NoParent

CoParenting: sometimes referred to as cooperative, parallel parenting, or even platonic parenting. Simply stated: it’s when you and the other parent work together and devise a plan and support each other for the good of the child(ren). You maintain open lines of communication, make agreements, and involve the other parent in decision-making, educational goals, and disciplinary action — even though you’re no longer in a personal loving relationship. Your goal is to parent your child(ren) together; to the best of your abilities even though you aren’t “together”. Nothing between you and the other parent compares or can get in the way of the shared love, guidance, and hopefulness that you both have for the child(ren) you share.

It is extremely disheartening to discover that anyone wouldn’t want the joy and pain inherent to raising a child. Alas, not everyone was meant to be a parent. You can love a child, entertain a child, spoil, enjoy, and care for a child and STILL not be parenting material. How can you parent your child with a person that has no interest in the child, no interest in being a parent to the child, or participating in the love, growth, guidance and success of the child? How can you agree to anything when you can’t stand to look at, be near, or communicate with the other person? How does one CoParent with a non-parent?

Do it yourself, you say? Yes. A noble concept, indeed. But often times; easier said than done. The African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” is far from cliché. It really does take a village. The support system required to raise children is vast. And if you’re trying to man the stations alone; the vastness multiplies and gathers levels of difficulty, confusion, and exhaustion along the way. Quadruple that factor every time another child is brought into the mix. Single parenting is not for the weak, faint of heart, or challenge-challenged. You not only have to be strong, you have to be knock-down drag-out resilient. You have to take the punch after the punch and just keep swimming. When you parent alone, there’s no down time. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself or wallow in any type of self-pity or grief. Your kids need you, ALL. OF. THE. TIME.

I have learned some hard parenting lessons (like everything I just mentioned) the very hardest way: trial and error (more error, than trial). I have struggled with all of the feelings and emotions that come with first time motherhood, single motherhood, and failed motherhood. I have felt blessed, elated, happy, sad, exhausted, doubtful, confused, amazed, anxious… you get the picture. Parenting brings out a person’s instincts, intuition and emotions that are complex, deep, and strong. Most of us need that village to help us cope with what goes on inside of us; much less the laundry, dishes, and cleanup. We need to hear that we are doing a good job and that we haven’t screwed up our kids for all time.We need someone there, even when we are trying to do it all alone. It is paramount that you understand that single parenting means that you are: mother, father, good cop, bad cop, disciplinarian, nurse, doctor, playmate, therapist, chef, maid, and barber. You are it. You are all that there is and you cannot take that job lightly.

We also need those village horror stories. We don’t necessarily need to hear someone’s pain and get relief from it. More so, we need to hear and know that someone can survive an absentee parent and still be loving. Or that someone else survived an abusive parent and can have and maintain a safe and loving relationship. We need to witness someone crawling out of the shadow of their parent’s depression, obsession, or mental illness to still turn into successful people. We just need to know that even though we’ve made mistakes, our kids still have every loving chance on the planet to be the people who God intended for them to be. We always need to be reminded that they are here for their purpose and not to fulfill the dreams and expectations we once had for ourselves. We must remember that we are ushers; guides — and our job is to “teach them well and let them lead the way” (thanks, Whitney).

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Every person walking down the street has an opinion on how to raise kids. They give you unwarranted advice and tips that they’ve never practiced but heard so many times they just pretend it’s the gospel truth. However, every child is different, just as every parent is different. Sometimes the personality of the child is so prominent that you can see it before they are born. Their stubbornness and tenacity leach out of their mother’s womb the way hot grease dripping from a piece of fried chicken seeps into a napkin. No one can parent your child better than you. God gave you that child, and He would not expect anything from you that you didn’t have the talent and resources to provide. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

We all make mistakes. We make mistakes in every way every day. But if you accept the position and title of parent (I say “accept” because there are a large number of persons in the world who think that birthing a child is a CHOICE and not a God-given duty and BLESSING), you damn sure better learn from your mistakes and up your game! Get better. DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOUR CHILDREN. Do not. As with anything, there are always situations and exceptions to the rule, but those instances have to be examined very carefully when your children are involved. Children seek their parents for support and guidance in virtually all things. Don’t be the parent that turns your back or the one that requires that your child raise and support you. Know your role. Admit your wrongs, polish your method, and do the best you can — today and always.

Parenting is a sacrifice. There’s no way around it. You will sacrifice your body, your memory, your breasts (you know, if you’re a woman), your sleep… oh the sleep; I miss it so much. You sacrifice your friendships, work relationships, and every party you ever thought you’d throw or attend. AND IT’S WORTH EVERY BIT OF IT. Every shoulder covered in vomit, shirt that’s been sneezed on, pinky finger that’s plucked a tiny booger… it’s worth it. Every night that’s spent sleepless, pacing, worried, and scared because you’re not sure you’re doing it right… it’s worth it. Children are worth the battle. Children are worth the dreams, nightmares, scars, and adventures. They are miniature funnier cuter replicas of you and they will never cease to amaze you.

Some people know in their hearts that they don’t want children and they make a concerted effort to maintain a childless status. There are others, who don’t consider being a parent until someone says “my period is late” and they still manage to be fervent, and competent in the parenting arena. And then there are the others… the ones who just don’t. Nothing sways them from their perch atop the “I don’t wanna” soapbox. They use any and every excuse, if they stick around long enough to be questioned. They are children, in adult bodies who’ve created a child but somehow managed to deliver themselves from the parenting role. And nothing and no one can make them change their mind. Not even their child. They’re missing out, but it doesn’t matter to them. It only matters to the child who has to learn to deal. Most of those kids are better off without the person so selfish as to not give up any piece of themselves for their son or daughter. The child learns early on that not everyone can be trusted or believed in.. and that even a parent can let you down.

