Saturday, January 29, 2011

Signs you need to slow down.

Two weeks ago I opened Zachary's backpack and found an envelope. To Zachary and Isaiah, the outside of it said. Inside of it was an invitation to a birthday party. Nothing unusual. I quickly scan the card and walk over to the family calendar in our kitchen.

January 22, 2011. 4 - 5:30 PM

I am normally on party duty for Team Manning. Not sure how this happened, but it is what it is. Problem is that I had a work commitment on January 22 until 5 PM. This meant party duty would be handed over to Harry. That conversation (which took place while we were both brushing our teeth) went something like this:



"You will need to take the kids to Dyl's party on Saturday. I'll be at work."

"Okay. Did you get a gift?"


"Where is the party?"

"At some kind of play center off of Roswell. It's on the invitation."

"Uhhh, okay. What time?"

"4 PM."

"Just make sure the gift is somewhere where I can find it."


So. I go to work on January 22 early in the morning. And Harry, in his normal Harry way, plans a fun-filled day for the children culminating with the aforementioned party. When Harry takes the kids to parties (alone), it often becomes a bit of a production. He needs every single detail laid out the day before. Unlike me. Who just knows the day and roughly the time, and considers that enough.

Not my husband. He is one of those people that (exactly like my father), when he opens a box, lays down every single piece in a perfect row next to the instructions before putting one single thing together. Now that I think of it, they both completely cut up all of their pancakes and then put syrup on them. (I'm a cut as I go kind of girl.)

But I digress.

Back to the party.

My ex-military, Army Ranger, order-loving husband has everything set before we go to bed on January 21. Gift on the living room table. Directions next to the gift. Good to go.

3PM, I send a text:

"How are you coming along?"

"Good. Heading out now. Put it in navigation."

"Got the gift?"


At 4:20 PM, I peek at my phone to confirm that Harry had made it safely. Doh! Four missed calls. One text message:

"Call your husband."

Call my husband? Eek. Opt for wimpy text message instead:

"You okay? Still in the conference."

"Not okay. Party is not today. It is next week. RSVP was by 22nd."

Rut roh.

(before I could reply with my pathetic apology)

"And this place was far as hell."

"Yikes. I'm sorry."

(No reply.) Double yikes.

So. After hearing my husband repeat to me approximately 700 trillion times how crappy it was to drive across town to some hard to find party spot, I assure him that I will be back on party duty the next week. No problem.

Yesterday, I came down with a terrible cold. I slept in this morning, and although I was sure he would if I asked him, I couldn't bring myself to ask Harry to pick up party duty for me. I sucked it up, and planned to take my lumps.

3:50 PM: Called Harry because I was lost.

3:55 PM: Still lost.

4:05 PM: Called Harry again. Still lost.

4:10 PM: Busting into play center huffing and puffing with two groggy children (who had fallen asleep in the car) in tow.

4:11 PM: Recognize exactly zero people in the entire (not very large) center.

4:12 PM: Kids crying. Isaiah wailing, "A-gaaaain??"

4:13 PM: Texting Harry from the parking lot:

"Party is on January 30. Today is January 29."


"I know. We suck."

"No. Not we, babe."


Please tell me that you guys make equally embarrassing mistakes. . . . . please tell me so I can be reminded of what a great mother I am. . . .

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't make me over.

All work and no play makes Grady a dull hospital.....

Grady = Good Times

This lovely snapshot was taken today, courtesy of one our Emory senior medical students. After our meeting about her residency plans, we got on to some very important topics such as her long, lovely hair that seemed to have grown to supermodel proportions since the last time we met!

It kind of went something like this:

Me: "Girrrrl, look how pretty your hair is!! What'd you do--put that Latisse eyelash potion on your ponytail?"

Her: laughter

Being the uber-serious at all times role model that I am, of course we discussed her career plans first....but very soon after I decided I'd try on Parissa's hair -- juuuust in case I require entrance into a witness protection program at some point. (I'm just sayin'!)

Answers to the questions you are surely thinking:

  • Yes. That's her own luscious ponytail (not a clip-in weave) that I spontaneously turned into a toupee.
  • Yes. I am one of the people training America's future doctors. (Scary, I know.)
  • No. There were no patients or animals harmed during this experiment.

Hope you took a few moments from all that work to play a little today, too. In every day there's a little bit of fun just a-waiting to be had.

Happy Wednesday! ;)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Payback is a mother (and a father.)

names, details, etc. changed to protect anonymity. . . .
image credit
"Seem like every generation have a little more chances."

~ A Grady elder

Sometimes, despite my Pollyanna exterior, I just don't feel like doing all the things people ask of me. I open emails and see requests for all kinds of things and check messages that query if I can be here or be there . . . .and most times. . .it's cool. But sometimes, I just want to growl.


Sometimes, it gets to be a lot. A whole lot.

On those days, I just want to run out of my front door screaming, "No!" (Or to set my email with an out of office reply that simply says, "No." And nothing else.)


That's why I love working at Grady Hospital so much. Every time I feel this way, something happens to right my thinking and put me back on track. To snap me out of my doldrums and give my soul a charge. To remind me of how much greater all of this is than me. In that way that only Grady can.

