A real honour

I am a big believer that everyone we come into contact with, we do so for a purpose. As the saying goes – some for a reason, some for a season. A few years back, I organised a community event. A woman from a local church came along and asked me if she could write up an article about the event in her church newsletter. I was very flattered and of course said yes. A year or so later, I met her again when she came to the local library to attend my mixed race exhibition. So I was really astounded when I received a phone call from her, asking me to speak at a Black History Month event.

There were numerous speakers lined up to share their knowledge and experiences at the event. I was so overwhelmed to have been asked to share my experiences of being part of a mixed race family. The lady in question has a niece who is mixed race whom she had asked to speak about her experiences growing up as a mixed race woman.

I was asked to speak for ten minutes and after sitting down and thinking about what I wanted to say I soon realised that I would need to heavily edit all that was buzzing around in my mind if I wanted to stay within my ten minute time frame.

Unfortunately, the day of the event clashed with a birthday party that my daughter had on the other side of town. And you know children and parties, you just cannot drag them away half way through a party… It meant that I turned up half way through the event. My daughter and I crept into the back and scanned the packed room looking to see if we could find a spare seat. Just as we edged our way to a seat, I heard the MC announce my name! I quickly had to put my bags down and asked my daughter to wait for me. She wasn’t having any of it though, and wanted to come up on stage with me. So up we rushed to the front together.

My daughter quietly stood listening to me as I started by discussing the mixed race exhibition that I held and what had prompted me to do this. I mentioned the kinds of reactions that I had received from other people, both good and bad. I also spoke about some of the situations that being part of a mixed race family had bought to my attention. Some of which I have discussed in this post, such as misrepresentation in dolls, books, greetings cards and of course – hair care! At this point, my daughter chipped in with ‘And I don’t like people touching my hair!’ The crowd erupted with laughter and I couldn’t have been more proud.

Proud that she had the confidence to speak in front of a huge crowd of adults. Proud that she could is a girl that will stand up for herself if she doesn’t like something or feel comfortable with something. Proud that she knows that she has the right to exert her own opinion.

We finished the talk soon afterwards and went to join the rest of our table. What we didn’t realise is that just before we had come on stage, the lady’s niece had been talking about her experiences of growing up mixed race. One thing that she had particularly commented on was that as a child she hated people touching her hair  and especially without asking first.

It was a fabulous evening and we were inundated with people coming up to tell us  about their experiences of being part of a mixed race family and how much they enjoyed being part of a multicultural city. And of course the majority of the praise was reserved for my daughter who definitely stole the show as well as everyone’s hearts. It was a wonderful atmosphere, with people from all backgrounds celebrating the diversity in our little pocket of Birmingham; I knew then that this small minded comment from an ignorant person which had prompted the exhibition, had only made us stronger and more cohesive.

 

Kids TV…. seems it’s start them young when it comes to a lack of representation

Dont get me wrong, I like Doc McStuffins, so this is not an attack on Doc; I’m actually really glad she’s become so popular. I don’t have Disney Channel so I can’t confess that I watch Doc McStuffins on a regular basis. The only thing that I really know about her is that she heals her sick toys. Oh, that and the fact that she has brown skin.

Because of this, my daughter has the Doc Mc Stuffins bag, carry case, towel, cushion, stuffed toy, microphone, colouring books, pencil case, sandwich tin, book, umbrella – you name it, we have it!

Doc McStuffins is, as far as female Disney characters goes, one of the better role models by a long shot. She is a doctor; an admirable career. (In fact, recently, when my Dad asked my daughter if she was going to be a nurse when she grew up as she was pretending to take his temperature, she repilied ‘no, a Doctor’ . That’s the spirit!) She is caring, thoughtful and independent and best of all there’s not a handsome prince in sight!

However, I cannot help but find it really sad that my daughter has quite so much Doc McStuffins paraphanelia, simply because there are no other vaguely mainstream childrens characters with dark skin. I admit that I am as bad as anyone else for continuing the Doc McStuffins mania. When buying gifts for other children, I go for Doc McStuffins over any other Disney princess or countless other Caucasian characters, simply because there is nothing else there. And when I’m buying for my daughter I’m guilty of the same. If it’s a choice between Doc or Sophia or Peppa for a water bottle or a pen, Doc wins every time.

