Friday, September 26, 2014

MommyWriter/WriterMommy-a very small note on mothering my writing and my children

Some days are better than others.  There are some days that I get up with the sun push Milt out of the way and write for an hour or two before the kids are up at 6a. And then, there are some days I'm able to get to my porch at my favorite restaurant before work and write for an hour or so. Those are my “A+” days.

But of course that is not every day. Because three children want their momma, no matter how great their daddy is (and he’s pretty fucking great). Life always intervenes and tries to pull guilt in the wagon behind it.  A child at 3a has a stomachache. You volunteered to be at school at 8:30 and then have to run to work after. A dress is needed for a dance and it has to be floral in the middle of winter and only you can buy it. Your partner needs a care giving break, so you add their tasks to your tasks. Your 12 year old needs to talk to you about her best friend right before she goes to school, right in the middle of your time to write. Your son needs a check (which you haven’t budgeted for) and when you give it to him you realize there’s a hole in his sneaker. Or the phone rings from NYC at 4a or 5a from your mom asking you to talk to your father with Alzheimer's so he can calm down.

That’s my life.

And on those days no writing happens…none! I used to dread those non-writing days. Now I'm okay with them (sometimes) because they are usually the seeds to new essays and new pieces about things I didn't know I wanted to write about.

But I've started to let the guilt about not "formally" writing go away. Only because this life (three kids, one at home husband, cooking, work, school, elderly parents 500 miles away, one car in a two car town, want a dog but having trouble paying the rent) is my reality. And it won’t always be this way, but it is right now. So in order to keep the guilt at bay, I do a little trick: I track everything and anything that remotely touches my BIG writing pieces, and I count it as my writing for the day.

Writing on the Starbucks napkin in carpool lane (counted), writing a haiku while waiting for my 7 year old to finish ballet (counted), typing on my phone in the notes section while at the doctor/dentist (counted), coming to pick up my son from a birthday party early and sitting in the folks’ driveway writing about Nancy Drew (counted), taking a picture with my phone that reminds me of my big writing piece (counted). Facebook posts, small blog entries, ideas on scraps of paper that go into my journals, it’s all counted as my “writing time.”

I'm no Stephen King or Walter Mosley, nor do I want to be. I admire their tenacity and their work ethic. I admire any folks who have the entire day to split into writing, reading, and editing times.

But that’s not me.  

I'm a mom and a writer or a writer and a mom.

And I get my words down on the page when I can. Sometimes that page is stained with spaghetti sauce, but I still count it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

My police tale-- a very rough draft of First Impressions

So today another family will bury another black child in front of the nation.

We did this two years ago in Florida. Then we wore hoodies. This time we take selfies with our hands up and hold signs that say “Don’t Shoot.”

In Missouri a woman buries her child, while I sent my children to school. They smiled, they laughed as they jumped into the card loaded down with school supplies, Kleenex and Clorox wipes. They were happy. I couldn’t’ help but think of Lesly McSpadden as my kids ran into their building.

Lots of people will have many things to say today. There will be pundits, politicians, journalists, and “ordinary” people who have opinions on what happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

As I type this I shake. I feel feverish. I want to stand on my desk and yell at the indignity of a child not going to school ever again, and a mother having to sit through two hours of talking. And more talking, when all she wants is for her child to wake up. Just wake up one more time, so she could say she loved him. Or tell him she was sorry for something little she had yelled at him at earlier. Just one more moment. Just one. It’s a good thing I’m at work, I can’t lose my job…yet. But I need to talk about this. I need to feel this.

Not because Michael Brown is black and I’m black, and I have black children, and I’m mourning along with his mother and I worry about my husband and children in our very “diverse” neighborhood and whether the police station down the street will stop them on Glenwood Avenue in our bright red mini-van and have my seven year old get out of the car and raise her hands while officers yell, “guns down, guns down” while my husband is cuffed in front of them. Oh no, it’s not that.

And it’s not because I have a charismatic son who cracks jokes in serious situations and my husband and I have already started to tell him to become serious and focus and be calm. Oh no. It’s not that either.  
It’s because I too have a police story.

