Friday, March 23, 2007

Character in Adversity

A recent article in the IndyStar featured Bill Garrett, who became the first black to play regularly in the Big Ten in 1947. I was saddened at how little I knew about this basketball great. At a time when he was still refused service at local restaurants, he handled nasty comments and derogatory sentiments on the basketball floor with dignity and resolve. He was by all measures the best man in the worst possible situation. More than a pioneer, he leaves a legacy about how to handle adversity.

Earlier this week my husband shared a story about a small community group that saved their change to eventually build a community center in their modest neighborhood. The KKK attended the building dedication and offered to pay the mortgage on the building - if they were allowed to conduct their meetings there. The Indiana community amidst deep Klan roots, declined. So much is revealed about people in challenging times.

Fast forward 60 years from now, as people are reading about you - what story will they tell? I had to wonder myself, what would those around me say about how I handled the extreme stress of our current situation. I'm not crossing the color barrier, becoming the first black to do this or that - but at times it does indeed feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. There was something broader than Garrett's role in basketball to be learned from the article.

Many people will never quote the statistics of Bill Garrett's 3 seasons with Indiana University, his coaching skill that guided state champions, or his larger than life athletic skill. The quiet depthy of his character and his inner peace through all that came his way seems to cover ever statement made by those that knew him. Others simply cherished what his principled approach meant for their ability to play collegiate sports after his time was done.
So, I fast forward to today. What will my neighbors, peers, friends, parent teacher fellowship members, family, and others say when my season is over? Will they speak to unyielding faith, resilience, strong moral character - or will they have a different truth. I am reminded once again that the images we see in entertainment, on television and even in politics - are but for a season. The lasting story is the legacy that we will leave behind. I can't help but believe that Bill Garrett's wife Betty has a full story of her own - raising accomplished children as a widow, and living the story we all read. I am filled with gratitude at the reminder that life is not a dress rehearsal. If we are to set and establish a standard that others will follow, that time is now.

Friday, March 9, 2007

News and Notes

On Thursday, March 8, 2007 I was in the car listening to News and Notes on NPR. I was excited to hear Farai Chideya indicate an upcoming story about Barack and Hillary - until I actually heard the commentary. Although I was hoping to hear a clear dialogue about what each candidate has to offer thus far, Chideya indicated that Barack "swooned" over Beyonce Knowles at a recent Hollywood Insider party. The conversation continued with a question about the current media coverage of both Senators - "Why is the dialogue so superficial?"

Farai Chideya is one of many media personalities responsible for the lethargic response within the African-American community when it comes to Barack Obama. His coverage tends to center on everything from his mother, his admitted failures, not being Black enough, not being recognized by the Black establishment, not knowing enough first hand about the Civil Rights movement to his response to Beyonce at a party. Shame on NPR, News and Notes and Farai Chideya for wasting yet another opportunity to talk about what really matters.

Bill Clinton was not the first Black President and Hillary Clinton is playing for keeps. If there is any hope of having a competitive primary season, voters must understand what the candidates stand for and what they aspire to accomplish with this nations highest office. Clearly, Barack Obama if nothing else, is uniquely positioned to bring compassion, energy and ambition to an office facing critical issues. I doubt that the many American citizens opposed to the war would swoon over Hillary, as she seals her inability to admit her mistake. This isn't the first time - all we would have to discuss was healthcare leadership as the first lady. She has a shaky track record of her own.

I continue to say give the man the chance to run. Allow him to articulate his platform and compete on this presidential stage. Donate to his campaign to give him an opportunity to communicate his views. If we are to make one of the most critical decisions of our lifetime it makes perfect sense to not sabbotage the players before the game begins. There is more at stake than Hollywood antics this season. We should demand more effective journalism before the Black vote is neglected yet again. Barack has a voice and a message to offer. I for one want to hear it.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Wife Handbook - $9.99

"They, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives." 1 Peter 3:1

I often believe that I have missed the boat with the covenant of marriage. I have many skills, but I'm not sure that I'm particularly gifted in the execution of what I know to do - versus what my mouth and mind collaborate on. To that end I can sometimes struggle with being the wife I aspire to be. Yet, as we approach 12 years of marriage I'm sure I can offer a few lessons in the handbook for consideration.

Gratitude is Contagious

I made my husband lunch this week and he sent me an email message thanking me for my attentiveness and my efforts to feed him. I was delighted. By Martha Stewart standards - heck, by my own standards - it was no great lunch. As I packed the kids snacks and lunch for the day I assembled the traditional grade school fixins with a few extra doses of fruit. In return my husband was motivated to let me know how much it matters to him when those little packages are delivered as a reinforcement that "Somebody loves ya baby!"

