Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Tale of Two Daycares


Last week I found myself in a pickle; in the choice making place. This upcoming fall, my son will finally be placed in a daycare, and perhaps, “Frat House Fridays” as I know it, will come to an end. He’ll be turning two, and having not known anything outside our daily home routines, will be making the biggest jump of his young life—I liken it to my first year of college, how my parents drove me to Stevens Point, how they helped me move in and took me out to lunch, how I insisted they leave me at the Taco Bell, how my mother cried as I sat drinking a Coke in the Taco Bell booth, feeling like a damn man.

Except I imagine he’ll clinch tight to my leg as I attempt to walk away, or perhaps he’ll hurricane through the child-center, huffing and puffing, blowing down everything in sight. Last week, we were told to drop him off and just walk away, quickly. Each daycare we visited swore by this. And I wanted to tell them that my kid may not be like the ten thousand you’ve come across. He likes to cry until he chokes, and chokes until he vomits, and vomits until he has your full fucking attention. I digress. So dear audience, I’m writing for direction, for advice. In a few weeks, because I’m teaching an intense summer course, my boy will begin a daycare trial run. We’ve narrowed the place down to two: the “Old Country Freedom” daycare, or the tightly run “Fort Knox” campus daycare (these of course aren’t the real names).

Old Country Freedom, or OCF, is located in a small building and offers three classes for the various age groups (infant, 2 year old, 3 year old/ pre K). The teachers are southern and laidback. They seem to interact with the children just as my Aunt Polly would: direct but good humored, relaxed and carefree—except they weren’t drinking box wine or chewing tobacco. But they were fun and caring, and the kids seemed to be happy, running around freely. We were told the children have the majority of their learning activities in the morning and late afternoon is kind of a free for all. I allowed my son to be a part of this free for all, and to my surprise he didn’t cry, even when I hid. In fact, he had made a few homies rather quickly. And he, Tremaine, and Will started baby talking through garbled words—I imagine my son was being asked what set he claims, where his grandmamma live, if he has any milk on him. I kept thinking, “son, don’t forget to throw the right hook we practice at home if they test you.” The negatives of this place were that the front door was unlocked, the playground area was extremely small, and well, how do I say, the teachers (who also changed diapers) seemed to be the cooks too.

Fort Knox campus daycare, or FKC, is located on what seemed to be a baby college, a campus if you will. The front of the building offers a nice horseshoe driveway (an efficient way of popping the babies in and out). And there was no walking right in because their front door was locked. There was even a parent on the other side who looked at us and then simply looked away to avoid eye contact, to communicate that we were out of luck without the FKC keycard. And once we finally gained access, the first thing I noticed were beautiful fish tanks and Mozart playing (in all honesty I cannot confirm nor deny the Mozart thing, but it helps the mood I’m trying to create—just roll with it). The first thing I thought was, “yep, this is where a professor’s kid should go. How can I say I love my kid and not send him to the Princeton of daycares?” As we toured the center, we saw a large number of rooms (I want to say each age group had two rooms) that were spacious, real efficient, and effectively separated. I peeked in one of the rooms and the kids seemed to be concentrating on an activity. And as I watched them, I couldn’t help but think of those futuristic movies in which kids are bred and taught levitation, spoon bending, and other crazy shit. I saw my son sitting in that room stiff and well behaved as a chair. I saw him uttering the words “yes ma’am, no ma’am.” I liked it. I didn’t like it.

In the back of FKC was a huge playground and, wait for it, a damn pool (wasn’t any pools at the daycares in the hood). I even asked if the kids swim, and of course our perfect tour guide responds, “With their parent’s permission. We have three certified lifeguards to teach them. Some who start as infants are great in the water by the time they leave here.” FKC had it all, even cooks with hazmat suits and wave caps. I wondered if even I would be allowed to pick my kid up at the end of the day. Perhaps I’d need to bring some sort of extreme verification, like a video of my birth.

