Sep 22, 2012

On Becoming a Naturalista

Me at age 16
Yep, that's me.  A fresh faced 16 year old almost ready to finish high school.  For my American friends who don't know, students in England graduate high school at age 16, attend a kind of community college for 2 years and then go on to university if they choose to do so.
When this picture was taken, I was counting down the days until I was done with high school.  Sure, most kids are not big fans of school.  I actually enjoyed the school work.  It was the social aspect of high school that had me dreading getting out of bed on a week day and looking forward to the weekend.
Almost all of the Black girls in my year at school had in some way chemically altered their hair.  Whether it was a relaxer or a jheri curl, all of them had had something done.  I was the only one who did not.  You can see in the picture I have my hair gelled down to the best of my ability.  But for some reason, gel did not like my hair, so it did not make too much of a difference.  Being the only Black girl with natural hair left me open to all kinds of ridicule.  I was called "African sponge head", "dry head", and I even heard through the grapevine that a couple of the girls really thought I should "do something"  with my hair.  What they didn't know is that I begged and begged my mom to let me get a relaxer.  But she refused.  My dad thought my hair was beautiful just the way it was.  I thought he was crazy but looking back now, I realize he was completely right.  However, at that time society did not think natural hair was beautiful and so I didn't either.

It wasn't until exactly one week after I left high school that I was finally allowed to get a relaxer.  It was like a whole new world had opened up for me!  No more nappy hair!  I started to attract the attention of boys with my new silky smooth hair, and so of course I began to associate being attractive with having straight hair.  As a result, I made sure to get my hair touched up every 8 weeks without fail.  Never again would I leave myself open to the possibility of being an outcast because of my hair.
Over the years that followed, I changed my hair style regularly.  Variety is the spice of life, right?!

Whenever I was bored with my relaxed hair, I would get a weave or throw on a wig:

About a year and a half ago, I started hearing about Black women growing out their relaxers or even cutting off their relaxed hair and growing their natural hair instead.  My first thought?  Are they crazy??  Why would they ever want to part ways with their silky smooth straightened hair and go back to their kinky roots?  Are they crazy?!?!
Then I saw the movie "Good Hair" in which Chris Rock documents the lengths to which Black women will go to fit into society's standards of beautiful hair.  Of course, I could totally relate.  I have been on a quest to have good hair for as long as I could remember.  However, the scene with the relaxer vs. coke can struck a cord with me (look at the last link if you don't know what I'm talking about, but you'll get the full experience by watching the movie).  Is this what I had been subjecting my hair and scalp to all these years?  I used to joke about lying to the stylist when she asked if my scalp with burning, choosing to bear the pain to make sure the relaxer made my hair as straight as possible.  That didn't seem so funny anymore...
Then I started thinking about my daughter.  Although she's only 9, several of her female classmates of color have already had their first taste of the "creamy crack", as relaxers are often affectionately called.  I knew I definitely did not want to subject her delicate scalp and beautiful hair to the rigors of a relaxer application.  But how could I justify forbidding her to get a relaxer if I was in the salon every 8 weeks getting my edges touched up?
I initially made the decision to "transition" my hair from relaxed to natural in May 2010.  Transitioning simply means stopping relaxers and allowing your natural hair to grow.  Some women opt to undergo The Big Chop, cutting off all of their relaxed hair and starting all over with natural hair.  I chose to transition, because I didn't think I was ready for such a drastic change.  A complete transition for my length of hair could take anywhere from 18 months to 2 years.  Those who know me know I am the most impatient person I know so I wasn't sure how long I could continue on this journey.  I knew I had to try though.
During my transition, I tried very hard to conceal the two competing textures in my hair:
Braidout - I wore the scarf to hide the line of demarcation - the point where relaxed and natural hair meets

Blown out straight and pulled into a side bun you can't see in the picture
Another braidout.
Eventually, my hair became too much for me to handle and I decided it was time for The Big Chop.  I'll admit, although my mind was made up I was very nervous about making such a drastic change.  There is so much history attached to my emotions toward my hair.  The last thing I wanted to do was make a huge change and then have to endure the awkward stares and ignorant comments from those who did not like it.