I had a charmed childhood. My life was filled with books, and family, and summer camps.  My family was middle class. We lived in a middle class building in a middle class neighborhood with lots of different people. My mother gave me the same speech that lots of children received, “If you ever get lost or you’re in trouble find a policeman. They’ll help you.” My mother was and is a believer in “People will do and be the right thing at the right time.” The police were our friends.

And in our neighborhood it was easy to find one.

They were always on Burke Avenue in front of Three Boys Pizzeria. The only restaurant or business in the area not to have been robbed or bothered by the mob or anyone else for that matter. Sometimes the police van would be parked outside the pizzeria, and 5 or 6 cops would be sitting inside eating pizza.  The policemen walked around our neighborhood. I’m not sure if they knew me or not, but I passed them every day.  

When I was sixteen a man I had known all my life pulled me into his car after I refused his advances. Once he had pulled me in, I started screaming and was able to get the window down. The man told me if I kept screaming he’d kill me. But it was too late, the policeman was walking towards us. He wanted to take off, but didn't. He warned me again to say nothing. The policeman came over and asked if there was a problem. The man I was with said no. Then he lied to the cop and said my parents had asked him to pick me up for them. That I was mentally unstable and He was taking me home. I kept saying he was lying, had tears in my eyes and was begging him to open the door. Instead the police office said to me gruffly, “Quiet! He’s not going to hurt you!” Then it dawned on me: they knew each other. Then he said to my captor, “Yeah, these girls can get out of control sometimes can’t they? You go have a good time.” Then he looked at me again and said, “Behave yourself!” And then he walked away. I was stunned and just cried more. A policeman had thrown me to the wolves. This is not the way this was supposed to happen. Not even taking the time to think about what was happening didn't look normal. Or that I was 16 and the man was at least 45.  To the police officer I was a non-entity. The rest is a blur...for now it is.

Do I blame the police officer? Yep. But it’s also made me wonder what type of people make up this force that is supposed to be taking care of us or watching over us.  I was 16. Yes I had done some stupid shit as a kid. I had shoplifted bubble yum from the pharmacy on the corner, and had taken quarters out of my father’s side bag when I was younger, and I had forged my mother’s name on a note when I was 7.  But did I deserve to be ignored by the policeman? Was I really unimportant?  I had rights didn’t I? But ultimately I’ve realized:

That cop failed me on that day.

But the institution of the police is failing all of us, not just Black people. There is a fundamental problem with the institution of policing. We all think we can do it. We all think that we can just get up there and put on a uniform and judge what is right and wrong and enforce the laws as we see them just because we go through an academy with admissions standards lower than some of the worst for-profit colleges in the country.

The reality is, we can’t all be the police.

Being a police officer is a thankless job (in no way am I supporting the police with that statement). But it’s a job that comes with a very nifty accessory, a gun. A gun that puts power in the hands of people who refuse to recognize that they police human beings, not perps. And the reality is that many of our police force are doing a job that others don’t want to do. That’s a fact. I don’t see Harvard graduates trading in their degrees and becoming police officers.  So what happens when there is job that others don’t want to do or feel that is beneath them? You get people who are not equipped or unable to get the education that’s needed to look after a diverse (I hate that word) population. You would think from the way the media talks about the black community and the Latino community that being a policeman would be a fantastic job for us. But they’ll never feel comfortable giving people of color that many guns.

The police need to know there are human beings in these neighborhoods. That’s why when Captain Johnson came out and said, “This is my community.” So many people were awed and impressed. He lives here? He knows what’s going on? He wears a police uniform? And people gravitated to his space, they wanted to tell him their stories. He wasn't intimidating and scary and off the beaten path. He is a smart man with an understanding that human beings live in these neighborhoods. That there are TAXPAYERS who live here, and that there are young people who are in pain. What’s wrong with demanding that police officers live in the cities they police? I’m from New York. I can’t tell you how many of my friends tell me of their family members who are police who live in Long Island (which is not a borough) or in Yonkers, or Westchester.  I’m not saying live in the city to punish the cops, but to see the people they police as their neighbors instead of criminals. Be able to see 17 and 18 year old boys simply as boys who get in trouble from time to time but aren't the next coming of evil.  I’m not asking for the White Shadow motif, I just think that if you have a gun and you’re willing to use it, you need to know who you’re using it on, and when you should use it. 

