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.

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

 

“It will get better”

Fred Duerson’s granddaughter, Imani Tuck, and her Hampton University Concert Choir singing “Close to Thee” in Washington, D.C.     

My friend Gayle White is one of the smartest, most talented writers I know. She posted this on her Facebook page recently, for those of us who have lost loved ones. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my father, who succumbed to  lung cancer in August. I miss his encouraging text messages which often included scriptures, I miss talking to him about politics, about sports, about the family we love so dear. I know my father was at peace with everything that happened to him in the last 18 months. He never stopped leading and ministering to his family, even as he faced a diagnosis of terminal cancer. We’ve lost other friends too, in the last two years — Bernard Charles McNair Jr., a dear friend and neighbor; Mable Jean Lockhart, our wonderful first lady; and Pauline Knight Ofosu, a wise, blessed woman.  We remember them with warm thoughts at the holidays at and always.

Gayle’s post gave me hope, so I’m sharing it here.

A deeply personal message to my friends who have lost someone special since last Christmas: You may be absolutely miserable and feel stabbed a thousand times as big and small memories flow in. You have to get through Christmas just as you got through visitation, memorial service, and the rituals of death. Once you’ve made it, a major hurdle will be behind you. The Christmas day after Bob died was the worst day of my life, worse even than the day he died. The family tried to practice enough false merriment to propel us forward but the seconds dragged by. At the end of the day I felt as if I’d completed a huge obstacle course. Each year since then has become brighter and I truly love the story, the tree, the music, the anticipation, the generosity of the season. So, please know that you are in a valley right now but you will work your way out. And know that many people who have faced what you’re going through are thinking about and praying for you this year. With love, Gayle.

After Gayle posted her note, Mike King — another friend and former colleague, posted this response:

Exactly! Thanks for sharing. The light indeed returns, slowly, with subsequent holidays — especially when you are surrounded by your loved ones. But the first is indeed an endurance contest, despite the best efforts of friends and family. It WILL get better.

 

The hate that hate produced

Dylann Roof epitomizes the phrase. He is hatred personified;  wrapped in a scrawny 22-year-old body. He is deranged. His trial is a farce which seeks  to answer one question: will the state execute a man who murdered nine people inside an African-American church in Charleston, S.C.?

In Roof’s crazed mind, he had to do it. Someone had to stop the terrible black people who were raping and murdering white people. “Our people are superior,” he told investigators.

He chose a church to carry out his carnage. I’ll never understand it. Never accept it.

The scenes out of the trial have been chilling. Video showing Rev. Clementa Pinckney welcoming people into  Mother Emanuel  AME Church. Video of Roof coming into the church, where dozens of faithful parishioners had gathered for Bible study last year. Their final act?  Welcoming a stranger armed with a Glock 45, who told police that his victims should have seen the gun because it was so big.

Roof sat in the church for 15 minutes, contemplating murder.  As those gathered in the historic church studied the word of God, Roof worried about his gun jamming.

Make no mistake, he is the hate that hate produced. If you think hate speech is harmless, I give you Dylann Roof. If you think you can play fast and loose with code words and it not have consequences, look no further than him.

He is pure evil.   As the state decides his fate, let’s remember the people who died as a result of his cowardly act. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, ministers, retirees. They left behind broken loved ones. They are the victims of misguided racial hatred that is as old as time.

 

The 3:30 a.m. wake up call

jamonAustin (left) and his cousin Jamon

This time, it wasn’t a tweet in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe. Instead, it was a 3:30 a.m. Facebook post from my daughter Carmen:  “Austin just woke up. He’s crying. I’m crying. Eek this is tough to explain.” Austin is my 10-year-old grandson. Like many of us, he was feeling the aftershocks of our new reality: President-elect Donald Trump.

