No Two Kids Have The Same Parents

The first time I can remember hearing, “No two kids have the same parents,” was from Rose. It was maybe a year ago.

Those words instantly seemed true, but now, with Ruby in my life, it has been very real. I’m not that much older than when Rock was born, but we are in a different country, we own a house, we own a car, we have a second dog, and most importantly–there are two kids. When Rock popped out we hadn’t done this before; many things were terrifying. Every time he stopped making noise I thought he might be dead. But that isn’t Ruby’s life. Also she snores like a piglet with hay-fever.

The experience that we gained with Rockford has made us remarkably different in our comfort with children in general. Rose is nowhere near as burdened by what-ifs, because we survived an international move and living in a van with our first little monkey–that is hard to top as a challenge. I am more laid-back about the development of Ruby, more understanding that I am of little use to her for the first few months. Thankfully neither of our children seem to be gentle souls. The just scamper/squirm/flop to whatever beat is happening.

Ruby will not get the kind of direct scrutiny that her brother gets (he hits the milestones first), but she will also live with a different kind of scrutiny. She will live in more a panopticon with many eyes, ears, and cold wet noses milling about. Now that we “know” enough to get ourselves in trouble we have to remember that “the same as last time” isn’t the goal. With Rockford becoming more sophisticated and Ruby being an entirely different adorable little monkey my goal is to focus less on the act of parenting. From this point forward I am focusing on being a role model.

I can’t be the same dad to both of them, they are not the same kid (right?). So, I’ll look to enact what I want them to learn, and grow with them, to be a better man. If I tell them to do one thing, but do another myself, I will just raise kids that are the worst of me, and good liars. Personally, I would prefer them to be honest rather than civil (both, fingers crossed). In the end, I hope, they will overlook my parenting failures because they know I am one of the monkeys too–even though I run the monekyhouse.

From the Front Lines of Two Kids

Carlos and I recently made the transition from being parents of an only child to taking on the full-time tag-team wrestling challenge of having two children. At the end of February, we welcomed Ruby, and made Rockford a big brother. The first week was a blur, and the second week was like watching the landscape fly past a train window. Here, a couple days into week three, things are starting to feel like real life again.

Sixteen days in, here’s what I’ve learned in the land of multi-child parenting.

 

  • Say goodbye to sleep. Oh, I still sleep, but the sleep I get now is a sad, Newman-Os for Oreos substitute. It’s a second round of all the best parts of newborn sleeping – the weird noises, the every-two-hours feedings, waking up in a puddle of breast milk, with the added perk of fighting a toddler for space in my own bed.
  • The costume changes are constant, except when they’re impossible. Newborn-size diapers are too small, size 1 is too big, and the result is the same either way. Is that mud on the big kid, or poop? The only difference is how urgently the pants need changed. Why do I keep smelling sour milk everywhere? Oh, it’s me. Again. How many kinds of jam are OK on one toddler t-shirt? Doesn’t matter – there aren’t enough kinds in the house to either convince the kid to change, or to obscure the demonically-smiling face of Thomas the damned Tank Engine.
  • I never was in control. The aforementioned Thomas t-shirt? It was the second blow to my carefully constructed Thomas-free zone. Yeah, he knew that Thomas existed, kind of, inasmuch as PBS Kids plays the show. But we don’t watch it, we don’t know which train is which, we don’t know anything about that little world, and intentionally so. It’s often thanks to shared Thomas-hating that I reveal myself to other parent as, well, kind of a commie pinko. Except, all that is ruined, now, thanks to one interactive pop-up book and a stupid t-shirt.
  • There’s no shame in defeat. Yeah, we’re all wearing some component of pajamas to the grocery store, but hey, we’re out of the house! Rockford doesn’t live here anymore, you say? Fine, does Thomas the “helpful blue engine” want to eat his dinner? Oh, and you’ll only go to sleep bundled up on the couch? Fine, as long as you go the hell to sleep.
  • Take what you can get. I will absolutely let the toddler put himself to sleep on the couch, because a winning scenario for me is one in which he, y’know, sleeps. And yeah, I will put him down in his own bed, knowing full well that he’ll be in mine by morning, because I can’t give up that sliver of grownups-in-bed-alone time.
  • The first kid is the hardest part about having a second kid. Sleep when the baby sleeps: yes, except who’s watching the toddler? “It’s NOT Ruby-size, it’s Rockford-size!” Luckily, Rock is a quick learner, and only had to attempt to put on one newborn-sized outfit before he was convinced that Ruby-sized was a real thing. Some parents worry about every little noise waking their baby; I worry that the baby’s noises will wake the big kid.

