Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just Do It

On the news this morning, they reported that roughly 36% of Americans are obese. In an effort to curb obesity in this country, First Lady Michelle Obama and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg have launched campaigns against fast food, advocating exercise, and encouraging us to get up off the couch, toss the cigarettes, and MOVE! They have both met with resistance from those who feel that it's not the government's place to tell us what to eat or drink or whether or not to smoke. Nobody likes being told what to do - even when what you're being told to do is good for you. But, if those opposed to the "Get Fit" philosophy are honest with themselves, something is very wrong with how we are choosing to disregard the concepts of health and fitness in this country.

How many times has a commercial come on depicting skeletal citizens of impoverished nations, weak and hungry, the announcer telling you that for mere pennies a day you can help feed them? Did you look down at the pint of ice cream in your lap with shame? Have you noticed that despite the images we see each day of celebrities with hourglass figures and size zero wardrobes, most of the people you know personally are overweight? Did you know that a size twelve is the real average size for women in this country?

As kids, we are required to take health classes to learn how to care for our bodies from the inside out. We had to take gym classes, whether we liked it or not. As a result, most of us were thinner as kids than the current generation of youth. Look in any classroom in America and the skinny kids are outnumbered. Parents are guilty of packing their family's diets with fatty foods, fast foods and high caloric content. Most of us (especially those of us in urban communities), do not practice a regular fitness routine. Let's face it, most of us haven't seen a gym since high school!

About a year ago, I decided to change that. I wasn't thrilled with how my clothes fit or how I felt after running for the ferry, or after walking up a flight of stairs, or even after (*ahem*) other activities. :) So I made up my mind that it was time to make a change. I started walking more and driving less. I started getting up earlier on the weekends to go for a light jog in my favorite neighborhood park. I stopped eating so much sugar, sweets, and starches and replaced those things with water, fruits and salads. Eventually I added hot yoga classes and a boot camp with some girlfriends. And before long I was feeling (and looking) better than ever.

I won't pretend that I've been 100% consistent. I used to work out relentlessly, at least five times a week. Lately, I'm lucky if I work out twice a week. Like many people, the winter months are my "license" to snack as often as I wish, while hiding behind sweaters and blazers. But after hearing the statistics on the news this morning (and getting mercilessly SLAUGHTERED on the basketball court by my 16 year old son over the weekend, leaving me a sweaty mess, gasping for air), I have renewed my commitment to being in the best physical shape of my life!

Exercise doesn't have to be terrible. Find an activity you love - walking, skating, biking, rollerblading, tennis, basketball, swimming, dancing - and just do it! Once you make up your mind to get active, eat right, and resolve to stick with it, you will be unstoppable! And you might even surprise yourself and love it. All you've got to lose is that extra half-a-person you've been carrying around for the past ten years!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In a New York State of Mind

I've lived in New York my entire life (with the exception of two years I spent living in the suburbs of Maryland). There is truly no place like NYC. You don't need a car. There's a store open no matter how late it is. There are free concerts in the parks in the summer time. The whole city is alive with color, music, art, culture and FUN! As I walk through Times Square, I'm often annoyed by the tourists who stop smack in the middle of the sidewalk to snap a picture of a skyscraper or a billboard. Daily, I suck my teeth as a family of five holds hands while boarding the Staten Island Ferry, blocking me from making a quick trip to my favorite seat. Constantly, I feel like the paparazzi ain't got NOTHING on tourists snapping photos of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and that stupid bull down on Wall Street. I watch as even the yellow cabs are cause for joy among the visitors to this great city. It's easy to forget that the things I see everyday are EXCITING to those who haven't had the privilege of growing up in the city that never sleeps.

But, recently it occurred to me that there are lots of things I haven't done as a New Yorker. There are places and experiences that I've taken for granted, having lived here for so long. And I formed a "bucket list" of the things I plan to do this summer.

I've never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. My intention is to change that. This summer I'm going to strap up my AirMax and GO!

I've never been to the top of the Empire State Building. But I'll change that in the warm months to come!

What's more NY than hopping on a double decker bus with a salty pretzel or a dirty water dog (NYC slang for a hot dog from a street vendor) and taking in the sights?

I have passed Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum probably a thousand times! This summer, I'm goin in!

