Learned Behavior

Around 7ish every morning, my freshly awoken daughter usually makes her way to my office upstairs, wiping sleep from her eyes and carrying a plush toy. She always asks if we can spend some time together, and while I’m usually an hour or so into my work day, I try to pause and give her some time. Breaks are healthy. :)I noticed after about a week of this routine, she’s started showing up at my office more often. Truth be told, she’s always itching for reasons to go in there, and I can’t blame her for that. My office is chocked full of stuff a toddler would like to get into – markers, a glass angel figurine, paper, pens, a stapler, a turquoise file cabinet, a vase full of brightly colored artificial flowers, etc. (my office is my own personal paradise). But lately, when she shows up at my office, it’s with one of her wooden chairs, her play “computer” and a dolly that she’s lovingly referring to as her baby that day. 
She will plug away on her pretend laptop, scribble pretend notes on scratch paper, pick up her “baby” and sing to it, then gently tell it that she has a meeting to go to, and talk to her friends on her toy cell phone. 
She said to me, “I’m doing work just like you, mommy!” and I must say, my heart was touched. 

From last year. We like to sing along to the Frozen soundtrack when we do…just about everything.😏


First and foremost, our children learn how to act based on observing our behaviors, and it seems that I’ve been able to pass on some behaviors I was hoping my children would pick up, specifically, my daughter. I want her to see her mom as a working woman. 

I want her to see that it’s possible to be a career woman, and be a family woman, and be happy maintaining both. Now, don’t get me wrong – this is not my attempt to control her destiny in any way. She is free to choose what her adulthood will look like when the time comes. If she wants to be a stay at home mommy, she’s free to. She could marry a rich man and spend her days shopping and lounging (how nice, right?!). She could decide to work full time while attending night school to become a doctor or lawyer. She could also put herself through grad school while taking care of children of her own. I will support all of that as long as it’s what she wants because I love her. I also feel a sense of pride in getting to show her one version of womanhood that I’ve found to be respectable and commendable. 

While I was out grocery shopping with Adrian this week, another mom approached me as I was piling my selected goods onto the checkout conveyor belt with my 3-month old strapped onto my chest. “I’m impressed that you’re out shopping with your baby!” she told me. I thanked her for that compliment, and we chitchatted about diaper deals and managing outings with kiddos. Later that same day, as I was talking to my husband about future plans for our family, he reiterated his appreciation for the energy I bring to our home.

I think all moms can list at least 50 tasks that are just everyday responsibilities that have to be maintained in order for life to go on at home. What we don’t always do is step back to take in the scope of all these tasks. We chauffeur, we cook, we comfort and cuddle, we wake up in the middle of the night, we wipe noses, we wash and fold, and many of us do these things while also working jobs full time. Some of us even work those full time jobs out of the same homes we work so hard to keep clean and inviting (like me!).

Make no mistake, our children see us doing these things. They may not always express their gratitude (just two days ago, Kennedy told me to go away while I was dropping her off with her grandmother 🙄) but they do take notice of us tucking them in at night, waking them up in the morning, and always being there. My daughter sees me working and deems it cool and important, which I take as a positive step in building her identity. When she gets older, I can let her know about the time I spent in school to be able to work the job I have, and hopefully that will inspire her, too. 

I like this version of motherhood on me. It’s been a crazy ride to adjust to the growth of our family while also returning to work, but I feel like myself doing this. I also feel like I’m putting my best foot forward in setting an example for my children, who will hopefully come to conceptualize womanhood as including lots of things beyond just beauty or homemaking – it’s also intelligence, multitasking, and serving. 

Lions, Tigers, and Bears

I’ve been working in management for about seven months now, and the transition from part time to leadership has been…turbulent, exciting, overwhelming, inspiring, and necessary. It was time for me to move on from teaching, and at first I was unsure if this was the right move (I thought I might journey back to marketing and public relations) but now I’m certain it was. When I was studying in the MBA program, I took two courses centered on leadership and management, and in both, I indicated to my instructors that I wasn’t interested in working in management. I felt it was scary, I didn’t want the headache, and most of what I’d read about management seemed like it involved an intense amount of pressure. Those things aren’t untrue; I’ve experienced pressure, headaches, and nervousness since assuming this role. However, I feel like I’m able to grow more in this position than my past one. I’m constantly challenged to grow and get better, and I like that. One of the ways I’ve grown is through my ability to face what I’d been fearing about management: managing.