This was one of those times.


In the Grady clinic:

"Okay, Mr. Felton. Let's just recap all of this. You have the appointment to get your echocardiogram of your heart, the appointment with the cardiologist, and then depending upon what they say, we'll know what the game plan is for you getting the defibrillator put in."

This is what my excellent resident, Maggie, said to one of our Grady elders the other day in the clinic. We had come back to the room after their initial encounter where, after having me repeat a few key points of the physical exam and history, we were now wrapping up the complicated visit with Mr. Felton and his heart failure.

"Alright," said Mr. Felton with a smile. Even thought we'd welcomed him to sit back in the chair, he remained perched on top of the examining table like a regal hawk. His eyes were focused on Maggie's mouth as she spoke, almost as if he was reading her lips. I stood near the door taking it all in.

Mr. Felton had been feeling more and more short of breath. We already knew that his heart was very weak from his remote use of alcohol. Heavy drinking is one of the most common causes we see of dilated hearts that don't pump right. Mr. Felton fell into that category, and it seemed that the hollow pump in his chest was trying harder and harder to poop out on him.

"Mr. Felton, you are such a wonderful patient. You get an A+ for always following the directions we give you," Maggie affirmed. They locked eyes and smiled. "Now tell me, sir. What questions do you have for me?"

Mr. Felton zipped his coat and placed his weathered cap on his head. "I reckon I'm alright," he replied.

I finally chimed in. "Sir?"


"Your doctor was telling me that you didn't make it to these appointments when we referred you a couple of months ago. How do you get to your appointments? Do you rely on Grady transportation?"

"No, ma'am. My daughter, she brang me to all my 'perntments."

"Oh. . . .okay." I paused for a moment. "Does she live with you, sir?"

"No'm. But she do see about me every day. She was gone out of town for a few days and she normally see about my mail. It backed up some, and I thank she didn't see the 'perntments."

I loved his pronunciation of the word "appointment." It was so Grady elder of him.

Maggie, being the intuitive resident she is and a person who has worked with her very predictable attending for the last two years, saw where I was going with all of this. "Mr. Felton? Sir, I'm not sure I've ever asked you this. How far in school did you go?"

"I went to 'bout seven. I mean grade seven."

She looked at me quickly and then back at him. "Sir, are you. . .able to read?"

"Yeah ma'am. I do alright."

Maggie caught my eyes again, searching me for suggestions. I thought for a few moments and decided to explore this further.

"Mr. Felton? We were just thinking about how much stuff we asked you to do today. It sounds like the appointments and directions can be pretty confusing. How comfortable would you say that you are with reading the things we send you or better yet your mail in general?"

"You know what? Tha's a good way to put it. I can read. But I ain't too comfortable with it at all." He chuckled.

"I hear you, sir," I said with a big smile. "There's a lot of things that I can do, but I'm not too comfortable with." Mr. Felton seemed to like this, so I went on. "Like. . . .I can mow the lawn in my front yard. But I'm not exactly comfortable doing it, and would be happy to let somebody else step in and do it for me."

We all laughed.

"I know tha's right!" Mr. Felton cosigned. He seemed tickled at the image of me charging around my grass with a roaring lawn mower.

"Mr. Felton, sir," I continued, "maybe we can work harder to make sure the directions we give are such that you can do them even when your daughter is out of town. That sound okay?"


Maggie went into the computer, and began to do just that.

"The echocardiogram--" she stopped mid-sentence and corrected herself. "--the ultrasound of your heart that tells us how strong your heart pumps--that's going to be on the second floor on Tuesday. One o' clock. You see the heart doctors or what we call the cardiologists at three o'clock on the same day."

I felt proud of Maggie. We had discussed health literacy numerous times, and the importance of taking a "universal precaution" approach to all of our patient communication by always using straightforward language and confirming understanding. Admittedly, this part of the encounter was not unusual. Many of our patients have limited literacy, and we know for sure that this can sure make it rough to navigate your health care.

Maggie diligently wrote the times onto a sheet of paper.

"Give this to your daughter,okay?" Maggie added a few more words and handed it over to him. Mr. Felton took the paper and held it back from his eyes.


We all smiled. Especially him.

I studied his long, leathery, espresso-colored fingers as they trembled while holding the 8 x 11 scrawled with Maggie's words. Then, I thought about what had just happened. He had just read the instructions--aloud.

Here's the thing: Mr. Felton was two beats away from his ninth decade and had only reached seventh grade. I was surprised at how well he could read, even if he wasn't always comfortable doing it. I immediately wanted to know more of his story.

"Mr. Felton? Did you learn to read when you were a child?" I asked.

"Nawww. I didn't even start school 'til I was round eight years old," he quickly responded. We listened in silence as he went on. "I remember that first day--shoooot--that teacher put five words up on that chalk board and I didn't know what it was!" He shook his head. "Back then, they didn't always make sure you could read. And if you missed school to work, nobody came looking for you, you know?"


"Wow," I said instead. I hung on his every word, nudging him to continue.

"See, I'm from the country. When you come of age, they needed you in the field or if'n you was a girl, to see about the other chil'ren. School wasn't no guarantee."