How do you succeed; alone, in a job that was meant for two?? I can only tell you how I try to manage: I do what I can myself, and I try to utilize my village. I keep on keepin’ on. You should too. You just press on and do everything you can and everything you need to raise that child as successfully as possible. (While simultaneously harboring no ill will, hatred or bad wishes against that other non-existent parent). You do your best to be both parents, the good and bad cops, and you do it with a smile. The child needs every effort, every ability, and every bit of your loving care to fill in those gaps. I am nowhere near perfect. At times, I doubt that I am even “good”. I do my best and hope that each day I get better. I pray that everyday my kids grow and learn and find happiness in their home and in my heart. I have plenty of pity parties and occasionally find myself filled with doubt and fear, but I don’t let it stop me from continuing to do my job as Mother.

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Margo (L), Miles (M), and Kenneth (R).

I am proud to be someone’s mother. Three someones to be exact. I revel in their hugs and kisses; and find the ultimate joy in their devouring anything homemade. I enjoy knowing that they look for me when they are excited, hungry, or scared; because they know that I can provide support, food, or comfort. i get a warm fuzzy feeling when they demand “reading and prayers” before bedtime. Knowing that my kisses provide more relief than a band-aid makes me smile. And feeling my kids climb into my bed because they want to cuddle makes my heart sing. I have made mistakes, and don’t claim to be anything other than a parent doing her best; but I’m here and I try. I AM HERE, AND I TRY.

missing my sweet gran

my grandmother should have turned eighty-nine today. her name is Arlena. i know that the word “should” sounds a bit harsh and implies overwhelming selfishness, but if it had been up to me she would have outlived me and my children. i know in my heart, that the eighty-two years she spent here was more than enough for her and that she longed to be with those that she loved but had passed on before her. including all of her siblings and her only son, my father.

brunch at the mission inn for my twenty-somethingth birthday.

gertrude and i; brunching at the mission inn for my twenty-somethingth birthday.

she’s my favorite person. she was born and raised in oklahoma. moved to california in her twenties, married, changed her name and had kids. she is still Arlena to many people, but i called her gran, or gertrude. i grew up with her. she raised me and taught me a sizable amount of what i know and everything you can’t learn in school. she was always eager to share and maintained an honorable quest for new knowledge. occasionally she would ask me a question, with a hint of mischief in her eye. when i would respond with my answer, she would say “that’s right, but you didn’t think i knowed that didya?” she was a hoot!

me and my gran! shortly after she got legal custody of me. i think i twas about 8, which made her 58. doesn't she look sweet?

me and my gran! shortly after she got legal custody of me.
i think i was about 8, which made her 58. doesn’t she look sweet?

Arlena wasn’t just my grandmother. from the age of seven to almost thirty-two (when i became a mother), she was my world: my hero, my father, mother, sister and best friend. she took care of me, provided for me and filled in the gaps as best she could. wherever there was lacking, my gramma spackled in love. she had an abundance of love. her cup overflowed with unconditional heartwarming, bear-hug type love.

she was a sweet girl full of country charm, southern sass and good ole fashioned etiquette. to me, she was the queen. her siblings called her “Brat”, as she was the youngest of five, born and raised in ardmore, oklahoma!

she said she was about fourteen in this picture. she manicured her own eyebrows with a straight razor! :/

she said she was about fourteen in this picture. she manicured her own eyebrows with a straight razor! :/

she had a sixth grade education, but stands alone as one of the most intelligent people i’ve ever known. she was a jack of all trades, with book knowledge, street knowledge, and the knowledge of experience. she was kind, generous and genuine. there was nothing fake about her and you knew when you met her. i have many friends extending as far back as elementary school that continue to ask about her. the mothers and fathers of those friends attended her funeral and shared their heartfelt love and admiration for her. when people ask about her, i always lead with “she was the best”. she really was.

free from oklahoma! fresh to california. all of twenty years old. and gorgeous (third face from the left).

free from oklahoma! fresh to california.
all of twenty years old. and gorgeous (second face from the left).

below is a photo that i think epitomizes my grandmother’s persona. from left to right is her sister Arlevia, her mother Annie Pearl, her eldest sister Ardailure and her. the front row is husbands, but i can’t remember one of the names, i don’t know who the other guy is and my grandfather is missing from this photo. but i don’t think i need to tell you the difference. which one of these women is not like the others? three old maids grimmacing in house dresses standing next to my smiling glamorous strapless choker wearing sunglassed hottie of a gramma!

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duck, duck, duck, swan.

when the bestie and i were just lil bits, my gramma and shannon’s nanny (from arkansas) used to cure and trade salt pork. do you know what that is? it’s a huge chunk of bacon-like pork with a god-awful ratio of fat to lean on it used to season foods. particularly beans and greens. my gramma used to buy it and put it on the top shelf of the pantry on top of the holiday china. she would leave it there until the white fat turned yellowy translucent. and then she would send it with me to give to shannon’s gramma. seriously. i mean, can you imagine? it used to make me shudder, but they would send them back and forth and be pleased as punch to receive.

during the years that we lived across from shannon’s family, my grandmother owned and operated a group home for developmentally disabled men. i believe she cared for more than a dozen men over thirty years. these gentle souls were once referred to as “retarded” or “slow”. for me, they were friends; the minds of children locked in the bodies of middle-aged men. she cooked and cleaned for and the same five “guys” for most of the life i knew with her. i don’t know where she developed the patience to raise her own children, care for handicapped children that weren’t hers and then love and care for me, before retiring and caring for preschoolers in the local head start system. i can’t say that i know anyone as compassionate as her. it takes a big heart to care for others, especially children, and children with disabilities. she did it all with a smile on her face. i don’t recall hearing any complaints about any of it. not once.

she was also a diehard dodger fan! the woman bled dodger blue! she was a baseball fan, but more of a dodger fan. and she looooooooved Vin Scully. she proclaimed that he was the best sports announcer to ever hold a microphone. she would watch the game on tv, but listen to Vin Scully on the radio. she could not stand to hear another voice pretending to know what they were talking about. through the Special Olympics program associated with her group home, we actually met several dodger players. they came to SBVC and signed a baseball that i cannot find. the players included Mike Scioscia, Mike Anderson and Orel Hershiser. tragic? I KNOW!!! in the last few years before she passed, she would call my friend Alfonso for baseball game information. her eyes were pretty bad and she didn’t have an understanding of the directv channel guide to surf through and find what she was looking for. she would call me to call him, and one time i just said “call him, gran”. so she did. later, he told me how he enjoyed receiving those calls. he said that he looked forward to hearing her voice and in knowing that he’d made her happy.

