Monday, February 22, 2010

Sex, Lies and Text Messages

Maybe it's best that I have sons. Because the day my daughter would look in my eyes and ask me why men lie, I would not have an answer for her. I wish that I'd be able to say that was a generalization. But then, I'd be lying.

Not that women don't lie too; I get that. But that's not what we're talking about today. Sorry! Men lie because they can't handle the reaction of being truthful - and because often make it very easy for men to lie.

On Friday, I watched Tiger Woods’ press conference with two female co-workers, and all three of us pretty much shared the same sentiments: The only thing worse than a cheating, lying man is a cheating, lying man trying to explain why he won’t cheat and lie anymore.

Let’s face it: Tiger wasn’t standing in front of the media - and the world - promising to be a better husband and better man because he had change of heart, had found a new sense of love or appreciation for what he stood to lose or because it was the right thing to do. Tiger Woods promised to be a be a better husband and better man because he got caught. Had the Thanksgiving weekend incident not happened, if my math is correct, by now he’d probably be on woman 38.

Those of us watching the press conference were of different ages, one single, one divorced and one married, yet we all agreed that the best damage-control Tiger could have done at that point was to walk in front of the cameras without a script and say, "I’m going back to work, and I will handle my personal business at home."

No one but Tiger’s wife needed to hear him make the promises that most of us have heard at least once in our lives: “I made a mistake, I was wrong, and I want to prove to you that I won’t make it again.” Surely Tiger had already said those words to his wife. So why was he saying it to the media?

If he had kept that part of his personal life private, it wouldn’t be the topic of conversation, news reports, and yes, blogs. But since he didn’t, I have no problem weighing in.

Elin Woods, like many women, was faced with the decision to continue to live with a very flawed man or to leave him. It’s as simple as that. The difference between her and most women is that she has to make the decision with the world watching.

It is said that the second most intense life stress is loss of love. The first is death. But I question this. Both are final. Both, in most cases, result in the physical removal of someone special from your life. Both result in the loss of a way of life we have become familiar with. Both result in the lingering torment of things that were never said.

However, with death, you have the peace of knowing you were in your lost loved one's heart. You know you were not abandoned purposely, cast aside or rejected. With death, you can take off work and get sympathy. You are given gifts of comfort and understanding. You can go through closing rituals, and you can feel contentment that your beloved is in a better place.

But with breakups, separation or divorce, even though you have the assurance that they are still alive somewhere on this Earth, that person's love was intentionally withdrawn from you! They opted to leave you. And when they leave you with a trail of lies blowing in the wind behind them, it only magnifies the hurt.

I wouldn’t want to be in Elin’s shoes for all the money in Tiger Woods' bank account.

If she had it to do over again, maybe she would have done everything she could have to keep her very private matter with her husband private. Instead, it spilled out into the street ... and, as they say, the rest is history.

Some of us have done the same - made a big, loud display out of something that happened at home. The problem is - and then what? When you put your business out there, there’s no turning back. Then your problem is not just with you and whoever the issue is between, but with your mama, your daddy, your girlfriends, your co-workers - and who needs that added stress?

The reason so many women had little or no love for Tiger and his apology is that many women have heard those words before. And they know that words without action are nothing.

What Elin and most women say they want is honesty. But do we really? What if Tiger’s truth was that he loves his wife, but he also needs to have several other women in order to be happy? Would she accept that? Would we?

In the past month, the lies and eventual truths of men have caused me to wonder if my honesty actually acts as deterrent to theirs. If I openly give my heart to a man and react honestly to things I want and don't want, does this make him lie to make me believe he wants the same things? Does any one truthfully want honesty in any relationship? Or do we all really want to be made to feel better all the time? If I can't accept your truth, have I encouraged you to lie?

Should I be grateful to someone for saying early on that he's in no position to be the person I need him to be, or should I be grateful to the person who did a good job pretending that he could be - until his lies caught up with him?

I don't have the answers.

