Yes and. . .Maybe, but Not Likely

When we look at lines of fellow Americans waiting for food, thousands of body bags filling morgues and trucks, families desperately trying to manage without a paycheck and health insurance, the soul of America should be screaming, “Enough is enough.”

These are extraordinary times. Every generation witnesses a pivotal moment in their era. The greatest generation lived through the Depression and World War II. Boomers had the Vietnam War and the turbulence of the Sixties. Generation X grew up under the shadow of the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Millennials had 9/11. Now all of us and the generational babies, Gen Z, are experiencing the Coronavirus pandemic.

The one major difference between this moment and those prior hallmarks in history is that thanks to the internet and social media, we are being inundated with content and commentaries about this event. My own personal appetite for information and editorials seems quite insatiable, whether it is the medical, political, financial, or cultural. And I have a tremendous amount of admiration for those who can distill this moment into a particular focus that gives us a new lens at which to view the world. As an emerging writer, I long for such clarity as my mind is all over the place trying to process the daily unfolding of events.

Yes, most shared tragic events reveal who are most vulnerable in a society. Time and again, we see in clear view the ugly underbelly of our economic, educational, and social institutions nourished by systemic racism, oppression, greed, and the illusion of white male supremacy. The nation was founded on these tenets. Creating and maintaining a vulnerable segment of the population governed by an elite class hoarding resources and power was the intended design.

And yes, this means that low income people of color typically define the most vulnerable. Is anyone surprised that African-Americans and Latinos have been most impacted by this pandemic and this illness? Is it a surprise that white men with guns can threaten a female head of state with zero consequence in protest of a health safety order, but a 12-year old Black boy can be shot dead for playing with a toy gun? Or that a young Black man can be hunted and killed by two white men in a pickup truck while jogging? An incident suppressed by local law enforcement and justified by the age old adage, “He looked like a suspect.” The institutions set in place in this country by those in power were never meant to protect or serve people of color. NEVER.

What is our investment in our own survival?

Yes, this pandemic reveals that we must continue to cite inequitable access to healthcare, implicit bias within the medical community, and other barriers that have made it more difficult for our communities to survive this illness. We must never stop demanding the transformation of the institutions that fail us. And, we must also take an honest look at how we perpetuate our own oppression by fulfilling the wishes of the powers that be through our own choices.

Yes, we should not be judged or blamed for our choices. Black and brown people are as intoxicated by the trappings of the American Dream as anyone. For me, this is not about judgement. It is about understanding that the institutions in the United States were fundamentally designed to oppress us and deny us equality. We know this and we are quick to declare these facts and protest them, but then we spend our dollars on things that enrich others instead of on those that will nourish and sustain us, particularly in times of crisis. What is our investment in our own survival?

Research has shown that obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are dangerous comorbidities associated with the increased death rate of COVID-19. Yes, Black and Latino communities are often food deserts that lack access to healthy food options. And, we also have power in our choices. To the churches that we fund through loyal tithing, use your power to create local farmers market partnerships, bringing healthy food to your congregations after services. Let us get the barber shops and beauty salons in on it. Let us continue to create local opportunities for fitness and well-being, like Girl Trek, a national non-profit focused on Black women’s health through community walking. The more we broaden our perspective and the narrative of what is possible, the best we will be able to sustain ourselves.

And we have to go seek medical attention when we don’t feel right. No more pride. No more fear. Bring an army of friends or family with you to keep doctors in check, but don’t not go. I witnessed an extraordinary chat between Nikki Giovanni and Angela Davis the other night and Nikki broke it down, making it clear that we can’t fight the fight if we’re not here on this Earth to do it. It is just that simple.

In my mind, I have often characterized Black folks’ relationship with the US as a codependent one. It is unfortunate that we are forced to live with our oppressor, just as a victim of abuse might be in  a home. Every little thing we do has to be directed towards securing our freedom and safety, even if we are not able to leave. My Black and brown brothers and sisters must start thinking about the changes we can make in our lives to reduce our vulnerability to a system that simply does not care about us. It is a harsh reality, but it is no different than the talk we have to have with our Black boys about police and the conduct that is necessary to stay alive. We need to be having these same conversations with ourselves about our health, our choices and to whom we give our resources.

*****

Meanwhile, much has been said about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s competent and consistent management of this crisis. Against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s idiocy and narcissism, Cuomo’s approach and demeanor are a welcome relief in a time of great uncertainty. One admirable thing to note is that Governor Cuomo is determined to understand and unpack the reasons for the greater impact of COVID-19 on African-American and Latino populations. Unlike many others, he refuses to let the conversation end at comorbidities or over-representation in jobs that are on the frontlines. Even as he is still grinding to keep the virus contained in the state, Cuomo has committed to doing the research into this issue and making the changes that will have an impact into the future.

