The Second Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

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By Trena Elizabeth Morton, guest blogger

Every Sunday and when Mama Chris had to speak before the church, she always began with “first give honor to God whom is the head of my life.” The bad ass in us children would mockingly giggle at the repeated phrase which would become one of her many great trademarks as a true soldier for Christ.  Mama Chris is now resting with the head of her life, but the testimonial preface lives on.  And once I truly established my own personal relationship with God, I adopted the same code.  So, with my chest poked out and head held high – FIRST, I give honor to God whom is the head of my life.

I am often asked and nearly encouraged to agree if being a mother is the best thing that ever happened to me.  The answer is unapologetically no.  I love my son and all aspects of my new role. However, without the best thing that ever happened to me, being a mother would never be possible.  I have no qualms in stating that falling in love with God first and making Him the head of life supersedes all things.  It was His grace that got my son, “Traf”, safely here.  It was His Word that carried me through the baby blues and harsh blows of being a single mother.  We thanked God for each day Traf woke up kicking during gestation, and continue to thank Him for every morning we see together.  God is and will always be the best thing that ever happened to me, and I am prayerful that Traf will grow up with the same foundation.

Now on to the second best thing that ever happened to me…

Being a mother was never high on my priority list.  I had always been indifferent about parenthood.  When asked if the role was for me, I had my stock answer:  “I would not mind, but would not die if life suggested otherwise.”   I dodged the pregnancy bullet with great care for many reasons, but mostly because I LOVED my life.  I enjoyed traveling the world, accomplishing personal career goals, and being footloose and fancy.  The adventures the art of courtship brought, pleasures of having an income restricted to me and only me, and the ability to move my feet in whatever direction I chose did not yield any need to change up my path.  I loved being super aunt and godmother to all the little souls that filled my heart. I did not have regrets from my childhood that I needed to restore with offspring. No unconditional love voids I needed filled. God gave me the greatest love a long time ago. My parents & village filled in every pertinent gap.  My drive and life’s lessons made every fear irrelevant.  Hear me when I say, I was GOOD!

But then, it happened.  My clockwork body was all thrown off, paired with a missed period, and for the very first time in my life I was faced with the possibility of “oops.”  I remember urinating on the stick vividly, and getting the instant positive result met with a negative reaction.  Not me, not now, not like this, and for the love of God – NOT with him!  Damn. Damn. And more damn.  The noise of “how” and “why” echoed loudly in my head.  Close friends told me to abort.   Mentors attempted to overshadow my decision with shame.  I found myself in a mental whirlwind questioning my ordered steps like never before.  I defaulted to the only thing I knew best and prayed to God to see me through.  With clarity near, the co-signature of my mother completely stroked my confidence with these words “You are MY child.  I built you strong.  You will get through this.  You can and I mean you WILL.  Now, get my grandbaby here!”

WE play the cards that we are dealt and play the hell out of every hand. Period.

To my son, my Traf, understand that you made it through birth control, six fibroids, advanced pregnancy age, and placenta previa.  I was told if I pulled this off, it would be uncomfortable.  My first trimester proved this to be true.  Vaginal delivery was practically out of the question.  I bled daily due to the anatomical threats my body possessed, which had me profusely checking to make sure it was “the right red” and I had not miscarried.  The smallest level of activity landed me under physician care and in bed.  Yet you were fighting for me, and you deserved the same in return.

We continued the fight.

By my second trimester, it was confirmed I would walk this journey sans partner.  This fact sent my surging hormones to unstable levels.  The lack of emotional support and abandonment from a ten-year “friendship” (quotes intended) hurt like hell.  There were days the frustration of staying strong and charging through brought me to my knees.  Which was always the prime position to break out my knee pads and pray.

We continue to fight.

By homestretch, several of the fibroids shrank and all were positioned to pose no real threats.  The placenta previa corrected itself.  Cesarean delivery was overruled, and we were prepping for your vaginal entry to the world.  Each visit to the OB and Specialist proved a healthy, developing baby boy.  Heart beat strong.  An outlier on the growth chart.  You were cooking and kicking to perfection.  With my penguin walk and swollen feet, we were in the clear.