It’s not all doom and gloom and sleep disruption, though. Rockford insists that he likes Ruby, and she likes looking at him (when he gets close enough for her to see). Having a baby in the house is helping Rockford embrace the transition to big kid. Toddler attitude makes me really grateful for baby-scale problems.

Finally, some things are only remarkable in how little they have changed. Remember how Carlos is an excellent father? A creative, compassionate, solver of problems and swaddler of babies – he is still all of those things, and more. The satisfaction of feeling a tiny person cooing and snoring is exactly as rich the second time around. The laundry – still never-ending. The sudden, catastrophic hunger of breast feeding: yup, still sneaks up on me.

It’s a whole new world, the same world that we’ve been in all along. As ever, I am incredibly happy to share it with the people that I do, and I’m delighted to add Ruby to that list.

 

Who Are You

Recently, I attended an interesting presentation by Dr. Antoinette Izzo. The presentation was based on findings from an anthropological study she is running with the help of UNLV. She found four strong themes in how we label ourselves.

How we label our self, or others, comes from the intersection of:

  1. Our Philosophical Values
  2. Our Ideological Values
  3. Our Identity View
  4. The Practice We Observe

Antoinette confided that this was her first delivery of her presentation, so I am going to take some liberty with what she said (she has not formally submitted any papers on the work yet). I hope that this comes close to the mark.

Our philosophical values are the foundational beliefs we hold that are to some degree changeable through exploration. Our ideological values are foundational beliefs that are embedded and harder to change. When it comes to love my philosophy is love is lack of ego about another’s actions or state. Ideologically, this brings me to believe feelings are always okay, actions range from good to bad.

Because I identify as a dad, a husband, and a silly person, I strive to take actions that display love for my wife and child (soon to be children). But, sometimes being funny/silly on my end leads to discomfort/pain on their end. In these moments my actions of love become really important. These actions include things like:

  • Don’t use words that deny feelings
  • Listen actively when my loved ones speak to me
  • Create space for for them think about their feelings
    • Give time to think
    • Don’t ask them to feel differently
    • Focus on actions, not perceived motivation
  • Acknowledge that disagreements can’t be won

When I label myself, or others, I am trying to describe their actions in relation to my philosophies, ideologies, and existing identity categories. Sometimes this means there will be conflict between what I mean and they understand from my words.

That is a tense moment–I suggest dealing with it by saying some form of, “What does that mean to you?” When someone is hurt by something you say you have most likely attacked one of their beliefs. There is little way to tell which one, though.

Taking responsibility for how your actions affected them is really the least you can do to diffuse the situation. Showing that you care, even before you understand, shows good faith in the process, even if the problem can’t be solved immediately.

Raising a Free-Range Child

In response to my current Toddlerist (toddler+terrorist) and in preparation for our new baby (Nibbler) I am re-reading The Art Of War. It is full of great parenting advice. The parts that are of particular interest to me today are:

  • Never fight a battle with nothing to win.
  • Winners come to battle having already won, losers come to battle and seek to win.
  • Always leave your enemy a route to retreat.

These three tenets lead me to a free range style of parenting.

Procedure, Over Timetable

During Rockford’s second (now THIRD!!) year of life I have been a laid back parent. The fact that he has been healthy helps make that easier. I let almost all of his time be unstructured:

  • He grazes instead of sitting down for lunch
  • He plays with junk mail and laundry
  • He can play with anything he asks for as long as he wants (except for the knives)
  • I let him be in a room I am not in, or even go up and down the stairs

In place of having strongly outlined times of day that we do things, we have compartmentalized procedures that can be counted on to happen.

