I’ve probably mentioned a few times before that I like listening to podcasts when I go running. Today’s installment was from This American Life, one of my go-to podcasts.
This episode is called “Birds & Bees,” and it’s all about grown-ups talking to little kids about the things in life that are big and complicated: sex, death, race, and racism. They are the things that so many of us parents aren’t sure how to broach with our children. Honestly, many adults are still trying to negotiate their feelings around these prickly, serious subjects.
The race and racism segment of the show comes from comedian W. Kamau Bell, who is married to a white woman and the father of two daughters. After a rude, racist incident Bell experienced at a coffee shop in Berkley, California, he tries to figure out how deep he wants to wade into the treacherous “racism pool” with his young 4-year-old daughter.
Bell talks about race and racism in his comedy act all the time, but he wasn’t quite ready to delve into talking about racism in American and its violent history with his young daughter. He mentions using the book A Case For Loving — an MMM fave — as his jumping off point.
It’s a good piece. Definitely listen to the 22-minute segment. It’s Act Two: “If You See Racism, Say Racism.”
There’s a line from another father Bell speaks to about racism that keeps playing in my head:
“I don’t want my children confused. I want them knowledgeable.”
So true. About so many things in this life.
Which kind of leads me to the final act of the TAL podcast. It’s about trying to explain death to young kids, especially those who have lost a parent or sibling. The story focuses on this remarkable grief counseling center in Salt Lake City called The Sharing Place. It’s where kids can go to work through and understand their own grief.
The children sit in support groups led by adults and they talk. But it’s important to note how they talk about death; they use concrete language. “Because, the thinking goes, that’s how to process death’s finality. So people don’t pass away, you don’t lose them; they die,” reporter Jonathan Goldstein says.
The really heartbreaking part of the story was hearing these little voices, young children who have lost a parent or sibling to suicide, say the words raw: “… my father died. He shot himself in the head.”
This podcast segment is heavy. It is. But it’s useful and good, too. As an adult trying to raise a little being into whole and healthy grown-up, I think it’s important to listen to the heavy stuff. Because this life, it’s not all light and laughter, and we need to help our kids see that the weight of the heavy stuff is real, but it certainly won’t break you.
So, two fun things to share about me — Nicole, not Ms. Mary Mack — that aren’t really about parenting:
1) I’m going to be a speaker at the BlogHer 15: Experts Among Us conference in NYC this summer. My panel is essentially about, one of my favorite things: storytelling. More specific, it looks to answer the question, Where Does Personal Storytelling Fit In Today’s Social Mediasphere. It’s on July 17, 2015, at 11:30 a.m. Hope to see you there. And do make sure you say hello.
And, oh, yeah… Ava DuVernay will be the keynote speaker! Of course this means I will meet her. Of course! I mean, I already brushed shoulders with her many moons ago when I was an editor at ESPN.com and worked with her then eponymous PR company a couple of times. I always remembered her. But then, you never really forget a name like Ava DuVernay, right? And she has clearly proven with her vision and filmmaking that you simply will not forget about her. Can’t wait!
2) I was so honored to have an essay included in the fabulous book, Tales from Another Mother Runner: Triumphs, Trials, Tips, and Tricks from the Road that came out in March. Then, even more sweetness. The book’s editors, Dimity McDowell Davis and Sarah Bowen Shea — the talented duo that brought you the popular Run Like a Mother — asked me to join them for the Connecticut leg of their book tour. I happily able to read an excerpt from my essay (the same section I read on Dimity and Sarah’s podcast) and felt the swell of support from a room full of wonderful mother runners at my local running shop in West Hartford. It was pretty great.
One of those women in the audience, the lovely M.A.C. Lynch, contacted me this month asking if I would be down for interview with my husband about how he and I met and became a we.
(Me + He beaming at The Youngster’s pre-K “graduation.”)
The result was published in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, and the man and I are definitely tickled by it all. It’s nice telling Your Story again, you know? Remembering, reliving, and relishing it. And I hope you enjoy something from reading it now, too.
If I have to see another cuddly baby bear or adorable turtle with googly eyes on a greeting card wishing me Happy Birthday or Mother’s Day, I’m going to… just accept it. I mean, what other choice do I have? The card with the smiling, toffee-colored boy is like some brand of Yeti: I have yet to see one, and doubt such a thing even exists.
The lack of diversity in greeting cards started to pluck at my nerves 7 years ago, when I ventured out to find thank-you notes for my baby shower. Granted, there’s always Hallmark’s Mahogany line, but that’s just one option—and when has having just one anything ever been the American way? As a mom-to-be, I wanted more. I wanted representation, my real life reflected in the corny greeting cards we share on birthdays and sweet holidays. And once my cinnamon bun was actually out of the oven, the craving for this only grew stronger. I wanted to see versions of him on paper—in cards, in children’s books, in all the media around us—as he moved deeper into living a real life, not as an “other,” but as an actual part of this world.
(Photo by The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation)
Being able to see him — us — embodied in countless adventures and a full-color life is imperative.