We are winning this fight.

And we won.

On May 28, 2017, I pushed you into this world with everything you and I needed beside and for us.  I picturesquely remember our first skin-to-skin contact where you placed your hand down on my chest and pushed your tiny head up with all your might to look me in the face.  You were such a beautiful baby.  With your grey eyes, head full of silky coal-black hair, astute spirit, and full cheeks; you never looked or acted like a newborn.  You showed me another level of patience.  You strengthened my faith. You taught me the ultimate respect for myself and temple.  You taught me the magic of female anatomy and the superior craftsmanship in a woman’s work.   I can thank you for maturing my wellbeing.  My mind, body, and spirit have never been better aligned.

The infamous question of commitment goes “would you die for me”?  Traf, you took these words a step further by surviving for me.  That is an accolade no other human can take from you.  We will shake the earth together.  Side by side, we will move mountains.  I hustle harder.  I dream bigger.  My every step is taken knowing you are watching and believing in me.  I love you with every morsel of my being.  You, my son, are the second best thing that ever happened to me.  And for your choice in me, I will fight and defend you until the casket drops.

And my longest finger goes to…the Newborn Baby Manual

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By Trena Elizabeth Morton

Guest blogger

As a new mom, I started my journey just like the rest of us: obsessing over every detail of making sure my son’s life was perfect.

Wake up, pump, feed baby, change baby, stimulate baby, swaddle baby, nap, feed yourself, bathe yourself, sanitize everything, and keep your home maintained.  Keep track of all the 2017 parenting faux pas, adopt the “old school” methods that actually work (and won’t cause long term damage) ; while balancing the latest and ever-changing “new school” parenting commandments that are constantly being SHOVED down your throat respectively by your elders and peers.

Then, remember to keep up with your thank you’s, texts, social media posts, and missed phone calls.  Do all the aforementioned and much more while managing the recovery from vaginal or cesarean delivery, bleeding profusely, and coping with the “baby blues”.  Your head spinning yet?

PLUS, all the things and vices that would normally bring you stress relief are restricted.  No wine or cocktails as you are breastfeeding.  No exercise for six weeks.  No sex for six weeks.  No shopping because you are either broke or still packing on baby pounds.  The baby is too young for an excursion to temporarily change up your scenery.  You are stuck like chuck with the ultimate case of insecurities and unpretties and forced to deal with them “straight up with no chaser.”  Literally.

And then it happens, you snap!  You question what the hell you got yourself into, if you are even capable of pulling this new role off, if my child is normal, am I normal, do I like this new life, is my life over?  You find yourself staring in the mirror with your disheveled hair, in your pajamas or old sweats, looking at your forever changed body, noticing your engorged and possibly leaky chest, scrutinizing every blemish you ever had, tired beyond exhaustion, and crying without being able to explain why these tears are falling and you cannot make them stop.

WELCOME TO MOTHER LUVIN’ MOTHERHOOD!

If you are reading this and in that first six to eight week stretch, let me assure you that it does get better.  I promise, just hold on!  For me, better days came right at the moment that I threw away all the excessive rules and noisy advice; and began to raise MY son.  When I looked at him as a miniature version of me versus this fragile and foreign object, and simplified to plotting his needs just as I would my own.  And just like that I began to love molding Traf, as we affectionately call him, for the unique, happy, HUNGRY, side sleeping, chunky cheeked, advanced progressing, mitten removing, sock missing, tons of curly hair having, mild crying and snorty soul that he is.

Traf required 6 ounces when the world told us 4.  Traf is a stone-cold side sleeper when the world told us he must be placed on his back.  Traf does best with two teaspoons of plain, purified H2O versus over-the-counter laxatives to ease constipation.  And guess what?!? Traf is doing just fine.  Just like we were after drinking from the water hose, riding in the cabs of pick-up trucks, riding bikes without helmets, and eating peanut butter before the age of three.

