Life with a Five-Year-Old Coworker.

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In the past ten days, I’ve started three different potential blog posts, but I’ve been overcome with ennui somewhere between the opening paragraph and the halfway point of each. If I’m bored with the work, I know that you’ll be twice as bored. So I’m not going to publish any of that.

Since my last entry here, I’ve been published at RollingStone.com twice, once about Bill Cosby and more recently about Black Twitter (I spoke about the latter — among other things — on L.A.’s KCRW Press Play on Friday).

I’ve also written more weekly contributions for The Washington Post’s Act Four, about my friend Daniel’s fantastic young adult novel, Shadowshaper (and about the state of YA lit for black and brown kids generally), about “The Astronaut Wives Club” and its dogged insistence on Disneyesque racial commentary, despite being set in the early 1960s; and most recently on the news that the Obamas’ first date is being made into a Before Sunrise/Medicine for Melancholy-type romantic dramedy.

Last weekend, I spent two days in D.C. at Women’s Media Center, where I was part of Progressive Women’s Voices Class of 2015.

When I couldn’t find anyone to watch my daughter for 10 hours per day (eight in training and two in round-trip Baltimore-DC driving commute), the Center kindly provided two amazing caregivers for my daughter. The first day, she timidly crept up to me as I sat in U formation at a table, trying to focus on the work ahead. I scooped her into my lap and rested my chin in the downy crown of her head. I felt so empowered in that moment, so supported. It was one of few moments in my parenting life when I felt like Having It All might not be the myth we’re convinced it is, that if work and life can never be quite balanced, they might at least have sweet, small clearings like this one at some of their intersections.

I breathed in the scent of my daughter’s hair, an admixture of cremes and jojoba, proud of myself for my tentative strides toward caring for it myself, ever since my mother — who’d lived with us since I gave birth and who, aside from being my first-string childcare back-up, was also my kid’s only hope for fashionable, healthy hairstyles — had moved away a month before.

My first-ever attempt at a milkmaid braid (or twist, as it were). I was so proud that I took pictures! Next up: learning to cornrow. ... Maybe.
My first-ever attempt at a milkmaid braid (or twist, as it were). I was so proud that I took pictures! Next up: learning to cornrow. … Maybe.

I was starting to get the hang of this, I thought. Finally. A full five years in. I’d worried that, with one less person to fall back on, the plates I’d already been struggling to spin would definitely topple. But here I was, managing a rigorous training program, surrounded by wildly accomplished women — chiefs of staff, directors of government agencies, nonprofit founders, news analysts, people who’d confidently testified before Congress, all of them the kinds of change agents I hope my own child will grow up to become. And here she was in my lap, being so serene and well-behaved. Here we were — miraculously — making it.

Then she lifted her head from my chest, and for a second, her face clouded. So did mine. “Are you o—?” I started and she answered by vomiting. Oatmeal, an orange wedge, a single bite of a chocolate muffin. There it all was in my lap.

So much for uncomplicated triumphs. Motherhood is a sustained effort at maintaining professional competence while struggling to mask the faint waft of toddler vomit lingering in the fabric of your smart little rayon-blend, business-professional romper. It’s practicing how to sound like an “expert” in an interview while rushing into the lobby between takes to rub your kid’s belly, make empathetic cooing noises, and apologize in advance to the sitter for any repeat-hurling performances (Mercifully, there were none). Because my attention was so divided, I didn’t entirely understand the assignment we were supposed to complete toward the end of Saturday’s session.

I ended the day flustered and deeply unsure of what I was even doing there. Had I experienced something like that at a training session before becoming a mother, I certainly would’ve excused myself from the table to cry. I was close this time.

But the thing that forced the tears back into their ducts was that I knew how hard I’d fought even to get to the building that morning. To load my child up and drive her here, to find our way out of a poorly designed underground parking garage without freaking out, to recover my calmness after getting lost in D.C. as I so often do, to keep telling myself that my acceptance to this program wasn’t a fluke and that someone more deserving without so many self-perceived obstacles should not, in fact, be here instead of me. Those things were as difficult as managing the heartstring-tugs of a nauseous child and the eight hours of new material that needed to be synthesized and practiced immediately. But I’d done them. Here we were. I’d do this, too.

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Binder full of women(‘s media training material).

By Sunday, I knew that no matter how I performed in the day’s exercises, the training had already given me invaluable experience in managing my life. It helped me refocus on Beyond Baby Mamas, an undertaking I’d ironically convinced myself I was too busy simply trying to survive as a mom to devote the necessary attention to. It taught me not to be afraid to articulate my needs as a parent entering a professional space and, more importantly, to seek out spaces that are welcoming of and accommodating to me as a parent. Those spaces do exist and, when possible, I am entitled to enter them. Where they don’t yet exist, I now have a precedent for what such spaces should look and feel like. And above all, attending PWV media training boosted my confidence in my ability to juggle the unexpected with the anticipated, with my daughter in tow.