  • If you throw your food, snacks go on hiatus
  • We change our poop diapers in the bathroom
  • After bath time we play in the bed
  • At some point Papa says: “It’s nap time now”

My overall goal is for Rock to be aware of his states and needs, self-regulating, and willing to articulate these things to me. It has worked in some cases, not in others. Still, most of the time, he only gets in my business if he actively has an interaction in mind. Today’s feature image is the product of him being bored with blocks while I was writing this, so he requested “take picture.” Because I had nothing to gain from not taking a break to play his game, I didn’t object to it. After a dozen pictures I told him “I need to go back to writing,” and he was happy to move on to something else, mercifully.

The Destination Is More Important Than The Path

I think the pragmatic outcome is acceptable thus far, but there are definitely parts of my day that are extra work. One of these things is that I find him taking naps in weird places. I will set him down in his bed, in his room, and go about my business–today it was mopping the kitchen. I will actively ignore the fact that he stays in neither zone, as long as he leaves me alone to get some work done. And this happens:

sudden nap

That is where he will be for about an hour (if I am lucky). As much as I would prefer he choose the bed upstairs to sleep, I like that he is comfortable just sacking out next to me when he is sleepy, instead of powering through to total crankiness.

I know that some people think this approach is odd, but I feel like I won: he left me alone while I mopped and he took a nap. I see my best advantage in the war on growing up is my larger view of the field and broader conception of time. By letting him have all the ground that does not impact me, and letting him have the space to figure out that my instructions aren’t about control, I hope that I am building a relationship of trust.

So, as long as he isn’t bothering anyone, I let my little chicken roam free.

Ferguson is Enough

Over this past weekend, something happened in Ferguson, Missouri that has been happening around this country. It was something atrocious, horrifying, and worst of all, mundane. On Saturday afternoon, a Black man named Michael Brown was killed by the police. He was unarmed, and complying with their orders. In the first two days after it happened, White media lied about his grieving community, police lied in attempting to justify their murder, and the mayor of Ferguson threatened to arrest anyone who shows up to protest. The police in Ferguson showed up to community vigils with military hardware. We still don’t know the name of the police officer who fired 10 shots into an unarmed man. This is what the news in neighboring St. Louis had to say about it Monday:

The reporter of that quote, and the mayor of Ferguson, want you to believe that the “much bigger problem” here is the fault of the black people who rioted over Saturday night. They want you to believe that the community full of grief and anger at the unjustified, needless murder of one of their children is the problem. They are wrong.

There IS a much bigger problem in Ferguson, MO, and everywhere. The problem is that we do not value the lives of Black people. We, as a nation, have built our wealth on the suffering of Black people, all the while discounting their very humanity. We cannot, as a nation of ostensibly good people, let this continue. In 2012 alone, 313 Black men were killed by the police or vigilantes. That’s one every 28 Hours. That is too many, hundreds and a baker’s dozen too many.

This is an overwhelming problem, one with roots that reach into dark parts of our past, and show us how dark our present still is. It has to stop.

It is not the job of Black people to stop this problem. No amount of respectability, no Talk from parents to kids, no action taken by Black people is an answer to this problem, because the actions of Black people are NOT the problem. This is a problem of white supremacy, of White privilege, and White complacency.

Don’t believe me? I live in Ohio, a state with Open Carry rules that permit anyone who legally owns a handgun to carry it anywhere, as long as it is not concealed. And yet, in a Wal-Mart toy department, police officers killed a black man for holding a bb gun that he was going to purchase. His name was John Crawford. He was killed for allegedly doing something that is not only 100% legal (carrying a firearm in an Ohio Wal-mart), but something that White-lead Open Carry organizations do ALL THE TIME. How many of them have been shot, I wonder?

So now what?

There are some things we need to do now. Some of them are going to be simple, and probably some of them will not.

