Sing A Song

My pumpkin loves to sing.  She sings in the bathroom.  She sings at the table.  She hums while she does her homework.  She makes up songs out of street signs.  She is always singing.  and so because she loves to sing, I am always teaching her songs.  Her first song was, of course “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” at the tender age of two.  She has learned other songs, from children’s songs to pop hits to everything in between.  But I try to teach her a conscious blend of equal parts religious,  culturally relevant, educational, and fun songs.  you know; songs every little kid should know.  Like Yes, Jesus Loves Me.  or God Bless America.  Or Applause (what can i say?  I love Gaga.  Even ARTPOP Gaga…).

So the other night, after Leila ran through her Disney torch song list, and launched into her Broadway version of Justin Timberlake singing Magna Carta Holy Grail (don’t judge me!), I thought, I should teach my baby a new song.  I know!  The Black National Anthem!  That’s a song she should know!  “Leila!” I say.  “I’m gonna teach you a new song.  it goes like this…”  Uhhhh… wait, how does it go?  There I was, on the bed with my mouth hanging open, about to start singing a song I could not recall for the life of me.  All I could dredge up was “siiiiing a soooooong/full of the hope da da daaa da da daaaaaa daaaaa…..”  Ooohhhh!  Have I honestly forgotten the Black National Anthem?

How could I forget this song?  it is a song that I grew up singing at every assembly, right after we sang the song that comes after pledge of allegiance (which I also cannot remember).  Everybody knows that song, right?  But then I got to thinking; when was the last time I heard that song?  Ever?  I could not remember the words, hell I couldn’t even remember the name of the song.  And it got me wondering; do we not sing it any more….maybe because we don’t need it anymore? After all, it seems like revolutionary has given way to celebrity, activist has been exchanged for mogul, and what we identify with now has less to do with overcoming struggle and more to do with amassing massive wealth.  Maybe our throats got sore from constantly singing that song.

But if that is the case, what replaces it?  I have always watched with a little envy as Puerto Ricans sing along passionately, proudly to Marc Anthony singing Rafael Hernandez’s “Preciosa”.  That song makes me proud to be Puerto Rican, and I am from the South Side of Chicago by way of Tennesee, no PR to be seen!  Is there a song like that for us?  Is there something that will encourage my baby to know of my half of her past, respect it, honor it, be driven by it, be proud of it?  Is there anything that I can give my baby to teach her that she comes from a rich culture, that there are things to be proud of beyond hiphop, Beyonce and basketball?  Because there are things to be proud of, there are things to love and accomplishments to be amazed by, even if the voices that tell them have gotten softer with time.  For days it dogs me, why I can’t remember anything but three words to a song that I felt kind of special singing for so many years.  And then, without even really thinking about it, this morning, under the hot water of the shower, all of the words float back to me.  I remember two things: 1, the song is kind of depressing, so maybe its not appropriate for a 6 year old.  Or maybe it is.  It’s hard to say.  But second, and perhaps more important, is that it wasn’t the song itself that was meaningful, it was the idea that there was something to be proud of at all that I valued, and I do not know that that came from the song at all.   I  think that feeling came from knowing that I had been loved before I ever existed through the way that my family loved and cared for each generation.  And what I know is that, on both sides, that little pumpkin is loved from the top of her poofy hair all the way down to her double-jointed baby toes.  She has so much to be proud of, on both sides of her family, and she will learn those stories as she grows.  No need to bombard her with field songs yet. For now I will just turn up the Disney tunes, turn down the HOT 97.5 and continue to sing softly in her ear every night, “for each child that’s born/a morning star rises and sings to the universe/who we are…/ we are/ our grandmother’s prayers/we are our grandfather’s dreamings/we are the breath of our ancestors/ we are/ the spirit of God…”.



The Swing of Things

It’s a funny thing, the swing of things.  No matter how hard I try, I can never stay in that damn swing!  I am always getting back into that swing or falling out of it.   And while I don’t know the last time I was sitting in it safely and securely or how long I was there, I can definitely say that quite recently I fell out of the swing of things.

