Notes & Musings: Accepting Change

It was 1993. Dwight and I had just figured out that we were in mutual adoration of one another. Smitten, really.

I was working at a pre-school, called Sara Swickard, which was affiliated with Western Michigan University, our alma mater. I knew I wanted to be a teacher and working at the pre-school made perfect sense.

One summer’s day, I left work to find a flower and a note attached to my car’s windshield. I don’t remember what the note said, but I remember how I felt, surprised and loved. It was a welcomed break from the booty calls I’d participated in and the unsuccessful partnerships I’d called “relationships.” He liked me. He actually liked me.

Dwight says I mention this memory often. He’s probably right because I can still conjure the butterflies that fluttered that summer if I think on it long enough. I know the depths of the shock of someone leaving a rose with a note on your windshield feeling. But the reality is I’ll never have it again. That was yesterday. He was different and so was I.

And that’s part of my challenge. I always want yesterday’s emotions.

For example, I remember my youngest daughter’s joy during her first conscious Christmas.

“For meeee???” she exclaimed when she realized all those shiny wrapped gifts were hers and hers alone. “Thank yoooouuu Mommeee! Thank yoooouuu Daddeee!”

Her face was indescribable. She’d never looked like that before and she’d never look like that again.

Christmas would become commonplace and sometimes obligatory. Gifts would be expectant, so much so, that when Dwight and I paid over $3k for her to visit England with her English teacher, she’d forget that Christmas 2018 was wrapped up in those sacrificial dollar signs and grimaced at the idea of having no tangible present. Her disappointment was palpable.

I want yesterday’s memories, the ones from over a decade ago.

I wish my oldest daughter was still an adolescent, taking selfies with her sister and me, complaining about how horrible my angles are, snatching my phone, while making it social media presentable. But she’s not. This past Christmas, she brought her boyfriend, who was seemingly attached to her physical being. Private conversations rarely existed because he was always around.

I was happy that she would be alone during our last Thanksgiving because that meant we could be like we were, pre-boyfriends and pre-adultood. Just the four of us. For once, I understood the difficulties of accepting your child’s significant other. It’s hard. You want to be welcoming, but at the same time, you wish things were like they were before they arrived.

But that’s impossible. Things can never be as they were before. Time moves on and changes occur.

So, I do the best I can accepting what is.

roses_2019Dwight no longer believes people should use flowers the way that they do, so if he buys them and brings them home, the meaning is different. Desi knows Christmas is a social construct, so when she buys and receives presents there’s now an underlying awareness of societal conformity. Kesi brought her boyfriend home for the holidays. He will forever be etched in 2019’s holiday photos.

One day, I’ll stop chasing yesterday’s memories. One day, I’ll accept what is because to do otherwise is to invite suffering. And who wants to do that?

Monday Notes: My Bisexual Daughter

My daughter has a lot of positive qualities.

She is intelligent. I first realized just how smart she was when she was three-years-old. I begged the teacher to put her in the next class, but she disagreed, that is, until she interacted with her for two days.

“You were right,” she apologized, “I just thought you were like all the other parents who think their child is brilliant.”

The next day she was in the four-year-old class.

Her intelligence was reaffirmed years later at the end of third grade. I’d received her first state standardized test results. She’d gotten all the answers correct. Even with my background in education, I’d never seen marks like that.

She is caring. I remember when she cried because she was saving a lizard that had somehow entered the house, a frequent Florida occurrence. His little green tail fell off as she used a glass to capture him. She immediately burst into tears, but soon calmed down when I reminded her that lizards’ tails regenerate. She dried her face and released him outside where he belonged.

She is socially conscious. She loves being black and championing for black people in different ways, like when she assured her dark-skinned friend it was okay to stay in the sun; she had no fear of “getting darker,” and neither should he.

She can also be found telling her father and me about her new choice of water, why we shouldn’t be buying McDonald’s, why we should stop eating ‘carcinogens’ (e.g., meat), and why we should sign a petition about parolees.

She is kind. When she found out her big sister wouldn’t be able to attend our last trip, she offered to save more of her own check so that her sister could go. Of course her sister declined the offer, but my point is she offered. She also considers her friends and frequently stands up for them in different situations or is there for them when they need someone to listen.

She is trustworthy. This is why we had no problem passing my car to her at the age of seventeen. She drives to school and back home. She drives to work and back home. She drives to her friends’ houses for parties. She drives back to school for extracurricular activities. She drives to complete her service project once a week during the summer. She spends the night over friends’ houses, and when she doesn’t feel comfortable where she is, she texts me…and comes home. We trust her and her judgment.

These are the qualities that come to mind when someone asks me about my daughter. The last thing I consider is her sexual identity. I just wished society felt the same.

My Role as a Mother

img_3358For the past 18 years, I’ve straddled the hard and fine line of motherhood. I’ve guessed and second-guessed each and every decision because, unlike other relationships, you never really know if you did the “right” thing until years later.

Swim team is a perfect example. In 2008, my oldest daughter, Kesi almost drowned. She was nine. Consequently, we decided she should learn to swim. A few lessons later, she joined the swim team. I thought they’d be swimming once a day and training for light competition. Turns out they had two-a-days all summer, with weekly competitions, and a culminating all-state competition at the end of August.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I announced after day one. “Do you think you can do it?”

Her raspy voice whispered from the backseat “Yeah. Do you think I can do it?”

That’s one of those think on your feet parenting kind of moments. And being myself, there was only one answer.

“Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

And she did. She worked her ass off training twice a day. She went from being the slowest, only African-American little girl swimmer in that pool, to having an amazing backstroke at the end of the summer competition.

So I did what we do here in the States. I signed her up to “train” during the fall and winter. Surely, if she worked through the winter months, she’d be even more awesome for the following summer.

By May of the following year, she quit. She was tired. She didn’t want to do it anymore.

Because Dwight and I firmly believe in not making children do what they don’t want to do, we allowed her to.

And I’ve always wondered if I should’ve made her do it. Have I lived up to my role as her mother? Was I supposed to teach her work ethic by making her swim? Was I supposed to give her some speech about not giving up just because you don’t feel like it?

Years later, will she tell her therapist that she wished her mother would’ve pushed her harder? Will her whole life hinge on if I made her pursue swim team a second year?

Eventually, I always come to the same conclusion. I…don’t…know. Parenting is a careful dance of allowing your child to be his or herself, while still being yourself. To do that, you have to know who that is. My role is to guide her. I’m here to show her how to stand confident in making decisions that are aligned with how she feels. I’m here to tell her that it’s okay to change her mind about something, even if she’s knee-deep in it and doesn’t see a way out. Like my Grannie says, “If you made your bed hard, then get out the bed.”

Today, my daughter is an 18 year-old senior on the cusp of high school graduation. Three years ago, she intended to complete a Cosmetology license at a trade school so that she could fulfill her then dream of doing hair. At that time, I felt just like I did when I watched her competing in that backstroke.

“That your daughter?” a passerby asked.

“Yep,” my husband and I proudly replied.

Just like swimming, somewhere along her path, she decided doing hair wasn’t for her. She changed her mind, and consequently changed the direction of her life. Now, she wants to go to college to be a Cosmetic Chemist.

Although she hasn’t asked, the question still floats in the air, “Do you think I can do it?”

My answer is the same, “Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

img_1006And I hope she believes it. Because for me, that’s what mothering is all about. It’s parenting the person I see before me. It’s parenting an individual, not an identity. My daughter isn’t me. She’s her own person with her own experiences. In my mind, being a mother is helping her cultivate her self and her dreams, no matter how many times that changes.

On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to remind everyone that mothering looks as different as we do. Subsequently, I’m sure we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment. What do you think? How do you see motherhood? How do you think your mother saw her role?

Notebooks, Pens and $5 for Incidentals: America’s School Supply Lists

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I hate school supply lists. As a former high school English teacher, my back to school list was pretty minimal. Students needed a journal, a three-ring notebook, some paper, pens, and an open mind. However, the last time I taught public school was ten years ago and I can tell a lot has changed.

It became noticeable when my own children began attending public school. At first, I figured it was because they were in elementary. Early elementary teachers asked for things like sleeping mats, crayons, safety scissors, and glue sticks. Upper elementary school teachers’ lists were contingent upon what the girls were required to do that year. For example, sometimes teachers asked for the basics: pens, mechanical pencils, and graphing paper. Other times, supplies such as tri-fold boards were required for special projects.

But when my youngest daughter began fifth grade and my oldest started eighth, the already expensive school supply list turned into the dreaded school supply list.

The first two-thirds of the list was the same. The girls needed paper, notebooks, three-ring binders, and different colored folders. Great. The last third of the list was odd though. It included items, such as a pack of dry erase markers, a ream of copy paper or a 68 oz bottle of hand sanitizer. What was happening was clear. Schools were (and are) severely underfunded, and as a result, teachers also needed supplies just to do their jobs at a minimal level. Consequently, some teachers put the costs of basic public education onto the parents.

I thought it was just my children and our public school system. But after talking to my friends, there seemed to be different variations across the country.

My Texas friend showed me a list where the teacher had requested a tablecloth and $5.00 for “miscellaneous expenses.” Miscellaneous expenses? To whom do I give the $5? The teacher?back_to_school

My North Carolina friend mentioned a request for a pack of glue sticks from each child. What if the teacher does receive one pack from each child? Won’t that be a few too many glue sticks?

My Illinois friend’s public school list includes lab and book fees that sometimes total $1000. And if they don’t pay it, then grades are withheld or students can’t register. Sounds like a public school with a private school mentality.

Again, I understand why the lists have changed. What I don’t understand is the delivery. So I thought maybe teachers needed a couple of suggestions: IMG_3027

  • Add a header that reads Here are things that I would like to receive to make my job easier. That one might be too long, so here’s another: Wish List. Or maybe in my Illinois friend’s situation, the school could have a header called Expense Report that outlines where $1000 from each child goes. Don’t underestimate the value of headers. Parents want to know how their money is allocated. With headers, it is clear that this is what you absolutely have to purchase for your child’s success and this is what’s extra for the teacher to do his or her job.
  • Another option is something I saw when I sent my oldest daughter to a charter school one year. Charter schools tell parents at the beginning of the school year that they are expected to “volunteer” a certain amount. Volunteering could either come in the form of time, money or products, such as extra supplies that were required to run a classroom. The expectation was universal, for all parents, not just the ones who would be driven by guilt, kindness or threats to spend extra money.

Most parents want to do what’s best for their children. And most parents value public education. But when you begin to combine the teacher’s wish list with the student’s required list, then you’re going to lose a little of the parents’ support and respect.

Are you a K-12 teacher? Please share how you ask for school supplies. If you’re a parent, do you have anything you’d add to this list of annoyances?