What 9 years of Marriage has taught me

Right before I went off to college, I made a list of all the things I wanted in my husband. I read it to a friend and she said, “That doesn’t exist!”

My Freshman year, I went on a 12 hour bus trip from DC to Daytona Beach, Florida. On the way to the bathroom, I met my husband.

I don’t know about love at first sight. What I do know is that love is not the story you read about, it’s the story you write. I know that making a list of what you want is always a good idea, regardless of what the list is for, it helps you remember and stay focused.

… love is not the story you read about, it’s the story you write.

I was 19 when I met a boy who deeply valued family, made an amazing friend, was driven, funny, intelligent, kind, generous, goal-setting-and-goal-meeting, handsome, and respectful. He was raised by two parents who showed him what partnership in parenting and life can achieve. He came from a tight-knit family that was also friends. He reminded me of home and all the things that made me feel safest and happiest. So, of course, I put him in the friend box, duh!

To be honest, I always knew he was different. I knew in some way that the way he made me feel was rare. I’m southern, right? That means there are some things you just don’t do in front of guys you like. You’re always the perfect lady and ladies don’t have mucous , gas, hunger, or bad habits. I also can’t sing…well. I can sing, just not well. I LOVE karaoke but it’s my spirit, not my talent that carries me through a karaoke concert. With this boy, I blew my nose, sang out loud in the car, belched (and asked to be excused, thank you), and ate Taco Bell ravenously. I did all the things that I shouldn’t do in front of a boy I liked because I thought I didn’t “LIKE” him like that. And it was the most liberating, warm and real I ever was in a relationship…but he was just my friend.

And then his Dad was diagnosed with Cancer. We started talking daily, praying together, discussing his fears and concerns. Things shifted to a supportive, intimate partnership to manage a crisis. It did so effortlessly, I truly cared about his heart and his mind…but he was just my friend. His family and I convinced him not to cancel his trip to Mexico. He called me multiple times a day from Mexico. In 2003. Using pay phones and calling cards he had to seek out and buy. It scared me. He was supposed to be in Mexico being bad. He was single, young, and handsome with his best friend in “what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico”, Mexico. But here he was calling me. So, I stopped answering his calls, duh! Remember, he was just my friend.

He got back, emailed me saying, “I see you stopped answering my calls. I respect that and I’m not going to keep calling you. If you want to talk, here’s my number.” I read it. I angrily vacuumed my apartment, rolling my eyes, offended by his self-respect and yet intrigued…and I called him three hours later. We talked all night. We spent a week talking about what we wanted out of our relationship together. I told him I wouldn’t accept disrespect. We even discussed how we’d handle a miscommunication so we wouldn’t have unnecessary arguments. We were thorough because we had been friends.

We were inseparable. Since 2003, that hasn’t changed. He’s been #1 on my list of “Top 3 Things I’d take to a Deserted Island” since 2003. We’ve perfected the art of cooperation and partnership, for us. He’s been there for all of my best and worst decisions since the end of 2002. To look back on our lives and have endless inside jokes and hilarious memories, has given our relationship a depth and richness that projected our roots deeper into a super solid foundation. We’ve grown up together from age 19 to where we are now. I knew he’d make an amazing father and friend to his wife and kids.

He proposed in 2007, we married in 2009. In our vows we included a portion of a poem that said “I know I can never be shortchanged, for the part of me that I give to you is replaced by the part of you that you leave with me.” That’s been a guiding principle of our marriage. We give of ourselves as selflessly as we can to one another because we trust and know that it’s not leaving a deficit but rather making space to receive from the one we are most open to. There’s an insane amount of trust in that and it’s been tested. Remembering that we are “symbiotic” in sharing and loving, has always been what brings balance and respect.

We give of ourselves as selflessly as we can to one another because we trust and know that it’s not leaving a deficit but rather making space to receive from the one we are most open to.

In tense, vulnerable moments or when addressing sensitive topics, I’ve learned that immediately speaking my mind is not as effective as being silent and thoughtful before speaking. The sanctity of silence is real. Practicing it has given me time to listen better and share better.