Despite my worries, on September 19, 2012 I got my Big Chop.  Here I am a few hours later:

I can't begin to describe the feeling of empowerment that comes from going against society's ideal of a beautiful woman with beautiful hair, and wearing my hair as God intended for me to wear it.  For so many years, I have been spending my time and money chasing after an image I thought would fit me into the mold of beauty, meaning my hair should be straight and shiny.  I finally understand and accept that as a Black woman, I should be proud of the uniqueness of my hair.  No other ethnicity has the type of hair I have.  None!  Therefore, as I embrace my heritage and my culture; as I feel pride in the struggles my ancestors endured so that I should have the freedoms I enjoy today, so I should also feel pride in my hair - kinks, coils and curls included!
What are your thoughts on true beauty?  Are your transitioning or have you had The Big Chop?  Or are you a die-hard creamy crack addict?!  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Sep 20, 2012

The Institution of Marriage

I've probably mentioned somewhere else on this blog that my parents have been married for 43 years.  Any way you slice it, that's a really long time.  They have been through thick, thin, good times and bad, sickness and health, and my dad told me they meant it when they said they will be together until death do them part.

My parents.  43 years together and still going strong.

They are best friends and do everything together.  They planned their lives together, then worked to achieve the goals they had set for themselves and their family.  They raised three strong, beautiful young women (no bias here at all!) and taught them the value of being financially and intellectually smart in order to support themselves in adulthood.  And although the paths we set for ourselves may not have always been what they envisioned for us, they never left our sides.  Sure they'd let us know they weren't happy, but they still supported us 100%.

I have often said that I would like to have a marriage as strong as my parents'.  One where we have each others backs and plan a future where we live happily ever after together.  Looking back on the first time I said my vows, I realize now that I was too young to understand their significance.  Which 21 year old knows that the person they are marrying is the one they want to spend the rest of their life with?  At 21, the rest of your life is a really long time!  At least 50 years!  I hadn't lived the best years of my life yet before I became attached to someone else and assumed the identity of wife and mother.  I didn't know who I was...I was still figuring that out.  Now I understand it was way too soon for me to make such a huge commitment.

So what about now?  I'm closing in on 32 years on God's green earth.  Now is the time a lot of my friends are thinking about getting married and having kids.  Seems like every time I log into Facebook someone is announcing their engagement and posting wedding , ultrasound or new baby pictures.  When I was with JI, those announcements hurt.  I'll admit I was jealous.  I wanted to be announcing our engagement and posting wedding pictures!  I felt like I was ready!  But now that I'm single again, I'm not so sure. 

Why, you ask?  Let me tell you!  For every image of successful love, I can think of 3 instances of love gone wrong.  For example:

Succesful love: President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.
Love gone wrong: Tiger and Elin Woods, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Shaq and Shaunie O'Neal.
Successful love: Jay-Z and Beyonce
Love gone wrong: Eddie and Nicole Murphy, Guy Ritchie and Madonna, Sandra Bullock and Jesse James.
And don't even get me started on those quickie "marriages" we've been hearing so much about lately]...think Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian, Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson and Evelyn Lozada and Britney Spears and the dude she was married to for less than 3 days...
I could go on but I think you see my point.
Maybe you think that's just typical of celebrities to marry and divorce as often as they change their underwear, and divorce is not as rampant in "real life.  Not true.  All you have to do is look at Census Bureau divorce statistics to know that.
What has happened to the institution of marriage that has caused many people in my generation to not take it as seriously as my parents' generation did?  Do women fall in love with the idea of the fairytale wedding and forget about the lifetime of reality that follows?  Are men blinded by the notion of having a woman at home to cook, clean and take care of the kids to the point he fails to plan for their future together?  Or is divorce so simple a solution that it's more of a backup plan if the marriage takes a wrong turn than a last resort?
What are your thoughts on the institution of marriage?  Do you still have faith that "happily ever after" can be a reality?


