Friday, December 18, 2009

She Did It!

She did it!  Miss Olivia placed 2nd in her school’s 5th Grade Science Fair and to say Loverman and I are pleased, as punch would be an understatement.

It’s mandatory for all 5th grade students to participate in the school’s science fair.  The kids are provided with an outline detailing the 10-week process and to be honest I was intimated when I first reviewed it. Loverman and I have artistic spirits.  Science isn’t really our thing, but being that this project represented a huge part of Olivia’s science grade, we knew we’d have to dive in with our girl to support her through this process.

Olivia decided to stick close to home with her experiment.  She wanted to learn if dog saliva prohibited bacteria growth better than cat saliva. She swabbed the mouth of our dog, Zoey, and our cat, Max; mixed each sample with a bit of Yannick’s toe-jam and after just two days, we witnessed the explosive growth of bacteria in the Petri dish with the cat saliva.  Let’s just say, you really don’t want to be licked by a cat. Olivia tracked the changes in the Petri dishes daily and we took lots of photos.  Once finished with tracking the results, Olivia had to create a display board that illustrated her process and the results of the experiment. 

The display was due on Mon., Dec. 7 and the science fair was scheduled for Weds., Dec. 9th.  Olivia meticulously wrapped her display in a huge trash bag before heading to school on its due date.  I felt good when I saw her confidently walk into school with the project and I couldn’t wait to hear how it measured up to the other projects.  When Olivia got into the car after school, I was bursting at the seams in anticipation.  She seemed pretty nonchalant about how her experiment stacked up to her friends’ projects, in fact, she was genuinely impressed by the efforts of most of her classmates.  It looked like I’d have to wait until Wednesday’s science fair to see for myself.  When we finally got the science fair, I saw quite a few of interesting projects, but Olivia’s definitely stood out and was one of the better-executed projects.  We learned later that evening that the winners of the science fair wouldn’t be announced for a few days, but I was very confident she’d get a good grade.

At the end of last week, I began to think the school would never announce a winner and pretty much put it out of my mind.  It wasn’t until Olivia came beaming into my office on Wednesday that I thought maybe she had received word about the science fair.  She proudly presented me with a bright red ribbon emblazoned with 2nd Place Winner.  Whohooo!  Olivia gave me the details about how the winners were announced and how hearing her name being called caught her by total surprise.  She even mentioned how some of fellow students were “haters” and tried to undermine her win by making snide remarks. 

Whatever!  There’s absolutely no shame in her game… Miss Olivia worked hard and is deserving of this win.  It’s not just that she placed, but it’s also great she’s being recognized for putting forth a lot of effort and doing her best, especially after a few disappointments this summer and hearing me and Loverman go on and on about how winning isn’t important all the time--- this affirmation of her efforts will go a long way in bolstering her self-confidence and let’s be honest… it’s so much more fun to win at least some of the time!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Under Pressure

I have a dilemma.  Olivia wants to start reading the Twilight series and see the movies and thus far, I haven’t allowed it because at only 10 years old, I don’t think the series is age-appropriate for my girl. 

I’m an avid reader and Olivia is also becoming an avid reader and that makes me ecstatic.  On one hand, I’m happy she’s interested in reading the books, but on the other hand, I have to mediate her choices. 

Last year, I spoke with Olivia’s English teacher about the Twilight books and she mentioned she had banned the books from the lower school.  She explained that a lot of the 4th grade girls were reading the book and seemed to be obsessed with the books.  She also said that she didn’t think 8-10 year olds should be reading the books.  My reasoning for banning the books last year was bolstered by this teacher’s input and seemed to placate my dear girl for a bit, but with the media blitz surrounding the release of New Moon and all of her friends cackling about the book and the movie, she’s now doubled her efforts in getting my permission to read the books and see the movies.   Sure, I know I’m the parent and what I say goes, but my “It’s not age-appropriate” mantra is wearing thin.

I reached out to the same English teacher a few weeks ago and explaining the pressure I’m under, I asked if she thinks Olivia’s ready for the books. She offered a solution that absolutely won’t work for me… she suggested that although she still thinks the series isn’t age-appropriate for Miss Olivia, that maybe Olivia and I could read the series with Olivia and by doing this, I could mediate how Olivia processes the story and the subtext of non-sexual sexual tension between the two main characters.

O.K., as much as I’d like to think I’m that kind of mom, willing to sacrifice my beloved reading time to bond with my beloved girl over the tales of the Twilight saga, I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I’m way too selective about what I read and I’ve never been into vampires.

Fortunately, another teacher from the kids’ school recently posted her favorite books for African American middle school students on Facebook.  Thanks Tr. Ericka… this list is right on time!

My Top 10 African American Books for Older Readers

Here are my favorites for older kids (5th-8th Grade) I have read these books, or used them in lessons when I instructed a Civics Class and Enrichment Classes for 5th-8th Grade. I think that this list may be a mix of Fiction and Nonfiction, I really liked some in each category.

1. Eyes on the Prize-Juan Williams and Julian Bond-NONFICTION
This book literally changed my life. My grandfather gave this book to me when I was in the 8th grade, and I read it until the book practically fell apart. IT'S A SERIOUS BOOK, so it's not light reading, BUT it's got amazing detail and black and white imagery that you won't ever forget. SOME GRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHY.

2. Freedom Riders-Ann Bausum-NONFICTION
The Freedom Riders remain some of the most heroic and fearless individuals to ever be forgotten about by American History. This book discusses the Freedom Rides that took place all over the country, to test the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, in detail. SOME GRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHY.

3.Miracle's Boys-Jacqueline Woodson-FICTION
I think that Jacqueline Woodson might have her finger on the pulse of the African American Urban Adolescent. Miracle's Boys is a book about loss, forgiveness, redemption and the family bond that endures. Three boys deal with the harsh realities of life in NYC, they must learn to depend, and forgive each other, and themselves.

4. Locomotion-Jacqueline Woodson-FICTION
This book is written in journal form, a POWERFUL tool for a middle school student to understand and utilize. Lonnie uses writing to come to terms with what is happening to him and his sister.

5. Bird-Angela Johnson-FICTION
An interesting book about a young girl and how she follows her stepfather, convinced she can make him return home.

6. Brown Angels-Walter Dean Myers-POETRY/PHOTOGRAPHY
You read right-Walter Dean Myers! I love this book-it is definitely angled toward the girls, but it's filled with beautiful and diverse images of young girls and boys. The poems are endearing and the photography shows all the beautiful shades of black and brown.

7. Monster-Walter Dean Myers-FICTION
This book has SERIOUS CONTENT and may be too much for anyone younger than 7th grade. It's a novel written in mixed media, some of it as a journal, others in the form of a movie screenplay-as a youth that is charged withand incarcerated for a serious crime, tries to come to terms with reality, and the consequences that can result from one bad decision.

8. Love that Dog-Sharon Creech-FICTION
A boy that hates poetry learns to use it as a tool of expression, and a tool for helping him deal with a traumatic event that he finds difficult to remember.

Kadir Nelson's personal reflections on the amazing and historical words of Barack Obama through artistic expression. Beautiful, reflective and empowering.

10. Witness-Karen Hesse-FICTION
This book is exceptional as it uses perspective to examine what happens to a small town in the 1920's when the Klu Klux Klan arrives.