not a day goes by that i don’t think of her. she passed away (i really hate that phrase) seven years ago, on her eighty-second birthday. she had been ailing for some years. a horrid concoction of long-term hyper-tension, diabetes, and congestive heart failure. but what a marvelous eighty-two years it was! i was a part of her life for thirty-one years and i cherish everyday. my memories of her are abundant, thoughtful and often hilarious. again, i tell ya, she was a hoot. she could always make me smile. she’d been on hospice care for over year at home before we were no longer able to care for her. she was admitted to a hospice facility, and passed away just a couple months later. she was planning a thanksgiving feast.

it took a few years before my aunt and i were able to try and enjoy the thanksgiving holiday. with gran making plans to cook and needing our assistance, we were broken-hearted to say the least. thanksgiving had been a big deal in my younger years. over the years it had dwindled down to just the three of us and cooking a turkey day feast was a serious project that my gran just didn’t have the stamina for. she was excited and energetic about that upcoming thanksgiving. we’d discussed the menu and i was sent out to the garage and far reaches of the house to find miscellaneous pots and pans. old, antique, well-seasoned pots and pans that are part of the family. she’d even asked me to polish the silver (i’m rolling my eyes STILL at that undertaking).

in the last three years or so, my aunt and i have made our own thanksgiving. i don’t think we are “family ready” just yet. we enjoy the shopping and cooking, but it’s such an emotional event. last year i attempted my gramma’s sage-cornbread dressing (stuffing) and it brought tears to my eyes. i have no recipe to go by, so the secret lies within my nose and eyes. i’m looking for a particular texture, color and smell. i did pretty good. the peach cobbler was one level shy of gertrude-tacular, as well as the sweet potato pie. oh how i miss that woman!

she knew that i was pregnant but didn’t make it to see my sweet boy come into the world. i was five months pregnant with kenneth when she died. i desperately wanted them to meet. i could see the photo opp in my head of my sweet gran holding my sweet baby boy. my son named after her son. i’d hoped to share with her the joys and frustrations of my motherhood so she could laugh and heal me with her wise words. and now that i’m bringing the twins into the world, i just can’t imagine what she would say about my shape and size. i would love to hear it though.

while this post may seem somber, i am not as sad this day as i have been on this date in the past seven years. i miss my grandmother dearly, but i feel her love and guidance running through my veins daily. i wouldn’t be who i am without her. she taught me the most quintessential things that make me exactly who i am supposed to be. i cherish the memories of her, the stories she shared and the things she taught me. i wrote about her today to honor her existence in this world, in my life. i wrote about her to share with you the most amazing person i’ve ever known. and in the interest of not completely bumming you out, i will leave you with this:

me: gran, don’t you want a friend or a boyfriend type person? someone to go to lunch or the movies with?

gran: no.

me: why not?

gran: honey, i already get headaches, i don’t need one with a name.

on another occasion, i asked the same question and her answer was:

sweetheart, if i’m going to babysit, i want to get paid. you don’t get paid to babysit grown men at the movies.

BAM! it don’t get much more honest and southern than that! she was a hoot!

bah, humbug!

that’s right, i’m a scrooge. i don’t deny it. but it’s not that simple, let me explain… it’s october second and i can see christmas decorations. of this, i am not pleased.

my earliest holiday memories included the last quarter of the year. we would bid g’bye to the summer with a labor day bash and settle in for the winter with family, friends, fires and festivities. the seasons would (actually) change, the leaves would fall and that was the cue… that the holidays were to begin. october brought us halloween. candy and costumes! what’s not to love, right? november would peek in and before you know it, we’d all be gathered together for thanksgiving!! more family, friends and food. snow would fall (somewhere, it’s too hot where i live) and december would bring the best holiday of them all: christmas. more family, friends and food — but this time, with GIFTS! and since you all know me so well, you know i’ve always looked forward to the new year. not really the year as much the party to issue in the new year. but these days.. i just want to change the calendar and move on. i’m frustrated by the holiday season and it bothers me.

i spent the larger part of my childhood with my grandmother in a sweet little suburban southern california town. she had a group home for developmentally disabled men. there were no less than six of us in the house during those years. she cooked breakfast lunch and dinner for all of us, everyday. by herself. she also entertained the larger part of our extended family for the holiday seasons. she was an excellent grandmother and she excelled at all things in the awesome homemaker category (i could be a little biased).

we decorated the house for halloween as conservative as possible. usually just two carved pumpkins at the top of the stairs leading to our front door. sometimes with that spiderwebby stuff. on halloween night, my gramma would open one of the windows and play a spooky halloween record — you know the one with the creaky door, the ghost moans and chains.  good stuff.  classic. we always had our porch light on, we always gave out candy and she always let me go trick-or-treating door-to-door as long as i remembered to stay away from “those” houses. which houses? it’s hard to say… my grandmother had an innate sense of OHHELLNO and didn’t like certain things for her own reasons. i think i have it too.  but either way, halloween tradition carried on until the bestie and i determined that we were too old to go. saying goodbye to october meant november! and thanksgiving!!!

thanksgiving was a situation. it was intense. my grandmother would start her round of calls early in the month to check in with the family and find out who’s doing what. she would pull the dinnerware from the shelves and cabinets and start in on the cleaning and polishing. that’s right!! polishing the silver. a lost art, if you ask me. such a time consuming chore, so full of detail but the reward that comes with a full table, completely set and everything aglow with it’s own shine and sparkle is worth it (again, if you ask me). it obviously was to her.

