black market

A while ago, I went to the farmer’s market and only bought from Black people. Or at least that was my plan. Although the kind of people I argue with on Facebook would say this type of behavior is “racist” and wrong, I reminded myself of all the times I’ve given my business to people who were probably truly virulent racists, and all the countless times in American history black people have purchased goods from folks who wouldn’t even let them through the front door to shop, and I decided I was more than ok with this. I was going to spend an hour making a concerted effort to support black businesses—small businesses, local businesses.

Buying exclusively black was not my original plan. But sitting in the car, my daughter and I started talking and planning things, and we decided going to the farmer’s market to buy black would be a worthy adventure. I struggle to find ways to flex my blackness in our white county and even-whiter neighborhood. Others have their Black Lives Matter hashtags and their Black Girl Magic t-shirts. I have a couple hundred dollars and a bright idea. I deserve this, I told myself.

We parked, and after about five minutes of negotiating with my increasingly cranky seven year-old, G, we all got out of the car. My daughter, Nailah, in her teenaged wisdom, warned me that it was only going to get worse and to just take him home, but, as my grandmother always told me, I am hardheaded. So we masked up and started heading toward the stalls. I saw a black woman selling hair ties and earrings in colorful prints. “Ooh, lets go see what she has,” I said to Nailah, as I pulled G along.

The vendor welcomed me and told me her name, which I couldn’t hear because G had already started complaining. “I need a cold drink!” he whined, “This is gonna take forever!” The vendor had butt-length locs and we shared hair stories and she told me how she makes all the earrings and hair ties herself, using patterns that “you know, look more like us!” The patterns were busy and colorful, and stopped just short of Kente cloth, which she apologized for being all out of. Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! I looked through the headbands and necklaces, and satisfied that I was gifting myself a supremely ethnic experience, I settled on a pair of red and white earrings made of wood and cowrie shells.

As I was trying to pay, G ramped up his whining. “Why is this taking soooo loooong?” I’m gonna die out here I am soooo thirstyyyyy.” About this time, his legs turned to jelly and he started sinking to the ground, toddler tantrum style. I was going to have to get him that drink. Forgetting about my plan to buy exclusively black, I went to the first stall I saw that appeared to have drinks. I walked up to a ball-capped white man displaying a cooler. A hand-written sign on the front of it said “Cold Drinks $1.00.” Just what I needed. I asked the man for a bottle of water.

He was nice, leaving his shaded perch to offer me a sample of beef jerky, which I declined, and then digging through his cooler to find me the last bottle of water he had. “I’m sorry,” he said, probably making eye contact with me behind his sunglasses, “I just put it in, so it’s not too cold.” I reached for it, deciding to buy it anyway. He continued apologetically that he had ice cold Sprite, Coke, Dr. Pepper… “I’ll take a Sprite actually,” I said, handing him back the bottle of water. He seemed satisfied. It was only then, as he was digging deep in his cooler for a cold Sprite that I was noticed some scrawlings about “China Virus” on his whiteboard and noticed Trump 2020 embroidered on his well-worn camo ball cap. Great. I had been distracted by my thirsty, whiny little kid and walked straight into Camp Trumper. Of all the white people at the farmer’s market that I could have bought from today, this had to be the most problematic. There was a friendly looking older lady selling Tupperware and a couple a few stalls down selling organic plants. I remember them because they were very friendly and smelled strongly of marijuana. Why couldn’t I have stumbled into one of their tents?

The eight dollars I’d just spent on afro-centric earrings seemed less significant now, somehow tarnished, undone. I paid the man a dollar and thanked him, and I walked away, shaking inside just a little bit. Now, I have liberal white friends who might have gone home to take a shower after such an exchange, but I, as usual, felt conflicted. Trumpy Sprite guy was so kind and friendly. And his sprite was so goddamn cold.

I felt a little embarrassed, wondering if the woman who had sold me earrings had seen me and thought less of me for doing business with someone with his biases literally on display. Annoyed with myself and with G, I took him and his Sprite home and drove back up to the farmers’ market with a wad of cash and renewed resolve. By the time we left the market to go home, I had purchased a pineapple-rum cake the size of my hand, a fluffy mango donut spiced with cardamom, a bright yellow lemon cookie of dubious quality, and a soy candle that smells like something a grown-up black woman should have in her house. Especially a confident and sexy one. Yes, it was an aspirational purchase.

I took all of my items home and displayed them on the kitchen island so I could take a photo and post it on our family chat group with a little black fist emoji. But even as I stuffed my face with Black-made baked goods and sniffed the $20 candle that I will probably be too nervous to light with a toddler in the house, I just couldn’t get over that one misstep–the one dollar I contributed to The Man. The Trumpy, conservative, All Lives Matter white man. The polite, accommodating one with exceptionally cold drinks.

I thought about my life, my friendships, and my writing. I would love to think of myself as some kind of Black woman warrior writer–outspoken, unapologetic, and pure in my ideologies. But I think sometimes I get so tangled up in my quest for purity, that I end up completely inert. I am getting closer to accepting that life as a suburban black mom is complicated, and that entwined in that identity are a loneliness and a conflictedness that might never go away.