*As a resource for your young historian who asks you questions you can't answer...
A true and factual handbook for any truth seeking young history buff!

THERE are many, many more-but these are the tried and true that I have read, and would purchase for any of my friends children, as well as my students. Again, they are generally for middle school. As the content begins to mature, you have to be careful what you expose the "tweens" in your life to, let them be young as long as they can....I'll keep you posted on anything else that I come across.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Extending the Vibe

I did just as I’d intended this weekend… I took it easy… or at least easier than I usually do, and guess what?  No headaches!  In fact, I had a really wonderful weekend and I feel more like my adult self than I have in months.

Yesterday, I got up bright and early and checked out the Barkley Hendricks’ symposium, The Evolution of the Cool at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).  Hendricks’s The Birth of the Cool will be on exhibit through to Jan. 3, 2010.  I recently became familiar with Hendricks’ work and it’s incredible.  He mainly does portraiture, with bold colors and subjects exuding a.t.t.i.t.u.d.e.  He’s also a native Philadelphian and a PAFA alumnus.

The portion of the symposium I attended featured Hendricks, jazz musician Randy Weston and dance scholar, Brenda Dixon Gottschild. I spent two hours on the edge of my seat listening and absorbing.

This morning I made it to my floor barre class and spent an hour on my back while the instructor, Miss Rhonda Moore, worked the class of both professional dancers and non-dancers to the bone.  This class is no joke.  It’s intense, difficult and I feel so accomplished at the end of the hour.

After today’s class, I checked out Precious with Loverman and my girl. Lori.  Yes, it’s a difficult movie, but I do think my expectations were a bit tempered by everything I’ve heard from folks who saw the movie last weekend.  Lee Daniels did a great job with the casting.  Precious, played by Gabourey Sidibe, is fabulous and Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and even the too brief appearances of Sherrie Shepherd are also incredible. I’ve never been a huge fan of Mo’Nique, and I’m not too sure this role was a real stretch for her, but she is really scary in this flick.

I’ve already had a few heated discussions with both Loverman and my mom regarding the tone of the film, but the three of us agree that the fat, black, illiterate is an overworked character type in American film. Why is it that when White depravity is portrayed on film it’s ensconced in suburban accoutrements, but Black depravity is showcased in grease-laden fatback and urban filth? Overall, I enjoyed the film, but just once, it would be nice to have a Black story heralded that isn’t coming from such a dark, suffocating place.

Well, tomorrow’s it back to work, but fortunately, it’s a short holiday week and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to extend my newly acquired cool vibe through to next weekend too!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seeking Relief

I’ve been on the DL most of this week.  I’ve been battling a debilitating headache since Monday.  For the past few evenings, I’ve made my way to the bed as soon as possible and prayed for sleep to come quickly. I got absolutely no relief from Tylenol, a warm lavender bath or a cup of chamomile tea.  In fact, I envisioned the beastly headache laughing at my pitiful attempts to tame it.

When I got up yesterday morning, I felt as if I’d been in a battle most of the night trying to beat down the throbbing on the right side of my head.  The headache wasn’t as intense, but felt as if it was laying in wait to pounce as soon as I let my guard down.  I needed to find some relief because I couldn’t imagine suffering a fourth day in such discomfort.  I called my chiropractor, Barry’s, office hoping he could see me right away.  No such luck… the receptionist explained Barry doesn’t have Thursday office hours, but she could get me in to see him first thing Friday morning.  Not good enough… I desperately explained that I needed to see someone NOW or I was headed to the emergency room. 

Mercifully, Amy, the receptionist heard the urgency in my voice and asked if I’d ever had acupuncture and if not, would I be interested in trying it out.  Without hesitation, I said, “Sure!” and assured her that I could get to the office in the next ten minutes.  At this point, I was open to anything and sticking some pins in my head, neck, shoulder, whatever, couldn’t be any worse than what I’d been dealing with over the last couple of days.

After completing some paperwork, I limped into the examination room, explained what was going on and when Dr. Freedman proceeded to rub where I indicated the area at the base of my skull from which the pain was emanating, tears streamed down my face. The muscles along my right shoulder and shoulder blade were sore to the touch.  The diagnosis included constricted neck tendons and neck muscles. The doctor bought out some contraption that vibrated along the affected area, after which he did a bit of cranial manipulation, and finally he asked if I was up for some acupuncture. Again, without thinking twice, I said, “Yes.”   Dr. Freedman explained that it would be nothing like I’ve seen on T.V.  It wouldn’t be gentle and would probably make me feel a little worse before I felt better.  After this warning, I was still up for it and took a deep breath as he stuck the first pin in my shoulder blade.  It felt as if the tip of the pin penetrated the nucleus of my pain.  Once the pin was positioned properly, he tapped it gently. The pain was almost paralyzing and yet it also provided relief because it was tangible and affirmed the severe discomfort I’d felt for days.  The doctor repeated this process along my neck and shoulder.  It took less than 10 minutes, and once he finished I did feel significantly better. 

Dr. Freedman urged me to schedule a follow-up with my chiropractor within the next 48 hours.  He also explained that my muscles and tendons are in bad shape and my current state has been a long time in the making.  It didn’t happen overnight.  He asked if I had any idea of what may have triggered the lemon-sized knot on the right side of my back.  I honestly can’t think of anything, but who knows… our bodies internalize stress that we’re not even aware of. 

By the time I got home yesterday, I could feel the pesky headache about to make its nightly appearance, but when it did, it didn’t seem as fierce as it had been prior to the acupuncture.  I was able to actually help Yannick with his homework and I even stayed awake long enough to check out Grey’s Anatomy. 

This morning I felt a bit refreshed, but looked forward to my 9:30am chiropractor’s appointment.  My chiropractor reviewed the notes from my visit with the doctor yesterday and after his initial examination, he concurred. Lying on his examination table, I endured another cranial manipulation, deep tissue message, heat pack, neck and back adjustments.  By the time I left his office, I felt like new money.  Barry’s magic manipulation beat my once-unbearable pain into total submission and I feel like myself for the first time in almost a week.  Hallelujah!

I’ve promised myself that I’ll be taking it easy this weekend and I’ll be right back on Barry’s table first thing Monday morning ready for whatever suggests to keep me straight and headache free. I think I also need to give some thought as to what emotional adjustments I need to make when it comes to managing my stress. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is It a Party?

What are the base requirements for an 8 yr. old boys’ birthday party? 

I ask, because of what transpired last Sunday when I asked Lovermn to take Yannick to his buddy, Tommy’s (not his real name), birthday party.  We received the invitation on Thursday for Sunday’s party.  Sure, I know everybody’s busy as all get out, but jeez! I need more than 48 hours notice!  Anyway, I promised Yannick we’d do our best to make Tommy’s party while I said a silent prayer of thanks because at least it was on Sunday when Loverman would be available to take him instead of me.

Sunday arrived and I sent my two guys off to the party with a $25 gift card to Game Stop and assured Loverman that Tommy’s father was a man’s man and would surely have a few beers for the daddies attending the 3-hour party.

