Why Stereotypes, In Moderation, May Be Good

I take the boys with me to go vote at Chavis Community Center, in the heart of Southeast Raleigh. We get to the volunteer and she asks for my name ‘Shannon P Bennett’ i say. ‘What’s the middle name dear?’ she asks. I state it. My 5 year-old who thinks he is Bernie Mac reincarnated says ‘P as in Palin’ loud enough for everyone to hear. I begin to turn red. ‘No it’s not, it’s Palmer’ I say pushing him behind me; but the little critter scoots around and gets right in the lady’s face ‘It’s Palin and she’s from Alaska!’ I thump him in the head and by now EVERYONE is staring at me. I get the paper, sign my name and try to rush off when this little booger shouts out, fist raised and in the air ‘Go McCain’! If you could have seen the faces of the voters….OMG….if looks could kill! How do you explain to a room full of people who have just left the Obama rally that not only are you an Obama supporter but that your beautiful baby boy is a comedian?!

I posted the above story as a note on my Facebook page on October 30, 2008. It is a true account of my voting experience and as real a depiction of my son’s comedic abilities as one could make. In telling the story, I made an assumption on that day that my biological family in Wasilla, Alaska were all Palin supporters based on my stereotypes of them (my bios, the Palins and Wasilla); a stereotype my bio-mom was happy to dispel.

Why would you think that! I’m for Obama! There aren’t many of us up here but I’m definitely one of them!

Since that conversation and in getting to know my Alaska relatives, I’ve been very conscious of my assumptions. I try to be very open-minded and look at the world through a wide lens as opposed to a narrow one, after all, my entire life is one big stereotype. Of course experiences birth preconceptions that are often impenetrable, add to that the horror stories of others, insatiable media coverage and an overactive imagination and well…

I rarely leave my home after dark but when your son has a fever and you’re out of the ibuprofen-acetaminophen rotating cocktails-duty calls.Leaving in the middle of an episode of Dateline where a home invasion threatened the lives of a mother and her two sons didn’t exactly aid my fears; and if that weren’t enough, I had just read an article about a student at Morgan State University who dined on the internal organs of the roommate he murdered. Needless to say, I was on edge.

As I was pulling into the Wal-Mart shopping center, a woman carrying several bags slipped and introduced her rear end to the pavement in a slow motion crash. It was nothing to laugh at as she staggered to a stand and then fell again. Finally she steadied herself and attempted to shake off the mud and humiliation of her fall(s). She succeeded at neither. I pulled over and helped her pick up the scattered groceries and noticing the blood soaking through the knees of her pants, I offered her a ride home.

As she buckled her seat belt the severity of my sincerity overshadowed my genuine concern as I visualized her grabbing the razors from her bag and slicing me to pieces. My mind began to race and my face flushed crimson. When she leaned over on the arm rest I froze as I imagined her stripping me of my clothing and gnawing at my flesh. I didn’t hear a word she said over the sound of my beating heart and heavy breathing. I feared this woman who walked to Wal-Mart at night in the rain for razors and cheese spread with the thick stench of cigarettes in her hair and coffee on her breath. Infinite scenes from movies about hitchhikers and images from news reports filled clouded my thoughts as I whispered a prayer and reprimanded myself in the same sentence.

When we arrived at her home nearly ninety seconds later, she thanked me three times before hopping out of my vehicle and freeing me from fears grip.

I still cannot believe this happened. I’m just so embarrassed and I wasn’t even drunk!

Well, when you tell this story maybe you should say you were.

Oh no! I can’t do that, I just got out of prison and this is a halfway house.

And with that she slammed the door and limped off.

Stereotypes, in moderation, aren’t always a bad thing…

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Spare the Rod…At Least In Public?

I can recall several times when seemingly poor parenting skills caused an irate mother to openly and loudly scold her child in a public place. There was the blonde, middle-aged woman in Wal-Mart in Texas who was accosted by store security after her episode. Then there was the young, African-American mother in Maryland in the shoe store whose language made me, a grown woman, blush. Oh and I dare not forget the mother of three little girls who caused a riot in my favorite North Carolina Target store when an onlooker reprimanded her for her exaggerated instruction.