A few months later, Nailah and I returned to the farmer’s market. I have accepted that anything I buy there is nothing I really need–earrings made of blue sea glass, coffee in little burlap pouches, jarred salsas with the maker’s face drawn on the label. It looks exactly like him, except on the label he is dressed like a pirate, eyepatch and all. As he stands in front of me, he just looks like a regular Florida guy, probably somebody’s dad. We’d only been at the market a few seconds before we heard someone offering free samples of beef jerky. Like moths to a sinewy, spicy flame, we fluttered over to have a taste. The man handing out jerky was friendly and professional. After talking to him for a few minutes about his beef jerky and bacon jerky and deciding the bacon jerky sounded infinitely more exciting, I said to him, “Are you the Trump 2020 China Virus guy?”

“That’s me!” he responded matter-of-factly. I could tell he was wondering what was coming.

“Yes, I remember you,” I told him. “I did a double take at all your politics, but you were so nice, and it was a bit confusing for me. I am blogging about you.”

He seemed charmed. “I can’t say I’ve ever been blogged about before. At least not that I know of.”

“Well,” I offered, “there’s a first time for everything.”

We had a few samples and ended up buying two packs of bacon jerky and one pack of beef. They were a bit overpriced, but tasty enough. We left right after and didn’t buy anything else that day. I figured I had enough to unpack.

Trust Yourself, Take the Leap, Be Flexible: Simple Wisdom to Begin the Homeschooling Year

Today is Friday, and I am feeling pretty good. The house is clean (well, cleaner than usual), and I am watching my three older kids cook together while the baby naps. It’s pretty amazing. Seriously, it can be like brokering Middle East peace talks just to get the two teenagers to talk to each other, and somehow they’ve come to an understanding that is allowing them to make Chinese dumplings together from scratch. Whoa. This is the kind of calm and quiet I don’t get very often. And there’s no way it’s gonna last more than twenty more minutes, so I’ll type quickly. 

This week I have gotten my eldest started with her dual enrollment classes at the community college, helped my thirteen-year-old get himself organized for four online classes, decided to unschool my eight year old, and then decided that’s never gonna work, so I am giving him worksheets and reading assignments until I figure out something better.  There have been more than a few bumps in the road this week, but this is only our first week of the schooling year, and I am sure we will settle in to a good routine soon.

Parents new to homeschooling don’t necessarily have this kind of self-assurance, I know. They may be anxious about embarking on a new journey and worried that their children may “fall behind” or not be stimulated enough. My advice to those parents is simple: Trust Yourself. Take the Leap. Be Flexible.

Trust YourselfConsulting curriculum reviews and Facebook groups is fine, but don’t feel as though you have to get a dozen opinions to lend credibility to your own. You know more than you think you know. Decide that you are going to trust your experience and instincts, and move forward on your grand journey.

You chose to homeschool for a reason, and you know your kids better than any school or district or certified teacher. Think about the type of learning environment and routine you think would work best for your child, and trust that you are making the right decision for your family. You are the captain of your homeschooling ship. Leading with confidence will reassure and inspire the little souls on this journey with you. 

Take the LeapIn another life, I am a musician–a vocalist, specifically.  I love performing, but I suffer from horrible nerves. I worry that I will miss my entrances or hit a wrong note. I worry that my voice will crack. I worry that the instrumentalists will become annoyed with me or decide just a few minutes into the show that I am a fraud, an imposter, unworthy of calling myself a musician at all.  But inevitably, I get up there on stage, and the moment arrives when I have to open my mouth and produce a sound. The moment I do, I’ve taken the leap, and there’s no turning back. There is actually something liberating about that moment, because at that point you no longer have to make a decision about whether or how to begin; you’ve already begun, and all that’s left to do is to get through the song as gracefully as possible. 

Homeschooling is much the same way. When I start a new curriculum, class, or group, I almost always have some misgivings or question whether what I have chosen is the best option for my family. But I find that when I am able to break out of my “analysis paralysis” and just commit, then I am free to focus on making the situation work–or accepting that it doesn’t so that I can move on. Which leads me to the most important piece of advice I can give to any homeschooler, newbie or veteran:

Be FlexibleOver the years, when people have asked me why I homeschool, there are a few responses that readily spring to my lips: I can customize each child’s learning experience, it’s good for family bonding, and of course, because I love the flexibility homeschooling provides. About that last one….For me, it’s easy to say, but when I examine my approach to homeschooling, I do think flexibility is one of the things I struggle with most. So now, as I begin yet another year of homeschooling–I count this one as my twelfth–I need to remind myself that perhaps more than anything else, flexibility is the difference between being a joyful and productive homeschooler, and one who is burnt out and doing the somber math of counting how many years I have left until kids start to move out.