When we discuss things where we “disagree”, we talk about how we feel, what we received from the other’s actions and ask for clarification of intention and intended lesson. I learned that after 20 minutes of discussion, you should probably summarize where you are, what has been discussed and come back to it later, after private thought. Any longer and you’re really just trying to convince the other to adopt your perspective and negate their own. Taking responsiblity for your role and taking action from the lesson you learn is key in moving forward productively. Talk about yourself, not your partner!

I’ve also learned that drama before work must be reserved for truly necessary discussions limited to the rarest of rare. But after work, white gloves on, duel. Why? My husband is a Black man being scrutinized in a field where he is usually isolated and yet held to the most ridiculous standards of perfection. He doesn’t shy away from the unbelievable expectations set on his shoulders. He, in fact, has mastered the art of making it look and actually be easy to do his work and correct and improve the work of others who might impact the quality of his work. I know my husband like the back of my hand. If we disagree about something, I know how it weighs on him and impacts him. So, in order for me to add that sort of distraction and energy to him, it’s got to be a major issue. Plus, I don’t fuck with our money. He’s out there killing it as a provider for our family. KILLING. IT. Why would I work against our stability? Who shoots themself in the foot? We’re building something real for our sons and money helps. Period.

Being organized helps so freaking much. LISTEN! Use google calendars to communicate about places you need to be and things you need to do. We avoid communication slip ups or forgetting important stuff by having a shared calendar. It’s easy and brilliant. Having organization in the house also helps incredibly. There’s a place for almost anything so he can help me keep our house romantic and peaceful. Using organization and tech to make teamwork work is the way to go. Trust!

In my vows, I said that I wanted our sons and daughters to see an amazing, rare love. [Sidenote: PLURAL sons and daughters?? I guess I was planning for 4 kids?? WTF?] We don’t have a daughter. I’ve already discussed this lack of a girl, remember? So, our sons give us a daily goal of showing them the type of love and partnership we want them to have. We’re setting the example that they will replicate. We want the best for them and so we work hard to show them what the best in parenthood, partnership and love looks like. I’ve learned that being an example helps me be my best. Do what works for you, that is what works for me.

I’ve learned that sex is a language that reflects the deepest values in your marriage. It’s the language that you speak physically and it’s the most intoxicating and fun. Sex is sensual communication on a whole other mind-bending plane. I don’t really think sex requires a lot of talking or explanation.

I know I’ve learned a lot of other things as well but I’ll stop there. In short (long), being married to the boy who rewrote my “husband traits list” and improved it, is a life win. Being married to be boy who was my best friend, is a life win. Choosing to love him more and more each day, is my pleasure. Finding new ways to love him, communicate with him and COMMUNICATE with him is well, just alllllll the cherries, ice cream, and icing on top of the best damn cake, cake, cake, ayyyyyyyyyye!!

So HAPPY 9th ANNIVERSARY to two crazy kids brought together by Howard University and fate, formed in love and friendship, and rooted in respect and COMMUNICATION 😉

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Oranges for Home and Health

I love oranges any which-a-way. Juiced, sliced, ummm…that pretty much covers the edible stuff. But once I eat or juice any citrus fruit (grapefruit, blood orange, Valencia orange, lemon or lime) I take the peels and make an all purpose cleaning product for my home!

Having kids means keeping harmful chemicals and germs at bay 24-7, 365. This cleaning solution does just that!

Materials and Ingredients:

-Large Recycled Glass Jar with Lid (Pickles, Mayo, etc)

-Spray Bottle(s)

-citrus rinds from 2-3 fruits, collect as you eat (orange or anything else)

-1/2 To 1 tsp Tea Tree Oil

-White Distilled Vinegar

-fresh mint leaves

There’s no real magic mix here. I simply stuff the peels in the jar, add mint for added aromatherapy then fill the jar with vinegar. I add a teaspoon of tea tree oil and close it up. Let it sit for two weeks and you have a CONCENTRATED cleaning solution for non-hardwood floors*, greasy gunk, sticky messes, bathrooms, non-stone countertops, glass and plastic surfaces. You’ll know it’s ready when the vinegar has turned as deep orange color.

*For hardwood floors, just use Apple cider Vinegar in the place of white vinegar to protect the floor’s finish.