“Maybe we will reconsider the absurdity of paying professional athletes millions of dollars for their entertainment while barely giving teachers a livable wage.”

This kind of action gives me hope that maybe the United States will have the political and collective courage to examine the institutions and ways of life that threaten our lives. Maybe we will finally move towards a health care system that provides access to everyone, instead of the privileged few.  Maybe we will reconsider the absurdity of paying professional athletes millions of dollars for their entertainment while barely giving teachers a livable wage. Maybe the airlines will stop taking their travelers for granted with outrageous fees, overcrowding, and overbooking to turn a profit at any cost.

In the face of this crisis, Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has proposed the program, Futures for Frontliners, a program that offers free college tuition to the essential workers that are leading the way for all Americans while many work comfortably from home. This bold move speaks to the elephant in the room. Those who are the essential workers, predominantly people of color, come from communities who have historically been iced out of higher education opportunities which lead to more lucrative careers and positions of power. Maybe a move like this will open the doors for greater diversity in the halls of power so that in the long run, decisions will be made in deference to the beautiful multicultural community that is the United States. Decisions that will not leave whole demographic segments of the population vulnerable and forgotten. Decisions that value the contribution of all, instead of the select few under the false premise of their superiority.

Maybe, considering the data on disease and obesity, we will put health at the forefront of the nation’s food supply, instead of profits. Maybe we will prioritize the fair and affordable distribution of quality food while also cutting down on waste and overproduction. There is definitely something wrong with a food industry and system that warrants farmers throwing out tons of food while people are hungry in food lines a mile long. This should not be happening in the most developed nation in the world.

And as we see stores and malls shutter, maybe we will lean back from our obsessive consumerism. Our insatiable acquisition of things that keeps us competing with one another instead of building quality relationships. Maybe with less things to distract us, we will become more intellectually curious about each other and the world around us, valuing the indispensable like art, music, culture, and science. Creative destruction is one of the building blocks of capitalism. It is the idea that has given birth to the endless series of iPhones and big screen TVs. Yet, it has also led to overflowing landfills, diminished natural resources, and mountains of personal debt. Maybe we will learn to temper our demand for the next thing and find contentment in having all that we need.

Maybe.

*****

Yet, when lines of white men donned in camouflage and sporting assault weapons stormed the state capital in Michigan and screamed in the face of law enforcement, I can assure you that every Black person in America said the same thing to themselves. Imagine if they were Black men. There would be a blood bath.

We watch and listen as Trump lies and makes crass, grossly ignorant statements on every topic imaginable and wonder what would happen if it were Barack Obama behaving in such a way.  If he had made the p***y comment, his candidacy would have been a non-starter. Now, during this shared global crisis, when the opportunity to learn and be better is upon us, we see business as usual. The folly and destructive force of white supremacy has taken yet another toll.

With hours of time and space to fill during this lockdown or confinement as we call it in French, I decided to binge watch The Looming Tower on Hulu. It is the recounting of the years leading up to 9/11 and the power struggles between the FBI and CIA that ultimately led to the United States government dropping the ball on monitoring those who would eventually carry out the attacks on that day. Yet, another tale of how pissing contests and power plays result in the sacrifice of lives.

COVID-19 is no different. Trump was told in multiple briefings that the spread of the virus was imminent. He blustered as he shut down our borders to China with the racist undertone that was the perfect wink to his supporters. Meanwhile, coronavirus arrived on our shores by way of Europe. Now, he is pushing to reopen the US economy without regard for our citizens’ health because we must get that capitalist engine running again. There has been little mention of the over 70,000 lives lost. There has been no curiosity about the disparities of the impact of the illness. And his cronies have no appetite for supporting the healthcare workers, police, teachers, transit workers and others on the frontlines with much needed state and local funding. Like the crew in Alien or the beachgoers in Jaws, people are expendable in worship of the mighty dollar and retention of power.

When Mitch McConnell and other red state politicians proclaim that they will not give any blue state bailouts, it is a dog whistle. Blue states have big cities with Black and brown people who are takers. Meanwhile, we know the data tells a different story of course, and as these narratives are perpetuated, institutions will not work on our behalf. Alas, Black and brown small businesses were more often than not, left out of the Payroll Protection fund.  People who file and PAY United States taxes using an individual identification number instead of a SSN, likely undocumented workers, did not receive any COVID recovery money. Really think on that. Our government insists that workers pay taxes into the system, but during the greatest disruption to our economic and financial security, refuses to include these same individuals in obtaining any relief.

Yet, we are reminded daily that the United States was founded, not on some great unified fight for independence, but on genocide, enslavement, and the perpetual oppression of the vulnerable for economic and political gain.