I visited the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in elementary school. Time for another trip to the beautiful landmark!

The kid in me (which my children tell me is the dominant part of me) is most excited to visit the Central Park Carousel.

What are the things on your "bucket list" this summer? Don't have one yet? No time like the present!

Happy Sightseeing!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lesson Learned...AGAIN

Memorial Day weekend was fantastic! I started it off with a relaxing pedicure on Friday along with a little retail therapy. On Saturday, I spent the morning at the hair salon (aka my estrogen-filled sanctuary). Along with my family, I visited NYC's annual onslaught of Navy service men and women known as Fleet Week. We took a tour of the USS Mitscher, snapped some photos and enjoyed a relaxing stroll along the pier.

Afterward, we attended a friend's barbecue together, where my daughter and I proceeded to win one incredibly hilarious card game of Spades after another. It was a sight to behold.

On Sunday, a couple from our book club Between The Lines (BTL) hosted a book club meeting/barbecue at their lovely home. We discussed my novel White Lines and had a wonderful barbecue that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

However, it was after all the barbecues, visits to Fleet Week and book club meetings had concluded that my weekend took a darker turn.

Like most people, I try my best to be a good person - a good mother, daughter, friend, sibling, etc.  I wake up each morning, say a prayer of thanks, and start my day with good intentions. Nobody is perfect, but as a Christian, I try not to make God mad or disappointed in me. But despite all those good intentions and despite all my Bible study and church attendance, sometimes I forget one of the most important lessons God has taught me.

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I love to talk. In fact, I've always had a knack for conversation and an uncanny ability to wax philosophical about almost anything. When I was in grade school, my father would often laugh about the fact that my report cards always held some variation of the same sentiment: "Tracy is a terrific student who is very eager to learn and inquisitive. However, her excessive talking can be a distraction for other students." I have always loved a good conversation.

As I've gotten older, talking has been a very helpful skill in my career, and in my personal life. People often come to me for advice because I'm not shy about discussing my own experiences and how I've learned from them. However, one downside to being so chatty and easy to talk to is that people come to me constantly with gossip. I would be lying if I said that I don't enjoy a juicy tidbit from time to time. After all, my flair for the dramatic is one of the tools I use in my writing. But as I've matured, and as I've sought a closer relationship with God, I've done my best to avoid what I considered malicious gossip. I don't always succeed, but I do try not to engage in the kind of wicked wordplay that can hurt others' reputations or their mental and physical well being.

But over the weekend, a girlfriend of mine with whom I've shared a great many laughs, good times and fun outings, told me that she had been terribly hurt and embarrassed by some gossip that I had taken part in along with some other girlfriends.

1 Timothy 5:13 – “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.”

I felt ashamed of myself listening to her voice wavering as she got choked up. She described how completely embarrassed she had been when she was confronted with the news that a very private situation which she had been involved with was being widely talked about, criticised, and judged in a circle of women whom she considered friends. I hadn't been there during the initial discussion of the very private situation. She had shared it with mutual friends at an event where I was not present. However, I heard about it from them and took part in the poor behavior that resulted.

As she looked at me with tears in her eyes, I felt absolutely terrible. Granted, she had been the one to share her private personal business with the group. But, it was wrong for them to discuss it with me since I hadn't been there for the revelation. And I was guilty of not only judging her for what she had shared, but continuing to gossip about it with someone else who I thought would keep it secret. However, the person with whom I shared the story had gone back and told her that my girlfriends and I were talking about her and had warned her that we were not her true friends.

Now, there I was, out on a limb with my big mouth! I thought back to my old report cards and wondered why I had never mastered the art of shutting up. I apologized to my friend, and admitted that I had been wrong to participate in the chitchat. She was so devastated that she was seriously contemtplating removing herself from our circle, convinced by the person who told her about the gossiping that we were not the type of women she should be around. She felt that she had been egged on and encouraged to reveal her personal details and all the while she was being mocked. She was mortified. I did my best to convince her of the truth: that the other ladies had only been taken by surprise by what she revealed and that in their amazement, they discussed it with me. It wasn't that we weren't her friends. It was honestly just an "innocent" case of girl talk that had gotten very much out of control. However, I was wrong for further discussing the situation with another person. That action was what had sent our friendship into treacherous waters.

