Thursday, May 28, 2020

Some Birthdays Bring Cheers, Others Bring Fear

Image Source: Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (2005). Adapted: Ellen Tuzzolo (2016); Mary Julia Cooksey Cordero (@jewelspewels) (2019).

My nephew celebrated his fourteenth birthday this week. It came on the heels of the “liberal” white woman in Central Park who called the cops on a Black man when he asked her to leash her dog in an area of the park where leashing dogs is required. She donned her best frantic voice and lied to the dispatcher about him attacking her as he calmly recorded her antics. That same week, four police officers in Minneapolis used undue force to asphyxiate a Black man accused of writing a bad check. Both instances were not only blatantly racist but showcased how remarkably dangerous this country is for Black men. Every time an instance such as this one, or the list of other times innocent Black and Brown men have been murdered with no consequences for their killer, my mind immediately goes to my nephew.

He is a beautiful deep brown with curious dark eyes, wonderfully curly hair, a deepening voice and is most likely on the cusp of a growth spurt. Like other boys his age, he loves sports, spending time with his friends, and asserting his independence. All of these qualities are perfectly normal for kids his age. The difference is that the more he grows, the deeper his voice, the more of a menace he becomes even if he isn’t doing anything menacing. With every year we celebrate his life, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll get to celebrate another one. That fear often overshadows the milestones he looks forward to, as all kids do. Will he get to play a sport on his high school team? Will I see him all dressed up for a homecoming dance? Will he get to rent a tux and take awkward photos that we’ll laugh about as we reminisce about his prom? I hate to admit that I don’t like to think about those moments for fear they’ll be ripped away if he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But these days, what exactly is the wrong place at the wrong time when Black and Brown people have been murdered by law enforcement in their own homes — their own beds while they slept? Of course our family has talked to him about all the factors we hope will help him survive an encounter with the police or angry white people: don’t talk back; keep your hands where they can see them at all times; don’t raise your voice; never make any sudden moves; and never ever run. I wonder how many of my friends who love and raise white boys have had those same conversations. How many of them fear their sons and nephews might be stopped on the street by a cop or citizen vigilante for no reason and be buried three days later. Do their hearts speed up at every headline of a young male murdered for doing mundane things like going for a run, playing with friends in a park, or walking down the street with iced tea and Skittles the way I do? Have they ever hugged them goodbye and taken a mental photo of their skin and tried to memorize their smell in case that is their last hug? Have they ever hesitated to talk about their sons’ or nephews’ futures for fear of painting a picture they are afraid may never happen?

These were the thoughts I had when thinking about his fourteenth birthday. I also remembered the day he was born. He was the first baby born to our family in a few decades. I lived two blocks from the hospital so I walked there on a beautiful spring day. I felt nervous to meet the first little person who would call me their aunt. Having had a close relationship with my aunts, I didn’t take the role lightly. I felt a strong responsibility to protect him the moment I saw his tiny body swaddled in the hospital baby blanket. I wanted to be his friend, ally and confidant as my aunts had been to me. My aunts influenced my childhood in so many ways and I wanted to do the same for him. I envisioned sleepovers where I spoiled him with too many treats, and birthdays and holidays where I gifted him elaborate, over-the-top-totally-unnecessary gifts. I wanted to see him marvel at the world and have experiences I never had. I looked forward to having the types of conversations I had with my aunts, where I looked for advice or asked them to help me figure out how to approach my mom about something important to me. More than anything, I looked at his tiny face and wanted everyone who met him to love him instantly, the way that I did. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could purposely hurt this perfectly made little human.

While I love to see the man he is becoming, with his natural inclination to help others and keen eye for business, there are people out there who could and would willingly snuff out his life and then go home and enjoy a roast with their families as if nothing happened.

It infuriates me that the loss of his chubby cheeks and toothless smile means that others view him as a threat simply for existing. He is guilty until proven innocent, even if innocence comes post-mortem, as many other Black and Brown boys who came before him — from Emmett Till to Treyvon Martin, and Antonio Arce. When I look at him, I see an ambitious entrepreneur who likes to tell jokes and is fiercely protective of his younger cousins. In his smile I see my sister, my dad and myself. In his eyes I envision all the things a young man should see in his lifetime — a life lived in freedom that spans decades. Yet, I am reminded every day that the likelihood of his future playing out as I imagine — as he deserves, will be a struggle he will battle every day.