I encourage you to know the rules and why they exist, yet know that sometimes the rules will not apply.  Know that what worked for Jack, may/may not work for Jill.  Know that no matter what you do or how perfect you plan, the throes of parenting will swing you in an imperfect direction.  Know that those tiny, bobbly head newborns are really resilient beings.  Know that ‘What to Expect” will still bring you the unexpected.

So, the only advice I have for new parents is to do YOU!  I mean it.  Sincerely.  From the bottom of my heart.  Do what works best for You, YOUR child, YOUR household, and YOUR marriage.

Here are 15 things I learned as a new mom

1. Your life is not over, just different. How you define that difference is up to you.

2. Infants really only need to be fed, diapers changed and loved. The rest is for our convenience.

3. Infants also only need onesies, sleepers & blankets. They will never wear 50% of those cute clothes you just had to have.

4. Deadbeat & absent parents should have their genitalia mutilated, jailed, and subject to work release from 9pm – 6am to soothe, feed and change 10 newborn babies under strict supervision until they sleep through the night.

5. Parents that physically, sexually & mentally abuse children should be starved, stoned, and tossed off a plane into the everglades.

6. It truly does take a village.

7. Postpartum depression is real. Being cognizant and having a good support system makes it manageable. No woman should ever feel ashamed for their baby blues, and we need to talk about it more.

8. You can glue two pieces of paper together with a baby booger and a little post feeding drool.

9. Parents MUST still date and find their “me” time. An occasional break is healing to the soul.

10. If you cannot afford the medical and lifestyle bills of children, you shouldn’t keep having them. Everyone needs help at times and we are blessed to live in a country that supports those that need it, but these babies are not meal tickets.

11. Folding your legs crisscross applesauce style and placing your baby in the folds is the original Boppy pillow.

12. Carrying and delivering a baby is practically miraculous. My respect for my gender and body has been taken to another level.

13. Saving for a college fund/your kid’s future is greater than purchasing name brand & designer apparel and shoes. If you can do both, kudos to you. If you cannot, the now investments are critical in setting your child up to thrive in this competitive world.

14. Teaching self-love & God’s love is more difficult than ever. Social media teaches our kids to look to the world for “likes”. Make sure we do not overly emphasize doing things for Facebook and Instagram.

15. Raise your tallest finger to a lot of the rules and advice, and rear your little bundle of love just as they were uniquely designed.

Here’s a solution the to sins of the South

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By Trena Elizabeth Morton, Guest blogger

My son will grow up seeing many different people dine at our dinner table.  He has bonus aunts and uncles who are white, Hispanic and Arab American . Some are  agnostic, Christian and gay. 

Most, and I do mean most of us, cannot say the same due to a pretty little word – preferences. Preferences are what wire us to buy homes in certain communities, love the same God yet attend church every Sunday with people who look just like us. Preferences cause us to date solely within our race,  hire this candidate over that one, and etc.  We are all entitled to our preferences. Those choices support the lifestyle and company we keep.  Just understand preferences breed natural biases that we are ALL guilty of.  No exceptions.

Oppression – prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control.

Close your eyes and let that definition permeate your mind a bit — really get in tune with how that makes you feel. Open your eyes, remove everything you know about history and where you think this blog post is going.

Now close your eyes again, and feel this definition with a PURE heart.  Guess what?!? It is impossible for most of us, because it is something we have truly never encountered. 

Give that reality, we should refrain from speaking passionately about what we do not know and cannot feel.  We should and do not tell someone that has been raped to “erase it” and move on.  We should and do not tell loved ones grieving the life of their significant other that “it is the past, get over it”.