But I do know that while changing the way I react may be in order, changing the way I love isn't. My heart is pure, even if my actions and reactions aren't always that way. When women are driven to extreme measures - whether it's bashing out teeth with a nine-iron or putting up billboards all over town - based on the lies they've been told or truths that they haven't been able to accept, they're allowing someone else to control who they are. And that should never happen.

Relationships are complicated enough when they’re going well, and when trouble rears its ugly head, how you start has a huge bearing on how you finish. One guy recently sent me a text message to apologize for his disappearing act, saying that as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t be the man I deserved and didn’t want to mess up my life. Another male friend of mine – who was angling to be more – told me over dinner in the beginning of our relationship that he could be a jerk, often thinks of himself before his mate and has a weakness for threesomes.

Check, please!

I’ve learned the hard way that honesty is always the best policy – a little hurt in the beginning is always better than a lot of hurt later.

And that’s what I teach my sons.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Breast-Feeding: To Be or Not to Be?

Are you ride or die when it comes to the advantages of breast-feeding? Or are you “lactate” intolerant?

Nikki Woods and Mary Boyce – proud members of Mamas Gone Wild - have two differing points of view, and yet, almost perfect children.

I - Nikki Woods - don’t care how many degrees I don’t have, how many studies I haven’t conducted or how many women I haven’t examined - I AM an expert on breast feeding. If you’re a mom, whether you chose to breast feed your child(ren) or not, you’re an expert too. I deem it right here on this blog page. No doctor, scientist, nutritionist - male or female - knows more about this topic than I do. Because no one knows me like I do.

Breast-feeding is a personal choice, and I’ve never regretted my decision not to do it. I love my boys and always have been committed to them and their well-being. They are six and eight, perfectly healthy, smart, happy and well-adjusted. There’s no way you could tell me they’d be better than they already are if they had been breast-fed.

When my first son was born, I was the co-host of a morning radio show in Chicago. I loved and needed my job and knew enough about what was expected of me by my employers and myself that breast-feeding would not be a workable plan. But more importantly, because of injuries from a previous domestic violence incident that occurred years before I met and married my babies’ daddy – my doctor advised me that attempting to breast-feed could cause a serious infection in my milk ducts and may do harm not only to me, but to the baby.

I share this mainly to let those inclined to judge know that every situation is different. There are all kinds of perfectly good reasons that women like me chose - and will continue to choose - not to breast feed.

Too often, women are made to feel that their personal preferences should be put aside or even ignored and find themselves caving under pressure from people who won’t be effected by the decision one way or the other. For me, breast-feeding would have added a layer to my life that I wasn’t willing to take on. My option was to do what millions of women do, which is to feed my babies formula.

I think that bullying women into breast-feeding and vilifying those who don’t places undue pressure on a new mother who already feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. It is wrong to make mothers feel that because they bottle-feed or bottle-fed their babies - from birth, as a supplement or after a return to work — they are unnatural, negligent, selfish idiots.

I don’t think women who can’t or don’t want to comply with the recommendations should feel guilty.

Maybe they’re doing other things that are good for their children, like reading to them, making sure they eat good food and get exercise — things that are as important or maybe more important in the long term. Lifestyle, health and diet are as important as or more important than breast-feeding.

But in recent days, I have found that it is hard to bring this point of view forward without being accused of being anti-breast, anti-child, anti-motherhood, anti-all-that-is-decent-and-good-in-the-world. Pardon the pun, but that sucks.

In a perfect world, maybe I would have breast-fed too, but I also would only feed my children organic food, would never have exposed them to "Spongebob Squarepants," and the Nintendo DS would have been akin to the devil.

But it’s not a perfect world.

Now, my friend and co-worker, Mary Flowers Boyce, has a different spin on the same situation, but I'll let her tell you about it.


Thanks, Nikki! LOL.

My parents were part of a “progressive” generation, where most things connected with the “old” ways of doing things were shunned. Forget about what their grandparents did or how well they did it; they were intent on being part of middle-class suburbia and took most of their cues from television ads. My mom didn’t breast-feed any of her children and neither did any of her friends. It was too yesterday. And yes, we formula-fed babies turned out fine - no ear infections, no weight issues, all college-educated.