Proverbs 26:20 – “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

If I had only kept my big mouth shut! I knew better than to think that there's any such thing as a secret. When I discussed the situation with others, I ignored the voice in my head (aka my conscience) telling me to shut the %&@# up!

Why do we have to learn some lessons over and over before we finally get it? I believe that sometimes God puts us back in the same situations to give us another chance to get it right. Ever notice that you're attracting the same kind of no-good men, the same backstabbing friends, the same dead end jobs? I believe that we are continuously put face to face with lessons we have yet to truly learn. We get involved with the same kind of guy until we recognize the traits that we should avoid in the future. We befriend the same kinds of toxic people until we learn to be more discerning. We take jobs for which we're overqualified until we realize our self-worth. The same is true for other circumstances - like the one I found myself facing on Sunday.

So, once again, I'm committing myself to watch the words that come out of my mouth. I'm recommitting myself to speak JOY, PEACE, LOVE and HAPPINESS instead of passing on the salacious and steamy details of people's private lives. If it isn't positive, I am determined not to engage in it. As my girlfriend "Polly Positive" always says, "You're bigger than that, Tracy Brown." Lesson learned...again!  *Zips lips*

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child"

Recently, national bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley caused a firestorm of controversy on Facebook when she posted the picture below.

ReShonda's daughter (age 12) had posted pictures to her Instagram account of her holding an unopened bottle of liquor. Furious, ReShonda decided to teach her daughter an unforgettable lesson. She posted a picture online of her child holding a sign that read,

"Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor,
I am obviously NOT ready for social media and
will be taking a hiatus until I learn what
 I should not post.
Bye-Bye :( "

The public's response was immediate. Many parents championed her as a fantastic mom. After all, aren't we appalled daily by the instances of parents who can't seem to control their children? How often are we complaining about teens who are out of control as the nightly news is filled with examples of "kids gone wild"? ReShonda's unique form of punishment was heralded by many as a mother's job well done. Genius! But, then came the chorus of naysayers.


"The girl is CRYING!!"

"Emotional abuse!"

"Absolutely WRONG!"

"She should have just talked to her daughter."

"Discipline should be in-house and personal!"

"This is online bullying!"

"The liquor bottle was unopened!"

I found myself laughing at some of the comments that were posted by outraged adults who felt that ReShonda had done irreparable damage to her child. I put myself in her daughter's shoes and objectively asked myself if this punishment had gone too far. I came to one simple conclusion: I bet that child won't ever post an inappropriate picture of herself again!

Tough love isn't warm and fuzzy. But it is effective! After all, it is because we love our children that we punish them when they do wrong. The absence of discipline signals the absence of concern for our children's mental and physical health.

"Who cares if she was crying?" ReShonda Tate Billingsley demanded. "I've never seen a tombstone that said 'HERE LIES SUSIE. SHE DIED FROM EMBARRASSMENT'!"

I couldn't agree more!

Society has changed since I was a kid. Back in my day, "I'm gonna tell your mother" was the WORST threat any adult could level at you. No matter what, you did not want your mother to find out that you had been behaving badly. It meant severe punishment was on its way, whether that be in the form of grounding, spanking or even public humiliation. Parents would spank their kids, pluck them, pinch them, pop them in the mouth or whatever was necessary to keep them in line. They didn't wait until you were at home to do it. If you were in Pathmark and they caught you eating the grapes in the produce aisle, they'd slap your hand. If you were in church and had the audacity to interrupt them while they were speaking with another adult, you'd get popped in your mouth. If you got a note home from school about your disruptive behavior in class, you got a spanking so that you would remember to be good when you sat down at your desk the next day. Eventually, the physical discipline became so effective that all it took was a certain LOOK from Mama and we immediately got ourselves in line! That look became legendary because it held the promise of repercussions.

If you had the nerve to be disrespectful in public, parents didn't look around embarrassingly, hoping that no one overheard. Instead, they unleashed a verbal smack down that was guaranteed to make you wish you could disappear. EVERY ADULT was to be respected - including the crossing guard, the store clerk, teachers, neighbors and even strangers. If parents got wind that you ever disrespected an adult, it was ON! We feared our parents, respected them, and we didn't dream of provoking their wrath.