School wasn't no guarantee? Damn again.

As my husband says, this was "real talk."

I imagined Mr. Felton as a young tween, waking up one day and learning that his school days were up. Exchanging his knapsack for a basket and a hoe to plow the field. Just like that. Whether he liked it or not. I felt an intense wave of gratitude for the evolution of the times. For some reason, the moment moved me in a way that caught me off guard. I found myself coaching away the tears that were gathering in the corners of my eyes.

Maggie spoke up. "So, then, when did you learn to read, Mr. Felton? That was awesome the way you read that to us."

"My daughter," he responded with a proud smile. "My daughter. When she was just a little thang, she taught me how to read. She showed me how to string all them sounds together to make words. And you know she wasn't even more than nine or so when she did. She would go to school and then come home and wont me to play school with her." He laughed at the memory. "She liked to be the teacher. And she still steady bossin' her Daddy around."

This punched me in the chest and brought even more tears forward.

Your daughter? Taught you to read when she was a fourth grader?

I couldn't take it. I was officially on the tippy-tip edge of crying and knew that if I didn't get out of there, I would blow.

Mr. Felton smiled and shook his head. "Seem like every generation get a little more chances. Here you are a doctor, teaching me about my heart." He looked me in my glassy eyes, warm and genuine. The tears pushed out onto my lashes as I drew in a deep breath.

Despite being on the tippy-tip edge of crying, I reached out and grabbed his hand. I had to. I needed him to know how thankful I was, and how true his words were. I wanted him to know that I was touching and agreeing with him, and part of me wanted to be infused with his spirit and his history.

There goes another punch to my chest. I had to get out of there.

I abruptly stepped away and put my hand on the door. "Okay, Mr. Felton, let me leave. You're going to make me cry."

"Aww, now don't do that, Miss Manning," he said with a chuckle. Maggie watched me carefully, knowing that I was serious. I turned my back before he'd know I was serious, too.

I indeed excused myself from the room and waited for a moment outside the door. I allowed myself a few seconds to process that exchange. I patted the corners of my eyes, and took a deep breath.

I regrouped and headed down the hall to see more patients.


This morning, I am reflecting on the evolution of time and opportunities, and all that it has afforded so many people like me. I am reminding myself of why I have been charged to do all that I have to do, and I am coaching myself to do as much as I can to live up to why I am here. It's so much bigger than me.

I am picturing my father sitting across from his high school counselor in a 1961 Birmingham, Alabama office, hearing that counselor say to my seventeen year old father in the clearest way ever,

"Don't major in biology or try to go to medical school because you won't get in. Go study engineering."

And him saying, "But I'm not very good at math."

And him replying, "Well, that's what you need to study if you want to get a job and not waste your time."

I'm seeing myself as a ninth grader, working on a science project with my dad the reluctant engineer, who meticulously helped me with every detail. And me telling him that I wanted to be a doctor some day, and him telling me that I will be a doctor some day. For sure.

Then I'm thinking of all of the love that had to go into Mr. Felton raising a daughter who would not only teach her father how to read, but some sixty years later, accompany him to every doctor's appointment-- and "see about him" every single day. I recognize it as the same kind of love that went into getting me to this very moment in time where I, a young woman of color who became exactly what my childhood dreams imagined, sat across from him, an older man whose dreams were limited by ceilings made of not just glass but cement. . . . .as his doctor. The doctor my father wanted to be, but was advised that he could never become.


I caught a glimpse of Mr. Felton's daughter holding the door for him along with a bag, his umbrella, and most importantly, his hand on their way out.

I look down at my stiff white coat, the stethoscope folded neatly in its pocket, and all it represents. I feel renewed, recharged and indebted to those who wished they could wake up to all of the things that I don't always "feel like" doing.

In that moment, I hear his words again.

"Seem like every generation get a little more chances."

Ah hah.

The reason why I have more chances.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ninjas and Bullies.

Isaiah and I were reading a book the other day. He was reading unusually well this day, and didn't seem to be getting tripped up on the words that normally trip him up. Finally, he reached one word, looked at me and said,

"I had almost forgot that there was a ninja on the end of that word."

I pictured a ninja and wondered what he was talking about which, if you know any five-year-old boys, could be absolutely anything. "Excuse me?"

"Silent 'e' is a ninja, mom. Didn't ya know?"

"No, I didn't."

"Yeah, mom. It sneaks up on the vowels and changes them. Kinda like 'bossy r' does."

"Bossy r?"

"Yeah, mom. R is the bossiest letter in the alphabet. It bullies all the vowels. And she's just a consonant."

'Just a consonant?' .

"That 'r' is so bossy, Mommy! She's a booolly!" Zachary chimed in.

"Uhhh, okay," I chuckled.

Isaiah keeps reading. He then reaches the word "march."  He pauses for a few seconds, and then reads it no problem.

"Good job, bud," I said.

"Have you seen the music man sing about 'ch'?" he replied.

"No. . . not familiar with that one."

All of a sudden, Zachary jumps up, shakes his booty in that perfectly four-year-old way, and starts singing something I have never heard. I later learn that it's The 'ch' Song.