The reality of his life’s trajectory is that he is highly likely to be stopped and suspected of a crime and be punished a lot more harshly for whatever discretion he is accused of. In the simplest of acts he will be judged as hazardous and whether guilty or innocent, will face harsher-than-necessary consequences, including wrongful death at the hands of people who do not value his life. While I love to see the man he is becoming, with his natural inclination to help others and keen eye for business, there are people out there who could and would willingly snuff out his life and then go home and enjoy a roast with their families as if nothing happened. It not only worries me into anxious fits, it disgusts me to my core.

Seeing videos and reading about the incessant inhumane treatment of Black and Brown people is poisonous to my soul. It pervades the very fabric of everything around me. Like a venom, it travels through me and leaves me tired, hurt and dumbfounded. How do humans dare decide that other humans are not as fit as they to inhabit this earth? How do they justify creating systems across all spectrums of life that unabashedly hurt others? Where do they find the heartlessness to inflict pain on others who have not hurt them in any way?

As these questions swirl in my head and I struggle to carry the heaviness of hopelessness it brings, I am asked to give guidance to those who want to help. I am expected to be forgiving and to accept excuses ranging from, “If only he would have done what the cop/angry white person demanded of him, none of that would have happened,” to, “Black on Black crime is bad, too.” I am expected to be comforted with thoughts and prayers from people who could not inconvenience themselves to work for a change to the systems and lifestyles that fed into the violence to begin with. I am invited to participate in vigil after vigil, protest after protest when what is really needed is for people who do not look like me or my nephew to make changes that go beyond posts on social media and prayer-hand emojis.

And please don’t ask me what you can do as a white person to help this situation. Google that shit like you would a sourdough bread recipe and do what countless people of color have been asking of you for ages. Follow the advice and recommendations of the scholars and advocates who have devoted their lives to fighting injustice and bigotry and do the things that seem the most radical and uncomfortable to you because what is happening to kids like my nephew is some of the most radical and uncomfortable and deadly shit you can imagine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I Drank Half My Weight in Water for a Month with Unexpected Results

We’ve all heard that eight glasses of water per day is ideal for a bunch of different health benefits. It’s vital to human survival and over half our body is composed of water. It’s been studied and refuted and new claims about the benefits of water are made almost weekly. I’ve been told to drink more water for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I have never liked water. While that is probably the most classist, privileged thing I’ve ever written, it’s true. As a kid, when I would tell my mother that I was thirsty, she’d say, “Drink some water,” and I would get upset. I saw it as a punishment. Why would I want to drink water when there is so much liquid deliciousness out there? I wanted my water to share space with food coloring, lots of sugar and some bubbles. 

As a fat kid, my mom worried about my health and would try to come up with creative ways to get me to drink water, or she’d refrain from buying the soda and juice I loved. Most times, all I had to choose from was milk or water. I always chose milk. Even when I was a sweaty mess from playing outside all day, water was not appealing. The only time I remember being excited to drink water and doing so voluntarily was when I’d drink it straight from a garden hose in the yard. Yes, it was gross but at the time, especially when I was one of half a dozen kids drinking from that same hose, it was somehow sweet and satisfying. 

As I became a more health conscious adult, I bought fancy water bottles with cute sayings and carried them around in hopes of consuming more water. Most of those water bottles ended up lost and I am pretty sure they were still full of water when found by their new owners. I tried infusing my water with limes and blueberries and other fruit that would make it more appealing. Aside from the citrus, I thought the water tasted like grass (yes, I have eaten grass - I’m an adventurous eater) and it didn’t increase my desire to hydrate.

I gave up trying to meet any water consumption quotas long ago. I’d drink whenever I remembered, which was usually during or after a workout and that was about it. I preferred anything but water with my meals, usually opting for agua fresca (AKA fresh fruit juice with plenty of cane sugar) or iced tea. I didn’t notice any health effects and didn’t give it much thought. Afterall, I was young and healthy and all the talk about water was boring and seemed like something for older people to worry about.