I thought I was safely sitting in the swing.  Things were pretty even for me.  I had settled back into my routine after the worst summer ever.  I tried to recalibrate my emotional presentation and be pleasant.  After all, when your kid gives you the truth the way mine served me, you don’t have many choices.  “I wish PopPop never died”, she told me last September.  “Why?” I asked, thinking she was going to say something about how much she missed my Daddy.  “Because you are not happy and you are not nice anymore Mommy.  You are not acting like yourself.  You are so cranky and you never smile and that’s not good.  You have to be happy like you used to be Mommy!”  Can’t be mad at the truth, can I?  So in September I dried my eyes, I turned my frown upside down, and I committed to getting back in that damn swing.   I thought I was in the swing, flying high.  I hosted Thanksgiving, I planned a two city Christmas for my baby, I stepped up the holiday decorations, I was moving full steam ahead.  But the seat in that damn swing of things is slippery, and before I knew it, I was sitting cross-legged on the ground, face in my palms, trying not to get hit in the eye by the swing of things.  The reality is this year has moved at a breakneck speed and achingly slow, all at once.  I have been the best neglectful mommy, the worst good wife, and the most depressed well-adjusted person you will ever meet.  I have struggled to be present for everyone and been absolutely absent to myself.  And so somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s, I fell completely out of the swing of things and then slid off the grid all together.  So this page has been a little dark and the postings trickled to a bit of a halt.  However, like all big girls that take a hard spill on the playground, I am standing up, dusting off my knees, grabbing life by the chains and sliding my hips back into the swing of things.  So here’s to a new year full of fun observations, cute pictures, insight, growth and LIFE!  Happy New Year, y’all…


Failure and Forgiveness

Leila is six years old, and everything she does is adorable.  It’s not adorable because she is more special than anyone else’s six-year-old; it’s because all six-year-olds are inherently adorable.  In fact, she is right at that age where adults whose lives have gone completely off the rails are remembered youthfully in slow motion old home videos where they are so happy and cute and perfect that it makes you wonder, where did they get lost?  She is at that perfect age where all that exists is promise.  In short, she is simply too young to have disappointed me in any way.  She is so innocent and happy and good that it makes me almost sad to know that she will age out of it.  Last night I found myself praying that she stays this perfect, that she never disappoints me, that she never gets lost and never fails.

It’s not that it won’t happen though.  Every mother I know has that vivid memory of when their child first really, really disappointed them.  Their eyes darken, they look off into the distance, the corners of their mouths turn down, and they recall.  I remember the first time I saw that look in my mother’s own eyes.  Ummhmm.  Kids can recognize it.  Wait a minute!  Will Leila remember the first time disappointment colors my eyes?  Worse still, will she remember, in vivid, self-righteous detail, all the ways that I will disappoint her?  Oh dear heavens!  All this time I have been worried about raising a failure and the reality is no matter what, we will disappoint and fail each other.

But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this is all love is anyway; failure and forgiveness.  In parenthood, in marriages, in siblingships, it is that is all that exists. We will say things that hurt each other, we will wound each other with our actions, we will disappoint each other, and because we love each other, we will forgive each other.  I think that is one of the greatest love lessons in the Bible.  When Jesus looked Peter – his most loyal, faithful disciple – in the eye at the Last Supper and told him “you will deny me three times before the cock crows”, he didn’t do it with damnation in his eye.  He didn’t say it with fire in his voice; just disappointment.  And after all Peter’s adamant protesting otherwise and then his ultimate failures, what does Jesus do?  No shaming, damning, no casting out and no cold shoulders.  Nope; he forgives him… and empowers him.  And that is what love is.  It isn’t people always saying the right things to each other, always lifting each other up, always making the  other one better and more perfect.  It is people seeing each other for who they are as they are, accepting them in spite of themselves, forgiving them and then empowering them to grow past their weaknesses.  Yes my baby will probably break my heart before this thing is over, and I will most certain break hers.  She will lie to me, I will embarrass her, she will do something sneaky, I will be too restrictive and the world will end for the both of us on more than one occasion.  But, I realize the test is not avoiding the challenges, it is being strong enough to forgive each other for whatever is to come.  Because what I am growing more certain of is that while  failure is inevitable, forgiveness is redemptive.  My baby will be her best, not because she never will make a mistake, but because – if I do a good job – she will be empowered to still reach for her best self in spite of her mistakes.  She will be empowered to forgive herself.  And maybe for a little girl growing up in a very unforgiving world, that is the most important lesson of all.