The negatives of FKC are all the positives. I wonder if my child will get to be a child. And perhaps this is a result of me getting old and reverting to the “back in my day” proverbs. Because all I remember from daycare (which was the home of some chick my mother knew) was naptime, roaches, and playing with toys. Whenever I ask my mother about that lady’s house, I’m told I stopped going because the lady pinched and spanked us. I don’t remember that.

So there it is reader. I invite you to help me decide on where to send my child, OCF or FKC. I have laid out the pluses and minuses, positives and negatives. Feel free to login and post a comment. Let’s maybe start some dialogue, get my boy in daycare, and not look back.









My Heir, My Air

I wanted a girl. That was my secret; the image in my head since my first teaching gig. I was 19 when I became creative writing instructor at the Vel Phillips YWCA. This was a nonprofit community center in the hood, and it was my job to offer Langston Hughes to brown boys and girls who could care less. I remember having the romantic idea that I’d walk in the classroom, throw a book of Harlem Renaissance poetry on the desk, and kids would forget about the fight on recess, or dinner they didn’t eat, the bullet with an older siblings name on it. This didn’t happen. And while I can’t say all the students were resistant, the majority was. I tried everything I could think of. At the time I was a first year creative writing major at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. I gave my kids every stale writing prompt that was given to me: it didn’t work. I was also slam poet extraordinaire. I tried reaching into the basement of my gut to deliver spoken word performances: they found it “cool.”

I was almost out of shit until one day a little brown beauty in braids raised her hand and said: “Mr. Derrick, you wanna hear my poem.” Yes, yes. Of course I wanted to hear her poem. Her name was Jasmine, and she was 10. But she was more than 10 and adorable: she was sassy, tall for her age, confident, knowledgeable, well kept, and could knock out every single 10 year old in that classroom, boys included. She was everything, a blues child. And I didn’t blame the little boys for tugging at her braids, or little girls for declaring friendship. And looking back on it now, perhaps I wasn’t the creative writing instructor for that community center. Maybe I was merely Jasmine’s TA. Because once Jasmine declared poetry something cool, everybody wanted to be a poet. And once everybody wanted to be a poet, my life’s work as a teacher of poetry was set forth.

Jasmine and I were inseparable for the two years I worked that job. Each time she wrote a good poem, I gave her a new concept. Each time she familiarized herself with a new concept, I offered a new author. Each time she felt comfortable with a new author, I proposed a new way of seeing ourselves. I wonder how difficult it was for her to be both hood community center poet laureate and class enforcer. Each time a kid wasn’t paying attention or talking out of turn, Jasmine would shoot them a glare, one that made them weak in the knees (sometimes out of fear, other times in awe). She would sassily scream out, “Mr. Derrick my friend and he teaching us good stuff. Y’all the ones missing out”.  And by God they would listen. When I left that job at 21, I knew if I was fortunate enough to have a child, that I wanted a girl and I wanted her to be just like Jasmine; I wanted a warrior princess.


When my wife and I ran out of patience waiting for the doctor to tell us whether or not we were having a boy or a girl, we visited a women’s clinic to try and persuade them. They ran tests, showed pictures, and said although legally they couldn’t tell us, they were pretty sure what we were having, and if we look real close at the pictures, we should be able to tell too. I even tried tricking them. I was a few weeks away from receiving my PhD, and while we watched the fetus kicking on the screen, I blurted “Look at her, she’s so proud of her dad.” And the doctor responded, “Yes, yes she is.” I knew we were having a girl.

After leaving the women’s clinic, we went and celebrated over brunch. And I had Bloody Mary’s and showed ultra sound photos to strangers at the bar, petitioning them to determine our baby’s gender. I was that fucking guy. And I was going to have my very own Jasmine. I imagined us attending Ole Miss football games and her being the doll at the Grove (the Grove is the famous tailgating space at the center of Ole Miss’ campus), all dressed up in red, white and blue, braided head full of colorful barrettes. She would take our breaths away. I had grown tired of men and our boy shit: “Man, I need someone to keep the name going,” “I can’t wait to toss the football with my boy,” “I want him to be just like me,” “Every man needs an heir.” Often times the shit sounded right out of the middle ages and the privilege of raising a powerful princess always sounded more enticing: I’d make sure she destroyed simple misogynistic constructs, subvert shallow black girl expectations, and have the gab and game of a 1970s Chicago pimp. She would be out of this world.