I’ve had few greater moments as a mother than the one I felt last weekend, when it became clear that my daughter understood what I was doing at Women’s Media Center as work — that even at almost-five-years-old, she is capable of comprehending that our world’s responsibilities are broader than the work we do at her school and in our apartment. As a (mostly) work-from-home mom, that felt momentous.

She was thrilled to return to the offices on Sunday. “Are we going back to work?” she asked and I knew then that she’d approached the weekend with her own sense of duty and viewed it with her own sort of seriousness.

Her voice and, often, her laughter filled the corridor outside the conference room, and some of the deeply gracious women there were calling her “Dr. Story” because she was wearing and wielding her Melissa and Doug lab coat and check-up tools. It should be said that, no fewer than ten times over the course of those two days, trainers and trainees asked after her recovery from the upset-tummy episode, and/or offered their own commiserating, encouraging anecdotes about their own kids’ projectile vomit.

I’m happy to report, our second day onsite was completely bile-free.

Stacia in the Press: HuffPost Live, Salon, and a New Gig.

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Why am I so happy? Read on.

Just a quick update before my next blog entry (which will probably be about calling a comeback a comeback, even if you’ve been here for years).

A few things have been poppin’:

On Thursday, I appeared on a HuffPost Live segment about black unmarried motherhood. Please watch when you get a chance.

  • I wrote a piece for Salon about The Melissa Harris-Perry Show’s recent segment on black single motherhood, which you can watch here. The piece was featured on the show’s Facebook page.
  • I’d also written another piece for Salon that I’m not sure I’d announced here.
  • And a recent one for The Atlantic that I know I didn’t mention here.
  • In other somewhat old news, I was one of five “Single Mom Breadwinners” featured at Disney’s Baby Zone site last month.
  • Just this morning, I tweeted about the importance of emotional restraint in personal writing (something I still struggle with, as I’m sure you can tell by my blog entries). If you’re a writer of nonfiction, you’ll want to check out the Storify slideshow there. Please note that one tweet should read, “Tell your emotions. But don’t sell your emotions.” The don’t is missing in the tweet.
  • I also Storify’d a tweeted tribute to Trayvon Martin this afternoon. May be always remember not just what we’re fighting for but for whom we’re fighting.
  • And finally, I’ve started a year-long fellowship with the illustrious Colorlines. I’m their 2013-14 Editorial Fellow for Community Engagement. This means, I’ll be helping them find ways to further connect with their readership through Google Hangouts, Twitter conversations, and article comment engagement on their website. It’s an exciting development as I’m a longtime fan of the pub and a stan for many of their writers/staff. Last week was my first week and we’re off to a swinging start. :)

In the next few days, I hope to have another blog entry for you. In the meantime, I hope you’ll check out the linked works above and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading, and thanks for being here.

Beyond Baby Mamas: Take a Look.

You wait. You let yourself be carried off with the current. Slacken. Allow it to deliver you back to a shore. It will, when it wills. You open your ears to the cries of others. Seek exits; seek havens. Tell them not to twist; when they’re too weak to tread, surrender. You draw them maps and pray that the course you’ve charted is one that will not change. Be the landmark, the lighthouse, the buoy. Be whatever you can.

I’ve a litany of commands, of guidance. It comes to me in rations, like the drip of an IV. And it repeats. Be the landmark, the lighthouse, the buoy. Be whatever you can.

It’s been exactly two weeks since I launched my new online initiative for single mothers of color, Beyond Baby Mamas. It was just an idea, like the many that flash in my mind every day. But with every day that I move forward in executing it, I realize that its potential is far more vast than I imagined. Even that realization seems inadequate, as I’m fairly certain that I’m not yet aware of all the possibilities for mining that potential.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

  • Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr pages? Done.
  • YouTube channel? Created.
  • Official website? Formed.
  • Weekly webcasts? Two recorded, one on the way this week.
  • Promotion? Here’s where we need to catch up. So far, we’re relying on word of mouth (and web, so to speak). Our FB page has 81 likes. We have 71 Twitter followers. Six people have subscribed to our YouTube channel, thirteen to our Tumblr. It’s a process.

After this post, you won’t see much about Beyond Baby Mamas posted on this blog. I want to distinguish that online space from this one, so if you want to be kept abreast of what’s up over there, subscribe or follow to that blog. I just want to make sure that anyone and everyone who subscribes to or reads this blog on a regular basis is aware of BBM’s various online presences. Are you connected with us yet? Do you know anyone else who should be? I’d love it if you joined us or let someone else know. Direct anyone who needs to know more about who I am to my BBM bio or more about the initiative itself to our frequently asked questions.