It’s not as simple as telling people what to do. That’s simple delegation, and even without management or leadership experience, anyone can pass off work to someone else. Managing requires additional accountability, responsibility, and an element of protection. Good managers don’t throw people under the bus when projects go wrong. Good managers work with their team members’ strengths as well as shortcomings. Good managers recognize their own strengths and shortcomings, too. But great managers are not necessarily always leaders. It’s leadership that pulls the team together in the face of difficulty. Leaders keep their team safe from misguided emotions or responsibility that should not be shouldered by their own team members. Leaders are lions.

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The tigris is still my favorite cat, but lioness is a close second!

I’ve had to grow into a lion.

The truth is that in most aspects, I’m a lot more like a tiger.

Tigers are the largest of the big cats. They don’t hold the distinction as “king” or “queen” of anything, as they mostly travel and live in limited groups, or alone. Lions travel and live in prides, large communities of lions all working toward a common purpose. Both are hunters, and tigers are aggressive fighters, but lions (males anyway) are said to have an advantage in combat due to their mane’s ability to protect their necks. Tigers don’t have manes…but they’re giant, thrashing animals.

I’ve always had some sense of aggression about me. My instinct is to challenge authority’s orders because I’m too strong-willed to just blindly obey what someone I don’t know tells me (hence why I would have failed in the military). I’m also a professional loner, and capable of fighting my own battles, performing my own stunts, licking my own wounds. Naturally, I am a tiger. In the professional environment, I have to be a lion.

Lions also do lion shit, like draw blood, growl, patrol, and protect. Lions are leaders. Doing lion shit has been tough, but also gratifying. It’s hard to learn to navigate “drawing blood” through assertiveness, consistency, and courage. I don’t let myself get railroaded anymore because I can’t – I can’t afford to, as railroading means the entire team falls off track. I have no choice but to protect my team members because their time is valuable for our collective goal, and I can’t afford to have them distracted by other people from outside the department or team. It’s a balancing act…but I’ve fallen into it okay.

Then, there are the bears; I work for two of them. One is like a koala – (I know, I know…they aren’t really bears, but bear with me) calm, pensive, subtle, and very approachable. The other is like a grizzly – constantly working toward a greater good, a hunter, one you can learn a lot from, and markedly more aggressive. Navigating between their two differing dynamics is also a challenge, but I don’t think I could have grown into what I am now without them. I’ve worked a lot of jobs, and for a lot of bosses, but I’ve only had one other boss in the past that I respected as much as these two. We aren’t buddies, but we work well together.

There you have it – my animal kingdom analogy for my professional life.

Oh my.

 

I’m grateful I’ve had such an environment in which to grow.
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I’m No Longer Teaching

…at least for the time being. This is a significant career move for me, so allow me to set the stage upon which my decision was made.

My career in teaching and higher education began almost five years ago to the day when I was hired to teach English classes at California College San Diego. I was elated to start, especially considering that the job I held before it was as a hospital registrar. After that, I began taking jobs at various other schools doing roughly the same thing: teaching English. This has allowed me to gain not only experience in teaching and andragogy, but also to develop key professional skills I’ll forever be grateful for. But for the 42 mods that I taught in the classroom at CCSD, I began each new mod with new students the same way; I’d tell them how long I’d been there, where I studied, fill them in on my career background and let them know that teaching will be my profession until I lose a passion for it. In other words: The day I lost my passion for teaching would be the day I’d leave the profession.

I lost my passion for teaching about a year ago.

