Saturday, December 02, 2006

Mama's Bling

Wednesday, November 16, 12:15.

I signed my name on the time slot. But, the feelings involved were a mixture of fear, dread, pride and protection. I was bracing myself for what I thought would be my daughter’s teacher telling me how I needed to work with my sassy, active, sensitive, emotional, smart, beautiful, high-energy, brown child.

Those feelings were the result of my prejudgment based on daily observation of her new teacher, Suzanne, of whom I had decided was abrasive and judgmental. And, even though we had already had one conference - three weeks into my daughter’s introduction to her class - that resulted in me ending it with a hug because I was so happy with what she said; it was also after the two or three day interaction she had with my daughter that prompted her to ask me about her last school, because “she is waaaay behind.”

Oh, no she didn’t just question my decision, my parenting, my work! Now I know I don’t do everything right. But, if she didn’t know that I take my title as parent seriously, she’d better ask somebody! Because for me, parenting is political. Parenting is my contribution to the evolution of African Americans. And, questioning my choices, was like questioning the motives of the civil rights movement. Being born my child allows my children access to civil liberties like thoughtful education choices and spiritual grounding. And, having to defend my pre-school choice for my child, left me put-off by this white woman, her tone, her words and everything else about her for that matter. But, of course, there is always room for mother-guilt if someone makes mention of anything perceived as a shortcoming.

The day of the conference came. And, I was ready to tell her what I thought of her opinions, especially any criticism, constructive or not, suggestions or anything else I perceived as a negative comment on me as a parent or a negative assessment of my child.

And, as I rushed around, dropping my husband off at work (we were down to one car at the time); then double backing to my neighborhood to drop my daughter at school (we usually walk); then stopping at the bookstore to check out the latest magazines (they come out on the 15th); then onto to Target to get some desperately needed things for the house (once again because we are down to one car and I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to do it another evening after my husband comes home from work); then meeting my girlfriend to drop my son off as she does an 11:30a pick-up, I didn’t have much time to think of my response to any questions about my child’s lack before the conference. But, I knew one thing, I was going to keep a straight face and listen before I spoke. And try my best not to go off on this white woman of whom I had decided was a bit to callous and abrasive and judgmental for my taste. I don’t care about all of the other parent warnings that she is a great teacher. But, she’ll be the first to admit that she isn’t good with parent interaction.

But, to my surprise, the conference was the blessing that I needed just at that time in my life. I couldn’t believe my ears as her teacher talked about how my daughter was the ideal Montessori student. She’s an independent worker. She is a leader. She is pretty. She is smart. She’s nurturing. She respects the environment and others. She thinks she could be the first African-American woman president. And, she needed to hurry up because she would be at least ninety and she wanted to get to the white house when she was there.

With all of that complimenting, I had to ask, "You don’t think she’s too bossy." I can’t believe I’m the one bringing up criticism. To which she said of course she’s bossy. But, she’s not overbearing and she can get what she wants without being hurtful.

I knew it was all true. And, even talking about her perfectionism which leads to frustration when she can’t get something done right the first time, brought a mutually admiring smile to both of our faces as we talked about instances where we’d seen it rear its ugly head and how we each handle it. I shared with her that I think the problem is the genetic workings of my husband’s type A personality and my high emotions to which she said she could definitely see the combination in my daughter’s personality.

Those comments were more than enough for my ample bosom to stick out more that day. But, the icing on the cake was when I asked her if she thought there was anything that we needed to be doing at home to support what she is doing in the classroom. The response to that question is one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. She said “No, you are obviously in tune with what’s going on with her; and with what she is demonstrating in the classroom, you guys are perfect parents.”

After that, my eyes were a little brighter, my voice a little friendlier, and my heart and blessing cup a lot fuller. Because for once, my hard work was being acknowledged - by a professional none the less. (How quickly my opinion of Suzanne changed.)

The bottom line is those words are the reason I do what I do. And, today I can feel good about leaving a successful career almost seven years ago. Because as much as I would love the home I dream of; and the money to do all the things I want to do and buy all the things I love, it's OK that I sacrifice material comfort. I can handle the financial stress my marriage is under. And, we all know what that can do to any marriage, but a Black marriage is even more fragile under these circumstances. I can handle it all because my son, my daughter, my husband and my family matter that much more. And as much hard work as it is to pour into them, into us, I do it so we can SHINE out in the world.

And, their SHINE is all the BLING that I need.