Even though there is truth in the power of not letting the painful events of your past control your future, it is not our job to tell others who have experienced such pain how to feel.  My walk of life suggests that life will grant you enough personal battles; fight your own as they are the only ones you will honestly 100% relate to.  I digress…

In addressing the controversy of removing Confederate landmarks, it is important to note observations from both sides of Dixie line.  Both sides are passionately defending preferences.  Fact.  Blinded by preferences, both sides have consistently chosen to speak on emotions they cannot connect with.  Fact.  Tis is true we cannot erase a past that oppressed blacks for far too many moons.  Tis is true that such past should not continuously plague the black community and curse generations.  Agreed.  However, understand these mementos do not memorialize history.  They are essentially constructed monuments of “Southern Pride.” A pride that celebrates those that fought and died in a war primarily to protect the right to own slaves.  If we are truly portraying history, then it should be universally understood why that is offensive to select citizens of this country.

In the spirit of being solution-oriented, here’s an idea to appease both sides.  The South can keep all the statues and monuments of its Confederate heroes.  Yay!!!  However, if we are truly doing so in the name of history then we will erect counter Union statues that beat that ass to stand next to them.   Yay!!!  Because that is the true story of the South – aka history.

 Deal?!?  

Duke graduate shares advice about college life

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Levi Brice Edouna Obama, a 2017 graduate of Duke University, at Duke Chapel. Photos by: Mahnoor Nazeer.

Four years ago, Levi Brice Edouna Obama was a newly-minted graduate of Osborne High School in suburban Atlanta.  One of my church members, Danice Wilson-Bates, suggested I write about Levi in this space because he was such a dynamic and driven young man.  While at Osborne, Levi led recycling drives and encouraged his classmates to be good stewards of the environment. He was class valedictorian and made his parents — who moved here from Cameroon in West Africa — very proud.

A few weeks ago, Levi graduated from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina with a degree in biology. He’s taken the Medical College Entrance Test (MCAT) and plans to attend medical school after completing a year of clinical research.

Duke presented its share of challenges,  but Levi loved his experiences there and has some clear ideas on how to be successfully at an academically rigorous university.

One of his biggest adjustments involved the intensity of the coursework.  “You have three classes a day but they are jam-packed with so much information,” he said.  “Students shouldn’t wait to ask their professors for help, they should seek it immediately if they don’t understand something.

Learning to ask for help when you’ve never had to in the past is a huge change. But your success at a school like Duke depends in part on checking your ego at the door.

“Do not wait until a week before an exam,” he said. “Seek out people to help. Form a study group. You gain so much more through learning from others than you do by yourself. It took me about eight weeks in chemistry class to find the courage to raise my hand.”

Levi made an easier transition to the social and intellectual community at Duke.  “I loved to sit and talk to everyone and hear about their experiences because it was so far removed from what I had experienced. Duke’s student body is largely white and upper class. I didn’t realize how much wealth played a role in education so that was a huge thing to wrap my mind around.”

He worked as a resident assistant, served as a volunteer at Duke University Hospital and studied tropical biology in Costa Rica during the summer before his senior year.

His experience studying abroad was, “the first time i went anywhere by myself to a place outside of the United States.  I got to study with Duke students and students from other universities. Learning together and getting to know each other was amazing.”

Levi marched with others on campus when a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. decided not to indict the officer responsible Michael Brown’s death.  During his sophomore year, he was stunned to learn that an international student had hung a yellow noose from a tree on campus as a joke.

“For every black student, there will be a race incident,” he said of life on a predominantly white campus. “And you will have to come to terms with the fact that some people in your college community do not care about the issues you have to deal with.”

In his last semester at Duke, Levi’s father died of prostate cancer after a four year battle with the disease.  His father didn’t want his son to worry about his illness.  “He just told me to focus on what I had to do and that’s what I did. I did what I could for him when I was home. I tried to do right by him.”

Reflecting on his time at Duke, Levi says: “I honestly don’t know if i could have gone to any other place. It is so integral  to who I am now.”

For students heading to college in the near future, Levi offers this advice:  “Pick an institution based off the faculty and the opportunities provided to you.  You may have a faculty member who is a Nobel Laureate in literature or engineering. Or pick a college that has the major you like or that has a really great theater department.”

