Monthly Archives: March 2014

Here’s how it goes…

When it’s time for us to be on the move, packing his diaper bag is a meticulous and arduous procedure. And to be clear I use a diaper-backpack: this way I can be both great American dad and serious man. You never know what you’ll need. This reality used to paralyze me. What if I get a flat tire? Or, what if we get caught in a rainstorm and must seek shelter? Or, what if there is such a thing as the great abominable snowman, and he decides to attack Mississippi in June, simply to let the world know how much of a gangster he is, will I have everything I need?

The process goes like this: diapers, wipes, milk; clothes, toys, books; snack, blanket, iPad (which by the way is one of the most genius gadgets ever invented. What did parents do before Mother Goose Club on the go)?

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When me and my boy are in the streets, we are a crew, a team, a posse. The temperature outside determines what we do with the windows: 50s, a crack, 60’s, two fingers like a nice scotch pour, 70s, halfway down as to create a fierce gust allowing him to face-box the wind monster. And our destination will determine the music we’ll bang. If we’re off to campus for one of my department or committee meetings, we might be bumping Kanye’s College Dropout. But, if we’re heading to one of his doctor appointments, especially one requiring shots, it’s Justin Timberlake all day (sidebar: I’m not really a JT fan, but Mr. Timberlake does wonders for my child’s emotional state—especially his latest album. And my boy needs to get his Zen on before they go poking him).

The first time I pushed a stroller across campus, I felt strange as hell. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen anyone do this during the busy hour. Students were everywhere: some country girls said “aww,” some country boys said “that’s what I’m talking about.” I’m sure I missed other responses, and this is largely due to a strange thing that happened to me once I started taking my boy out in public. I went from being aware of and considerate to the folks around me to not giving a fuck. I went from trying to find the coolest way to sport a diaper-backpack and push a loaded stroller to not giving a flying fuck. I went from apologizing for our presence to…you know. And when me and my boy burst into my department meetings, stroller and all, diaper-backpack and workbag and all, and I prop him on the seat next to me with a bag of cheerios and his favorite book, it is clear to my department chair and colleagues, that while we love all of you, if you think we’re studying how crazy we look right now, come and watch us go through airport security checkpoints, then you’ll see how little fucks we give about our standing out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Go Blue Baby Blues

Worry worry worry
Worry is all I can do
Oh worry worry worry baby
Worry is all I can do
Oh my life is so miserable baby
Baby, and it’s all on account of you

-“Worry Worry” B.B. King

As we prepped to move from Milwaukee to Mississippi in August of 2012, a colleague casually reminded me I’d taken on three of the top five life worries: new job, new town, new baby (I think divorce and death were the other two—and perhaps there was still time for those—has anyone completed the pentafecta and lived to tell about it?).

It was August and this was Oxford, Mississippi, meaning this was a boiling pot of matter, meaning this was the nation’s fireplace, meaning it was hot as hell. And I won’t go into all of the things that went wrong: such as the movers arriving a week and a half after the guaranteed delivery day and our having to sleep on a blow up mattress seven months pregnant and all; or, not being able to prep for class because my materials were with the movers; or, the discovery that our new doctor had a completely different philosophy on how to keep the baby in the oven (wife was on bed rest—long story).

They say spicy foods can ignite labor, and I don’t know if this is true or perhaps mere coincidence but we did have gyros with a spicy layering the night she went into labor. And it was a month before our scheduled due date. And I’m not sure which doctor owes us. I do know I was as focused as a fighter pilot. I’d seen the way this works on TV. I’d even seen my dad do it once (except he lifted up my mom and carried her to the car when she went into labor with my sister—I could’ve done that too but our apartment was on the second floor and there were no elevators). But everything else I did. I was strong. I was present. And when my son arrived without noise and blue, I was prayerful.

He wasn’t breathing, and this was nothing like the movies. He wasn’t placed on my wife’s chest and there were no celebratory screams or high-fives; it was complete silence. Even the nurses were silent. And there were no parents to say it was fine—all family was 700 miles away. It was the two of us and a blue baby. And the doctor who worked this compression thing; and the nurses who exchanged panicked stares. And then there was the shriek of “c’mon baby…cry” that cut into stillness.

They didn’t waste much time before transferring him to a different room; one better equipped to deal with complications. I was the first to see him. It’s a hell of thing when your 5 pound baby boy is coiled in tubes. And when there are beeping machines all around you, it’s difficult to trust the process. But he was breathing, and he was here. I remember snapping a picture for his mom. That is how she first met him.

