

I love social living, I love involving my child in social activities, taking him places and engaging him in educational experiences. Joining the Cub Scout was my way of introducing him to civic responsibility and good citizenship at a young age. Moreover, as a woman and a single parent, I cannot give him all the lessons on “Becoming a Man”; so I need the help that the Boy Scouts of America can provide him. Plus, as the only child, he benefits greatly from broadening his social networks, meeting new friends and interacting with little boys his age. Plus, mommy gets a break from being the “sole playmate”.

In most cases, I do not let “being the only black family or single parent” keep us away from partaking of the many fun activities Pack#85 organizes. I take him to as many activities that his Cub Scout Pack organizes, hiking, Day Camp, baseball games, Veterans Day and Flag Day celebrations, and most recently, the annual Pack Weekend Camping Trip. I am very aware of my single parenthood at most of his Pack events, where I am visibly the only single parent. Most non-custodial parents of other cubs show up to Pack meetings, and not many single parents participate in Pack outings. At least at Pack meetings, I do not stand out alone because there are usually two or three Black families in addition to us.

This past weekend Camping at Knoebels was an “In Your Face, You’re Black Moment”. Walking through campsites to the bathroom, that strange feeling of “Blackness in a sea of Whiteness” engulfed me. I wondered whether anybody was looking over their shoulder seeing me going through their campsite. While I love to wear my hood sometimes, I could not risk being mistaken for a “dangerous trespasser” and getting shot at in “self-defense”. The simple things others may take for granted, I was self-aware and highly cautious.

Because I barely saw any full Black families on campground. The ones I saw had white spouses and mixed race children. In a sea of whiteness I wondered, where are all the Black people that love to do “white people stuff” – Don’t say you have not heard that saying before, that “Black people don’t hike, don’t camp, don’t do crazy adventures.” I wondered, is it really true? I bet there were some Black families, but there are over 500 campsites, and I was only exposed to a small section.

In my camping group, I was the only single parent among seven other families, in addition to being the only black family I saw on ground. Don’t get me wrong, I have my joys of being a single parent – that I can make decisions without the encumbrance of a disagreeing non-supportive other parent, in my case. But there are also pangs of single parenting, especially the absence of an extra helpful hand, a male figure for this male COM, or a companion for myself. I am always making these lonesome trips and activities with COM.

The pangs of single parenthood struck me for a minute over Scout Camping Weekend, among couples and their children. While I was solely responsible for COM – preparing him meals, making the bed, taking him to shower and bathroom and taking him onto weekend entertainment, none of the other parents! I watched with longing the unspoken/automated division of responsibilities between husband and wife or father and mother, as well as the children.

Time for dinner or breakfast, the women/wives/mothers in our group dived into the kitchen, prepared pancakes, eggs, sausage, toast, and all for their families/husbands/fathers of their children. Time to erect or put down tents, the men, unquestioningly took on their responsibilities like pros, ensuring everyone had a place to sleep. Yours truly benefited from the Camp organizers’ teenage son, a Boy Scout, who offered to erect and bring down our tent. Fathers and sons also worked together to carry the heavy stuff and stepped up as men should.

Note to self: Don’t believe the “equality hype” western white feminists preached, that men and women in marital relations equally share family and household chores. Equality is not Sameness. True, fathers and husbands have stepped up from the days when they did not babysit. However, the gendered division of labor still exists, even here in America, my America.

Men are still the predominant breadwinners, and women nurture the children and take care of the household [expectedly]. Husbands do the heavy lifting, repairs and chores around the house, women produce the food out of the kitchen, feed the children, put them to sleep, prepare them for school, attend PTO meetings and chauffeur them from school to after-school programs.

Before you start claiming such couples are ’traditionalist in their marital relations’, without [advanced] formal education, plenty of the women I know, as mothers and wives, have graduate degrees. They simply quit working away from their homes, or quit paid work all together to focus on running their families and homes. Such decisions are as much a luxury, as they are a sacrifice, for the best interests of their children. After all, employers are not making it so attractive for mothers to stay at work and ably raise their young children, without offering great benefits packages for maternity leave, vacation, personal days off, child care or health insurance packages.

