Why I am surviving eight years of underemployment in recessionary times

Bible Study 1

Bible Study 1 (Photo credit: DrGBB)

All my passed-on relatives are precious to me in their individual way. Today I remember that quiet, soft spoken gentleman, my grandfather Carpus “Jack’ Cossey, whom I called ‘Dad’ like everyone else in his multi-generational household.

“Dad, lend me $2 ‘till tomorrow, please” I said.  Now, that took lots of courage and enough desperation to be willing to endure a two-hour lecture about the virtues of saving and the dangers of ‘licking out yuh money’, topics that were lost on me, a teenager.
But I am lucky this time as he fishes into his self-made, draw-string, blue demin, wallet-size bag and extracted two silver dollars which he examines carefully and slowly counts at least four times. Struggling to hold my patience and inwardly swearing, I reach forward to take them.

He hesitates again and then said: “Bring these back  tomorrow, as I gave you. Two silver dollars; not eight 25-cents pieces, not …”.  Without raising his voice or stressing a syllable for emphasis, he carefully spells out the combinations of two dollars until he finally runs out.

He then places the silver dollars, deliberately, one after the other, in my now tired outstretched hand, and returns to his newspaper and Bible where he continues to compare world events with Bible verses as he prepares to throw down a fire and brimstone sermon on those souls gathered at Sister Gay’s or Bannister’s or wherever  is  his next preaching assignment.

Thanks Dad for hard lessons without them underemployment would have ‘buss my tail” .

(PS: non-fiction)

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Praise me neutrally or inanimately … nah. Give it to me real!

Perhaps it is the Caribbean in me or more precisely the Barbados in me, but when someone publicly hails me up as beautiful, I smile a ‘thank you”. Here, in my region, we don’t seek a thigh gap to be beautiful; our role models of beauty are not yet prescribed by a man-made industry but are varied. The determination of beauty is very much in the eyes of the beholder.

So why should I be offended by such a comment focusing on physical beauty?  It seems that in the United States, this is a source of annoyance. Yet that is a country where the fashion and movie industries push beauty in a sea of reckless materialism. Are their comments the manifestation of an effort to pull back one side by unwittingly decimating it? An all out tug-a-war of two sides, is it?

On two recent occasions, United States President Barack Obama was ridiculed for referring to feminine beauty, both times, intelligence and beauty were part of his comment,  directly or implied. When the President said California Attorney General Kamala Harris happed to be the best-looking AG ever, an avalanche of verbal spears flew in the same way they did when he said his daughter had grown into” strong, smart, beautiful young women.”

I asked myself: was the outcry encouraged by those who cannot subtly or directly stomach black beauty and black intelligence. Is it a fear thing? No, they say it is a feminist thing. Then why are these women wearing make-up and why are they not merely going to the store and taking an outfit based only on size and price?

How can calling a woman beautiful subtract from her intelligence? Aren’t the two mutually exclusive? Why should a black woman’s beauty be muffled or muzzled?

I imagine their perfect world, where (even in bed ) the only compliments will be ‘you have a sharp brain’ . Ouch, that would be degrading, a touch too close to the physical. You’d have to give her /him a side look. Nah, that would parallel flirting and be condemned as sexual harassment.

I suspect that only acceptable comments would be: ‘that project or paper or garden bed etc. was well done.” Let’s get on with the inanimate praising.

Why concern myself about the US behaviour, I’ve asked myself.  I do so because in this era where digital communications facilitates cultural penetration at a higher speed than previously, this template of neutralism would soon be transmitted into Caribbean Community cultural.

I love that we can say: “he is so sexy and so bright” (if we believe it) and men can say “you go it” whether they mean beauty, brains, a winning personality or whatever appeals to their fancy. But in the US, keep your mouth close, don’t look, walk with eyes in the air and if in bed, do only a body jump.

I am stumped here, so I’m asking just to be politically correct with my US friends, can I say to a parent, your baby is cute? Or is the correct compliment in this genre: “he’s talking, that brain is developing”?

Why me… why so much pain?

One look into his bulging eyes and my heart burst under the weight of sudden excruciating pain. I open the door  with a “good-evening’ that conveys my faked cheerfulness.  He replies faintly audible in a voice strained by the residue of conflict.

I know he’s always unsettled by his demons who never release him from their grip though at times they slacken the pressure. Today, somehow, somewhere they’d run amok.

I want to know what happened yet I don’t want to know. He feigned normalcy, perhaps wanting to extend this rare patch of peace we’ve been experiencing recently but his manner betrays him. Every few minutes his chest rises aggressively, his nostrils flares and he fights hard to concentrate on eating his dinner, which today is his favourite boiled fish and vegetables.

Little calm exist in this stormy existence which I call motherhood that is my life. Depression is a regular companion so today I ball myself into a tight foetal wad and welcome it into my bosom as I lie in bed. What gave him these inner raging demons; why does he resort to settling his arguments with threats and fists? Where did I go wrong? Was it the long hours at work in his formative years? Other single mothers did that too but with good results, why not me?