You can start by showing up. Communities across the country are observing a National Moment of Silence on Thursday. Show up. Stand together with your neighbors and know who is suffering.

Get to know your local NAACP. Learn about police accountability. Sign this petition to enact new laws protecting us from police misconduct.

Those are the easy things. What are the hard things?

Examine your own behavior. When you hear about a Black person beaten, abused, killed, look at your own reactions to it. Do you think, “what did s/he do? What was s/he wearing? Why was s/he in that neighborhood?” Ask yourself whether you would ask the same of any other victim. Learn to recognize the signs of institutional racism.

We have to protect every American life. We have to stop asking “what did they do to deserve that?” and start saying, “no one deserves to die for being Black in America.”

It’s time for us ALL to start having the talk: The police are not our friends. They exist to reinforce the status quo, and that status quo is state-sanctioned murder. This week, it has been three Black men. Chicago is still waiting for the police officer who shot Rekia Boyd to see trial. The officer who shot Oscar Grant was acquitted.

We have to stop accepting the premise that Black lives are worth less. We have to stop accepting the premise that ANY life is worth less than another.

Love is a Drug

Love (particularly the romantic variety) acts the same as a drug cocktail. Just like cocaine it is going to introduce you to a huge spike in dopamine and norepinephrine, just like Ketamine it is going to numb your pain, cause change in perception, and disassociate you from your conscious self. The result is a feeling of euphoria, energy, and intensified consciousness. On the negative side there can be intense feelings of withdrawal when love ends. The intense period where we produce everything that is needed to make the object of affection perfect only lasts a few weeks to two years. After that love-halo ends, love that lasts has to transcend merely biological processes and pass into social, psychological, and practical.

In my last post on The Philosophy of Love I discussed the four common philosophical, logical approaches to love as Union, as Robust Concern, as Valuation, and as System of Emotions. Across the philosophical models of love there are themes that can help to connect them and solve some of the weaknesses.

  1. At first Love is a hallucination.
  2. Ultimately, Love is a disassociation of Ego.

Try thinking of love not as the instigator of how you feel, but rather as a description of how you change under its influence. Your fantasies of the future, your decisions that favor the object of your affection, your drive to protect the magical feeling, your vulnerability with the object of your affection–these are not feelings that describe love, these are feelings that allow love to happen.

During the hallucination period, we make the decisions that establish our patterns and build the portions of our life that allow us to sustain ourselves in a state where the object of our affection is seen as an end unto themselves. We work to build a state where we share their emotions not because we have anything to gain, but because we are empowered by the connection. We work toward moving into the next state, the dissociation of our Ego as an act of Love. This brings us to, perhaps, the most important value brought by Love: the feeling of co-joy and timely support (compersion and loving kindness). Long lasting love means reaching a state where you no longer consider how the object of our affection reflects upon you.

Love is one part always remembering the best of our loved one (a dream of the past), one part always believing in their potential (a dream of the future), and one part allowing their presence and connection to be an excuse to ignore the rest of the world’s demands (a dream in the present).

Love is better than a drug because the more places it is applied, the more you can act in ways that are not driven by fear. Love becomes the practice of doing what is right for the moment and accepting the outcome. It may seem scary, but it becomes the rising tide that makes all of life richer, rather than comparing now to the peak hallucination.

For the Men I Miss During the Holidays

Today is a turning point for me. But, not a big one. It happens every year. I am on the 30-day countdown to my birthday. In spite of my general excitement about having an excuse to have a party and engage in a couple of personal traditions it isn’t a happy time of year for me.

This is the time of year that I miss my dad the most. Even though he has been gone a very long time he is still with me on a regular basis. Many of the things that I feel are important in my life are modeled after thinking about what I liked most about him. It really shows when I am around certain people.

I think that there was some positive in not having him around over the last decade. It has been easier for me to be the parts of me that he didn’t like. And, it has been easier for me to separate myself from the parts of him that I didn’t like. I can pare away the parts of him that I don’t aspire to without ever worrying about offending him.

