Monday, June 19, 2017

A Note to The Graduates

Me, with my fourth grade team
Last week, I had the pleasure of addressing the fourth grade students at our school graduation. I wrote a pretty good speech. In my head. While I was in the shower. Then, I got out of the shower and totally forgot the speech. Ha! Luckily, some of it came back to me and I was able to deliver some inspiration to the masses. Turns out, it applies to big people as well so read on and be inspired.

Good morning, parents, teachers, friends and family members, and good morning graduates! We’ve been preparing for this day all year, and yet, I can’t believe that it’s finally here. Scholars, I’m going to miss so many things about this fourth grade class:

High heel parties in my office with [name redacted].

Snacks and stories in my office with [name redacted] and [name redacted].

Taking trips to Dunkin Donuts with [name redacted], [name redacted], [name redacted], and so many more of you.

Practicing cartwheels in the hallway with [name redacted] and [name redacted], which I still haven’t perfected. I’m sure we probably disrupted a few second grade lessons in the process, but the laughs and good times made it all worth it.

Talks with [name redacted] about how my children are doing.

And helping many of you solve problems throughout the year.

To [my principal] I’ve learned so much from your leadership these past couple of years and it’s truly been an amazing experience working with you. Thank you.

To the wonderful fourth grade teachers, I can’t think of another group of educators that I would've wanted to go through this year with. The way you love your scholars so fiercely, the way you reflect and self-correct, the way you make sure that every scholar reaches his or her fullest potential is truly incredible. You push me to work harder, to work smarter, and to be a fearless leader. Cheers to Team Summit! [That's an inside joke.]

Graduates, people ask me all the time how I do this job. How I keep up with the demands of this position, especially when I have two children of my own at home... how I keep up the stamina... how do I make this sustainable? But the question isn’t how, it’s why.

Why do I do this job? Well, just look around. Each of you inspire me to be a little bit better every single day. To be better today than I was yesterday. Because you deserve my best. I’ve found my purpose; I’ve found my why. Every morning when I wake up at 5:30am, I remember why I do this job and it pushes me to want to be excellent.

So scholars, remember your why. As you leave our school, as you go through middle school and then high school… as you weave in and out of friendships and try to find your people… as you stumble and fall and get back up again… remember your why.

It won’t necessarily make things easier – we already know that from having to press through [this year]. Things never get easier, but you... You get better.

I can’t wait to see where you all land in 10 years, 15 years, or 20 years because I know it’ll be someplace amazing. Remember your why. It may not make things easier, no. But it’ll make it worth it.

Now…. go forth and be great. Because you already are.

Cheers to the class of 2029.

Obviously I took out names and all identifying information. Why'd you think?

Friday, June 16, 2017

18 Months of August Kingston

August turned 18 months a few days ago and I can't believe my baby delicious is a full-blown toddler now. I'm talking super duper sweet one minute and full-on tantrums the next. Trying to communicate exactly what he wants and very upset when others don't understand him fast enough. Saying words and babbling. Playing nicely with Aiden and then slapping his glasses off of his face the next. Trying to be independent, yet frustrated when he can't complete a task the way he'd like to. And biting on everything with those four new molars that grew in!

It's been a perfect storm and I couldn't ask for the past six months to be any more challenging and rewarding... all at the same time.

August's words:

  • "Hi" (with a wave)
  • "Bye" (with a wave)
  • Shaking his head "no" whenever he doesn't want something 
  • "Get down" (whenever he climbs on something, which happens to be all the time. And yes, he first heard the phrase from me.)
  • "Hawt" = hot
  • "Tha-ci" = paci (aka "pacifier")
  • "Sheese" = shoes
  • "Bahm-ba" = pamper
  • "Ba" = ball
  • "Bay-bee" = baby
  • "Ah-ah" = all done (also means "I want to eat ____ [whatever he's pointing to])
  • "Muah" = kiss
  • And a whole lot of babbling