The kind of security and harmonious relationship I watch among Cub Scout couples gives me a kind of nostalgia for finding a good committed relationship for myself, which may not necessarily lead to marriage. I am not saying this kind of harmonious, secure relationship is only found among white couples; I am simply citing the white couples who predominate my Cub Scout’s Pack. It feels good to see couples providing unconditional and unsolicited support to each other, in the traditional way. In such moments, it is hard being the strong Black woman and single parents I have to be each day. I just wish to be loved and pampered. But the work continues!

Advertisements

Motherhood: This Holy Sweet Grail…

Oh! Motherhood!Mommy and cub

A Happy Belated Mother’s Day 2015, everyone!

At least if you claim to be a mother. And to all the baby mommas, momma-daddies, daddy-mommas, grandmas, surrogates, birth mommas, godmothers, and everyone else who shares motherhood! Proud of you!

I had a superfood Mother’s Day!

Child and I started out with a light breakfast. Too light, I cannot exactly remember what we had. I know there was a cereal, somewhere. For breakfast, I probably served eggs and waffle,  maybe? I had tea, most definitely, as a routine!

Yes my friends, I was asked to produce breakfast on Mother’s Day, by ‘the powers that be’!

“Mommy, I have been waiting for breakfast a longtime!”

Excuse Child of Mine (CoM) for not getting the memo, that mothers are “Off Duty” on Mother’s Day. I let him know my expectations for next year; who will assume the traditional role of preparing breakfast for the other on the same. After all, CoM will be a year older and wiser? Uhm, so the world thinks 😉

After breakfast, made and served by my skillful hands, we hangout for a while. Then headed out for our “special Family Day-out”, of playing with pottery and painting at Poke-A-Nose. It was a reserved splash, “Mommy & Me pottery” with Teas and Pastries. But don’t believe the hype about the “Teas & Pastries”! The ‘Colony’ was not left with any “High Tea” or “royal pastries”! So, they ‘faked’ up own version of “Ice Tea and cookies”. Who serves ice tea for pretty occasions, I wondered!

Still, mission accomplished! Then on to lunch at our fav place, of legged, shelled and crabbed things, slithered down the throat with apples and vanilla cream. Memories are what they are made of! I must say, though, that plate was not worth the $$ drained out of my kitty😭😭. Thankfully, CoM’s $5 win from the Earth Day Kids Dash, chipped in for the dessert, and wiped away a few 😭😭! 😀

Still, something about celebrating that golden day -Mother’s Day, sores my heart, each time. On Mother’s Day, I felt as joyous, as I felt sadness. I love the works of my brain and hand, particularly CoM. Yet, I felt a moment of sorrow and loneliness.

Perhaps it is having to repeatedly do things, all by myself and for myself? Perhaps having to be the Center of Attention for CoM? Perhaps it’s the exhaustion from thinking about the responsibilities of parenting? Wondering if you are making the right decisions, right choices, or providing the right guidance? Afraid of whatever details you might be leaving out, for his proper growth? Guilty of not being able to provide as well as you should? Guilty of your life circumstances? Half-full glass?

But then, when he just kisses and hugs me, and says, “I Love You Mommy. You’re the best mommy in the entire galaxy.” I can’t help, but feel overwhelmed with joy, holding back my tears, for that feeling of a job well done!

The start of the week post-Mother’s Day, life was not going trés good, and the week did not start well either. Painful reality of uncertainty about the immediate and future life, physical, emotional and mental displacement, and insecurities, all pilled on me as the day wound down. Not knowing what tomorrow is gonna bring, and how big, good and fast, tomorrow will bring our way.

Thinking about the life we never had. The life we had, the life we have now, and the life we wish to have, becomes overwhelming for me. More so, as a mother raising a child on her own, and striving for the best for her child. Moments can steal all the passion, commitment, courage and determination to succeed, to do the best, and stay on task.

There are trying moments, gut-wrenching, with plenty of self doubt. But they also arouse the most self-reflection, and energetic recollection of oneself. A reminder that, I have been there, done that, and came out strong. A reminder that, I can still dust myself up and try again. A reminder that life never completely gives up on anyone.

