Thursday, October 16

Infinity Scarves, Panic Attacks & Over-sharing

by Ajike Akande

When I was pregnant with our first set of twins my mother told me that she would pay for me to have a tummy tuck after the babes were born.  Please note she didn’t even qualify this offer with statements like “If you want….” or even the less kind “If you need…”, she just went for the jugular (or tummy, in this case) and assumed that I would both need and want a tummy tuck!  I was offended and shocked and seriously considered calling the feminist police!  This story, by the way, has nothing to do with anything, I just really wanted to share it with you folks because well, an actual person (who I love beyond words), offered to pay for my future tummy tuck.  This kind of thing warrants documentation!   Full stop. 

A few interesting things have been brought to my attention recently:

1.  I over-share on this here blog.  My brother said this.  He’s a nice guy and all, but we have never really seen eye to eye about anything.  This is not only because he’s 6’6 and I am 5’3.

2.  One of my nearest and dearest friends told me that she finds my commitment to the infinity scarf unsettling and annoying.  Something about it being a way that otherwise disheveled parents make themselves look put together.  She declared this truth as though it’s a bad thing.  I thank God every day for infinity scarves and that there is a surefire way to take leggings (yes they are so pants) and runners up a notch!

3.  My unfocussed rambling, out loud and in writing, is charming and adorable.  Nobody said this or probably even thought this but it’s so true, right? 

Okay so before you close your computer and stop reading this nonsense, I’m going to bring this all together.  

Last Saturday I had my first by-definition panic attack.  I actually had my first panic attack after our first baby Isaiah died.  I don’t really count that time because temporarily falling completely apart and shattering like glass is, in my view, not an exceptional response to the loss of a child.  I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so I could be wrong in saying that what I had after Isaiah died was not a panic attack but I am going with it, therefore making last Saturday’s panic attack my first. 

If you have never had a panic attack, just don’t.  There are a bazillion other, less scary, things to do when you are alone in your house.  I felt like I couldn’t breath.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  My heart was racing; head was spinning.  I thought it would never end.  My mom, who I called on the phone, but could not actually speak to, listened to whole thing.  It was all she could do.  Unbeknownst to me she was getting ready to leave her house while on the phone in case she needed to come over.  I thought I would have to go to the hospital.  But after about 20 minutes the panic attack was done.  I was catching my breath and sipping water.  I was relieved to discover that panic attacks do end and don’t cause actual heart attacks.

I would love to say that my panic attack was caused by some sort of cognitive distortion - that my mind was focusing on something that isn’t real or awful or that I was letting a fear take over.  The truth is, I was trying to solve some very real problems – how to ensure that there is always someone available to be one on one with Miss O, how to approach Z’s teachers about the fact that he is seriously behind in math, how to support Wife in her efforts to spend quality one on one time with G-Dog whose anxiety goes through the roof when she is being separated from her siblings, how on earth to stop Mr. Lee from calling me a Butthead and about a million other things.   With the pressure of family time (nuclear and extended) over Thanksgiving it was all too much.  

Not that long after losing control of my body and thoughts during a panic attack, I was back to mothering as Wife and the kiddos came busting into the house after riding scooters.  We played and got on with the business of being a busy, chaotic pack.  Naturally, I dawned my infinity scarf.  I looked like I had it all together.  I didn’t, but nobody could tell.
On Tuesday I had an appointment with my psychiatrist (This may be what my brother was referring to when he said that I over-share!).  Feeling that feelings of intense anxiety – not full-blown attacks but serious anxiety, were becoming a consistent part of my days, I decided I wanted to ask for a prescription for Ativan.  This seemed like a reasonable thing to help me get through those moments when I couldn’t just breathe through the anxiety.  Unfortunately, the challenges of asking for psychiatric drugs is not lost on me, so I was worried about how “the ask” would go.  I posted this on Facebook:

Because my friends are awesome, I received some hilarious suggestions. 

This is what I chose to wear:
Not seen here: black skinny jeans and colourful canvas shoes (conservative with a touch of cheery)

I considered the look featured below, but with the scarf, I just thought I looked too together, and that she would think I was possibly asking for the drugs to sell not for personal use! 

