Monday, August 4, 2014

You're Lucky If They Act Out

note: This piece was written with the permission of my son.

This last May I found myself somewhere I thought I'd never be: in the Psychiatric ward of a hospital with my 12 year old son.

It had seemed like an ordinary weekend. I had gotten back from a week of work travel (I was usually gone 3-4 days out of every week for the last year) and had picked my son up from his dad's. He was grounded because of a poor report card but we still managed to have a nice weekend. We joked around, played games. He spent a lot of time with his little brother. I was transitioning to a new job the next week, one that didn't require travel, but we kept the same schedule we had adopted most of the year - weekdays with dad, rest of the days with me. He went to his dad's Monday.

On Wednesday afternoon I got a call from his school. They had found his backpack in the middle of the street. The Assistant Principle wanted me to know in case Malcolm was looking for it. All my alarm bells went off. "Well let me make sure he's where he's supposed to be" I said and hung up.

I called his dad, "Is Malcolm home?"
"Where is he?"
"Little asshole probably ran away or something. He's trying to get back at me."

And from there on out that day turned into the most terrifying and world-changing of my life. We finally found Malcolm around 8pm. When the pills he had taken didn't do the job, he got scared of starving to death and made a call. We had an ambulance pick him up. We stayed at the hospital all night running tests and waiting for a social worker to say that my home was a safe environment to take him to.

I would have never, ever, in a million years have imagined that my sweet, goofy, bowling-crazy son would try to end his life. Everything I thought I knew was turned upside down. The emergency therapist said I needed to ask him every day if he was thinking of killing himself, because "obviously he's not reaching out to you proactively." I walked around the house for days crying constantly trying to figure out what had happened to my family, how I could have been so wrong, how I couldn't have seen this coming.

Because I should have seen it coming.

My son had tried to say that he was losing hope. He explained his grades by saying, "the world's an awful place. I don't see the point in working hard in school when I'm just going to be an unhappy adult." I laughed it off as teenage bullshit.

He made a plan to run away when I was out of town. A friend of his became concerned and told a teacher. I talked to him from hours away. "Why were you going to run away?" I asked. "Because I feel like everyone would be better without me." he said. My friends reassured me that runaway plans were normal at this age. I came home and everything seemed normal. We didn't talk about it further.

My son had tried to explain to me how hard things were with his dad. That he was unhappy, that he was volatile, that he felt like he couldn't do anything to make his dad happy. But it usually only came up when we were arguing about  something. I thought he was trying to deflect. I thought he was trying to pit us against each other. I thought it was classic divorced-child maneuvering. He eventually stopped talking to me about it. So when his dad sat him down the night before the suicide attempt and told him that he was making him miserable, and that if our son didn't get it together then one day he'd just pack up his truck and disappear, I'm not surprised he didn't call me.

I'm not writing this to air out my guilt to all of you, although my regret is deep and true. I'm writing this because even as I was crying next to his hospital bed, people were telling me, "He didn't mean it. He's just acting out. He's just trying to get your attention. This is what teenagers do."

But here's the thing: he didn't know what pills he was taking. He took the largest prescription bottle his dad had from the medicine cabinet, walked around with it all day at school, and then wandered off by himself to swallow the entire thing. He didn't tell anyone. He didn't leave a note. If it had been any of the other prescriptions in that cabinet, his "cry for help" would have left him dead. I would have lost the little boy that has been my heart and soul since I was 19 years old. Marcus would have lost the kindest big brother I've ever seen. The world would have lost a funny, quirky, sensitive, kind young man.

Three months later we are rebuilding with this new, clearer reality. We're all in therapy: Me, Malcolm, his dad. We've changed up our living arrangements back to the days before I was travelling so often. I think my son is happier now. I've made peace with the fact that he may well be more susceptible to depression than many other kids. I'm trying to understand that I might not be able to fix that. I check with his therapist often. I'm trying not to hover so much. I've started letting him be by himself for an hour or so. I'm still so scared.

But I'm lucky, because we get a chance to try to make this right.

Parents: if your kids are acting out, pay attention. Whatever they are going through, even if you think it will pass, it's real to them right now. Listen to your kids, respect their feelings even if they don't make sense to you. Puberty, social pressures, academic pressures - these stressors can lead kids to act impulsively and destructively, with sometimes tragic consequences. We can't protect our kids from every danger, and we can't guarantee that our best efforts will always bring the best results. But cries for help are a blessing, they are your kid's way of reaching out when they need your help.

