Nov 12, 2010

If You See Something, Say Something

Contrary to the title, this entry has nothing to do with terrorism, or at least not the kind the government continues to sell as the most harmful to our society. Don't get me wrong, I definitely believe a threat exists for another attack in the United States - don't get it twisted. There are individuals and entire countries that dislike America, Americans and the freedom we enjoy here. However, I believe there is a more imminent threat to our way of life that needs to be addressed.

I've been thinking about writing this piece for a while now but wanted and needed to approach the topic objectively and without too much emotion. The thoughts and opinions I will share here are strong ones and will be questioned, ridiculed even, and will have many questioning my own actions and behavior as it relates to the topic. I welcome it all because at the end of the day, I want - and our world needs - for us to have a discussion about it.  So let's begin.

"If you see something, say something." That's the slogan currently used by New York's and New Jersey's law enforcement units and transportation authorities to remind us that we have a responsibility as residents to be aware of what's going on around us and to do something about it by speaking up if and when we see something that doesn't seem right. Sentiment about the slogan's effectiveness is so strong that it's recently been decided by Homeland Security that it should be its slogan and therefore, a slogan of our country. An unattended briefcase or box in the train station, a person or group of individuals that seem to be doing "something suspicious", an unidentifiable smell in a building. If you see something, say something.  Well, this slogan came to mind recently while revisiting thoughts of my childhood, reliving some of the things I witnessed growing up and continue to see and experience almost everyday. These things, literally, break my heart.

As I've mentioned in a prior post, I currently live in Brownsville, the neighborhood that I lived in since I was 7 years old. I left the neighborhood in my early 20s and vowed never to return, having grown tired of fighting off the prevalent feeling and attitude of negativity that permeated there. Living around a majority of people that had lost their internal fight with daring to dream, the determination to go after those dreams despite the obstacles faced, and were now okay with settling for the status quo and their current state of being had become too much for me to bear. I longed for surroundings closer to my state of being: one full of joy, hope and the energy to make my dreams come true. Back then, I'd grown tired of the daily fight to keep my head, dreams and ideals above all the sights and sounds that would drag me down if I let down my guard. So when I returned to the neighborhood of my youth earlier this year, I was mindful of my own propensity to get sucked in and was vigilant in fighting off all the negativity that still call Brownsville home.

I tell you all this so you have an understanding of where I'm coming from, where and what these opinions grew from; what they're made of. I love the hood for making me the tough, street-wise, confident sister that I am. However, I hate it for the gloom, despair and dead end mindedness it fosters and cultivates. From the lack of services and amenities, failed schools and public housing to the blatant unfair and (in my opinion) illegal treatment of the residents by the police, it's no wonder that most just give up and believe the hype that it can't get any better, that it's okay to settle for being ordinary, that nothing will ever change. But I've digressed because I'm not here to talk about the things and institutions that were established to create and foster this environment long before most of us that read these words were born or even thoughts in our parents' heads. I'm here to talk about what we can do to change things, what we can control and change, regardless of what neighborhood we're from or where we grew up.  And, to put it simply, we can control and make changes with our own actions. Here, I'll focus on how the actions of those of us who are parents and/or responsible for the upbringing, growth and development of another human being can help or hinder our progress as a people and as a society. I'll also talk about our responsibilities as a community, one that wants and knows it needs to change some of the bad habits that have become character flaws that define us.

For too long, I've been a witness to the actions of parents who need guidance and assistance and who don't or won't get or take any. For too long, I've watched and said nothing as mothers and fathers berate and assault their child or children with their tone, words and actions in public for all to see; I can only imagine what they do behind closed doors. For too long, I've walked by as a group of young children, usually under the age of 13, walk the streets aimlessly looking for something to do and my only action in response to seeing them is to pray they don't hurt themselves or anyone else while out on their adventure. For too long, I've observed our youngsters making bad decisions about their lives and futures by the way they walk, talk, dress and/or carry themselves. I'm ashamed of my inaction to all these things because to not act is to condone the action and I don't condone behavior that negatively impacts the growth, development and overall well being of a child.