Silent 'e' the ninja. Bossy 'r' the consonant. And The 'ch' Song. Sigh. I can take no credit for any of it. I owe it all to the snow.

All of this crazy goodness is courtesy of the new and improved version of "The Electric Company" on PBS--the show that tortured my children all last week.

While I must admit that I do allow my children to watch some television, to help relieve myself of guilt, I try hard to limit it as much as possible. When I do limit it, it's to things on PBS Kids or movies of my choice.  During the big Atlanta snow week, it was hard to keep them from watching so much TV between snow play (and Zach didn't like the snow, remember?) so they were stuck watching repeats of PBS Kids shows.

Enter "The Electric Company."

I felt terribly guilty about all that TV until that moment. But now? I can honestly say that it has helped my son to pick up some new reading skills. So, I guess what I'm saying is that strategic television isn't so bad. In fact it might be good sometimes. And besides.  If Morgan Freeman and his old school version didn't ruin me, this Y2K upgrade can't be too bad, right?

Long before he drove Miss Daisy, he drove kids like me.

 Yes. I will continue to read to my kids, whip out the sight word flash cards and take them to the library, but on those days when this full time working mama is running out of gas?  I'll welcome a playdate with bossy 'r', music man, and ninja silent 'e' any time. (And if I can find it on YouTube, Morgan Freeman can come, too!)

Check these out for fun. . . .
"Silent 'e' is a ninja. . . ."

"The 'ch' song. . ."

". . . .and bossy 'r'!"

Oh yeah. . . .and, thanks to YouTube, I found Morgan, too. . . . just in case you want a blast from the past!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Words to Live By.

Today I am reflecting on these words:

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples; that you have love for one another."

~ John 13:35


This is actually my most favorite of my two favorite scriptures in the entire bible. No matter what version. It always sounds beautiful and perfect and has become a mantra that I tell my boys and myself often.

My other favorite one is this:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts."

~ Psalm 139:23

Here's the thing--it doesn't matter what religion or spiritual path you follow. To me, these words are meaningful and serve as a beautiful guide on a path to authenticity regardless of in whom or what you believe.

The first verse is so perfect in it's simplicity. How will people know who you are and what you represent? Not by what you say. Not by how much money you have. Not by how fancy you dress. Get it? Your "story" is tied up in the way you love. Judgement, mean spiritedness, and narrow views send a mighty message that no amount of straight-laced-ness can camouflage. You can be in church every Sunday, have perfect attendance at your mosque, or keep the sabbath without fail. If you can't figure out how to love--I mean really love--no one will see the light in you. No matter where you think that light comes from.

Get it?

To me, Psalm 139:23 is about "the real you." Kind of like "you can run but you can't hide" from who you really are. (Don't we all feel like running and hiding from ourselves sometimes?) I feel slightly scared when I read it. Search me? Know my heart? Yikes. It's like inviting a spiritual pat-down.

More than anything, it reminds me of how glad I am for grace and mercy. The same God who knows the wrinkled and crinkled me, and who has both tried me and known even my most unkind thoughts, accepts me and loves me anyway.


Knowing who people are and realizing their shortcomings. . . . .but loving them anyway? Letting love, not piety, be your calling card?

Yeah, man. That's what I'm talking about.

Listen. I'm not there yet. Not even close. But I'm trying, man. These words ground me and get me back on track. As a doctor, as a wife, as a mother, as a friend, as a sister, as a daughter, as an individual. In all these roles, I just hope to eventually have the me on the outside mirror the me on the inside.

I'll let you know how it goes. . . . .


What words inspire you?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Culture Club.

"Do you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry?
Do you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry?"

~ Culture Club

When I was a resident, we weren't always so professional. In fact, oftentimes, we were downright unprofessional. I mean, we cared about our patients and did everything to keep them alive. But back then, pre-duty hours reform, we worked obscenely heinous hours. And on top of that, the whole "professionalism" and "humanism" movement hadn't quite hit yet. Every now and then, I remember some of the things I heard, said, or to which I didn't object--and I cringe. No--first, I shudder, and then I totally cringe.

Today, I am reflecting on knowing better and doing better.

There was a middle school kid who was emergently rushed into our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit during my PICU rotation as a second year Med/Peds resident. My team that month consisted of a third year Pediatrics senior resident, who took call with me. There was one other junior/senior team, and a nurse practitioner there that month, too. Supervising us all was our attending and a Pediatric Intensive Care Fellow.

This particular day, my team was the one on call, so we admitted that seventh grade boy.

What I remember is that he had deliberately drank a few swallows of Liquid Drano because he was mad at his mother. It unfortunately liquified his esophagus, and nearly killed him. It remains one of the most awful things I have ever seen in clinical practice.

My upper level and I cared for that child all month long. And he was so, so sick. Reconstructive surgeries. Setbacks. Total parenteral nutrition. Back to the OR. Infections. Adhesions. Back to the OR. It was terrible.

But now that I am older, I remember some other parts of that month and those times. If I close my eyes, I can even feel the culture we were in back then . . . .sigh. . . .and it wasn't always good. Humor was our pressure release valve, and we released pressure a lot that month.