Was it because a woman can’t father a son? Was it my choosing of the wrong sex partner turned absentee father but never caring dad? As usual my brain is too swamped to process and analyse any information. I know the past can’t help me; it can’t be erased so I skip the introspection and strain my brain to thinking about sources of help.

The Bible … for God alone knows, through pray He can help … the internet for 24/7 spiritual guidance. My browsing brings me to an article, When our children go astray. It tells of parents with similar troubles but life differs from fairy tales and the guarantee of a good outcome; the dreamed turnaround of a love one isn’t on that page.

Disillusioned, I am barely able to read it completely or objectively. Fear of the unknown grips me; flooding my whole body, turning my feet to liquid. No tears come to my eyes, though I’d welcome their release but my bladder is full.

The dreaded official knock comes. Bang, bang on the door. I know that knock no matter whose knuckles are doing the pounding; I know who’s there, no matter who’s wearing the uniform. Panic completely invades me and as I open the door my bladder empties itself of all my grief.

Letting Go

From 20 feet away, I saw her looking out her front window, as usual, with folded arms resting on the sill and cradling her head.

I exhaled. Ella was asleep, so I moved stealthily. Good morning“, I heard as soon as I was within her line of vision.

“Good morning Miss Ella,” I replied muttering under my breath, “you have inbuilt motion sensors?”

“What?” she asked.

“I was saying, ‘everyone is fine at home, thank you.” I’d planned to add that to my greeting since she normally asked about my family and while I was replying, she would search for another topic to lengthen our conversation.

I quickened my pace hoping to be out of earshot before her 89-year old brain could react but she was fast.

“Not going to church this morning? I will tell the priest you are off to do the devil’s business,” she chuckled.

“No service this morning,” I replied. Time was ticking on my full schedule while her only chore was trapping passers-by into long conversations but I couldn’t ignore a lonely old lady dressed in her Sunday best on Tuesday.

“Senility isn’t wrecking my brain; it’s loneliness,” she said “old age is a bitch. Eat, drink, look out this window; that’s who I’ve become. No one to chat with, unless someone like you pass by and spare a minute with an old bird.”

My head dropped in shame. I left an hour later, my soul at peace but my schedule wrecked and my heart broken from looking deep inside old age.

She’d spoken with pride about being able, as a single mother, to pay her children’s fare so they could migrate to jobs in London during the 1950’s. They send me money now but I need to feel loved, she’d said, her eyes filled with tears.

“Was I right to let them go? ”

P.S. I wrote this partially true story for the trifecta which challenged writers to produce a story of between 33 and 333 words using the word ‘bitch’ defined as “something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant”. 

Should I have cut my story at three paragraphs before the end and add more words conveying feeling earlier? Or would that be over done? Please tell me?

Babysit my child… Not me!

I have never babysat my children and I never WILL!” my friend was ranting, so I was quiet allowing him to defuse his emotional bomb.
What could I say? I was unsure where the outburst came from and more importantly what it meant. So like John Keats’ naughty little boy, I stood in my shoes and I wondered.
He was livid which was unusual. ‘Tom’ is a peaceful, mild-manner soul who up until then I thought was impossible to provoke, but I had done so; I hit his emotional anger main. So I flipped through the mental pages of our conversation looking for the point in the script that led to this outburst, which I was now fighting hard to crowd out.
A few moments ago, I was talking to him about the rewarding learning experience I had as part of a small supportive group that attended my friend’s defence of her doctoral thesis. She had researched love-power and its effect on gender roles in contemporary middle class relationship. My female bias was evident as I emphasised that society had slotted certain domestic chores under the female category and even top middle-class ranking career women in the Caribbean were still following this categorisation. So, why was he getting so upset?
“Women are just as responsible. In fact, you are the chief offenders, I hear it every time one of you says it and it grates me!” he said.
Yes, that is it! In a small footnote during our conversation, I mentioned that people, men and women used words that keep the culture going but I had not gone into detail rather I had ploughed into other evidence.

“My children are mine as much as they are hers; I cannot physical carry them before birth, but I do afterwards. I am not a hired hand!”

I knew he was calming down because he was zeroing in on substantive bits of his argument. He was logical.  I was pleased because he confirmed that I never referring to him performing his fatherly role as baby-sitting. Perhaps I never did because babysitting isn’t part of my culture. In my lower-class rural Barbadian upbringing of extended families, when parents, usually a single mother, were going out, children remained at a home with an older sibling or went to a relative or a neighbour –whose relationship with the family was so close that you did not know that you were not blood relatives. The script used was “You gine by Aunty X or Momma G, she keeping you till I get back.” Keeping by practice meant caring and loving as if you belonged to that family unit. Babysitting is therefore not in the forefront of my vocabulary; it is one of those words popularised with cultural penetration through movies and books. It conjures up in my mind teenagers earning pocket-money.
Some of us therefore in Caribbean, particularly Barbados, use words that reinforce these stereotypes. Without deep thought, we choose words to suggest that men help us in the kitchen or in the laundry room for example, as if it is exclusively our duty.
Watch your speech and see how actions will follow suit and stereotypes changed.

Do you use words that encourage role stereotyping? What are they? Do you think women and men should have society prescribed roles?