You know what has become so very delightful about you? I now get verbal confirmation from you that my nagging is totes working.
ME: Hard work?
YOU: Pays off.
ME: (rubbing my hands) MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
YOU: Nobody else’s mom is like this. What is wrong with you?
Anyhow, you require less savings of my brain and more direct deposit. I tell-nag you more than I write-nag you.
But one day when you are an adult … an adult with an undergrad from Stanford and a doctorate from Yale who between chess, fencing and academic scholarships managed to code sweaters for the needy in Sibera who has married a person that I like and respect and the two of you NOT ONLY do not live with me, but have a wonderful property with private quarters, a champagne fountain and a flock of guinea fowl for me which you INSIST that I live in for part of the year … yes, boy, when you are THAT adult, you might wonder where I was going with all of my crazy. So sometimes I’m going to write so you can understand what I was trying to do with some aspects of my parenting. ,
The thing I am grappling with lately, is tackling the anti-black images that we are all bombarded with. Both subtle, and FOX News.
You aren’t going to be a conscious brother by osmosis. I’m adjusting my lifestyle to show my work, so to speak.
For example, I normally buy Elle magazine. But I consume a lot of relevant beauty content from Essence/Ebony/Jet online. But now, I am going to get a subscription to every black magazine except King. You need to SEE black people on the coffee table.
I have to make sure you know how I feel about little black girls and other black women. Lupita N’yongo is gracing the cover of Vogue this month and I must have taken you to the grocery store a billion times to see if it was in Austin yet. We did a little “Loo-pee-TAH!” conga line over to the magazine stand, only to see last month’s cover girl.
This happened so many times that I thought you might start yelling, “GODDAMMIT! Still Charlize!”
I caaaarefully planned your introduction to the Huxtables. Not too early or you’d be bored. Not too late or you’d be JJ from Good Times.
It worked. You LOVE The Cosby Show. You want to be Theo. You love his haircut. You love the way he dresses.
That is all we watch at night. There are other good family programs, but hardly any where the black people are the protagonist. If they are, it is about how Jayquan grew up in the ghetto and survived anyway.
I will not teach you that you are a sidekick in the world. YOU are the main character and your life is not a tragedy you have to overcome.
Clearly no news programs. And no radio.
I have an entire playlist devoted to you being able to scream “WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT, YOUNG ‘UN?” whenever an Isley Brothers song comes on.
When I just want something on the television, I play Brooklyn Castle for you. It blew your mind that a kid who looks closer to Biggie than Eminem could be brilliant. In fact, you kinda want to BE Justus Williams, and it tickles me SO MUCH.
YOU: The BROWN GUY? He’s the BEST at CHESS?
But you know what hurts? Already, you could hardly believe that the white kid in the movie was NOT the best player. Nowhere close to the best. You kept asking, incredulous, the brown boy is better?
I was a VORTEX OF THE FEELS.
Well, to be accurate, the “feels” and the “pissed.”
Curating your personal library is also a crusade. Finding enough well-written, beautifully illustrated children’s books featuring black kids is exhausting. Everything is maaaaybe multicultural or “He ain’t heavy, he’s my lil’ brother.”
We are in the process of writing a few of our own (under your CREATOR brand pillar). If you don’t like something in the world, solve it.
I even think about the art in my house. For a while I had a looootta oil portraits of white folks. They were cumulatively creepy. Like an oil magnate’s library. I put them in the bedroom. Because it cracked me up to watch my friends’ faces - YOU SLEEP IN HERE? THEY’RE ALL … WATCHING YOU!
But my warped sense of humor is mostly wasted on you right now. You’d just see a lot of white people. If I only find white faces worthy of display, what does that say to you?
Much to the relief of my friends, that rogue’s gallery had to be taken down. Now that doesn’t mean I replace all my art with black folks, but I am very conscious of the balance.
Luckily, I have gorgeous family portraits to put up and the people in them are beautiful enough to qualify as art.
Also, I’m not above helping people be more inclusive. Sometimes it’s nothing that a brown crayon can’t fix …
You’re welcome, IKEA.
My other little tirade concerns crayons and worksheets and products. Adults are having a hard time learning that there is no such color as “flesh.” Your color of flesh is flesh. So is mine. So is your grandfather’s. So is Auntie Seng’s. All of them. Unless it is clear? I don’t want it described as “flesh” or “nude.”
For the good of all you kids, mommy is going to have to teach some grownups a few lessons on color.
You didn’t think you were the only one on the receiving end of mommy’s nagging, did you?
Okay, Scoops. I want you to know how important a good teacher is. I know that right now, you think teachers are as awesome as … I don’t know … toothpaste? But as you grow up you’ll realize that being stupid and having stanky breath are two of the worst things you can wish upon a person.
I include both of these things when I’m composing a curse.
Anyhow, this woman taught ME how to teach YOU how to tie your shoes.
I also feel that you should know that you yelled, “NOT FAIR! WHY DO I HAVE TO TIE MY SHOES?!”
More than once.
