My Son, the Game Changer

So much of who I am has been shaped by my kids, but the most profound changes I have made have been the result of my son’s presence in my life. Long before I even laid eyes on him, he began changing my soul’s trajectory, and as a result, my attitude is different, my outlook is different, the way I love others is different, and the way I love myself is different.

I suppose I can start this off at the space and time at which I found out I was expecting. Though I didn’t know he was a “he” yet, I viewed his message of incoming (that’s my made up term for positive pregnancy test) as a nod from God that we were doing right. My husband and I had been working through incredibly rough and painful obstacles in an effort to fight for our marriage. Though I won’t say this was the first time we’d done so, I will term it as the most real time. I had faith and high hopes, but I also had uncertainty. When we conceived quickly after reconciling, I took it as a sign that I was exactly where I needed to be – with him – and our relationship only seemed to flourish just as our new baby did.

But I also had to wrestle with some other, more personal issues upon conception. I had to start making some serious, more long-term decisions about just exactly what my life would be moving forward. I’ve referenced my Life Reset plenty of times on this blog, and that’s because it truly was one of the most defining moments of my thirties thus far. Like an artist in her own gallery, I took every painting down and scrutinized it to decide if it really represented my work. In this case, the gallery was a metaphor for my life, and the art was representation of the stuff my life was made of – social media accounts, a few close friends and family, an unnecessarily large circle of simple acquaintances that I was putting more effort into maintaining than I needed to, a foggy sense of self, and a disappointing relationship with anxiety. By the time I finished in my metaphorical gallery, it had almost no art left on the walls, representative of all the relationships I stopped making time for, the commitments I walked away from, the fluffy stuff in my life that I had been convinced I needed to care about that really didn’t matter at all – I threw it all in a dumpster. With more space on the walls of my life, I had a chance to start reinventing myself as an artist, and indeed, as a woman.

My aspirations are largely visionary; I cannot achieve something unless I am able to picture myself in the role realistically. As a woman in her early 30s expecting her second child, I had ideas for what I wanted to be, but I was not her. Hell, I’m STILL not her. I probably never will fully realize “dream wife and mom Antoinette,” but where I was before was really far off from what I am striving for, and I wanted to be closer. I wanted to resemble her more. For starters, I wanted to be stronger. I had claimed to be strong for quite some time now and it wasn’t an untrue statement. However, I knew I could do more. And do more I did as I sank into a valley of new medical impediments I had never faced before. Coupled with the other “fun” hoops pregnancy can throw you through, I was pretty much either in pain or nauseous or both from the moment I opened my eyes each morning, until I closed them again from exhaustion that evening. This happened consistently for the entirety of the pregnancy. Every day in pain. Every day sick. Sometimes both in the same day. I’d been sick before, but that was as a child when someone could take care of me. This time was different – this time there was no crutch or safe place to sit until I felt better. Life had to continue and I was still mom to a growing, walking, talking child while incubating another one. I was still a lead at work, and there were still projects to be done. I was still Antoinette, therefore had responsibilities that will not ever pause just because I have a sick day. I had to deal. That can take a mental toll after a while.

Outside of my physical ailments, I was eager, as well as forced, to confront my mental ailment of anxiety. I want to believe that I would’ve been proactive about making headway on this regardless of being pregnant or not, but I remember feeling on multiple occasions during my first trimester that I didn’t want to be home to a beautiful, growing baby and also house crippling thoughts in my brain. It seemed toxic. I didn’t want to be a slave to anxiety anymore – I was ready to gain the upper hand on it once and for all. I wanted my children to have a strong mom, in body, mind, and spirit. So I sought counseling and began studying meditation and hypnosis as a means for using my own soul’s power to meet the nastiness of my anxiety and reduce it to dust. It was not easy at first, but with practice, I got better.

I also began looking at my relationships with people critically, as relationships, boundaries, and trust have all been sources and triggers for my anxiety a lot in the past. I decided to ditch the relationships that I felt weren’t necessary anymore. It’s okay to have seasonal friends – some people are sent to us at just the right time to help us with what we’re going through, but not all of them are meant to stick around forever. I’ve learned this and accepted it, and through that have experienced healing from the wounds I had from past relationships broke up before I was ready or wanted them to. Trimming the landscape on my friendship front also meant I would no longer be letting anybody in who truly wasn’t worthy, thus protecting my family more. So many people who have claimed to value me and my friendship have in fact used my friendship and then very easily discarded me afterward. The difference now though is that 1) I no longer say a sentence like that sadly. I say it honestly and peacefully. 2) I am able to say that sentence peacefully because I am no longer tied to the validation of having a certain number of friends. Quantity is irrelevant, and while friends are nice to have, they should never shape who you are entirely.  3) While I do have friends and care for my family and those in my inner circle, my perspective now places much less weight on issues like those, favoring my faith and spirituality, my marriage, my children, and my personal development much, much more. Journeying to this peaceful place internally wasn’t easy either, but it was important that I reach this place before my son arrived so that I could teach him (and his sister, too) how to find it.