Last week I watched men, women, and children get tear gassed by the police. Hell, I didn't even know the police had tear gas. Tear gas? In 2014? Really?. In the United States of America I saw Americans tear gassing other Americans. I heard the same tired refrains about tragedies, and how Mike Brown deserved to be killed (by the New York Times no less) and how the officer was within his rights. I watched a woman have to talk about her child, again, and again, and again to the media as though he were an object and not a child. I saw an unrepentant media (with the exception of Elon James White and others in the independent media, not you  Don Lemon) prop this boy up as the poster boy for all their manufactured fears of black men and boys in this country. I felt nauseous as I thought of one of my own children lying on the ground.

And I’m petrified of them. Partly because I don’t believe they’d protect my children now, but also because they hadn't protected me then. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

I'm so Bronx...

I saw the I'm so.... thread and at first couldn't think of anything. I think I get caught up in not being from the South Bronx or Castle Hill sometimes and even questioning my Bronx authenticity.

But screw that.

I'm all Bronx baby. 

I'm more Bronx in North Carolina than I ever was when I was in New York.

This is a snapshot of what I remembered.

I'm so Bronx I remember when the 28 bus was the 15 and blew out black smoke and had no air conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter.

I'm so Bronx I used to buy my father's Pall Mall Golds...and I was 7.

I'm so Bronx I remember the Buster-Brown shoe store on Boston Road.

I'm so Bronx I remember when the hair beauticians wore uniforms and nursing shoes.

I'm so Bronx I remember skating at the Skate Key, that's now a Goodwill and an auto repair place.

I'm so Bronx I remember going to the Truman Highschool planetarium on school trips.

I'm so Bronx that going to shop at the Macys in New Rochelle instead of the one in Parkchester was a big deal.

I'm so Bronx I remember the garbage strike of '81 and the blackout of '77.

I'm so Bronx I remember when the Whitestone Movie Theater was a drive-through.

I'm so Bronx I remember when Bay Plaza was a swamp.

I'm so Bronx I got my 6th grade graduation dress from Alexander's on Grand Concourse and Fordham Road.

I'm so Bronx I remember the Melba Theater on Boston Road where I saw my First Movie Uptown Saturday Night.

I'm so Bronx I remember when the biggest bank in the city was Manufacturer's Hanover  or as we called it Manny Hanny (which is now Chase).

I'm so Bronx that going out for Chinese food was a big deal and we always ate in the restaurant.

I'm so Bronx I remember when Dewitt Clinton was all Male, and when they first started admitting girls.

I'm so Bronx I remember standing in line in the Magenta Houses waiting for summer snacks.

I'm so Bronx I remember when all the trains had graffiti on it, the more graffiti the more I wanted to get in that car.

I remember...fondly.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

No more apologies: A daddy story

I refuse to be apologetic anymore because my mother and father were married and my father lived with us.

I. Refuse.

I will not be treated like an anomaly.

I am not a freak of nature in the black community.
My dad listening to Jazz 1970s

I just grew up with two parents. I also had a village that included two sets of grandparents. And men: three uncles I saw on a regular basis, an amazing godfather, and cousins and family friends that for some reason always knew when I was doing wrong.

For years I’ve felt guilt about having my dad around. For. Years.

Kids at school made me feel guilty that my father came home every night. That he was the one who made sure I made it to school every morning. Or that he had a job. In third grade a girl who I had never been friends with tripped me in the lunch line and told me, “You think you better than me cause your daddy dropped you off. You not.” Kids laughed and pointed as I sat on my behind on the gray concrete confused. Thinking, “everyone had a father, right?” The next day I told my dad to walk me to the corner and I’d walk to school by myself. If fitting in meant dropping dad, so be it.