Seemingly poor parenting.

I cannot recall ever having such episodes. I remember chastising my God-son for stealing a band-aid around age four or for speaking disrespectfully to me around age six but even that was discreet and contained. I cannot recall a time when I jumped outside of my introverted self to discipline my sons in an extroverted manner and chance public scrutiny.

That is until yesterday when I became a victim of seemingly poor parenting.

My sons and I, along with my mother, were enjoying one of our favorite pastimes and strolling through the flea market aisles. I was gawking over Nehi peach sodas (which are not on my current diet but reminded me of my childhood days in Tuskegee, Alabama) as my mother reminisced over the “penny candy” section (which coincidentally no longer cost a penny). My sons were joking and laughing as tweens do when I noticed the younger holding what appeared to be a bag of candy under his shirt.

In a speed that would shame light, my arm reached across the row of peanut butter bars and chick o sticks and pulled him into me by the collar of his shirt as he held up his hands in defense and to show me that no crime had been committed. Fear held my voice hostage as I thought of young black boys shot and killed out of mere suspicion. Fear paralyzed my legs as I remembered young black boys murdered for walking down streets and whistling…or not. Fear held my hands hostage as I remembered young black boys whose hands were bound by silver bracelets and whose minds remain in iron shackles.

I choked the life out of his threads as my voice escaped and fear unleashed itself.

I became a seemingly poor parent, yelling at my child in front of strangers. Strangers who would have thought I was a poor parent if I had yelled or if he had stolen. Strangers who would have whispered about my lack of ability to control my children or control myself. Either way, I am a seemingly poor parent. Stares scorched my back as my mother and first-born stood by watching and fearing; my mother for my truth, my son for his brother.

When my voice escaped, unrecognizable and shaking, I reminded my son about Trayvon Martin, Emmit Till and Brian Banks and how close he is to becoming a statistic, a case, a victim, a point of reference every time he seemingly does something wrong.

Seemingly poor parenting became a fight for survival and I care not what anyone else thought in that moment, only that my son understood the severity of his actions and the sincerity in mine.

Tonight I’ll pray an extra long prayer for the mothers and fathers fighting to save their sons even through seemingly poor parenting and I’ll reward myself with a few extra mary janes because I refuse to let myself or my sons become a statistic, a case, a victim or a point of reference no matter how hard I have to fight or how crazy I appear to be. I am not a seemingly good mother…

I am.

 

 

 

Cup A Joe

Photo by JElite Photography

I’ve waited months to write this article. Since the conception of this space to share my expertise on my own ideas, I have prepared for this post. I always imagined calling it Happy Mother’s Day, but it is not Mother’s Day. It is Father’s Day and I have but one thing to say to that…

I am not a father!

I appreciate the text messages, telephone calls, Facebook tags and the like wishing me well over the years with “for the single moms holding it down and playing both roles, Happy Daddy’s Day.” I understand the thought behind your sentiment but there is a fallacy in your expression…

I ain’t no damn daddy!

I am a mother. I am a woman. I am a lady (why can’t you say that without a Shanaynay accent). My sons have a father. I do not now, nor have I ever been a father and unfortunately for the two little boys under my care, as great as I am, I cannot fake that. I know what it means to nurture a living being in my womb. I know what it sounds like to hear that first cry. I know how it feels to nourish an infant with my bosom (and FYI, no matter what they say about how good it is for the baby-it hurts like hell).

I am a mother.

Mother & son-ballin' by JElite Photography

I don’t know how to teach sons to grow into men. I cannot fathom the spirit of brotherhood. I have no idea what it means to be the paternal member of the household. I misrepresent concepts like hollerin’ at girls, developing swagga, marking territory, pissing standing up or hocking up phlegm. Sorry to burst your bubbles out there but I have my limitations-fatherhood happens to be one of them.