I guess I passed the imaginary test.  I got me some Ativan.  I have not filled the script.  The yoga breathing, that I have never and likely will never use while doing yoga, seems to be working.  I am aware more aware than ever, how much time I spend on looking like I have it all together.  I needed my Facebook family to help me decide what to wear to the psychiatrist, after all.   The makeup and sparkly jewelry, the scarf and the well-timed sarcastic remarks make my depression and anxiety really palatable to those around me including the people who are in positions of power with the ability to directly impact how I manage my mental health.  I “pass”.  I have access.  I have education and knowledge and money.  I have confidence.  With this power and access, I am able, with far greater ease than most, to care for my babies and myself.  When not in the middle of a panic attack or one of the many frustrating and hard parenting moments I face every day, I remember this privilege. 

My take away from this post?  (I’m pretty sure I write just to find the answers to my own burning questions.) 

1.  Buy more infinity scarves and know that sometimes I wear them because well, fashion, but sometimes they may also double as a mask.  I am not the only parent using this (or another) mask to look like I've got it all together.  The parents that we see at the park, in the grocery store, at work, who look like they’re doing just fine, may not have it together at all.  They may be employing the "fake it ‘til you make it" strategy just like me. 

2.  Be aware of the privileges that I hold that make it never easy, but probably easier to deal with my mental health issues. 

3.  I am doing fine without a tummy tuck.  Thank you very much! 

4.  It is totally reasonable to cut my hair every two weeks, even if I have hardly any hair to begin with, because it makes me look like I have it all together and it makes me feel hot! 

Gotta go.  My barber is calling me to the chair.  Not even making this up.  

XO Ajike

Thursday, October 9

Breaking Up Is Not So Hard To Do

by: Ajike Akande

The Silverman-Akandes have broken up.  Sorta.  On the weekends.  I think we’re onto something.  Let me explain…

Remember back in August, I wrote about how Wife and I decided we were big family parents without considering whether or not we would actually have big family kids.  You can read that post here.  (By the way, I have learned that deciding what kind of parent you are before you are actually a parent, or a parent under specific circumstances, is a waste of time unless you like being totally wrong and caught off guard.  You’ve been warned.  You are welcome.)  At least one person every day tells me that they couldn’t possibly handle raising five kids, or twins, or two sets of twins.  Basically my whole life as a parent is something most people have no problem telling me, they couldn’t handle!  This does not help me on the really bad days because on bad days I don’t think I can’t handle it either but I do handle it because, well the small humans depend on me to handle my s#*t!  

Apparently, I’ve got a parenting situation some (many?) people don’t want.  What about the kids though?  They don’t even know that their family could be different.  They have two moms, a whack of brothers and sisters - one who passed away before they could meet her.  Z has a Tummy Mommy, a mommy and a mama and little sisters and a brother who are twins.   They are mixed race, and not.  They are Jewish with a mommy who is not.  Their family is their family.  They only know that having a family of five kids is a big deal because they hear what people say when they find out!  Wife and I talk about how hard and intense it is to have a larger family, but the kids don’t talk about it.  I think we all know, however, that just because they don’t talk about how hard it is, doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it. 

Assuming that, like us, our children feel a little overwhelmed when all seven of us are together for the less structured weekend, we decided to do something about it.  Without asking the children their opinion (Why would we ask their opinion?) we decided that every weekend the Silverman-Akandes would split up.  Many families use the divide and conquer strategy for an afternoon, or a whole day or occasional weekends.  We like to take extreme measures.  (This nugget of information should not surprise you.)  Friends, until further notice, we will break up every weekend, except holiday weekends when we will grit our teeth and lean in to the tantrums!  After the children finish their 9am dance class on Saturdays, two or three of them head up north with Wife to my family’s farm and the remaining kids, which always includes Z, the tiny and heavily programmed dancer, stay home with me.   

We are about five weeks into The Great Weekend Divide aaaaaand, it’s working.  It’s not perfect, but it’s working.  The kids are happier and calmer.  So are we.  I miss Wife and Saturday night take-out in front of Netflix.  Neither of us gets a break, because we are always with at least two children.  The kids miss each other and the mom that they are not with.  But, going up north with mama means a slow, quiet weekend with no chores to be done.  Staying in the city with me means a chance to hang out with friends (if I get my butt in gear to make that happen) and definitely some kind of sweet treat while being schlepped between dance studios with the tiny dancer.  Splitting up also means that we can switch it up so that the twin sets can bond with someone other than their regular partner in crime.  The opportunity for our children to develop stronger connections with each other is the sweetest bonus of the weekend break-up. 