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The hospital in Oxford was nothing like the one back home. I’d never been to a small-town hospital: barren, quiet, perhaps a security guard. The first time we toured it, I joked how it reminded me of the hospital Vito Corleone had almost been assassinated in. Anybody could walk in and go anywhere. There weren’t stab victims; there weren’t gunshot victims—it was nothing like home. As our baby boy worked to gain life, there was a voice hovering throughout the walls. It was the first real country voice I’d heard since moving to Oxford and it sang and it was reassuring and it belonged to Maw Maw.

Maw Maw was my boy’s first assigned nurse. She was a godsend; a middle-aged, plump, white, easygoing, southern soul totting, I’m gone tell it how it is, godsend. She embodied every southern big mama cliché. She did things the way she’d been doing them for years: the way she could do them in her sleep. And while we worried for the next week about jaundice, breathing and glucose, Maw Maw just laughed. And the time my wife went darting down the vacant hospital halls, 5 pound baby in hand like a football, shouting “he’s not breathing,” Maw Maw laughed.

Our baby boy is a year and a half now and it’s been that long since we’ve seen Maw Maw. He weighs 25 pounds, and I sometimes wish Maw Maw could see him. On Monday, I found out that my second collection of poems, Ropes, won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters 2014 Poetry Award. I received the news while at my son’s doctor appointment. This was an appointment to monitor his ability to walk, and luckily, he had just begun. I tried hard to contain my excitement about the book award. I was ready to pop a damn bottle right there in the waiting room. When my son was born, I thought my writing career would fade for a while. The concept of juggling my first assistant prof position with a new baby and writing seemed impossible. On Monday evening, after his appointment, I did pop that bottle. And I watched my son walk around our living room. And we danced together to ratchet music. And we celebrated not being blue.

Why Won’t He Walk?

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As parents, when it comes to understanding the progress of our babies, we do this funny thing. And since my boy was born a month early, recognizing developmental markers has been confusing at times—the doctor says think about his age in terms of actual due date, some say girls develop faster than boys, others advise not to worry as long as he appears healthy. While most of these markers have been easy to negotiate, this damn walking thing has been the pits: a monkey on our backs, a monster beneath the bed. This boy is just about a year and a half and simply won’t walk. And I think the key word is won’t because I’m convinced he can. If you’re able to speed crawl on all fours throughout the house, my dude you can walk. If you jam on your Playskool Rocktivity set like an out-of-body Kanye in concert, my man you can take some steps. If, because you love applauding, you start clapping and stand without the support of a chair, well… you know. And when people ask if he’s walking, I frequently pause before answering. I consider the context of the situation, who’s asking, and how much time we all might have. Because the rabbit-hole is complicated my friend. And although you didn’t ask about his crawling speed, I might want to tell you anyway. And although the fact his grandfather was almost two before he walked is none of your concern, it might clear the picture. I’m not exactly sure why I do this. Perhaps it’s because I know what you’ll say next: “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it, they all do it on their own time” or “Well at least you don’t have to chase a walker.” And shortly after this you’ll look for something more useful to say, something to leave me with. This is when you say something like “My little Maggie was just about a year when she started walking but it took her forever to talk,” or “I can tell he’s just so smart already.” I’ll leave this conversation and stare at my boy for a while, examining him, wondering why he’s already a grade behind. That weekend we’ll take him to story time and watch the kids run circles around him. And more parents will smile at him, at us, and spout the same question.

This week we’re on spring break. The time is needed for me as a parent. I usually spend my days at home reading and writing, and my son is often abandoned. I feel bad about this. Between commenting on a paper and responding to an email, I yell to him “just give me one second and daddy will play with you.” or, “hold on one minute and daddy will change you.” This creates a sense of guilt or inadequacy. I wish there was someone to keep him company while I worked: someone with a bit more energy than me—perhaps some other kids (daycare looms). I often blame myself for why he doesn’t walk; we haven’t practiced enough.

While on break, I intend to make sure we’re walking, reading, and counting. My distractions are limited, so perhaps we’ll spend time outdoors. Last night, I thought of how I might talk about this whole walking thing. I sat on the couch and stared at the TV revisiting the journey. He turns a year and a half on Saturday; this is when the doctor thinks we can begin to worry. In fact, we have an appointment in a week to discuss this very thing. And ironically enough, while I thought about these things, in the cheesy glow of The Bachelor: After the Final Rose ceremony, this damn boy darted across the room on two feet.