Or in 4th grade when Yolanda Gray took my watch and my mother and father sat with her mother in the principal’s office. Her mother told my mother, “Oh you brought your husband to make me look bad, huh?”  I sat behind them confused. How could bringing my father make anyone look bad? Didn’t he have a stake in me? After that, I begged my mother to go to parent-teacher conferences in the mornings when my father worked. My mother attended plays and other day-time events by herself. I stopped asking my father to show up.

My Wedding in 1998

It hurt my father. I hurt him on purpose so I wouldn’t be an outcast. I did it because the community around me (and I'm only talking about this specific community not the entire black community) had internalized that dads were expendable and had placed this pathology on kids who really weren’t sure what to think. So we acted out our parents' pathology on each other because it was easier than trying to get an answer from an adult.  And to be “normal” in my neighborhood meant you had to have fly jeans, a name belt, live in the housing projects, and have a family situation that included lots of women. In those spaces men were aliens. I couldn’t change where I lived, but I could be conscious that folks didn’t see me with my dad. Even though I knew LOTS of families that were like mine, the overall consensus was that folks that looked like me didn’t have families like me. So in elementary school I dumped my dad whenever I could.

The few friends I had in school didn’t have dads living with them. When they came to my house they would shy away from my dad as though he was the boogie man. When he’d offer to drive them home after our playdates, my friends’ moms would think he was trying to be fresh with them. Two of the moms called my mother and told them to stop sending my father over and rubbing their marriage in their faces. Needless to say that stopped a lot of future playdates.

Not that my father wasn’t without his faults. He could be distant. There were things in his past (mostly about the South) that he didn’t want to talk about with me. He didn’t know exactly how to raise a girl. He had been raised by women but had never raised one himself. I was foreign to him especially when I went to high school. His anger was quick, and he could fall asleep at the drop of a hat no matter what the conversation. We didn’t become close until Milton came into our lives and bridged a gap we both hadn’t been able to.

But I will say, he tried.
North Carolina, Christmas 2011

When I went to the University of Rochester I was again made to feel guilty about my father being there. A financial aid advisor suggested that if my father moved out of the house for a year, I’d be able to get more financial aid. “Don’t worry, he can just go stay with one of his boys.” My father was 48, don’t you stop having boys at 30? My parent’s income combined with my grades exempted me from the HEOP program 95% of all the other people of color were in that Summer.  So when I arrived in the Fall of 1987 to the lush greens of Rochester and the home of the Yellowjackets I was on the periphery of a black community that I was never able to fully penetrate. After one night of drinking and folks telling their stories. I told them a story about my dad and his golf obsession. I’m not sure why I told it, but looking back I think I was just proud of him. When I had finished, a dude I had just met said, “Shiiiit. Erica, you making that shit up. Ain’t no daddy in the Bronx playing no golf with no white folks. Tell the truth. You ain’t got no daddy. It’s cool if your daddy split.” Split? He had just made the first of a dozen payments and taken out a loan to pay my tuition. If anything he was bound to the University of Rochester for the next 4 years and might have to give up his first grandchild to pay my tuition.

I’m not sure if there were times he could have split and didn’t. But I do know he was more than there. Not perfect, but there. I was loved imperfectly, by a man who didn’t know what he was doing, but was trying the only way he knew how. If it wasn’t for him, my grandfather, those three uncles, and godfather, I wouldn’t have known my husband when he showed up.  And my father and grandfather helped paved the path for the fathering my own husband has shown up for.

I. Refuse. To. Apologize. For. Him. Being. In. My. Life.

I no longer apologize for living where I lived, or not being Bronx enough (whatever the hell that means) or my family having a car, or my mom and dad being married, or not being poor. I’m done with that. We all have our pain, I have mine too. But we don’t get to piss our pain on others. We just don’t.

Raleigh, Christmas 2013

Whether we’re 4 or 44. We don’t get to shut down other folks’ memories and belief systems. We can debate them, we can talk about them. But we have to respect the way that folks feel. For my entire life, I’ve heard others tell me how hard their lives were because their dad wasn’t around. And I have compassion and empathy for them, and I try to fight with them. But there are multiple narratives in our community. Narratives that are just as valid even if they aren’t tragic.