Robert Bly’s Iron Johnalong with the writing of Joseph Campbell, were helpful in understanding that I was literally experiencing something that I would have to do, at least metaphorically. You have to bury your mentor. Obi-wan, Gandalf, Dumbledor, and Mom&Dad all of them have to be laid to rest before you can emerge as your own whole person.

I know the conflicts that I would have had with him over the years, but as I come into this part of the year he is the person that I want to have around. To share my weird problems with.

Our family trouble from the summer has left us with less to worry about when making plans, but also brings some weight. I’m used to feeling that there is an empty place at my table, but this year I miss Joe (my brother-in-law) too.

I after having him as a central part of the family Rose and I are building I miss sharing our weird problems with him too. Particularly, I miss sharing Rockford’s weird moments. Today I want to express my sincere thanks to the men that have been important to my life: Sean, Birger, Chris, Andrew, Eric, Joe, et al. but most of all my Dad.

Showing Love For Your Community

One of the looming questions for us in raising our cute beige baby is “how should we define the community he is part of?” I know there is going to be that weird moment when he asks about the very stark difference between black culture and white culture. I am quite aware that neither of these are monolithic, but I have never seen a place where the two are the same.

This question, how do you support the community?, is challenging even for otherwise very astute and inclusive people like Mikki Kendall and Skippington. Recently they both have said that anyone who is married to a white person is of questionable value to black communities. I think that is bullshit.

Mikki Kendall, the woman who started #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and Skippington had an extended thread about the value (or lack) of interracial families for the community of the members. In the middle of their attack on feminism for disenfranchising women of color they broke down into a discussion of whether an interracial child is “Black enough” to be part of the community–that hurts my soul.

Skippington

One of the things that Rose and I discussed when we set out to find our new home was finding somewhere that Rockford would grow up with access to black communities. In part I want this because I feel like I missed that opportunity when I was a kid.

Ultimately, I want to pass on to Rock that you should know your neighbors. You should look people in the eye and greet them. Even though he will likely want to escape the neighborhood that Rose and I choose, I want him know that his life will be happier if knows his neighbors.

Breaking Up

Parenting is, without a doubt, one of the most important ways that we conceptualize being a lover. Carlos has shared a lot with the blog about what being a father means to him. I haven’t been sharing my thoughts on motherhood with you, because something that happened earlier this summer has put them all in disarray.

My mother broke up with me.

This is a long story, and one that is not going to be told smoothly.

In part, I can’t tell it smoothly because its wounds are still fresh, and the events and their meaning have not had time to uncurl and make sense of themselves. In part, I don’t really want to tell this story, because I cannot believe that it’s true, because the things that have happened bring vividly back all the desire to shut down and hide that I work so hard to get past. I don’t want to tell it, but holy shit, you guys. We have to talk about this.

My mom broke up with me. Both my parents did, I guess, but my mom is the one who sent me an email telling me that she can “no longer support [me], as long as I am married to Carlos.” My dad packed all of the things that we left at their house, and my mom stood in the garage doorway and watched us load it into a truck.

I have gone around and around with myself about how to talk about, how much to tell. Like I said, I don’t want to tell any of it, because I want to believe that I can keep it from being real. But the truth is this: my mom decided that she didn’t like my marriage, and gave me an ultimatum. She told me that I had to choose between her and Carlos, and she stuck to her guns when I made my choice.

So, how did we get here?

My mom has always described herself as having a very long fuse, leading to drastic consequences once she hits her limit. She is also extremely conflict-averse. So her long fuse has been burning, with anger at Carlos and at me, and she only ever hinted about her unhappiness. She has just been burning, for months, maybe years, while she has been angry at me, angry at Carlos, and not talking to us about it.