No matter which vinegar you use, this concentrate should be diluted before use! For heavy duty cleaning, use a 50/50 mix of vinegar solution and water in a spray bottle. For lighter duty cleaning, you can stretch your mix further by adding more water to it.

Now here’s the BEST PART: it’s kid safe! This is a no-rinse way to clean baby’s toys, eating surfaces and floors where they love to crawl and lick. (This is why we don’t allow shoes inside our house)

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

If you incorporate chores in your children’s lives, they can clean their own bathrooms with this!! The Kid now has a weekly chore of cleaning his sink, mirror and shower and he’s (currently) excited about the rite of passage of getting to use cleaning solutions and clean his own space.

So, oranges. Good for your health and your home.

The Morning of Jubilee: He’s sleeping all night

You know that part in the movie Glory where the regiment is marching through the town and little children are in shock and awe at the all Black soldiers with guns? They can’t believe their enslaved, oppressed eyes that these men are armed and seem free. Then Morgan Freeman tells them “Go tell ya folks how kingdom come, the year of Jubilee!!!!”

I am the child in disbelief and this article is Morgan Freeman.

The Tiny One SLEPT.

THROUGH. THE. NIGHT.

Hubs and I slept continuously from 11-6:50.

I slept so long, I achieved morning breath. THANK YA HOLY FATHER!!

I slept so long, I woke up afraid of SIDS, ran to the nursery only to see my beautiful babies asleep peacefully and healthy. I left in disbelief then went back to listen for breathing. All good. WON’T HE DO IT?!

Listen. You. Can’t. Steal. Our. Joy.

The Kid didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months. And then, it was only 4 1/2 hours or so. Y’all. The exhaustion was so real that it made us put nearly 7 years between our children. (Fool me once was the idea)

We gambled with our sanity and went for Baby 2, co-slept for 6 months and then transitioned The Tiny One to his own gorgeous room. He’s been showing us that he’s marvelous and different by increasingly sleeping longer each night. But we never expected this!! HALLELUJAH!!

Now, my superstition kicks in. We will try our best to recreate the uniqueness of yesterday exactly and reap the same results tonight. 1) Allow Tiny to beat up The Kid. 2) Allow Tiny to beat me up and pull my hair with glee as I scream. 3)Three meals of solids throughout the day. 4) No Bath. He will be Funky Cole Medina. 5) Novel chapter read aloud before milk and bed. 6) The Kid sleeps in his room with him. (In his own sleeping bag)

Ain’t no telling what I’ll accomplish today with all this luxurious sleep behind me! Cure Cancer? Maybe. Wash the Mountain of Laundry consuming our house? Most probable. But hey, maybe both!

Milk is going for Round 2!

So nice, we did it twice.

I checked the Chinese Calendars, I ate a diet to make my body more acidic, I did other ridiculous things… and was defeated by genetics and the desires of The Kid for a Baby Brother. When that balloon popped and blue confetti flew out, it slapped me in the face and choked me-literally. I mean ALL THE CONFETTI descended heavily upon my head and, with my eyes closed, I inhaled in an effort to gain the courage to open my eyes. The inhale welcomed blue feathers and confetti into my throat. I coughed for two days. I found blue stuff inside my dress and bra hours after the private gender reveal for The Hubs and me. (Notice how my mouth is closed in the second set of pictures? This was two weeks later at the public gender reveal party.)AF6EB928-9072-478E-AA61-12793CF3BB11

 

( I did a little Roc kick when the cameras were off…you know what I’m talking about! THIS ROC…the fist pump and kick)     Roc_Ella_Joyce_Charles_S_Dutton

It was as if my son to be said, “HA! TAKE THIS MILK!!! I’M ALLLLLL OVER THIS BI$%&!”

I hear you Baby J! We are so excited to have Baby J join the mess that is this loving family. He is the song that the Fat Lady Sings. He is the heavy curtain that drops loudly after the Vaudeville encore. He is the One I already love more than words- and we haven’t technically met.