Granted, there are numerous characters suitable for pre schoolers; Peppa Pig, Hello Kitty, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, that are based on animals and therefore have no real characteristics linked to a particular heritage. I say no ‘real’ characteristics as there are characters such as Rastamouse, in which most of the mice have a Jamaican accent and speak with a sprinkling of patois. However it’s unfortunately not surprising that even at such a young age, representation in mainstream media is so poor for non – Caucasian children.

In many cartoons there is usually a token character with darker skin in the same vein that there’s a token character with a disability. Take Fireman Sam or Postman Pat as examples. But where are the darker skinned heroes and heroines?

In television shows there are a couple of TV characters that my daughter has started to identify with – unfortunately they are again side kicks rather than starring roles. Keira from Zak and Quack and Lola’s best friend from Charlie and Lola are two characters that she has recently found a likeness to. Although it’s refreshing to see a darker skinned character taking a more prominent role rather than getting lost in a sea of other side characters, the programmes are still very much centred on Zak or Lola.

To me, the issue is deeper than having characters for our mixed race, Black and Asian children to identify with, to build positive self esteem and associations with their own race and skin colour, to feel that they are an intrinsic and important part of our society and communities, feel that THEY can be the heroes or heroines. It’s also the messages that this is sending to all children. All children need to see heroines from each and every background. They need to see the diversity they see in their nurseries, classrooms and play grounds on their television screens, and hence on their lunch boxes and sticker books. Our children soak up everything around them and even at this precious young age they will take on these subtle messages connected to their identity. We need ALL children to see, believe and understand that they can look up to hero’s from all backgrounds. If our children are to achieve all they wish for in life then representation across mainstream media needs to begin from the absolute get-go.

Awareness

I wondered how long it would take before my daughter realised that there are so many differences in the way that we look. When I say ‘we’ I mean not only us as a human race but also the differences between the two of us. Well, its started to happen, or at least, she has started to vocalise it.

A few months back, I noticed that she would talk about people who looked similar to her. Particularly other children that had hair of a similar texture to her. She commented that a friend’s child had ‘beautiful hair, just like me’ and also told me that she loved her friend at dancing because she’s got ‘hair like me’. I could see that she had started to notice these subtle differences in hair colour and texture but was really encouraged that she was speaking so positively about her features.

Then slightly more alarmingly, she told me that she had hair like another boy at nursery. True, they both have afros….that’s not the alarming bit. Then she said that the boy in question had ‘too much hair, like me’. Now,  I have never, ever told her that she has too much hair and neither has anyone else in my ear shot. As readers of the blog will be aware, I am extremely careful to instill in my daughter a positive relationship with her hair. I can only assume that it came from nursery – I am hoping a child rather than staff member. I guess it is naive to think that your child will never receive any negative comments about their appearance but its our job as parents to counteract those comments and give our children the confidence to ensure that they have a robust enough ego to let these comments bounce off them.

The next indication that my daughter realised that she differs in appearance to myself and other family members wasn’t said to me but my Mum. My Mum was getting dressed with my daughter watching when she told her ‘Grandma, you’re yellow like Mummy, I’m black’. I think my Mum was quite taken aback but I know she fully understands importance of my daughter loving her skin and so she told her what a beautiful colour her skin is. The conversation then moved on, as two year olds do….

Over the next few weeks, there were several occasions where she would mention different friends of hers and their skin colour in relation to hers. It was like she’d just realised that skin comes in different shades and tones and she wanted to relate to it constantly.

All of these comments were made in a very matter of fact fashion (as only a two year old can!), with no hint of unease or discontent. Just today when I collected her from nursery she asked me why I had straight her like her friend at nursery. She was perfectly satisfied to hear that some people have straight hair and some have curly hair but either way it’s still beautiful.