You're lucky if they act out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My 2 Year Natural Anniversary or: Why I Don't Care About Long Hair Anymore

I'm pretty good at setting non-weight loss related goals and sticking to them. Really, I am. So this past New Year's I was sure I was going to stick to my resolution of not cutting my hair. It's not that hard to not cut your hair right? And at the end of the year, I would be 2 1/2 years natural. My curls would be long like the light brown ladies you see in tv commercials (you know, that one light brown ethnically ambiguous girl smiling with a group of white friends).

Now, I had never wanted long hair before. All my life I had never made it past shoulder level. So why was I trying to grow it out now? Because my big chop freaked me the fuck out.
Why was I freaked out? A couple of reasons:
1) I had just randomly hacked at my hair with scissors (as is VERY obvious with the above picture) a la a mental patient in the movies right before they ship her off or Felicity as she was claiming her adulthood. It wasn't exactly flattering.
2) People would notice how fat I am without all that hair to distract them.
3) Everyone was staring at my face.

I was not expecting this freakout. I'm a feminist. I encourage other women to to cut their hair with wild abandon. I am smart enough to know that when I cut my hair people wouldn't suddenly go "hey, did you know Ijeoma's kinda fat?" And also, people realizing I'm fat really is not the worst thing in the world. 

This was a great opportunity to challenge these internalized patriarchal assumptions about what is valued in a woman in society.

Did I rise to the challenge?


I hid my hair in many sometimes ridiculous ways.

Giant head full of flowers, various wigs, multi-colored braids - I was in a very creative phase. Now, not all of this was to hide my hair, some of this was to put it away for a few months for it to grow faster. But it was all very confusing to my younger son as to how my hair was changing lengths and colors so rapidly.

When I did wear my hair out I was constantly fiddling with it. I had watched EVERY YouTube video about natural hair I could find. I tried every style I could find with the care of someone diffusing a bomb, because Natural Hair Gurus make your hair seem like it will literally crumble in your hands if you use a comb to detangle instead of your fingers.

Some of these styles looked great! Some of them didn't. But as time passed and my hair got longer and longer, I was having less and less fun. I realized that in the last year and a half that I'd been natural, I had lost the reason why I had gone natural.

I went natural to see what MY HAIR looked like. To enjoy what was coming out of my head. But what I was doing was twisting and retwisting, braiding and hiding under wigs. I was spending 3 hours setting my hair at night. How exactly was this natural?

And then I started seeing people with short natural hair - little curls springing out of their head looking great. They were enjoying the discovery of their hair.

So one day, after a disastrous flat iron attempt, I walked into a salon and said
"Cut it. I don't care. CUT IT."
I wanted it off my neck. I wanted it to flatter my face. I wanted it to just look cool because it was. I didn't want to fuck with it anymore.

And cut it they did.
For the first time, I was wearing my natural curl pattern. Styling was cut down to 30 minutes every 4 days. I was hooked. I had them cut more and add some highlights.
I'm crazy in love with my hair right now; with my hair as it grows out of my head. I'm fascinated by it, staring at how my curls change as it grows. I think I'll wear this for some time and then I will big chop again, because I really do feel sad that I missed out on enjoying the shorter stages. But for my next big chop, I'm going to do it better. 