I know there are many women who profess to be momma and daddy, but I am not disillusioned. I completely comprehend the concept behind the differences behind males and females, and there are significant differences beyond the physical. I get that you are holding things down in the absence of your child’s father, but you are holding it down as a mother, don’t get it twisted. You are a single parent, specifically, of the maternal order. You are not a father, please stop pretending to be both and stop discounting the need for male (real male) role models in the lives of our children.

I’m thankful for what keeps me going, and it’s not just my cup a joe, it’s also my cup a joe. My daddy, Joe, gets that I am a mom, a real mom, a girly mom, a take-a-book-into-a-NBA-game-and-look-up-once-to-ask-did-we-get-a-touchdown-kinda-mom, and he acknowledges that my sons need regular influences, fatherly influences. He steps in without request and handles the paternal roles placing us in an informal co-parenting relationship. 

My dad, always the character...

I love that my sons can call Joe and ask “why does one testicle hang lower than the other?” and sit locked in the bathroom, as if security locks out sound so I cannot hear the answers. I love that they can send him a secret text after one of my “Michelle Obama dinners” that is followed up with a rib dinner delivery as they sit in front of a game or WWE exhibition and pig out on meat with a side of meat and wash that down with a cup of sauce. Sure these are questions I could answer, things I could do, but I am not a father and I just don’t get it.

Tomorrow while I’m boarding an early flight with what is sure to be my second cup a joe in hand, my boys will be basking in the beginning of their ten-day stay with their cup a joe and for that I am happy.

Happy Father’s Day to all the father’s out there…

…and to all the mothers out there holding it down as a single parent, have a great day.

Lost In The Male

The idea of this post came to me while writing this post: It’s not my fault, my professor don’t speak English! For USA Today College, that’s right, I’m published ya’ll. You better subscribe to me now, before I start charging for subscriptions!

I am waiting for a specific piece of mail. It is imperative that I am in receipt of the parcel. I have been told it is in the mail. I have heard this lie twice. My certainty of this untruth is due to my own lies, “The check is in the mail.” “I just sent the invitation off today, it’s in the mail.” “I sent the email hours ago, I must be experiencing technical difficulty.”

Of course these aren’t always lies; sometimes they are actually the truth. Recently, I discovered that I had never sent off a check that I’ve waited months for someone to deposit. I can only imagine her facial expression as I apologized for my oversight (note to self: send off the duplicate check) but it was a genuine mistake.

I have come to realize that just as things often get lost in the mail, they also get lost in the male. Species, that is. Specifically, the younger ones; or maybe not (I just threw that jab in for fun).

Mothers of prepubescent sons often marvel over how concepts, truths, actions get lost in the space between their ears faster than the flash of light. For years I have heard these complaints in amazement at the struggle of others, and thought, that won’t happen to me!

Until it did…

Memory escapes how or when I noticed it, as I am currently suffering from Information Overload Disorder (see previous post here) but somehow it happened that my sons have become members of the typical pre-teen, male species.

It started with small things. I would give a command and before they were two feet away they would ask me to repeat the order. Then it progressed to them fetching the requested item only to return with something completely off base. “Son can you bring my brown jacket off the black chair in my bedroom.” Son returns with the black dress from the floor of the laundry room and a pair of brown shoes. Then it was the empty handed return twenty seconds later because it wasn’t there (I always happen to find said item exactly where I said). Now we have elevated to negating that I ever even asked for something to begin with (and they look at me with squinted eyes will humming the theme to the Twilight Zone).

There are other issues…

Gradually, they started doing little things that weren’t bad but just plain stupid but luckily they were confessing their idiotic behavior in an attempt to maintain my trust. “Mom, I washed the whites with a pen in my pocket.” “Mommy, I accidentally left my [car] window down all night and it rained.” No we have graduated away from telling and I happen upon the evidence of their actions: my favorite sweater poorly hidden in the trash can after being consumed by the dog, my red floor length lamp in twenty pieces under the couch (obviously the victim of a UFC match), and the latest-the cable prongy thingy that was magically sucked into the wall by sheet rock fairies and won’t come back out!