My room was not a "parent-free zone". In fact, my parents made it clear that they paid the bills and, therefore, they could go anywhere they damn well pleased, including into "my" room. I was very familiar with the word "no". If I asked to go to a house party and my parents didn't know the kid or the kids' parents, the answer was "no". If I asked to attend a co-ed sleepover, the answer was "no". If I wanted anything that cost more than $200 (aside from my tuition or school-related expenses), the answer was "no". And I didn't break as a result. In fact, I learned to live with disappointment. I learned that things won't always go my way, but that life goes on. My parents were not concerned about whether or not I viewed them as cool. They were not interested in being my friend. Their job was to raise me to be the best adult I could possibly be. And they did that, by any means necessary. On the rare occasion that I pointed out that "so & so's mother is letting her go!", my mother just shrugged and said, "Good for 'so & so'. But I'm your mother. And you're not going!" She didn't lose any sleep or shed any tears about it, because she knew she had my best interests at heart.

Something has changed in the years since then. Kids have managed to turn the tables and take control. Parents suddenly speak of their kids "right to privacy", not entering their children's rooms without permission. Mothers began to breastfeed their children all the way up through elementary school. Parents started losing their own social lives because their calendars became packed with the activities their kids would "need to boost their self esteem" - activities like soccer, football, dance class, martial arts and sometimes all of the above! Parents began to equip their small, elementary-school-aged kids will Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, and allowing them to have Facebook pages with private passwords (some parents are not even allowed to "friend" their kids on Facebook due to their kid's demand for privacy!), Twitter accounts which the kids block their parents from following, and Instagram accounts on which they post inappropriate content. Kids started demanding extravagant and expensive sweet sixteens, the cost for the average prom soared to nearly two thousand dollars per family, $250 Jordans went on sale and kids made their parents stand on lines for hours to get them! $500 headphones went on sale and parents scrambled to get their kids a pair, even when their child's grades didn't warrant such luxuries, even when the parents could not afford them. Mothers and fathers seem almost obsessed with being perceived as "cool", even at the expense of their children's long term well-being.

Recently, while discussing "One Day It'll All Make Sense" by the rapper Common, one of my book club members shocked the group while we discussed the parenting style of Common's mother. Common's mom declared that no child of hers would have 20 pairs of shoes if she only had two pairs for herself. While most of us agreed with that statement, one member strongly disagreed. She saw nothing wrong with her children having a lot more material possessions than she did, even though she was the one working for the money to buy such things. She explained that she enjoyed lavishing her children with things, even if it meant having far less for herself.

As a mother, I know how it feels to want your child to have everything his/her heart desires. However, I also recognize the importance of learning to accept "no" for an answer, the value of discipline and the need for structure. I have practiced tough love with my children, even to the point of having my daughter move out of my house when she was a rebellious and defiant teenager. I made it clear that she or her brothers could not live in my house if they insisted on not following my rules. That was one of the toughest decisions I've ever made as a parent. I worried that she would hate me, that she would feel abandoned by me. But I was wrong and it worked. Years later she told me that she learned a valuable lesson that year, and she thanked me for it. Now that she is an adult, she has sat back and observed my friends as they parent their younger children. And my daughter has marveled at what she sees as a lack of boundaries in many of my friends' relationships with their kids. Some of my friends let their kids curse freely. Others let their teens have sex in their homes. A few let their teens drink, get tattoos, smoke weed, get body piercings, go to nightclubs, and worse. My daughter sees this and tells me that she appreciates the boundaries I placed on her. Even though she's only in her early twenties, she shakes her head disapprovingly at the parenting skills (or lack thereof) exhibited by some of my friends and family members.

Children respect (and believe it or not, they actually want) boundaries. They need for us to tell them "no" sometimes, for us to set parameters in their lives. With kids knowing that parents can be arrested for spanking or hitting them, they are wielding that power like a sword, keeping Child Protective Services on speed dial. It's vital that parents come up with creative ways to discipline their kids, just as ReShonda did.

"The more I hear this story, the more I like what [ReShonda Tate Billingsley] did!" said Dr. Drew Pinsky.