Me as a second year, but this classmate, Ron C., is NOT the resident in the story!
After seeing and caring for that young man for so many days, we somehow lost our sensitivity chip. Completely. I wish I could say that I was the one who objected and that I could tell this story not as a "we" but as a "they". . . .but I can't.

It started with my senior resident. He had already been asked to be chief resident, and was considered a golden boy. I worshiped this guy, and everyone else on our team, including the attending and the fellow, thought he'd hung the moon. We were rounding one day. . . on like hospital day ten or something. . . and I can hear it like it was yesterday. We stopped in front of his room and my resident said,

"And now, for 'The Gutless Wonder.'"

My real, true recollection? Everyone laughed. Including our attending. Including me.

"No guts, no glory," my attending replied. Then he added, "Literally."

Everyone howled. Me included.

The fellow snickered and said, "Guess he won't be swallowing his pride for trying to get even with his mom!"

Bwwwahhhh haaaa!

I actually remember thinking it was cool that our attending could loosen up and poke fun with us. I thought he was the cat's pajamas for being so easygoing that he'd join in all of our (making) fun. Every day it was something new. And even he was in on it.

"How is Mr. Esophagush?" he asked one morning. Yes, the attending.

More laughter.

Every time I think of that month, I want to hang my head. How could we have been talking that way about someone who was literally on the brink of death? How could we stand in front of his mother, the mother who trusted us so much, and still say such things in her absence? How could our leaders have been talking that way?

It was terrible.

All month long, if a patient stayed with us long enough, at some point they became fair game for "witty" team jokes. Another one I continue to feel ashamed of:

"Are you down with hearing about our Downs baby?" my senior would ask each day.

(Insert collective laughter here--especially from the attending which, to a resident physician, is equivalent to high praise from a parent to a child.)


Every single day, this is how he preceded his discussion of this sweet, sweet infant girl on our service who was hospitalized with congenital heart disease as a complication of Down Syndrome. And although I can't remember if I LOL'ed as second year in 1997 or simply looked amused--what I know for sure is that I didn't protest. At all. Not even internally I didn't protest. Even as an intern without a big voice, I could have screamed at the top of my lungs on the inside.

But I never did.

Shame on me. Even in 1997, shame on me . . . . . and shame on us all.

But especially our role models. Now that I am allegedly one myself, I bristle every time I imagine myself as that attending.

That was then, yes. But it was still foul. Real, real foul. . . . .even in 1990's pre-duty hours reform, it was foul. And it's foul to this day.

"Give me time. . . . .to realize my crime. . . ."   

~ Culture Club

Today I am reflecting on the power of culture. More than that, I am reflecting on the power of role models as drivers of the culture in our learning climates. I am so happy to be a clinician educator in an era that promotes feeling and acknowledging that being tired and overworked is no excuse for being unprofessional. I'd like to think that our culture has evolved to something more empathic than walking up to the bedside of a twelve year old with a chemically decimated esophagus and who is fighting for his life, closing the door so his mom can't hear and saying, "Gutcheck!" (Bah-dump-bump!)

What about now?

Do tired learners and faculty still lose their manners? I'd say, yes. Call me naive, but I'd say it's not as bad, though. At least now we are practicing in times where you wouldn't seem like a martian for raising a red flag when someone does take a complete detour from professional behavior.

Knowing better. . . . .

Referring to somebody's beloved child or loved one as "a Downs baby" is beyond offensive. It's hurtful and rude. Furthermore, many don't even realize that the proper term is "Down Syndrome" -- named for the late physician John Langdon Down--and even saying "Downs" with an 's' is not cool.

I now know for sure that just referring to the child by their name works just fine, thank you very much.

Sigh. To every single one of those patients. . . . I deeply apologize. I know it's over a decade late, but I do. I really do.

Nowadays, my "fun" references to my patients are things more like "F.P." for favorite patient or something like that. And while I do like having that relaxed camaraderie with my own students and residents just like my PICU attending did with us, now I know enough to not try to achieve it at my patient's expense.


"When you know better, you do better."

~ Maya Angelou

Do better, man.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eyes (sort of) on the Prize.

"Keep Your eyes on the prize. . . Hold on. . . ."

On the actual MLK holiday, we had a ginormous play date with several of my friends' children. This was the nerdy concept of my med school classmate and fellow Grady doctor, Yolanda W. (who has been up to such shenanegans ever since we were medical students.) Anyways, the idea was to reflect with our kids on why they were out of school, to read them a few stories and do some crafts surrounding Dr. King and the civil rights movement, and then to have them all watch a little bit of the classic series "Eyes on the Prize."

The crafts? A hit.
The stories? Not necessarily a hit, but definitely had a few solid takers.
The DVD of "Eyes on the Prize?"Uhhhh. . . .

Isaiah and Jonah. Quite crafty, for kindergartners.


Let's be clear here. We are talking about kids ranging from age 4 all the way to 12. We are talking black and white movie clips from the Little Rock nine, The Edmund Pettus bridge, and pro-segregation rants from that former governor of Alabama. And we are not just talking that stuff, but that other heavy stuff, too. Hoses spraying and German shepherds attacking men and women who just might as easily be their grandparents. Not exactly Sponge Bob or The Electric Company. Fortunately, the kids were good sports, and actually seemed half way excited about the whole thing at the beginning. . . . .