What is tragic, is that the man I knew, loved, hated, loved again, and laughed with is disappearing. The sticky protein that is blocking his brain cells from remembering my wedding, or my age, and more recently my oldest daughter’s name is taking him away from me and my mother.  Day by day, he grows more and more distant. Our 20-minute conversations are only 3 minutes now. Our discussions of Jazz or politics are now one sided. Two weeks ago he walked out the door of the building he lives in and got lost in the rain for two hours. I thought I’d never breathe again.

So instead of feeling guilty, I remember our life together in little vignettes. When we get on the phone I tell him a little story about the two of us.

  • I remember that he never missed a graduation. 
  • I remember his excitement when he drove eight hours to Rochester, a city he’d never been to and dropped me off to do great things. I remember his hands touching the bunk bed and closet doors and his smile.
  • I remember seeing him cry for the first time at his mother’s funeral.
  • I remember having my first beer with him in the airport and thinking, “I’m an adult now”.
  • I remember him telling jokes in the limo with me and my bridal party and holding my hand under the train of the dress. Or when we walked down the aisle he said, “Let’s do this!”
  • I remember him calling me right before I left the house to a have Lauryn, “I felt like something was going to happen today,” he said.
  • I remember him holding Lauryn for the first time, and later Nathaniel, and later Vanessa.
    Nathaniel, Dad, Vanessa, and Lauryn.
    The Bronx 2012
  • I remember him winking at me at times when my mother’s huge family had engulfed us into one of their events. The two of us would sit like deer in the headlights not knowing anyone or having anything to do. He’d wink at me, and I’d smile. He's passed that wink onto Vanessa now. I smile every time I see it.
  • I remember the long trips to Tennessee, and the speeding tickets in Virginia. I remember the trip to Disney.
  • I remember his joy when I gave him a hat from my first overseas trip. He was more excited than I was.
  • I remember him with his headphones and t-shirt listening to the MJQ, Monk, Trane, Davis, Vaughn, and Red Foxx (only on vinyl).
  • I remember him walking out early on Sunday mornings with his golf bag, his sun visor and his Pall Mall Golds in his shirt pocket to go make that 8a tee time.
I remember for both of us.

See that’s my daddy story. It will have a tragic ending I’m afraid. 

But there were happy, sad, pissy, and awkward times.  But my narrative is just as honest, just as necessary, and just as important as the many narratives that will be told this weekend of missing fathers and women who have held it down by themselves. I will feel the pain of those stories. I will reach out to the authors of those stories and send out virtual hugs and words of encouragement. Some of those folks I'll see next week and ask them "How can I help?" I will validate their stories. I will hear them with all my body, heart, and soul.

But I want the same.

My story is valid.

I will no longer feel guilty.

Dad & Lauryn, Christmas 2012.
(Lauryn taking pictures with her new cellphone)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Unemployment in words and pictures

One of the humiliating parts of being unemployed is certifying your unemployment with the state every Sunday.  Every Sunday at 12, I type in the same information:

Have you looked for work this week?                                             Yes
Have you refused work this week?                                                  No
Have you kept track of the work you applied for this week?          Yes
Have you received any pay from anywhere this week?                  No

It’s not the questions. The questions would be fine, it's the fact that they haven’t sent me a dime in 10 weeks.  10 weeks.  In North Carolina if you’re fired, it’s more than likely that you won’t get unemployment benefits. North Carolina sides with the employer not the children who have to eat or the electric company that needs to be paid.  So every week, Sundays at 12, I click yes, no, yes, no and then certify that I haven’t lied to them.  Every week.

When I click over I get the same message:
Your claim has been accepted, but we cannot provide a payment at this time, because there is an issue on your claim pending an eligibility ruling. A determination will be made and mailed to you and your claim will be processed accordingly.