As it turns out friends, the Silverman-Akandes are not better - good, but not better, together.  Together we are loud love, non-stop giggles, frequent fights, high highs and the lowest of the lows.  Together we are shoulders up around our ears and kitchen dance parties.  We are extreme – the same way we are all week.  These separate weekends, the 30 hours under different roofs, provides everyone with the same good times but just enough calm to stalk up on cuddles and attention to survive another busy school week. 

Not surprisingly, every weekend, G-Dog whines to us that “we are a family and we’re supposed to be together.”  I love that she feels this way.  I also suspect that somewhere she knows that together is not always better. 

XO Ajike

P.S. I don’t want to beg (at least not in a totally obvious way) but if my peeps showed up at my house on a Saturday night with or without (preferably with) a bottle of wine, I would totally let you in! 

Wednesday, October 1

Me: Tree, You: Apple

by: Ajike Akande

We have all heard the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Have you noticed that the expression is rarely used in a positive way?  It’s never like “Wow, your kid is so funny and brilliant.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”  It’s more like “Your child talks a lot (read: too much) and is super stubborn.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”  What is “wrong” with the tree is sometimes “wrong” with the apple.  Nature, nurture or combo of the two - doesn’t matter, sometimes the apple just falls right next to the tree.  We often reap what we sew.  Sometimes we could stand to cut a new pattern before getting our stitch on.    

Our marvelous and “extra” G-dog was recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (why be specific about anxiety, always go for a catch-all) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  We could have a debate about the problems with diagnosing and labelling kids as well as the degree to which the people who do the diagnosing actually know our kiddos, but that’s a conversation, not a blog post.   Wife and I have chosen to let “the people” assess and diagnose our kiddos because the process and the information gathered may be helpful.  It may also be a waste of time, but hope springs eternal that it will help us, and most importantly, them. 

Assessment and diagnosis doesn’t change our kids or their behaviours except maybe
G-Dog’s. During a public tantrum (the best kind of tantrum), days after meeting with the psychiatrists at our local children’s hospital, when I asked her to speak kindly to me and not hit me, she yelled, with a familiar scrunched up, gritted teeth face, “Didn’t you hear the doctors?  I’m not like you!  I’m a different person!  I’m not like everyone else.  I hit and scream! I’m not like you!”  First of all, G-Dog you are sooooo like me!  Secondly, this scene serves as a reminder of what can happen when assessing, diagnosing and labelling kids – they start to believe their diagnosis is who they are not something that makes life, in many cases, harder and hopefully what provides them with some unique gifts.   

Fortunately, after we received the diagnosis or what I like to think of as the black and white documented reminder that G-Dog is not doing this - the tantrums, the hitting, the rigidity on purpose, she was offered a space in a therapy group for wee ones with anxiety & and difficult behaviour.  By the way, the reminder that she is not doing this on purpose is the most important part of the whole assessment and diagnosis process for me.  Anyway, for 10 weeks anxious kids get together and teach each other new things to be anxious about.  Could you imagine?  In reality the kiddos get together and learn how to manage their anxious thoughts and subsequent behaviour, while the parents learn how to support their kids who just feel things “extra”. 

At our parenting group last week, we were introduced to a temperament rating scale.  We looked at different areas such as sensitivity, adaptability, and approach to new things and had to plot ourselves, our partners and our kids on the scale.  Not surprisingly, we were asked to examine the scale after to see if we could notice any patterns.  You know where I’m going with this don’t you?  In front of me, was a temperament scale confirming that Grace’s behaviour was not her fault; it was mine!  Nurture is powerful but it seems to be that I, through nature, have passed on some of the special traits that make me totally “extra”!

Wife and Grace, are on opposite ends of the scale in every category.  They do not share genetics.  Based on the temperament scale, Grace and I share ALL the genetics!  Me: tree, Grace: apple.  She feels too deeply, I take 295mg of psychiatric drugs a day so I don’t feel too deeply!  She screams with such intensity and volume that it can be very scary.  I’ve worked hard (and succeeded) at not dealing with my anger in that way.  She is good at understanding how others feel and when she feels love, everybody hears about it.  Me too.  I “get” my baby G-Dog and maybe when she’s older she’ll get her mommy too.

