These teens that live in my house know all I have been talking about is how I wanted to finish my three 20-page papers for grad school and how I wanted my semester in teaching to be OVER! When both had come, I asked that they let me sit/lay around and not do anything. Not cook, not wash… I didn’t even want to think. Just give me 24 hours to re-center my breath. They agreed.
We mailed out our Christmas cards and boxes to family in other states, put up our house decorations and caught up on television shows I had missed out on. We shared the cooking for the holidays and my youngest even baked desserts all by herself! Their grades are posted online so now parents don’t have to wait until the paper report comes out. I asked about them twice, and both times my oldest pulled out her chrome book and demonstrated that the website was down.
Today I asked about the site and it worked…
If you are a parent you already now what this face means!!! “WHY WOULD YOU WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO TELL ME WHAT I SHOULD BE EXPECTING WITH THESE GRADES?!” I am thankful that they let me relax when they saw I had fallen asleep on the couch or read a book of fiction that I had been missing. (for 4 months my life consisted of non-fiction books and essays!) But somewhere along the line, there was space and time to prep me! So now I am sitting at my desk trying to write a list of things that teenagers with grade point averages of 2.5 and 2.3 can do in my house! NOT TOO MUCH!
I now have three phones and an immaculately spotless home! I also have a list of their short term goals. After my lecture on education and questioning if they studied and gave 100%, I’m not saying we won’t be here again – but I am saying they will tell me ahead of time. (if there is a next time)
parents – (n) The hardest working person in the universe.
We can see beyond horizons and be as blind as bats.
We can hear as keen as owls and be as deaf as a day gone.
We can be energetically defeated.
parenting – (v) The hardest job in the universe.
I dare to say our most imminent goal is to ensure our children can live successful independent lives. And to make sure that goal stays in the forefront of our mind, we will do what we must. That includes perfect vision in a forest and closing our eyes in the light. As long as the goal is protected.
That is how I try to reach the parents of my students. Some of them have a spry and transparent engagement with the social and educational growth of their child. But the majority are only proactive towards their counsel to teachers on their personal goal and avoid any reactionary response on classroom feedback that does not comply with the said goal.
As a parent, I have had uncomfortable conversations in regards to the behavior of my three. And some have been the embarrassing repeated behaviors of “overly social”, “running in the hall” or “incomplete assignments. I had to grow into a position with my parenting to concede that, the same behavior I correct them with at home, is the same tone they exhibit with other adults. So when I get phone calls and reports that my youngest, who only stops talking when she is sleep, is “overly social” in class, I believe it. I’m not sure what it is that shapes in parents heads that their child’s calamity somehow stops the second they enter the school building. If your child is flipping furniture at home, there is a 90.9% chance you child will come into the classroom and do the same.
Continue reading as parents
My Dad never mentioned his grandfather from his Dad’s side. It’s like my grandfather just fell onto the face of the planet with no father. Now, my research finds his Dad in a boarding house as a child. Perhaps he was an orphan or he ran away. But my Dad had an immense love and knowledge of his grandmother and her family fight for their native land in Oklahoma. Anyway, my Dad’s father was a musician. He played the trumpet. He frequented around the jazz scene in Kansas City down on 18th and Vine. He was educated. His back up plan was being an English teacher. He served in the Korean War. He fell in love with my grandmother. They married and had two sons. He loved my Dad and his brother. I suppose that is where my Dad learned that seamless love for his grandmother. Then my grandfather didn’t want to be an English teacher. He wanted to be a musician. But all his friends were in Europe playing in bands. He went to the war remember… Then he didn’t love my grandmother anymore. And he didn’t love my Dad or his brother. I remember my grandfather singing to me. He was tall and thin with a gap between his front teeth like me. I remember khaki pants and a black hat. My father remembered the police being called. He remembers slammed doors and black jack beatings. He remembers empty gin bottles and knives. He remembers kidnappings and abandonment. That’s the first chapter.
My Dad stayed away from home. He ate meals at friends homes because my grandfather cooked half raw hamburgers because the doctor said he would die if he continued to drink on an empty stomach. My Dad was teased a lot. He wore third passed down clothing and the same one pair of shoes all year. So he developed a quick wit and quicker right hand punch. And he was a gentleman because his grandmother would have it no other way. And he knew what praying with purpose meant. And his poker face earned him instant street credibility. And he was a fast runner and loyal to the game of fostering respect. He earned the friendship of my uncles and won the heart of my mother. He loved her. He said I came about after them messing around one day after school. They were 16. He got a job at Church’s chicken and bought my mother food home. Then, some say it was an attempted robbery some say it was my father being witty. But, he was shot. And paralyzed. And then he didn’t love my mother anymore and moved to another state away from me. That’s the second chapter.