You Don’t Know About Any Relationship You’re Not In
Wedding 10
On this blog and in person, Carlos and I talk a lot about the principles that guide our decisions as parents. “Love your kid and treat them with respect.” “Make their life better than ours.” “Do better.” “Take care of your family, you’re stuck with them.” For the most part, these are lessons that my mom shared with me explicitly, in discussions about how and why they raised us kids in the way that they did. It was not an accident that Carlos and I talked about having kids so early in our dating; having children, raising them to be good people who do good for the world is important to me. I knew I wanted to find a partner who saw the world the same way that I do, whose purpose and practice in parenting would be in line with my own. On our first date, in 1999, I hadn’t worked this out, but by the time we went out again in 2009, I knew what I wanted in a coparent, and I saw it in Carlos.

I saw other things in Carlos, too. I saw a man who knew me when I was a child, who remembered me fondly despite the years I had spent running away from him. I saw someone who had purpose and direction, setting the terms by which he lived his life. And I saw a place for me in that life. I saw a person who knew me in some of my absolute shittiest times, who had always intimidated and intrigued me, and who thought I was really something, even after all that. He was, and is, a smart, strong, challenging, supportive person who understands where I am coming from and wants to go great places together. In him, and our relationship, I saw a future I wanted to live.

The time that Carlos and I have been married has not always been easy. I came to this marriage with A LOT of issues. I am afraid of many things, including my feelings, and confrontation, and other people’s feelings, and vacations, and the ocean, and doing things wrong. At times, these fears can be paralyzing for me. I chose Carlos as my partner for life because our life together is better than my life with fear. I struggle with my fears every day, and I don’t always come out triumphant. There have been times when the struggles of our life together have been miserable, but even so, my life is better with Carlos.

Take Care Of Your Family, They’re All You’ve Got
This is why we can't have nice things
When it came time for us to embark on this grand adventure, I saw an opportunity to do something to nourish myself as both a child and a parent, and to support the relationships between my parents and their only grandchild. I knew that there was tension between Carlos and my folks, and I hoped that spending some time together would alleviate that. In my youth, and during my pregnancy, my mom was always by my side, sympathetic to the challenges I was facing, ready with hugs and wisdom and patience. I loved that about her, and I wanted to share that patience and experience with the family I am building. I wanted to practice parenting with the people who had raised me, to be in a place where their guidance and experience could help me and Carlos give Rockford the same kind of loving, respectful care that they had given me.

Instead of that, they placed the blame for my exhaustion on Carlos, met him with hostility, and refused to engage with either of us as adults. I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault that they treated us like children, for coming to them in a time of turmoil and changes. Why wouldn’t they assume that I (and by extension, Carlos) would just do as they told us, without arguments or questions? I needed so much help. When we were there, it became clear that my parents dislike my choice of partner, don’t respect the commitment I’ve made to my husband, and had no intention of helping us keep our marriage strong.

All this was pretty hard, but the worst of it came when we finally did launch onto the road. Getting our van ready took a long time, and while we were working, Carlos’s grandmother died. There was no question for us of whether we would attend her memorial, and it became the hard line for getting us out of my parents’ house. My dad described this as me “doing things on [my] husband’s time line, not mine,” as if there was some timeline on which he would have been comfortable with any of this happening. During our travels to Las Vegas and Portland, lots of moms took care of us, and I tweeted about how important that felt to me. This was the last straw for him, I guess, because it was the point where he started calling me an ungrateful child on twitter, and refusing to speak to me on the phone, instead carrying on an extended argument via text message. It was during this barrage that some important details emerged, explaining in part why my mom was mad, and why she hadn’t (and still hasn’t) spoken to me. That story isn’t mine to tell.

You Don’t Get To Choose Your Family
delrios
Here’s the story that is mine, though: finding ourselves in a hard situation, my parents pressed me to make a choice between them and my husband. I guess their expectation was that I would fall into line with their demands. They didn’t like the choices I was making, and tried to call me back to the fold. But the lessons that they instilled in me as a child have stuck. “You don’t know any relationship you’re not in.” “You don’t get to choose your family, and you have to look out for one another.” “The things most worth doing are often the hardest.”

did get to choose my husband. I chose the family that I wanted to build, and there wasn’t a question for me about whether I was going to defend that family. I didn’t get to choose my parents, as awesome as they have been for me, but I did choose to stand in front of all my friends and family and make a commitment to Carlos. I renewed that commitment when I chose to have a child with him. The hard times that we have together are part of a bigger story. We have hard times on the road to great times. My life is richer, stranger, and more interesting because of my marriage to Carlos. I have lived bigger, better, more challenging experiences because of my commitment to him, and his commitment to me.