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Six days old

I dove deeper into my faith in order to become a more gracious, patient, focused, and honest person. The result has been better performance at work, a better relationship with my work, and a better regard for my work. In my personal life, my relationships with the people who mattered to me were given the much-needed TLC I was neglecting to give because I was so caught up in my digital self that I wasn’t giving much of my real self. I had to find my real self, dust her off, and start getting to know her again. I do not feel that I was walking around a liar – but I was much more a product of social engineering than I ever realized, and that wasn’t me.

(I’ll cover that topic in a different blog later)

It was important that I get clear on my own identity because that essence of me is being passed on to my children, and I want to do it justice. As a black girl with dark skin, I had to reacquaint myself with just exactly what makes me a unique person with value, outside of what the grand narrative may tell. I had to do this so that my own daughter will recognize the same of herself and love herself. I had to do this so that I’d be in a position to prepare both of my children, but especially my son, for the chaos that might follow them because of their skin tone. Racism isn’t going away, and when my babies come to me devastated because they’ve been greeted by it, I had to know how to respond. I had to be able to show them how to shine even in the face of negativity, which the world has in droves. That negativity doesn’t have to stop them, though. It’s only stopped me when I have allowed it to. I have seen many triumphs despite what others may have been hoping, plotting, or wickedly scheming up for me, and I want to be the kind of mom who gets her babies prepared for that. I knew I wanted to raise a smart, confident, self-loving black girl and an intelligent, savvy, self-loving black boy. I wanted them both to have the internal strength to topple mountains. But I knew couldn’t make them strong without being strong myself. It wouldn’t have been fair for me to expect them to be resilient against race-based criticism if I was not the same. I was almost there before, but I’m much closer now.

Becoming a mom to my son has forced me to grow stronger. Giving birth to him the way that I did was a symbolic crossing over for me from what I was to what I am now, and what better method of crossover than to have to muster mental and physical strength in order to triumph in a place where I had once failed? Even after the birth was over, I’ve successfully kept postpartum depression at bay, also with a med-free approach, which was another important personal choice I made for myself. Overall, I’m tackling much more and succeeding in the process and these are accomplishments that make the 2013 version of myself look quite watered down compared to who I’ve been in 2017. Maybe my son didn’t “make” me stronger, but he certainly prompted me to become so. He was my lighthouse in the midst of the perfect, dark storm. He IS my reason for not only wanting, but having to do better. He has forever altered the way I see and play the game (of life), and I am so grateful he is here.

Black in America

I have kept my mouth shut on a lot of issues pertaining to black people, who are in turn my people. There’s been a plethora of these issues that have risen to the surface over the past few years. Some of it has been heinous – innocent black women, men, and children have been slain in their homes, cars, and public streets, and in the wakes of their deaths the media has smeared the reputations of these people to paint a landscape that we blacks are the enemy, the nuisance, and we deserve whatever mistreatment we receive.

Why have I been so quiet? Because it’s pretty hard to speak up about any of this without being brutally criticized, bastardized, othered, or shut down. This is doubly true if you dare to speak on black issues and you are black. Many white folks figure that if they don’t see the racism, it doesn’t exist – “Why can’t you just get over it/let it go?” is what I often hear from folks who claim to have compassion for all people, but can’t seem to be compassionate when the mistreatment of a group of people with darker skin is brought to light. Meanwhile, in the black community, many are so busy trying to tally you up on a mental scorecard to determine your level of blackness that they get distracted by trivial, ancillary details instead of listening to your message. If you’re married to someone who is not black, as I am, then you’re a traitor, a bedwench, a poisonous snake, and “you ain’t down.” If you are a black male, you are constantly under criticism from black females as not doing enough, not stepping up, not having their/our backs. And then there’s some of us who are very misled, who act in obnoxious ways because it’s what’s been shown to us on television, and this often draws the wrong kind of attention, and these show boaters aren’t even really sure what it is they’re fighting for or why, thus contributing to the uphill plight we – blacks everywhere – are fighting to just find justice, be treated fairly, and be taken seriously.