August likes:
  • Having "conversations" with pretty much everyone
  • Going to get his pampers and wipes when it's time to change his diapers
  • Wrestling with Aiden 
  • Slapping Aiden's glasses off his face
  • Playing with all of Aiden's toys
  • Pulling down all the toys off the shelf
  • Pulling all the books off the bookcase
  • Changing the channel on the TV
  • Giving and receiving hugs and kisses
  • Climbing on things. All the things
  • Running fast 
  • Reading books... all of them
  • "Talking" on the phone
  • Playing with all his animals and learning the sounds that they make
  • All things Mickey Mouse 
August dislikes:
  • When people tell him "no"
  • Taking baths (still)
  • Water in his face. Or on his head
  • When we take too long to take him out of his crib in the morning (he wakes up way too early)

Can't wait to see what the next six months brings!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Breaking Chains

Monday night…
Aiden: I’m gonna unfriend Ryan on Roblox.
Me: How come?
Aiden: Because he was talking about my avatar with Rolan and they were saying how it doesn’t look nice. And I got mad at him and stopped talking to him. I told him I’m not gonna be his friend anymore and then I said to him, “You know why I’m mad.”
Me: What’d he say?
Aiden: Nothing.

A few minutes later…
Aiden: Do you think I should unfriend him?
Me: Ummm… I think that maybe you should cool off a little bit and let him know what he did to upset you tomorrow in school. And then maybe decide if you wanna unfriend him after talking to him.
Aiden: Okay.

Wednesday night…
Aiden: I was a little sad and mad today because Ryan sad he wasn’t gonna be my friend and he wasn’t gonna invite me over for a play date ever again.
Me: What made him say that?
Aiden: Because he kept talking and getting us in trouble during basketball so I kept telling him to stop talking and he got mad at me. And that’s when he said that. So I got mad and sad and I wasn’t talking to him.
Me: Wait. Didn’t you unfriend him on Roblox?
Aiden: Yeah… but I added him back as my friend because we made up.
Me: Oh. Got it.

Thursday morning on the way to school…
Aiden: Ooh, mommy! So I was playing Roblox last night with Ryan, Rolan, and Zeke. And we…
Me: Umm… are you guys all friends again?
Aiden: Yeah, we all made up.
Me: Oh, okay…
Aiden: Anyway, we were all playing and we had to work together to escape…

And thus began a long-winded story about places they had to escape and characters they had to trick in order to escape these places and things they had to do in order to trick these characters. And blah, blah, blah.

Truth is, I still don’t know squat about the video game Roblox. And I’m obviously not as interested in the game as Aiden is. But I am interested in Aiden’s life – his friendships, how his day went, if something got him upset, and all that jazz. I am interested in giving him advice, if he asks for it. And sometimes even if he doesn’t. I am interested in who he is as a person and building a strong relationship with him. He knows this. He came to me with his problems and asked for my advice. He knows I'm available to him. He knows he has someone in his corner. I'm pretty sure it'll be the same way when August gets older and has friends and/or problems. 

Thing is, my boys already have a better relationship with me than I had with all the grown-ups I was surrounded by when I was growing up.

I’m already breaking chains, building new bridges, and creating new ways of doing things, which is enough to make me happy. 

I have nothing to worry about. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

I No Longer Want To Be A Survivor

I'm a survivor.

Always have been.

From the moment I learned that I needed to be a survivor, I've been just that -- a survivor.

In fact, I've survived many, many traumatic things in my life. Up until I was about four- or five-years old, I lived with my crack-addict mother and drug-dealing father. When things were good, they were good. But we spent many days and night not having food to eat. I remember my sister cooking ramen noodles for us to share. She was seven at the time. I remember burning candles because the electricity was turned off. I remember watching my mother being dragged out of the apartment by 8 or 9 police officers for a fight she had with another lady earlier that day. I remember when they also made me stand facing the wall, legs spread, hands up.

I survived it. All of it.