When Loverman and Yannick returned, I could tell Loverman had a bit of an attitude. Yannick didn’t have much to say about the festivities either.  I gave Loverman some time to decompress before I asked him for details about the party and boy did it sound lame—O!  In short…

  1. 10-12 seven and eight year old boys
  2. no planned activities
  3. pizza, soda, birthday cake
  4. other than Tommy’s dad, Loverman was the only other daddy on the scene

Fortunately, the weather was unseasonably warm and the boys could play outside in the courtyard of the dad’s apartment.  The boys played tag football, raced back and forth and finally resorted to throwing ice cubes at each other before Loverman decided to call it a day and head home. 

Sure, I’m all for male bonding and fellowship, but I also think it’s important for parents to put forth a little effort.  Tommy’s dad basically invited a bunch of boys over for a play date and if Loverman hadn’t hung around, the birthday boy’s daddy would have seriously been outnumbered.

But maybe, Tommy’s dad simply did the best he could and like Loverman said, Tommy seemed to enjoy having all of his little friends together. I just know it’s going to like pulling teeth to get Loverman to pony up for another kids’ party anytime soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

An Upside of Tweendom

At 10 ½, Olivia is moving full-steam ahead into tweendom and yes, I often find myself taken aback when I or her brother or Loverman find ourselves face-to-face with one of her seemingly unprovoked funk-isms.   Sure, I understand she’s maturing, growing, changing, but like my grandmother used to say… “Miss Thing is really smelling herself these days!”

One unexpected upside of this new and not-so improved Miss Olivia is her desire to earn some extra cash.  I’m not one to pay for things she should naturally be doing around the house, but I have agreed to pay her weekly for doing the dinner dishes. Yannick, not wanting to be left out, sweeps the kitchen floor when Olivia finishes and for a few brief moments, all is good in the world.

All I can say is... WOWZA! This little perk of growing up and wanting more responsibility has freed up my evenings and allows me to retire to my boudoir with a nice glass of wine in peace.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Need to Wean

We take homework very seriously in this household--- come in the house after school, grab a snack and get down to the business of homework before any other activities commence.  This has been the Mango Tribe’s m.o. since Olivia started kindergarten six years ago. 

At first, I’d sit with Olivia and make sure she was following directions, completing the assignments neatly and had comprehensive understanding of the concepts being presented. It offered me and Loverman an opportunity to keep abreast of what she was learning in class. Olivia excels in school and now rarely needs the assistance of either Loverman or me in completing her homework.  When Yannick started kindergarten three years ago, he fell lockstep into our established homework rhythm. But, unlike Olivia, he hasn’t weaned himself off of needing my full attention in finishing his homework.  Olivia seemed the make a seamless transition from needing our help, to wanting to prove that she could do it well, all by herself.  Yannick on the other hand, acts as if beyond writing his name on his homework sheet, he cannot do one single thing unless I’m sitting right next to him and his little co-dependency act is getting on my nerves, because I’m confident brother-man can competently do his homework without mommy’s handholding and cheerleading. 

Now, if I mentioned this issue to Yannick’s teacher, she would encourage me to simply walk away from him and let him sink or swim, because their school’s always telling parents that the kids should be doing their homework with very little parental involvement.  But, I believe both Olivia and Yannick’s success in school to date has a lot to do with the expectations and support we provide as parents.  There is absolutely no way in hell I’d let Yannick turn in homework Loverman or I hadn’t reviewed. He’s 7 and his goal is to just get it done, whereas Loverman and I want it to be done well.  

Yannick’s daily demand that I sit with him during his homework ordeal is wearing me out.  When I ask (or sometimes bark) that he must do as much as he can before I’ll sit with him, he resorts to whining and that really works my nerves. It’s starting to become a battle and Lord knows, that’s not the vibe we want to set, because he has years of homework ahead.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Keeping It Virtual

I received via Facebook, an invitation to the 30th anniversary celebration of my 8th grade reunion from St. Louis Elementary School in November.  Since reconnecting with some of my classmates from my elementary and high school on FB, I’ve sincerely enjoyed our virtual game of playing “catch-up,” with little interest in extending our exchanges into the “real” world and before FB, I hadn’t been in touch with these folks since high school.  In a weird way, it’s as if my social life, and being comfortable in my own skin did not begin until I step foot onto Hampton’s campus.

To say I had a difficult time at St. Louis and later in high school at Archbishop Prendergast would be an understatement. I’ve detailed some of the indignities in earlier posts, and before the happy homecoming on Facebook, I’d thought I’d put most of it behind me, but it’s become obvious that I have not. 

I’ve been pondering my issues with my classmates from elementary and high school for months and on one hand, I think I’ve been holding onto my childhood hurts a little too much, but on the other hand, I’m astounded that by the looks of their Facebook pages, I’m still the only person of color they know.  How can that be?  By now, I know that living a diverse and inclusive life does not happen by happenstance.  You've got to cultivate and seek new experiences and new people. I know it’s not fair for me to pass judgment simply by what’s posted on their FB pages, and maybe if I accept the invitation and check out the reunion, I’d learn that now as we have gotten older, we have more things in common than we did during our time at St. Louis.  Maybe I wouldn’t mind, again, being the only Black person in the room.  Maybe I should let go of my little fantasy where a few of my old classmates take the time to acknowledge how crappy it must have been for me and apologize for any past offenses.  Maybe I should stop projecting my idea of an ideal world onto them and simply be grateful to celebrate the fact that we’re still here and able to watch our children grow and thrive.

I just don’t think I can and I know this says a lot more about me than it does about them, because I’m sure they haven’t obsessed over 30 year old grievances they way I have recently.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Boy, do I have a whopper for you!  This unbelievable tale started Wednesday night as I was sitting in my parked car (engine off) waiting for Loverman to get off work.  I was chatting on the phone with a friend when a car turning into the parking spot next to me hit my car twice.  I immediately got off my cell and out the car to assess the damage.  The offending driver sluggishly got out her car and slurred an apology, while assuring me she had car insurance---- without a doubt, this broad was DRUNK!  In fact, not only was she stinky drunk, but before I could stop her, she headed straight into a liquor store.  I followed her into the store asking to exchange insurance info and she paid me no mind until I asked the store clerk to call the police so we could get a police report. 

Hearing “police”, sent Miss Stinky Drunk into a tailspin and she quickly staggered to her car.  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to use the camera on my cell phone to get her license plate number. Almost driving over me as she exited her parking space, she burned rubber as she hauled ass out of the parking lot and onto MacDade Blvd. As a few folks headed out of surrounding businesses trying to figure out what all the hubbub was  about, someone handed me the telephone to speak with a 911 operator and in less than 10 minutes a police officer arrived at the scene.  The entire time all I could think about was how recklessly this crazy woman was driving in such a drunken state. 

The officer took all of my information and ran the plate number from the photo I provided.  He gave me with an incident report number and promised to call with an update before noon the next day.  Loverman and I got home about 20 minutes later and about 10 minutes after that the officer called to tell me that they had located the woman.  The good news is she hadn’t yet hurt anyone since she fled the scene of our accident, but the bad news is, she was driving with a suspended license and no car insurance, so the Mango Tribe’s insurance is going to have to handle the repairs to our car--- BUMMER!  The officer explained that the best they could do is charge the woman with a boatload of misdemeanors, including fleeing the scene of a crime.  The officer asked if I’d be willing to appear at a hearing to confirm that the woman they identified was indeed the same who hit my car.  “Of course,” I responded, but what about the fact that she was drunk?  The officer explained that because they hadn’t witnessed her driving drunk, there’s no way she can be charged with drunk driving.  This didn’t sound right or fair to me, but hey… I’m not a lawyer.  