I had initially been comforted by the fact that she has a number of friends with similar hair texture and skin tone to which she can relate. It did lead me to wonder whether she would have been quite so blasé about it had she not found others to identify with. However, at this stage, I really do suspect that she’s too young for this level of scrutiny and as kids do, would just accept the status quo even had she found no one else with similar hair and skin.

At present it’s gone no further than a general awareness but I’m sure that further questioning and possibly discontent will follow…

The D word

When I first heard it, it cut me so deep I stopped breathing momentarily. You know when you feel like the air has been knocked out of you and you start to feel nauseous. My daughter said ‘Where Daddy?’ WOW.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time that she had uttered the word. Although there isn’t a Daddy in the house and even in her life, she has heard the word from friends, family, strangers and from TV constantly. She is constantly talking about ‘Daddy Pig’ from Peppa Pig and if she sees a baby whilst out shopping or in a cafe will tell me ‘baby with Daddy’.

One of the first times that she used the word and it impacted on me was last November when we were staying with a friend in London. My friend’s son was calling his Dad, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy’ over and over again; my daughter thinking it was fun, started to join in the calling. It was so bittersweet. She didn’t realise what she was saying; such a simple word with such depth of meaning. But a word which she may never have the opportunity or cause to use in regards to her own Father. I realised then how little time my daughter spent around Daddy’s, as clearly to even to hear the word called was such a novelty. The majoirty of the time we are with friends it is with Mummy’s – with my friends, at toddler groups and childrens centres, at church – it is overwhelmingly spent with other women.

At the end of 2014 and the beginning of this year, my daughter did start to say the word a lot more. Usually completely out of context. To her it was just a word that she was practising along with any other. But there were a couple of times that upset me. One night, she was lying in her cot and resisting sleep. She started to call for Grandma (her usual reaction when she really doesn’t want to do something that Mummy is making her do) and then called Daddy, with the same pained and anguished emotion. It really upset me as it was said with such passion for someone who had never once cared for her, loved her, helped her, and there she was calling out for him with all the feeling she could muster. It was silly to feel hurt by it, as she didn’t know what she was saying, but that night I went downstairs feeling really lonely.

Now she will recognise people’s parents and talk about family relationships, all in a very matter of fact way. There is one particular friend of hers at nursery whose Father drops her off and collects her, and my daughter will point out S’s Daddy. There is another Daddy that comes to a stay and play session we attend and she recognises him as L’s Daddy. She is starting to become aware of the fact that a lot of her friends have Daddy’s.

I have recently started to see her attempt to piece together relationships. A friend of hers has a nanny and we recently spent the day together. Later that evening she asked me if the nanny was her friend’s Mummy. I explained that she looked after her whilst her Mummy was at work. My daughter then asked me whether her Daddy was at work too. It made me realise that  she has already begun to discover that it is ‘normal’ to have a Daddy at home.

She is growing ever more aware of different family structures and relationships, and with her beautifully intelligent and curious mind I am sure that it will not be long until she starts to really want to know about where her Daddy is.

A selfish desire?

As my daughter is now very almost two years old, of course people have started to ask the question of whether – or when – I am going to have another one. This mostly comes from people I know as acquaintances at stay and play groups and childrens centres, but nonetheless those who know my personal circumstances do ask if I would like another child as probably more of a hypothetical question.

It’s hard to know how to answer. My heart screams YES!!! But I know that I would be having another child with another father. The potential negative impact this would have on my daughter, just to fill my own heart’s desire, just seems so selfish.

I have always wanted a large family. I have one sister and was estranged from my Aunts, Uncles and cousins during my entire childhood for various reasons. I craved being in a big family with loads of relatives, cousins, aunts and uncles. And I wanted it to be different for my children. At least I knew I didn’t want an only child.

And now here I am, mother to an only child. I know she is not yet two years old, but I am no longer a spring chicken, unfortunately. And the fact that she might grow up without a sibling is starting to make me feel more and more sad. My dream of having a large family of my own floated away a long time ago. But as much as I love the fact we are our own little team against the world, to think of it her being my only child does make me feel sad.