Now that it has been brought to my attention that my little apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, I want to write something that one day I will share with her. 

To my G-Dog,

First we have to get something out of the way.  Do you know how much I love you?  You will probably never really know, it’s just so, so, SO much. 

I know you don’t always feel my love for you because you see my angry face, even when I’m not making one.   You don’t always feel my love because you hear my deep sigh, that is about how tired I am or overwhelmed I feel or annoyed I am with the driver in front of me, and think it’s about you.  You don’t feel my love because you listen carefully to every syllable of every word that comes out of my mouth seemingly listening for frustration or anger or flippancy directed towards you.  You do all of these things, so you may not always feel my love.  I used to do the same to my mommy, your nanny.  In fact I sometimes still listen and look for Nanny’s unspoken feelings about me but now I don’t mention it to her, I tell Mama instead!  Mama loves having to debrief my conversations with Nanny; it may be her most favourite thing about living with me! 

The point is, G-Dog, I understand the worry you feel about how much Mama and I love you.  My sweet, you are one of my five favourite imperfect people on this earth.  (The other four are your brothers and sisters.)  I know how much you hate to be wrong, but when it comes to you thinking that I don’t love you as much as I love all the Silverman-Akande small humans, you are wrong kiddo.  Really, really wrong.  I adore you girl.  That’s just the way it is.  Aaannnnd you are imperfect (so am I) so sometimes I gots to lay it down and let you know ‘cuz that’s my job as your mommy.  But I never stop loving you even when I’m angry.

And when you complain about having to leave the house to go anywhere new, especially a party, I know how you’re feeling. I have to fight my urge to just say, “Don’t worry baby, we can stay home and cuddle up on the couch and watch our favourite shows and eat the same things we always we eat, 'cuz we hate change.”  I never want to go to parties and meet new people and eat new food.  When Mama makes me go, or even better, when I make myself go, I often have a really good time. I’ve had to learn to push past the “I don’t want to leave the house” feelings.  I hope I do a good job at showing you that I understand your fear while encouraging you to do what’s hard because I want you to know that you can do hard things. 

Here’s the thing, you are a whole lot of “extra”.  You feel deep, deep, deep.  It’s so wonderful, it can also be hard and exhausting.  You come from a long line of deep feelers.  When feeling so much is hard, know that I am sorry to have given you this burden.  When feeling so much is wonderful, know that I am honoured to have given you this gift. 

We are so much alike, but we are not the same.  You will do with your “extra” self, what you wish to and what you need to.  I hope you do better than I have with all your big feelings because you are learning about them and how they work inside of you as a little one.  Mommy had to grow up and become a lesbian and subsequently go through years of therapy before I started understanding my big feelings. (Seriously G-Dog coming out as a lesbian and then enrolling in therapy was a “thing” in my day.)

G-Dog you are extra.  Extra sweet, extra intense, extra funny, extra stubborn, extra clever, extra curious, extra sensitive and extra, extra special.  As your little sister would say, “I love you twice.”  And as your little brother would say, “I love you this, big much!”

Carry on lil’ warrior.  You can do hard things. 
xo Mommy

* “Carry on warrior” the name of Glennon Melton’s book

Friday, September 19

Why Sheryl Underwood Is A BOSS

By: April D. Byrd

"I was bruised, but I wasn't Broken"!  We've all been there. The Powerful words came from Sheryl Underwood Co-Host of "The Talk" when she revealed a juicy secret on the show.

Sheryl's presentation of her truth turned out to be one of the most absolute boss moves I've ever seen on TV. and I didn't actually see it on a TV, but of course #SherylUnderwood was trending, because that's how BOSS it was!

If you haven't seen the video already you might want to check it out! (Below):
Share your thoughts about it in the comments section. 

What did you think about Sheryl's share? Do you think it was appropriate? Would you have done it?
Leave a comment below and Keep up with the Convo on Trey Anthony's Fan Page!

April D. Byrd is on Twitter @aprilinspired.