We were like, total Cosby parents. Like totally. Doctors, lawyers and ev'rythang. Full blown, new millennium Huxtables, I tell you. (Come on, don't act like y'all don't remember the episode where Heathcliff, Claire and the whole Huxtable family sat around clutching their chests in silent wonder while watching "I Have a Dream" on television.)

Well, anyways, it was feeling like it was going to be just like that. For real. Rudy, Vanessa and Theo had nothing on our kids! They clapped their hands and cheered. They answered all of our questions about Dr. King with aplomb! And then. . .finally, they all settled down into their chairs--cozy and cooperative--fully prepared to go on a journey back in time. Already promising to keep their eyes on the prize. Sigh. (This is the part where we pat our own backs and congratulate ourselves for being such forward thinking, politically correct and freakin' awesome parents.)

Then we actually turned the DVD on.

Wait for it . . . wait for it. . .

Um, yeah.

After approximately two and a half old negro spirituals, one scene of a woman in cat-eye glasses being handcuffed and escorted to a paddywagon, and three interviews with soft-spoken elders who'd lived through the movement. . . . .us (forward thinking, politically correct, and freakin' awesome) parents were nearly in tears, marveling at our Huxtable-ness.


Our well meaning attempt at getting our children more in touch with this important part of American history looked a little more like this:
Crickets. . . .

Oh well. It was worth a try.

Admittedly, our 5th and 6th graders were somewhat interested, but were a bit too distracted by the handstands and booty-shaking of the little kids during the interludes. (I'm just sayin'.)

During all of this, us nerdy moms did the thing that I have now come to accept that moms always do when it is after 4 PM and we have a quorum present: bust open a bottle of vino!

Out came the red wine, and (yes, it gets nerdier) Yolanda had us play a "Black History Trivia Game."
The proof.

I am not too convinced that Dr. King would have approved of all of the trashtalking that this game involved. . . .

I am proud to say that Crystal K. and I achieved legendary status as the winners of MLK Day-Red-Red-Wine-and-Black-History-Trivia Day.

Forward-thinking, freakin' awesome, black history trivia mavens, please step forward.

I don't know about Dr. King, but personally, I think that at least Dr. Huxtable would've been proud. :)


In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, thought I'd share this other video that I love to watch every year around this time. . . also inspired by this great man with his great vision. . . .performed by another great man with great vision. Take a moment to listen to the lyrics of a young Bono. . . .forward thinking, too. . . even in his early career.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm OK. You're OK.

Isaiah this morning: Living the dream. . .

 "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I was riding in the car with Isaiah the other day on the way home from school.  Like always, he was running down, in great detail, every little thing that had happened that day. Usually, I drive along saying, "Uh huh. . uh huh. . oh wow, bud, really?. . . .uh huh. . .you did?. . . uh huh. . ." 

You get the picture.

Mostly it's stuff like who got a "silent lunch" or who was the mystery reader or what girl he thinks he (just might) consider marrying.  But this day, he threw me for a loop.

"One of my friends asked me to come over for a play date soon, but I don't think so."

"Oh, yeah? Which one?"

He said the name and I was a bit surprised. This kid was a part of his "crew."  Isaiah has a group of pals at school, all of whom are kindergartners, and as a pack, they literally look like a Benetton ad.  He speaks of them nonstop, and the thought of him referring to part of the UN posse as a no go for a play date was perplexing.

"Why wouldn't you want to go over his house? Isn't he your friend?"

"He is."

Uh okay.

"So why wouldn't you want to go for a play date with him?"

"Oh, because he said that people with black skin are bad and not smart."


You know the needle scratched the record on that one.  I could feel my protective mommy instincts revving up BIG TIME.

"What???"  I tried not to sound as outraged as I was feeling.

Isaiah was super, duper calm.  So I decided I needed to follow his lead.  I took a deep breath and asked more questions.

"Why would he say something like that?" (Dumb question, right? He's in kindergarten so of course he heard an adult say it. Duh.) "I mean, how did that make you feel?"

"Well, it didn't make me feel good, Mom. That's for sure."

And I'm telling you. He said it like he was talking about soccer practice or something on his Nintendo DSi. Like it was no big deal.  No sweat off of his back.

"Who was there with you?"  (Yes, another dumb question. I know who is in his crew and that he is the only member that happens to be black. Interestingly, the child who dropped this zinger was of color--just not the black persuasion.)

He named all of the kids who were there. In that group of five kids, a myriad of ethnicities were represented.  But my Isaiah was the lone African-American kid. I thought I would be sick. Or worse, that I would go to the school and kick someone's ass.

"So. . . . .what happened next? I mean. . .what did you do, son?"

I hated the thought of him being singled out or bullied or even having some seed of self hatred planted for his race at such an early age.  I could feel my blood boiling. . . . .

"Mom, I just looked at him and said, 'What are you even talking about? That is a dumb thing to say.'"