Sep 9, 2012

When Being Single Sucks

This week, I've had a world of trouble with my car, Betsy.  It all started on Tuesday morning.  After dropping my kids off at school, I took my usual back road route to avoid traffic on the major roads and hopefully make it to work on time.  It had rained the night before so the roads were still a little wet.  The road curved and as I turned my steering wheel, I felt it lock and my car began to turn more sharply than I intended.  I was headed for the grassy area and trees on the side of the road and all I could do was scream and pray.  I can honestly say it was the most scary moment of my life.  I was thankful my kids were not in the car to experience that.  I would hate for them to have that memory for the rest of their lives.

I truly believe God was in the car with me at that moment.  I could feel the car spinning 180 degrees but it was like it was happening in slow motion.  Like He was guiding the car as it was spinning.  My car ended up facing the direction I had come from, but thankfully did not hit any other cars or trees.  I had no damage to my car or my body.  But I was in an awkward position facing oncoming traffic, which had to swerve at the last moment to avoid hitting me.  I was finally able to get myself together and got my car back on the right side of the road.  I drove like a granny all the way to Discount Tire to get my tires replaced.  Cost me a fortune . . . but worth it for the safety of my children and me.

Fast forward two days.  I think I'm sitting pretty right?  I replaced my brakes and practically everything under the hood of my car in April.  I just got brand new tires.  What could go wrong, I asked myself??  There's nothing else that can be replaced!

Famous last words . . .

After my son's soccer practice on Thursday, the kids and I piled into the car ready to go home to watch Big Brother 14 (we love that show!).  I turn the key in the ignition . . . I hear a choking sound.  Not good.  Strangely enough, the lights and radio came on but the engine would not turn over.  I tried again, willing it to magically start.  Still, nothing. 

Those of you who know me know I DO NOT like to ask for help.  EVER.  Call me prideful.  Call me stubborn.  I just hate to inconvenience other people by asking them to help me to do something I can't do for myself. 

My kids, on the other hand, are completely fine with asking for help.  I'm thankful they did not inherit the "I'll do it myself even though it'll be a struggle" gene from me!  They encouraged me to ask for help from the coaches and parents and, in the spirit of teamwork, they all pulled together to get Betsy going again.  They actually cheered and clapped when it started.  It was a victorious moment for the team!

Fast forward another 2 days.  I hadn't had chance to take the car in to make sure it was the battery and nothing else giving me trouble, but Betsy was running fine so I thought maybe it was a one off.  About 30 minutes before leaving for K and J's soccer games on Saturday morning, I started the car up and it was fine.  So you can imagine my despair when we all hopped in the car, I turned the key in the ignition and Betsy started croaking again.  Are you kidding me?!?!?!?  I have to ask someone for a jump AGAIN??  And it's 9:30am on a Saturday morning!  Even more of an inconvenience!

Long story short, my neighbor across the street was nice enough to give me a jump and we went on our way.  After the games, we stopped at two auto parts stores to get the battery checked.  One said it needed replacing, the other said it was just fine and only needed charging so I should hop on the highway to charge it up.  Seriously?  I should burn gas to charge my battery??  Have you seen gas prices?!  It was probably be more cost efficient to buy a new one!

At this point, I had reached my limit.  Yeah, I'm independent.  But when it comes to car repair and maintenance beyond a routine oil change, I'm clueless.  How do I know which auto part person to believe?  How do I know I'm not being taken for a ride? 

It is at this moment, I believe, that being single sucks.  Men are generally more knowledgable when it comes to car repair than women, let's just be real.  Maybe if I had a husband, he could have taken one look at my tires and told me it was time to get them replaced, thus avoiding the whole hydroplaning incident.  Maybe if I had a husband, he could have taken the car in to get the battery replaced the first time it needed a jump.  Or even if he hadn't had time to do that, we could have taken his car and J would have made it to his soccer game on time.  Instead, he missed the first 20 minutes of his first game of the season because Betsy just couldn't get going.

I do have some great male friends and was able to get the advice I needed from them and got a new battery installed yesterday.  One of them actually called the auto shop to get advice on the type of battery I needed, just to make sure I didn't get taken advantage of when I went in.  I thought that was pretty cool.  But as great as that is, it's not the same as having a man in the house 24/7, totally invested in the safety and wellbeing of my children and me at all times. 