the days of november would dwindle. my gramma would collect her head count and about a week before, there was the shopping. the mountainous, endless, heavy, grocery shopping. the menu never varied so the list was always the same. she would put everything away, count the sleeping spaces, wash the linens and prepare herself for thanksgiving week.

tuesday of thanksgiving week was beginning prep: the cleaning, pruning, and dicing of any and all ingredients. tuesday evening she would bake a pan of cornbread, the size of a twin-sized bed, to the most beautiful golden brown with dark edges and burnt corners. she would set it out to cool, always scooping a corner out for herself to “try”.  wednesday was when the kitchen really started movin’… for this was the day she made DESSERTS!! sweet lord baby jesus the desserts!! again, always the same: peach cobbler (mmm!), sweet potato pie (mmm!), pecan pie (mmm!), lemon ice box pie (mmm!) and POUND CAKE (i just had a heart attack!). sadly, there weren’t many dessert leftovers. she would end the day by greeting the over-nighters, helping them get settled and finally putting the turkey in the oven.

on thanksgiving day, my gramma would be up before the sun. i don’t think she slept much as she would get up periodically to baste and check the turkey. when the rest of the house was brushing it’s teeth, she would be assembling all of the  need-to-stay-cold items. and from there it was nothing less than master chef. she really was amazing:

  • turkey with giblet (eww!) gravy
  • a HAM! (with cloves and pineapples, and NOT from honey baked)
  • sage cornbread dressing (i would slap you r’now for some)
  • mashed potatoes (lump free!)
  • green beans
  • corn
  • okra (uhh, i don’t like okra)
  • cornbread (but i DO love cornbread)
  • dinner rolls
  • cranberry sauce (i like the cranberry salsa or chutney or something that the bestie’s dear sweet aunt ruth used to serve with pillsbury crescent rolls)
  • waldorf and carrot & raisin salads (fruit +  mayo = wth?)
  • black eyed peas (occasionally)

she did it all herself. we didn’t help much, she didn’t ask for much and everything went as planned. i remember one year having about 12 or 14 people at the table. we had to add two leaves to the table and still didn’t have enough room. my grandmother’s china collection was stunning and when it all came together (at one o’clock) it was truly divine.

there would be laughing, playing, tv watching, cheating at cards and general familial mayhem. my gramma didn’t drink much so we didn’t have too many drunken outbursts. everyone would hug and love and just enjoy the day. most of the family would leave at sunset — stealing my desserts and always loving her up for feeding them so well. the next day, the only clue there had been a thanksgiving FEAST would be the leftovers. by the middle of the next week: homemade turkey soup. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh– the good ole days.

and in begins the christmas season. we used to go to a christmas tree farm (obviously weeks prior) and have them cut the tree that we had chosen. we would spend the evening decorating a live fragrant dirty dusty sappy beautiful christmas tree. we used the same ornaments for as long as i can remember. they were always carefully placed and stored in the same boxes marked “xmas”. the tree would be lit every night from dusk to bedtime. on christmas eve we would turn the lights on and they would stay on until the end of christmas day.

my grandmother always played santa and surprised me with something that would be over-the-top. my most favorite christmas morning surprise was a HUGE box of books. really? yes! it was a box from May Co. and it was big enough to hold king sized bedspreads, so, IT WAS HUGE and it was filled with books. i still have some of them.

the christmas spirit, leftovers and remnants of packaging took us through to new years eve. we always watched dick clark and we would light the christmas tree (for the last time) and waved to the year gone by. sometimes i made it to see the new year, other times… not so much. on new year’s day, we would disassemble the holiday season, pack away our holiday cheer (and every last decoration) and make resolutions that we never intended to keep. 😀

but NOW! now, we can hardly get through august without seeing ribbons and bows peeking through. and as i pointed out, on october second there are decorations hung for purchase in the local stores. what kinda $h!t is that? why would you do that? to sell more? are there really people out there just frantic to buy decorations before the rest of the free world? they don’t have anything from last year? why? there are people still putting up those nasty huge bulbs (i call um ghetto bulbs) from 1982!!

my list of questions could go on for days, but the point i’m trying to make is that selling things and marketing have taken away my holiday cheer. things change as we age and mature and especially when we have kids. but for me, the real holiday season was wrapped up in everything i just mentioned. in the family and friends. the celebrating. not in the buying, the receiving or black friday (which i avoid like the black plague). i can carry on with my family traditions, but it’s not the same and i don’t think it will ever be that way again.

the holidays used to be a warm time: filled with family, friends, food and good cheer. it was a way of celebrating the old year and celebrating the new year. it was a time to reflect and pull fond memories and share them with thoughtful gifts or handmade goodies. a time to forgive, to bond, to share. but now it’s just a marketing scheme. a horrible gaudy expensive marketing nightmare. people camp out in parking lots to buy the new craze or they just bogart the local toys ‘r us with pepper spray and take what they want. thanks, but no. i’ll stick to sugar cookies and turkey dinners with the ones i love. you can bombard my senses with your holiday crap but i refuse to accept. i can’t see your ornaments or fake trees. and i certainly don’t smell those God awful cinnamon scented migraine inducing pine cones or hear that holiday music. i’ll have my christmas when i’m ready, thank you. right after thanksgiving. you can take your marketing scheme and shove it, i’m not shoppin’ here no mo!

enveloped in empathy

i am an empathetic person. not just sympathetic but empathetic. i put myself in another’s position and often feel their pain. there is no need for it other than i have a big heart and i feel a need to help those that want and can be helped. my grandmother always told me that it was a noble quality but an exhausting one and that eventually it would lead to pain. she was right. over my lifetime i have taken many college courses related to people and behavior including sociology, philosophy, child development, humanities and many courses in the sciences. i am an observer. some would say a keen observer. i tend to notice the details. this has all culminated into the fine art of being able to read people. no, i’m not a psychic. no i’m not a profiler or anything of that nature. i’m just able to see what hasn’t necessarily been exposed to me. for the most part, i am able to see past the outside to the inside. i won’t say that i’ve never been duped, but i feel that i have helped plenty of people who were truly in need and not in desire.