Because having brown faces in the foreground counted, seen and relevant, strikes out against the usual erasure story that has persisted for decades, the one in which black lives don’t matter, they don’t even leave a mark.
Because despite the urgency that I might bring to my own message for this child—that he is worthy and important and dear—the predominate image of black people, especially black men, in this “post-racial society” contradicts my affirmations with a deafening and damaging chorus of thug, criminal, threat, worthless.
Because helping my son shape his identity while navigating through intolerance, discrimination and warped perceptions based on scrambled theories and unchecked fear becomes that much more frustrating and heartbreaking when the full spectrum of the black experience is not represented in the media surrounding us. It’s imperative because it’s not just a kid’s book or just a birthday card, but instead, tools that contribute to how children of color cast themselves in their world—forming how they see themselves and how others see them.
I remember reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats as a child. I can still see myself huddled in a carpeted corner of the public library in Montreal, flipping through the book. I was probably 7 or 8, and didn’t have the full language back then to underscore what it meant to me, seeing this brown boy in a red winter coat stomping through the white snow. But the fact that, 30-odd years later, I can still connect with the quiet pride and sweeping joy that I felt the first time I read that book means something. And that I can share that same book (one of the first that I bought as a mother) with my own brown boy is a triumph. But I want more victories. Beyond doors being forced opened, I want entire walls knocked down and rebuilt anew on a proper, upright foundation.
According to annual data collected by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the number of kid’s books published featuring “African-American content” went from 93 to 179 last year—almost double. But that’s 179 out of the 3,500 books that were published in 2014. That calculates to 0.05 percent. Not good enough. Not even close. Change that is set to the speed of molasses hardly feels like progress at all.
If, as the late children’s book author Walter Dean Myers wrote in a New York Times Opinion piece last year, “books transmit values,” then what message is being sent to children of color when most or all the protagonists in the stories they enjoy don’t look anything like them? You have nothing to add. Just sit over there on the sidelines and watch.
It’s not fair. More important, it’s not true. These children, our children, have much to add. They have imaginations and dreams and ideas and influence, and they deserve every opportunity to tell their stories of black lives in all its forms.
I absolutely treasure the experience of reading to my son at bedtime. It’s something I’ve been doing since he was in my belly. I will never get enough of the marvel that takes over his face as he listens to the words strung together and soaks up the colorfully illustrated pictures. His curiosity, comprehension, enthusiasm, and keen retention (no skipping words or passages, mama!) have already begun to intensify since he started learning how to read for himself. Soon—if it isn’t already happening—he will begin framing his life, who he is and the skin he’s in against these funny and fascinating stories that he so enjoys. And when he looks deep into the page beyond the words and doesn’t see his reflection, what story do I tell him then?
This essay was originally posted on the Washington Post’s “On Parenting” column.
These first four months of 2015 have been a glorious ride. Kicked it all off in January with some truly fantastic news: I landed a two-book deal with Kensington. Two novels! The first of which will be published in Fall 2016.
(Photos by me; @nbee3 on Instagram.)
Then we followed up with some wonderful birthdays — my son’s, mine, my mother’s, and my younger sister wrapped up the cake-day celebrations at the end of March. And let’s not forget that MMM turned five last month, too!
There have also been some firsts and fist-bumps for me professionally, starting with publishing my first essay for the Washington Post‘s On Parenting column. I have two(!) more essays filed with them, to be published soon. And then over the weekend, my first BuzzFeed post went live, and the reaction to it has been really good. I keep getting notices about it “blowing up” on different social media sites. Like McConaughey would say, alrigh’, alrigh’, alrigh’.
Plus, spring has finally decided to join us, here on the Northeast. And over the weekend, The Youngster showed us that he knows how to ride a Big Boy bike. From balance bike to real-deal two wheels … my heart, my heart!
(Photos by me; @nbee3 on Instagram.)
So, yeah. I think it’s time to spread some love up in here with a giveaway. And this one is so, so good — in every sense of the word.
I’m so pleased and honored to be able to offer up two outstanding products from fashionABLE, the company dedicated to creating sustainable business in Africa by working with local women there to help them start small business cooperatives. (Definitely read more about fashionABLE’s worthy commitment to create lasting change.)
Each product is named after one the African women with whom fashionABLE works, and there’s also a note attached to the item about what the woman was able to do through this partnership. (Special shouts to Liz and my Cool Mom Picks fam for introducing me to fashionABLE and all the good that is coming out of this group.)
This very special giveaway will see one lucky reader walking away with a Mamuye Tote, which is handcrafted in Ethiopia and made from 100 percent Ethiopian distressed leather. Listen. I have this tote, and I’m here to tell you all — dopeness! You will look fly with this slung over your shoulder. Trust.
That same lucky loo will also receive one Selam Scarf, which is 100 percent super-soft cotton and hand-woven in Ethiopia. Again, flyness is guaranteed with one of these medium weight numbers.
And all you have to do is leave a comment below, sharing some good news — could be yours or your neighbor’s. DASSIT!
Honestly, how fab is this? Pretty damn fab, I’d say.
Good luck, good people. The winner will be announced at the end of this month.