Why I Wrote Bushyhead

Bushyhead is available on Amazon

Our youngest daughter Meadow has the most glorious head of hair. It got curlier and bushier as she got older, and had a will of its own. We were going to make sure she loved her hair. It was going to be different from my own childhood where society made me feel that my curly hair was less than perfect. I spent years wishing for straighter hair. We wanted Meadow to embrace her natural curls and not feel as though her hair needed to be fixed. 

Meadow and her beautiful curls

As parents, we can only do so much. Society takes over. At daycare, a black woman approached me and told me she could help me with products to tame Meadow’s hair. I know she was trying to be helpful but it sent the wrong message. Then on another occasion, a South Asian hairdresser told me she could put in a chemical just to tame Meadow’s hair a little to make it easier for me. 

“No. It’s okay,” I said thinking this was the last thing I’d do.

“Really, it will still be curly but not as much.”

“No, thank you. We like it like this.” I looked at Meadow hoping she wasn’t thinking something was wrong with her hair.

“It will be much easier for you. It won’t take long,” the hair dresser insisted.

“Nope. Definitely not. Her hair is perfect as it is.”

I could control situations where this happened and explain to Meadow that her hair didn’t need taming and straightening. It didn’t need fixing. But I’d forgotten I couldn’t control the school yard. She was teased because of her hair. So were my nieces Elya and Jisele. They were told they couldn’t be princesses from ages three and four.  Princesses, they were told, didn’t have curly hair. As adults, we see the illogic in this but little girls can’t. As Meadow got older, the teasing got worse. She was told her hair was doo doo hair, shit hair.

I remember the day she got pink and purple braids. She felt like a princess until she went to school and was harassed by the class bully who got people to taunt her and call her the name of some rapper with pink and purple braids because she dared to be different. “They teased me all day long,” she said when she came home. This continued for many days until it escalated to a point where things got physical and I found myself on the phone with the principal trying to solve a difficult situation. 

This narrative that curly hair is somehow less-than needs to change. It doesn’t matter that some people say, “but I love curly hair.” It’s embedded in our psyche. I read a sci-fi book where perfect humans were created and to make them perfect, their curls were removed. This is nonsense and pisses me off. We’re born with what we have. A world where everyone looks the same would be incredibly boring. Let’s give each other the freedom to wear our hair the way we want. I’m the first to admit I haven’t always felt this way. I remember going to Fiji in 1993 and seeing all these women with Afros. My initial thought was, “Haven’t they heard of hair relaxer, cream, rollers, hot irons?” It was not the norm for me to see black women wearing their hair naturally in the 1990s. But I’ve changed.

This is why I wrote Bushyhead. This book has been within me for a very long time. As I release it into the world, I hope that the message is clear: curls, coils, and kinks are beautiful and don’t need fixing.

You Can Always Go Another 20 Minutes

We need people to get us up and down the mountain, literally and figuratively. 

In November 2019, I went to Arizona with my son’s baseball team. We were new members. The coach said that before the game, we’d do some sightseeing. We were going on a little hike to Camelback Mountain. This is an important lesson in semantics. I pictured strolling leisurely through a cactus field and so I packed a heavy backpack with my water bottle, my journal, a book and other non essentials. Turns out a hike can be different things to different people. At the foot of the trail, an enormous mountain loomed ahead. Behind that mountain appeared to be several peaks. I noticed we were about to embark on the most difficult trail. I felt trepidatious but I figured I could do this, especially since Coach Mike said his mother did it at age forty and had no problems. Since I was just meeting the team, I wanted to put my best foot forward, to appear fearless and to make light conversation along the way. That didn’t happen. What did happen was I kept asking like a kid on a long road trip, “How much longer to the top?” Coach Mike said, “twenty minutes tops.” Two hours later as I struggled on, it was still twenty minutes tops. Later, he said that most people can, if they dig deep, always go another twenty minutes.” 

Putting my best foot forward went straight out the window as it often does when we find ourselves in situations that are highly demanding or stressful. I was determined to keep going physically, no matter what, although I did wonder if this is where I’d take my final breath. My thudding heart felt like it was going to explode in my chest. That was not my greatest concern. I was terrified of falling and breaking a limb. My mouth became dry with fear and exhaustion. Worse than the physical battle was the mental battle. My mind kept throwing scenarios at me. What if I slipped off the edge into the abyss and returned to Canada in a body bag?