my first notable empathetic experience was with one of those horrid commercials relaying the details of a starving child’s daily life. their little bellies distended with want and requirement. i think i cried for days. i couldn’t imagine wanting food and not having it. i had free reign of the refrigerator and pantry and could come and go as i liked. there weren’t many rules placed on the consumption of any one thing and i was mindful of my waste. i couldn’t imagine what their mothers felt like unable to provide for their children. the babies unable to nurse because the mom’s lacked the nutrition to produce milk. i couldn’t get the images out of my mind. the look of hopelessness in a child’s eyes is nothing less than devastating. children hold within them the brightest light and the most beautiful truths. to see that tarnished with unfathomable hunger made me hurt inside. all over. my grandmother suggested that we make a ten-dollar monthly contribution to that particular organization and i was elated. i received a little newsletter of sorts thanking me for my care, concern and monetary donations. i had done a good deed and was proud.

after a YEAR, after twelve months, we received a letter with crushing news. the letter stated that we had been duped. yup, you guessed it: scammed. the company was a farce. they had no connections with anyone anywhere, they weren’t helping anyone but themselves and my money was gone. vanished. never having reached one of those little distended starving bellies. i was more crushed than crushed. my gramma apologized profusely because she knew that my sharing had come from my heart and that my heartache was actually coming from my brain. she vowed that we would not venture down this helpful path ever again. she felt awful because she felt as though she had researched and found a worthy cause. even years later she apologized. needless to say, we were both disappointed.

years later, my grandmother and i were out shopping for “school clothes” and we saw a homeless man. he was in a wheelchair, his legs, amputated just below the knee were visible. his pants had been cut and tucked so as not to leave the oddly shaped limbs exposed. he had on an old army jacket and there was an american flag attached to the back of the wheelchair. he was dirty. he was unkempt and i asked my grandma for some money to give him. she told me no. she said that not everyone on the street was “hard up”. she explained that some people had given up on their life and they used the heartstrings of little girls like me to fill their pockets with hard-earned money that they didn’t deserve. (i think she was a little jaded from the scammers). while we shopped, my mind wandered from my own clothing to his. i wondered how long he’d been in those clothes and when was the last time they were washed. i wondered if he had a place TO wash them. i found myself thinking about what his home might have been like and why he chose not to be there. i wondered what he had done in the military and what it’s effects on him were. i wondered if he’d been to war to fight for my freedom. i wondered a lot.

we completed our shopping and upon return to the car i begged my grandmother to let me share something with this man. she gave me one single dollar. we pulled up next to him as we exited the parking lot and i hopped out. i was too shy to speak, so i just extended my little girl arm. the man took the dollar from me and said “thank you sweetie, God bless you.” i got back in the car radiant with the feeling that i had helped someone in need. my gramma said that i was a good person with a good heart but that i mustn’t allow myself to be taken advantage of. she reminded me, again, that some people just didn’t want to work and would hold their hand out hoping for someone to fill it. she told me “don’t let people mistake your kindness for weakness.”

i don’t remember too many “giving” occasions until much later in life.. when i could make my own decisions and spend my own money. my grandmother was a very kind woman and she was very giving. but honestly, she had no room in her life, mind or consideration for lies or cheats. she didn’t care who you were, what you had done or how bad you felt, if you were honest with her…well, you were good.

another incident comes to mind: in high school, there was a homeless man approaching vehicles in the mickey d’s drive thru. the man approached a red hatchback asking the female driver if she would kindly buy him a cup of coffee. she was actively rolling the window up as he was talking and all but punched the man in the face with her negative response to his inquiry. i was horrified. as we walked inside, i decided that i would eat light and use my leftover money to buy him something to eat. i collected “change” from my comrades and bought as many cheeseburgers as i could. along with the thirst aid of a small beverage. the man had left the drive thru and was standing under a tree on the back side of the restaurant. it was hot out and he looked disparaged. as i stood in line making my purchase for him, i stared at him. i wondered when he had last eaten and bathed. i wondered if anyone was looking for him or cared about him. i wondered his name and age. i gathered my gift and took it outside. i approached him quietly and with my arms extended i said:

“hi. my name is Tanisha. i saw you asking for assistance in the drive-thru and i figured you could use a little more. i bought you some food and something to drink. i hope that’s ok.”

he reached out and took the items from me. his facial expression changing from that horrible hopeless look to that of a simple man having received a small gift. he broke a very slight smile and quietly said:

“thank you. thank you very much.”

he put the drink in his pocket, and removed one of the five cheeseburgers from the bag. he unwrapped it, took a bite, wrapped it back up and returned it to the bag. he put that bag in the other pocket and walked slowly towards the railroad tracks. i felt good. i did not feel that this man had deceived me. i could see that he was hungry and i assumed that he took only one bite in an attempt to not make himself sick and to not waste his meals. he probably had no idea where that next meal was coming from. i was satisfied. i turned to go back inside and found myself being applauded. everyone on the inside watching me through the glass and cheering for my good deed. i can still see his face.

many years later, i worked in a downtown area. there tend to be a following of homeless near parks, water fountains and walking malls. they reap the benefit in the wee hours of the night, taking cat naps, bird baths and eating the unadulterated leftovers of local businesses. i always saw the same guy as i pulled into the parking structure. he was on his way to somewhere unknown from somewhere unknown. once he came into the hotel where i worked. a frequent problem with a public restroom. he came to the front desk and asked if he could use the restroom. because i had seem him so often, i simply explained:

“i’m not allowed to let you do that. however, i know that you are homeless. if you go use the restroom, handle your business and leave quietly without incident, i will allow it. you can’t come back. you can’t harass my coworkers and you cannot act up. just go and leave it at that, ok? or we’ll both be in trouble”

he nodded. he disappeared into the men’s room and a moment or so later he resurfaced. as he left the premises he waved very low and nodded once again. eventually i left that hotel but still worked in the area. i continued to see him. always in the same clothes. i found myself wondering about him one evening and i decided to do something to help. i contacted a friend who was about the same size as the man. i asked for his “good will” clothing and he gave. i had several days worth of clothing and some winter items. i thought ahead and found something for him to carry the items in. i even raided the cabinets and found some personal hygiene items to include with my care package. i went to work early the next day and when i saw him i honked. i waved to him to follow me as i parked my car. he was very apprehensive. he seemed almost scared. i waved him towards me and assured him that he was not in trouble, that i just had something i wanted to give him. i opened the trunk of my car, pulled the old backpack full of clothes from it and handed it to him. his face went from skeptical to surprised. i just blurted out:

“i packed you some clothes. i don’t know if they’re the right size or not, but they are men’s clothes and there’s a belt too. i didn’t bring any underthings for obvious reasons, but i did include some hygiene products in the pocket in the front. i hope this helps you out some.”

i held my hand out and he seemed even more surprised. yes, i wanted to shake his hand. i didn’t know if he was sick, contagious or terminal. i had no idea when he had his last meal, bath or hug. but he seemed genuine to me. he seemed like a guy who needed some help. he wiped his hand on his jacket profusely and tried to refuse me but i stood firm. he finally reached out and we shook hands.

“why? why did you do this for me?”

“you need help, right? i was able to help and so i did. is that ok?”

“yes. thank you. i don’t even know what else to say.”

“thank you is enough. i hope it helps.”

he backed away slowly, slightly smiling. i could tell that it had been a while since anyone had touched him. not a kiss, not a hug, not a hand shake. i wondered why. i wondered if he was homeless because life fell out from under him or if he was homeless because he fell out from under his life. i decided that it didn’t matter as far as i was concerned. he needed help and i was able to do something about it. my part was done. whenever he saw me after that, he always waved. his eyes always said “thank you. thank you so much” even though he never uttered a word. soon, i no longer worked in that area, and i have never seen him again. i can still see his face too.

there haven’t been too many more occasions since then that i have given anything away. mostly because i have needed it myself. my grandmother taught me well. she told me to be kind and to be generous but not to put myself out to help another.

“don’t lend money (or anything else for that matter) unless you can do without that money forever. sometimes people need things but they never know when they can pay it back. if you need it, don’t give it. if you can do without it, then go ahead.”

there has always been a homeless population here in california. they stand out from the rest for obvious reasons. now, don’t get all sensitive about it and think that i’m looking down on them. i’m not. you should know that by now. but back to what i was saying…the homeless population has always looked… well, homeless. perhaps unkempt, needing a bath, a shave, a haircut, some clothes, shoes and a new attitude. they used to loiter outside of small businesses asking for “spare change”. over the years they have come into a whole new way of conducting their business. they moved from the small business entrances to the freeway off ramps with “will work for food” signs written on cardboard. their desire to work seemed more than debatable and eventually they seemed to realize this too. soon the signs changed to more thought-provoking quips like “vietnam vet. homeless. god bless” or my personal favorite “why lie? i need beer.” i recently saw a young woman with a sign stating “homeless. pregnant. don’t judge me.” sadly, it is at this time that i have to hold on to what i have and am unable to be as generous as i once was.

i lived in hawaii for a couple of years and it was an amazing time. one of the most outstanding memories to me was a guy known as “Mango Man” (amazing what you can Google!). he was homeless, or supposedly homeless, but I saw him all over the island. and i mean all over. from one side to the other, by the mall, by the beach, everywhere. he looked to be in his forties and he had one huge dreadlock that appeared to act as a sleeping bag. it was almost as wide as his shoulders and hung down to his knees. it was wide and flat. during my time there, we always waved to him. we always shouted “Mangooooo Maaaaaaan” and threw up a “shaka brah” and he always waved back. not once did he ask me for anything. not a dime. in fact, the homeless population as a whole was different from anything that i had known before. i don’t recall ever being asked for anything, seeing a “will work for food” sign or harassed for “spare change” at any point in my time there.

i have given my fair share of spare change, shared a meal, bought a meal and donated clothes and time to help those in need. i feel that all of this has been possible because of my empathy. if given the opportunity, i will talk to those in need in an attempt to hear their story. everyone has a story and everyone wants to be heard. some people have exhausted every other option and others have turned them all away. i think we all deserve a chance. sometimes a second, third or fourth chance. i understand that occasionally someone is completely undeserving. but more than that, i understand that sometimes it’s just too hard to reach out. it’s painful to even think about being scowled at, yelled at, denied or mocked. and it is those times that i extend my hand and my ear in hopes that just listening will renew their spirit, give them hope and show them that it’s not over.

circumstances and boundaries in my life have changed. i’ve moved a few times, changed jobs a few times and become a mother. my surplus of spare change, spare food and spare clothes has dwindled down to necessities for myself and my son. i have moved my empathy from those abroad to those closer to home. i try to do a little more for my family and friends because they have done for me and continue to do for me. my empathy is strong, but i don’t let it consume me or bring me down. i use it to fuel me into being there for the people who have been there for me. i use it to be a better me. “tis better to give than to receive”, yes?

the house that keeps on giving

a house is not a home. as so elegantly sung by the late luther vandross (thanks, mama, i love you for that song). it is a structure built with the intention and desire to one day be purchased and fulfill it’s destiny to actually become a home. some houses struggle their entire existence trying to become a home. i have been blessed to know many “homes” during my time. my mama’s house, my gramma’s house and my aunt’s house– no matter where they have been or will be, will always be my home(s). but i am lucky enough to have another home. it belongs to my best friend’s parents. they have been married for twenty-five years. they are both retired but have a busy social life and still manage to take care of their parents, their kids and the Three Grandkid-teers. this is a story about the home that they made, provided and shared. a home unlike any other.

in the thirty plus years that i have been a part of their family, i suspect that i have spent years at their house. i don’t know the exact number, but it’s safe to say that it would rival the actual number of hours that i spent at my own home. for as long as i can remember, the front door has been unlocked during normal operating hours. the front yard has not changed that much, and neither has the house for that matter. the only things that i can actually recall being changed affect the aesthetics of the house: the windows, the paint, several screen doors (not for pretty, but because of big headed, strong willed canines) and the decorations. it is now as it has always been — simple, warm and inviting.