And I couldn't agree more!

For more on this controversial story, visit

Visit ReShonda Tate Billingsley's website at

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Listen to Your Mama!

If the average picture is worth a thousand words, the one above is surely worth twice that! We see a broke-down-looking (though still oddly attractive) Usher in an Atlanta courtroom looking forlorn, while in the background we see his estranged wife Tameka smirking with an expression of utter satisfaction on her face. The two of them are embroiled in a messy custody battle for the couple's two young children. The proceedings have been televised, capturing each cringe-worthy moment. Usher has cried on the witness stand as he defended himself against allegations that he is a bad father. The public has been given all the sordid details of the couple's brief marriage and their tumultuous split. He claims that Tameka spit on his new girlfriend, that she tried to fight the woman, that there was a plate of food tossed at his car, and blows were thrown. Usher claims that he had to wedge himself between his wife and his girlfriend, that Tameka called the woman a bitch while promising to kick her ass. Tameka claims that Usher is a hard-partying, drug-using, absentee parent. Tameka wants full custody. Usher wants increased visitation rights. 

Many of us sympathize with Usher. After all, Tameka was his stylist, a married mom of three, and significantly older than Usher when the two of them got together. It appeared that she had hit the jackpot, and many thought that Usher's decision to marry this "seasoned" cougar was a mistake. A chorus of cryptic warnings rose up, begging him to rethink his decision. But no voice in that chorus rang louder, clearer or more urgently than that of his own mother.

Usher's mother had managed her son's career since its inception, and was reportedly outraged by his decision to marry Tameka Foster. Ignoring his mother's pleas, Usher went ahead with his plans anyway. A huge ceremony was planned, and all the A-listers of the music and entertainment industry were invited. But in what I perceived as a very gangsta move, Usher's mother refused to attend the ceremony, effectively boycotting her son's nuptials. While all of Atlanta's elite gathered for a star-studded ceremony, Jonetta sat at home in her pajamas and prayed that her son changed his mind. A heartbroken Usher called off the wedding at the last minute, crushed by his mother's absence. But then, in an act of defiance, he and Tameka eloped and he married her anyway. His mother was just gonna have to get over it!

Soon, Tameka was popping out babies, Usher was singing "There Goes My Babyyyyyy", and Usher's mama was shaking her head and sucking her teeth.

Not long after, radios worldwide were blasting his hit song "OMG". While this should have been one of the high points in the musician's life - a new wife, new sons, great career - his happiness was overshadowed by complications Tameka suffered while undergoing plastic surgery. Usher raced to Brazil to be by her side. But that wasn't the only problem the couple was facing. Shortly after their marriage, Usher fired his mother as his manager. The response from the public was vicious! Fans hated Tameka, bloggers wrote negative stories and posted unflattering pictures of the woman most labeled as a golddigger. Tameka began nagging Usher to defend her publicly. He did, announcing on BET that he loved his wife, blah, blah, blah. But no one was buying it. America gave Usher the collective side-eye. We were all able to see what Usher couldn't see for himself - their union was doomed from the start. While we watched and waited for the inevitable separation, Usher's mama did the same.

It didn't take long. Usher came to his senses and realized that his mother had been right all along. He filed for divorce and released a song announcing that he was "...ready to sign them papers"! Tameka wasn't about to just fade to black, though. She was just getting started.

The troubles between Usher and his wife have played out in the press for quite some time now. The recent court battle is just the latest chapter in an ongoing saga. Twitter followers have seen their tweets blasting each other. Entertainment news is abuzz with all the drama between the former couple. My heart goes out to him. But, NONE OF THIS would be happening if he had only listened to his mama!

It's an age old story. The more our parents tell us not to do something, the more enticed we are, the more determined we are to defy them.

When we were little kids, we thought our parents had all the answers. Look in any preschooler's eyes as he/she asks her parents, "Why is grass green?" or "Why is the sky blue?" and you'll see the wonder, the trust, the reverence in those eyes. Whatever answer the parent gives is accepted by that child, because he/she believes that their parents are always right.

But once we reach adolescence, something changes in us. Suddenly, we doubt everything our parents tell us.

Parent says, "No drinking at the party. I don't care who else is doing it, YOU better not drink."