Fast forward a few decades, and I became one of those older people and the thought of water wasn’t as repugnant. With age came some changes to my body that made me think differently. The tipping point, when it came to water, was my skin. I began having breakouts in response to stress. I tried various ointments, washes and dermatologists but nothing cured it and it seemed to get more annoying and noticeable over time. It was like I was growing additional siblings via my skin and it bothered me. I got online and read about adult acne and various treatments. I bought face masks and scrubs and spent an embarrassing amount of money on vitamins, serums and supplements. Nothing cleared up my skin for more than a few weeks at a time. 
While visiting a friend in Ohio, I saw a news segment that featured an esthetician who specialized in adult acne. She talked about the factors that contribute to it and the treatments and plans she had developed to combat it. I made an appointment. Before seeing her she emailed me a questionnaire about my lifestyle, which included a super-long portion about my eating and drinking habits. Long story short, she preached the benefits of water. She recommended drinking half my weight in ounces of water per day. Record scratch- half my bodyweight in water per day?!?!? I barely drank a cup a day, but half my weight would be A LOT more than that! But, I was so fed up with my acne that I was ready and willing to try anything.

Per her recommendation, I kicked dairy and soy out of my life, too and committed to drinking water every minute of the day (at least that’s how it felt the first few days). I carried my water bottle everywhere and made the most concerted effort of my life to keep it with me and filled with cold water. I recorded how many days I met my goal. After meeting it once or twice, my competitive nature kicked in and I was a water-chugging machine. As the weeks passed, I noticed several changes.

My Bladder
I had always joked that I  bladder the size of a pea. Drinking water all day long confirmed this. Not only did I urinate more often, but it wasn’t a tickle that I could ignore. From one second to the next I would go from being fine to my bladder on the verge of exploding. I couldn’t be too far from a bathroom at any given time or I risked an accident. If I was driving, I often stopped at gas stations to pee, even when traveling short distances. I began to structure my life around my bladder. For example, I began assigning a lot more in-class group work in my classes so I could run to the bathroom while students worked. I really had to think about what activities and places I was going to and whether or not it would allow me easy access to a bathroom. It changed my perspective on a lot of activities and made me think a lot more about accommodations and people who have special needs.

My Hair
This was a pleasant surprise. I have ringlet curls that I have to moisturize weekly and when I don’t it gets unruly and breaks. Not only was I able to go longer between deep conditioning treatments, I was able to use dry shampoo for the first time! All the dry shampoos I had ever tried had dried my hair and I always regretted trying to take that shortcut. However, my curls had more bounce so I gave it another shot. I was pleasantly surprised. I finally got to shake my head and catch a whiff of the shampoo’s fragrance like the women in shampoo commercials! The increased moisture allowed me to try new styles and go an extra day or two between washes, which for those of you with curly hair, you know that the longer you go without washing, the better your curls look!

My Sweet Tooth
I am a cookie girl. I like almost all kinds of cookies and can’t pass up brownies and other pastries. When it comes to cake and pie, I am friends with most of those as well. But, knowing I would not be able to enjoy these with a tall glass of cold milk took away their appeal. I tried getting it back with substitutes like coconut, oat, almond, and cashew milk but none of them had the flavor or consistency of cow’s milk and after spending a small fortune on the various forms of alternative milks, I decided to count the loss as a win. I didn’t need the sugar, anyway. 

My Sleep
I no longer needed to set an alarm clock (see My Bladder). I am a light sleeper and do not sleep much more than five to six hours in a row and stayed within that range, although I slept closer to four or five hours most nights before having to hit the bathroom.

A Totally Unexpected Outcome
My favorite part of the day had always been the moment I whipped off my bra when I got home. After my bladder went from slow warnings to urgent streams that burst forth with a vengeance, the relief I felt when I peed rivaled the relief of releasing the girls after a long day trapped in a bra.