He started over in a new city. And later told me stories of girlfriends with snakes and winning dance contests in his wheelchair. He had a devoted love to his mother even though she never came back for him when she moved and his father kidnapped him. He sometimes called me. He sometimes visited when he came back to visit Kansas City. That was very weird looking at somebody who had the same eyes and chin and cheekbones and smile. I would turn my head but he would stare at me. My uncles still had a sincere respect for my father. My mother was married now and I had a younger sister and brother. And my dad’s father was still mean to my father. And one day the time ticked and the gun went off. There were no prison accommodations for my father being in a wheelchair so it was self-defense with no trial no nothing. And my father never came back to Kansas City. And 26 years went by. That’s the third chapter.
After everyone had left the room, he told me he was afraid I was going to come in and slap him. He was nervous I was going to curse him out in front of everyone. Because of the 26 years. That never crossed my mind. I wanted to see if we still had the same cheekbones and smile. We did. We also discovered we prefer brown liquor and we’re not embarrassed to curse wherever. Our combined comedic timing kept the conversation easy and flowing. He wanted four things, (1) that I look him in the eye and say I forgive him (2) that I spend the night so we can talk and he can stare at me (3) we keep the television turned on with his favorite video game, “Call of Duty” on the home screen and (4) his hand held bible stay on the hospital tray. I gave him all but #2. I spent the night over my cousin’s house. My father died. That is chapter four.
He was at peace with all he had done in life. He had space in his heart to justify everything and have no regret. He told me stories upon stories that filled 26 years but in none of them did he try and justify why he wasn’t there for me. He simply thought I would be better without all he was carrying. Me forgiving him was his primary goal in January of 2009. Everyone knew my name at his funeral services. People that had gone on my website and bought my books and cd’s wanted my autograph. He was my public relations person in the Midwest and I didn’t even know. He told everyone about me. I was this mystery daughter that he described as a go-getter. They told me 26 years worth of stuff on me. Things that I didn’t even know he knew. That is chapter five.
And all these chapters have a direct impact on my mental health. My emotional capabilities as well. The chapters set the parameters of how much of a risk I’ll take in life. How much I will let one get away with before I respond. That is why this book will be written. So I can demonstrate to others that parents being there or not being there does matter and generational cycles are as real as the sun in the sky. Love and hate can easily be mixed with the same atoms. The proof is my life paralleled with the chapters of my Dad. That is chapter 6.
from the book, “yardwork”
My father died in February. Around the 22nd or so. I purposely misplaced the obituary and forgot the date. It was the year 2008 or 2009. It was such a blur but I know I was living in Atlanta at the time.
He was my biggest fan but I didn’t know. He was consistent with inconsistency. Or maybe it’s “we” were consistent with inconsistency. But usually the child is allowed to blame the parent so I said “he”. We weren’t consistent like the hurricanes that you expect every year. We were more like tornadoes in the south. It can happen but it would be a surprise. Except we never made the news. Not together at least. So that was the weather of our relationship.
I called in December, around the holidays cause that’s what you’re supposed to do. His girlfriend answered and told me he was dying. They had given him a few months to live. He told me he was dying a few years before that, so I kind of didn’t believe her. I can’t remember where he was or why she answered the phone. But then he picked up and said, “hello”.
Continue reading the memories in February
My mother taught me how to make a living.
My father showed me how to create a life to live.
She was deemed responsible.
He was deemed selfish.
… I want to be selfishly responsible from here on out.
Saturday afternoon truth
told by thick brown hands,
stories of survival and struggle until both
sound like all the names of the black mamas in the neighborhood
Hymns and laughter
imparted in between sections of greased scalps
that smell like coconut or yesterday’s frying oil
Here, little girls get to disappear
feel their mother’s heart beat
as her fingertips massage away her little girl worries
not turning the jump rope fast enough
getting picked last during recess for dodge ball
on the floor between her mother’s legs
the little girl’s father appears in a new light
fresh and foul
like discounted gizzards
she learns why to save
why the pulled out back seat of her grandfather’s Cadillac is a
treasure in the garage
safe Saturday rituals become
sanctified Sunday religion
and all this from sitting in between her mother’s legs
getting her hair
I told her to celebrate celibacy
cause his semen spat
crack and wet rocks
her nipples leaked e&j
A drunken tomorrow.
poisoned tongues for her to swallow karma
his phalyx welt like drowned ivy vines planted everywhere
no sunshine to polish the chlorophyll
just dampened highway underpasses
abandoned by 2 a.m.
She say for her family
she do what she can
when in reality it be for her
man / who wants a mother like her son
so she wipe both they asses and then her tears cause it be from the same shit
Too tired more/more tired than her mother who taught her how to stay
who lived and died the same way
the palm reader etched on her palm
now that she know/she can remain calm
when he come to bed smelling like fuck nut
and dried saliva.
He’ll say it’s all in her head
so she have nightmares of
forever being a fool.
from the book,
Copies available here
40 Words of Wisdom Every Parent Needs to Give Their Child