And I did not fling your tiny Marie Antoinette self into a tree. I just stared at you and named all the people who are forced to debase themselves daily by tying their own shoes.
But what I love about this woman is that she taught ME how to teach YOU. You picked it up in no time flat, even though you didn’t like to practice it. Her method is creative and simple and does not include a motherfucking bunny ear nor require that I disjoint a finger.
Your Auntie Ty is a firm believer in taking classes. I think that if you count up all the workshops at Second City and Continuing Ed classes she has taken, she has two PhDs and a Masters. It keeps her inspired.
In that way, she has taught me to always be on the lookout for a teacher. When you stumble across a good one, it is always a delight.
Mommy volunteers with a group that helps refugees. One of the things we do is called a sewing club that offers sewing lessons, socializing and English practice. My sewing is meh, but I know enough to help out.
One Sunday, another group was working on a cookbook. One of our clients came in and made a dish from his native Cuba.
OH THE NOMS THAT WERE NOM NOMMED.
It was so delicious and simple that I came home and whipped an entire pan up. And you know that is as likely as saying I came home and made a unicorn pop out of linen closet.
I found a teacher when I was supposed to be teaching someone else. And he didn’t even know he was teaching me.
My childhood was filled with teachers. They were like gardeners pushing bulbs. My great aunt Honey was an elegant experimenter, filling my days with imagination and testing my skills in an invisible battery of encouragement and evaluation. A tray of beads for stringing. An abacus. Books from a much higher grade level than the one in which I resided. It seems so simple, but now I see the strategy and the strategist that sat at her table with demurely crossed legs.
My grandmother enrolled in a program that would teach her how to teach me.
You are going to have a time in your life where it will be chic among your tribe to complain about your teachers. My job is to try to make that nearly impossible for you to do. I want you to be honest, boy boy, before you say “UGH, SCHOOL SUUUUUCKS” I want you to think about something. Do you really mean that school sucks? Or do you mean that you would rather be doing something else right now? Because you should say that instead.
I can tell you that as a working adult, you’ll feel that way a lot. I’d rather be sleeping. I’d rather be writing. I’d rather be spending time with you, letting you ask me really awkward questions about my body parts. I will admit that I’ve said NO FAIR! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO NEW YORK AND STAY AT THE SOHO GRAND AND MEET NEW PEOPLE AND JUDGE AWARD SHOWS AND EAT GOOD FOOD.
Then I punch myself in the face and move on, because that is what an adult does.
So Lovebug? If I am as successful as I hope that I will be with placing you in the hands of truly inspired teachers? I want you to promise me that you will never let a good one go unthanked.
Okay son, settle in. I’m about to tell you an EPIC TALE of your uncle.
Lawrence. Lee. Leonard.
Lawrence Lee Leonard married my aunt, Vicki when I was about 10 years old. I was an only child and I lived with my great aunt, great uncle, and my grandmother (Emmazine, Uncle B and Delle). I was also a Chaucer-reading nerdball.
In other words, I had NOBODY to play with. EVER.
And then came LAWRENCE LEE LEONARD.
Lawrence Lee loved to play board games. Specifically Monopoly. And he didn’t mind playing with a ten year old.
The object of our family Monopoly playing was to own every cheap property between the GO and the JAIL.
Let me set the stage …
You’re supposed to take all the houses off the board when you replace them with a hotel. I didn’t know that until I was an adult. We kept all four houses AND the hotel on the board. That stretch with all that development was TERRIFYING. You were afraid to pass GO, because you were about to have to pay a BILLION dollah to some Monopoly slumlord.
I learned to unabashedly enjoy playing passionately, winning hilariously and losing gracefully from Lawrence Lee.
He was animated and FUN and never in a rush. He wanted to play until the bitter end and then some. If he was moving his shoe or iron or whatever his token was, he was going BOOP. BOOP. BOOOOOOOOOOP, as he slid past a property that would have bankrupted him. Then he’d wipe his brow with the curtains.
This one time? Lawrence Lee totally destroyed me. I landed on property that was so loaded? I STILL have to send him a small envelope of Monopoly money every month. THE RENT WAS TOO DAMN HIGH.
When my little top hat landed on that space?
Lawrence Lee threw all HIS money in the air, jumped to his feet and ran out the door.
We heard feet running down the stairs. We heard the front door open. We got up and looked out the window. Lawrence Lee had his arms triumphantly raised in the air and was running out of the yard, and into the street. We watched him disappear down the block at full speed. A few minutes later, he reappeared from the opposite direction — still running at top speed. This man had Prefontained around an entire square block. We saw him run toward the house. we heard the front door shut. Heard him running up the stairs. He arrived back in the room, grinning like a crazy person, fists clenched and waving in the air.
LAW’INCE LEE LENARDT (that’s not a typo, he should make his name all sharp at the end when he was particularly proud) GETS ALLLLLLLL YOUR CASH AND ASSETS. DEPOSIT THEM ALL IN THIS HERE BOX.
Then he helped me count my sad little money.