And when we finally visited our primary doctor for that 20 week appointment, and she told us we were having a boy, I felt all those images crumbling. I saw the barrettes flying off my Jasmine’s head and her bright smile turning into a scowl. I saw that cute little dress turn to shorts, and then grass-stained shorts. I saw me telling him he could work harder, run faster, read more. I saw an extreme challenge. I remember a cousin saying our first kids are always the gender that provides the biggest challenge. I have no idea where he got this from. And when friends and family found out we were having a boy, the congratulations were exaggerated; somehow I’d done something special, I’d gotten a boy on my first try. And now that my son is a year and a half, I wonder if I, in fact, ever wanted a girl. Perhaps it was all a spirit trick. That a guy who believes in jinxes and supernatural forces saved his best Houdini for the gender gods, and even possibly, outsmarted them.


My Heir… my air…


Goodnight Sleep, Goodbye Sleep

I was sitting at a window booth in a downtown Boston restaurant/ lounge drinking a fancy bottle of merlot; across sat a dear friend. It’d been a while since we’d caught up. I’d recently moved to Mississippi. The obligations required of first year faculty limited free time. Boston was host to the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference. That’s why I was in town. Boston is also host to the Boston Celtics, and my buddy played point guard for the Atlanta Hawks. That’s why he was in town. It was the perfect coincidence; an excuse for us to convene, talk shit, reflect, retract, high-five, belt out the proverbial “remember when.” The past seven or eight years contained moments made for an HBO series. We’d exhausted every domestic vacation spot we could think of: Vegas, LA, Miami, Vegas, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Vegas. We’d passed out in clubs, in cabanas, in limousines, on carpet, on sand, on cold floors, on boats. We’d golfed at some of the nation’s most stunning courses; ate meals meant for a king’s court. We’d swallowed our twenties like a strong shot minus training-wheels. Our thirties, we imagined then, would be on the road, out of the country. That was before marriage, before kids. And on this night, now in our early thirties, we sipped and talked.

“I hope you don’t like sleep because that’s a wrap.” When he said that, I believed him. He had a jump on me in the kid department. His daughters were 2 and a half and 8 months. My son was 7 months, and I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon. There hadn’t been a night of uninterrupted sleep since we’d brought my son home from the hospital. And since doctors were monitoring a potential heart murmur, I spent many nights in the dark, beside his Rock-N-Play, watching his tiny chest go up and down—up and down. If you’re not careful, lack of rest can fuck with you like I’d imagine Chinese water torture does: one drop at a time; one night at a time. The first couple of weeks weren’t as bad. I’d expected no sleep. In fact, jumping up in the middle of night was a welcoming occurrence, an intimate act. There’s you and a baby in the dead of night. And if you believe in angels or ancestors, you know at this hour, they too, are present. I remember how he’d stare at me in these moments: the cute of his little cries.


“I’m seeing that man. And now he won’t sleep unless he’s in bed with us.” They tell you not to spoil them: that you should start sleep training early. And to “they” I tip my cap. Because we tried to be disciplined, to keep him in his crib at night, but he wasn’t having it. Neither were my eyes on mornings I tried remembering students’ names, staring out at their blurry faces. There wasn’t enough coffee to prevent me from jonesing like a high-strung crack-head. And I’m not sure if it was sleep or something else I desired. Maybe I needed to know that sleep was possible; that once upon a time I did sleep.

They’ll also tell you to sleep when they sleep. And that too is cute. And perhaps that works for some, but for me, him napping meant running to the computer to work. I’d never been a big nap guy anyways, and I think the nap gods were repaying me for all the folks I’d ridiculed. Some afternoons when work was caught up and he napped, I found myself staring at walls negotiating the significance of sleep. Do we really need sleep? I think I’d be ok never sleeping again. And many nights while he shifted sideways in the bed, I found myself smashed against the wall in an awkward fetal position considering the significance of sleeping and space. How much space does one really need? I mean, sideways, smashed up against a wall is good enough, right?