The state of Georgia opened this past week and some of the first images queued up were of people in line to buy the latest athletic shoe. I just shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. Our folks are dying from an illness that attacks us partly because of the cumulative effects of limited access to healthy foods, quality healthcare, and our greater representation in essential jobs, and here we are risking our lives to purchase shoes from a company that doesn’t give a damn about our survival. Nike ain’t thinking about Black people’s health.

Relative to several other countries, the United States is quite young as a sovereign state. At 244 years old, we are at best a toddler with the leader to match. As we continue to grow and age as a nation, one wants to have hope that we will make the necessary changes to bring forth a more just and peaceful society. Yet, we are reminded daily that the United States was founded, not on some great unified fight for independence, but on genocide, enslavement, and the perpetual oppression of the vulnerable for economic and political gain.

This pandemic should facilitate a seismic shift in our values as a country, to a new normal some say. When we look at lines of fellow Americans waiting for food, thousands of body bags filling morgues and trucks, families desperately trying to manage without a paycheck and health insurance, the soul of America should be screaming, “Enough is enough.” We should be demanding radical changes to our antiquated electoral system that disenfranchises the popular will to preserve the political power of a minority. We should be insisting on limiting terms for lifetime politicians who are so intoxicated by power and privilege, they are utterly soulless. We should be investing our dollars in our schools, libraries, local non-profits, and artists.

Instead, we are fighting for our right to buy Michael Jordan’s sneakers and a Wendy’s hamburger as the US Department of Justice and Supreme Court politicize the laws of the land at our expense. All the while, the Democratic party managed to nominate the weakest and most entrenched presidential candidate from the most diverse and talented field ever seen in political history.

Is there a new normal in sight?

Not likely.

Struggling to Write, Struggling to Focus

“I was interrogating my own son about his e-learning, examining the schedule, asking him about the potential homework, etc. Then, I took a breath, backed off and chatted about the zombie apocalypse instead.”

The other night I had a video chat with my son, Emmanuel. It wasn’t unlike our other chats. We usually discuss random things while tending to our tasks. He’s typically making something to eat. claiming that I just happen to always call when he’s hungry. Our topics have ranged from school and his work to whether or not bugs have souls. One time, he actually cleaned the bathroom while I was on the line. On this night, we contemplated what he would do during the zombie apocalypse-become a zombie, fight the zombies or hide.

When the eight o’clock hour hit, I brought the phone out to the balcony so he could hear the Parisians cheering and clapping for the workers taking care of us right now. And then we winded down with me bringing the phone to Ruby, our cat, so he could see her, marvel in her fat squishiness and say goodbye. She honored him with a gentle nose tap to the screen. It was a tender moment.

After I ended our call, the tension that I had been holding in my body for the week had evaporated. The simple joy of connecting with my son during these trying times uplifted me in a way that I desperately needed. It was a true blessing.

*****

“I’ve now heaped a ton of guilt onto my existing fear and loneliness because I don’t think I’ve actually done anything productive since locking down.”

I don’t typically blog unless I have inspiration. I find it impossible to write from an inauthentic place so sometimes there are long stretches between my posts as I try to stay open to what life and the world are presenting to me. Recently, however, I was finding that in spite of all that was going on in the world, I could not focus or settle down enough to write. Fixated on my YouTube channels and my Facebook feed, all I could manage was to consume more and more information about this pandemic.

Then, I downloaded games to my phone, appeased by the mindlessly challenging task of connecting colorful dots into squares. Back and forth to my 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, this pandemic has given me an amplified form of ADD and I’ve been desperately trying to get a handle on it. I’ve now heaped a ton of guilt onto my existing fear and loneliness because I don’t think I’ve done anything productive since locking down.

I decided to lean into my lack of focus, to just own it and see where it would take me emotionally and spiritually. This blog post is where I’ve landed.

First, let me say that while I have processed the larger existential implications of watching people fight over and hoard toilet paper, that behavior didn’t surprise me. Lamenting the consumerism and excess of our society, in the United States in particular, is not a new exercise for my psyche. And the nation’s lack of preparedness and blatant arrogance and denial about the ramifications of this pandemic are par for the course. Remember in Jaws when they refused to believe there was a killer shark in the water?

What has me all over the place is the way everything has just been flipped on its head. This past year of my “mom”bbatical, I had embraced the uncertainty of a professional transition, financial insecurity, an international move and a transfer of custody of my beloved son to his father. I have had moments of frustration as things were slow to develop, but I continued to trust that I would land.