Wednesday, September 17

Special Needs Parenting - Superstar Miss O

by: Ajike Akande

For sometime on this here blog, I have been touching on what is going on with Miss O and G-Dog, without really getting into the nitty gritty.  I just haven’t felt like I could or should totally “go there” but I think it’s about time that I start talking about and naming my girls’ challenges. I recently started following Diary of a Mom, a blog written by a mom with two awesome girls, one of whom is autistic.  Sometimes I find the Diary mom way too perfect.   She never complains about the challenges of raising a child with special needs but focuses on how she manages the challenges.  She seemingly advocates effortlessly for her daughter and celebrates her beautifully.  She’s also a fabulous phone photographer and captures her ridiculously beautiful daughters perfectly.  A little bit, I hate her. 

The point is, though, her daily stories help me see my little monkeys in a different way.  Her posts make me feel less frustrated and more loving.  They make me want to do better as a mom to kids with challenges.  And for reasons not clear to me right now, her blog makes me feel as though I have a right to take up some space in the corner of the blogosphere occupied by parents of kids with special needs. 

This won’t be my last post about raising kiddos with special needs, but it’s not what I plan to write about all the time.  I also need to be clear that all children, regardless of their needs, are totally frustrating and stress inducing (and also awesome) so just because some of my children have special needs does not mean I won’t complain about how annoying they all can be.  If it makes you feel any better, I am 100% sure that they will (do?) complain about me and Wife just as much.  I should also say that I’m not a parent who feels like our children’s challenges are a blessing.  The children are a true blessing; their challenges are not.  You won’t hear me saying that I wouldn’t change anything about them, ‘cuz I would.  I would take away the part of their brain that makes a seam in their socks feel like a needle.  I would take away the part of them that makes surprises no fun at all.  I would take away the part that makes it hard for them to persevere when they are trying to explain what they want or what they think.  And while that absence of those things would make parenting them easier, I wouldn’t take away the tough stuff for me, I would do it for them.  Our Miss O is the happiest person you’ll ever meet but there are parts of every single day that are excruciating for her.  Nobody wants that for their child.  G-Dog has to push through a whole lot of worries which make her so angry and so defiant, to find her happy.  I feel for her and wish it were different. 

To write about both girls and their special needs, would take a really long time, so I’ll start with Miss O who is having the hardest time these days. 

Almost two years ago, Miss O went through a developmental and cognitive assessment as well as genetic testing.  In the end, we were told that her genetics were beautiful (thank you Mom and Dad and Sperm Donor Guy), that her results landed on the diagnostic cusp of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and that she will likely have a learning disability based on early cognitive testing.  In regards to an ASD diagnosis, we were told that girls are often diagnosed later than boys and that we may find that as she gets older and the social demands increase, she will meet the diagnostic criteria for ASD.  Watch and see.  When they told us about her results in the cognitive tests, we all agreed that it was too soon to really know anything about any learning difficulties.  It’s a little unfair to test what has definitely not been taught.  Let the child go to school before we decide she has trouble learning! 

But, of course, parents know their kids.  Before her third birthday she had received physical, occupational and speech therapy.  Being the superstar that she is, she took that therapy and told us all where to go when she reached every goal we set within the time we had hoped, but we still had this feeling that our superstar daughter wasn’t like other kids.  With a built in comparison in her twin sister, the differences were hard to ignore.

After being told that she had the characteristics of a child with autism except that she was too social and too interested in sharing her world with those around her, we learned about ways that we could support her.  We confirmed that she has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), learned about issues of sleep and autism and starting using picture schedules and social stories to help her manage daily routines and transitions as well as new outings and experiences better.  We found an amazing school that offers an integrated program with 20% of the class having ASD, communication disorders or other developmental issues. (G-Dog has joined her sister at Yes I Can and we truly believe that both girls are getting a wonderful program that meets their needs.) We carried on as though Miss O had a confirmed ASD diagnosis, because we truly felt that that was what was coming. 

Now, almost two years after Miss O’s initial assessment, we will be heading back to the team of psychologists, therapists and nurses to repeat the assessments.  We are starting to see significant regression and loss of skills in Miss O and she is having greater difficultly getting through the day.  We are seeing our smart, funny child with excellent language skills, who expresses herself well, struggle to communicate.  We are seeing our kind and compassionate child become overwhelmed and behave inappropriately towards others.  Miss O needs more support and we need guidance and an actual diagnosis to ensure that she gets it.