"So then what happened?" I pressed.  I wanted every detail. I was prepared to march on Washington, and I needed facts. Facts, I say.

"He said it again. He said that people with black skin are bad and not smart."

What the. . .? Now I was sure I was going to kick somebody's ass. Or their mama's ass. 100% guar-own-teed.

"But you know what, Mom? I knew it wasn't true so I didn't care."

Yay. Yay, yay, yay.

I can't tell you how many times I've worried about my child not loving who he is, especially considering we don't live in a predominantly black neighborhood. Without being militant, I make every effort to give him as many reasons as possible to be proud of his heritage and of the ancestors that gave so much for us to be here. The day I learned that he would be the only black male in his class, I remember praying that the things we'd discussed with him had marinated enough to carry him through times like this.

I could feel my eyes tingling with tears, the emotions behind which I could not explain. I was speechless. But Isaiah wasn't.

"So you know what I said to him?  I said, 'That's a dumb thing to say because that is not true. FIRST of all, Miss W. is our teacher and SHE has black skin. And SECOND of all, Mr. M. has black skin and he's the PRINCIPAL so you KNOW he's smart and not bad!"  He said it all with that exasperated "duh" type voice. Like his friend had said something that was total nonsense.

I felt this weird mixture of wanting to cry and pride at the same time. He kept going.

With a childishly innocent laugh he added, "and guess what my other friend said?" (His Jewish friend with white skin, that is.)

I was afraid to guess, but knew I needed to hear it. "What did he say?"

He snorted and giggled, "He said, Yeah and THIRD of all, OBAMA has black skin and HE is the PRESIDENT of the WHOLE UNITED STATES! So DUHHHH!' and Mommy, everybody started laughing really hard because how can the president be bad and not smart?" He cackled a silly cackle.

Now I really wanted to cry.

"Did you tell anyone?"

"About what?"

"About what he said to you."

"It was a dumb thing to say so we all just ignored it and kept playing."

"Oh. . . okay. Do you think maybe we should tell Miss W.?"

"About what?"

"Isaiah! About what he said to you about black skin."

"No, Mom. That was a dumb thing to say. Hey, can I have a hot dog for dinner?"

"Maybe.  So are you okay. . .I mean, about what he said about people with black skin?"

"I'm okay with having black skin because that's how God made me. And you and dad told me to be proud of how God made me." That one knocked the wind from my chest. "Oh, Mom? I definitely don't want any brussel sprouts or spaghetti again."

I caught my breath and said, "Okay. You can have salad.  Uuhhh. . .so are y'all still friends? You and him?"

"Oh yeah, Mom, he's still my friend. Now he knows that what he said was dumb so now he doesn't think that anymore. . . . ."


I drove in silence trying to get my head around the whole conversation and marveling at the beautiful innocence of children.

". . .but, Mom? I still don't want to go to his house for a play date."


The Drum Major Instinct.

 When I was fifteen years old, I got in trouble for doing something that I had no business doing. While I do not remember exactly what it is that I did wrong (I did a lot of stuff back then), I do vividly recall the "punishment" issued in its response.

"I want you to sit in your room and listen to this speech. Then I want you to write me an essay about what you learned."

Wait, huh?

That's what my dad said to me that day. Not "you're grounded." Not "you can't watch television or you can't go to your friend's house." We were getting older and dad was looking for a remix on the discipline. Spanking a tenth grade girl was probably just a little weird, and because his nerdy kids liked reading so much, being grounded did nothing but give us an excuse to finish the next book in the V.C. Andrews saga.  So the folks had to get creative. His latest resort during this time?  Playing Martin Luther King sermons for his teenage kids. Uggghhh.

Oh yeah--and making them write essays afterward.

So. . .on the day to which I am referring, Daddy had me listen to one called "The Drum Major Instinct." I think I rolled my eyes so hard that day that they nearly permanently lodged in the back of my eye sockets. But. . . I finally sat down, opened up the case with the cassette covered with Dad's all caps handwriting, and sulked my chin into my palm.


Then he started speaking. . . .and wow.  The day I heard that wobbly tape playing from the boombox in our bedroom remains one I will never forget.  The words. . .those words. . . they shook me to my core.

By this time, I'd heard "I Have a Dream" several times.  In fact, I even knew several parts of it by heart. But this one. . . it never came on during television broadcasts or was included in our school productions. Yeah.  "The Drum Major" -- who?

The Drum Major Instinct essentially says that within everyone lies a desire to, at some point and in some way, march out in front. To be first. To lead the parade.  He explains that  whether we admit it to ourselves or not, praise feels good.  Yet this instinct has much to do with all that is awry with the world.  He also rounds up the message by charging the listener and also himself to never let go of your "Drum Major Instinct" -- but to instead push to be a "drum major" in the ways that matter most:


I was deeply convicted by those words that day. They made me want to be better. To try harder. To love with zeal. And to strive to achieve my own kind of distinction.

I never forgot those words. Twenty five years later, they still resonate with me and move me in the deepest parts of my soul.

Every year on the MLK holiday, I listen to "The Drum Major Instinct." Today, I hope you will, too.

Thanks, Dad.


Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.  You were a drum major, indeed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reflection on a Sunday Night: Action Talks.