The next day I awoke still a bit peeved, but definitely grateful that no one was hurt.  About two hours after I got to work, Loverman called me with an unbelievable update to the previous evening’s events.  One of his co-workers, who witnessed the drunk woman jump into her car as she fled the scene, saw the drunk just 10 minutes later at a neighborhood watering hole.  That’s right, she went straight to a bar to continue to get her drink on!  Loverman’s co-worker called 911 and police arrived in no time and arrested the woman.  I was happy to learn she was arrested, but I don’t understand why the officer who called me didn’t tell me that they found the woman drinking at a bar and since she was found drunk, shouldn’t this impact how she’s being charged?

This story gets even more bizarre, because we received word earlier today that this woman was spotted last night at the same liquor store, drunk and driving the same vehicle and trying to purchase more liquor!  The clerk at the store refused to serve her, but failed to call the police.

 I am absolutely dumbfounded!  Sure, I’m pissed about how this broad’s recklessness has reached into my pocket and will costs us money that we don’t have to fix our car, but more importantly, this woman has a serious problem and it’s only a matter of time until she causes a catastrophic accident.  I also have a lot of questions… the first being, how come the car she was driving wasn’t impounded when she was found drunk at the bar on Wednesday night?  She admitted to hitting me, driving with a suspended license and has no car insurance and still she’s free to get behind the wheel of a car. 

I called the police the department with these questions and didn’t get any answers.  I also called the Media Courthouse and spoke with an assistant district attorney and he wasn’t very helpful either.  Finally, I called the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and spoke with Linda, who took her time in explaining the laxness of Pennsylvania’s drunk driving laws.  She also armed me with about a half dozen questions for the officer who responded to my call on Wednesday night and wrote the incident report.

Now, Mango Mama’s on a mission… I want this woman off the road!  She can sit home, drink herself into delirium for all I care; I just don’t want her to have access to a car to support her deadly habit.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Have you had a chance to check out Hoarders on A&E?  It makes Clean House look like an episode of the Brady Bunch!

I got caught up watching a few episodes on Saturday afternoon and I watched the latest episode last night and I can’t believe what I’ve seen.  Hoarders have serious mental problems, and underneath the mountains of stuff they’ve collected is usually indescribable filth matted in the carpets, mouse droppings strewn throughout the kitchen cabinets, food encrusted on the stove and moldy in refrigerators. It’s absolutely unbelievable.

I’m really fascinated by the family members that are either forced or choose to live with the hoarders.  How do they put up with all of the crap… literally?  Is it love or enabling/co-dependency?

I will say that watching Hoarders has done wonders for my own household, because after every episode, I’ve been compelled to walk throughout the house and throw out anything we haven’t used within the last six months!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Newest Object of My Affection

Check out this sexy little number… it’s the latest object of my affection... a Whirpool Duet Sport!  It all started about six weeks ago when our Kenmore washer failed to go into the spin cycle.  We called HSA, our home warranty company to set up an appointment to send out a repairman.  After four visits, huge headaches and doing loads of laundry at my mom’s house, the A&E Factory repairman decided we needed a new timer.  It took about four days to get the timer delivered and installed and it seemed we were back in business until last Sunday when while in the middle of washing a load, it sounded as if the washer was bouncing against the basement walls.  I rushed down and shut it off only to learn the drum was off the track.  Damn!  Another call to HSA, another repairman assigned to come check out the machine, only this time, the customer service rep informed me that if it was the drum, I’d had to pay for the repair in full because our policy doesn’t cover the drum, only the belts holding the drum in place.  Back to doing our laundry at my mom’s, only to be told by the repairman that indeed it is the drum and not the drum belts.  That was Tuesday evening and he promised to call on Wednesday with a price to replace the drum.  We didn’t here from this cat by Thursday and by that time we’d already decided to buy a new machine.  What a bummer… the Kenmore was only six years old, a gift from my in-laws when we bought our first home… how come these large appliances are made to be disposable these days?  I remember my parents purchasing only two washers in the last 30 years, and our home warranty… what a bowl of baloney! We definitely won’t be renewing with that crap again.  We did pony up for the extended warranty with Sears with this new Whirlpool.  I was sold on having this machine serviced annually at no charge... and believe me, I'm gonna take good care of this little baby!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How To Proceed?

Olivia came home about two weeks ago with her first 5th grade writing assignment.  She was asked to write an I Am From poem.  I was pretty psyched for her because I often use the same as a writing prompt in the workshops I facilitate with young people.

The assignment included three components:

1. completing a graphic organizer                       due Sept. 18

2. rough draft                                                      due  Sept. 23

3.  final draft                                                       due Sept. 25

Olivia dove headfirst into meeting the requirements and crafting a poem, which represents how she sees herself and our family.  She met all of the deadlines and was looking forward to sharing her creation with her class when I dropped her off at school last Friday. But, when she got in the car at dismissal time later Friday afternoon, I could tell something was wrong.  Olivia explained that everyone enjoyed her poem, but her teacher would be taking 10 points off her grade, because she hadn’t submitted her graphic organizer with her final draft.  I listened, and assumed maybe she hadn’t read the assignment directions thoroughly and thus, was forced to deal with the consequences.  I repeated the mantra Loverman and I had heard just days before at Back-to-School Night… “Your 5th grader is growing up and will face new responsibilities as a middle school student.”  I went on to preach the importance of reading and re-reading the assignments to make sure she has a full understanding of what’s expected.  Olivia listened, but was still obviously disgusted with the hand she’d been dealt.

When we got home, Olivia headed right for her homework box and grabbed the assignment and after checking the fine print, she victoriously announced that nowhere did it state that she was supposed to attach the graphic organizer.  I reviewed the assignment and my girl was absolutely right.  Loverman and I suggested letting it go for the weekend, but once she returned to school on Tuesday, she could present her case to her teacher. 

Once again, my daughter got out of the car this morning confident of her position, and yet again when I picked her up this afternoon; I knew all had not gone well.  She jumped in the car hoppin’ mad because her teacher refused to change her grade.  I explained that even though I disagreed with the teacher’s decision, it really isn’t much more she can do, but my internal dialogue was singing another tune and I’ve been debating whether or not I should contact the teacher myself?  Fair is fair and girlfriend followed the directions, how was she to know that all of the elements should be submitted with the final draft? In spite of his not budging on the grade change, maybe this exchange with Olivia will encourage him to provide more detailed instructions next time? Overall, she’s been really enjoying the new rhythms of being a middle school student and I do want her to know how to address issues that pop up on her own… not every situation requires my mama bear routine.  To be honest I really don’t want to start the new year off on a cantankerous note with this teacher, but fair is fair, right?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Put On Blast

Earlier this week, PA Human Relations Commission (HRC) released a report on its investigation of the Creative Steps Day Camp’s claim of discrimination against the Valley Swim Club.  The HRC’s findings pretty much confirm the camp and the campers’ families charge of discrimination by the club and its members, but what’s most disheartening is the role of Michele Flynn in all of this mess. Flynn is a club member and teacher at Laura H. Carnell Elementary School, where many of the campers attend. 