Thanks to everyone who’s helped get the word out, participated in panels, and been generally encouraging. It’s helped so, so much.

Statistics Are Not Our Stories.

I don’t know why other women do it. I can’t say what keeps them out of the pharmacy within 120 hours of conception. I don’t know why they don’t choose the clinic? It’s unclear what makes them believe: in the strength of their relationships, in their capacity for quick maturation or increased earning potential, in the rightness of what they feel taking root, that warm fleshy oblong, unformed but undeniable. To be sure, there are many unmarried mothers of color, but I cannot imagine the myriad narratives that motivated their choice. To speculate would be more than presumptuous; it would be damaging.

The numbers don’t provide that insight. Whenever I hear new ones, issued in press releases, then disseminated like handfuls of grain, before spreading unchecked like weeds, like root rot, I imagine the underpaid census-takers, the overtaxed academics being pressured to publish work on issues that go under-explored, the grad students who need to lend their theses gravitas. Did they ask the right questions? Were we breath and bone to them or just data to add to their infographics?

Could they hear our exhaustion as we answered? Yes, single. Yes, black. Yes, 30-35. Yes, under 18. One child, three. Two fathers, both involved. One father, an apparition. Did they know we could already sense the collective tsk-tsking of a nation, as they scribbled their survey findings into the blank spaces of forms on clipboards?

Does it matter what they know? Is it significant that we love our daughters or sons more than each other, that we pool our paychecks to protect them from the blight of poverty, if not the category of it, and that most days we succeed? Would it skew the data if they realized that when we go to bed at 2 am, with a near-primal ache in our joints and a day’s worth of worry to quell, we don’t put ourselves to sleep by contemplating bygone outcomes which do not include having children?

Do they know we do not deny that there are women who find ways to cull more than a fair share of the assistance that government subsidies offer? Do they understand how reticent we are to declare that those women “make us look bad”–or that they are themselves “bad?” We do not know them. We do not know their stories.

Do they wonder at all what the thousands of families who qualify for TANF but decline it do to stretch their earnings? Do they get how injurious the very thought of being labeled can be, how criticism can haunt so deeply it can cause us to refuse the food in an open palm, even when we’re truly hungry?

Have they asked how often we hear, “Well, that’s your problem.” and “You shouldn’t done xyz if you didn’t want to hear about it?” Do they know who-all has offered unsolicited, retrospective advice about our bodies and about the legitimacy of our love? “You should’ve closed your legs. You should’ve gotten confirmation of his commitment with a ring and a signature.”

These are the longer narratives. They cannot be fully considered in 140 characters. When they are truncated, there is too much lost in translation–though, if we’re honest, they’re often delivered in a dialect few people have interest in learning.

We still try to communicate. We are loose-lipped about our struggles. We co-opt others’ conclusions. We internalize the criticism and publicly concede that the dynamics of our families are, indeed, unfortunate. When they knock with their clipboards, we still open our doors.

But their numbers are not our stories. We are our stories. And only in telling them fully can we change the condition of our communities. Only in offering each other a bit of the light we’ve found on the roads down which we travel can we see all the newly paved routes to better destinations.

It is through conversation, not calculation or criticism, that we learn to identify with one another.

Join me tonight, as I begin that conversation. Each week, I’ll be hosting a live webcast called Beyond Baby Mamas: Conversations with Single Mothers of Color, which will feature a different invited guest panel and field viewers questions and comments. Our premiere episode will begin live-streaming on Google Hangouts On Air at 6:30 PM EST. We’ll be talking statistics, stereotypes, and personal stories. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to catch any conversations you miss. And join our online community on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Beyond Baby Mamas: Conversations with Single Mothers of Color.

This Thursday marks the premiere of my brand new, experimental web broadcast, Beyond Baby Mamas: Conversations with Single Mothers of Color.

Beyond Baby Mamas will aim to address some of the issues I’ve discussed on my blog over the past two years, from building a child-rearing “village” to tackling different stages of child development to challenging commonly held assumptions about what it means to be a single mother of color in America. Each week, I’ll welcome a new panel of women of various backgrounds and experiences to share their opinions, expertise, and/or personal stories. Every broadcast will focus on a different topic. This week’s theme is Statistics Are Not Our Stories: Confronting Public Perceptions of Minority Single Motherhood.

The discussion will begin LIVE on Thursday, September 20 at 6:30pm EST. Join us then at Google Hangouts On Air. In the meantime, I’d love it if you bookmarked this page, joined our Facebook community, and spread the word! We’ll be taking on-air questions via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. And if you’d like to be considered as a guest on an upcoming panel, contact me at stacialbrown at gmail dot com for more information.