Austin is a fifth grader in Cobb County, a mostly conservative Atlanta suburb. His school is predominantly white, but thankfully, he hasn’t experienced the sting of overt discrimination.  I pray he never will. His post-election tears, and the tears and fears of other young people are real. His concerns are for some of his Hispanic classmates. He’d heard Trump promise to deport people who are here illegally. Already, in schools across the country, Hispanic and Muslim children have been the target of bullying because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  After Trump’s win, Austin worried that his classmates who supported the president-elect would tease those students who wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

We were driving home from skating on Election Day when he told me that some of his classmates wanted Trump to win because he is a millionaire.   That doesn’t mean he’s a good person, I offered.  “My friends say Hillary Clinton had an affair.” No Austin, it was her husband who had the affair.  “Well why did she stay married to him? ”  Whew, this wasn’t a conversation I was prepared to have. But as parents and grandparents, we must always be ready to listen, explain and sometimes correct errors of fact.

The political and religious views of children are shaped largely by their parents. Austin’s classmates were parroting what they’d heard in their homes. Politics are often discussed in our home so Austin is very aware of how nasty this election cycle had become. He said early on that he didn’t like Trump because he was a bully.

This week, as I’ve listened to parents and teachers talk about the election’s effect on our children, I can’t help but feel sad. Our leaders are often role models for our children. Say what you will about President Obama’s policies, he has been an outstanding example for our children. He loves and respects his wife and daughters and has shown an unwavering commitment to education and mentoring.

Now comes President-elect Trump, who built his campaign on a lie about President Obama’s citizenship and has continued to sow seeds of racism and sexism. He has ridiculed women and disabled people, threatened to ban Muslims and created a culture of fear and anger.

My friend Charis, a teacher in suburban Washington, D.C. posted this on her Facebook page Wednesday.

Today was a hard day to be a teacher. In my literary magazine class I asked students to journal their feelings about America, the Election, and the president-elect. While there were definite varying opinions, so many of their responses hurt me to the core. This one came from the sweetest little girl, who also happens to be a Muslim and who proudly wears her hijab. Her last sentence moved me the most. #kindnessmatters

“I am really scared,” the student wrote. “America should have a better and kinder leader.”

As we endeavor to put this election behind us, let’s remember our children and listen to their fears and concerns for our country’s future. They are wiser than we know. And they soak in everything they see and hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please, don’t sleep on voting

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If you can’t stomach the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, think about  James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Or cast your vote with Viola Liuzzo in mind.

It would be easy to become jaded by the  insanity of this election cycle and decide to sit this one out. You  may be a young person who doesn’t see anything in these candidates’ messages which speaks directly to you.  Or you may view the major party candidates as so  disingenuous  you’re considering casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate.

I submit to you that neither is a viable option. Every election is an opportunity to make your voice heard. Voters in Cobb County did so recently when they sent Commission Chairman Tim Lee packing, in part because of his lack of transparency regarding the Atlanta Braves stadium deal.

And every election is a chance to exercise a hard-earned right. James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were attempting to register African-American voters in Mississippi when they were beaten and shot to death by the Ku Klux Klan.  Schwerner and Goodman were young men in their 20s who came from up North to help register black voters during Freedom Summer in 1964.  Chaney, a native Mississippian, had grown weary of conditions in his state, where he and other African-Americans  were relegated to second class citizenship.

A year later, near Selma, Alabama Viola Gregg Liuzzo was murdered by Klan members who saw her driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma. Liuzzo and her companion, Leroy Moton, were Southern Christian Leadership Conference volunteers helping to register black voters, who were routinely threatened and intimidated at the polls. Moton survived the attack by pretending to be dead. Luizzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, was shot in the face just shy of her 40th birthday.

Whenever I think about not voting, I remember something Rev. C.T. Vivian, a longtime civil rights activist now in his 90s, told me about why he and other protestors believed so deeply in what they were doing:  “We did it to fulfill our humanity.”

When you think about it, that’s not so different from today’s freedom fighters, who have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner to name a few. Voting in local elections ensures that the people who believe the same as we do lobby to improve police training and hire more officers who are sensitive to the needs and concerns of the communities they serve.

We are facing the most important presidential election in our nation’s history. Not voting on Nov. 8th shouldn’t be an option.

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Viola Liuzzo