The Weeds in My Mother’s Garden

The last two years I have a asked folks to post on social media memorable sayings from their mothers.  And every year this post gets the greatest feedback.  It’s amazing how some of our moms shared the exact same words, like there is a mom bank where you can go and get this stuff.  There is humor and joy and love and sometimes strife and pain all wrapped up in our mother’s saying.  The soil is rich and it is us their harvest and seeds planted that came to life.

Our mother’s had a lot of advice mostly because they had lived, they had loved us and a few others, and they wanted, often, the best for us.  It’s such a unique position to have the opportunity to mold and shape and impact your own child.  Your dreams and your hopes are exercised and sometimes even lived out all through these little blueprints walking around.  And yet it grows complicated as you try to shelter your children from the not so pleasant things and situations you have experienced in the world.

I realize now my mother was even trying to give me advice on love.  She wasn’t necessarily coming from the best place.  And where you are coming from impacts what you say and offer to your offspring.  And I realized now that she was trying to save me from her own set of experiences.  She was trying to make her choice and consequences right through me.  She wanted the best for me but operating out of a broken heart frequently taints one’s perspective.

My mama’s love advice sounded like a lunatic but anyone sounds like a lunatic when you have not experienced love for yourself.  When you cross over into love business you are on a whole other plateau.  Love compounds everything and you stay when you absolutely should leave.  Love not only holds our heart but anchors our feet right where we are.  Love’s grip is the strongest I know.  And once in it’s grip logic flies out the door.  Love is absolutely a charge that gives you a high; some might say it’s addictive.  Because it is so powerful and emotional it can also be the downfall of you.  Some individuals have never recovered from the blows of love.

My mama would say, as it related to love, friends are not to be trusted and they will take your man.  She felt like friends impeded your success in relationships.  I knew that friend had hurt her and it was with my Dad.  But back then friendship was a better endeavor than my own biological family so this advice fell on rocky soil.  I never really believe it and simply listing allowing it to never linger in my thought bank.  I could see my mother believed it in her actions and lack of friends.  And I ignorantly lamented for her journey without friends.  I know love now and I better understand her dilemma.

Not everything our parents says to us is worth picking, bringing into our abode, and putting in vase of water on our dinner table.  Some things in our mother’s garden are weeds. Sometimes without knowing what weed looks like we pull them up anyway.  I don’t begrudge my mother as I have given advice that I hope my son will trash some day too.  I’m getting better at seeing the beauty but recognizing what needs not come in the house.  I am grateful for having had a mother and glad I have lived long enough to see her as a person beyond her flaws who has great faith and tenacity.  Happy Mother’s Day again Mom.


Love Beyond Biology

My play mom died.  I have struggled with this journey towards death.  Perhaps I have struggled with the naming of our relationship all of my life because somehow words do not do it justice. Play mom does not describe who she was to me nor does adopted daughter described who I was to her.  It somehow cheapens this infinite flow of love between us.  And it’s not just her but many of the folks I love a lot are not biological.

When she first died I announced her death on Facebook.   Folks streamed in sorry for the loss of my mom.  Not wanting anyone to confuse my play mom with my biological mom who is very much alive and very much a part of my life, I clarified.  You could almost feel a switch turning on.  But what happened next contains my struggle, my angst with such labels.

When folks learned my biological mom was alive it was as if they took their condolences back.  It wasn’t as if they were sorry but not as sorry.  Or as if they determined that my loss was not as great because this was not my mom.  There is a limitless supply of condolences and empathy for folks who lose their parents or their child or their partner.  We put these on pedestals as the greatest lost.  And while I am not trying to elevate my relationship with my play mom I am not trying to lower it either.

I struggle with other and being on the outside of what society deems as normal relationships.  I live far away from my biological family.  After a few seasons alone I adapted to my new environment.  That environment turned into home after 10 years.  It’s been 20 now.  And I have a circle of love.  They have now known me as long as my biological family.  When I go home I love up on my biological family.  That’s my beginning and a large part of the woman I’ve become.  But I’m here now.

There was this woman who got married and moved to Chicago.  And on her first Christmas she fixed a nice dinner for her and her husband.  And then she cried.  She was use to family and it overwhelmed her, this big city and no family in it.  And then life went on… and she created a family.  And she not only invited her biological peeps but her girlfriends and whomever else she wanted.  And one day she invited me.  And something happen.  And we had a lot of tea, laughs, conversations, truth telling, phone calls, etc.  And our love took roots.  And that lady died.  And I’m gonna miss her.  And there are no titles..no names that can describe the love and ache in my heart.  Rest in Peace Mama Iona.