A few of the campers reported hearing Ms. Flynn asking, “What are all these Black kids doing here?” during their ill-fated visit to the school.   The HRC report includes email exchanges between Valley club members and their board, as well as between Valley’s board president and the camp director, and paints Flynn as one of the ring leaders in squashing the contract between the club and the camp.  Flynn goes as far to slander one of her former students who is also a part of the camp, telling fellow-members this young boy was a known thief who had stolen from one of the teachers at Carnell.  The HRC reviewed all of the campers’ school files and no such claim can be substantiated.

Now, Creative Steps and the campers’ families are considering filing civil suits and the federal authorities have opened a civil rights investigation against the swim club.  Pending civil suits, a federal investigation and a suggested fine of $50,000 by the HRC will probably force the club to shutter its doors for good.  

I’m not sure how I feel about all of this resulting in the pool closing, because more than likely it will only deepen the resentment between the two sides.  Club members who didn’t participate in this mess will lose their safe and welcoming respite and the campers will always be seen as being the catalyst of the demise of this private pool. Sure, the camp, the kids and their families can take comfort in knowing they righted a wrong, but I’m not convinced losing the pool is best outcome.

I’m more concerned with Michelle Flynn’s actions and her continued employment as a teacher.  Yeah, I know all about Flynn’s right to exercise her freedom of speech, but she’s a teacher of children of color in the Philadelphia School District and she should have used better judgment.  Flynn allowed her personal biases to cloud the fact that her actions (and words) would be extremely hurtful to her students and then she was careless enough to spread her hatefulness through the Ethernet in those damning emails she exchanged with other club members.

I wouldn’t want this teacher teaching my kids, not because she’s a bad teacher, but because her actions and attitudes reflected in those emails are that of a straight-up racist and I’m not confident she can unload that baggage before she walks through her classroom door.  She may be a fine teacher and until this unfortunate incident, she may not have even recognized herself as a racist, and in her daily interactions with her students what subtle (or not so subtle) messages is she channeling to her students?  Does she see them as full of boundless potential, or does she see herself as their great savior on a mission to help little colored children learn how to read and write? Does she encourage them to exceed expectations and do their absolute best under any and all circumstances, or does she simply go along to get along so she can continue to collect a paycheck and the ample benefits package offered by the school district?  Whatever her m.o., she didn’t count on her personal biases being put on blast for the entire world to see and judge. Well, for me the verdict is in and maybe she should reconsider her career choice, because honestly, she’s probably doing more harm than good.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Peeking Back at Me

This morning as I was rushing to get the Mango Tribe out the door and on our way, I caught sight of my big toe peeking out from my shoe. I was taken aback because for a split second instead of my toe, I saw my grandmother, Nina’s, toe staring back at me.

Nina died 29 years ago and as I get older, I recognize more and more of her physical traits in me and even some in Miss Olivia. I’m built like Nina… short in stature… busty… with small hands and feet, and like her I have to buy my pants, skirts and dresses in the petite shop.

Nina and I were close… we were buddies, thick as thieves and seeing her (or my) toe this morning was such a welcome reminder of who/where I come from.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Catching a Glimpse

I had a fabulous weekend in VA Beach with Loverman! We drove down there to attend the Mid Atlantic Black Film Festival. The festival was ok, but what I got a kick out of the most was getting away for just 48 hours with my husband, sans the kids. We never take time away like we did this weekend. We always travel as a tribe of four and although I’m told all the time about the importance of spending time alone with your mate, these moments have been few and far between for the two of us. Well, no more! I’m absolutely giddy about how much I enjoyed myself with my husband. We had a great time talking about tons of things, not just about the kids… work… mundane stuff. We unexpectedly caught up with folks we haven’t seen in years, met new people… sort of felt like who we were before becoming parents to Olivia and Yannick. On our way home this afternoon, I felt completely sated because in those few hours away I was reminded how much I really dig this man and caught a glimpse of who we are in addition to being mom and dad.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Feeling Mean?

O.k., I know it was unsports(wo)manlike behavior and no, I wouldn’t want to catch either of my kids using the words Serena used publicly Saturday night at the U.S. Open, but damn, I did feel especially gleeful when I saw Miss Serena get up in the ass of that mistaken lines-woman.

I’m trying to understand why I had such a visceral reaction, but I do think it may have something to do with the lack of civility demonstrated by that jerk Rep. Joe Wilson at last week’s joint session where President Obama once-again laid out his case for healthcare reform. I also wasn’t feeling too keen about the crowd at this weekend’s U.S. Open and their cheering against Serena, an American and last year’s reigning champ of the Open. Finally, right before I caught the match, I had just returned from a train ride from Washington to Philly on an Amtrak train crowded with a bunch of folks returning from their protest of Obama and his recent policies. Let’s just say I spent most of the ride biting my tongue as they loudly continued their protest on the two-hour train ride.

Yes, I am an Obama supporter and as much as I appreciate his elegance and civility, I’m with Bill Maher and think it’s time to let folks know that like Serena, he can get up in that ass. It’s been my experience that folks will only dish out as much as they think they can get away with, and assholes like Joe Wilson think they can handle the heat thrown their way for disrespecting the nation’s first African American president.

Serena has publicly apologized twice and got right back in the saddle and won the doubles championship with her sister Venus, and after a strong directive from his party leaders, Wilson begrudgingly apologized to the President via Rahm Emmanuel. Why he refuses to apologize again, but this time on the House floor, probably has something to do with the fact that he really isn’t apologetic and is quite proud of his mean-spirited remark.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mixed Bag

Yesterday was finally the last day of summer camp at Freedom Theater and I couldn’t be happier! It’s been a busy six weeks for Freedom’s campers and their families. I have mixed feelings about my family's return to Freedom. For me, the experience has sort of been like being transported back to 1979 when I was a student at Freedom (three of the chief administrators of the camp also ran the camp when I attended), but mostly I’ve found myself completely frustrated by the organization’s lack of efficiency and preparedness.

Olivia and Yannick loved their time there this summer and it’s obvious they learned a lot. Both used muscles they never knew they had during daily rigorous workouts and as I posted earlier, Olivia somehow became coordinated and now moves rhythmically to the beat. Yannick learned to project when he speaks and it’s obvious his true place in the sun is definitely on the stage; and although he has tremendous role models, starting with the greatest daddy in the world, his time with Mr. Kareem and Mr. Khalil has also been invaluable, because as most folks know, African-American male teachers are rare in many schools. As part of their program at Freedom, the campers choose an elective and Yannick selected Vita Saana (African Martial Arts). His instructor was the incredibly strong Mwalimu Taliba and Yannick adores her. What an incredible experience for this little boy to learn to protect and defend himself by such a powerful woman!

The camp activities culminated with Freedom’s annual Moment of Sharing, an evening of performances by the campers. At the start of the day, we knew it was going to be a long one, because the kids had to be at camp at 8:45am and the day would be filled with dress and tech rehearsals prior to the performances. It was great to see the kids up on the big stage showcasing all they’d learned, but to be honest, the show went on for too long. The show started at 8pm and the curtain didn’t close until 10:45pm and we didn’t get home until midnight, only to have to be up by 7am to get them back to camp by 9am the next day. The Mango Tribe is exhausted.