Will my boys always be lost in the male, or is there hope that once they hit puberty, teendom and then adulthood they will return to the pre-senseless senses?

Luckily…this temporary (fingers crossed) lapse is not affecting their schoolwork…

Why I May Never Be Invited To Another Baby Shower

Year round school is a dream come true for a single parent such as myself.

While everyone is writing parenting advice on cardstock decorated with foil embossed booties, everyone tells you the surface stuff. Read with sweet, innocent voice: “Get plenty of rest.” “Let your husband do the housework.” “Take people up on their offer to help.”

Screw that. What we should have been writing on those cards was the true stuff. The stuff no one tells you when you’re glowing, happy, filled with maternal joy and cake for four. Read with hard, militant, voice while using hand expressions: “It is scary as hell the first time you take a crap and yeah you may have to assist your body in the process. Don’t ask-instinct will take over.” “Your nipples will crack and bleed during feeding and those objects of sexual stimulation will be reduced to objects of nutritional satisfaction. There ain’t nothing sexy about smelling like spoiled contaminated milk.” “After the baby comes out you will spin the rest of your life wishing that crying, little brat would crawl back in there and give you a moment of peace.”

Peace. Ahhhhh. Do you know what peace sounds like? It sounds like three weeks of track out while the offspring spring off to the home of the noncustodial parent, at least that’s what it sounds like to the divorcee whose kids attend year round school. It sounds like a book being read without interruption. It sounds like being called ‘Shannon’ instead of ‘Mommy’. Do you know what it looks like? It looks like a clean house. Every shoe is in place, there are no toys in sight, and the one little pile of laundry that has accumulated sits patiently waiting for nothing at all. Do you know what it smells like? It smells like take out from exotic restaurants that don’t list chicken fingers and kids menus are comical. It smells like girly soaps, undiluted by too much cologne in an attempt to hide the signs of prepubescence.

Before year round school I often wished they would crawl back into the womb and give me a moment, a single glimpse of my pre-maternal self.

But Joanie Mitchell said it best. I had an undeniable craving for chicken nuggets today, from Chick-fil-a especially, on kid’s night. In the drive thru, I sat watching kids run wildly, laughing, barefoot. They were taunting the costumed cow and I can only imagine his thoughts inside the fortress that protected their sacred ears from his secular mumbles. My womb ached for my own little torturers watching them. My stomach was playing tricks on me.

There are only three days left in my kidcation and between you and me (assuming they are having too much fun to read my blog tonight), it’s a little too peaceful around here. I keep hearing things in the middle of the night. The sterile environment is freaking me out! And four-day old sushi stinks! If nothing else, they better get home and take out this trash. That’s another thing we should be writing on those cards “If it’s a boy, by the time he’s 8, you’ll never have to take out the trash again. Just remember to bag it up in your bathroom during that time of the month.” Besides, they both crushed my sciatic nerve when I was carrying them, I can only imagine the damage they would do now.

I should probably look into a traditional calendar.

“What’s up with u and all this biracial stuff?”

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost a month since I posted. Even now this feels contrived. I want to close this screen and return to my studies. My studies of myself.

If we are Facebook friends you may have noticed a recent change in my status postings. I often share articles about biracial/multiracial experiences. One of my favorite cousins asked in response to one of these articles “What’s up with u and all this biracial stuff?” I often ask myself what is up with this ‘stuff’?

Where did this stuff come from? Where has this stuff been the last 32 years? How did I not know about this stuff? Why didn’t I know that being biracial was a definition, a description and that I didn’t have to be black or white, that I could be black and white? Why did I think I had to pick? Wait. I didn’t have a choice at all. My birth certificate reads ‘black’. 