I feel selfish to think of this. As I know I am so truly blessed with my daughter, and every day I am reminded of that. But I cannot help feeling sorry for her. Having no one to play with – constantly having to rely on having friends round for entertainment. Having to grow up fast as she spends so much time in adult company. Never having that shared experience of the family household. I know when my sister is back for Christmas and we both laugh at little things that our parents do, it feels great to just have someone who ‘gets it’. And when I eventually pass away, I know how hard it was for my Mum as an only child dealing with all the financial and legal matters alone, cleaning out the house without a sibling to assist her.

I can’t really afford another child. But then who can? None of us would have children if we sat down and worked out how much it would cost us. I have never been a material person and I am quite used to never having any money for myself, I think once you have a child that goes out the window! But I do worry that if I had another child, would that mean that I couldn’t do the things that I now can with my daughter? Does that even matter balanced against the benefits of having a sibling to share a life with?

A great deal of my friends and family that were pregnant at the same time as me are now pregnant. And again, I know I am wallowing in selfish self pity, it makes me sad, as it brings home the fact that we are not a ‘normal family’ that can be added to without making things extra complicated.

I would love to hear from other single parents out there who have wished to extend their family, and whether you have struggled with the same conflicting emotions.

A beautiful introduction to differences in families

As a child, I loved reading and so I am really happy that my daughter seems to be taking a real interest in books and reading. As readers of this blog may know, I am always looking for books and toys that represent my daughter and our family.
Whilst looking for a book for my nephew, I stumbled across a gorgeous book called The Family Book by Todd Parr. It’s bright and colourful and very simply talks about the differences and similarities in all our families. A snippet of the pages include ‘some families have two moms or two dads’, ‘some families have one parent instead of two’, ‘all families like to celebrate special days together’. There are pages that address issues such as adoption, different skin colours and long distance family. It ends quite simply yet beautifully with ‘there are lots of different ways to be a family. Your family is special no matter what kind it is’.
I am looking forward to reading this with my daughter. It is a gorgeous introduction to exploring the differences in families, as I am sure this is something she will start to have a greater awareness of in the not too distant future.
This is just a short post, but with the festive period approaching, this would make such a lovely stocking filler and I wanted to share it with you.

Hair success!

I have made a couple of posts dedicated to the issue of hair and felt like an update was well overdue.
I am pleased to say that at the moment, I feel like I have cracked it! I have been sticking to washing my daughter’s hair only when it needs it (usually every 2 to 3 weeks is the longest we go without her stuffing play dough, custard or jam into her hair) and combing, or trying to comb, daily; then adding coconut oil.
I have been quietly happy with her hair myself for a while now. I can’t say she shares my enthusiasm for the daily routine, as I still have to do a lot of walking behind her hunched over whilst trying to comb, whilst she tries desperately to get on with playing with her toys or sometimes has full blown screaming fits. I have found Peppa Pig works well to hold her attention, but as soon as I hit a snag, that’s it, she’s off!
In the last month, however, I have had a couple of comments from people about how good her hair looks. Last week, I was at a stay and play session and was talking to the nanny of one of my daughter’s friends. She commented on how good her hair looked and asked what products I used; she told me ‘whatever you are doing, keep doing, as it looks great’. The little girl that she is nanny to is mixed race, so I know that she understood that you can’t just treat it as European hair! Later that day, my friend who has two mixed race children also asked me what I had done with her hair, as it looks so healthy. It was a real affirmation that all that hard work had paid off and we were finally getting somewhere!
On the matter of hair, I caught the Chris Rock film ‘Good Hair’ on iPlayer last week. I wouldn’t recommend it for getting any tips on managing hair, but it is certainly a very interesting documentary as it explores the relationships between Black women and hair, the politics of natural hair, straightening, use of human hair and weaves. For anyone with a mixed race child with Black heritage, it is worth a look. For me it reiterated the need to ensure that our daughters love and embrace their natural hair and are not swayed by the fashion and cosmetic industry’s standards of ‘beauty’.