But, by the time I became pregnant in the '90s, there was a total shift toward breast-feeding, and if you didn’t do it, you better have a damn good reason. There was no doubt in my mind that I would breast-feed my children, and my husband was on board too. We bought into all of the hype. And I’m not sorry that we did.

Not that it was easy. OMG. The first few days were brutal. I don’t know who was more frustrated - me, my daughter, my husband or my mom. It seems to be one of the most natural things in the world, but for Erin and me, it was a learning process. “Latching on” was something neither of us got the hang of until she was a few days old. It really took lots of patience, determination and coordination ... like learning to drive a stick-shift.

Even when we did get on point, I was never sure whether she was getting enough milk. We were both cranky, and neither of us was sleeping very well. My husband, my mom - and later, my mother-in-law - felt helpless. When I needed them most, there was nothing they could do but watch us struggle. Finally, everything came together, but when it came time for me to return to work, I had to use a breast pump - and that was no fun at all.

So, would I do it again? I guess I would because I did. When my son was born 16 months later - there goes the myth that breast-feeding is a birth control method! - I got back on the horse, and I have to admit it was much easier. I was more comfortable and in control, and he (maybe because was a dude! LOL) needed very little direction. Did I mention he was nine pounds, nine ounces at birth?

I salute those soldiers who breast-feed children until their babies are two years old, but my boy needed more than I had to give by the time he was three months old. And, by the way - I don’t care what anyone says - my breasts have never been the same. Instead of all my breast feeding buddies telling me all the good stuff, at least one could have told me that a push-up bra would become my new best friend.

Over the years, I’ve read plenty about breast feeding and have heard enough to last a lifetime. But what has stood out the most - and what I think is often missed - is that the first liquid that’s released from a lactating mother’s breast, colostrum, contains important antibodies and nutrients that are extremely beneficial to babies. It’s even said to aid in healthy brain, heart and central nervous system development. So, essentially, after a few days of breast-feeding, you’ve given your child a great start. For me, that’s the happy medium that is a win-win situation for moms who have other things to do besides feed our children.

I’m not certain that breast-feeding for six months with my first and three months with my second made my kids any better than they would have been or whether it makes me a better mom. I am sure that I exercised my personal right to make the choice that was best for me. And if you’re pregnant, you should too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Changing Colors

So yet another Valentine's Day has come and gone ... and on this post-Valentine's Day Tuesday, a lot of people are still disappointed.

I have many girlfriends who had flowers delivered to their office just to give the appearance of a romantic and thoughtful boyfriend or husband waiting in the wings to fulfill all of their Valentine's expectations. And I admit, after getting a beautiful bouquet mix of roses and lilies sent to my office by the real thing, I was tempted to leave my door open all week long for the haters to see. (Kidding, but not really.)

Whether you were appreciated by someone else or appreciated yourself, having expectations in our culture is normal and ... well, expected. We are brought up that way.

Having great expectations sounds great, however, when the expectation is unfulfilled, we bitch, we moan, we become disappointed. And that becomes a problem. If I expect you to love me a certain way, and your love doesn't show up that way for me, I’m mad. So it’s easy to imagine how quickly a person can get caught up on the one day that we, as a universe, celebrate love.

For weeks leading to Valentine’s Day, we are immersed in all things love. We let advertisers, acquaintances and strangers define what our love is supposed to look like. So, even though you or I am content with the love we’re getting, we find ourselves questioning that love or putting new - and sometimes unrealistic - pressure on that love, and for what? So that Hallmark, the flower delivery industry, the candy biz and restaurant franchises can get richer. We spend time hating on those who had picture-perfect Valentine’s weekends instead of finding the goodness in what we've got at home.

A good friend once said to me when I was feeling a little envious about her Valentine's Day, "Shall I tell you about the Valentine's Day that he didn't come home at all?"