Don't get it twisted, I'm not backing down from my last post, where I declared myself to be happily single and not interested in seeking a relationship any time soon.  I'm just acknowledging the fact that relationships do have their benefits and being single is not where I want to be permanently. This is a temporary stopping point for me to regroup and become the best woman I came be for my future mate.  Eventually, one day I'm sure there will be a man around to help if Betsy starts acting crazy, or something needs repairing in the house.  But before that happens, I need to get Charlotte together, especially my thoughts on The Institution of Marriage, which will be the subject of my next blog post.  Look out for it coming soon!

Sep 4, 2012

Dating Detox, Upon Instruction of the Millionaire Matchmaker

Anyone that knows me knows I love to watch the Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo.  Patti Stanger and her dating rules keep me entertained from week to week.  So a couple of years ago when I saw she had written a book, I decided to pick up a copy.  Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate is most definitely an interesting read.  Although I don't agree with everything she writes about, including her thoughts on the "universe", I found it to be almost as entertaining as the show.  I especially like the first chapter "Dating Detox" which is the reason for this blog post.

According to Ms. Patti, when a relationship ends, you should spend some time in Dating Detox.  The length of time you should remain in Dating Detox depends on how long your last relationship lasted.  Since mine was 2 years, I should detox for at least 60 days; one month for each year.  Dating detox means taking time out for yourself.  No dates, no flirting...nothing.  Instead, the time should be spent figuring out and doing the things that make me happy rather than depending on a man to put a smile on my face.
I have never been the type of girl to be single for very long - that is just the way it has always worked out for me. But bouncing from one relationship to the next, which I have been guilty of in the past, is not healthy.  I don't want to be dependent on a man to make me happy, or to validate my worth.  I don't want to feel lonely and rejected just because I don't have a boyfriend.  I don't want to be the kind of girl that doesn't feel attractive if I'm not in a relationship.  Unfortunately, I have been that girl in the past.  But not anymore!
For once in my life I'm content with being single.  I understand and accept that being alone does not necessarily mean I have to feel lonely.  I realized that hanging out with my kids or my friends on a Saturday night is even more fun than going on a date!  This is freaking me out a little because feeling this way voluntarily without having someone tell me this is the way I should feel is brand new to me.  But it also makes me happy.  And isn't that the goal, according to Ms. Patti??
Don't get it twisted now, dating detox is not easy.  You know how it is.  As soon as you decide to take a dating break, a bunch of eligible bachelors come out of the woodwork!  And I'd be lying if I told you I haven't taken a couple of them up on the offer of a date (sorry Ms. Patti).  I have even considered the possibility of a relationship with one of them who is probably reading this post right now (you know who you are lol).  However, I am nowhere near ready for a relationship, no matter how eligible of a bachelor he may be.  Although my relationship with JI ended almost 3 months ago, the thought of beginning a relationship with someone new is actually pretty terrifying.  Not because I still have feelings for JI and am secretly hoping we'll reunite and pick up the relationship where we left off.  As great as JI is and as much fun as we had together, he and I both know it just wasn't meant to be.  I'll always have love for him and wish him the best in every aspect of his life.  He'll make someone a wonderful husband one day.  Just not me. 
So what have I been doing to keep myself happy while single?  Here are just a few examples:
  • Writing this blog.  Blogging equals therapy for me.  It's cheaper too ;-)
  • Girls' nights out with friends when my kids are with their dad. 
  • Having friends over to my house.  Several weeks ago my friends and I hosted a Conversation Party.  So much fun!
  • Reading.  When the kids are in bed and the house is silent, I'll pull out my book and read.  Sometimes I read other blogs written by single mothers.  Anything to keep my mind occupied while allowing me to wind down from a busy day at work.
Whether you are single and satisfied or happily married, I challenge you to think about the things you can do for yourself that make you happy.  Try to do at least one of those things each day, just to remind yourself of how special you are.  Love on yourself!  You deserve it :)