As much as the kids enjoyed their experience at Freedom, Loverman and I are questioning whether we’d want the kids to return in the fall or even next summer for camp. My mom thinks it’s a no-brainer and we should just suck it up, but we found ourselves frustrated with some of Freedom’s administrative practices, feeling like our time and responsibilities outside of Freedom wasn't being respected. My biggest gripe is that we were usually given pertinent information at the 11th hour. A prime example is the kids’ participation in Freedom’s performance at the Please Touch Museum last Saturday. We were given less than a week’s notice about the event and instead of providing the rehearsal schedule before inviting the kids to participate, they hyped the kids up about the event, then informed the parents after we gave our consent that we would have to get the kids to early morning rehearsals for the five days prior to Saturday's performance. I don’t know about you, but in the Mango household, an hour earlier in the morning throws our entire morning routine into complete chaos, especially in the summer. The camp instructors and administrators don’t use email, their voicemail boxes are perpetually full and in addition to the substantial tuition, we were asked to participate in a fundraising campaign with the goal of every participant raising at least $75 and to sell five, $20 tickets for the Moment of Sharing.

I’m hoping a few weeks off and a little distance will provide me a bit of perspective. I’m sure part of my problem is that I was expecting things to ease up over the summer and it really hasn't. Maybe I need to understand that as my kids get older, their level of engagement in their activities will increase and I shouldn’t even expect a break. I'll try to focus more on the outcomes of their time at Freedom and remember that organzation's expertise is in preparing young people to perform well in life and in doing so, maybe it's o.k. for their administrative practices to be a bit lacking.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

So, What's She Really Saying

Did you guys have a chance to check out this woman at one of Arlen Specter’s town hall meetings earlier this week? Well, Lawrence O’Donnell was sitting in for Chris Matthews on Hardball yesterday and he spoke with her directly regarding her comments. I was struck by how despite agreeing to appear on Hardball, she really wasn’t prepared to explain or justify her remarks.

Let's be honest, a lot of the rancor and lack of civility displayed at these town hall meetings on healthcare is grounded in good, old (but always in fashion) racism. The sleeping giant this woman spoke of, is a population of white folks that don't appreciate calling a Black man--- Mr. President.

I welcome the opportunity to hear directly from critics of the proposed plan(s), if it stays on point about the issues at hand. Name-calling, spray-painting swastikas, physical confrontations are simply counterproductive.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Miss Rhythm-Less Nation No More!

For years, Loverman and I privately referred to our dear girl, Olivia, as “Miss Rhythm-less Nation.” The girl couldn’t seem to hold a beat if you handed it to her on a silver platter. When she was four, we sent her to Philadanco hoping she’d get it together, but after two years, and little improvement, we moved on. Olivia’s blessed with so many other talents we didn’t worry about it and better yet, she didn’t seem to be stressed by her awkwardness on the dance floor either. At parties, she boldly bounds for the dance floor and dances to her own beat, not even recognizing she’s out of step.

Well… it seems like hubby and me can put our private nickname for Livy-Girl to rest, because during her time at Freedom Theater this summer, my girl has found the beat and she’s working it!

Yesterday, both Olivia and Yannick performed with some of their fellow campers at the Please Touch Museum and Olivia performed to Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time, and girlfriend was FIERCE!

It seems the older my little girl gets, the more I learn from her, because if it had been me, I probably would have shied away from dancing on stage in front of a lot of people, but not my Livy-Girl, she kept getting in the game and doing her best! Whatever “it” is that keeps her plugging along until she gets “it,” is something that I hope she holds onto forever.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What a Week!

For the most part I really like my job, but the last few weeks, it seems I’ve been mired in administrative muck and I’m struggling to get stuff off my to-do list. Monday thru Friday I walk into the office with every intention of handling my business and after checking my email (let’s be honest, both my work and personal accounts), I jump headfirst into the endless tasks that need my attention---- final reports, finding a new marketing director, supervising the production of our fall calendar, etc. But.. without fail, some curveball comes out of nowhere and diverts my attention.

This week alone, I had to deal with a pole dance instructor who’s been renting our rehearsal space for weekly pole dancing lessons. To prepare our space for the lessons, this woman asked if she could have mirrors installed and store her portable poles in our space. We agreed with the understanding that the mirrors and poles would go with her at the termination of her rental agreement. Black & white…plain & simple, or so I thought until yesterday when I got a letter from a debt collector claiming our organization owed Terra Firma Construction $2,200 for the installation of mirrors. This broad fraudulently billed the mirrors and their installation to us. Can you believe this? I spent two hours attempting to unravel this mess and still haven’t got confirmation from the debt collector that our name will be taken off the account. Miss Pole Dancer assures me it’s a simple misunderstanding, but when I checked this broad’s website, she’s listed our organization’s address as her business address. I tried not to blow a gasket, but she’s obviously crazy and dealing with consumed most of my afternoon.

On top of the scamming pole dancer, I’m in the midst of interviewing for a new marketing director. We’ve received hundreds of resumes and I’m doing my best to wade through them and schedule about three interviews a week. I usually call the candidate and if I have to leave a voicemail message, I follow-up with an email. So was the case with Faith Davidson (not her real name), when she responded to my email two days after I left her a request to arrange an interview date. Faith provided a few date options for early next week and when I followed up with a confirmed date, she thanked me and asked why did I want to meet with her? I couldn’t believe this and got the sinking feeling that interviewing this woman would be a huge waste of time and with all I’ve got on my plate, I don’t feel like going through the motions. I crafted a response to Faith, wishing her well, and as graciously as possible I explained that I thought this wasn’t a good time to consider her for our full-time position. Faith rebounded with another email saying despite my last email, she still wanted to meet on Tuesday. I couldn’t believe this woman! She was trying my patience. I collected my thoughts, wrote a more direct, yet still gracious email and declined her offer. I acknowledged how awkward this situation is since I’m the one who reached out to her to schedule the interview, but she turned me off when she asked why I wanted to meet with her. She submitted her resume directly to me--- is she so busy or scattered that she didn’t remember? Whatever’s going on with this lady doesn’t bode well with wanting to bring her in to our organization. This afternoon I received a terse email from Miss Faith chiding me for thinking she didn’t know why I was contacting her (maybe because I have the email to prove it) and detailing how much she’s in need of a full-time gig. She finished by saying how qualified she is for the position and I’m doing the organization a disservice by not making time to meet with her. After reading this email, I noticed she copied my boss, like she’s tattling on me! OK… out with the gracious and in with the raw, direct truth, also copied to my boss…


I mentioned in my last email how extremely busy we are at the Painted Bride this summer and although I do appreciate your tenacity, I will not be scheduling an interview with you for our Marketing Director’s position. As it stands, I’ve expended too much time drafting gracious email responses to our exchanges this week and I simply want to close the door on this issue. Take good care and all the best as you seek full-time employment.

Sincerest regards, Mango Mama

Faith hadn’t responded to this last email by the time I left the office this afternoon and I do hope she got the message.


Monday, July 27, 2009

A Teachable Moment

We had a “teachable moment” in the Mango household on Friday. The back-story is that the kids’ summer camp hosted a talent show on Friday, which culminated its annual “Spirit Week” activities. Both Olivia and Yannick partnered with a couple of kids in their respective groups, worked out some original choreography and auditioned and won a spot in the talent show.