That was a stark reminder that the color of love reflected in our lives today may have not been so vibrant in a different season. By the way, her Valentine’s Day this year was less than stellar, so I hope she will be uplifted by these words.

Here’s my point: Last year this time, when I posted the blog, "What Color is Your Love?" I was not in the best place in my life. In fact, my love was downright moody blue. But every situation and season brings a lesson. And what I've learned is that one of the best things you can do if you blog, journal or just have a good memory is to look back at where you were a year ago. You learn one of two things: How blessed you now are or how blessed you were then - and they’re both excellent lessons.

A year ago, I was on a new job in a new city, and my boys were in a new school. I moved forward a day at a time, a step a time, keeping my goal in front of me, which was essentially to make my babies’ transition as easy as I possibly could. And I did that. Their first year went very well. Meanwhile, I’ve had to deal with car issues, nanny issues, housing issues, puppy issues and yes, issues of the heart. We call it life, but at the time, it seemed like no matter what I did, nothing would fall into place.

I made it through, and upon reflection about what I would do differently, I discovered I was taking care of everyone and everything but myself and that, in actuality, my biggest challenge weren’t the issues going on around me, but inside me. I wasn't finding time to love on myself. And that’s not cool.

So, at some point, I decided that, no matter how foreign it felt, I absolutely had to build some “me” time into my schedule – even if that meant saying no to friends, family and the J.O.B.

And there are a dozen ways to do this. Spend an extra 15 minutes in the tub before you go to bed. Stop and get a manicure after work - before you get home. Trade babysitting time with your girlfriends, and go read a book in the park.

But my biggest tip is to teach your children how to entertain themselves while you recharge your batteries. I’m not suggesting that you sit them in front of the television or stick a video game in their hand - although sometimes you've got to do whatever it takes to get it done. But it’s an awfully neat trick if you can teach your children to take time for them while you take time for you. Whether it’s drawing, reading, building a Lego skyscraper, writing in their journal or taking tons of random pictures with a disposable camera like my youngest son – If your kids are older, how about letting them go to a movie without you? It’s amazing what you can get accomplished in two hours. And to make it a learning experience for your children, make them write a movie review ... maybe they can post their own blog.

The point is to get in touch with yourself and your needs, and I’m here to tell you that it can altar the shades of your world. Suddenly, my love is multi-colored, vibrant and new.

When I look back at last year’s blog, some of those feelings I had then are almost unrecognizable, while others are still on point.

How about you? Where were you a year ago compared with today? Has your love gotten brighter, duller or remained the same? If it’s brighter, congratulations. Figure out what’s working and how you can keep it that way. If it’s duller, what can you learn from your transition?

And if it’s the same, spice it up, spruce it up and - to coin a dated phrase - let your freak flag fly, no matter what color it may be.

Even if you’re the only one watching.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Food for Thought

Of course my stomach would start growling as soon as I start to put my thoughts regarding food on paper. I stayed strong, though, and congratulated myself on a little victory. But as I prepared Tom and the crew for an interview with First Lady Michelle Obama about her new initiative to battle childhood obesity, I realized that little victory is part of a lifelong love/hate relationship with food.

In the good times and in the bad times, food always plays a starring role in my life. And I’m not alone. For most people – African-Americans especially - it's part of our mourning process, relationship rituals and our meeting procedures.

Perfect example: If you went to - or hosted - a Super Bowl party on Sunday, then you know that the only thing second to having a decent sized television to watch the big game on was the menu. In fact, for some people there, the food was THE most important thing, and if it wasn’t on point, you were getting clowned by your guests during the car ride home.

It's not a bad thing necessarily, but I think it becomes troublesome when we allow food to overshadow the real purpose of why we’re gathering. In other words, what would happen if we dared to take food out of the mix? I've been doing that lately - or at least trying to.

Now, I’m not talking about not eating, but just not letting food "consume" me; pardon the pun. Believe me when I say the hungry hearts club is a lonely place to be. People are very uncomfortable, annoyed and even suspicious of you if you choose not to eat at or attend an event because you're just not that into food, or trying not to be, at least.