Get Out: How Many Signs Do You Need?

I do not like thriller movies.  That said I had no interest in seeing the psychological thriller, “Get Out.”  If it were not for my friend I would have passed this movie by but with her insistence and brilliance I was made curious.  And so it took me a few weeks, asked a few friends, but I can finally say I saw the movie “Get Out.”

Now after seeing the movie I was still perplexed.  I have seen racism on camera, through many cinematic venues, but thriller.  I kept wondering why some people thought this movie was so great.  So I pushed myself, but even then I manage to only come out with one peril – when people show you a glimpse of who they are and it is bad you should get out.  I know not really that deep or provocative.

So I called my friend for a remedial class on the movie and she reintroduced me to a concept micro aggression.  I had been hearing the word but not really jiving with it.  My eyes were opened; I had a field of examples in this movie.   When People …white people…racist people…close minded folks…dishonest people…insert your adjective people…. I mean whoever they are…say things to us whoever us is…things that are not okay, but we look over them, not realizing the cost of hearing it and then letting it take it’s toll on us, that is a micro aggression.

So I think the movie is a good reminder that oppressed people need to be more aware and get out sooner.  It’s time for us to go.  To flee those places that are not good to us.  Like the guy in the movie, it’s time for us to run towards freedom.  It’s time for us to not overlook the things said that are not okay no matter the intent.  Do not discount those things that do not feel right to you.  How many signs do we need to know these spaces are not good for us to occupy. The character in the movie obviously needed many.  He is an example, that we should get out before it’s too late to get out.  It’s time for good people oppressed people to wake up, be aware of what is going on, and when necessary get out.


Lil Wayne: A Refreshing Exhale

Honestly, I began listening to Lil Wayne because of all the backlash he has received for stating he did not really understand or resonate with the phrase “black lives matter.” From that statement he has been called ignorant, stupid, misogynistic, mis-educated, etc. The black community has made it clear they disapprove his words. I barely knew he was a rapper but the backlash made me curious about the person, Wayne Carter. And learning about him has been fascinating.

First of all, I think that often when someone does not go along with the voices in the choir we find ways to dismiss their voice through such labels as above. If they are stupid, we obviously do not have to listen to them. It is really hard for us to allow distinctive voices and opinions, which are different from mainstream thoughts, to be carefully considered. We are quick to dismiss people without opening our own selves up to be stretched some. We are quick to take one clip and run off with our own conclusions. This dismissive highly reactive nature I find frustrating and disconcerting.

Second, I think Lil Wayne’s statement that black lives matter phrase did not make sense to him is valid.   He is not the first to say that black lives matter does not make sense. Others who have dared to utter it have met similar fates. I myself have at times struggled with it but now fully embrace the phrase. Here is where our roads diverge. For Lil Wayne what is relevant is his own life. He matters. His children matter. He consistently affirms the importance of family to him. His fans matter to the degree that they support him. In his own individualistic perspective those closest to him are what matters.

Lil Wayne is not the conscious brother man about the injustices of the world kind of person; that was Tupac. He relates to the world through his own personal experiences and it does not go much further. He does not feel discriminated against nor was he aware that racism existed. For him the number of white people that support his music and come out to his concerts is proof that racism doesn’t exist. Now whether I agree or disagree with his argument it is an argument that reflects his own critical thinking.

Lil Wayne is a product of his environment. In his hometown New Orleans there was only one thing to do work hard and working hard led him out of financial poverty. He is an artist and he is committed to his art. He is the only artist I know who writes nothing down because he is his words so he explains; that’s brilliance not stupidity as some would like to describe him. He is gangsta, which for him means life on his terms and keeping it real and being himself at all times. He loves weed and skateboarding and tattoos. He loves his family. He was born and named Dwayne but dropped the D because he is a junior but since his Dad never did anything for him he doesn’t think he deserves the title so he altered his name and connection. And while we are probably never going to kick it, his words, his thinking, and his authenticity created a refreshing exhale for me.


White Kids at Costco

I have relished movement as I am able to do more and more these days.  One day, not so long ago, I was walking to my car from Costco.  I was almost at my car when a wave of white children ran up to me.  They started handing me self drawn pictures.  I have to admit I was so taken aback by their gesture.  There were a lot of them, small and not so small.  They were friendly and nice.  They were talking to me.  At some point I looked around to see in what direction had these kids emerged.  Was this some sort of on candid camera moment?