Teen reasons, "Dad just hates to see me have fun! Drinking isn't that bad."

Parent warns, "Don't be in such a hurry to have sex. Boys will say anything just to get in your pants."

Teen decides, "Mom's just jealous. She doesn't get him the way that I do. Me and my boyfriend will be together for LIFE!"

Eventually, we begin to see that our parents are usually right. However, some of us are still defiant, even resentful, about our parent's foresight. Even as adults, some of us are rebellious and we ignore sound, sage advice in favor of charting our own course. And the result is what Usher is enduring now - we are forced to learn lessons the hard way.

If I had listened to ALL the advice my mother(s) gave me over the years...("Don't get pregnant."  "Don't hang around with her." "Don't marry him." "Don't spend that amount." "Don't quit that job." "Don't trust that girl." "Don't lend that money." )...I would have saved myself a LOT of headache and heartache. And now that my own children have reached or are approaching adulthood, I find myself seeing situations much more clearly than they can. It's easy for me to recognize the girls who have bad intentions, the friends who are envious, the relationships that are unhealthy. I issue my warnings, and wait to see what they do. Sometimes they listen, knowing that I've gained a ton of wisdom over the years and that I've learned a lot of lessons during my lifetime (most of them the hard way). But there are times when they don't listen. And as I watch them dealing with the repercussions of being hardheaded and stubborn, I try to remind myself that I was young and naive once, too. I try to be patient and remember my own days of defiance. And I do my best to get them back on track.

Mothers are blessed with wisdom, the power of discernment and a killer instinct! I bet Usher - like many of us - would give anything to rewind the clock and get a do-over. And I bet THIS TIME, he'd listen to his mama!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

I'm noticing a disturbing pattern lately in Reality TV. I'm not just referring to the backstabbing, fighting and bullying. Those things are troubling, too. But what really upsets me are the instances where friends part ways by telling all of each other's secrets.

It started on The Real Housewives of Atlanta this season. Nene announced that she was rich - so rich, in fact, that she didn't need to trouble herself with the low-budget stage play that Sheree was involved in. The ladies bickered, and both of them clearly wanted out of their so-called friendship. Nene got up from the table and proceeded to leave. But not before Sheree got some final digs in. She reminded Nene that although her new veneers were great, her old teeth were rotten. She brought up an old story about Nene's first car being towed from the parking lot of the local Home Depot. Sheree followed Nene out to the parking lot, yelling out embarrassing details of Nene's less-monetarily-fortunate past. At the reunion, she continued this pattern, bringing up the recent arrest of Nene's son for shoplifting in a local Wal-mart to counter Nene's claims of being "rich".

On last night's episode of Basketball Wives, Evelyn (once AGAIN) tried to rehash the beef she has with Jennifer. Similar to the Atlanta Housewives situation, Jennifer has moved on to bigger and better things and is no longer interested in a friendship with Evelyn. Instead of letting it go, Evelyn proceeded to follow Jennifer back to her bungalow while loudly reminding her that she was no angel. She put Jennifer on blast for sleeping around while she's still married, and even claimed to have a list of men whom Jennifer has crept around with. In the teaser for next weeks episode, we see that Evelyn goes on to reveal that Jennifer had an unprotected one-night-stand during a trip the ladies took together.

I can't begin to tell you how disturbing this all is to me. Throughout history, friends have told each other secrets. We reveal our fears, our transgressions, our innermost feelings to our friends, never expecting that the information might be used against us at a later date. We talk about our bosses, our spouses, our children, our parents, even other friends. And it can be devastating when that trust is betrayed.

Years ago, one of my closest girlfriends and I had a falling out. We stopped speaking, stopped texting, emailing, calling, etc. To be honest, there was no "incident" that caused our rift. We were just moving in opposite directions and our friendship seemed to have run its course. People asked both of us about it.

"Why aren't you speaking to Tracy?" they'd demand.

Then they'd wait with baited breath for some juicy story about the demise of our friendship. They wanted her to dish on what I had done, what she knew. But my friend would just shrug and reply, "It's not that I'm not speaking to her. We just haven't hung out in a long time." I gave the same response when people inquired about her. And folks had no problem reporting back to both of us (the way Suzie does on Basketball Wives).