the queen of the castle is meticulous. there is a method to her madness and if you don’t know it, you’ll soon find out. she likes her things “just so” and her things like it too. they are used to her and will unknowingly tattle-tell, if and when, you misplace or abuse them. she will see what you have done before you do. confess. it’s in your best interest. the king of the castle is laid back. not much bothers him that i’ve come to find. together, they manage their household seamless and flawlessly.

i grew up across the street, hence the amount of time i spent there. it’s a great house to grow up in and i have always known that. but recently, i had the opportunity to stay there for a week. the king and queen were away on travel. they provide weekly childcare for their three youngest grandchildren. with them out of town, the responsibility fell upon Nanny. the queen’s mom. but she’s eighty-four and while she can handle herself, expecting her to care for the two toddlers is outside of the comfort range. that’s where i came in. i agreed to house/baby/granny-sit in order to ensure comfort, ease of mind and a change of pace for all involved. what an adventure. so there’s Nanny, my SweetHeart Callie, her little brother the MadMan AJ and their littler cousin the PetiteSweet Emmie. not to mention, that i had with me my effervescent and energetic four-year-old SuperBoy Kenneth and me. whew. if there was ever a place to watch and care for a senior citizen, elementary schooler, preschooler, two toddlers, three dogs, a guinea pig and a betta fish.. it’s this house. thank the lord for the house on BlahBlah Street!

let’s start with a sorta-tour of the premises. the front yard is large and accommodating. there is enough play room and comfort room to watch the kids out front. through the front door is the formal living room. it’s formal. the furniture is white and there are lots of fragile breakable ceramic and glass items in there. stay out. it’s not a request, it’s an order. just don’t go in there or be in there unless it’s christmas eve and you’re with the rest of the family opening presents. moving on.. leaving the formal living room takes you to the formal dining room. again, it’s formal. stay out. unless it’s your birthday, they’re having a party for you and it’s time to blow out the candles. the formal dining room gives way to the family dining area. it’s cozy and comfortable and centrally located. from there you can go one of two ways, into the tv room or into the kitchen. there is a den, respectively known as “the tv room” and it holds one of the four televisions in the home, the fireplace and a pool table. yes, a pool table. the bestie and i used to play pool for hours. now it’s covered with plastic and serves as the queen’s craft table. uuummmm, don’t move her stuff. 😀 i don’t want you to think that she’s mean or territorial, she’s the queen. it’s her castle and she has rules and regulations. she is extremely generous and kind. it is because of the queen that the house is able to give relentlessly. technically it’s all her, and she just uses the house to share her love.

the tv room and family dinner table are right off the best room in the house… the kitchen! i love kitchens. all kitchens. they truly are the heart of the home. besides the appliances, you’re more than likely going to find Nanny in the kitchen. she cooks and bakes constantly. you will also find any and everything you could possibly want to eat. there is always cereal. probably four different kinds as well as a variety of milks to choose from. there is a fruit basket that is never empty. the most astounding part to me is that it always has apples, oranges and bananas. how awesome and healthy is that? it makes me smile just to think about it. the children will have good eating habits, even without their knowledge or effort. there are several other items that are a staple including yogurt, jell-o, popsicles, tortilla chips, a microwave meal or six, low-fat popcorn and sandwich fixins. oh, and a fifty-gallon bag of shredded cheese. again i say, how awesome is that? and what a great place to grow up in. there is now, and has always been a ‘snack drawer’. it’s what the bestie and her brother used to pick their lunch box treats from. it’s moved locations a couple of times, but it seems to multiply when your back is turned. it is never close to empty and always full of variety. more awesomeness.

just off the kitchen is the laundry room. the house (more like the queen or Nanny) processes no less than three loads of laundry a day. everything required is conveniently placed within reach. it also has a storage area full of food. yes, more food. the kitchen is full of food and the laundry room is half food, half cleaning supplies. next you’ll enter the “front bathroom”. it’s got a pink theme. always has. it also has two doors which can be confusing and/or embarrassing, depending on what you’re doing in there when the other door opens. there are four bedrooms, one of them is a part-time office. the beds are always made and every room has a ceiling fan to ensure maximum comfort. there are four televisions and a computer in the home. everyone can pretty much watch what they want and not have to fight with or disturb another.

the backyard is complete with plastic playhouse, small swing, things with wheels and a swimming pool with diving board and slide. what could be more inviting? i know! an on hand barbecue and the pool is fenced in so there’s no need to obsess about the kids falling in. the house is constantly telling you:

“you’re safe here. take a load off. you hungry? sleepy? rest. relax, i got you.”

now, if you have yet to be impressed by what i’ve described, take a trip out the back, into the garage and down the stairs. from what i remember, the garage has never held more than one car at a time. the king has his woodcutting hobby down there and of course there’s always storage, but what will catch your eye is the stock pile of food items down there. yes, more food. it’s breathtaking. i’m sure that Sam’s Club buys from her, instead of the other way around. there is so much food. but also, the consumable products: paper towels, paper plates, napkins, plastic cups, ziploc bags and the like. they make clean up with kids quicker and easier and who doesn’t love that? there’s more detergent in the garage than on the whole block. and all of these things add to the comfort of the home. they add to the ambiance and feeling that you are cared for when you’re there and you needn’t worry.

ok, so let’s zoom back in time to the beginning of last week. the king and queen left on tuesday and my aunt dropped us off on BlahBlah Street that afternoon. my son has many allergies and when we stay away, i pack my whole house. we unloaded and started our week-long working-vacation. we entered the house and immediately were harassed by the resident dog family: candy, peachy and mickey. we greeted everyone in the house and Nanny was already cooking dinner. she had promised us a chicken dinner a few weeks earlier but got held up running errands with her grandson. on the menu was fried chicken breasts, nanny-tatoes (kinda like homefries but better), green beans and chocolate covered vanilla cake. whooo hoo! it’s great to be home. my son was too excited to eat. he loves my bestie’s kids and just wanted to be outside running a muck. the rest of us ate and let the weight of the day slip away. the backyard calls to the children. they spend the majority of their time outside. however, it was a little chilly and the sprinklers came on so we corralled them and brought them inside for a movie.