The reality of it is, there are many reasons I wantED (notice the past tense, Baby J?!) a girl. Yes, I wanted to buy pink and green things. Yes, I wanted to braid hair and style sweet little curls into the perfect ‘do. YES! I wanted to shop for life’s big moments: graduations, proms, a WEDDING! I wanted my amazing husband to let his daughter wrap her tiny fingers around his. I wanted him to hold her hand through all of life’s ups and downs-loving her unconditionally and in the only way that The Hubs does – beautifully and selflessly.

So yes! I wantED a girl! None of which was rooted in not liking little boys. I LOVE my son and the new sweetie too! I already fiercely protect both of them daily. And that’s just it.

In a time where lynchings still happen, racial kidnappings still happen, segregation still happens (legally), and mass incarceration is back on the Legislation table, poorly disguised as a war on crime- having another little Black man to fret over was just overwhelming. I KNOW that daughters bring their own worries too (Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith-just to name a VERY few). Yet our boys become seen as men as early as age 9. Our Men are seen as threats more readily than neutral.

Studies of deliberately neutral faces (faces showing no emotional facial expressions) find that observers report Black people’s faces to appear angry. One study showed a White face, Black face or other image and at the same time shocked people with a low voltage but uncomfortable electrical shock. This pairing produced a “fear response” whenever the Black face or shock-associated image was shown. The study then showed that Black face or other shock-associated image multiple times WITHOUT the shock in an attempt to get rid of the mental fear that a shock was coming. They found that it was difficult and in some cases impossible to disconnect the physical response of fear of an impending shock from the Black face but not the White face. The study said that perhaps the Black face had an element of natural fear producing similar to the sight of a snake or other natural threat. This natural fear made it harder to disconnect the fear from the face, even after the person was given plenty of time to “know” that no shock was coming. This study was done in the last 20 years and the findings were replicated many times. Furthermore, a 2015 study from NYU found that stress compromised the ability of a person to treat strangers as individuals and instead increased the person’s sensitivity to irrelevant social feedback. So whereas the color of one’s skin might be irrelevant to some, in a stressful situation, all of a sudden race becomes a factor. Given the well-established value of “Blackness”, it’s more than likely to trigger the “natural fear”.

WHEW! You see what happened there? That’s where my mind goes after a lifetime of being Black in America coupled with 6 years of Neuroscience research and reading in graduate school. This is the domino effect I have when I think about how the heavily-armed world sees my sons and male family members. WHO would sign up for double the fear? Apparently me.

So, as I continue to homeschool and enjoy The Kid and wait impatiently on Baby J, I ask that you consider the paragraph above and do you own research. I ask that you think of the joy I felt and how it was tinged with fear that I now have two amazing, beautiful, brilliant little boys who will someday become men. I ask you to celebrate the fullness of my joy with me. And, I ask you to be empathetic of my fears that my little boys might one day be perceived as angry or as a threat and trigger some person in Blue Uniform or person who is licensed to carry. I ask you to consider the singular experience of Black parents who raise their children in America. We do it in constant hope that our children will be given a chance to live freely, make mistakes without street justice, and grow into the beautiful men and women we they are born to be.

So, when people ask me if I wanted a girl, these are all the thoughts that are behind my “yes”. It ain’t pretty. It’s a mess and then some. But it’s the truth and the facts lie scattered all around all of us-no matter your race or economic status.  Walk with me as I go back into having a new human to adore. I’ll be reviewing baby things, asking questions, and sharing how we’re preparing The Kid to be a Big Brother.

Follow me on instagram mamajenhen @milkbrainblog!

 

Meet Our New MilkBrain Author: Tanekeya

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I met Tanekeya on the campus of Howard University. (HU! YOU KNOW!) Back then, I was a chubby faced teen who would walk across the yard and hear “Chipmuuuunk!” There was only one person in the world that called me “Chipmunk” and that was Tanekeya. Hearing it always made me blush and smile. I blushed because I didn’t want others to hear and start calling me that (LOL) but I smiled because I knew I was about to be blessed with a big hug and a GREAT conversation. Tanekeya was and is kind, creative, BEAUTIFUL (see above photo), strong, BRILLIANT, and inspiring. I loved talking with and working with her on Power Hall or simply walking the campus. Never one to talk or think in small ideas, Tanekeya was and is always genuine, encouraging and so unflinchingly positive. It was for all of these amazing virtues that I never minded being called Chipmunk or Gizmo* but saw it as a blessing that someone as amazing as she was my friend. (*I had a thing for wearing my hair in a bun)