Knowing that the assessment will take place in the next couple of months, I have said to close friends and Wife, that I feel as though we are on the verge of receiving bad news.  I don’t know for sure what this new assessment will reveal but I know in my heart that our awesome, superstar Miss O experiences this world a bit differently and that can be really hard for her.  And while I think the news will be “bad”, like all news, it won’t be a big deal for long.  She’ll be the same kid, that fills and breaks my heart every day, but we will, and most importantly, she will have more information about how to turn down the excruciating and turn up the joy. 

I will definitely share more as we learn more about Miss O.  Before signing off, I have to share this: One of the things that we have discovered about Miss O, is that nothing calms her hurting heart like YouTube videos, specifically Tyler Ward’s acoustic version of Rihanna’s song Umbrella.  After an epic (sorry neighbours) meltdown last Sunday evening we watched the Umbrella video 12 times in a row!  In. A. Row.  It was the only thing that would calm her down.  It was truly remarkable.    So these days, when her calm, and her joy go missing, she finds them in this video.  I actually wrote Tyler Ward a letter thanking him!  He probably won’t respond because, ah, weird mom, but I had to thank him.  He totally saved Sunday! 

Just in case you have misplaced your calm or joy, or you love a good acoustic cover of a pop song (they’re soooo great), here’s the video: 

Oh and here are the lyrics to the song that Miss O, after screaming for 20 minutes, listened to 12 times while cuddling with me with her head on my chest.  I may have cried listening to the lyrics and soaked the dear child’s head.  Just read the lyrics, you would cry too (if it happened to you)!

You had my heart, and we'll never be worlds apart
Maybe in magazines, but you'll still be my star
Baby 'cause in the dark, you can't see shiny cars
And that's when you need me there
With you, I'll always share
Because when the sun shines, we'll shine together
Told you I'll be here forever
Said I'll always be your friend
Took an oath, I'ma stick it out to the end
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella 
(Ella ella, eh eh eh)  
Under my umbrella (Ella ella, eh eh eh)  Under my umbrella

XO Ajike  

Wednesday, September 10

Growing Out Of Babyhood

by Ajike Akande

A few months ago I took things up a notch and adopted a little “5 minute (makeup) face” routine.  I have come to truly love rosy cheeks and glossy lips, but I don’t spend the 5 minutes in front of the mirror applying makeup while trying to prevent my children, who are always crowded around me, from dumping multiple shades of blush on the floor, because I believe my beauty lives in a MAC bottle.  I quite like a natural look.  I spend the time because I don’t want the small children I see over the course of a day to be scared off by the dark circles and substantial puff around my eyes.  Quite frankly, it’s not pretty and there is nothing natural about it.  The puffy circles are the result of many years of having less sleep than required.  Sleep deprivation is not natural it’s real but it’s person-made.  Small, young person-made.  My point, because there is one, is that this morning, I should have taken a big pass on the five minutes.  I did some major weeping this morning a few hours after the makeup routine and I just ended up looking like a hot mess!   Here’s why…

This morning, being no different from other mornings I did the face thing and I was looking bright, cheery and totally on top of my sh*t, if I do say so myself.  Once all spiffied up, I packed up The Middles and The Littles to drive them (all of them) to school.  I was taking F-Jammie and Mr. Lee to their first day of Preschool.  For those of you who are just skimming this post, it bears repeating:  F-Jammie and Mr. Lee went to Preschool for the first time today.  Until now, The Littles have been left with one of three babysitters or family.  We have never set them free with other children without a grown person of their own watching over them. 

When they arrived at school and walked into their classroom, they were greeted by their super enthusiastic preschool teachers (You know, the kind of teachers who can smile through anything including a kid peeing their pants while they are holding them on their hip.)  At first my guys were pretty happy.  I told them that I would be back and left the room.  Unfortunately, I made the rookie mistake and stayed in the building - out of sight but in earshot.  When I heard Mr. Lee scream “No! Put me down! No!  I want mommy!” I lost it.  Really, really lost it.  Can we say, ugly crying?  I went over to the two-way mirror, (God’s little gift to the neurotic parent) and took a front row seat to view the movie Mr. Lee Has a Tantrum When He Realizes Mommy is Not Close By.  (Can we just pause and think about who would play the part of me?  Please post any thoughts in the comments.)  I watched him carry on while being held by a smiling, calm teacher.  I watched his twin sister, F-Jammie, follow him and the teacher around the room until he calmed down, which made me cry even more.  She was making sure that her brother was okay.  I wasn’t surprised; she is loving like that.  I felt proud that she showed so much compassion for her brother but also guilty because she felt as though she had to make sure that her sad bro was being taken care of while mommy up and left.  