And the fog was starting to clear. Our consulting company had secured our first project and we were on the precipice of locking down the next. Thanks to the consulting gig, I was able to spend some quality time with my son in California, finally getting a closer look at his home life with his father, his father’s girlfriend and her mother. With that moment came a tremendous amount of healing energy between me and his dad. My Crossfit game was on point and I had found an international theatre group/choir in Paris to add to my growing community. Life was coming together.

I saw the corornavirus looming while I was traveling in late February. As I was nestling in at my gate at Charles de Gaulle airport, I was asked if I had recently traveled to China. That was an easy “No” and I kept it moving. Baggage handlers at JFK airport were wearing masks and gloves, but I remained blissfully ignorant. Life and energy were surging back in me as I was taking care of business. Sitting in our potential project interview discussing the scope of our consulting work, I had purpose again.

Now, all that momentum has ground to a halt. Upon my arrival back to Paris, I nursed my jetlag with a little extra sleep and woke up to the clear and present danger of this virus. Like millions around the world, I am now holed up in isolation uncertain of what is to come. No Crossfit community. No choir. No apertif with friends.

It’s a miracle that I am not sick. I flew to San Francisco, back to Paris through Zurich then flew to New York City from Paris via Brussels. I hopped a train to Providence, Rhode Island, returned to Brooklyn and made my way back to Paris. All of this in a matter of two weeks. I am grateful to be healthy.


“Every time I go to the grocery store, does the countdown to potential symptoms reset? Will this finally be the thing that rids us of Donald Trump? Is my Crossfit body going to go to mush? Is Andrew Cuomo single?”

There is food in my refrigerator. My bed is warm and I have enough space to get my workouts in at home under the curious eye of my sweet kitty, Ruby. The sun is pouring into my windows and I have all the technology that I need to keep myself entertained. I’m receiving texts and having video chats with my lovely friends from all around the world. I have never felt more loved.

But, shit, I can’t concentrate and I’m not getting anything of value done.

Every question that could possibly run through my mind has surfaced. When will our consulting projects resume? Will Emmanuel get to do the summer program that we set our sights on? When will I get to fly back to the United States? Is my 73-year old Boomer mother going to be okay? Am I really going to spend springtime in Paris indoors? Every time I go to the grocery store, does the countdown to potential symptoms reset? Will this finally be the thing that rids us of Donald Trump? Is my Crossfit body going to turn to mush? Is Andrew Cuomo single?

*****

I don’t doubt that Mother Earth sent this virus to get us all to sit the eff down and think about the damage that we have done to her. She needs to heal and if it takes an infectious virus to give her respite from our constant pollution-inducing activity, then I’m not mad at her.

This feels like so much more than that, though. All of the institutions that have exploited our labor, our differences and our resources are crumbling in this moment. The servants in our world–teachers, nurses, doctors, shelf stockers–and others are our most valuable human resources right now and had always been. While the President is continuing to foment racist sentiments to mask his own ignorance and incompetence, our artists are using social media as a way to bring us all together. DJ DNice has saved the world by spinning for everyone from little ole me to Bradley Cooper.

I know there are parents at home trying to support their kids distance learning and pulling their hair out in the process. There are some hilarious videos out there by parents who finally understand what their kid’s teachers deal with every day. Even thousands of miles away, I was interrogating my own son about his e-learning, examining the schedule, asking him about the potential homework, etc. Then, I took a breath, backed off and chatted about the zombie apocalypse instead.

Now is not the time to ride our kids about their academic achievement. This is an unprecedented opportunity for reflection, for appreciating who they are free of the daily routines we force on them. We spend so much time defining our kids by their GPAs, test scores, athletic achievements or future potential. How about we just let them “be”? What might they discover about themselves during this moment? What might they discover about you?

So, ironically, once I released the pressure from myself of having to do or accomplish something, I was able to write again. The “mom”bbatical in the context of a worldwide pandemic has brought me into completely new territory. As frightening as this all may be, I believe we have to stay hopeful that this correction from the Universe will serve us in the end.

Most importantly, let this moment bring us together in a spirit of love and compassion for those whose lives have been lost, those who are actively fighting against this illness and those whose livelihood has been deeply impacted. We will only get through this through collective action, empathy and love.

Now do yourself a favor and join DNice’s Club Quarantine on Instagram. It is fire!!!

Why Trump’s Removal Matters?

“Our basic humanity has already been traumatized by his cruelty. His exoneration will destroy our innocence.”

From last Wednesday to Friday, we witnessed a detailed, purposeful and passionate case about the blatant abuse of power by the President of the United States. Even while the arguments were being made, each day brought a new bombshell of information further incriminating this man. The facts are indisputable and yet, in the commentaries around the nation, whether in the newsrooms, barber shops or at the dining room tables, someone always gives voice to the inevitable injustice. The Republicans in the Senate will not admit Trump’s guilt nor vote for his removal.