My mother admits that she didn’t know I could have been both and I understand. I can’t imagine being a black woman married to a black man and saying “My daughter is biracial.” That would mean one of two things: somebody cheated or somebody lied. I remember the stares she would receive when she announced quite proudly that I belong to her while in the grocery store. I recall whispers from onlookers when I tugged at her coat tail and called her “Mommy.”

I don’t believe my birth mother knew I could choose to be both either. She probably thought I would have to black in a nation where the one drop rule was the only rule and in a state where diversity was based on the color of your hair more than your skin, I’m sure she was terrified at the thought of my life with her. I imagine those same winces and whispers in the grocery store at her being called “Mommy” by a mudblood.

My imagination runs wild these days fueled by the pages Senna, Larsen and Cross. In every character I bear witness to who I was, who I am, who I am becoming. With each description, emotion, question of identity I see myself through the eyes of writers who I have never met yet they tell my story. The manicurist’s solutions enrage paper cuts, reminders of scenes too good to turn slowly. I have found myself in a new world and yet an old one, my old one.

I am amused in remembering that for many years, I believed that tracing my biological roots would give me the answers to my identity but now I understand that I looked at those answers every day.

Shannon

Introduction to Moist Halfrican (Comma Intended)

I don’t really care if I misspell a word in my tweet. Actually, I do. But I don’t need you to point it out with a link to purchase your book on vocabulary rules.

@ker_pow Nope. Just want it to accomodate 60 somethings in taste and class.

@palmerbennett “aCCoMModate” with 2C and 2M (link to book WAS here) ~@MomyWatch

@MomyWatch Thanks for the FREE correction! ~@palmerbennett

I can think of two friends who are loving the idea that I was corrected on my vocabulary knowledge. I am usually the corrector. My feelings were hurt. Correction my ego was.

I’ve had a logos laden week. Ellen Seidman wrote a passionate piece on removing the word ‘retard’ from your personal language on her blog LoveThatMax. My youngest child, in a class discussion on tolerance, was informed that this word is not politically correct. He is public enemy number one against it and ‘midget’ (which was excluded years ago when Little People was a big reality TV hit). Retard(ed) is one of those socially derogatory words that has become socially acceptable to use.

Ironically, almost immediately after reading Ellen’s post, I heard Tia Mowry’s character on The Game say “social retard” and the logophile in me cringed. I love words. I do not love words that ignite inferiority.

Another word that breeds discrimination is “illegal”. ColorLines’ new campaign to Drop The I-Word is attempting to erase it’s negative context from everyday language. When I was 8, an older kid at school told me I was an illegal alien because I was born in Alaska. I believed her. I hated being an illegal. At some point I came to an understanding that I was not (the alien part is still up for debate). I have used the word many times and I have to admit that hearing it immediately places images of Mexicans crossing the border into my mind.

I signed the pledge to remove illegal from my vocabulary. I’m signing a personal pledge to remove my connotation. I’ve been working a lot on embracing diversity and battling embedded stereotypes that evoke hate. It is a conscious and deliberate effort that takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. My new image of illegal is of criminal behavior or a forged document-charge it to the recent conversation with a homeowner facing an unlawful foreclosure.

Don’t fret. My lexicon is still balanced as I have added two words to my vocabulary.

Halfrican, while not Webster-worthy, is a new way to define someone who is half black and half white. For example: “I am Halfrican American.” I was introduced to this concept by an article on Robert King and his one man show, for which I desperately want to see (shameless plug). It’s doubtful that the 2020 census will have a racial description for my new word but I like it none the less and if Beyonce’ can get bootylicious in the dictionary, anything is possible.

Then there is moist. Of course moist was already part of my jargon so this is technically a resurrection. Moist is the prodigal son I sent away many years ago, now it has returned. I’m not alone in my past despise of the word, 4,739 people like the page I Hate the Word Moist and they don’t even have a picture! I am reclaiming the word because there is no other way to describe Auntie’s red velvet cake or Patsy’s bread and I’m tired of looking for one.

 So my vocabulary is balanced, all is well in my logos and FYI @momywatch-moMMy is spelled with two M’s.