 Finally the inside voice kicked in – “Leave woman!  Go pee alone, drink coffee while it’s hot, make and finish a phone call!”  I don’t often get time to myself in the middle of the day.   I left the school, still sobbing and called a friend to cry to her.  She reminded me that Mr. Lee and I are both ready for some time apart and that F-Jammie was born with her bags packed for university and her attachment to me is really about the snacks!  After the pep talk, I went for coffee and thought about how the phase of parenting babies is coming to an end.

We have been in the “baby” phase for years.  We never “saw the light”.  We were fortunate to be able to plan and have our children very close together.  Please note that these plans were made assuming that we would have one baby at a time.  Please also note that I am aware that we went for another round even after we had evidence suggesting that the assumption of one baby at a time was weak.  Point is, after asking, “What the actual f%&k were we thinking?” about a million times, we settled into the all baby all the time, way of life.  Seven years later, nobody is breast-feeding (Breast fondling – always; breast-feeding – never.)  Daytime diapers and cribs are a thing of the past.  Scooters are increasingly the mode of transportation and the stroller more often gets left at home.  Things are changing.  Praise God, things are changing.  Also, I totally hate change. 

After just over an hour, drinking hot coffee and thinking about my changing life, I went back to the school to pick up The Middles and The Littles.  These are the happy, suddenly older, proud-of-themselves, sibling-loving faces that came through the door. 
I have felt drained, the way you do after a good cry, all day.  The makeup has been wiped away by the waterworks and I can’t seem to lose the home-sicky feeling in my gut.  I guess the home-sicky feeling makes sense.  When we are home, we are surrounded by the familiar, what we are used to.  I am used to being a mommy to babies.  I have never had babies grow out of babyhood without another baby, two actually, to take their place.  I am losing a little bit of what is familiar.  It really is time, but I still feel a little home-sicky.  I wonder if my babies, The Littles, feel the same.

XO Ajike

P.S.  I am looking for excuses not to go grocery shopping the two mornings a week that The Littles are at school.  Who wants to meet up for hot coffee? 

Wednesday, September 3

School Is In Session

by Ajike Akande

Where I live, this is the first week back at school.  As a mother of many, including, three school-agers, it will come as no surprise that this blog post is about sending The Big and The Middles as well as Wife back to school.  I could share all the details of everyone’s first week, but wow, that’d be a snore fest so instead I am sharing a letter that I have written to The Big’s grade two teacher.  She will receive a copy of this letter shortly after I post this, so if you think it’s totally weird and inappropriate please let me know ASAP ‘cuz eeek, don’t want to be weirdo mom. 

Here it is…

Dear Ms. P,

You did it!  You survived the first days of the 2014/15 school year.  I stood back watching you on the first morning wearing your back-to-school best, doling out hugs - down low to the bigger, but still so little grade twos that you taught in grade one, and up high to the parents who were feeling excited to be sending their kids back to school in general but especially excited to be sending their kids back to you in particular.  You looked so happy and bursting with excitement about the fresh start that the new year offers.  I wanted to tell you that I recognize your bright expression and genuine joy to see your new and returning students.  I recognize it because that used to be me greeting bouncing kiddos and their parents.  Honestly, I felt a little jealous.  Don’t get me wrong; I know that day one is the beginning of a teacher-student honeymoon that if you’re lucky, lasts about three weeks.  Eventually the kids will stop being on their best behaviour.  So will you.  But the hugs, nervous energy and excitement are so real and truly set the tone for the year.  I am thrilled for all the members of the Room 22 crew.  I know that you will do all you can as crew leader to create a brilliant, safe, bad-ass (in the best way) community. 