One of the dads took my backpack to ease my load. I moved like a newborn deer, tentatively, as if the earth beneath my feet would suddenly shift. I clutched the mountain like a blanket. I sighed and complained and over-analyzed every step I took.  Every time I got over a chunk of mountain, another mountain appeared in front. I watched a man in his seventies, lean and sinewy, jog past me. Many times, I thought it was time to retreat, to give in and make my way back down. From what I remember, coach Mike would say things like: “We’re almost at the top. The hardest part is behind you. You got this. My mother wasn’t in the greatest shape and she made it up the mountain. It’s ok. You’re going to make it. You’re not going to believe the view from the top. It’s worth it.” 

At the top of Camelback Mountain, Phoenix, Arizona

And so I made it to the top. We took a group picture and I was elated. The view was magnificent but then, the panic set in. I still had to get back down. Coach Mike and the rest of the men took off and were down the mountain in no time. He said his job was to get us to the top. We had no choice but to come back down. Going down was almost as frightening. Thankfully, one of the other mothers got me down. She stayed with me the entire time while I talked endlessly about how scared I was. It was halfway down the mountain when I turned to her and said, “Oh my. I complain a lot instead of just doing what I need to do.” She was patient while I dithered on what path I should take instead of just moving along. Sometimes I wanted to stay close and hug the mountain but that path was actually more perilous than venturing on the path closer to the ledge. I watched people run past me and who made the climb look easy and I watched people lag further behind, struggling as I was. 

Once I made it down, my son looked at me in embarrassment. “What happened to you, Mom?” he whispered. “You took so long.”

“Nothing, except you’re thirteen and I’m fifty,” I said. 

But on introspection, my son had a point. Something happened, something I was determined to fix. I felt mentally weak. My negative thoughts were as high as the mountain. My own self-doubt and fear almost kept me from getting to the top and it sure hindered my progress and enjoyment of the climb. 

I called Coach Mike the other day. We’ve nicknamed him ‘Tony Robbins’. “How did you get us up there?” I asked. 

“Sometimes  you have to lead from behind. It’s not all about leading from the front. For those who wanted to climb, I was going to get them to the top and I knew I could only go as fast as the slowest person. The mountain is just the mountain. It doesn’t care about you. If you keep looking up at what’s ahead, at the unknown, the mountain will win. It’s relentless. For some, it’s physically tough. For others, it’s psychologically tough, or even both. It’s a mental game. But God is able to pull stuff out of us that we can’t do on our own,” he said. 

As for me, I’m grateful for the people who got me up and down the mountain, the coach who carried my backpack, the Mom who stayed with me and Coach Mike. I couldn’t have done it without them. We need each other. 

The mountain just is and no amount of overthinking and complaining will make it go away. Climb one step at a time, even in the face of fear. Some will make it look easy and some won’t make it up at all. Keep going even though at times, the climb feels relentless. And if you’re one of the “make it look easy” ones, encourage those that are struggling.

Failure Makes You Better

I hate failing. I really do. All the self help gurus say you must love failure to learn and grow. I’ll never love it and I’ll go even further and say I’m afraid of failure. Somewhere along the way, most likely as a child, I received the message that it is not okay to fail. I’m not alone. So many of us are so afraid to fail that we miss out on life’s greatest opportunities. We stay in our comfort zone instead of trying new experiences and becoming the best version of ourselves.

Once, I failed big. It was humiliating. I was asked to speak at a school after recently publishing my children’s books. My audience was an entire gym of kindergarten and first graders, and not a classroom where I was most comfortable. If you’ve ever presented at a school, the younger and larger the audience, the more difficult it is. I decided I’d wing the whole presentation since it was only kindergarteners. I had young children, I knew my books, how hard could this really be? I walked in without any preparation and of course, it went badly. Since I hadn’t prepared, I had problems with the technology and no back up plan. I under-anticipated how hard it was to present to young kids who couldn’t sit still. I cringe when I remember that moment and the look of disappointment on the face of the principal who hired me.