“So when do you sleep,” I asked him and forgot his response. I was thinking of how great I would sleep later that night. It was fairly early, possibly 9:30 p.m., and our conversation on kids had been coming to an end. I had a meeting early the next morning, but knew if I was in bed by 11, I’d have more than enough time to peruse a little Sportscenter, yawn and stretch, maybe dream a little. This was my first time away from the boy. The first time in 7 months I had sleep autonomy. We talked about the next time we’d meet up: Atlanta in a few months; we’d get our kids together for a play date. We’d be serious and responsible dads who, despite living in different places, made sure their kids were introduced sooner than later. We never discussed Europe or the Cayman; Puerto Rico or Jamaica didn’t come up. The check came around 10:30; we reached for credit cards, dapped each other, and traded praises. He told me to make sure I RSVP’d for his upcoming destination wedding in the Bahamas. I’d never been to the Bahamas and was excited. In fact, the mere mentioning of the Bahamas sparked remnants of a conversation we’d left hanging a year earlier.

“So whatever happened with ole boy and his girl?”

“Aw man, I never told you about that?”

“Nah, we didn’t finish that conversation.”

“Ok cool. You like calamari”

“Yeah, I love calamari.”

“Ok, hold on. Hey waitress, can we have an order of calamari and another bottle of wine.”

He leaned in, picking up the story exactly where he’d left it a year ago. I poured a glass of wine, the image of my resting body melting like the snowflake I followed outside, as it dove toward the concrete, and then became nothing at all.

I’m the man I’m the man I’m the man


Last week was an example of how erratic the head and house can be when all things culminate. If there’s such a thing as a perfect storm, it reared its beautiful ravage on Tuesday. Since I teach only on Wednesdays, Tuesdays are prep day. It is also tighten up the house day and get my ass to the gym day. But last Tuesday was none of these. It was my baby has a cough that is quickly shifting to sneeze, which really wants to be a cold day. It was how come his shits aren’t soft, to now he won’t shit at all, to I think he’s constipated day. It was whatever happened to that 300 dollar printer I bought for the house day.

I not only had 2 three hour classes to teach on Wednesday but was also giving a lunch keynote address for the Oxford Book Conference. And perhaps the blues content for the talk was apropos: because there was a harmonica in my head. And while my son’s nose cried, I swore I heard Ricky Bell’s (New Edition) adolescent wail: mama told me one day it was gonna happen but she never told me when, she told me it would happen when I was much older, wish it would’ve happened then.

I’ll always remember what my aunt told me when she found out I was going to be a father: “there are things you’ll know and you won’t have an idea how or why you know these things.” While there are dozens of instances where this has rang true, there are also times when I’ve juggled chaos and afterwards been unfamiliar with the man who’d done it. It’s like an out-of-body thing, an auto-pilot thing. Last week was that. And on Wednesday morning I awoke achy, a scratchy throat to boot. Then I went into my Zen mind-over-matter and you are what you say you are headspace. But concentrating is difficult when you ain’t slept and have three hours to complete your keynote, comment on a couple papers, read a couple poems, feed him, feed you, wipe his nose, pack three lunches (two for you, one for him), fish him an outfit, fish you an outfit, suction his nose, tidy a bit, bathe him, bathe and shave you, respond to emails, read his favorite baby book, wipe and suction his nose, play his favorite made up sign language game, and then finally, check with his mom to make sure you have all your ducks in a row: there’s always a “did you remember to” they’ll have for you. And when the nanny arrives, you like to give the impression that all of this is akin to lying in the lazy river. You like to gracefully complete the baby handoff and pimp-stroll through the front door. You like to get in your car, crank Frank Ocean, and pretend you’re leaving the spa. You like to pull into campus as if you too are a swaggered out college kid. And as you walk to your office, enveloped in Aloe Blacc’s crooning, and you can tell everybody, you feel cool. But actually, you’re the pimp from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka: fresh out of prison, an antique fish tank collapsing beneath your heels.