According to various Internet sites this message means you’ll never be paid. Which is interesting because the government never delayed in taking the unemployment taxes out of my paycheck.  But North Carolina loves businesses, it can’t get new businesses here if they don’t sell out workers by promising big companies they won’t have to pay unemployment insurance for it’s employees. I suspect that’s why there are so many Walmarts here.

So I wait. And I hope for money that likely won’t ever show up.

I’m luckier than most. We had a little savings. But we’ll be done with that by August.  So if nothing happens for Milt and I, we’ll have to go back to NYC.  Proud of our experience in NC, but we'll be in an immediate scramble to find schools, pediatricians, dentists, a place to live, and the three to four months rent we’ll need. Not to mention jobs.

It sounds like I’m complaining. 

I am.

We live in a great place, but it’s quickly slipping away from us.  Millions of folks are in this same predicament. The blame of our situation is clearly with me, but for others who are the result of lay offs, and reorganizations or corporate greed there is no fault. There is no blame. But in North Carolina the state blames you if you’re unemployed. Period. And there will be no funds to feed your kids, fill your gas tank to get the kids to school, or get a pair of second hand shoes from the thrift store.

But who pays attention? Is it true that I didn’t pay attention until I was laid off? Nope. My husband was already laid off. I knew all too well how the state and its corporations were giving folks the back of their hand.  In today’s New York Times, the most emailed article was “Why You Hate Work".An opinion piece on what everyone already knows.  You hate your job because creativity is sapped out of it and if you don’t know someone, you’re pretty much regulated to a job of nothingness.   What it doesn’t talk about is how those elements contribute to folks losing their jobs. What no one talks about is the estimated 4 million people who no longer qualify for unemployment or whose states like North Carolina refuse to extend unemployment.  Many governors believe that there are jobs to be had, and if you don’t find one it’s your own fault. (I was also disheartened by the comments sections where the employed thought that the unemployed were lazy and dysfunctional. Jesus, these are the people who I'll be sharing a cubicle with.)

No one blames the companies. No one blames the human resource people that put you in an electronic blender and when all your skills don’t match on your Linkdin profile you are automatically rejected. I had a company reject me 10 minutes after I had uploaded my resume to their site. I had another company tell me that my qualifications were too awesome for them. Another company wrote me a personal note to tell me I would be better qualified as a publishing assistant (a position I had held over 15 years ago). The company I just had an interview with has delayed the choosing of candidates for a second interview three times. No reason given, and to ask them why seems like job suicide. I need this job, so I remain quiet.

So I wait. I look for jobs. I wait for the rejection. And I apply again. Today’s job application is at one of the state universities. According to the Internet, they are notorious for burying your resume for months while you wait for a response. I have kids to feed and electricity to burn and I need work now. But I must take a risk. Even if it means I might be in New York City when they finally get to my resume. Even if it means another rejection.

I have no choice, but to remain hopeful.

So I will.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reality Sucks sort of...

So I’ve picked up a habit in the last 2 months since I’ve been home. I’m not ashamed of the habit, but it is definitely a habit.

I find myself watching a lot of reality television.

I’ve always watched some form of it I guess, but Milt is the reality TV watcher in our house. For years I just lived vicariously through his summaries and the trailers I’d see on television.  Never really getting into it, but knowing the characters and their trail of stinkiness and having funny conversations with Milt about them before we went to bed.

I never understood why anyone, especially a black woman, would want to be on a reality show. To me, it seemed, the lure of fame got old very quickly. Plus the idea that the nation wants to place you into the worse stereotype and you consent to that stereotype was very odd to me. What’s sexy about getting your wig snatched, having a drink thrown in your face, kicking and screaming while burly guys in black t-shirts (they always wear black t-shirts) have to pick you up physically and take you away from the situation? 

…but after I was fired I started really watching.

I actually felt good for a few weeks because these dolts were actually in a worse place than I could every be emotionally. I kept waiting for Dr. Phil to come out and help them.  When my friends questioned why I was watching I’d say:

 “I’m just trying to see what all this is. I’m not really into it.”
“Girl…you know I’m just trying to study why someone would do this to themselves. These girls are cray cray!”
“I don’t watch all the time, just a few snippets here and there”
“I’m just watching so I can understand what Wendy Williams will be talking about tomorrow”

But the reality is, I am hooked.