True to form, Olivia worked her butt off. The two other girls in her group live close to us and they got together at least four times in the evenings leading up to the show. This is in addition to their daily rehearsals during their lunch break at camp. They pulled together a great dance routine to the clean version of the Black Eye Peas’ Boom Boom Pow. They decided on black leotard and tights, with denim shorts and black and white bandanas for their costumes.

I can’t really tell you about Yannick’s preparation for the talent show. He’d vaguely mention whom he was working with when asked and on the day of the show he threw a pair of black running pants and black t-shirt into his backpack, explaining he needed the close for his costume.

Olivia’s group opened the talent show and they put it DOWN! They had terrific energy, smooth moves, they hit all their marks. The crowd went wild. The three girls exited that stage knowing they did an awesome job.

Yannick and his crew didn’t hit the stage until well after intermission. By the time to host called them to the stage, I’d had my fill of well intentioned Mariah and Keshia knock-offs. The four boys came on stage with a confident swagger and not in the black-on-black costume Yannick left the house with in the morning. They wore white, sleeveless t-shirts they’d decorated with their names, birthdates and other info, and black workout shorts with a grey stripe down the side. Their fellow campers screamed their names like they were rock stars and when another Black Eye Peas’ song, Showdown, started they surprisingly looked like a real group with “real” choreography. This lasted for about two minutes, and then the piece devolved into a free styling frenzy until the high-energy Showdown breaks into a slow countdown, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-, at which three of the four boys would drop to the floor in a tight ball and the fourth boy would stride around the stage in slow motion. Once the countdown was over, the four boys would return to their chaotic freestyle. The crowd went wild every time the countdown hit and each of the four truly enjoyed their moment in the sun. When the boys were finished they got a standing ovation and as the youngest participants in the talent show, these cats left the stage feeling like kings.

As the talent show came to a close, we were surprised to learn the kids were competing against each other and awards would be given. None of the info sent home mentioned the talent show being a competition. First a few honorable mentions were acknowledged, and then the hosts went on to announce the 3rd place winners and guess what… it was Yannick and his boys! Olivia and I screamed our heads off as the little guys made their way to the stage to accept their prize. We then held our breath to see if Olivia would place. Unfortunately, she didn’t and she wasn’t happy.

Following the announcement of the awardees, the camp director went on and announced the winners for the Spirit Week activities and Yannick went on and was awarded an honorable mention for his Capt. Underpants costume. The charge was to dress as a unique superhero and Yannick wore his jock underwear (sans the protector) over his leotard and we pinned a pair of his boxers on the back of his Spider Man cape. Loverman wasn’t happy with his choice, but it wasn’t a battle I was willing to fight. I figured if he could sell, than good for him. Well… I guess he sold it because it was a big hit and once again the boy was making his way to the stage for more accolades.

It was a great day for Yannick and I was so happy for him, but my dear girl couldn’t understand Yannick’s good fortune. For her, it was as simple as she and her girls put in the hard work and should have at least placed. I tried to explain it isn’t always about hard work and even hard work doesn't always guarantee "a win." More often than not, there are other factors to be considered that are sometimes out of our control. Olivia and her partners in the talent show were at an immediate disadvantage as the opening act, and although they did a great job, they couldn’t trump the younger boys high energy and complete abandonment on stage. Yannick and his boys were the youngest performers in the show and the audience connected with their confidence and passion. There were only 3 or 4 acts following the boys and by the time the show came to a close, they crowd was still hyped by the little guys.

Although Yannick reveled in his glory, I’m happy to report he didn’t rub it in his sister’s face. In fact, he readily told her what a good job she did. He even offered to share his portion of his group’s $10 winnings… a whopping $2.50!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Totally Unacceptable

Yannick came home today and mentioned that his assistant camp counselor encouraged his camp group to be “gangsta” in delivering a mini-performance. Before my head exploded, I attempted to calmly ask Yannick to clarify and as his 7 year-old radar promptly noted the edge in my tone, he hastily assured me she meant “cool gangsta,” not “ghetto gangsta.” Whatever!

I dismissed his protests as he feebly tried to clean-up this young lady’s rallying call to her young, impressionable charges and let him know that in no uncertain terms was he to aspire to be “gangsta” and sat him down for a two minute monologue detailing the negative attributes associated with the “gangsta” stereotypes. I told him being “gangsta” wasn’t cool… cute… or acceptable.

I’m confident he got my message, but just in case, I followed up my discussion with Yannick with a telephone call to the camp’s director. Fortunately, she answered her phone immediately and after identifying myself, I relayed my “gangsta” exchange with Yannick and explained how I found the young lady’s comment unacceptable. The camp director asked for more details and wanted to know the context in which the comment was made. I told her exactly what Yannick said, but stressed that whatever the context, I wasn’t sending my kids to their program to have “gangsta” lauded as a plausible attribute. She promised to look into it further and would speak to her counselors.

O.K.. let’s see where this goes but her measured response has me a bit concerned. Sure, I can’t shield my kids from everything, and yes, I know that during their time at Freedom Theatre, they’re interacting with a very diverse group of people (this is partly what attracted me to the program), and while I expect to spend some amount of time deprogramming my kids from what they’re exposed to by their fellow campers, I didn’t expect to have to be so vigilant when it comes to the camp counselors.

Let’s do better people!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God Bless the Child

Earlier this week the details surrounding The Creative Steps Day Care’s raggedy experience at the privately owned Valley Swim Club in Montgomery County came to light. According to news reports, Creative Steps negotiated a seasonal membership of $1900 with the club’s management that would have allowed the campers weekly group swimming sessions. The campers at Creative Steps are predominately African-American and Hispanic and once they arrived for their first visit to the club on June 29, they were met with cold stares and a less than welcoming vibe. A few of the campers even heard at least three of the club members make disparaging comments about the campers’ presence at the pool. Following this initial visit, the swim club suspended Creative Steps membership and offered to refund all of their money.

The camp doesn’t want a refund, but to offer their campers a weekly opportunity to play in an outdoor pool in a safe and clean environment. The president of the swim club has apologized but insists that his mostly-white membership are not racists, but has been told by some of the members that the campers presence at the pool will change the “complexion” of the pool. WTF?

This story has gone viral on the internet and received worldwide media attention. Although it’s apparent to me that the club’s reaction smacks of racism, I do think it’s important to offer a slightly broader perspective. As a board member of the nation’s oldest privately-owned African-American swim club, the Nile Swim Club, I know first-hand that allowing access to the pool’s facilities and amenities can sometimes cause tension between our membership and seasonal guests/rentals. But, the Nile has a robust camp program and we welcome over 200 campers to our pool daily, Monday through Friday. The camp program is a vital earned-income stream for our facility and we often find ourselves having to explain to our members the importance of our camp program in offering financial stability to the institution. Communication between our board and membership is key.

The Nile was founded 50 years ago because the Yeadon Swim Club refused membership to African-American residents of Yeadon, PA. My grandparents, Walter and Veronica Nelson, were a part of the founding group in 1959. These members decided to pool their resources together and build a club where they could come with their friends and family and feel welcome, instead of spending their money in legal action demanding that the Yeadon Swim Club become integrated. Now, 50 years later, the Yeadon Swim Club no longer exists and the Nile is still offering a respite for families and campers in the surrounding area.