For those of us who live on the margins in the United States based on our gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, we are used to making some investment in the fight for justice for our own. We lull ourselves into believing that our movements are these beautiful manifestations of the greatness of the United States. Our Constitution protects our freedom to speak out and to assemble peacefully in protest. Yet, the framers did not intend those words for those on the margins. Let’s tell the truth. The Founding Fathers had no plans or expectations for the subsequent movements that history has called forth. That was not in their vision.

“Surely this should be a unified fight. The evidence is indisputable.”

But, our warriors fought onward, sometimes in the bloodiest of battles and justice has generally prevailed. . . kind of. There is the subsequent backlash from those who believe that they have had to give something up to which they felt entitled–control over Black bodies, women’s bodies, education, politics, the economy, real estate, the environment and so on. So, the struggle for justice continues.

Now, we are facing a different type of fight for justice. This one strikes at the very soul of our nation. The Constitutional authors may not have given a damn about women or Black people or the poor or whomever else did not own their particular identities, but they knew that our democracy had to be protected from a maniacal, unfit leader who would put our country at risk or abuse our trust as citizens. Surely, this should be a unified fight. The evidence is indisputable.

*****

Back in 2017, Issa Rae, a rising African-American producer, writer and actress, was quoted at the Emmys saying “I’m rooting for everybody black!” She took some criticism for the statement, but there wasn’t a Black person in the land who didn’t understand the spirit of her statement.

In a world in which the scales of justice are not tipped in our favor, Black people look for wins wherever we can get them. I can remember my family’s excitement when we would see a Black family on the Family Feud and how invested we became in their victory. It was real. Or that lone Black contestant who got called down on The Price is Right and the way we would yell prices at the screen in our delusion that he could hear us.

“. . .It’s in our human nature to want fairness in our world. . .we hold on to hope that a change is in the wind.”

We send collective energy to our Olympic athletes competing in unusual spaces like the pools, ice skating rinks, and uneven bars. When the Oscars aren’t so white, we bask in our Viola, Denzel and Lupita’s triumphs. When the wrong of La La Land’s win was righted immediately by artistic karma and the beautiful cast of Moonlight took the stage, the win reverberated in our hearts. And don’t even get me going on what the Obamas meant to us as a community. That was the biggest win of all.

Racial dynamics aside, it’s in our human nature to want fairness in our world. Even when our larger institutions are rigged to service one particular group by disenfranchising others, we hold on to hope that a change is in the wind. We can’t help it. It’s ingrained in us developmentally. I remember this from my years spent teaching third graders, watching these eight and nine-year old children make the delicate transition from concrete to abstract thinking.

It is a profound moment in their growth as they begin to grapple with complicated concepts. I recall an afternoon trip to IKEA with Emmanuel and he had an existential crisis over the concept of forever. Brought to tears, he could not accept that something had no end. He was inconsolable and I was worried that my child was having some kind of nervous breakdown. My KALLAX shelving unit was going to have to wait as we turned around and went back home. I called our former therapist for advice and she reminded me of my own professional history and the years I spent among the vulnerable psyches of eight-year-olds. She reassured me that Emmanuel would be fine, that he was just working through his understanding of things that were new to his mind.

The beauty of this transition is that eight-year olds become deeply tuned into and invested in the ideas of fairness and justice. They get it and become openhearted in their understanding of these issues. They are ripe for teachable moments and often become activists in their own right, taking up causes with unrelenting innocence. One year, a group of my third-graders were mortified by the school’s decision to use glue traps to address a mice problem. The kids took to the hallways with signs and chants, claiming this approach was inhumane and cruel. They had a valid point and the administration was moved into action. It was a very impressive effort by the kids.

*****

There was something in the eyes of Representative Adam Schiff during his closing argument on that second day of testimony that was jarring in its innocence and reminiscent of those eight-year-olds. His words were powerful, but in his eyes we saw a piercing desire for justice that ascended politics or party. It was primal, seeming to come from that childhood core that remembered the moment when he first understood the concept of justice. While Representative Schiff’s words resonated and were undeniable in substance, I am certain that the spirit of his conviction reverberated in the hearts of those who haven’t forgotten our childhood understanding of simple fairness. We have all been eight-year olds.

“If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

Representative Adam Schiff

Donald Trump is a loathsome bully. His behavior often represents the absolute worst in human nature. The ugliness inside of him reveals itself on the exterior, making his visage, his form and his gestures repulsive. For a man of his nature to break the law on the world’s largest platform and endure no consequence is an offense to the purest parts of our selves. Our basic humanity has already been traumatized by his cruelty. His exoneration will destroy our innocence.