One stepped forward and offered to draw me his very own picture.  As a staunch believer in encouraging and affirming kids, I said yes.  I realized very shortly after I had said yes I really should have said no.  But I had said yes and was held captive to something beautiful.  The kid began to draw me.  By now I saw a white woman who appeared to be the mother of all these children. She was unpacking or rather organizing all her goods in the back of the van.  I could see this was taking some real mental energy.  She never even looked my way or the kids.

By this time some of the kids including the baby in the car seat were in the commercial van parked next to mine but that did not stop them from looking intently at their brother’s art project.  There remained two kids beside their brother.  They were assistants because they would mention and point out things on me he had overlooked.  He was working so hard at drawing this picture for me.  He apologized for holding me up a few times.  Even my son, taken aback, said Mom they are nice.  I felt special.

On a hot summer day, 8 kids, who appeared to have been at an all-day Black Lives Matter rally approached me.  Out of a whole parking lot they picked me with my brown skin and nappy hair which was not a far cry from their sister with locks.  They greeted me nicely and engaged me in wonderful conversation.  Their openness and kindness alarmed me at first but I was able to quickly adjust.  I am now ranking it among on of the top 5 oddest experiences I have had which says something about race in America.  And yet it was the most refreshing and hopeful.  I know we have a lot of water under the bridge.  I know our history is awful.  I know as country we are more divided than ever.  But 8 white kids reminded me of what is possible when we keep our hearts open to one another.


We Can: It’s Just A Ride

I am at Universal Studios.  For anyone that knows me this is peculiar.  Amusement parks on this caliber are not really my thing.  It wreaks of capitalism and I can think of 1,000 reasons I should not be in this park but I am here which makes my 1,000 points less valid.  I am at Universal Studios for two reasons.  One because my partner drags me to these things.  And two, because of the experience.  There is absolutely no place like the #1 theme park, Universal Studios.  The ride is almost worth the wait.  You senses are engaged.  You are captivated.  You are transported.  You forget about your life as it is.  They know how to do a ride.  It’s a different world.

But even beyond the creativity of this theme park, what I really most like are the rides.  Even after all of the creativity, I like a ride that gets my adrenalin going.  I’m not sure why.  I get in the line.  Once in the line I watch people on the ride screaming.  I  watch how fast the ride is going so I can get more scared.  I ponder my choices.  I do more waiting.  Once strapped in I accept there is no turning back.  I accept that I must now face the doom of my choice.  I look around and I try to hold on for dear life to the objects they have given me as I’m tossed up, down, around and upside down at insane speeds.  And then the ride is over and I get off.  And that is it.  Occasionally, I get some bragging rights because my partner almost always chickens out on these rides.  As I am maturing I wonder when I will stop but then I go again and again and again.

I had a lot of thoughts on this trip but one I want to share here – the real adrenalin pumping rides remind me that I can and you can and we can.  I  know this is an odd strand of thought but it is how my brain works.  I watch some people, maybe  certain people in certain groups who have a disposition to be afraid because of the ride but that is all it is.  I want to say to people who are not as confident of themselves or their skills much of life is a ride.  At times our adrenalin gets involved…but it’s no reason not to get on the ride.  Please know that you can…you can do whatever is out there that you have been afraid to do.  We can do so much more but we have to first be willing to strap in, accept and get beyond the ride.


Somebody Died Today

Somebody died today. Actually some bodies died today. And I know we all know that. During this season of Lent, I am doing a bible study on death. Well even though we are journeying with Jesus to death, it’s more about our own death. Because even though it was some body else’s last day, ours is coming. And each day we live we get closer. And though this sounds like a sad blog I don’t think it is or maybe it will be. But I hope you will read on.

I got the news that someone I knew died on yesterday. Okay it was really sad. But why was it sad. Is death always sad? A lot of times it is has been my experience. He was a nice guy. He had made some wrong turns but what’s really important is he turned his life around and tried to do good. He always had a smile. He always had something positive to say. And he cared about others deeply. I liked him. And when I last saw him I certainly did not know it would be the last time. And that’s eery. It’s sad that his family has lost a really nice guy and it was unexpected.

