This Fight Just Started

The struggle with parenting young is that your fight with life is far from over. The dust on your definition is far from settled. Motherhood can become your entire identity at any stage in your life came. Being unsettled isn't only for the young. I wish I knew that when I was 20. I wish I knew how bad ass I was at 20, walking around campus with books and baby. I wish knew I was radical and beautiful, I wish I saw my revolution in its full glory but honestly, I thought I was just surviving. I wish I knew that who I was then was enough, to refine instead of redefining. In some ways, surviving is what it was but it was on my own terms. My independent study in black feminist thought had me realizing my fight with life had just begun. Do you know how many fights women have fought with babies on their backs? Motherhood did not give me purpose but it did narrow my path options enough to help me make a choice.

That's what I thought until sitting with the creative limits I put on myself. Does a single mom have the right to follow her dreams? Yes of course but the devil is in the pursuit. Resources are limited and a woman that tells you she can do it all at the same time is a lier. I am not always comfortable the give and take of big dreams. All these chips are not my own anymore but this fight just started.

This fight was just easier when my son was younger. When what is said was the unquestioned norm and he couldn't fight sleep. This fight just started but I'm getting hammered by the growing independence of a young man on the brink of an increasingly fucked up world. I haven't seen a blue-print for juggling all these balls and nothing I have created seems to stick but my fight just started and I'm not ready to give up.

The rules of my fight are simple:

1. I can't get into the ring unless my son is working toward his goals simultaneously.

This was really easy when his goals were things like crawl, walk, read, make friends. Before he had projects, beefs, and serious opinions. A schedule and a preference for pizza and TV. His is the fight that just started and I have to be ringside and engaged in ways the stages before this just didn't require. I used to read him my assigned reading as bedtime stories. I used to listen to recordings of my lectures while I made dinner or walked through the grocery store. There was a time when he didn't ask open-ended questions. 

I know if I didn't homeschool I would at least have school hours to myself push toward my personal goals but that's just not the best option for him. So there it is, now what is best for each creates a bumpy grueling road.

But you know what, that's ok. I may not have a blueprint but I know it can be done and Imma at least have some best practices to show for it when I get to the teenage stage.


Missed Connections

"What do we want from our mothers when we are children? Complete submission. Oh, it's very nice and rational and respectable to say that a woman has every right to her life, to her ambitions, to her needs and so on. That's what I've always demanded myself, but as a child, no. The truth is it's a war of attrition. Rationality doesn't come into it, not one bit. What you want from your mother is that she once and for all admit that she is your mother and only your mother and that battle with the rest of life is over."      Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Thelma Golden came to Chicago, and I missed it because I was deep in mothering. Deep in the fatigue of thinking about somebody else hard because you are not them and you are trying to decide what is best for them. I have missed several events this week because of the juggle, the mental acrobatics. It's not always like this, but sometimes it is. simple and clumsy. You can have it all but not at the same time. I long for the days when in ways I couldn't see clearly that my days were my own. When a child's protest was loud cries, not a silent disappointment. Toddlers scream, but tweens don't forget. Days when his developmental needs didn't rub against my social/professional needs like sandpaper.

I did not always feel like I was missing out. The spaces I feel are professional. Creative. Motherhood rubs at you like sandpaper, brushing of layers of dead skin in places and leaving you raw and exposed in others. Better than you started. More tender. Eroded. Rounded. Smooth but uneven.

I missed this opportunity and others because of motherhood and it does frustrate me. In an alternate universe, I may have missed them for another reason, and that would have frustrated me too. In this universe it was motherhood. I know there can be more synergy but doing it all takes all of me so who will enjoy the spoils. Alright, so that is a little dramatic. There are some weeks where I do manage to do everything we both wanted and need; they are always followed by one full day in bed. Sometimes this trade is worth is and sometimes it's not. The trade off sometimes reduces me to tears, momentarily.

As I approach 30, my concerns are not about aging or relationship status but these missed opportunities to grow myself as an individual.  The quote from Swing Time is accurate, so I missed the event, laying in bed for "read together" time, listening, being still and together. Surrendering to the demands of motherhood at least for the moment. 

along for the ride

I went into motherhood knowing I would be single. I made that decision at 20 because it hadn't occurred to me people would expect me to stop being myself. It never occurred to me that I would not be able to keep doing the things i loved or find new things to love. The truth of the matter is, it is much more difficult than I expected.

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Introducing Your Young Scientist to Physics with a Bang!

It's only once a year but it's well worth the wait. Last week we had the pleasure of attending the Physics with a Bang! program at the University of Chicago. The FREE program is designed to introduce physics to young children. It was a loud action packed show, full of explosions, makeshift rockets, and fire. 

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Homeschooling as a single parent.

When people imagine a homeschooling mom, the image is very rarely a black woman. Certainly not a single black woman. Yet we exist and as usual there is freedom in the margins. I recognize that I am fortunate enough to work from home; otherwise homeschooling would not be possible for us. 