So how am I trying to change things? Well, for starters I start with approaching parenting with all the positivity I can muster everyday. I try to do this despite the neighborhood my daughter and I currently live in, the fact that there's inconsistency from her father regarding his involvement in her life, despite her bouts with chronic asthma, despite my insane work hours. I'm mindful of what she watches on television, I read books to her almost daily and battle everyday to spend quality time with her (the kind where we have the chance to get to know each other). When faced with conflict or a challenging situation, I teach her to face her fears and work out the best compromise possible if she can't get her way outright. Her father attempts to do the same as well so her foundation has been built and is being sustained.  Now with all that said, I know there will always be outside influences and that she may prefer to do what's popular over what I'm telling her or have told her. However, I also have faith that the bond we currently have and continue to cultivate with the time we spend together will make her think twice when faced with a situation where she has a difficult choice to make. In that sense, I foster hope for a successful future for her by controlling what she's exposed to in her immediate environment.

I don't spank her and I try my best not to yell at her or anyone else in front of her. When faced with my own confrontations, I try to take the high road by standing firm in my position while speaking respectfully to the other person to obtain the outcome I'd like. Now, anyone that knows me also knows I can't say that I'm always successful in that regard, however, they would agree it is what happens most of the time. I never, ever berate her or try to control her using the threat of physical harm as the consequence. Instead, threats of no Nick Jr., no library, no toys, or no crayons are used to get her to clean up after herself, to get ready to take a bath, to go to sleep, to eat her veggies, etc. By doing so, I teach her the mechanics of compromise and the power of words by using them skillfully - the give and take of life - to get what you want.

I have a philosophy that a well rounded child must be raised by two happy, healthy parents. So while not sounding self righteous, or at least not too much so, I believe there are those of us that simply should not have children. Period. Some of us are selfish and while that may be a mere annoyance to others, it only becomes a character flaw when you're responsible for another human being. I have the utmost respect for those that decide not to have children. When I was of the non-breeding mindset, I openly told anyone that asked why I didn't have children even though I was in a committed relationship that I was, simply, too selfish. I liked my life the way it was: frivolous priorities, spending and habits. I lived for the moment for the most part and I was happy that I only had one person to worry about other than myself.  We could come and go as we pleased, had only each other to answer to and neither of us had thoughts of changing things. We talked about having a child about once or twice a year after our 5th year together and it wasn't until our 10th that I was unexpectedly bitten by the bug.

Like most things, being good at something starts with a state of mind and parenting is no different. There are those of us that are too self centered and selfish to put a child and their needs above ours.  I used to be one of those people until, literally, one day I wasn't anymore. I lived my life with thoughts of only me and made a conscious decision not to have a child because the most important thing to me at that time in life was to find peace.  And since my only other focus was on what me and my partner - my future baby's father - wanted and needed, I also felt that I was not ready to be a parent. I would gladly babysit, I still loved kids, but to have my own was not part of my plan at the time. There are many who, unfortunately, cannot do this, who cannot be content with having occasional interactions with children.  These people then decide to have children for the wrong reasons: to check that box on your list of to do's on the road to success (i.e., career, mate, house, car, 2 1/2 kids, a pet and great friends), to keep a spouse or partner, to satisfy parents' or family's expectations, to quell the feelings of loneliness and/or lovelessness. These are selfish reasons and if a child is both bore behind them and then raised in an attempt to fulfill the fantasies, they will most likely be unhappy and/or unfulfilled people. And I say most likely because nothing is absolute, especially anything concerning the human state of mind. But let's examine that a bit. Imagine the bar that's been set for that child. In most instances, the only way to a life full of love and support would be to fulfill the gap in one or both parents. To be that perfect companion, never upsetting them, never disappointing them, never lying to them. Impossible goals for anyone to meet (much less a child) so from day one, the child is set up to fail. They go throughout life thinking they are directly responsible for another individual's happiness which in itself is a damaging concept. But for that individual to be a parent, the person a child initially idolizes simply because they don't know any better, is the most damaging lesson a parent can teach a child and a gross misuse of power and influence. Your mind should be clear when ready to conceive: my life will no longer be my own. I will now be living and making decisions with another individual in mind. This person is helpless and is counting on me 100% to make decisions that will benefit him/her in their immediate and long term future. Parenting is a full time job and one that you should want to excel in. And like most things in life, to excel takes hard work - a lot of it.