Somebody died today. I know some bodies die everyday. And well yesterday I found out a former member died. Well it was a homicide and so that makes his death sad too. The details are sketchy but here is where I enter. He was beaten to death with a frying pan. Somebody didn’t like what he said and got in an argument. The person left and came back later. And there was more arguing. And then four young black people assaulted a white 62 year old male. They not only killed him but they tried to remove evidence. The bleached down his apartment where he had supposedly housed them. This former member suffered from mental illness. And then they bagged him and put him in the dumpster. It’s suspected he is in a landfill of garbage. The police did find evidence of blood. And well nobody, mentally ill or not, should be beaten to death by four people with a frying pan. And I’m sad about it.

Somebody will die tomorrow. It might be somebody I know or maybe I will not but my knowing them does not change the fact they died. But somebody died yesterday and two months ago that I knew. And even if they were not close, even with distance they were close enough for the ground I’m standing on to feel just a little bit different. They were here and now they are gone. I can’t remember all the ones who are gone and I’m still learning how to celebrate the ones that are here. There’s this delicate balance that comes with age only. Folks are dying and sometimes because of how they died or because of our relationship to them it touches us more deeply. Somebody died today and some bodies will die tomorrow and that is all.


Reclaiming Kindness

I’ve been told good help is not only hard to find but almost impossible as I attempt a year long journey on house repairs.  Right now I’m trying to get a wall painted that was damaged by water from a roof leak.  The wall has been in it’s present condition for two years but I’m not complaining.  I finally found someone who wanted to repair the damaged part of the roof and not the whole roof. That took two years as I fought with insurance agents and roofing companies on what really needed to be done to the roof.  Finally we have moved beyond and there is not longer a risk of a leak.

I was so excited I jumped right into the paint job.  The first guy must have summed me up to be a fool when he quoted 2,000 for one room.  I think people should be paid what they asked for as entrepreneurs in the free world.  So I told him thanks for his time and that I would have to get back to him shortly all the while I was cursing him out under my breath.  I then went to the sea of friends and found other resources.  Because it’s my money and I too have the right to decide how much I want to pay.  The next runner up gave me a quote that was over 50% cheaper and brought a smile to my face.  We had a deal.

My painter has stood me up two times.  I mean he responded and shared some situations had come up.  The second time he stood at my door as he explained.  And honestly I saw a genuine person not talking no bull shit.  I actually developed concern as he relayed to me what had come up.  I was a little disappointed but totally understanding.  My wall wasn’t going to get worked on that day but he had a situation that could affect his livelihood.  I get it.  There are real things happening to folks in life and we need to be more generous and kind to one another.  It will come back I promise.

Honestly, I felt good about extending kindness.  By the way, my potential painter looked really bad.  I think all of us could be more kind with one another.  So many are like tight rubber bands as they go through their day.  An it’s okay.  A smile.  A hug.  A pause.  Take time to notice a child.  Have a conversation with a stranger.  Like folks statuses on fb page.  Give out 10 compliments.  Pay for the person’s grocery behind you (if it’s under 5.00 right).  Laugh at a joke that’s not funny.  Look at the lines in an elderly person’s face.  Spend quality time with someone.  Take a different route home.  Play a game with your family.  Hug someone for a long time until they let you go.  Write a letter and mail it.  Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk.  Hold the door open for the person behind you.  I think you get my point.  Reclaim kindness.





Breastfeeding in Public: The Work Is Not On Us

Back in my early days of social work, I had one mother who was working hard to retain custody of her kids.  She had four kids and had been financially sustained by a drug dealer/lover.  He died and so did her source of income.  The home he brought for them caught on fire and was condemned.  Having no place to go she went back to the condemned building and started living there with her children.  When they were discovered, the kids were instantly removed due to the their physical condition.  At first mom was resistant to DCFS system but then she had an epiphany.  She started complying and it became obvious she was going to be one of the few parents to get her kids back.

During the process of getting her kids back she got pregnant with another child.  We were in court one day when the baby got hungry.  She whipped out her breast and began feeding the baby.  At first I was a little surprised she pulled it out in public but upon further reflection though how else could she get it out.  It’s not easy working with the breast and a crying hungry child.  After she got the baby on her breast and a constant flow was coming out she put a blanket over it’s head.  The baby wanted none of that and would push the blanket off.  I realized the baby wanted to see what was going on and did not like being hidden/covered.  It was a private situation in a public context.

As I aforementioned, I was a little awkward with seeing my client’s breast.  I reflected on my own awkwardness and it was mine.  This mother had chosen to breastfeed, which is the healthiest milk to give to a baby I believe.  She was being attentive to child #5 while trying to regain custody of her other four children.  She was providing not only nourishment but being nurturing.  She didn’t have a problem.  And if I felt a little bit uncomfortable it was my issue and my problem to deal with on my own time.