Catching heat from other blacks is nothing new to me; I grew up middle class, I got good grades, and I wasn’t into rap/hip hop culture much. Growing up, I listened to Pac and Biggie, but I also listened to Depeche Mode and No Doubt. I could dance and sing, but I also participated in poetry slams and speech and debate events. I wasn’t, am not, and probably never will be hood. I can speak two sentences and most people catch that. I have not ever been black enough to most blacks, I’m often a token to whites, and none of it is ever good enough.

It’s okay. I’ve stopped being sad or angry about these things.

I’m not even mad at anybody…

I used to be. I used to feel hatred for myself for being the way that I am. I used to reflect on my childhood with resentment because of how my parents raised me. I used to distance myself from other blacks because I saw them as the problem. I used to hate white people because I thought it was all their fault.

But not anymore. If there are any other blacks out there reading this who have experienced similar emotions, please know that it really is okay, and you are fine. If you have conflicting feelings about your identity, understand that there isn’t anything wrong with you. It’s not necessarily the fault of our people, either, because most blacks have been led astray by consuming messages that were meant to tear the black community apart. Images of what we are supposed to be are splashed all over the media, and these images are poor.  In the 1990s, it was talk shows like Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake, etc. that portrayed black women as promiscuous, and black men as irresponsible. Music videos didn’t do many other favors in objectifying black women and making black men seem like thugs. In the new millennium, reality television shows have replaced talk shows as the express vehicle of poisonous delivery. At the same time, social media has roared in existence, just providing more ways for this negative imagery to become accessible. Trying to be an individual, be yourself, and figure out who you are amidst a sea of this propaganda is enough to take anyone in a variety of directions. It’s enough to make anyone question who they are. You are not to blame if you stumbled a few times while navigating through all of this. You cannot achieve any progress as long as you’re punishing yourself over mistakes you’ve made. We all make mistakes.

But here are some mistakes you shouldn’t make (and if you’ve made them before, strive not to make them again): Do not ever make apologies for your blackness. Do not let anyone tell you what your blackness has to be – YOU define that – not the establishment, not whites, not other blacks. Do not expect others who are non-black to understand – they can’t. If they’ve never faced injustice because of something about them that they were born with and cannot change (and I will hear no comments from LGBTQ folks, because regardless of the teary speeches you gave in pursuit of marriage equality, you are NOT like us) they have no capacity to identify with you, and that’s okay too. It doesn’t give anyone a pass, but it’s what you need to understand in order to not go crazy. Non-blacks can empathize, they can stand beside you in your fight, but they will not ever know what you face, so don’t expect them to understand.

I had to get clear on these items, too, before I could feel comfortable enough speaking from my place in society. Black people, my people, have been torn apart savagely, often at the hands of others who look like us but choose to act in ways that serve the interests of other groups. This is the reason a black man like Michael Vick – who not long ago was demonized, blackballed, and humiliated out of a job in the NFL for participation in a dog fighting operation – can state on Fox Sports that Colin Kaepernick can’t get a job in the NFL because of his afro, advising him to cut his hair off, and in essence, cut his blackness off. Why do I use Vick as an example? Because 1) most white people still want him dead for that dog fighting mess, but those same folks couldn’t care less about innocent black HUMANS being killed or abused, 2) Vick knows Kaepernick’s free agent status has nothing to do with his hair, but more to do with his political views, 3) once again we have black men in the media criticizing each other, even though the arena through which Vick is dissing Kap is the same one that dehumanized, emasculated, and shunned Vick years ago. This sets a precedent to white viewers that says it’s okay to attack these men, and that only perpetuates more of this vicious cycle I mentioned before.

As blacks, we say and do awful things to each other that make my stomach turn. We turn on each other, we call each other out for everything that’s wrong, and we can’t seem to unite as a race of people to look out for one another. Before anyone jumps to the comment section to speak out against black people uniting, please keep in mind that many other demographics do this beautifully: Asians stick up for other Asians, as was seen after that Asian man was bludgeoned on a United Airlines flight. He was in the wrong, ultimately, but his people had his back. Jewish people stick up for other Jews, Mexicans stick up for other Mexicans, and whites look out for other whites. Is this wrong? Hell no! Looking out for your own is a GOOD thing…but too often, that doesn’t seem to be the case in the black community. We can’t seem to defend Bill Cosby, a man whose contributions have paved the way for blacks in television and cinema. A man whose major lasting impression should be reshaping the image of the black household and family through the 1980s and 1990s. A man whose charitable contributions have benefitted black schools and colleges. A man WHO HAS STILL NOT BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF ANYTHING in a court of law in a case built on a blatant lack of evidence, propped up by faulty, shaky testimony, recounting events of over 30 years ago by opportunist people who can barely even remember what happened to them last week, and want to reset their clocks for 15 more minutes of fame at the expense of one man’s legacy. However, we certainly do love us some R. Kelly – a documented sexual predator who married a 15 year old girl by encouraging her to lie about her age on court documents, who was videotaped and positively identified as performing lewd sexual acts on a minor, and who is now denying that a cult of underage women stayed with him against their will. He’s our hero, and Cosby is a villain. It’s disgusting.