Fast forward to 2016-We are both Mothers to Black Boys and it places us in a sensitive space. Tanekeya is a Contemporary Visual Artist, an AOP Fellow and Doctoral Candidate in Urban Education at The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and, as she accurately puts it, “made of intergalactic afro dust”. Like Alexis, Tanekeya will inspire you, empower you and awaken you. All this Magic is contagious, MilkBrain Moms and Dads!! Besides MilkBrain, find out about Tanekeya’s work at http://www.tanekeyaword.com/

The Winding Road

Peace and good vibrations to all of our wonderful readers that will be following our tips, advice , venting, raving, and bragging about our young seeds. I figured as a new author I should introduce myself by telling a part of my story of how I got to this place of homeschooling and all of my side  hustles and ventures.

So I usually go by Lex and I’m generally an artist. The word artist encompasses all of my creative outlets and does not limit me. This was basically my basis for homeschooling my twelve and seven year old moving forward. I simply did not want them limited or boxed in, by sheep-like thinking. I was disappointed with them being labeled and the soul focus on behavior and not their brain power. Also there was an incident of test studies being performed on our children at the middle school without parental consent and that was indeed the last straw.

When I grew up we had wonderful teachers whom were genuinely invested in me, in and outside of school. They had the time and freedom to observe and make plans around their knowledge of individual students and put you in a position to excel if you were ahead of the class. The relationships between teachers and parents was a trusted dynamic, with full communication and disclosure about what was taking place in the class room. Students were not labeled and stamped because it was understood that they were seeds…..and seeds must be placed in the right environment for the most effective and fruitful growth.

However, even within that construct there were many flaws that stifled my growth as an individual and it was because of perspective in the way we as a society  view what is correct and incorrect regarding the formula for success. So for my own sons I wanted to empower them using a collective of techniques and range of tools to inspire them to organically become the men they envision, not what I or society see as the fast track to success. It was also important for me to be able to teach them about their ancestral history and the skills that are genetic to who we are as a people. I feel that in order for one to achieve mastery of self you must first know your self, sometimes that alone is such powerful motivation.

For example, a long time ago boys went through an apprenticeship in order to inherit the business from their father. So, if your father was a carpenter you learned to master the skill of carpentry. Now, let’s say within that chain of family someone finally says “No, I’m going to be a sculptor and wisk off to have a career in the arts”. This person still has inherently been influenced by the great carpenters that came before them and most likely has a natural ability in this field. For instance artist are fluent on my paternal side, my father,  his mother, her father, and now myself and my son. See? It’s something that should be taught to our youth just to encourage some of the traits and natural qualities that they have inherited from there great ancestors. ( Now everyone has good and bad stories about their families so please just focus on the positive when revisiting this topic with your young royals)

These are just some of the reasons that I chose to homeschool.  I also choose the content and teach based on their interest. I want them to blossom in an open field rather than a vase in the window. We also get to travel at will and having more hands-on experiences is something they react to very well.

Now for me personally this has required plenty of adjustments. For starters I had to decide which was more important- my current business and entrepreneurial efforts or my children being in an environment where they can thrive and be all they can be? I evaluated my situation and decided I was in an okay position to focus on them and put the business on a lower priority.  I know it may sound crazy, especially to a single mother but my business was starting to over stress me, so I reduced my hours to three days a week and sometimes four if I had clients overflowing. This  actually increased my finances because it pushed everyone to specific days and rid me of having slow periods during the week. I also have been able to open myself up to other opportunities such as focusing on my blog  sowellgroomed.com and writing for wonderful blogs like Milk Brain. So my college dreams of becoming a Journalist are coming true. If someone would have asked me two years ago what I’d be doing now the answer would not be what my reality is. However I have fully adopted the organic way of living  thinking and being. (It’s a beautiful thing!) Guess what, it’s working!  I’m happier, my children are happier, and slowly I am seeing them regain confidence that the school system stripped them of.