One year in the game and I have learned some valuable lessons about how to balance work, education and family time. Self-care is certainly more of a work in progress. I certainly have not learned all there is to learn but I have come a long way. My three main takeaways have been:

Keyboarding Without Tears

Keyboarding Without Tears

Fraction Bingo

Fraction Bingo

  1. Teaching time is not always quality time.  I started my journey thinking the time I spent teaching him would be the vast majority of the quality time that we needed. Two birds with one stone. WRONG. Sure some activities can pass as quality time. Art and nature exploration mostly. Then there are the games that go along with learning. Fraction Bingo and Story Cubes were a tremendous success. But my personal philosophy about education means that I am intentional about not making every unit a game. I do a lot of instructing, this is the Distributive Property of Multiplication and this is how it works. This type of learning NEVER gets confused for quality time. 
  2. Work hours are for practice. I decided to fight the battle against electronics during work hours. Eight hours is just to long to sit in front of a screen. Two hours makes me feel nervous because my son defaults to watching shows on Youtube. I encourage him to find how-to videos for simple machines and experiments but he rarely listens. I have to work, which means I need to focus. Getting my son to understand that has been an uphill battle. We have instituted a system that works well for us. Work hours are for practicing/reviewing past lessons, reading and creation. I have seen tremendous improvements in his reading and math because that is what he spends most of his day doing on most school days. He is also much more engaged with his inventions and LEGO builds when there is a prompt/challenge. This inverted method makes our days more productive and our nights more focused. 
  3. A system for attention. There is no way a child is going to work independently for eight hours. I needed to create a system for giving him attention so he does not make up ways/reasons to get it or feel isolated when I am busy with a deadline. Here is what we have so far:
  • Unlimited hugs: at some point I realized that for my son this was VERY important. It seems like this is a check in for him. I can't say I fully understand why this works so well but it does. It's just what he needs. 
  • A thumbs up or funny face: same explanation as above. 
  • Timers: When I need undivided attention I put on a timer. This lets him know how long he has to wait to tell me whatever interesting fact he just learned or picture he drew. We are still getting used to this system but I like it. 
  • Set times for meals: He eats a lot and I get wrapped up in my tasks so this is big. I few prepping food a break not a chore intentionally so I don't get annoyed when I have to stop what I am doing and cook. It is a time for us to reconnect and relax. He often helps me make food or reads to me while I prepare the food. Honestly this is the time that means the most to me, no matter what we are doing. 

The only way I can manage to be centered enough is to make time to clean daily. That is certainly not always the case, which is the difficulty of being the only adult in a home. If you don't do it it's probably not going to get done. When I feel overwhelmed I rely on mindful meditation and gratitude to realign me. 

Ever once in a while someone will suggest that it would be easier for me if my son just went to a traditional school. Why take all that on when you are already a singe parent? First, I don't view single parenting as the great tragedy of my life and traditional school is a whole different type of stress that in Chicago I found unproductive and detrimental for both of us. I know some homeschoolers go into all this research to support their decision; I have decided to stop doing that for the most part because the bottom line is my decision is what works best for us at this time. Some days it's stressful and I am a mess but I never have to feel weird about it at pick-up. 

LEGO Zip-line in the old apartment set up.

LEGO Zip-line in the old apartment set up.

Funny Faces.

Funny Faces.

Roaming NYC

We recently took a family vacation to NYC thanks to cheap tickets from Spirit. We where able to get round trip tickets for less than $200. Yup, you read that correctly. We did not add anything, which means no checked bag and not carry on. We only used our one personal item. Spirit actually allows a decent sized personal item but we took small backpacks that could be carried easily since I knew I did not want to be weighed down. We did not pick seats but where seated next to each other and we checked-in in advance.

This meant carefully deciding what to bring and rolling everything. I also only packed summer dresses which meant I had space for an extra pair of shoes. I found some great t-shirt dresses at h&m for $10. Since my son's clothes are smaller packing was not an issue. I also took our trusted activity book and crayons to help him stay busy (we are transitioning away from electronics as a source of relieving boredom). 

Overall, navigating the city with child in tow was not as bad as I feared even when I was lost because we carried water and snacks. Since we have a Starbucks water bottle we where able to full up always at every corner, especially in Manhattan. 

Of course we went to the ToysRUs in Times Square. Which is closing in a few months according to some kind police officers who helped us later in the way when we where lost (again). There we found City Walks with Kids: New York. It's a deck of 50 cards that helps you plan walking trips with your child(ren).  We decided to completely change our plan for the trip and start again using the cards.

Caution tho, the deck we got was outdated so some of the  attractions were closed especially on Time Square but I still recommend the cards. They lead us to a lot of great places. We even came up with the idea of making up our own stops when a place was closed. 

We decided to stop at Ben and Jerry's just off Time Square and the Disney Store. If you walk that particular card be prepared to spend money because that is pretty much all there is to do.

These wonderful little cards did lead us to the Sony Entertainment Center. which was not on my radar. It must have been very popular when it opened because the card said you needed to make a reservation a week in advance. We walked in early morning and got tickets. My son's favorite part was tall the video games you can play on the way out. Don't worry they are timed. 

While all the roaming was wonderful we both really enjoyed seeing close friends and getting a natives take on the city. There is just so much to see in the city, getting great advice makes a big difference. We were able to visit the Studio Museum Harlem with friends during a Target free day. For me this was one of the highlights of the trip. 

As far a food goes, the best I had was at a friend's family party in the Bronx with the music playing surrounded by wonderful welcoming people. Overall, NYC was very kind to us. We had experiences we will never forget like finding this empty open church in the middle of Manhattan right as my son reached the end of my patience. We were able to admire the space, light a candle and say a prayer. He even drew an image of GOD in the sand. 

I left NYC feeling hopeful about our ability to create and maintain lasting friendships and my ability to plan a family vacation.