There is no question that the institutions intended to support our democracy are flawed. The electoral college alone is an outdated mechanism originally intended to protect the slave states of the antebellum South. There is no political incentive to change it as it allows those who have hoarded power since our nation’s inception to continue to do so in the face of changing demographics and attitudes.

This trial is different. It’s simply impossible to imagine what will be lost in our souls if Trump’s guilt is dismissed. The feeling is ominous. Great empires emerge and slip into a complacent sense of invincibility. And then they fall. Representative Schiff said it best when he said, “If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

Let’s Talk About Sex. . .

“I want him to have a healthy curiosity about sex, but to also understand that it’s sacred energy that we often don’t honor or give away too casually.”

Recently, my son emerged on my computer screen for one of our regular video chats and spoke in a voice that I didn’t recognize. I had just seen him at the beginning of November donning his northern California gear and sophomore swagger. But, in three short weeks, his voice shifted into a different gear and I found myself struck by the evidence of his inevitable manhood.

Then, I spotted some writing on his arm. His explanation was that his friend, a girl, drew a fake “MOM” tattoo on his arm in marker. I tried to control my snap back, remembering my own silly antics as a teenage girl. The gesture, however, signaled the growing intimacy that is bound to develop between my kid and his female counterparts.

I’ve never been one to shy away from relationship and sex conversations with Emmanuel. When he was four years old, he asked how babies were made. I told him simply that an egg and a sperm come together to create a baby. I found a grainy microscopic picture of just an egg and a sperm on the internet and showed it to him. He accepted this basic explanation and went back to whatever he was doing. That was all he needed in that moment.

When he was seven, he sought a bit more information. So, I bought the book, It’s Not the Stork and we read it together. My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating as I passed page by page through the text. It wasn’t too terrible until he asked his follow up questions.

“How does the penis get in there?”

“Well, it gets hard and you have to be really, really close and naked.

“Does it hurt?”

Oh boy. “No, actually it is meant to feel good.”

The questions stopped there and his little old soul graciously comforted me as I finished my explanation. “There, Mom. Now, you’ve told me about the sex.” Yes, he really said that while patting me on the back. I’m surprised he didn’t say “Good job.”

Over the years, more conversations followed. My favorite was when he was within earshot of a Viagra commercial on the television and proceeded to ask me, “What is reptile malfunction?” which makes perfect sense because an eight-year old would have no reference point for the term erectile dysfunction. I tried not to laugh and decided to text my father. His advice was to say it’s when a snake can’t get out it’s venom. Not very helpful.

Emmanuel and I have discussed oral sex (see my Parenting Out Loud entry), sexual orientation and gender identity. He even asked why his father and I had a child together even though we weren’t married. With each discussion, I have felt good about helping him make sense of the world as he crossed his own development milestones emotionally and cognitively.

Now, the stakes are higher and I find myself trying to figure out how to navigate these conversations while haunted by my own experiences. I want him to have a healthy curiosity about sex, but to also understand that it’s sacred energy that we often don’t honor or give away too casually. I want him to see clearly the power dynamics and vulnerabilities tied up in sex without losing the sense that it is as basic a need as the food we eat or the air we breathe. There is no stigma to our desires.

*****

Generation X nostalgia is on fleek these days, especially as we are either being completely ignored or forced to sit idly by as the Boomers and Millentials fight for power and attention. Keanu Reeves, a generational icon, has reclaimed his place in our hearts and Eddie Murphy is queuing up all the things that made him great. Stranger Things is a straight up homage to 80’s kids while Sesame Street, the reason we all can read, is celebrating 50 years by casting our favorites in new ads. Miss Piggy looks great, by the way. No sooner had I started writing this post did E.T. and Eliot share a heartwarming reunion on Thanksgiving Day.

“Even Sixteen Candles, our ultimate high school Cinderella story, is riddled with questionable elements that oriented sex as an entitlement for men and boys”

Our sex education, however, was a bit more problematic. Our pop culture emerged out of the “free love” era of the Seventies and was rife with mixed messages about how we were to manage our sex lives. Madonna’s front and center sexuality was meant to empower us girls. We were also subjected to Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High where sex was always narrated as a male conquest with no attachment or little regard for the women in the story. Even Sixteen Candles, our ultimate high school Cinderella story, is riddled with questionable elements that oriented sex as an entitlement for men and boys.

We learned very little about sex beyond its value for bringing us fleeting pleasure in a moment. For those of us in the church, lessons of morality may have kept our desires at bay for a little longer. The freedom that came with our college campus independence and the accessibility of alcohol often led to throwaway narratives about sexual encounters. I knew of boys who earned their “trophies” or badges of honor for their “hook ups”. In retrospect, it was demeaning for everyone involved.