I couldn’t just up and quit. That’d damage my already near crumbling financial stature. But when I finally identified what was making me so aggravated, I committed myself to finding something else to do for work. At first, I thought I might journey back into marketing and/or public relations, but after doing a two-day job search in that field, I decided my skill set wasn’t focused enough for the jobs I wanted. I was building a business at this point, but it needed time to grow. I sent out lots of applications for jobs, but none produced any follow up. I had to be picky; I’m a work at home mom by choice, and I refuse to give that up. The pool of telecommute jobs isn’t as great as one might think. Discouraged with my job hunt, I decided I’d need to stay with the company I was working for. It was around this time that I began looking into the requirements to work in curriculum.

After learning that I’d be qualified to work in this department, I turned into a puppy you feed once that just keeps hanging around. I followed up with the director incessantly for months. I also liked that in curriculum, I’d still have influence over the student experience, but no more direct student contact. I liked that the positions there were more steady than adjunct work; the possibilities of becoming a full time instructor were so few and far between, and I didn’t have the will power to wait. I also liked that working in curriculum allowed me to use more of my talents. I write well, but I also create – films, art, sound bites, systems – well. Working with curriculum allows for more of that. It also gives me a chance to collaborate with others more – a part of the workday experience I lost when I left CCSD to go online with IU. Teaching online is very solitary, or at least it was for me. The curriculum department works in teams, so the island feel has less chance to exist.

Evidently, the universe agrees that curriculum is where I need to be, because I was offered a position there this past week, and I gladly accepted.

Some who follow this blog might wonder if this means the return of the machine. No. The machine was surviving partially on angst and bitterness about a situation she didn’t know how to change – not enjoying my job for a while caused friction in other areas of my life which both gave me energy and put a strain on me. Somewhere, somehow, teaching and I fell out of love, and the disconnect made me question who I was.

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Circa May 2012, back when I was still in love with teaching as well as high-waisted pencil skirts. (Maybe I’m still in love with high-waisted pencil skirts)

For five years, I’ve been “Mrs. O.” but I haven’t really felt like her in about two years. Or maybe it’s just that she’s changed. She was 26 when she started. Five years of time flies by and suddenly the life scape looks a little different, and so do the priorities, the perspectives, the passions. I’d much rather retire Mrs. O. as the fire in her is slowly fading, just in case there’s a chance it gets reignited, than drag her along through storm after storm, which will eventually just put her out. It’s important to me that if I depart from teaching, I do so with a sense of my love for it remaining. I just don’t love it as much as I did on that first night I stood up to teach ENG099 to a group of 12. I was scared and fumbling, and all they wanted to know was where I shopped because they liked my clothes. Then they asked how old I was. Then they asked why I’d ever want to teach, and I told them, with stars in my eyes, of my enthusiasm for educating the world on English and communication…

I start my new job on Monday.

Stay tuned…

Yeah, I’m a pole dancer.

I suppose this confession has been a long time coming. Everybody kind of already knows, but I haven’t ever truly confirmed publicly that this is indeed what I do – one of the many, many things that I do. So here you go: Yes. I am a pole dancer.

I’m also still a wife, a mom, a professor, a God-prasier, and graduate student. (Yes, naysayers. It’s possible to do all of those at once.)

Let me start from the beginning.

It was October 2014, and I was sitting in my parents’ living room on a warm fall evening. At the time, we were all living with them after moving here from California. My primary job hadn’t officially started yet as I was still in the training phase. Fabian had only been working a couple of weeks. I could feel myself beginning to buckle under the weight of my father’s rules and habits at his home, just as I’d predicted I would after living with him again for a few months. I hadn’t started the MBA program yet, but was slated to begin in a matter of days.

I needed to find a way to get out of the house for a while, alone. I was going stir crazy. Wake up, feed the baby, attempt to spend time with my spouse while watching my parents’ television, in their living room, of their house. Listen to music, but not too loud, because it’s still mom and dad’s house. Go take a walk, but let someone know where you’re going, because you know, you still live at mom and dad’s house. Break. The damn. Cycle.

I started cruising the Internet for deals or events in my area that I could throw myself into. Starting over means everything – new group of friends, new residence, new driver’s license, and new hobbies. Groupon and LivingSocial were my best friends in those days (truthfully, they’re a couple of my mains forever and always, but ever so clearly then) and I was desperately searching for new restaurants, new play groups to take Kennedy to, new ways to connect with this new town I lived in.