I’m especially hooked on seeing the black women.  So yes,  I watched and cringed through three episodes of the Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) reunion show when Porsha snatched off Kenya’s wig and beat her like she stole something. I watched as Ne-Ne acted like a pompous
ass to everyone, and Phaedra dropped that killer lecture to Kenya about Apollo (wicked.) I even watched the painful (though the producers thought it was comedy relief) machinations of Momma Joyce with Kandi. (Having my own sometime complicated relationship with my own mother, I saw pain, not humor in that display.) Of course on a purely professional level I feel that it’s beyond horrible that Andy Cohen and his ilk think that American women are a sites of humiliation, buffoonery and painful comedic relief. But Andy and his crew save a special sort of agony for the RHOA women and they play right into it, only to wear evening gowns and 7-inch heels they can hardly walk in and sit on his couch and tear each other up.

I was happier than a pig in slop as I watched.
Not only did I watch it, I am immersed in what else is going on with them. I’ve become a voyeur, clamoring to know more about their lives (I read twitter whenever the shows are on.) I research the characters (who knew the internet held that many secrets about folks?) And I watch them even when the eventually end up on Iyanla, Fix My Life (Evelyn Lozada, Basketball Wives or Saigon and Erica, Love and Hip Hop New York ).
But yesterday I needed a distraction. Needed might be too strong a word here, I was just distracted.  And Milt and I started watching Love in the City on OWN. 
I liked it.
Here’s my list of why:
1.     No one was attempting to create a fashion line without knowing anything about fashion.
2.     Each of the women actually had a career of some kind.  Yes, there was definitely posturing, but they worked for their money, it didn’t sort of show up. 
3.     While their lifestyles looked perfect, the lingering specter of cancer, and infertility, and bad relationships were real indicators of what lots of women go through.
4.     The relationships they had with their extended families were very real. They didn’t make it all good. Because dealing with extended family is always messy.  Always.
5.     They were not young folks. I loved that they were in their late 30s and early 40s. Some folks I could finally relate to.
6.     They lived in New York and I knew every avenue they walked on and filmed on. (An added benefit!)
7.     I didn’t feel these women were fake I felt I knew these women. In fact I do know these women, I have lots of friends who are like them.
8.     I love shows where folks are reinventing themselves. I don’t kid myself that I’m like Bershan, or Chenoa. But I loved that they were showing women in their 40s that you can make a different narrative then the one that everyone thinks you should have.
9.     They make MISTAKES. Lots of them. I found myself yelling a few times at Chenoa (my favorite) and being pissed at her about her relationship with her estranged husband Carlyle. I was so sad for Kaiya because who gets broken up with at a table in a restaurant in front of your girls? She was humiliated, and I felt for her.  Tiffany’s double mastectomy and her relationship with her boyfriend was familiar and scary. And Bershan (my second favorite) who is going through this surrogacy thing alone (at least the show is showing her being alone) and a husband who is constantly on the road (or doesn’t want to be on the show.)
There were no physical fights. Let me say that again, there were four black women in the room and there were no wands, hair pulling, nasty name calling, or anyone trying to take anyone else’s man. There were arguments, but for me the arguments made sense.  Most of the arguments involved Tiffany, but she was the needy girl of the bunch. But she was also the one who had some of the most poignant moments in the show. She deserves much better than Bryan who had the nerve to take her hair when he moved his stuff out! As my husband said so eloquently, “you can take a black woman’s phone, Chanel purse, and even her iphone, but when you take her hair, now someone has to get cut!” And I appreciated that the other three women were outraged when she told them, but refrained from cutting, but you could tell they were thinking of ways to kill him. (Hell, I was trying to think of a way to kill him.)
But what I liked the most was the idea of the mommy narrative and how three out of the four women were dealing with it. Maybe I’m still reeling from the New York Post’s insane headline calling Chirlaine McCray a bad mother. But the mommy stuff is definitely on my mind, and apparently on all the minds these women. Kiya goes to a fertility clinic in anticipation of a partner and sperm that she doesn’t yet have. She has already determined that 40 is a death sentence for her reproduction system. Bershan is in surrogate craziness, while her husband travels the world.  Yet it’s Chenoa who is really, really interesting to me. She rejects mommydom.  Not because she has some hatred of children or pregnancy, but because it just wasn’t right for her. She tried the hormones and the surrogacy and egg harvesting and it just wasn’t for her. I loved that there was just a moment that she and her estranged husband are in the room together, she looks at him and says, “That’s (pregnancy and a baby) not what I want.”  I yelled at the television!  YES!!!! Please put more women like this and Chirlaine McCray on television.  Please.
Yes, I know. C’mon on critics…bring it.