After I’d packed up my books and walked back to my car, I sat in the parking lot thinking, “This will never happen to me again. No matter what it takes, I never want to feel like this again.” It was pointless to cry or even complain because I realized that I was one hundred percent responsible for my failure. (Ok, I did complain a little to my supervisor and friend. We’ll call her N.) N said, “Why don’t you join Toastmasters?” And so I did.

I learned how to speak in public. But I did more than that. I googled how to present to children. I googled and read about public speaking. I watched other public speakers. I learned something that I should have known, and probably did know but didn’t want to put in the time to do, which was to practice. It may seem obvious that my lack of preparation caused my failure, but I thought maybe I could be like my father; he says he never practices before a speech and he’s pretty good at it. The truth is that it is the rare person who doesn’t have to practice to master a skill.

Today, no matter where I’m presenting (virtually or physically), on what (a talk, my books or a poem) and to whom, I practice extensively. I usually don’t want to practice at first. There are days of procrastination and agonizing over this extra thing to do. It gets tedious to repeat the same speech over and over again. It’s time consuming. But I do it and not at the last minute either. I practice because I never again want the feeling of standing in front of an audience lost and discombobulated. I need to know I’ve done my best.

Sometimes my kids will see me facing the mirror and ask, “Who are you talking to, mom?”

“No-one. I’m practicing my speech/poem/presentation.”

“Oh.”

The first time I practiced my speech in front of the mirror or in front of my hubby or kids, I felt a bit self-conscious but I’m so over that. It’s more important for me that my kids see that practice is necessary. They see that I’m choosing not to be self conscious and that I’m investing in myself.

Without that epic failure (Ok. Maybe it wasn’t epic. I didn’t lose my life savings), I wouldn’t be able to deliver the talks that I do today. I would still be paralyzed by fear and insecurity. The failure was my feedback. I had to do something differently. In this case, it was practice and preparation.

I don’t think most of us love to fail, but our failures make us better, stronger and a lot wiser. Failures give us our stories and point us in the right direction. Failures make us cry, laugh and once we come through on the other side, we look back in amazement at the people we once were and, more importantly, whom we have become.

Bonus: Sometimes other people learn from our failures.

I walked past my son’s room the other day. I heard him talking to himself in French. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Practicing my presentation,” he said.

“Oh,” I nodded and quietly closed the door.

Miracle Message

It was New Year’s Day: January 1, 2020. I hadn’t yet heard of the coronavirus. My hubby and I went for a walk by the lake. The day was cold but sunny and bright.

“I need more quiet time,” I told my husband. “I think that’s what is missing from my life.” Life seemed to be one big rushed routine. I was juggling two jobs, trying to write, which always came last, take our children to their activities, all of which consumed my time and left me exhausted.

“What is my purpose here?” I asked my hubby. “What is my life’s purpose? I wish I knew if I even have purpose. I think God wants me to be more giving,” I said wondering if God even existed. It’s hard for me to have faith in things I can’t see. By giving I meant reaching out to people beyond my circle, by giving my time and my money to others in need.

“But how can I give when I feel so financially insecure?” I asked. We stopped at the Tim Horton’s coffee shop on Lakeshore and sat down for a coffee and donut. I wrote my goals in a new 2020 diary I’d recently bought.

Later that evening, I looked for the diary and couldn’t find it anywhere. My hubby and I searched the car and our home several times.

“I’m going back to Tim Horton’s,” I said. “I must have left it there.” I entered the coffee shop and saw three men sitting at the table where we’d sat that morning. They appeared to be homeless and looked scruffy and bedraggled. I approached the counter and asked the server if a diary had been turned in and I explained that I might have left it at the table where the three men were sitting. He looked doubtfully at the men. No diary had been turned in but he told me I could ask the men if I wanted to, but that I should be careful.

“Excuse me,” I asked standing awkwardly at the table. “Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you’d seen a diary. I think I left it at this table this morning.”
“No! No diary,” said one man gruffly.
“Okay. Thank you,” I answered walking away.
“Wait,” one of them called out. “I have a message for you. I have a message from the Big Man Himself.” He got up from the chair and stood before me.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I stepped back. He looked as though he hadn’t bathed in days but his unshaven face was joyful and he was smiling. He looked kindly at me.

“You are so busy in your life with your children and everything that you’re doing. God is trying to speak to you but you’re too busy to hear him.”