And with bass ackwardness such as this, is it any surprise our communities are in disarray? We fork over our money hand over fist for wigs, weaves, nails, gold chains, alcohol, and expensive cars, but often can’t keep the lights on at our low-income housing establishments, won’t demand better funding for the schools we send our children to, and won’t dare lend our dollars to help black entrepreneurs get off the ground. We hail the filth of women such as Amber Rose or Angela White (aka Blac Chyna) as heroes but pay no attention to the immoral standards these women perpetuate with their slut walks, side chick glorification, distasteful social media tirades, and trashy images. And if it’s not overconsumption of the trash that’s put in front of our faces that’s the problem, it’s infighting that is doing us in. Many of us are so quick to snatch away another person’s blackness because of who they date, where they work, how they speak, etc. and this is probably the angle I’m most tired of. At the end of the day, I can behave as “whitewashed” as black activists want to claim, but I promise you the cops don’t see me as white, the CEO on my job doesn’t see me as white, and even our 45th president doesn’t want to give me any passes. More importantly: I do not see myself as white. All that this criticism is successfully accomplishing is a disconnect within our community when we need more connection.

But all of this is stupid stuff. Get over it, Antoinette. Stop crying about race related issues when they don’t exist. You’re not black enough to speak on black issues, so just go back to your instructional designing and plucking the strings of your guitar. –Sincerely, America.

 

 

Sock Bun Tutorial

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As a working mom, I wear the sock bun anywhere from two to five times a week. It’s my old standby for when I’m pressed for time, which is often, and it’s a look that women can’t really go wrong with. Each time I style my hair this way, I receive lots of compliments on the sleek and simple appearance of it, and many women comment that they’d love to wear the same style but believe for some reason that they can’t.

The truth is, anyone can style a sock bun with the right tools! From what I’ve seen in other tutorials, your hair doesn’t even need to be all that long or straight to do so, as evidenced through this video: http://youtu.be/yAMVJ1vdOwg

Because so many women seem to be misinformed about the ease of creating the sock bun, I figured I’d shed some light on how I achieve my style through this tutorial.

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The hair products you use will vary depending on your hair’s texture, but the main items you’ll need are a brush, holding spray or mousse, bobby pins, a ponytail holder, and a “donut” or sock. Many beauty supply stores as well as accessories shops (Claire’s, Icing) all carry donuts for sale for creating these buns, but I’ve never purchased one specifically. I’ve always been able to get by with using a sock to create my donut.

The material of the sock creates different results. For my hair’s texture, using a nylon sock doesn’t always produce the best hold. I find the best results using a cotton dress sock. I inherited the one pictured from my husband after he wore a hole in it at the heel.

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If you choose the sock method, make sure the color of the sock matches your hair color as closely as possible. For blondes, a nude colored sock works well. You’ll cut the toe off of the end of the sock to make it look like the one above.

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You can wrap the sock into a donut easily by sliding the sock onto your arm first. You can also use this time to channel your inner 80s child.

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Your toeless sock is now the nucleus of your bun!

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Once you’ve formed a donut with your sock, place your hair in a ponytail. Be neat during this phase – you want the sides to stay tucked in and keep the bottom and crown smooth and free of “bumps.” Utilize your hold spray, mousse, or moisturizer to achieve smoothness as you pull your hair into the ponytail.

Note: Placement of your ponytail is important as this lays the bed for where your bun will rest. High ponytails result in high buns. However, you can also place your ponytail lower for a low bun.

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Begin to wrap your hair around the sock, starting at the tip of your ponytail working in. Similar to how you may have rolled your socks over at your ankles as a child, you’ll start rolling your ponytail over the donut, tucking all hair in at the donut’s hole. Continue to roll until the donut reaches the base of your ponytail, and your hair is completely tucked.

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Usually, when I’ve finished wrapping my bun, my hair only covers one portion of the sock. If this is the case for you as well do not fret; you can simply spread your hair horizontally over the sock to cover it. If any hairs come loose during this process, just tuck them into the donut hole as you did before.

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Once your sock is covered, tuck in any loose hairs that may have come unraveled as you situated your hair around the sock. Use bobby pins if necessary to hold hair in at the bun as well as in the back.

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The finished product is a clean, simple, and classic style that is appropriate for any occasion!