I saw a Groupon for “pole fitness” classes offered at a premier studio in Gainesville. The photo had some bright and happy looking chick, doing Lord knows what on the pole, but she looked graceful, classy, and happy. It was $54 for three classes. I figured if I wasn’t feeling it or her I’d just bail after the three classes. I purchased the Groupon and let it sit for a few days before calling to schedule my classes. Even after they were on my calendar, I gave myself permission to back out.

The first night I showed up and met Jacqueline Valdez at her small home studio. No other students attended this night. I’d washed all my lotion off my legs per her rules and made sure to show up on time with a yoga mat in hand. I was wearing what I thought were short shorts at the time and I nervously did floor work with her to warm up my arms, hamstrings, ankles, wrists, and pelvis.

That first class, we started with basic walks around the pole, with stepping and dragging the feet. I looked ridiculous in the mirror, but I tried not to focus too much on how I looked, rather just on what I was doing. She taught me a few simple moves, like 360 turns, none of which I got, and then showed me a few more advanced tricks (advanced by my skill level then) before concluding class with me, bidding me farewell until that Thursday, three days later.

Class two was a lot like class one – me stumbling around the pole trying to keep up with the most basic of moves, her reassuring me that not everyone picks up things easily and quickly. We scheduled one more class meeting to satisfy my Groupon purchase, and I returned the next week. Once again it was just me, and we chatted a bit about the soreness I was feeling in my body from my previous lessons, but Jackie assured me that it was all normal. It was on this night that we stepped to the poles again to run through basic tricks, but something was different for me – I nailed my 360, and I even managed a pole sit. She let me take a selfie in the mirror on this night.

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Pole sit selfie. I only had the bruises for 5 days afterward.

“You’ve progressed,” she said to me with a straight face. Knowing her as I do now, I realize that she was recalculating her plan of action for what she’d teach me moving forward. I identify that as my “hooked like it’s cocaine” moment for pole…

We continued that way for six months with a slight break in between while my husband and I moved out of my parents’ home and into our own place. As we dug our feet into Gainesville as our home, I dug my heels (and ankles and thighs) deeper into pole.

When I first arrived in Gainesville, I was depressed, lost, and conflicted. I had a good life in San Diego, and I left it all behind so that I could bring my family together again. I gave up friendships, familiarity, and my home so that my daughter could grow up near her grandparents and my husband and I could have some backup as we continued to grow our family. In some ways, I view myself as arriving in Gainesville empty handed, and when I started pole, suddenly I had something to hold onto again.

Even more than this, though, is what pole does for my character. Yes, it sculpts my body and makes me stronger physically, but pole dancer Antoinette holds her own much better than non-pole Antoinette ever did. Because pole dancing carries such a negative connotation, the people who do it have to be really motivated to practice it constantly and want to progress in it. The ante is doubled for those who choose to share their craft with the world. Because I know what the majority of the world has to say about my practicing this as a hobby, it truly is something I have to do for myself. For the record: I do not do this for my husband. I do not do this out of rebellion. I do not do this out of desperation. I do not do this because I’m trying to be someone else. I do pole for me and me only. It is my selfish indulgence.

Pole allows me to unashamedly claim the right to be sexy. Men are allowed to be sexy without consequence – nobody throws shade on the male manager that all the females in the office swoon over. Women must always pay for being sexy – in labels, in whispers they think we can’t hear, in missed opportunities to be taken seriously. No thanks.

Pole frees me. ALL of me.

Plus, it was either this or join a fight club, and I like my face too much for that.

31

Here I am, on the eve of another birthday. I always use this time of year for reflection; it’s largely important to me that when I look back on the previous 365 days, I see evidence of how I’ve moved myself forward and overcome obstacles I may have been facing. As I look back on 30, some things come to mind:

– Hands down, this was the year of life when I did the most changing – new location, new jobs, new outlook, new attitude.

– At the rate I’m moving, 31 will be eventful and full of lots of hard work. It’s a good thing I’m no stranger to hard work.

– By this time next year, I will hold two masters degrees. I never even dreamed of such a reality, but this is happening. I surprised myself.