For now, I am going to keep working on being the best mother. I am gonna work on celebrating each Mother’s Day with Child. Making motherhood one of the best jobs I have done. I want to enjoy every bit of this journey, while hoping the best to come out.

I will remind myself that, life is not always about bliss. There are low moments, followed by tides. There are moments of joy and moments of cold. As the week progressed, I felt much better…not great…but better. Perhaps that is a score in itself. What remains true is the love I have for CoM, and the joy of the Holy Sweet GrailMotherhood!

So what, if I wanna be a ‘Trophy Wife’?

The beauty about learning is that, you become more exposed and develop plenty of questions. You question your  “common sense” and natural laws out there. Yes, you do question positivism too. You no longer take for granted anything …and everything ceases to just be “normal”.

That’s the story of my life, too. I have learned to question all my learnings, the [mis]educations growing up and understanding of the world. I have also come to re-learn things I considered abnormal like traditional cultures, the position of women in society, men, marriage and religion. I have questioned my previous self-avowed “I am not marriage material”.  And a recent incident I witnessed made me ask, “So what, if I wanna be a “trophy wife”? No I am not married, yet!

You know! I am a single, never-married woman in my 30s. I have amassed a chunk of formal education credentials, traveled the world, been in all places, met and interacted with folks from different echelon of society. Yes! that includes royalty, military, paupers, tree huggers and “Joe the Plumber”. I grew up under the strong stewardship of my mother, an elementary school teacher, who held it down for her household. My mother did not earn so much money but she brought into this world seven children, and supported them all through their lives. Of course my father was present and brought in more income than my mother – he paid our school tuition, all the way through college -for some but not all. He also brought food on the table, as and when he pleased, and provided basic necessities for some of my siblings but not all and brought in the income to buy land and build our family home. But my mother was the solid rock that fixed the family -aka CEO of Family Affairs. In many ways, perhaps my father would not have achieved all by himself without my mother. While my father was hiring agents to scout for land to buy, construct the house and shop for the family, my mother used her family contacts to secure the land for purchase, fetched and carried water and sand during construction of our family home, and went to her children’s visitation days when they were in boarding school. f

In fact, my mother still supports her children, and thinks she should shoulder the financial, emotional and family burden of her grown-up kids, sometimes to her detriment –in my opinion. In so many ways, my mother has inspired me to be a dare-devil, to go out and conquer and also ‘save the world”. Her work ethic and giving back to community and her family are always with me, and influence the way I engage with the world in which I live and the way I raise my son. She is very open to learning and venturing into new territories. Yet my mother stuck to one marriage for the longest time, regardless of whether she was getting any joy out of it. She managed all family affairs while my father was off to work, traveling and transferred to work in other duty stations, at home lying down or loafing in the coach or out drinking with the boys. My mother also diligently took care of her children and did all the housework, when she did not have a maid or when her kids were not grown. Yet, she never saw herself as a housewife, by wiki definition:

house·wife
ˈhousˌwīf/
noun

1. a married woman whose main occupation is caring for her family, managing household affairs, and doing housework.

Or what Alexis on Image  termed….
  
tro·phy wife

noun
informalderogatory

1. a young, attractive wife regarded as a status symbol for an older man.
 

In no way would my mother identify herself as a “Trophy Wife”…when she was still a young girl or now…..I tend to think Alexis confused “Trophy wife” for “housewife” or “stay-at-home mom”, while sharing how her future goals post-college graduation are inspired with how her mother chose to live her life. Instead, my mother objected to quit her teaching job, even though it was paying peanuts, when my mother suggested earlier on in their marriage that she stays at home to raise the kids. Perhaps we cannot fault my father: a) he grew up without a mom (his mother died while he was still breastfeeding); and 2) the mother who raised him stayed at home, while the husband went out to bring the butter. And it worked….To my mother, she was not going to give up the fruits of an education her father paid for, and the hard labor she put in going to school; she was heeding her father. And so, she influenced me growing up.