It’s a sad moment for parents when they witness their children experience a real/ perceived racist act for the very first time. We all know it’s coming eventually, but when it finally hits, it’s like a punch in the gut and wears you out. You have to take a deep breath and do your best not to let the incident become a defining moment, but preparation and ongoing conversations are required because it’s still a fact of life for children of color. I faced a similar moment like the parents of the Creative Step campers earlier this year with an incident between Miss Olivia and a parent of a soccer team of an opposing team in a neighboring league, which included the parent referring to Olivia as that little colored girl with those dreaded things in her hair.

There was a call for folks to gather today in front of the Valley Swim Club and march in protest of their treatment of Creative Steps. Me, I’m not down for marching in this instance… no, I’m taking a page from my family’s history book and I reached out to Creative Step and invited them to join our program at the Nile. To be honest, I could care less about the Valley Swim Club and their raggedy, lily-white club… they can keep it. I’m confident their exclusive policies will lead them to the same demise of the Yeadon Swim Club. God bless the child that got his own.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mama Needs a Break!

Day 3 at the New Freedom Theatre’s Performing Arts Camp has come and gone and I’m happy to report… so far, so good, both Olivia and Yannick seem to be really enjoying themselves. Each day when I pick them up at 4pm they’re both hyped with plenty to share about what they learned in their various classes.

I’m happy for them, once again grateful for how seamlessly they embrace new experiences. I’m also surprised by how little seems to have changed since I attended the camp. Some of the same teachers are still teaching the acting and dance classes; latecomers still have to do 200 jumping jacks before joining their group in the morning; and the older campers are still allowed to head out at lunchtime to grab a bite at one of the fast-food joints along Broad Street.

One aspect I don’t remember is the daily homework assignments. It doesn’t seem mandatory for all of the counselors to assign homework because thankfully Olivia’s teachers have yet to request anything, but Yannick’s teacher, Mr. Kareem, has given them written tasks to complete the last three days and to be quite honest it’s working my nerves. I don’t think this cat understands what completion of these assignments entails and to be honest, Loverman and I haven't been able to identify the relevance of what's been requested. During the school year, we take homework really seriously and there’s no TV, video games or going out to play until all homework is done. Both Loverman and I work with the kids to make sure they get it done correctly and have a handle on what’s going on. As a soon-to-be 5th grader, Olivia doesn’t need much assistance, but it’s a different story with Yannick. He likes one of us to sit down and work with him and by the end of the school year I was readily looking forward to a break in the daily homework grind. But no…it’s only been 2.5 weeks since the school year ended and here I am again, helping the little guy with his spelling and penmanship. Damn!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Being Mindful

So, we’re back at the Nile Swim Club this summer and this year it seems like we’re spending a lot more time at the pool because I’ve been appointed to the board and have been handling the coordination of the summer camps and facility rentals. Olivia picked right back up where she left off last summer and is swimming like a fish. Yannick is doing pretty good too and has been working on treading in 5 feet.

Most of the same lifeguards we had last year have returned and even though I remember them being playful with my two kids last year, this year I notice something a little different. I think my 10 year-old little girl may be flirting just a bit and enjoying the playful attention a tad more than I’m comfortable with. I’m not only one who noticed it either, my mom commented on it while she was hanging out with us at the pool the other day.

I’m not sure how I feel about this and I'm trying not to overreact because she isn’t acting inappropriately or anything, but I do want to make her aware that she’s growing up and mindful of what’s she’s projecting. I'm getting the sense that the hard work of raising my girl is really about to begin.

Monday, July 6, 2009

BET's Balancing Act

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I caught the 2009 BET Awards. I, like most of my friends, wanted to see what BET would do in regards to honoring Michael Jackson.

The show started out o.k. with New Edition hitting all the right moves in their attempt to pay homage to the Jackson 5, even if they couldn’t keep up vocally. Jamie Fox opened with a funny parody of Jackson’s Beat It video, but after that, the show went down hill for me.

What struck me the most throughout the evening were the endless promos for BET’s summer line-up, or more specifically, two of their new reality shows… Tina & Toya and premiering later this month, Frankie & Neffe, a spin-off of the Keysia Cole’s: The Way It Is.

No, I have never been a fan of BET and yes, I’m sure the network wouldn’t make the investment to produce these programs if they weren’t confident they’d find an audience to support the programming, but damn, why does BET continuously pander to what I’d like to refer to the lowest common denominator?

Could it be that BET is attempting to provide a little balance as Black folks have ascended to some of the highest offices in the land, i.e. the President of the United States, Michelle Obama as our First Lady, U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice and White House Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett? Wouldn't it be revolutionary for BET to produce a reality show that follows the strenuous training of Scarlett Knights, Rutgers University, or follow Chris Rock's wife, Maalak, as she mentors a group of underserved Brooklyn teens through her Journey for Change program.

While so many of us are striving to put our best foot forward in our daily lives, in our communities and even beyond on the world’s stage, it seems as if BET does its best to remind us that even though you can take the girl out of the hood, it’s often very difficult to get the hood out of the girl.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Days of Freedom

Tomorrow, Olivia and Yannick begin the same six-week summer camp program at Philadelphia’s Freedom Theatre, the same summer camp that I attended through my preteen and teen years. I’m both excited and apprehensive for them because this program ain’t no joke, but I know when it’s all over they’re going to be all the more sharper.

Freedom Theater will always have a special place in my heart because my experiences at Freedom and the life-lessons I learned during my time at Freedom inform so much of who I am today, but Freedom’s bold, uncompromising methods will be a wake-call for both Olivia and Yannick. I wish I could be a fly on the wall the first time Miss Pat walks in and demands 200 jumping jacks. Hell, until two weeks ago, my kids couldn’t even do 10 jumping jacks without bouncing and bobbing all over the room. And, I don’t think it’s because they’re uncoordinated, it’s just because instead of having a traditional gym class at their school, they have a movement class. I’m happy for even that, given the state of many of our school systems that have eliminated gym or physical activity all together.

But, all that ends tomorrow because Freedom’s rigorous program will immerse the two of them in theater, movement and vocal arts and I’m sure after 7 hours at Freedom, they’ll discover muscles they never knew they had. Shoot, I wish I could join them over the next six weeks, because during my days at Freedom, I didn’t have any weight issues and physically, I felt invincible.

In spite of Freedom’s stellar reputation as a premier Black theater in the country and training program, it has had a tumultuous time financially, but through all of their crisis’ they have maintained their performing arts school and summer program, and because of the organization’s fortitude, I am now able to watch the magic they're sure to work on my two children.

Freedom’s summer program seems to have changed very little since when I attended almost 29 years ago. At the camp orientation, both Olivia and Yannick were assigned a monologue they have to deliver for their camp placement tomorrow. I vividly remember the anxiety I felt each year preparing for these placement auditions….butterflies in the pit of my stomach, my voice shaking as I begin the monologue in front of three instructors seated behind a long wooden table in the front of the room… and finally, having to sing a song after I completed the monologue, because although I can do lots of things, I absolutely cannot sing! Despite all of this, I cherish my time at Freedom because I know it prepared me for life, because it was not really about preparing me to be a performer, but to perform at my best at whatever I’m doing, and that’s exactly what Loverman and I want for the both our babies.