Up until I was eight- or nine-years old, I lived with my abusive maternal grandmother. To this day, I'm convinced that she hated the fact that she had to raise me, even if it was for only 2 or 3 years. When she wasn't being verbally abusive, she was busy beating me. I learned to get really good at my homework and school work because if I wasn't good at it, I'd get a beating. I learned to keep the room clean and not make a lot of noise because if I didn't, I'd get a beating. I learned to flush the toilet really good and double check that I didn't leave anything behind because if I did, she'd stuff my head into the bowl of shit. Literally, the toilet bowl of shit. I learned to keep my head down and mouth shut. I learned... to be invisible.

I survived it. All of it.

Up until I graduated from high school, I lived in foster care with an emotionally and psychologically abusive foster mother. She used to lock the refrigerator so that I didn't have access to the "good" food. She used to give me her son's clothing as hand-me-downs, and no... they didn't fit me properly. She used to tell me how dark-skinned and ugly I was. She didn't show up to my middle school, high school, or college graduation even though I gave her a ticket and asked her to show up. Her response? "You shoulda told me your graduation was on ______. I gotta go to work!" Umm... I did tell you! And I've been a senior all year long. This ain't new news!

I don't like to speak ill of the dead, but let's call a thing a thing, as Iyanla would say. Needless to say, it wasn't good living under her roof.

But I survived it. All of it.

Then there was this thing with Aiden's other parent. And I learned the painful way that, on average, it takes a domestic violence victim seven times to leave her abuser. And I learned the scary way that menacing, harassing, and stalking can happen years after a victim decides to leave. And I learned that PTSD is real. And debilitating.

But I survived it. All of it.

Here I am, years later, a mother of two beautiful boys, three Ivy League degrees, an Assistant Principal, an Adjunct Professor, and somewhat of a Writer. By all standards, I'm "successful". By all standards, I'm a survivor.

But I no longer want to be a survivor. I no longer want to just survive. I've mastered that already, this surviving thing.

Now? Well, now I want to live fully. I want to be whole. I want to love fully and be loved fully.

I want to thrive. And be free. Hence therapy, lots of therapy.

Let's get free.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mommy Issues

I used to think that it was weird that HEB would talk to his parents a few times a week and fill them in on the happenings of his life.

Whenever something happened, one of my first responses would always be “Did you tell your mom about it? What’d she say?,” But, like, in a sarcastic, asshole-y kind of way.

Growing up, my relationship with my birth parents was pretty much non-existent. It’s still that way with my father, and only slightly existent with my mother. (Readthis post to get all caught up.) So it’s pretty hard for me to receive love and mentorship and advice from older folks who say they care about me. And it’s likely that this is something I’ll be working on in therapy for a long, long time.


Slow progress.

Because I have such a nonexistent relationship with my parents, I spend a lot of time convincing myself that I deserve love and care and mentorship from folks who say they care about me. Not just older folks, but from my peers as well. I also spend a lot of time being intentional about the way I parent Aiden and August and the way I show them love and care and mentorship.

One day, I told my homeboy about the fact that I was weirded out by the HEB situation and he was like, “Nah, A…. it’s pretty common for grown folks to talk to their parents throughout the week.” (He talks to his mom a few times a week. )“You talk to Aiden all the time, right? Well, when Aiden’s all grown up, he’ll have the open relationship with you that HEB has with him mom.”

Then I began to “get it”.

I don’t want August and Aiden to grow up feeling like they don’t deserve to be loved. Or like they’re not worthy of love. Or like they can’t really trust the folks who say they love them. I also don’t want them to spend so much time looking for love because they feel like they don’t have it. (Admittedly, I spend a lot of my time trying to handpick my “family” and looking for love because I don’t feel surrounded by it. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.)

I try to be very intentional with my parenting because I want Aiden and August to feel loved by me. And to feel surrounded by love in general. I want them to know that their mother loves herself enough to take the time to heal wounds, nurse scars, and grow. I want them to know that their mother failed at this a lot, but kept trying. I want them to know that slow progress is still progress, and that sometimes progress just looks like a bunch of failures.