It took years for me to clear the shame of my own misadventures. If I had understood the energetic component of sex, I would have made different choices for sure. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but the gravity of this issue has never felt more urgent as I steward the heart and soul of another while he approaches such pivotal years in his life.

*****

On my most recent flight, I watched the movie Good Boys, a hilarious quest of three 12-year old boys trying to learn how to kiss in preparation for an upcoming party. I died laughing as they innocently confronted and attempted to make sense of the crazy details about sex. The boys were absolutely adorable as they accepted where they were developmentally. I was also impressed with the film’s centering of the idea of consent throughout the story. There is no question that we are moving in the right direction.

Yet, even teaching boys to ask for consent still suggests that sex is an acquisition or destination as opposed to a genuine sharing of energy and connection. An interesting juxtaposition to the boys’ focus on consent was the behavior of the older boyfriend of a girl in the film. When she wasn’t available for sex, he first threatened to hang out with his ex-girlfriend and then rejected her outright. It was jarring the way he turned so quickly on her when his entitlement was not met.

Parenting a teenage son, I’m trying to lean back and trust his emotional intelligence on these issues but I don’t trust the world to send him a different message about sex. Asking for consent does empower women to say “No” or “I’m not ready” or “Can we discuss this?” or “Am I safe with you?” However, if men are still socialized to believe sex is an entitlement, our choice can sometimes be punished regardless of our reasons.

This socialization doesn’t serve men and boys either. Our choice is viewed simply as rejection so the remedy is to go find a “yes” somewhere else as soon as possible. A textbook maneuver to repair the illusion that a man’s sexual dominance defines his manhood, but one that complicates our relationship dynamics by inviting other people’s energies into the mix.

About a month ago, I was out with my friend, Fred, and we were approached by a Canadian opera singer who was drawn to the English that we were speaking. This guy’s presence and booming baritone voice were undeniable and he quickly unloaded his story of loneliness as he had been away from from his wife and kids for months while working here in Paris. Things seemed tame enough until his excessive wine consumption unleashed his sexual energy.

Looking past his theatrical good looks and impressive professional background, this guy’s energy was riddled with complications. He made it abundantly clear that returning home to make love to his own wife was not something he was necessarily interested in. It wasn’t long before his gaze and invasion of my personal space made his desired plans more transparent.

When Fred set his intention to peel off and head home to his partner, I knew I would have to manage this gentleman’s growing advances. For me, it was a no-brainer as I had no desire to get tangled up in his energetic mess. And he must have picked up on that because he proceeded to say that I was “afraid of him.” A statement I found a touch insulting and provocative at the same time. How about I’m just not keen on sleeping with a married man harboring bitterness over his wife “not missing him enough?” Why would I invite that energy into my body?

I didn’t take the bait and made my exit with Fred, but before I did, I offered our friendship thinking that an occasional cup of coffee would give him some level of companionship as he lived his life so far from home. He declined.

*****

“Hell, the clitoris has double the nerve endings as the tip of the penis AND we are capable of multiple orgasms so why wouldn’t we want to do it?”

For a long time, men have staked their claim on sex, contending that they want it more than women as biologically they are compelled to spread their seed and ensure the survival of the species. Research has shown that simply isn’t true and that women desire sex just as much as men. Hell, the clitoris has double the nerve endings as the tip of the penis AND we are capable of multiple orgasms so why wouldn’t we want to do it?

The reality is, however, that we are inviting someone into our bodies. Energetically, that is a big effing deal. Consent is more than asking if a woman wants to do it. It’s also letting her know that you might be having sex with someone else so that she can make the choice if she wants to get in the mix. And we should be teaching our girls to ask that question of the people they are with and for themselves. These details really do matter.

So back to my kid. I just want him to have a completely different perspective as a man. I want him to raise the bar beyond simply asking for consent. To see sex not as a transaction, but as a bonding of energies. In doing so, maybe he will be more discerning in his own choices when the time comes. Boys and men should feel empowered to say “no” too and to consider that protecting their own spirits and energy is much more valuable than a passing moment of pleasure.

While he was in eighth grade, Emmanuel and I had a conversation about the girls at his school and if he liked anyone. I wanted the scoop, but he expressed no interest. It wasn’t a question of orientation as we discussed that as well. With a little probing, he finally disclosed that he felt like the girls at his school either all acted alike or all tried to look the same and that just didn’t interest him. It was such a compelling insight into his thirteen-year old mind.. . and probably a commentary about how girls are socialized. That’s a whole other blog post.

And while one man who has been accused of committing sexual assault is holding the highest office of the land and another has a seat on the Supreme Court, I have to believe there’s more we can be doing for Gen Z, especially as they emerge with a broader understanding of gender and sexual fluidity. My hope is that Gen X does right by our kids as they make their transition into adulthood; teaching them to take a new perspective when contemplating their sex lives.