“Twenty-eight … twenty–nine … AW, NAW! You owe me … lemme see … nine thousand five hunnert two dollars and semty-three cent!”
Then he sat next to me. He looked into my eyes and said, “Now if you want to do the dishes for the next week, I might be able to make you a small loan?”
I lost. He gloated. I didn’t need therapy.
Lawrence Lee inspired the house rule that I’m sure you have heard a million times by now.
You’re not allowed to be a sore loser. However, you’re allowed to be a OBNOXIOUS winner, as long as you are entertaining. You can strut, yell, whoop, laugh, talk shit, rip your shirt off with the joy of it all.
One thing I miss about spending holidays with your dad’s family is the board game showboat-fest. Your grandmother SCREAMS with joy when she beats your grandfather at Connect Four.
Your grandfather is very elegant. He says nothing until he wins. Stuff like, “You may call me … The Count.”
Now, let’s talk about a football player named Richard Sherman.
The conclusion of this one game was the stuff that movies are made of, a Cinderella story with cleats. Last play of the game, the hero saves the day and the game by foiling his antagonist. Who then TOTALLY SHOVED HIM IN THE FACE when he returned to be sportsman-like.
And then? They interviewed him …
I believe that if journalists are on the sidelines of a competition, and you go on the battlefield to interview someone, you are trying to get a real, honest, passionate response. You want to know what they are really thinking when they live that moment.
That is what he really felt. At that moment.
People got mad. They called him “pure ghetto trash.” They called him “a thug.”
I didn’t like that language. Nothing that he said was thuggish. The worst name-calling he did was call the opposing player “sorry.”
There’s a wonderful, wonderful article on Deadspin. They say you can’t be black, talented AND arrogant. America can only accept two out of the three. Three of the three are scary and distasteful.
I’m not going to go too far into that. Some folks are just plain racist. Others are prejudiced and so entrenched in the idea that they are NOT. RACIST. that they can’t see where prevailing culture miiiiight be clouding their judgement.
But I want you to know about a misunderstanding that happens a lot between people of different cultures/religions that are otherwise doing an amazingly harmonious job of being honest and awesome together.
Some non-black people that I care about and respect didn’t like Sherman’s rant. Like, had an EMOTIONAL, PASSIONATE, I’M-GOING-TO-UNFRIEND-YOU response to it.
NOTE: These are not racist people. None of these people called Sherman anything like “thug” or “pure ghetto trash.” Those people, my son, are poop-heads and have some SERIOUS prejudices. Although I’m SURE they have black friends and/or have dated a black guy.
Not talking about them. I’m talking about intelligent, loving, wonderful people who felt like the rant was poor sportsmanship.
Not everybody grew up with Lawrence Lee. But I believe that many African Americans did. Culturally, we find passion and in-context trash talking to be reasonable parts of competition.
Hey Lady was trying to read up on this incident this morning:
HEY LADY: Okay, now what did he say that was so thuggish?
ME: I think you saw it.
HEY LADY: No, I only saw the thing where he said something about messing with the best.
HEY LADY: But where is the one that made everybody mad?
ME: That one.
HEY LADY: What one? I want to see the one where he said all this AWFUL stuff?
ME: Exactly. I can also tell you who is on first. May I have more bacon, please?
Still, we can all agree that they’re not going to play this clip in your P.E. class as an example of sportsman-like behavior. Sherman acknowledges that.
But for a lot of black people I know? Including me? The way that people were so quick to call Sherman these loaded names? That FAR outweighs the issue of sportsmanship.
And when our loving, intelligent people do not see that as the higher crime? That hurts a bit.
Then the loving and intelligent people are surprised that we don’t agree. Because on any other day, we can talk about athletes’ conduct and agree, not knowing that sometimes we don’t really agree. Our sportsman-O-meters are calibrated far differently.
Then they are hurt.
Then everyone is sad and stuck.
I’m sad and stuck about it, still. Not sure what to do. If I were more like Michael Jackson, I’d grab both their wrists and lead both sides in an amazing choreographed dance. I’m still thinking this whole thing out and trying to find a salon that can give me a Jheri-curl in my locs.
But what I want for YOU, Pumpkins, is to be able to recognize these moments. Sometimes when people stumble upon a cultural difference when they have been SO harmonious, it gets a little turnt up emotionally, which makes it hard to navigate.
This is a part of the nuances of discussions around race. And not being aware of them can make good people wary of discussing their honest feelings.
You should also know this: The good people of America are lucky that your mother doesn’t play professional football. I would have wheeled a barbeque grill on the field. When they asked what I was doing? I would’ve said, “I’M SMOKIN’ THESE RIBS LIKE I JUST SMOKED CRABTREE’S ASS.”
Then I would have done a little Katt Williams pimp-giggle.
Then there’d be fireworks across the sky that read SUCK IT, BITCH.
Then, MEANING YOU, CRABTREE.
DO YOU WANT SOME OF THESE TASTY RIBS?
Because I have home training. Then I would have run to the sidelines to high-five Lawrence Lee.