Welcome to the Frat House

Ever since I was nineteen, the age I picked up books about Black Nationalism and stopped eating pork, around the time I started listening to Dead Prez and locking my hair, the moment I stepped foot in an open mic and adopted a slam poetry persona, I’ve been convinced that the most revolutionary act for a black man was to be an exceptional father to a brown baby. At nineteen, my sophomore year in college, many of the culturally conscious folks were telling me what I needed to do to achieve an acceptable state of black consciousness: I needed to rock amber rings, eat healthy, read devotedly, listen to conscious hip-hop, date natural hair, challenge the system, stop celebrating Christmas, do special handshakes, address other black men and women as royalty or brethren, and most importantly of all, I needed to hate white people. This is how we as black men begin to repair the damage done to us and our race in this nation. And while many of these perspectives I’d already been introduced to, my maternal grandfather being one of the early members of the Nation of Islam movement and a dear friend of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), it resonated different from my peers who were delivering the message in a vernacular I understood: “These white folks don’t give a fuck about you; you feel what I’m saying dog.” I feel you. And so my brainwash cleansing began, and my circle of homeboys shifted. If it wasn’t about black pride, I didn’t want it. I remember thinking of how I could most effectively play my part in the uplifting of black people and oh how daunting of a question that was: should I join this or that movement, how about I use poetry slams as a platform, maybe I could stand on corners and lobby The Final Call and similar literature. There was one hot summer afternoon when a good friend of mine and I were sitting out on a stoop in the hood, drinking Heinekens, and talking revolution. We discussed how we’d play our roles and all the shit we’d do to spread black consciousness. He told me I was one of the best poets he’d ever heard read and that I should use that as a vehicle. I told him, a really charming individual, that he had a knack for persuasion. We drank more Heinekens. At some point our conversation shifted to family and to my dismay he mentioned missing his kids. I didn’t know he had kids. And when I asked about his kids, he told me he hadn’t seen them for almost a year because their mothers be trippin’. I became severely confused at what the hell we were doing.

On September 15th, 2012, a few months before the world was intended to end, my son was born. My wife and I had just moved to Oxford, Mississippi a month before and really didn’t know anyone. I had taken a job at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) as an assistant professor of English and African-American Studies. As I drove us to the hospital, at 2 in the morning, I wondered, not worried, about the condition of my baby boy who was arriving a month early. I didn’t know what this meant; I was new to the “oh shit, I think I’m having the baby” thing.

We arrived at hospital and were separated for a while. I sat in the waiting area calling all the usual, assuring them this was not one of my inconsiderate-drunken-bender pranks. And I didn’t blame them for assuming it was. For the past decade I’d spent every weekend taking down spirits: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, even Sunday (and I don’t mean ghosts). The other days of the week I wrote graduate seminar essays and poems. This is what writers do.  I became a pro at bar life; late nights and hangovers were breathing. When my wife first told she was pregnant, I wondered what that meant for my extravagant social life: what it meant for me as a writer. Many asked if I was excited because of the writing material a baby might inspire. I didn’t do pretty writing. I didn’t want to write about no damn babies. Keep it gangsta.

After a week in the hospital battling health scares, we were able to bring our baby home. On one of the first afternoons while he napped on my chest, I thought about what all this meant. It had just hit me in that moment: he can’t do anything without me or his mom; he could barely breathe on his own. And now, a year and a half later, I’m still having revelations and winging this daddy thing. I am home with my son four days a week. Just me and him (on Wednesdays I teach). We decided (I guess I decided for us) to term Fridays– Frat House day. Because on Fridays I’m not sneaking in grading or writing: we simply tear the house down (much to the dismay of his mother). This blog is intended to share my experience. In my twenties, you couldn’t have paid me to believe I wouldn’t be golfing on the days I wasn’t teaching or writing. You couldn’t have convinced me I’d be conjuring oatmeal in the a.m. or mastering peanut butter and jelly bites. Many weeks I fall behind a ball: sometimes it’s grading, sometimes it’s writing, sometimes it’s parenting. The first day my wife went back to work and I was left alone with my son, I thought of what I wanted to say to that friend on the stoop. I wanted to spit out my Heineken. I wanted to slap his out his hand. I wanted to ask: “what the fuck are you talking about.” It was that afternoon I became convinced that we were going about this revolutionary thing the wrong way: that our actions didn’t need to be so ambitious or scopes so large. That if we were fortunate, there was one simple thing we could do as black men to bring about revolution: be good fathers. And as my son looked up at me, unable to even coo, I thought to myself: “Here’s your chance. Don’t fuck this up.”

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me at 19 or 20