Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gardening in da hood: Parenting a Community


My friend, jazz vocalist extraordinaire, Denise King posted this on my Facebook page since she knows I'm a gardener.  I love putting my hands in the soil and getting my hands very dirty, especially under my mother hates that since she grew up on a farm and it's not professional to have dirt under your fingernails...I guess I'm a rebel.

I wanted to share this with a larger audience because this is parenting at its best: parenting of a community. This man decided to plant food in the unused spaces in South Central LA. The main crux of his doing this was that he was seeing the food was the problem and the solution to the health crisis in his community; all at the same time. Get the wrong food out, and the right food in and many diseases are prevented. He gets volunteers to bring in plants and seeds and do all the work. Connections are made by children who work in the gardens in these urban areas that food comes from the ground and is tasty.

This parenting of a community is what many urban and frankly, suburban kids need. Parenting is about showing a child what the right way is through their own actions. Parents stand up for what they believe in and lead by example. Parenting is also not giving into what is popular or easy all the time. Food is the sustenance of our physical, mental and spiritual bodies. Now many times I want to put in my gullet some tiramisu or my favorite meat candy-like substance: bacon...mmmmm. But, I and my children know what a fresh tomato tastes like. A fresh cucumber.  Even the dreaded zucchini(which can be made into hash and deliciously moist bread).

I'm not comparing adults to kids, but, in some ways I am. Holding up a big gulp as a sign of liberty(y'all know who I'm talkin' 'bout, and if you don't, betta ask somebody) is as stupid as a kid holding up a piece of crack or putting a gun to their heads as a sign of their adulthood. If you saw that as a parent, you slap your child sil-- ... wait, wait, wait ... you would sternly speak to your child and tell them how stupid that was because it would ruin their health and/or kill them. Our diets are killing us slowly, and sometimes the slowness painful. How you eat determines how you live. I want my children to live well. This gentleman wants his entire community to live well. That's what good parents do....

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Good parents don't have to perfect...

This is a picture of my dad when he was in college. My dad was a musician who played saxophone and piano. He got his bachelors degree in Composition and Arranging at Amherst University. I posted this because I want to talk about parenting. My father was an alcoholic. He sat in a chair and listened to music at concert loudness levels every night while he drank. My room vibrated because the speakers were right underneath my bedroom.  He died when I was 14.

But my dad loved me deeply. He drank at home rather than goto a bar because he wanted to be near his family and provide a stable environment and though that may sound like a cop-out, it wasn't. He played songs just for me. Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" was my song, and I knew when he played it, he was thinking of me. He played it often. It was the reason I put the song on my second record, Bare, as a similar tribute to my first daughter. My father was proud of the musician I was turning into as a child. He was a brilliant student and he wanted his children to be brilliant so if I ever asked him what a word meant or how it was spelled, I was told to goto the dictionary. Grrrr...But I do this with my child now.  He loved to fish and shared that love with me. He took me fishing and taught me how to bait a hook with a worm. He loved that I could play piano and loved that I played his favorite composer, Bartok. He would tell me that my compositions I made up at age 7 or 8 were "Complex! You don't even know what you're playing!!" We used to swim in the pool together and he would lift me up like the female side of a ballroom dance team or pairs ice skating in the water while I did what I thought were fancy poses. He taught me to dive and swim underwater. He told me this about life: "The school of hard knocks is a tough school...." that's all he said. I have learned he was right. 

He was not perfect. But he was was my father. He worked hard to provide the best life he could for me. He made choices that were not always the best for him, but did his best to make the right choices for me.  Perfection is not the goal because it can never be achieved. Many get to be parents. Some are better at it than others.  But I wanted to share that good parents aren't great all the time and don't always lead the greatest lives. This is my dad and he did his best. He strived to be a good parent, and in many ways he truly was...I hope I turned out the way he wanted...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The parenting crisis

I was reading an article from a prominent republican figure recently and I felt I had to start talking about a particular subject of importance to me: Parenting. I am going to start speaking as much as I can about the crisis of parenting in this culture. Primarily because I deal with children from a lower socio and economic background daily and have been for many years.  What I do not see is a crisis of teaching, though there are teachers of various degrees of excellence and there certainly are failing schools that are failing children. I see a crisis of parenting: kids not knowing how to be, behaviorally, emotionally, physically... They have no idea because their surroundings are not devoted to their success.

Poverty does not mean that you can't be a great parent. I just recently watched the Ben Carson story on Lifetime with Cuba Gooding, Jr. What struck me the most was his mother who inspired her children to be successful, no matter how much knowledge or money she had.  Good parenting is not republican or democrat, rich or poor, religious or atheist. Good parenting is creating an environment of the expectation of success for your children. You need not be perfect or do everything right. But my time in urban schools has taught me that parenting, or lack thereof, is the true issue. There is only so much damage a single teacher in a single year can do to a child if the parent is solid and supportive. If the parent wants the child to succeed, most likely, the child will succeed. Not be rich. Succeed.

Watch this to see what Ben Carson's mother did. This is a woman with little education, who worked 2-3 jobs and was a single parent. When her children were not doing well, she challenged them to do times tables or they couldn't go outside. She made them read. She did what she could do and her lack education or resources did not stop her. She created an environment of success around her boys to the best of her ability. Imagine what she could have done with the proper resources and knowledge...her children could have been...oh wait...her sons are an engineer and a world famous brain surgeon. Regardless of your politics or what you think of his ideas, Ben Carson is a success story. And the key to his success was good parenting.