It is so very simple. At a stressful time of tight resources I somehow manage to find enough for chocolate milk, Rum Raisin ice cream, Cranapple Juice and a few other non necessities. In fact, since I have given up my Starbucks and coffee for Lent, I see just how quickly those extras can add up. Love languages mean many things to different people but I'm learning the power of simple thoughtfulness. He had gratitude for lunch and I in turn thought about some of the things I'm thankful for.

The Wife Handbook didn't tell me when I got married that I would value the killing of spiders. On the contrary I was raised to handle domestic issues on my own. I don't require anyone to help me in that situation - but I prefer it. I prefer my husband putting fuel in the car, taking out the garbage, checking the tire pressure and a myriad of things that I consider perks. I just recognized this week that I rarely say anything about them - ever. I have however started to realize just how contagious gratitude can be.

I am thankful that I don't do the bedtime routine for my children most nights. I used to feel incredibly bad that I would rather take a deep breath then fight through one more hour of routine. Kissing those little faces is a wonderful joy and I don't underestimate its powerful touch on a very hard day. I decided some years ago that this was an experience that I would happily share with my husband as he created his memories. Throughout the day I have a variety of little mommyisms that will forever define my time with my children. Daddy has a special way of doing bedtime that sends screaching voices running up the steps to avoid being caught by the tickle monster of the title of Rotten Stinky Egg. I appreciate that he takes that time on at the end of the day and I still get many a kiss, hug and I Love You - even if every bed time story is not mine. I appreciate that about my husband.

I appreciate that in 12 years of marriage his words have been kind. I could quote 1,500 scriptures, stories and lessons about the power of the tongue and mine is still not tame. My husband has worked to use his words in a way that does not destroy even at the most intense fellowship times. I am thankful that on many days he'd rather be happy than right, a skill learned later in life as I look upon my own growth and maturity.

After spending many years thinking about the Princess Wedding that never was, I have come to appreciate our simple choice in many ways. We are still married and in the covenant for the long haul. Even though we did not have an elaborate celebration our 12 years speaks to something stonger than I imagined. I may have one of those big anniversary parties one day, but my life doesn't hedge on when it will happen. I get unexpected compliments on a regular basis about my wedding ring, the traditional symbol of the marriage union. For many years I had a slow growing discontent that my ring wasn't all that I had dreamed. Sometime around our 7th year anniversary my dear husband remedied that issue no questions asked. I'm not in awe of the diamond unless you are referring to my husband himself. The simple band that now compliments is a reminder that small steps can be miraculous when done in synch with someone else.

Our society treats marriage as disposable. I can only imagine the feelings of Sarah and Abraham after a lifetime together of not having their deepest hearts desires met. Sarah, much like me, tried to solve the situation on her own. How often have you tried to fix a problem only to make it larger? In our current treatment of relationships there is little earthly reward for commitment and resilience. I believe we have both. I am encouraged by the fact that God used this couple in their older age and maturity to teach valuable lessons about faith and being faithful. Those lessons need to be taught to aspiring couples today.

The Wife Handbook has so many lessons to teach. My satisfaction in marriage today rests in the contagious nature of gratitude. I am thankful for my husband and his grace for me. Now...I might talk about some other issues in later posts, but for today, GRATITUDE.

The Mommy Wars

"Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children" (Titus 2:3-4)

The Mommy Wars need a referree. (Or maybe they just need a full night of sleep.) The controversy could make any mere mortal incredibly tired.

I believe older women have the ability to teach and reach mothers in a way that can be missed by the average woman in the average experience. There has been an ongoing debate about what is best for women, or what is best for the children, depending on how the issue is addressed. Are you a stay at home mother? Are you a working mother? Are you present for your family? If you are a mother do you even have time to read further?

For starters, I know few mothers that aren't working. If you have children and you meet their basic needs - you work. Yet, if you allow the media to define the debate - it centers around women who stay at home and women who pursue professional careers. I think that approach to the debate misses the boat on many different levels. Early in my approach to parenting I rejoiced in the stay-at-home sisterhood. I eventually came to guard my choices and my values closely, without the time nor energy to argue about what decisions adult women make. I don't think that decision is the issue at all. The benefit of the doubt says we all do the best that we can.

Every mother I know aspires to do the best for their children. They make choices designed to protect the future of their children, educate them, nurture them, provide for them, love them and grow them into the best possible human beings. No two women approach that commitment in exactly the same way. The challenge as women and as mothers is to find the most authentic way to achieve those goals without losing the ability to reach your fullest potential as a person. To that end, it truly is about choices. The choices should have the well being of children at their core.

Second only to the debate about mommy wars, is my complete irritation at the comment, "you are lucky to stay at home." I have worked outside the home professionally in a full time job, I have worked as a consultant through my own business (ALlyd Image Solutions) and I have been a full time mother. Nothing was based on luck in any of those experiences. Each had a variety of benefits as well as challenges, and unfortunately I was able to see the impact of our choices on our children at every turn. Maybe I should say fortunately - as we ultimately have tailored our decisions around our values as well as our circumstances. The two can't be mutually exclusive. We don't live in a perfect world.