 

 

Our hearts beat on

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Cleaning out closets and drawers is a necessary evil. Especially when you are preparing to move. I make notes on scraps of paper and stick them in drawers and forget about them. Some are mundane: an address or phone number; a note about work or a household chore.

These notes stopped me cold. Seeing them again nearly two years later made the tears flow. I had jotted them down in a  tiny notebook I carry in my purse, a habit from many years as a journalist.  They were made in May of 2015 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington, Ky. while talking to a very honest and somber doctor who tended to my father when he came into the ER for shortness of breath.   Fluid. Infection. Cancer cells. An oncologist. Neurologist. MRI.  

“I can’t tell you it’s cancer, but all signs point to it,” he told us.  

At that moment, all our lives shifted to focus on our patriarch.  When the official diagnosis came a few days later it confirmed the early suspicions: stage 4 lung cancer. The kind that strikes non smokers. Non-small-cell lung cancer that had spread to the bone.

My father did not want to know the prognosis in terms of time. The doctors respected his wishes.  They ran tests, treated a mass on his spine with radiation and developed a treatment plan that included Tarceva, an oral medication taken by some patients if they are fortunate enough to be a genetic match. Thankfully, my father was a match. As a result, he was spared the suffering and side effects that often accompany chemo.

Watching my father died was like witnessing faith in action. For decades, he’d been a Sunday School teacher, a deacon in his church and an attentive husband and father.  He prayed daily and studied the Bible often. He openly shared his faith with anyone who would listen, including a chaplain who came to his hospital bedside to offer words of comfort  the day before he died.

As he dealt with cancer, he continued to be the leader of our family — constantly calling or texting to check on how we were doing. After he and my mother settled into their routine of doctor visits and monthly treatments and tests, they slowly resumed their normal activities: dinner at Red Lobster; church; visiting family and friends, and tending to their grandchildren.

Daddy was not interested in all the internet research my siblings and I were doing about innovative therapies and alternative medicine. He agreed to come to Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta for a second opinion but was opposed to any experimental treatments or trials. In his case, none were offered because he was responding well to the Tarceva.

Fred Duerson simply wanted to live the remaining days of his life as fully as possible. He took great joy in seeing his youngest granddaughter become a pharmacist, the first doctor in our immediate family.  He relished being able to attend my retirement party and one last family reunion in July of last year.

Then one August eveing a few weeks after his 80th birthday —  in the same hospital where we received that initial news — he died peacefully with his family by his side.

Not a day goes by that we don’t think about him, talk about him, miss him deeply. Grief is funny that way. Many days you feel fine. On other days  it’s all you can do to get through. Faith-based grief counseling  helped put my father’s life and death in perspective. Our loved ones are not our own.  I like to picture Daddy in heaven, reunited with his parents and siblings. Free of all pain.

The notes I found in the drawer the other day reminded me of the short, sweet text messages he sent to me during the year after his diagnosis.  Hello Angela, how are you doing today?   On some days, the message was a passage of scripture meant to encourage me. His favorite was Psalm 27.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”

This Psalm of comfort is a great reminder of God’s love for us. We can rest on his promise that no matter what happens, his presence is a blessed assurance.

For more information on grieving and for a list of classes in your area, go to www.griefshare.org

 

Talladega College band should march for America, says civil rights dean

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Dr. Bernard LaFayette led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s campaign to fight povery in 1968. He was a 1961 Freedom Rider and one of the leaders of Selma’s voting rights efforts, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Dr. LaFayette has taught Kingian nonviolence all over the world. He lives in Atlanta and Tuskegee, Ala.
     Back in the day, when ministers, maids, college students of all races and Jewish sympathizers boycotted buses and staged sit-ins at lunch counters, department stores and movie theaters, they had a plan.
     Part of that plan was disarm their detractors and win over their would be oppressors, says Dr. Bernard LaFayette, who led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s campaign in 1968 and the Selma voting rights movement among other social justice efforts.
     Dr. LaFayette makes a strong argument that the Talladega College band —  which accepted an invitation to march in Friday’s inauguration parade before Donald Trump was elected president — should take part in the parade, rather than boycott it, as some alumni have suggested.