I was stunned. How could this man know about my life? I said nothing. He reached out his arms to me. “When you give with this hand, you get back with this hand,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to give. You have purpose,” he said. “You are loved.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Thank you,” I said. “I got the message.”

“It’s not from me. It’s from God. Can I have a hug?”

I walked toward him and he gave me a bear hug. The server rushed over. “Ma’am. Ma’am, are you okay? You don’t have to do that.”

“I’m okay,” I said still stunned that God had answered me. “I’m okay.”

“You were meant to come here looking for your diary,” the homeless man said smiling.

When I went back home, I searched the car again for the diary and found it in a place we’d previously searched – in the back on the floor.

I realized I’d got the answers to my prayers, answers that I’d been seeking for a long time. I realized I’d experienced a miracle.

I haven’t shared this story with many except my family and closest friends especially because we live in this secular society where many don’t mention God. But it occurred to me that I got this message before the pandemic. It came at the right time. It’s what I’ve held on to in all of this past year’s uncertainty and fear. It’s what I hold on to every time I begin to lose hope or faith. I woke up this morning thinking of this message and decided I needed to share it widely. I want the world to have hope and faith. I want the world to know these things:

Have no preconceived notions about a messenger’s appearance.
Give freely.
You have purpose.
You are loved.
Make time for God.

Black Genes

My daughter is dating someone. He’s Eastern European. I told her to make sure he knows she has black genes because I don’t want any stupid situations. By that I mean the stupid situation of my cousin who doesn’t appear to be black, he’s that light-skinned who married a woman whose parents cut her off and their three blond, blue-eyed grandchildren. They could not accept that their daughter had married a “black” man and chose not to attend the wedding or be a part of their lives. I shake my head in disbelief and disgust. My daughter being half Norwegian, doesn’t appear to be a person of colour (although someone in Norway did tell me once that she’d be considered ‘exotic’ since it was clear she wasn’t 100% Norwegian – she had dark eyes and her hair wasn’t white blonde).

“Just make sure he knows,” I reiterate, “because I’m not having that racist crap in my family.”

“My mum said to tell you I have black genes,” she told him.

“Okay,” he said, a little confused. He wasn’t sure why having black jeans was important.

I feel I have to say it. I didn’t have to say it in Jamaica. But here in North America, it’s necessary. I say it because unfortunately I’m more aware than ever of the silent yet persistent dislike of people of colour. Before I had children, I was blissfully unaware, going through life living in my own head, not always seeing things as they really are. It took having children in North America to see what I’ve never acknowledged. If a racist incident happened to me, it was one person. That one person was probably uneducated and knew nothing about the world. If people treated me badly, I thought it was because they were rude and their parents had not instilled good values and manners. Even when I worked in a factory to earn myself enough money to go around the world and a worker kept telling what he called n***** jokes in my presence while glancing at me for my reaction, I convinced myself it wasn’t about me. But it’s hard to ignore when someone tells your son to go to the back of the line because he’s chocolate. Or someone tells your daughter that it’s a shame she has monkey blood. Or someone tells your niece that she can’t be a princess because of her bushy hair. Or someone calls a little girl a n*****. It’s hard to ignore then. Because it’s not one person. Although people think only America has this problem, it’s here in Canada too. It’s just more subtle. As my Syrian student told me in his halting English when he tried to talk about racism, “In America problem on table. Everyone can see. In Canada, problem under table. No one can see, but still problem.”

The problem persists and it’s here in the country where I live. But one thing for sure: I don’t want it in my home, in my family or my inner circle and that’s why I tell my daughters who don’t look like people of colour: Mek sure you tell dem you have black genes, you hear. Tell dem.

Staying Silent is Not an Option

I once had a comedic friend who regaled us with jokes. His company filled us with laughter until he cracked some jokes at our expense: racial jokes. The joke I remember most often is ‘the Jamaicans have moved in. Everybody lock your doors.’ At first, I laughed. He made jokes about everybody. But the second and the third time weren’t funny. Then I noticed other things he said. “She was black but attractive.”  Or when he made reference to someone being a lazy Jamaican. He would lower his voice to a whisper when he said the word ‘black person’ as if the very word made him uncomfortable.