Not much has changed for Emmanuel on the dating front as he enjoys his early years of high school. I can’t say I’m not relieved. To my Gen X comrades, send your lessons my way. We’ve got a big job to do.

Love Letter to the Divine Masculine

“You take care of us best when you bare your vulnerabilities and authentically stumble and struggle towards your dreams.”

The #MeToo movement was stunning in the swiftness and force with which it brought to light so many women’s stories. The veil had been lifted and some of the most powerful men in industry, media and politics were being held accountable for decades of violations and crimes they had perpetrated against women. And in the aftermath, we became acquainted with the term “toxic masculinity” and readily deemed unsavory behaviors from men with its brand.

I was right there with the movement. The persistent street harassment in New York City alone would put any woman on the frontlines. I even found myself contextualizing parenting advice to Emmanuel’s father in the scope of “toxic masculinity.” Paranoid about my son’s psyche, I insisted that coming at him with an old-school, aggressive dad energy was not the way to reach him.

Recently, however, I was humbled by a moment I spent sitting across from a man that I love dearly. I watched and listened intently as he meandered through his current narrative, exposing the raw emotion of lingering grief over a loss while contemplating his assets and professional prospects. He was this beautiful mixture of anger, sadness, hope, ambition and preoccupation. All the while, I could feel the weight of his effort to define his life and self-worth.

“In other words, masculinity is most notably understood as being the opposite of femininity.”

A few days later after a brief conversation with my friend, Kate, about masculinity, Google managed to hone in on a remnant from our chat and queued up a panel discussion on masculinity from the Milken Institute. Google’s undeniable surveillance freaked me out a bit, but I decided to watch the video anyway. Moderated by a woman, this discussion invited four men to define and discuss masculinity in today’s era. Their perspectives were as varied as their backgrounds, yet one thing on which they had consensus was the idea that any attributes reflecting femininity were considered a threat to a man’s masculinity. In other words, masculinity is most notably understood as being the opposite of femininity.

One panelist went on to add that men are taught to pursue power and dominance as an indication of their masculinity. With nods of agreement, there was an inevitable shift of focus to the current occupant of the White House and with that, a tangible despair permeated the air. For no one represents a toxic mix of disdain for all things feminine with a ruthless pursuit of power better than Donald Trump.

Against the backdrop of the recent image of Nancy Pelosi’s ardent stance in his face to the steady flow of evidence of his criminality, we have become enlightened to the fact that Trump’s brand of masculinity will not only be his demise, it has been and will likely continue to be his bondage.

*****

Thankfully, most of the men we know and love are not poisoned in such an extreme way. Yet, it is common to observe their battle against the narrow forces that define who they are and who they are supposed to be. Perhaps as most of my male contemporaries nestle into middle age, their struggle is more apparent to me. In light of #MeToo and Trump, I believe that it’s time to make space for reconciliation and integration.

We are all created whole, an embodiment of a perfect balance of the divine masculine and feminine. Our conditioning often causes us to lose our way and to succumb to distorted images of who we think we are supposed to be, but all is not lost.

“Your strength becomes rooted not in your bottom line or title, but in the expansion of your wisdom and perspective.”

To the divine masculine, thank you for your instinct to protect, to see the vulnerable and act on their behalf. Your worth is not defined by your ability to wield oppressive power. It shines through in your humble leadership and willingness to nurture the potential in others. You take care of us best when you bare your vulnerabilities and authentically stumble and struggle towards your dreams.

Most importantly, when you allow the divine feminine within and outside of yourself to lead, you create space for the creativity and intuition that is needed to heal families and nations. You balance your striving with an appreciation of the joy of the present moment. Your strength becomes rooted not in your bottom line or title, but in the expansion of your wisdom and perspective.

*****

In the late 90’s, my father saw the quick rise and fall of an enterprise he started. Stoic and resilient, he weathered his failure on his knees in prayer. His business wasn’t restored, but his heart was opened to see the gift of leadership from the woman who had been by his side for almost forty years. With humility, he passed the mantle of their lives to my mother, following her to a new state and a more peaceful life in a quiet suburb of Atlanta.

Surrendering his quest to become a “master of the universe” and the often grumpy temperament that came with it, my father lived the rest of his years driven by his passion for golf and for counseling people making difficult career transitions. What I appreciated the most is that he always gave credit to my mother for guiding them into this new phase of their lives.

Probably the most powerful point made by a member of that panel on masculinity is that we have to move to a place where we accept that there is no one definition for it. Masculinity should be allowed to be complicated and fluid and self-defined by those who embody its energy. And above all, it should be loved.

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