“We have to work on teaching our young people that we have to win people over, said Dr. LaFayette. “If they disagree with what we stand for we don’t alienate ourselves from them, we need to engage them.”

         In a recent interview on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,”  Talladega College president Dr. Billy C. Hawkins said several individuals and groups had stepped forward to donate money to help the band pay for the trip to Washington, D.C.  Students at the small private college in Talladega, Ala are anxious to show the world their musical talents, Hawkins told Joyner.

Joyner established The Tom Joyner Foundation, a Dallas-based non-profit organization which raises money to send students to historically black colleges and universities.

         According to Fox News, more than $620,000 had been raised for the band. Several donations came in after Hawkins’ appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

When considering a boycott, Dr. LaFayette said the debate should always be, “What can one gain by not going and what do they accomplish if they do go.”

“We need all the support we can get for our black colleges,” he said. “If they are invited, they should accept the invitation and look at it as the presidency rather than the president.”

“You don’t have to agree with the president, but we agree that we need the presidency. It doesn’t mean they agree with everything Trump stands for.

During the protests of the 1950s and 1960s — which led to major legislation such as the Voting Rights Act — “we demonstrated the non-violent approach to dealing with adversaries. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got on the phone and talked to President John F. Kennedy and went to see President Lyndon B. Johnson. That’s the only approach we can use with Trump.”

A tale of the tape: Rep. John Lewis vs. President-elect Donald Trump

 

This really isn’t a fair fight. But hey, Donald Trump went there when he insulted Congressman John Lewis via Tweet Saturday saying the civil rights icon is all talk and no action. Trump added insult to injury by tweeting that Lewis’s congressional district is a crime-ridden disaster. This came after Rep. Lewis (D-Georgia) said in an interview that he did not consider Trump to be a legitimate president because of Russian interference in the presidential election.

Trump is in serious need of a history lesson (not to mention a primer on the First Amendment).

So let’s go:

John Lewis: One of the leaders of the Nashville Student Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  (S.N.C.C.) while attending seminary in Nashville. Was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. Lewis’s original speech was so controversial, organizers of the march asked him to tone  it down.

Donald Trump: Received alarge sum of money from his father to get started in the real estate business.  Made a name for himself as a successful businessman despite the fact that many of his business practices have faced legal and ethical questions.

John Lewis: One of the original Freedom Riders who took part in the Congress of Racial Equality’s May 1961 effort to test desegregation laws on interstate buses in the Deep South. Lewis and other Freedom Riders were attacked and beaten by angry mobs in Alabama while authorities did little to help the victims. C.O.R.E. was forced to suspend the rides.  After 400 Freedom Riders of all races were arrested in Jackson, Miss. for breach of the peace, the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered an end to segregated conditions on Greyhound and Trailways buses later that year.

Donald Trump: Was sued for housing discrimination in New York City after teams of testers found that he and his father discriminated against would-be tenants who were African American and Latino.  The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Trump’s companies have faced several lawsuits over the years from contractors, business colleagues and people who believe they were misled by leaders at Trump University.

John Lewis: Was beaten and nearly died on the Edmund Pettus Bridge between Selma and Montgomery while marching for the voting rights for African Americans. The efforts of Lewis and other protesters led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Donald Trump: Was caught on a hot mic making lewd comments about women.

John Lewis: One of the longest-serving and most respected members of Congress. When asked when he might retire, Lewis said in 2011: “Retirement is not in my D.N.A.” adding that he has more work to do for justice and freedom before he leaves this earth.

Donald Trump: Fired Omarosa and Gary Busey on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Serious Donald Trump? You don’t want it with Congressman John Lewis.