Before you slip into the school routine, I want to tell you some things about my little dude who is in your class for the second time, this time as a big grade two kid.  Our Z absolutely ADORES you.  Some time around the end of July, he stopped accidentally calling me Ms. P!  He has been attending school since he was 18 months old and I have never seen him respond to a teacher the way he has responded to you.  His teachers have always enjoyed him and he has always been genuinely happy to learn with and from them, but with you, it’s different.  When you started teaching his class last January Z, almost immediately, saw himself in you.  You, a black (like him) woman with Caribbean roots, who loves music and dancing, hooked him right away.  You laughed at his antics and were charmed by his unbelievable ability to tell a good story.  You nagged him when he didn’t do his best (which was far too often) and sent home homework when he didn’t complete his work because let’s face it, he is more interested in being social than in completing math worksheets.  You consistently responded with genuine warmth whether you were disappointed in him or whether he “made your heart sing.”  You did this better than me and his mama.  He noticed and he appreciated you for it.      

I don’t think Z was aware that, once speaking to you and realizing that you somehow, even though you are not yet a mama, intrinsically understood how hard it can be to raise a black boy in North America at this time, I too felt comfortable with you.  I was relieved when I discovered that you would support my tough black mom approach as well as my insistence that my little guy has a chance to learn in a safe community with love, respect and fun (yes, fun) at its core.   

Our Z (your Z) is still squirrelly.  Seriously, seriously squirrelly.  He still doesn’t love the “learny” part of school.  He will talk your ear off and possibly drive you to drink!  The other kids will love him and think he’s hilarious.  This is extremely important to him so don’t be surprised if his perseverance and focus is most frequently exhibited when he is trying to entertain his classmates.  But if you bring your most dramatic self to the lessons you are teaching he will hang on your every word.  If you stay close by and be his anchor he’ll get his work done – eventually, because he doesn’t just want approval from his classmates, he wants yours too.  If you take dance breaks with the class and let him be your office runner he’ll still be squirrelly but he’ll get some of the movement that he craves. 

I know that teaching is one of the hardest jobs out there.  I know that your class is full of kids who need all sorts of things to make their days successful.  Z is one of many.  I also know that our boy will frustrate you.  You’ll want to raise your voice and send him out of the class.  You’ll want to complain to your colleagues about this very capable kid who doesn’t always apply himself and focus.  I know all of this.  I know because I know my Z and I have taught my share of Zs.  When your patience is low, tell him and then tell me.  I am always happy to discuss our little guy.  I’m happy to let you vent a little and then I am happy to make a plan to support him so that he can do better.  Your job is to support Mr. Z at school and it is our job to support him at home.  I believe that it is also my job to be one of the people who supports you in your efforts to support our boy.  I’m on your team.  You’re on mine.  We’re on his. 

This is going to be a long, maybe hard, hopefully awesome year.  In preparation I’ve purchased all the wine.  (Let me know if you need any!)  Alright, Ms. P here we go; let’s do this!

Friday, August 29

Miley Cyrus VMA Stunt Raised Big Money Online For Homeless Youth Non-Profit

Miley Cyrus Showed off her real "assets" this time at the VMA's and shined a light  on the issue of poverty and homelessness in America. Even though her date has legal issues that are now out in the media and some people consider it just another PR stunt. Miley did a good thing that celebrities should imitate often. In Writer Carrie Arnold's post "I Dream Of A Selfie Free World" she discusses how celebrities and just your average selfie taker can start to reflect attention and use our resources to focus on what really matters.

" it's time for us to stop focusing on self and instead, focus on what is going on around us... Miley has won some of my respect because she chose to use her Video Music Award (VMA) to shed light on the social justice issue of poverty and homelessness. She could have used it to self-promote in a usual celebrity fashion. Instead, we saw political activism. This is what I wish to see in place of every selfie. What would our world look like if we stopped gazing at ourselves, broke out of our proverbial narcissism and turned our camera phones to the multiple issues of social injustice that have begun to fade into the background like old wallpaper?". 

"The New York Times reported that Miley's campaign for the homeless youth nonprofit My Friend’s Place amassed over $200,000 in less than 24 hours following the VMAs, in addition to God knows how much since then."

Arnold goes on to discuss the Ice Bucket Challenge. "The ALS association has received 70.2 million dollars in donations compared to the 2.5 million they received last year."  Even though the small things seem silly, we can all come together to use our platforms for good. Action comes when we start turning our camera phones around and working to resolve issues that can be helped in our little corner of the world.

What issue will you get behind? I agree that we can join Carrie in making September Selfie-free!!

April D. Byrd is a Resident Support Staff for The Christian Women's Center A Non-Profit Organization dedicated to providing  shelter for women in crisis, believing they can receive physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness through the love of Christ. She is on Twitter.