This evening I am reflecting on something wonderful that I heard today:

"True love is an action.  Not just a reaction."


Sigh. Love that on so many levels. . . . .don't you?


With my linesister and one of my bff's, Ebony ~ half woman, half amazing

"Chance made us sisters, hearts made us friends."

~ Anonymous

In 1992, I pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority as a collegiate at Tuskegee University in Alabama. It was one of the best things I've ever done. On Thursday I joined a group of wonderful women to celebrate our sorority's "Founders Day."

Fun, friends, festivity, and faux fur . . .what more could you ask for?

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated was founded on January 13, 1913. On this day, there are often big celebrations all over the country for Delta girls, and for the last few years, I've met up with a few of my sorority sisters from around the Atlanta area. This year was particularly fun because the bunch of women I gathered with all had one thing in common: we pledged Delta at Tuskegee University. It was really great!

Delta girls from after my time ~ 1998 initiates.

There are nine historically black Greek letter organizations. Delta Sigma Theta just happens to be the best of the sororities. (Okay, I'm biased.) Anyways, with all such organizations, your pledge constitutes a lifelong promise to remain active in the community and in public service. Upon graduation, you join a graduate chapter to continue this commitment, or for some people who don't pledge while in school, initiation takes place long after they have finished college. The take home point is that, while college sorority and fraternity life is a load of fun in these organizations, the real work begins after you get your degree. In fact, it's an expectation.

Sooooo . . for those unfamiliar, this is why you see people that appear waaaaayy too old to be wearing Greek paraphernalia proudly donning their t-shirts and with placards decorating the fronts of their cars. You'll never hear someone say "I used to be a Delta when I was in college." Or use past tense when referring to any historically African-American Greek letter organization. Once you make that promise, it becomes a part of who you are and how you roll. For good.

Generations of Tuskegee Deltas!

The best part was seeing all of us all grown up. Way back when, I felt so much older than my sorority sisters who pledged in the late nineties. Now, here we all were. . .sipping margaritas, talking about school closings, jobs, and life. . . all grown up.

What's most exciting is that all of these once silly college girls have morphed into more than just grown women with careers and families---almost everyone is walking in their purpose and doing great things--and that's awesome. Today we are still Deltas, but now we are also moms, wives, aunties, breast cancer survivors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, television and radio personalities, social workers, entrepreneurs, authors, nurses, fitness experts, pharmaceutical representatives, real estate moguls and so much more.

"Stomping the yard" with my college roommate the night our initiation was final. . .
. . .and as grown-ups at Homecoming weekend sixteen years later

I guess the other cool part is that same things that made us all desire to be members of this public service-oriented sorority has also made us gel as friends. Delta brought some of my very best friends (and hence very best memories) into my life.

Today I'm reflecting on the wonderful, wonderful relationships that I have been afforded through membership in Delta Sigma Theta. I am also reflecting on the legions of Delta women who have changed the world, and the ones who are making history as we speak.

Just a few of the fabulous Delta women I know and love. . . . .

With my "number" -- a 2007 pledge at Tuskegee
With the great artistic director of The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater ~ Judith Jamison

Michelle J., with future Delta Paige (holding Isaiah as a baby. . awwww!)

My "front" and my rock, Crystal. We pledged together!
Hanging out with sorority sisters from my current graduate chapter this summer
With Stacy H., one of my favorite Grady doctors--yep, also a Delta!

On my 40th birthday, surrounded by my sorority sisters turned old friends (linesisters from Spring 1992 at Tuskegee!)

My favorite Delta diva, Jan L.

With the late icon and former national president, Dorothy I. Height
Ten Year Line Anniversary
Singing and celebrating on our college campus and at a step show (above) with my  GT '98 "little" sis
D.C.'s finest attorney, Sherrese H. and her mommy -- both awesome Delta women!
My linesisters acting crazy at my wedding!
Sweet April W. ~ I wrote her letter for her Delta initiation, and now she's a Delta, too!
Stacy B. and my sis, Deanna ~ no one knows more about the sorority than these two!
with my Tuskegee sorority sister and friend, Tamika. She pledged in 1996, the year I graduated med school!
Celebrating with our sorority sister, Tasia, who had just been the lead in "A Raisin in the Sun."

Two of the best friends and linesisters a girl could have: Ebony and Joy
My favorite "Delta dear" ~ Winifred S.
Deltas, moms, and friends ~ with Kim B., my oldest friend ever (also a Delta!)

With Michele T. and Falona G. celebrating our line anniversary

and here with Michele T. celebrating her being breast cancer free!

Wow. It just dawned on my that I could go on and on and on and on about the wonderful friends, mentors, and so much more that I have been connected to through Delta Sigma Theta. We've been through so much together. I could go on and on and on. . . .so I'll stop here. :)

Happy Birthday, Delta Sigma Theta! Cheers to the twenty two fabulous women who started it all back in 1913 and to the countless Delta women who continue to inspire me 98 years later!

The 22 Founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated at Howard University.

Hearts intertwined

Spokesperson and survivor
So THAT explains the forty-somethings with the sorority tags on their cars!