I often wonder why I never told him how his racial jokes made me feel: annoyed, reminded that society thinks people of colour are inferior, that we’re stereotyped the way the dominant race rarely is. Was it because I wanted to avoid confrontation? To be liked? To show I had a good sense of humour? To avoid stirring up conversations that make us all uncomfortable? Probably all of the above. It’s akin to someone hurting you but you stay quiet so that the behaviour continues. How will the person ever know that they’ve done something wrong? Now that the world has become aware of how pervasive racism is in our institutions and belief systems, it’s time for us to have those uncomfortable conversations. Yes, there will be awkward moments as we start challenging hurtful behaviours and words, but I, more comfortable at home than in any protest, think we need to be activists, acting to make the world a better place for everyone. Like the saying goes, ‘you’re not growing if you’re not uncomfortable.’ It was hard for me to publish this blog. I’m uncomfortable but silence is not an option. Not if we want a a fairer more equitable world for everyone.

Healing Difficult Relationships

There is a way to magically heal relationships and release bitterness and pain from past relationships. Admittedly, I was skeptical. When I first tried this simple yet effective exercise, I didn’t think it would work. I wish this idea was mine, but it isn’t. I read it in the book The Magic by Rhonda Byrne and what I learned completely changed my life. It works for any broken, difficult, troubled relationship.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re currently in a relationship or one that has ended. It works if you’ve been holding anger towards someone in your life or if you’ve recently had an argument with a loved one. The relationship doesn’t have to be a romantic one. It can be a neighbour, sibling, boss, friend, etc.

The exercise is simple yet it works.

Step one. Think of the problematic relationship you want to improve.

Step two. Write ten things you’re grateful for about the person. _Name___________, I’m grateful for _what___________?

Before you dismiss this, there are many reasons why it’s important to rid ourselves of anger and bitterness towards another no matter how they’ve wronged us. Resentment, anger and bitterness cause illness. They rid us of energy and hope. They kill our drive and lead to a downward spiral of negativity. They make us unattractive. As our thoughts stay angry and bitter, our outer appearance transforms to deeper frown lines and drawn down mouths.

As you read this, you might be thinking, how can I be grateful to the person who treated me badly, or who thinks they are always right? Don’t worry about them. This is about you. Maybe you’re thinking you have nothing to be grateful for to the person who hurt you. Dig deep. Find ten reasons to be grateful to them. Don’t stop halfway. Find ten reasons in lessons you’ve learned from them, gifts they’ve given, children you share, places they’ve taken you, insights you’ve learned about yourself through them. There has got to ten things. This exercise was difficult for me the first time I did it. Then it got easier. I know it may sound ridiculous to some, but it works. It really does. Gratitude for others changes our lives. The person might still be difficult. You could still choose not to have a relationship with him or her, but your anger, your hurt and resentment will melt away. You’ll feel lighter, freer, stronger. Give it time, though. It doesn’t happen overnight. If there’s still no change, repeat the exercise until those negative emotions disappear. And they will.

Masks in Public, Please!

My daughter called me recently. She was distraught and terrified of getting the coronavirus. She lives on her own and has been working at a pharmacy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. An elderly woman came in hacking and coughing without covering her mouth in the food section. She bought saltine crackers and soda water and she was clearly sick (or perhaps I’m assuming this and she was a smoker with a terrible cough). Then 15 minutes later, a man came in who wasn’t being intentionally unkind, but as he checked out, he plied my daughter with conspiracy theories, including telling her that the mask she was wearing could be from China and purposely infected with the coronavirus. That was the last straw. She broke down. Her manager was kind enough to send her home. She was in no position to work that day. Twenty years old, taking the bus to work in a town far enough from home, living by herself and missing us terribly.

Everyone is experiencing this time differently, but I do know one thing. We have to change our habits and be mindful of other people. As I write, I know there are people who are not practicing social distancing. There are people who go grocery shopping and stand right beside other people. I get it. We are creatures of habit. But this is NOT a normal time. I’ve also heard of people harassing their hairdressers, gym owners, bars and other businesses to open up.  I’ve heard of people still inviting friends over for dinner. I’ve heard of people coughing or spitting on products in stores. I’ve heard the worst and I’ve heard the best of people. I’ve heard stories that have horrified me, and stories that have inspired me. I don’t have all the answers and I’m sure that one day, we will know more about this virus. We’ll find out if the conspiracy theories are true. We’ll have a vaccine for those who wish to be vaccinated (I’ll be one of those). But now, more than ever, we need to be considerate of others. It sounds so easy, so cliché but we have been living in a cultural climate of ME, ME, ME. It is time to take the focus off ourselves.