– I’m more athletic and active at 30 turning 31 than I was at 20 turning 21. That’s supposed to spell longevity. I sure hope so!

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21 year old Antoinette sure liked to dance on tables a lot…

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Soon-to-be 31 year old Antoinette is not about that life.

– It’s abundantly clear to me how far I’ve moved away from my 20s, even though I’m only starting my second year of my 30s. Unless “party” means yummy takeout, some wine, and video games on the couch, I don’t party anymore. I don’t wear club clothes anymore. I choose not to engage ignorance anymore. I’m not eager to mold myself into what others want. At this point, it’s pretty clear who and what I am.

– …but that’s not to say I can’t still be adventurous. I took up pole dancing at age 30. More on that later…

– I’ve never been more concerned about planning for my future. In fairness, this probably started at 28 when I became pregnant, but I intend to close out my 30s pulling back from the workhorse lifestyle and reaping the fruits of my labor.

– I still don’t get what the big deal is about getting a year older. People like to pretend you’re going to go to sleep and wake up a different person because you’ve reached that magical day on the calendar when you were born however many years ago. Get over it, folks. It’s not some huge change. Just live on. Live ON!

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day as well, which spells no chores, no cooking, and God-willing no major stresses tomorrow. Perhaps this will be what “taking a day off” from momhood is like, if one could submit a time off request (I doubt it).

Here’s to 31, which promises to be another transitional age for me, but hopefully one that will set up for a rewarding 32.

Cold Tofurky

Thirty days ago, I walked into my doctor’s office desperate for answers as to why I couldn’t seem to shake the massive fatigue and dizzy spells I had unexpectedly fallen victim to. At this point, three weeks into my turbulent journey, I had confirmed that I was not pregnant, I’d had a urinalysis done at the urgent care that was normal, and I wasn’t suffering any allergic reactions that I knew of. I was eating food, but it was mostly the meals I could stagger in to pick up or food my family had prepared for me out of the goodness of their hearts. My doctor ordered lab work for me, and also made some suggestions for lifestyle changes that might improve my energy levels. While her recommendations had to do with increasing water intake and cardio exercise, I saw this as a turning point in my adulthood to make a change I had been contemplating for approximately two years. “I think I’m going to become a vegetarian,” I told her. She replied that she was a vegetarian, and that if I was truly interested in making the change I should take an additional B12 vitamin to supplement. I went straight from her office to the health food store to make some purchases, and when I got home, I purged our refrigerator of meat products, save for the frozen food items, which I told my husband to make disappear in the next few days.

When I announced my decision to change, most people around me were very supportive and encouraging. Of course, there was also the plethora of questions and doubtful comments, and I’d like to try to address those concerns and curiosity now:

1. This is completely and utterly about me, and nobody else.

Most people’s response whenever anyone shares any dietary choices or restrictions they’re following is usually along the lines of whether or not they’d be able to commit to the same regimen. I’ve done it too. “You’re a vegan? I’m not sure I could ever give up cheese.” I see the ignorance in a response like that now, because nobody asked me if I was or could be a vegan. Similarly, I didn’t change my diet so that the rest of the world could, and my criteria for who I keep company with hasn’t been affected by what I eat. I did this because it was something I wanted to do. No doctor, dietician, animal rights activist, vegan, or vegetarian coerced me into this decision – as I stated, I’ve wanted to do this for at least two years, but in 2013 to late 2014 I was pregnant then breastfeeding, and I didn’t think making a change during that time was the best move for me.

2. I’ve made other changes, too.

In addition to dropping chicken, beef, turkey, and pork from my diet, I’ve also cut my sugar consumption and substituted agave nectar as a sweetener for things like tea and oatmeal, and I’ve eliminated most processed snack foods in favor of high protein and high fiber snacks like legumes, fruits, and vegetables. I still eat tortilla chips in soups and while dipping guacamole.