Carlos never asked me to ditch my parents. He never told me that I was being unreasonable by being hurt by their actions. He comforted me in my pain, and tried to calm my rage. He felt rage for me, and looked out for the best interests of our family. When the moment came, and my mom told me “you’re not welcome as long as Carlos is in your life,” I didn’t feel any ambiguity. I felt anger, and hurt, and disgust. And I curled up next to my husband and cried.

She sent me her email in the middle of July. Some days I miss her so hard it hurts. Some days all I see is the myriad ways that her story makes up my story, and all the ways that I am her. She thinks that I hate her, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I reach for the phone to tell her about something funny I’ve seen, and the hurt catches my breath in my chest. I hurt, but she raised me to be an adult. So here I am. I am nursing my broken heart and taking care of the relationships that nourish me.

 

The Strangeness of the Universe – You Can’t Escape

When I asked Facebook what I should write about the first person to respond was Jon Colman. He said that I should talk about the strangeness of the universe, he was quickly followed by someone that wanted me to talk about my ancestry. To my mind these two have a clear crossover, because I can talk about them in the same story.

You Can’t Escape What You Look Like

No matter what you do you can never escape what you look like. You can change what you look like, but you can never escape the assumptions that come with your appearance. I have a beard and tattoos. Some people like that, some people don’t. I can shave my beard, and laser off my tattoos, but that won’t change the fact that some people will like it and some won’t.

You Don’t Actually Know What You Look Like

When I was in second grade I learned this lesson: you don’t know what you look like. As a young squirt I was bright, attentive, and gregarious, and to my teacher (Ms. Sullivan) the icing on theses qualities was that I was black. Because I am black, like her, she had quite a bit of affection for me and pride in having me in her class.

When it came time for parent/teach conferences she was excited to meet the rest of this bright, black family. The next day when Ms. Sullivan saw me I was no longer a black boy–I was a BROWN boy. Nothing had changed about me: I was still seven years-old, bright, attentive, and gregarious; hell, I was still the same color (two-parts burnt umber, one-part burnt sienna). From that point forward my attractive warm brown looked like mud in her eyes.

I was no longer medium-skinned black boy to my teacher, I was a half-white-mongrel.  She didn’t really care what made up that half of me, it could have been Scottish, Swedish, it even could have been Brazilian, all she cared about was that it wasn’t acceptable.

In part this was the formative moment in why I have tattoos, piercings, and a beard. During what I like to think of as my quarter-life crisis I decided that my outside was going to look like my inside. I can’t ever change the fact that other people make assumptions, but I can make myself comfortable in my skin.

So, Where Do You Go From Here?

Always dress comfortably; you will make your best impression. One of my high school friends got most of her dates by going to the mall in sweatpants, because that is when she attracted the right kind of people. When you are comfortable you are confident, wear things that make you feel like the best version of you whether that is flats or heels, t-shirt or dress shirt. Don’t invest in accessories that you won’t maintain:

  • Don’t grow a beard unless you are going to keep it trimmed.
  • Don’t buy cheap eye-glasses.
  • If you paint your nails keep them nice.
  • Do one make-up trick well instead of several half-assed.

Learn to talk to people. I know that this is scary for introverts, but honestly the only way to escape the pandemic prejudice of other people caricature of you is to break the ice. Polite introductions are a good start:

  • Tell strangers what your first name is when you ask them a question.
  • Choose something about yourself that you are comfortable sharing with people, even strangers.
  • Do your best to be appropriate to your venue.

Sadly, we all live under this weird tyranny of familiarity. That is one of the biggest factors in bigotry, not knowing anyone from a particular group. If you represent yourself authentically and offer to exchange familiarity (even small ones) you will make the universe a little less strange.