The idea of having large amounts of food at even the most mundane of occasions is relatively recent and ties into our country's rise in obesity. Huge feasts were once relegated to Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners. Some families went hard every Sunday, but even that doesn’t compare with all the big-food opportunities we have now. Even movies are now so closely associated with food, some movie theaters are literally restaurants that happen to be showing a film.

Asking employees to go the extra mile without ordering a pizza is like slapping them in the face. Book club meetings, work meetings, dates and church meetings all are wrapped around food.

The women from Mt. Zion Church of God Holiness in Dayton, Ohio know this well. They were recently featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" after one member wrote in about her family’s history of diabetes and the unhealthy foods served at the church. Half of the church’s adult members are diabetic.

We know that as African-Americans, we are more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and certain kind of cancers that are linked to obesity. Much of the time, obesity - or a least the poor eating habits that will eventually lead to obesity - starts during childhood. Like their parents, kids think of every celebration, every movie, every sporting event, etc., as an opportunity to eat.

We can start doing better by making some of the small steps the First Lady threw out, like playing games outdoors with our kids or replacing the juice boxes in their lunches with a bottle of water. We can also turn the tide a little by having children’s parties that are more about fun activities like skating or bowling and less about food.

About 32 percent of children and adolescents are obese, putting them at risk for high cholesterol and diabetes.

Habits are hard to break. But they’re impossible to break if we don’t at least make an effort. And why not start at home, especially if you have kids?

Getting our children’s eating habits in check is probably one of the most important things we can do for not only their physical health but their mental health as well. We talk often about the physical ailments that can stem from carrying too much weight, but our children’s self-esteem and self-image suffer as well.

I know how much negative comments about my weight affected me when I was growing up. Most of the women on my mother’s side of the family are petite by anyone’s standards, so I was often teased for being larger than my cousins, even when they were much older than me. It had a profound effect on me, and the hurt feelings still pulse beneath the surface whenever we’re together. As an adult, I understand that they were not trying to be mean, but the six-year-old in me still needs a hug every once in awhile when I think about it.

So, not only was I appalled when a doctor informed me and my eight-year-old son that he was overweight – I was mad. No doubt, both of my sons are larger than most children their age, and although I don’t label it as hidden racism, I certainly don’t believe that I should make them fit in to the cookie-cutter European standards for height and weight. And even if weight was an issue for him, I certainly didn’t think he needed to hear it the way that he did.

So when the doctor said it a second time and laughingly told my child to leave the sweets alone, I was crushed and - with the risk of sounding dramatic – saddened as I watched just a little bit of sorrow leave as the hurt and doubt crept in. My heart breaks all over again when, months later, he still asks whether or not I think he should be on a diet.

And for our beautiful little girls, it’s even worse.

Recent medical findings have suggested that black women are 50 percent more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than white women are, that poor women are more likely to experience bulimia than rich girls are and that bulimia affected 1.5 percent of girls in households where at least one parent had a college degree.

Our lives and our kids’ lives could depend on us getting our stuff together. We can hope that the government, food makers and schools make adjustments, but in the end, it’s up to individual parents and the examples we set.

If food is in center of everything we do, how can we give it less importance?

Instead of meeting your girls for lunch, how about meeting them for a walk or for a pedicure? Instead of celebrating a job change with big a lunch or dinner, how about a visit to a nice day spa? Instead of rewarding our own accomplishments with comfort food, how about buying a good book or a pair of shoes?

If you’ve figured out some helpful, healthy hints that have made a difference, share your ideas. I can’t be the only mom who has gone to bed with feelings of guilt for letting my six-year-old have a Lunchable for dinner. (Just once, I promise.) Michelle Obama’s "Let’s Move" initiative - check out her interview with us in "If You Missed It" - should be a wake-up call for us all.

I don’t know about you, but I doubt if my boys will ever inherit huge amounts of money and property. But what I can leave them is the tools for having a healthy body, mind and soul. That's priceless.