Being Black in the Happy Valley
Academic Mommy check in:
So, today I decided to keep true to my therapeutic practice seeking behavior and took my 17 month old toddler to the child sing along at my local library. This was a first for me, I usually cannot get it all together to get to these programs from place to place, let alone remember what days they happen. So, this was a big step. Arrived a few minutes late and it was jumping, I mean packed with Moms, Dads and a Grandmother. The singing was in full swing and we squeezed in and settled in for the experience. First of all, I had just woken Mr.Toddler up (tried to keep him up, but lost the battle just around the corner from the library). So, he had just woken up to look around, see strange faces and we sat right next to a strange woman singing with a guitar. He wasn’t really sure of the whole scene and in all honesty, neither was I.
Now, don’t get me wrong, its a small town and I knew some folks there, but in terms of diversity – I was it. (until about 15 minutes in an Asian Mom and son walked in to join). It was one of those many moments where you are acutely aware of your Blackness. This may also be exasperated by my being an anthropologist and not able to turn off my “study people” function, but this was a cultural (ok, lets be blunt) a racialized moment. I looked around and all I could feel was Whiteness, New England, Happy Valley Whiteness. Then once I caught my breath I realized that I did not know most of the damn songs the woman was singing. And everyone was singing and jumping and moving arms at the appropriate words and moments. It was crazy. I guess I had never bought into the whole children song movement. Or maybe we just didn’t sing these songs in the Bronx? Whatever it is I began to notice other subtleties.
I looked around and looked at the children. Many were well behaved, but a few were doing ANYTHING they wanted to. Even attempting to climb the singing woman or handle her guitar. And everyone just smiled. Some had to take there children off to the side and peer over the bookcases because the sit down time was just too lengthy or something like that. Then I looked at shoes, yes, shoes. The shoes of children fascinate me. I have an almost 4 year old and she loves shoes. I have avoided getting too many cheap and trendy shoes in favor of expensive, trendy in other ways, footwear that is only worn for a short moment in each child’s life. Organic clothing, cloth diapers,lengthy nursing mothers – you get this idea. Its like peer pressure for quality. At the same time, I think about the fashionista girl I have in my house who loves ghetto fab clothing, sequence, and colorful everything. Her self expression and confidence is amazing. As I look at my Mr. Toddler, he has on some cool duds, all courtesy of his older brother (our first child who had way too many clothes, because we didn’t know any better). I made a decision, I was going to let go of my peer pressure to buy $60 shoes for a 4 year old, especially when she really wanted the Dora light up sneaker and the Sparkle Toes. Flash makes her happy, not ergo fitting, organic, made in the right place (or so we think) shoe that makes us feel good about our purchase. Plus the fact her feet keep growing and we struggle to make sure bills are paid, not the Zappos and Piperlime account!
Then the next thing that hit me was that this was my slow day. The day I try to finish up around the house and get some errands done, respond to the growing body of unanswered email, finish laundry we neglected over the way-to-short weekend and just chill and prep for the rest of the busy week. Monday and Friday Mr. Toddler and I hang out (unless I have a meeting and then it is childcare juggle). The folks around the room were stay at home folks, who do this a lot (this is an assumption), who value social time and children’s sing alongs. I am sitting in this circle, looking around, feeling my pocket vibrate as the emails once again pile up and remember I have to send in an abstract for my next speaking gig. I am not in this world, I am not only marked as a Black woman surrounded by all this love and child-centered philosophers, I am busy as hell and thinking about how happy we are when we just kick it at home and have snacks and laugh and dance as we listen to music from folks like Jennifer Hudson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sweetback, Sade, Gilberto Gil, Lazaro Ros, and Marc Anthony on Pandora. This really made me feel like an outsider, as if I was not a part of this Happy Valley scene. At this moment, my mind and spirit tells me that that is ok, I am doing it like I need to do it to make sure my children can understand the world, not only their immediate environment.
So, let the programs continue. We will show up from time to time. But real talk, I am ok with being my inner ghetto self. It just feels right.