All of this leads to a debt of gratitude for women who have been willing to nurture and mentor me in my pursuit of meeting the needs of my family. As women, I believe there is an inherent nature of competion and comparison. The grass can indeed seem a much greener hue on the other side. I have grown as a result of women who have been willing, poised and prepared to help me to reach my ultimate goals. Isn't that a better measure of a woman? After all - the grass appears greener for many reasons. In some instances it may indeed be more green - but you have to wonder what the fertilizer was to make it that way?

Women have the potential to provide each other a tremendous support system. Support should not take the form of a critique of the parenting style you decide upon - but rather the ability to help each other in growing the next generation. I have been blessed with women who have shared their experiences, learned from their own choices and been able to excel in diverse pursuits. Yes, you can have it all I've been told - but you can not have it all at the same time. And with time being in short supply - less time should be spent on the Mommy Wars and more time dedicated to parenting the next generation. That includes both mothers and children. Mothers continue to be the primary caregivers for children and our responsibility should not focus on selecting who is right - but enriching the opportunity for children to have complete lives.

I was caught off guard with my third pregnancy and in a bit of denial about the future. I was approaching a self imposed depression when someone very close to me began rejoicing about the news. Her zeal about our ability to raise another child and her gratitude to God for my life gave me a new found energy to embrace the future. With the increasing costs of life in general we are also paying a cost for our choices. There are lessons that seasoned mothers can communicate to the next generation that can serve to help those emerging moms. We can all use all the help our hearts can hold on any given day.

The Lessons I Would Share - 3 Children Later:

1. Life is short and childhood is shorter. We are entrusted with raising our children for such a short season that we must embrace each moment with an unwaivering commitment. Children are true gifts and we have an opportunity to help them reach their fullest potential. That investment requires time, love and commitment.

2. Quality relationships matter. Children witness real life in what they see at home. The relationship that they see between their parents is of primary importance. When a child can see the interaction, respect, partnership, quarrels, joy, fun and persistance of relationship in action they have the opportunity to learn first hand the many aspects of true love.

3. Surrounding yourself with incredible women can make all the difference. There is something to be said about women who are willing to share the lessons of their life and to pray you through the challenges and obstacles that are inevitable. Investing in the lives of other women is powerful. When people work to build each other up there is a synergy that assists in your personal development. Not every lesson in life needs to be learned first hand. Our society is made more rich when older, more mature, established women reach out and nurture the next generation. Wisdom is a wonderful life lesson.

The less we engage in the war about motherhood - the more likely we can invest that time in helping each other to thrive. Being a mother is the hardest and most rewarding work of my lifetime. I'm not a half-bad consultant either, though.

En Vogue

Jennifer Hudson made history when she portrayed Florence Ballard in the musical DreamGirls. Her success as she won both the Golden Globe and Oscar for best-support actress uplifted the collective spirit of the African-American community, full-figured women, the underdog and many, many supporters who cheered her breakthrough performance.

So this spring as Jennifer Hudson became the first African-American singer to appear on the cover of US fashion magazine Vogue and the third African-American celebrity to grace the cover of the fashion bible - many have wondered what happened. I was thrilled to see Jennifer on the cover and purchased the magazine at Marsh grocery store. I believe it was probably the 5th time in my lifetime that I have purchased the magazine. I wanted to actively demonstrate my appreciation for their decision to put Ms. Hudson on the cover. Yet, I didn't necessarily believe that these pictures were as flattering as others I've seen. This wasn't a perfect success - but it was success.

The gossip blogs and commentaries have been all too critical about the photos. Many of their criticisms are easily understood. I have looked at the eagle spread piano photo several times, and well - I wish the photographer had rethought that one. Nonetheless, she made the cover.

The discussion should be about the beauty of Jennifer's skin. Her red carpet walks have been filled with grace, excitement and curvaceous splendor on most occassions. If we all looked in the mirror on any given day - we'd ask for a pass when we didn't make the mark. I don't think this is a Jennifer issue at all - Vogue is a fashion magazine. They make millions as a fashion icon that sets the standard for style. They selected photos that at face value don't live up to the potential of the subject and for that I'm a little saddened. Those feelings are however overshadowed by my joy in seeing her face amongst the size 2 models that mimic one another. The cover is a victory for me.

If anything I think the average person should share their feedback from Vogue AFTER they purchase the magazine. In a society driven by the dollar Vogue makes decisions based on their bottom line. They will undoubtedly be more responsive to consumers and more inclined to put women on the cover that reflect the overall society, when we approach the situation as a business matter. It is good business to recognize natural beauty and talent. I'll pay for that and celebrate Jennifer Hudson's upteenth victory any day. Congratulations Vogue - I hope the next cover lives up to its full potential.