I want them to know that they can come to me when they’re all grown up and talk about the happenings of their lives. Matter of fact, it’ll be mandatory.

I’m gonna keep loving the mess out of my two babies so that they know and feel what it means to be surrounded by love. So that they don’t have to spend so much of their time looking for it and trying to fill a void.

So that they don’t suffer from “Mommy Issues”.

So that they don’t have to be… me.

These days, my “Did you tell your mom about it? What’d she say?” questions to HEB are more out of genuine concern, not sarcasm. Most of time anyway.


Slow progress.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On Embracing My Kids And Being Their Cheerleader

Aiden, 2.5 years
When Aiden was in daycare, everyday at pick-up, he’d see me, get excited, and run a full lap around the 2’s room.

Everyday. Without fail.

He was so excited to see me, to be reunited, that he’d run a full lap and then run up to me and give me a hug.

At first I’d cringe and scold him. I’d tell him to “Walk, be calm, don’t run” because, well… I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was okay with him running indoors or being rowdy. And I didn’t want anyone to think he didn’t have any “brought-upsy,” so to speak.

So I cringed. And I scolded.

He was excited and I was embarrassed. And I was scolding him to stop being so... excited

Let that sink in for a minute.

But luckily for my kid (and for me!), he’s pretty freakin’ resilient and kept at it. Everyday at pick-up, he’d see me, get excited, run a lap around the room, and embrace me with a hug. Every single day. Despite the fact that I scolded him about it just the day before.

One day something “clicked” and I decided that I’d just not give an eff about what folks thought about that situation anymore. On my way to the daycare, I told myself that I’d see my baby and cheer him the eff on as he got excited, ran that lap around the room, and embraced me with a hug.

It was the best hug ever.

Every day since then, I validated his emotions and matched his excitement. And daycare pick-up became one of my favorite moments of the day.

August, 1.5 years
Fast forward eight years and August does the exact same thing. Everyday at daycare pick-up, my little guy sees Aiden and me, gets excited, starts clapping his hands and banging on the wall, and zooms up to us as fast as he can.

All while Aiden and I cheer him on.

Even when the teachers tell him to “be more gentle” or to “calm down,” Aiden and I hype him up and cheer him on.

Because sometimes you just have to embrace the kids that you have and be their number one cheerleader no matter what anyone thinks or says.

Thank goodness I learned that lesson eight years ago. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nivelli's War at The New Victory Theater

It's been a long time since Aiden, August, and I have gotten out of the house during the weekend. And we've been having a bit of weekend cabin fever, so to speak. But with the weather warming up and making me more happy to be out and about, last weekend was the perfect time to head out into the city.

Enter The New Victory Theater.

We've been there so many times and I absolutely love it. The live performances, exposure, and cultural experiences always ensures that we'll have a good time and equally good discussions afterwards.

This time we saw Nivelli's War, a play set at the end of World War II in which a young evacuee from Fankfurt, Ernst, meets Mr. H while he is far away from home. Mr. H is magician and, while on an adventurous and uncertain journey to try to get Ernst back home, Mr. H teaches Ernst a trick or two.

The best part of the show is that it's inspired by a true story, which made for a great conversation and rich discussion afterwards. I especially love how Mr. H and Ernst become each other's ally and protector, and that Aiden and I were not only able to talk about the historical context behind the show, but also about the power of friendship and mentorship.

The best part of the experience, though, is that the customer service at The New Victory Theater continues to be unmatched. There are several times throughout the show where there are loud noises to depict the bombing that occurred during the Holocaust, etc. When August started crying and I made a quick exit, the staff members were very helpful and kind. August and I sat on the bench outside of the auditorium and watch the show from the screens. It can be really uneasy or uncomfortable dealing with a crying toddler during a performance, but the staff was just... amazing! As always.

Thank you.

Nivelli's War is running from now until May 7th at The New Victory. The show runs for approximately 65 minutes with no intermission and tickets start at $16. Visit the New Victory Theater website for more information.

{Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary tickets to the show in order to facilitate this review.} 


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