Recently there seems to be some energy around mother’s breastfeeding in public.  I am shocked that a woman’s breast is garnishing this much conversation.  But then I realize it’s just another form of sexism in European countries as we understand it is mostly men who are having the problem.  It’s not much difference than our obsession with the hijab.  This is bothering me, as I just finished watching a man humiliate a mother on a subway for breastfeeding her child.  While the commuters came to her defense, I could see her getting visibly upset, and furthermore, no woman should have to deal with such badgering.

So I have a response for upset men (and women) who have a problem with public breastfeeding.  The work is on women not to get pregnant.  If we get pregnant the work is on us to have the baby because to not have the baby is murder. The work is on us to raise the child.  And in heterosexual households if the man leaves his pretty young thing, we are now lowered into poverty and the work is on us to take a little and stretch it far.  The work is on us to teach and provide moral instruction.  The work is on us to nurture the baby.  The work is on us to feed the baby.  I probably missed a few.  So get this you need to work on your discomfort.  Work on your privilege.  Work on your compassion.  Work on your ignorance.  Work on your insecurity.  Work on making the world a more human place where breastfeeding mother can whip out their breast and feed the world.  With all that mothers do, can you do one thing, work on yourself.  And if none of that works, turn your head because that has got to be much easier than a woman undressing to get the breast out and maneuvering the hungry curious baby.  Work on you!




Living Outside the Box: Bowie & Lorraine & Bill

So my Cousin Lorraine’s husband died and I’m suppose to give her a call.  And I’m thinking about what to say.  And now the call is over and I’m thinking that wasn’t bad.  Cousin Lorraine sounded pretty upbeat.  And then I start doing what people often do when someone dies, remembering.  I don’t have a lot of experience with Cousin Lorraine so most of what I know is hearsay.  But I remember that Cousin Lorraine just got married at 70 years old after burying a few years before her mother at 90.  She rides her bike and swims frequently.  Bill did do even up until the last day.  Cousin Lorraine is pretty active and lived her whole life dancing between single and dating.  She has lived a full life.  So when at 70 news spreader she was getting married it sounded as odd as my play mom getting divorced at 80.  As odd as it sounds we think of 70 as too old and why.  But I had enough decency to never ask and so I can only imagine.  My cousin married Bill and they had over a decade together.  They lived life not by necessarily our standards.  And his family took in a 70 year old only child.  And my cousin is so happy.  She had over 10 good years that probably knocked love out of the ball field.  And I believe it was worth it.

I am reminded of another two people who had such chemistry.  One was my worker and another worker in another department.  She was black and he was white.  They would talk non stop.  There was a flow with them.  But she believed in dating only black men.  I can’t knock it… but one day the supervisors mentioned the obvious connection.  I’m not saying they should have got together but noting the obstacle that stopped any chance of them together.  A few years ago I was saddened when I got the call that she had died after battling cancer. She did marry.  And she did have one child.  But again death brings memories and so I tried to remember.  And I remember two people who loved each other and had an inseparable bond.  That is all.

And Bowie who battled cancer and lost that one but won at life.  As he weaved in and out of relationships and music and creativity I realize I can’t even peg him which is as it should.   Others are trying and have tried to label him this or that and you shouldn’t try.  He was many things as he challenged, like Jaden Smith, our notion of sexual conformity.  And so no doubt he lived outside of the box.  And when someone lives outside of the box and we find it hard to label them it makes us uncomfortable instead of seeing it as opportunity to enrich one’s life.  His words and creativity, like all music and art, took us places we would dare not otherwise go.

I want to live my live outside of the box.  By that I mean my cousin chose to enter into something that obviously would draw eyes.  She chose to enter into something that was cloaked in visual mortality. But often what is good for us draws visual obstacles and those judgmental eyes, even sometime our own glaring eyes.  And I realize the quality of 10 years is pushing me to explore how I might more fully live my life authentically in ways that pleases God and me.  And I am grateful for my partner who gives a mean back massage when I most needed.  I am grateful for the observation of two precocious boys.  I am grateful for the laughter me and my mother stumbled upon more and more these days.  I am grateful for conversation after church with members that speaks to my heart more than the organized worship.    I am grateful for family and friends who come to our home and/or invite me to their home. I am grateful for tea  shared with play moms.  I am grateful for nourishing memories of those who have transitioned over.  And I want even more nourishment for my soul as I learn how to live outside the box.