the PetiteSweet, the youngest of the group leaves around dinnertime. both boys were broken hearted. she’s a people watcher and pretty quiet. but she’s quick on her toes. it looked like the two boys were getting physical and a hand came flying her direction, not only did she block it but she responded just as fast with an almost-hit-back. you go, girl! my son had instantly become enamored with her. Callie is his first love. he followed her everywhere to the point of annoyance. they all love each other though. it’s very cute to watch. dinner, movie, baths and bed. we slept in the SweetHeart’s room. she has a guinea pig, named G-force, and he is loud at night.

something about the combination of the guinea pig, the princess bed unlike my own and the realization that no one can say “i love you” louder and more clearly than if they ask you to care for their child(ren), made me not sleep that night. i was excited and a little nervous to wake the next day and have the responsibility of “the house” on my shoulders. eventually i fell asleep and when i woke up, the bestie had gone to work, the SweetHeart was already gone to school and the MadMan was still asleep. it was just Nanny, SuperBoy and i. i found Nanny in the kitchen (duh), drinking her coffee. you can’t get close to Nanny without being offered something to eat or drink, or eat. she wanted to know what i was going to eat. was it cereal? was it toast? was it chocolate covered vanilla cake? what, what was i going to eat?

“nothing right now, Nan, i’m ok.”

she continued… for at least another fifteen minutes. finally she told me:

“you’re makin’ me nervous by not eating! you want me to fix you something? i’ll fix ya whatever ya want, you know that. what can i fix? ya want some pancakes?”

“yes, Nan, pancakes would be awesome.”

“goood. i’ll start on um right now.”

she made me a stack of pancakes everyday, for four days straight! they were almost as big as the plate and drenched in butter (i love butter). she made me a stack of four, SuperBoy a stack of two and just one for the MadMan. that’s enough pancakes to satisfy an elephant and enough butter to last for the rest of 2011. death by pancakes. but you won’t catch me complaining, honestly. it was a pleasure and a delight. we should all be so lucky as to be forced to eat fresh pancakes every morning. before i could take the last bite and walk my plate into the kitchen, everything was cleaned up. i couldn’t even tell she made anything and then she was off to do the laundry while telling me to leave my plate in the sink. amazing.

Nanny allows the kids to help her do any and everything. SweetHeart is a junior chef already. she likes to be involved in all cooking processes somewhere along the way, and she doesn’t want your help, just your guidance. she can “do it”.  Nanny let’s the kids sit on the kitchen counter next to her while she instructs them accordingly. she lets the MadMan, a two-year-old, help her with the laundry. it’s the cutest and sweetest thing. he’s standing all tippy-toe on top of the tiny dryer-lent trash can and she hands him the clothes items one-by-one. she’s so patient and easy going. unless you’re refusing breakfast. i aspire to be as sweet, gentle, caring and wonderful as she is.

the days flew by pretty easy. (note: the PetiteSweet is only at the house for a few hours in the afternoon. and she didn’t make it the rest of the week. 😦 we enjoyed our day with her though. we look forward to the next time we see her.) with two boys in the house all day there is a lot of running, screaming and hitting. occasionally spitting, immediately followed by time-out. there was also a lot of “give it, gimme it, stop it” and “mine”. but all-in-all, they are like brothers and play as well as two brothers could. inside, outside, inside, outside and inside. outside. and with them, there are no inside voices. there’s one voice for the both in and outside. and it’s LOUD. they are more entertained by classic animation including tom & jerry and scooby doo than any of the newer, more impressive, pixar created movies. they love them all, but tom & jerry genuinely makes them laugh.

on the second night i proceeded to give SuperBoy a bath, once the water started running the MadMan came around the corner faster than lightning. i think all children have super-sonic hearing. especially if they hear the sounds of something they want to be doing. my son was in the tub and i was getting a towel from under the bathroom sink. i looked up and AJ was already out of his pajama pants.

“i wanna takey baff”

dammitalltohell. now there’s two of them in there. they did pretty good, there was only a quarter of an inch of water across the bathroom floor. it reminded me of this:

we pretty much did this same thing everyday. i got to start each morning with fresh pancakes. i think it was on the third day that both boys were seated and waiting. AJ said “yummy yumma”. if it had been warmer i would have braved the swimming area with the boys. there’s a hot tub that would have held the three of us comfortably. speaking of hot tub.. did i tell you that i found a rawhide dog bone, swimming pool brush head and superman in the bottom of the hot tub. i retrieved the items and gave the superman figurine back to the MadMan only to blink and see him actually throw it and watch superman hit the surface and sink to the bottom. i left him there for a day or so. 😀 as well, i found the fabulous and rootin’est tootin’est cowboy Woody in the hose attachment point of the shop vac. i present to you, exhibit a:

exhibit a

shop vac toy torture

can you see that? here.. lemme help you.

exhibit a zoom-in

the rootin'est tootin'est cowboy

the days flew by almost effortlessly. what a fun time. it wasn’t work at all. nothing out of the ordinary. i was happy to have some time away from my home, to allow my son to have an outing, to give my aunt some personal space, but also to be taken care of by the house, Nanny and the kids. they really took care of me. i left there happier and healthier. it made me grateful for all of the wonderful people that i have in my life. from Nanny all the way down to the PetiteSweet, i am loved. my aunt makes and saves a place for me and my son in her heart and in her home. she’s a saint. my bestie’s family loves me enough to entrust me with their little angels and their sweet sweet gramma’s. i am blessed! i am truly cared for. i hope that if i am ever fortunate enough to purchase a house that i will be able to turn it into a home. a home that will provide and embrace my family and friends for generations to come. a home that can cater to the elderly, small children and a variety of pets. a house that will keep on giving.