3. This lifestyle is cheaper.

My grocery bills averaged around $250-$350 total a month depending on the time of year, if I was hosting any dinners, etc. The average cost for a trip to Sam’s Club or Costco was easily $100-$150 due to buying meats like chicken, steak, and turkey burgers. Grocery store trips were usually around $120-$200 picking up all things I don’t buy from wholesale stores like those and alcohol. I didn’t save my Sam’s Club receipts from last month after making the change, but as evidenced from screenshots of my bank statements, I only spent $47.74 on my first trip, and $61.22 on my second one. I did manage to save one of my Publix receipts…

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Screen grab from my statement at Sun State Credit Union. This shows evidence of purchases from both Publix and Sam’s Club. Those trips will last us about 2 weeks for groceries.

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One of my Publix receipts. You can see some of the items I bought, which includes whole milk for my daughter and other groceries like cream cheese and bagels for my husband. The total is less than $100.

I buy specialty foods like Neat Meat substitute, and Woodstock brand extra firm tofu from a place called Earth Origins. Both items are priced at $3.97 and $4.29 per package respectively, and one package of each yields at least three meals. This is cheaper than buying packs of cut chicken or pork from the grocery store, which average around $9-$12 per pack, and only yield one to two meals.

The idea that eating healthy is too expensive seems baseless to me. I think it’s the convenience of opening a bag of potato chips vs. having to steam broccoli crowns that turns people off.

4. My digestive system is on FLEEK!

Let’s not beat around the bush. Shitting on a regular basis is an important part of everyone’s health. Ask anyone who hasn’t been able to go for a few days and they will tell you that all they want is to be able to drop a deuce. The increased fiber I take in from this plant-based diet has regulated my system, making me a happy camper.

All in all, I’m very proud of myself for sticking with this change through the 30-day mark. It takes 30 days of repeated action for something to become a habit, and this habit is one that I’m happy to embrace. I hesitate to label myself as a vegetarian, as I do still eat certain fish like salmon and ahi. The term “pescatarian” doesn’t roll off my tongue as easily, and implies that I eat fish on a regular basis, which I don’t. I prefer to just say that my diet is plant-based – it’s largely vegetarian but I will eat fish. With that being said, I leave you with a glimpse of what meals without chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and processed foods look like:

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Eggs scrambled with bell pepper, black beans, and onion. Served with homemade hash browns and topped in salsa verde, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

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Quinoa and steel cut oats simmered in milk with strawberries and agave nectar. This is easily my new favorite breakfast food.

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Mixed greens with tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and farro.

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Of course, I still blend up green smoothies.

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Peanut and tofu str fry in a mixed soy and oyster sauce.

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Ahi tuna steak, asparagus, and farro.

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Mixed vegetable stir fry.

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Cobb salad with carrots, beets, tomato, onion, corn, avocado, and hard boiled egg.

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Pan-seared salmon and sautéed kale greens over barley.

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Plain greek yogurt with strawberries, raspberries, and agave nectar.

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Neat tacos with organic tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and avocado made with Neat meat substitute.

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Spaghetti in “neat” sauce, made with quinoa noodles and Neat meat substitute.

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A few of the new staples I use in my kitchen these days.

Splitting Hairs

About a month ago, a friend of mine shared a commercial by Dove’s hair care line that professed a message to all curly haired girls and women that they should proudly and happily embrace their curls. The video cites statistics that girls are seven times more likely to like their curly hair if those around them do, and that only four out of ten girls think their hair is beautiful. In the video, moms and other women don curly hairstyles and congregate with lots of curly haired young girls to celebrate that curly hair is beautiful and that they all love it. It’s a beautiful and uplifting message, and I’m glad that my daughter will be raised during a time when more women are preaching a message of loving themselves, especially their hair, in its natural state. I also cry every time I see that video, but not tears of joy…

During the time when I grew up, which was mostly during the 1990s and early 2000s, straight hair was all the rage. Women and girls spent ample time processing and flat ironing their hair to achieve the smooth, straight look. For black women in particular, the message about hair was that it should be tame and sleek, and straightening (“perming”), flat ironing, hot combing, or “weaving” were the popular methods for achieving this. My mom straightened her hair. She also straightened my hair at my request. Most black girls at my school had straight hair in elementary, middle, and high school.