After the Month
Unfortunately, after a month of this experiment, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. It changed my entire routine, which included my drinking habits. I went back to carrying around a water bottle but not drinking much of it. As the weeks of quarantine dragged on, I challenged myself to drink more water but given the toilet paper shortage, I didn’t want to pee so often so I decided to give myself a smaller goal. I have stuck to drinking one-third of my body weight in ounces of water. After three weeks of this reduced water in-take I didn’t see many changes to how my body responded, with the exception of a calmer bladder. My curls are still hydrated, my battle with acne still rages on, I sleep about the same but not because I have to go to the bathroom. 

The biggest change I noticed is that my sweat smells stronger. When I was drinking 70+ ounces of water per day I didn’t smell my sweat at all after a good cardio session. After I cut out some ounces of water, I noticed a more noticeable, pungent smell creeping from my hair when I work out. Thankfully, it isn’t overpowering or overtly noticeable but since it did not exist before, I definitely noticed it.

I started this water thing for my skin, so how did my skin react?
This is where my expectation was different than expected. I started this experiment to clear my skin. However, my breakouts were unfazed. But, overall, my skin had a different flush. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it glowed, but it was smoother and someone commented on how good my foundation looked on a day I wasn’t wearing any. That felt nice, but overall I was disappointed that I was still battling the same acne. 

The Final Outcome
I started on my water drinking binge for one purpose: to clear up my acne. Water in-take had zero impact on that. Were the other changes enough to keep stretching my bladder to its capacity several times a day? Nope. While I liked how my hair reacted, I get similar results from weekly deep conditioning treatments, which I don’t mind doing. I still do not prefer water over other beverages but will commit to drinking at least 1 water bottle per day and choosing water over other drinks during meals because I still believe that it’s better than sugar alternatives. I will also continue to choose non-dairy alternatives because it helped curb my sweet tooth and that is a welcome surprise.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

40 Lessons in 40 Years

40 year old me has a lot to teach 14 year old me.
While 40 seemed like the oldest of old when I was a kid, I feel like I got here pretty damn fast. In that time, life has taught be a bunch of lessons that I have learned over and over again because I am stubborn and because I didn't always see the lesson for the pain. I am still a flawed work in progress but as I live and learn, these are some lessons that stick out.