With the thought around anyone making this monumental decision in mind, I've often used the process of getting a driver's license as an example of how lightly the decision to have a child is sometimes taken. The process is a great example of the commitment a person must go through to obtain a license versus the checks and balances that seems to be overlooked many times when one or two individuals decide to bring a life into the world. We have a body of government set up that gives you a manual to study, then tests you on your retention of those guidelines. Then you still need to actually take a driver's test and pass it prior to you being able to receive a license to drive. It makes sense when you think about it. I mean, isn't a huge amount of responsibility put on a person driving a car? You can injure or kill someone, after all. To the point that not only do you have to take a test based on the information found in the manual but you have to demonstrate those thoughts and ideas for a person designated an expert, and he/she confirms your readiness to join the fraternity of drivers. Now don't misunderstand me, there may be some who go through a true checks and balances before conceiving. But I think we'd all agree there are too many that do not. It begs me to ask the question: are we as a society responsible enough to continue leaving this choice a free one? Now I'm not a person that likes or wants the government in a citizen's or resident's personal business - I'm completely opposed to the government telling a young man (or anyone else for that matter) to pull up his pants strictly because of the precedent it sets. However, you have to admit there is some sense to this theory from a practical standpoint. Are we acting in the best interests of both our race and the human race when we continue to allow those not prepared for the responsibilities of parenting to have children? Do we need additional checks in place to weed out the "bad seeds"? And without these in place what are we as a society ready to do to correct the issues with parenting that currently exist?

Being a parent myself who has made mistakes and is learning, improving and perfecting my style everyday (the way all good parents should), this is an important and sensitive topic for me. I know that there are times over the last four or so years where someone calling attention to something I was or wasn't doing for my daughter would've resulted in an argument and/or the end of that relationship. No one likes to hear that they're wrong and no one more so than a parent who's being told they should or shouldn't be doing something for their children.  But a good parent will see the error of their ways, acknowledge and own them and figure out the best course of action to do the best for their child. Now that's no easy task, but being responsible for the growth and development of another individual isn't something to be considered lightly. As the saying goes, with power comes great responsibility, and being a parent is a powerful thing and awesome responsibility.

It is important to also mention that parents must have balance in order to be great at their jobs. But there's a very thin line that parents walk in finding time for parenting and time to be an adult. You need time specifically for you to be a happy individual I believe, so you're not living your life for another person 100%. But, and that's a very big but, as a parent you ARE living your life for someone else. When they are conceived as a mom, your body is no longer yours alone so your eating habits change and your sleeping habits usually do as well. Once born, the child dominates your life dictating whether you sleep through the night, will be able to breastfeed, when you can run errands, shower, etc. They can even bring about a change in job or career. I believe this is as it should be so that all new parents realize where their priorities lay. But we've all witnessed cases where as the child gets older there are some parents who long so much for life before baby that they begin living as if they don't have one. This is where focus is lost and mistakes are made.

I challenge you to join me in my effort to be held 100% accountable for my actions and the development of our nation's and our society's future. Join me in developing our mentally and emotionally underdeveloped nation and society. Don't ignore a child no matter their age. Do address their questions and concerns regardless of how difficult the answer or solution may be.  Don't make promises you can't keep. Always be tactfully and tastefully honest, no matter what your head tells you. In the end, it's always better to tell the truth. Don't forget you are the first hand that molds the delicate clay that is your child.
To all my fellow parents, let's strive to do the right thing and not settle for doing the best we could. Let's help the parents that need it but may be too proud or stubborn to ask for it by becoming shining examples of imperfect parents. Let's have candid conversations with our spouse, partner, grandparents, aunties and uncles and any other part of the immediate and extended family on what we will and will not tolerate with regard to the overall growth and development of our children. Let's promise ourselves to never settle, never give up and ensure our children are better than us mentally, emotionally and, hopefully, financially. If you see something, say something! Change a life and change the world.


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