Not everything one wants to say, should be said. Keep conspiracy theories to your close friends who care. No one else wants to hear it, especially someone who is busy serving the public.

Stop inviting people to go out or come over. Not at this time. It will be over soon. In the meantime, read a book or something.

Wear a mask when leaving the house for any reason. ( I’m still waiting on my masks from Amazon but I got creative with my grandmother’s old handkerchiefs and two elastic bands).

Give people space in supermarkets and drugstores. There’s nothing more annoying than having someone come up right beside you as you both stare at the shelf. (This is especially for the father and his teenage daughter who thought it was okay to stand beside me at Shopper’s Drug Mart while they chose hair products. Couldn’t you have waited till I moved? After all, no one is in a rush right now.)

I’m writing the obvious, but stay home if you have a hacking cough. If you must go out, wear a mask obviously.

Most importantly, be kind to each other. If you’re out of the habit, just practice. It gets easier.

Say nothing, do nothing, that you would not tolerate being done to you. That piece of wisdom was said thousands of years ago. It’s still relevant.

Silver Lining

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, my life, like many, rushed by at a frantic pace. I was frazzled trying to keep up with the demands of work and family. I stopped doing what I love most: writing. My heart goes out to all those who are suffering, mentally, physically, financially and otherwise because of this virus. It’s not an easy time and most of us have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. Yet, for some, there can be a silver lining. It’s easy to fall into a malaise, a Netflix induced stupor or allow anxiety and boredom to creep in. My mother who paints says she doesn’t feel like painting, and I don’t feel like writing most days, but that’s exactly what we must do. We must push ourselves to learn and do something every day. When all this is over, and it will be over, wouldn’t it be great to say, I learned ten new recipes, I worked on my garden, read the Bible, started a meditation practice, a business, a book, practiced a language,  got in touch with friends and relatives? The list is endless. Whatever it is that you have always wanted to do, but could never find the time for, now you have the time. There are days when I feel low at being isolated from the world and I have to talk myself out of it. Isn’t TIME what I’ve been asking for? Wasn’t I wishing to sit down for meals with my family instead of eating on the run on the way to my kids’ track and baseball practices?

Before the entire world shutdown, a friend of mine in Jamaica went to Italy and was quarantined for two weeks as soon as she came back to Jamaica. She wasn’t even able to go home. To be honest, and as crazy as I sound, I envied her. I wanted two weeks locked in a building away from everything with only my computer and a notepad. It would force me to work on my writing. Now I’m on lockdown. I fall into a malaise, I get lazy, I turn on Netflix. Then I catch myself. I have time. I finally have time to read the books I’ve been meaning to read, to eat dinner with my family, to keep in touch with friends and family and to write. What have you been meaning to do?  

Perils of Perfectionism

When people ask me if I’ve been writing lately, I mumble something about not having time because of the demands of a job, children and home. That’s a much easier answer than the truth, which is that I suffer from the debilitating, paralyzing disease of perfectionism. Perfectionism is not so much the desire to be perfect as it is the fear of failure. What if I write something controversial, or make a grammatical mistake and I’m an English teacher? Even “worser” than worse, what if I write something so utterly uninteresting that people say, “who cares”? It’s unfortunate because I write such interesting, wonderful blogs in my head and I come up with really amazing story lines that never see the light of day.

Perfectionism is such a sad, mentally incapacitating disease because it can prevent us from achieving things that we’re entirely capable of achieving. The cure? Take chances. No-one is perfect and everyone makes a grammatical mistake once in awhile. So what if something is controversial? What’s the worse that can happen?

This year, I’m fighting perfectionism. The alternative is to sit at the computer, fingers frozen on the keyboards, eyes staring at the blank page, until I finally shut the computer, shove it under the bed, and succumb to a Netflix addiction followed by sleep. That way I bury the unhappiness that comes from a creative person who is not being creative because of fear of failure.