Flexibility means more than whether you start school before or after Labor Day or whether you use an all-in-one curriculum or pick from here and there in each subject. Being flexible means allowing yourself grace to change course when something is not working. It means keeping your mind open to the possibility that there are different ways to learn and different ways to teach. You hear veteran homeschoolers say all the time, “There is no one way to homeschool!” Not only do I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I also remind myself that this changes from day to day. This understanding of flexibility has allowed me to:

  • put one child in public school while the others were still homeschooled
  • have one child repeat a “grade”
  • give our family an impromptu and much-needed vacation week in the middle of the school year
  • “contract out” and get teachers for some subjects, even ones in which I am an “expert”!
  • abandon curriculum partway in (I usually try to sell it or save for another child to mitigate the financial impact)
  • take a complete break from certain subjects from weeks or months at a time
  • school year round because I wanted to maintain structure
  • educate through documentaries and museum visits for a while because I needed a break from structure

Changing something that is not working for your family is the smart and responsible thing to do, so don’t beat yourself up and see it as something negative. As in most areas of life, being flexible in your homeschooling is a positive!

Trusting myself so that I can make and commit to homeschooling decisions, knowing that I can be flexible as needed, is something I have to remind myself about all the time. But once reminded, I am able to relax and find my confidence again.  I know that my homeschool does not have to be any sort of re-creation or approximation of school whatsoever, and that I have to figure out the homeschooling method and schedule that works best for my family.  I know that my children will learn and develop and grow, regardless of any breaks I take or missteps I make. 

The baby is awake now, contentedly playing with trucks. I can hear my older children in the kitchen, laughing and making weird puns about ginger. It’s encouraging to hear them getting along so well, and to know they are learning, growing, and becoming more independent.  In this moment, I feel confident that this year is going to be great. And more than that–dinner is going to be delicious.     ❈

The mamas on the bus

When my first child was a baby, I discovered story times, singalong songs, toddler games that were favorites at daytime library events. I sang along to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” made exaggerated gestures for “The Itsy Bitsy Spider, ” and faked it through “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (any mom who was actually doing all that moving was just showing off. I mean, really).

But the one song that surprised me was “The Wheels on the Bus.” The number and order of the verses were not always the same, but there was usually a horn going “beep beep beep” and wipers going “swish swish swish.” And on those cds with voices of cheerful children, played in bright clean libraries where mostly white moms danced with their squealing toddlers, the mamas on the bus say “sh-sh-shhhh, sh-sh-shhhh, sh-sh-shhhh.” This was something new to me. For, as I learned it in the schoolyards and playgrounds of Memphis, Tennessee, where I grew up, the mamas on the bus say, “Hush yo’ mouth!, Hush yo’ mouth! Hush yo’ mouth!” So, after over 20 years of that song ending with harsh, scolding mothers, I learned that there is a whole segment of the population who learned that song with comforting soothing mothers, shushing their crying babies so that the song could very well end as a lullaby. Wow.

Before I get into a whole rant about race and parenting practices, I need to know, when you learned this song as a child, what did your mamas on the bus say?

nap time

There are few things as charming as being read to by a small child. This is what I tell myself because when my seven year old says he wants to read to me, I know it’s going to happen whether I want it to or not. I am so tired, and I warn my newly-turned seven year old that I will probably fall asleep. And because he is by nature an angelic and agreeable child, and also not one to change his mind once he has decided that he wants something, he smiles at me and says, “That’s okay.”

He turns the ceiling fan on its highest setting because he is going to read from a book whose characters are in Alaska, and he wants to set the mood. As I sprawl out on the carpet, G tells me that he really wants to go to Alaska. And Costco. And Disney. I let him know that I really want to go to those places too, especially Costco, and I lie down under the blast of the fan so that I may be read to.

G often tells me that I am lazy, and because it’s hard to explain why I’ve been horizontal for what seems like most of his life, I don’t spend much time correcting him. I got pregnant right after he turned five, had hyperemesis gravidarum for nine months (a lot of lying down), spent a lot postpartum time healing (lying down), nursing and sleeping with baby (more lying down), and now am just generally exhausted from lack of sleep and the steady and now-undeniable approach of middle age (down, down, down).

I pick up any stray legos I see, close the door, and prepare to nap with a seven year old reading to me, and the-busiest-one-year-old-ever about to have free reign in a room that has much too much junk in it. I pray that he will just spend ten minutes open-mouth kissing all the beanie boos and avoiding my spine when, not if, he decides to start walking on my back.

One of the characters in G’s story finds a flyer from 1925. He stops reading mid-sentence to exclaim, “Hey! That’s almost when you were born!” and looks at me.

“Yes it is,” I respond quickly because I’m too tired to explain the math, and because the quicker I respond to him, the quicker I can get back to my nap.


The house is quiet and still and miraculously, I am awake. I dig around cyberspace and find old blogs and sift through domain names, struggle with old passwords, plant my feet on arbitrary decisions to find myself here, again. More writing about mothering and about wanting to do more than mothering. More children to mother. Less time. Every day, less time. Again, a chance, a change, a proclamation that I am more than everyone else’s personal assistant. If I am a mom for all seasons, when is my season?