“But Erica, you have three beautiful children and a wonderful husband, you are living the mommy narrative!” And you are absolutely correct…sort of. But to reject the societal narrative that binds women to being married barefoot and pregnant, is to me the ultimate narrative of feminism. I wish more women consciously chose it instead of listening to the Princeton Mom and her bullshit about finding a man at college to fertilize you. Say what you will about Chenoa, but she knows what she’s wants and her vision is revisionist, or at the very least, honest. Which is refreshing and very much needed in this time where Hillary Clinton is about to run for president and the narrative is already being spun that she is mentally unstable because she used to bleed every month and went through menopause. (Apparently if Mrs. Clinton has a hot flash she’ll blow us all up to kingdom come.)  

Chirlane McCray is also hella honest. To admit to a magazine that she was ambivalent about being a mother when she was 40.Then decide to stay home and take care of her kids in a way that she thought worked for her family. And THEN take care of her mother and mother-in-law so her husband could realize HIS dream. Yes! Yes! This is a woman I know.  This woman is my mother, and my aunts, and my neighbors.  In a town where the nannies are plentiful and the guilt suffocating it took some real chutzpah for her to admit that. But instead of recognizing her strength instead folks want to criticize her mommy skills.  Puhlease.
But here’s the reason I really like Chenoa and Chirlane.  
I too was caught up in the mommy narrative. I had had a terrible time during my undergraduate years in Rochester and Buffalo. I was in school to please my father and was trying to be a mathematician if I couldn’t be the mechanical engineer my father desperately wanted me to be. I floated around, did millions of things, but could never settle on what it was that was in me, because I was afraid all the folks I loved would stop loving me if I really was the person I wanted to be. But I did know that I had the ability to get married and have a family. And in my mind if I did this I could get my family to love me and forget the failed attempts at college. So I did.  I married, I had children and we were happy.  But it’s been hard. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had taken that leap, and been an English major and started my writing life then before the diapers, pacifiers, school supply lists, and Spring dances.  I believed that being a mother would make me happy, and it did, and it does. But I was also miserable.  I was alone for huge swatches of time with my first two children. Friends believed I was consumed with being mommy, so I wouldn’t want to do anything I loved to do before. Family just let me suffer, because that’s what the women in my family do, we suffer, and then we act as though everything is okay. I was consumed with doing it all perfectly because folks were watching, and the competition for the best mom of the year mug was always fierce. And damn it I wanted that mug!
I love that Chirlane and Chenoa acknowledge the craziness. They refuse to adopt it as their own narrative and strike out to be the authors of their own life. After reading bout Chirlaine and watching Love in the City, I started thinking about Alice Walker’s, In Search for our Mother’s Gardens.  There is one essay where she talks about what Black women could have been had they not had to be sharecroppers, or maids, or servants while racism and Jim Crow tried to destroy their spirits and their minds. To me Chirlaine and Chenoa are artists who were able to defy the story that others had in mind for them to blossom and plant themselves in their own gardens. It took me 44 years to find my garden, I don’t want my girls to wait that long.
But as my kids are still growing and blossoming…I’ll probably still be watching these folks on Love and Hip Hop, Real Housewives of Atlanta,  and Basketball Wives LA act the fool from their wheelchairs, hoping that maybe they’ll reject the narrative too.

But I won’t hold my breath.