  1. If you choose to help someone who is hurting, you may be hurt in the process.
  2. Saying no is a complete sentence in itself and can help you establish boundaries, for which you should not apologize.
  3. No one wakes up happy every day, I don't care how much their social media feed tries to make you believe that. It takes a conscious effort on a regular basis.
  4. Having had a lot of sad moments/days I often felt like I was failing at life but sadness is a feeling like any other and deserves respect just like the more positive feelings.
  5. Having boundaries and sticking to them for your own sanity is not selfish and does not require apologies.
  6. There are so many instances where women are expected to put themselves last or after others. Being a wife, mother, sister, daughter, business-owner, friend all seem to have more value than the woman herself. Screw that. Love yourself enough to make yourself a priority. It'll make many of these lessons much easier to live by.
  7. Set limits and you'll see that your kids/partners/friends and family will still love you and in the end, you can empower others to do the same.
  8. Accepting myself and others as a work in progress and not taking things so personally because it's not all about me.
  9. I spent a lot of time catering my life to what others thought of me. It made most of these lessons feel impossible. Once I realized that what those people thought of me wasn't changing my life in any way, I felt free.
  10. When all else feels too difficult, try to be kind - to yourself and others. It makes a world of difference for all involved but it's not easy to do. I still work on defining what is kind to myself but I won't stop trying.
  11. I cannot love away trauma. Love can guide my actions but there needs to be a lot of other tools in the mix.
  12. I read that you can be a warning or an example to others. Both have been profound teachers in my life.
  13. We should work harder to have integrity than to have material items. When we're gone, our integrity is really what we leave behind and will form our legacy. I've seen this so many times as a widow.
  14. My voice is a powerful tool and I have to yield it accordingly. Just because I have an opinion/thought, doesn't mean I have to say it every time. I work on this daily.
  15. I have seen more acts of faith in situations on the streets than in a church. Faith is such a personal thing, it can't be limited to one place, once a week.
  16. Self care is important - take that bath, nap more often, eat the chocolate. But, that won't heal trauma, pain, sadness, depression or anxiety. I preserve my mental health with therapy, healthy coping skills and trying various outlets for healing. They have saved me when nothing else could.
  17. Everyone needs therapy. No one can stay stable and pursue happiness on their own all of the time (see #3). My therapist has cheered me on in good times, offered an unbiased perspective, and held me accountable when others could not.
  18. I am not ashamed of my anti-anxiety medication. If my heart were faulty, I'd change my diet, take meds, etc. to keep it ticking. My mind is just as important as my heart. I have to treat it with the same persistence in order to live an all-around healthy life.
  19. Moving my body strengthens my mind. Mind-body connection is a real thing and it has been a powerful tool in my healing and coping.
  20. If I want sex, I should go for it. If I don't, I can say no without an apology. I wish I had learned this decades ago.
  21. Not everything is worth the mental exhaustion of a fight. Sometimes sucking it up and moving on has been the best thing towards managing my mental health.
  22. I didn't realize how critical sleep was to my overall health until I could no longer sleep more than 2–3 hours at a time.
  23. Sometimes my body and mind call for a day or two of taking it easy. Those moments are essential. I used to think I was wasting time if I wasn't on the go all the time but have learned that I need to recharge sometimes so I can give 100%.
  24. I can easily jump to conclusions and have to work on this constantly. I also overthink things and jump towards the negative. It is rarely helpful and I have to remind myself of that before I go too deep into false conclusions.
  25. I used to say there weren't enough hours in the day but then I realized I needed to get better at saying no so that the 24 hours work for me.
  26. Any time I have the potential for success, I have an equal chance for failure, which has always terrified me. I have had to accept that failure can happen and have seen time and time again that failure won't be the end of the world. This has allowed me the freedom to take the risks necessary to meet my potential.
  27. I can't think of a single regret that isn't from something I didn't do. Even failures served as lessons and led to something positive. But not doing something I should have done always affects me negatively.
  28. Some people don't want to be helped or help themselves. It's hard to walk away from them when I love them but I have been unsuccessful at helping those who don't want to be helped or refuse to help themselves.
  29. Whenever I've been surrounded by drama, I have found myself being sucked into more of it, like vicious cycle. Now, I avoid it like the plague.
  30. I have never seen revenge work out the way the perpetrator expects. I have seen it eat up a person's life and create a barrier to their healing. I prefer karma to do its thing.
  31. I am not naturally optimistic. I have to work at it all the time. It's not easy but I try to recognize when I am getting negative and move away from whatever I'm doing to exacerbate that because it can get out of hand. With positivity, I often fake it till I make it believable to myself.
  32. I will never be perfect - not for me, or for everyone else. Trying to be is unhealthy and I need to stop and remember that I am flawed, we all are and that is nothing to be ashamed or try so desperately to hide.
  33. I used to think it was vulgar to drop the F bomb until I started using it more often. It is so versatile! It needs more love and respect so I sprinkle it into my day as often as needed.
  34. I love hacks but when it comes to the things I have accomplished, from careers to health, there were no shortcuts, just a lot of hard work, strategic decisions and sacrifices.
  35. I have many loves and have spent lots of time exploring how to monetize them but it has taken them from hobbies and enjoyable talents to "work". No thanks. I prefer to continue to have hobbies I enjoy that have nothing to do with my income sources.
  36. I need more naps in my life.
  37. It's super hard to bite my tongue but it has saved me a lot of grief. It's something I continue to battle.
  38. I love the friends I have chosen. We love, support and respect each other. We also have spats, get on each other's nerves, and take breaks from each other - just like family.
  39. There are days when waking up is the best I can do. I used to beat myself up about it but I have come to realize what an accomplishment that can be and I am learning to see it as progress when that is all I can offer the world.
  40. Sometimes a little thing makes me smile and while it often takes thought and peace to find that one thing when I am intentional about finding those reasons, it becomes easier to find more.

Contact Me


Email *

Message *