Ijeoma's Tips for a Great Big Chop and Beyond:
1) Have a stylist do your big chop and try to transition long enough for them to be able to give you a shape that flatters your face and matches your style (if that sort of thing matters to you. If it doesn't, more power to you lady - you rock it however you want).
2) Simplify your products. If you find that you are having to layer 10 products on your hair - that means your products aren't working and you are wasting money. I currently style with a leave in, a styling foam, a little curl cream for my 4b strands near my nape and temples, and almond oil.  I have to buy new products about every 3 months or so. Natural hair maintenance is cheap y'all. 
3) Your scalp rules all. I was terrified to wash my hair more than every two weeks when I first went natural because so many gurus acted like shampoo was literally acid. But my scalp was NOT happy. And if your scalp isn't happy, your hair won't be either. And itching at your scalp like a crackhead from a Dave Chappelle skit is not attractive. I find that alternating a cowash and a shampoo every 4 -5 days or so works best for me. I also learned that my hair doesn't like they mystical magical shea butter. In fact, my scalp pretty much likes to be naked. I do my best to keep product off of it.
4) Your hair is still hair. It didn't become magical and fragile gossamer strands of silk and gold. It's fucking hair. You can comb it if you want. You can grease it if you want. It's hair. Hair should not take 20 hours of styling every week. You should not have to read the labels of your shampoo bottles like someone on Weight Watchers trying to calculate the points values for a box of cookies. The shit that would destroy your permed hair (overdying, burning the shit out of it with a flat iron every day, washing it with Drano) will destroy your natural hair. Stop freaking out about your hair. I'm pretty sure we all have real problems that aren't folically related that we could be putting that energy to.
5) Stick to simple styles most days. My current (and likely forever) style of choice is a very simple wash & go (and I do understand that with 4a hair it is easier for me to do this than many people with 4b or 4c hair). I used to live for twist outs, but the constant manipulation was taking so much of my time, and it was KILLING my ends. That brings me to the next item:
6) Get regular trims. Even if you are growing out your hair, get trims. If your ends are starting to get thin, trim it. If your ends are really fuzzy, trim it. If your ends feel dry, trim it. I personally find that my hair looks AMAZING when I trim it every 4-6 months. Your hair will style better, it will tangle less, it will look healthier, you will enjoy it more - which brings us to the last item:
7) Enjoy every stage of your hair. There is no awkward length. If you are at an "awkward" length, that just means you need a more flattering cut. Really, what does "awkward length" even mean? Is it a stage where your hair doesn't know how to make conversation at parties? Does it suddenly get acne and braces? It's like this supposed purgatory between short and long hair where you haven't earned the right to hair pride. This is like those women who refuse to buy nice clothes until they lose weight. MY FAT ASS DESERVES FASHION, and your hair deserves to be enjoyed at every length.

Actually, that reminds me:
8) Length checks are bullshit. Really, who the fuck MEASURES THEIR HAIR? Good lord, can we just let one part of ourselves just be without rating, measuring or weighing it? It's hair. It will grow. The time will pass. It doesn't matter if it grew 1/4 inch last month vs 1/2 inch last month. STOP MEASURING YOUR HAIR FOR GOD'S SAKE.

So that's it. This is my slightly overdue, very overlong, 2 year natural anniversary post. To all of you in some stage of a natural hair experience, enjoy it.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Checking up on Goals

Hi friends!

As you may remember, at the beginning of the year I decided to join in on the whole "New Year's Resolution" party. Well we are 1/3 of the way through the year and I suppose it's time to check in.

So how are we doing? Is my life crazy brand-new? Is it the exact same and maybe I'm wearing the same pajamas that I was when I wrote out my resolutions? Let's see!

Goal 1: Buy a House

Wow - I put the big one first, didn't I? After years of debt and laughable credit, I finally felt like maybe this year I could achieve my grownup dream of buying my very own house. So where am I?

You guys, it looks like I might actually do this one.


So, I got my pre-approval, I will likely have my down-payment (from the job I quit - I'll talk about this later) in a few weeks. I have an accepted offer and the house has passed inspection. If all goes according to plan this little fixer will be mine.

If it does work out, prepare for this blog to suddenly become Ijeoma's Blog of Talking About Her House All The Time. Also, you can all come over for dinner (before everything is covered in laundry like current domicile). If things don't work out, well that will be sad and awkward. I'll keep you posted.

Goal 2: Resist the Urge to Cut off all my Hair

I had to cut it. I just couldn't handle it anymore. I don't want long hair. I have wigs for that. I DO WHAT I WANT. Also, purple lipgloss is my new slow jam now.

Goal 3: I'm not the Person who Sleeps with Fucked Up People Anymore

My goal of dating people I like, sleeping with people I'm attracted to. All those things normal people do. Let me tell you, this one is a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Do you know what I'm really bad at? Grownup relationships, talking about feelings, daring to make plans more than two weeks in advance. I'm kind of a mess at it, a neurotic mess who constantly wants to yell "fuck it!" the moment I'm stressed. But I think I'm doing it, I'm doing okay? Right now it's worth it.

Goal 4: Change my Name

Ugh, this should be the easiest goal on here but THE DMV IS THE WORST. Like, part of my brain knows that an hour or two at the DMV is less worse than walking around with the last name Jacobson instead of the way awesomer Oluo forever, but is it really?

So this is where I am now. I'll keep you posted on everything as it know, eventually.