But as I delve further into this world – in time, in geographical space and in intellectual curiosity, I continue to question whether there is anything wrong with being a “stay-at-home mother”? And I respond to myself: Absolutely nothing! From my interaction with women across the geographical, social and intellect divide, it is increasingly clear that being a state-at-home-mom or rightly “CEO of Family Affairs” [thanks to my birth coach Kembe Nakiina] is a luxury only left to the rich in finances, family, intellect, self-esteem and self-actualization. I have plenty of female friends who are mothers in the South (Georgia, in specific) with MBAs, law degrees, teachers, and all sorts of training, who got out of their blue collar jobs and decided to stay at home and raise their children, while their husbands go out to work. I know plenty of others, like my birth Coach who took on careers that allowed them to work from home and give due attention to their children, because to them children come first. Yes, and this also happens with friends in Uganda (my COO) who quit corporate jobs with all the luxurious benefits to focus on family affairs. 

Contrary to perversive misconception that these women are “servants to their husbands”, they do not see themselves that way. But this is not a luxury very available or affordable to unmarried mothers, like myself. While I have for the most part been able to spend more time with my son than hustling in a traditional office, this is not a luxury available to all women like me. I always told myself that I would want to spend the first year of my son’s birth with him, and I achieved it. Of course it cost me the financial in-flow I was used to; I quit my job and re-invented myself financially and socially. While I was not in Norway where a new mother receives a whole year of maternity leave after birth, and gets paid to have babies, I gained a lot of financial discipline and provided my son with the stability of being with me everyday for the first year of his birth. Following the one year, I moved abroad, and made sure that my work activities revolved around my son’s schedule. So, any client that sought to contract me knew that I had a schedule around when I would pick up my son from school, plus a day off to hang-out with my son. Of course, I was flexible whenever necessary. I  stay-at-home or would not skip a bit If anything, they are “servants” to their children -because to them, their children come first. And No! They are not “just sitting at home wasting away time doing nothing. They are running family properties and businesses, like my male friends have told about their wives, breastfeeding their kids, changing diapers, preparing food, cleaning their households or supervising house help. Outside family business, they are attending their children’s school meetings and activities, when their husbands might be off to work or traveling, or not married at all, they are volunteering at social and community events at the YMCA, at the soup kitchen or recruiting voters, fundraising for their social groups, political candidates or veterans, and writing and spearheading petitions to improve their communities. Or they are taking a new class in crocheting, sewing, zumba, yoga, jogging piano, financial peace or traveling the world and writing a book. Why wouldn’t I desire such a job, to do what I love to do? I could start my own family business or social club, that I have always wished to do on my time. I no longer have to wake up at 4:00 am to prepare breakfast and lunch box for the kids, then rush out of the house like a zombie at 6:00am to drop off the kids at school, then to work for another person’s empire till 5:00pm, and repeat the same routine, every day, week, month and year. I may just as well carpool with other mothers or put my kids on the bus, then get back into bed for a nap, before starting my day as I choose. 

The trouble with women like Ms. Emily [also from Image] the key to women’s success is personal financial independence is that they ascribe to everyone who chooses an alternative path as ignorant, underachieved and without ambitions. Ms. Alexis said that she was raised to think about working and making money for herself. She got her first job scooping ice cream at 16 years. So, she angrily reacted to Alexis desire to be a “trophy wife” for her husband, raising children at home and taking care of the family home, like her mother did. By inference, she called Alexis’ mother “dumb”, who was seated right next to her -yet the attacked refused to give into “the angry black woman”, by keeping her poise and not challenging Ms. Jewish Southern [White] Redneck, But so what, that is her preferred hustle? If she is happy with that…so be it. Why should be berate and condemn others who want to choose their own alternative paths to a successful future.

Given an opportunity, I would stay to home, to make sure my son has all my attention, and make sure all family business is in place. But this is not the privilege of plenty of women, without the financial security from anybody else outside them. They HAVE to NOT want to go out and work for others. Some attribute the divorce rates to the strenuous life of working motherhood – struggling to balance family and work life- yet still central to the proper functioning of family life. After all, we all work to find a bring future with financial success and happiness. If happiness comes from “the trophy”….seize it!