It wasn’t until I entered college in 2002 that I started thinking about my hair’s potential outside of straightness. By this time, my mom had ditched straight styles and was rocking a full and healthy Afro, all while maintaining an upper management job and attending college. I did the “chop” and cut my straight hair off in an effort to stop chemically processing and wear my hair naturally. I don’t have many photos from that time, but here’s one:

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The day I initiated into Alpha Xi Delta. Photo cred goes to my big sis for this blast from the past.

The transition didn’t go well for me for a variety of reasons, most of which pointed back to the fact that I didn’t know how to properly care for my hair in its natural state. I also didn’t have the patience to really nurture my hair into something beautiful, so that style only lasted for about a year and I returned to my straightening (and frying) ways.

Six years later, fed up with expensive hair care treatments and routine visits to the salon, I walked into a wig shop and made a few purchases. For everyday trips to work and such I would wear a human hair wig. For special occasions I changed it up. I rocked wigs for almost three years straight, and all the while, my own “unfooled around with” hair grew back with a thick vengeance under my wig cap.

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Everyone loved my hair from our engagement pictures. Little. Did they. Know.

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From one of my last modeling gigs.

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I wore a partial weave on my wedding day.

One day after showering I looked in the mirror at my very curly, very thick hair and decided I would nail down a good hair stylist to help me return to my own hair again. I wasn’t sure how the return would look, whether natural curly or straight, but given my previous hair experiences I knew I wanted to make the decision with some guidance from a professional.

It was at this time that I met Amber, hair goddess and stylist extraordinaire, and she and I had an important conversation. I told her I was thinking of going natural and that I wanted some recommendations for upkeep. She applauded my decision and detailed the regimens for braiding, wrapping, and moisturizing in addition to scalp care and split end maintenance. All of these things are applicable to other hair textures too, but styling natural African American hair requires great care and patience. My face must’ve been talking for me in that moment, because Amber asked me if going natural was what I really wanted. I told her no. “Your blackness isn’t defined by you having natural hair,” she said to me. I sat in her chair and she gave me back the same straight hairstyle I was accustomed to, and she continued to care for my hair for the next four years until I moved from San Diego to Gainesville in August 2014.

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Mother’s Day 2010. That’s my mom’s Afro, in all its natural glory. 🙂

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Mother’s Day 2014. Three generations, three different hair textures.

Amber gave me permission to stick with what I liked and felt comfortable with, and I remained pretty okay in that until Dove debuted their commercial. My biracial daughter has springy curls, much like my biracial cousins do. Caring for her hair isn’t too hard for me since I’m somewhat familiar with it from experience and watching my aunt style my cousin Jade’s hair.

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Reppin’ the Giants (WINNING!). Baby Kennedy looks a lot like she did as a baby, complete with similar hair texture.

But in straightening my own hair, am I communicating a message of self-hate to my daughter? I love Kennedy’s hair. I think it’s lustrous and beautiful, and I want her to be proud of it. I want little girls everywhere with curls of all texture to be happy with their hair. I wish I could have been told a message like this when I was a child too, because maybe then I wouldn’t have had to grow up stressing over whether my hair looked right, and subjecting my image to such intense scrutiny because of what was growing on top of my head. Perhaps if a message like this had been popular in the 1990s, I’d have a thick coif of natural hair and not have to contemplate this problem. When I was younger, I viewed my natural hair as a curse. I don’t see it that way anymore. I chose the style I wear because it’s what’s easiest for me. The reason why hair is such a big deal for girls and women is because it’s such a defining feature of who we are. I choose to stick with something familiar when it comes to this feature for myself. I don’t hate my natural hair. I don’t hate my race. But I feel like that’s what Dove is communicating about my choice to straighten. I’m also not willing to go through another big chop and sport a near buzz cut all for the purpose of trying to meet a consistency that others say I should have.

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Curly coifed, smoothie drinkin’, toddler goodness. 🙂

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We’re smiling because we like cookies. And selfies.

So, in short, the Dove commercial makes me cry because it makes me feel like I’m a bad mother for straightening my curls but wanting my daughter to wear hers, as if I didn’t have enough to worry about in my quest to convince myself that I’m doing okay as a mother.