"I spoke to Tracy and she said she hasn't seen you in a while."

Months passed this way until finally she and I sat down and hashed it out. It turned out that each of us was under the impression that the other needed space. We hadn't been mad at one another, just giving each other some distance. Once we got back to normal, she and I laughed together about all the people who had come around fishing for scandalous information. But we had passed the test - the friendship test. Just because we were no longer hanging out on a consistent basis didn't mean that we had a license to destroy each other's reputations. And the truth is, each of us had enough dirt on the other to stir up plenty of drama. We had been friends for years and had shared dozens of secrets, done lots of partying together, and had more than our share of FUN! And during our hiatus, neither of us had found it necessary to reveal any of what we knew to outsiders.

That situation confirmed for me that she and I were true friends. No amount of distance or silence or lack of activity was worth selling each other out. Even when each of us assumed that the other was "on some other shit" and needed space, we didn't resort to backstabbing or vengeance. We recognized that sometimes friendships end, and people grow out of things that once fit them perfectly. Perhaps she and I were going in two different directions. Perhaps she or I had moved on and found new friends, new lifestyles and new interests. But that didn't negate the friendship that we once enjoyed. It didn't give us a right to drag the scandalous skeletons out of each other's closets.

What is clear to me after watching these shows is that these women were never really friends. Evelyn tearfully complained that she had been Jennifer's friend for twelve years. Sheree angrily bellowed that she had known Nene for a very long time as well. Yet, all the years of laughter, highs, lows, marriages, divorces, children, successes, failures and everything in between went right out the window once the women went their separate ways.

Why do some women get so angry, bitter, jealous and vindictive when friendships end that they resort to smearing dirt on each other in an attempt to destroy the public perception? The answer to me is simple. They were never real friends to begin with.

The truth is, we all have more "frenemies" than we have actual friends. A "frenemy" pretends to be your friend. They smile in your face, laugh at all your jokes, come to all your parties, grin in all your pictures, like all your Facebook statuses and the whole time they're thinking....

I hope she fails.

I pray she doesn't get that job.

She thinks she's all of that.

I bet her husband would cheat on her if he had the chance.

My kid is cuter than her kid.

She knows she can't afford to buy that house!

That promotion is going to her head.

Those of us who are unsuspecting, don't realize that these "friends" are really enemies. They want to be in our space, want to be on the scene for all of our milestones. Yet, the whole time they are praying for our downfall. Once the friendship ends, they pull out the heavy artillery, revealing damaging secrets, making hurtful accusations and doing their very best to destroy other people's opinions of you.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but when a person starts spewing venom about a former friend, they lose me. First of all, if you remained in a friendship with a person for so long who has such terrible character traits, what does that say about you? We've all heard the sayings, "Birds of a feather flock together." "Show me who your friends are and I'll show you who you are." So if a person comes to me degrading a former friend, my antenna goes up - not against the subject of our conversation, but against the person doing all the talking. Secondly, if it's so easy for you to tell me the innermost secrets of someone who considered you a friend, I would be a fool to tell you anything about me.

In the past year, I've done a lot of praying about my future. I asked God to remove people and things from my life that were detrimental to me. One of my spiritual advisors asked me if I was really prepared for God to weed out the negative people. She told me that I might be surprised to discover who had never truly been in my corner. I assured her (and God) that I was prepared for the negative people to go, that I would trust that whoever got subtracted was never a good addition to my life in the first place. Lo and behold, one by one I started noticing folks heading for the exit. At least three so called "friends" disappeared completely. Then several people who I'm in constant contact with (via church, book club, work, and even relatives) were revealed as "frenemies" - the kind it's best to keep close so that you can keep an eye on them. I was grateful to have the veil lifted so that the true intentions and actions of these folks was revealed to me. And I was amused by the lengths some of them had gone to in their quest to cause confusion.

"Beware the false motives of others
Be careful of those who pretend to be brothers
And you never suppose it's those who are closest to you, do you?
They say all the right things to gain their position
Then use your kindness as their ammunition
To shoot you down in the name of ambition, they do"
~ Forgive Them Father by Lauryn Hill

Knowing the difference between our true friends and our "frenemies" is crucial. Friends keep each other's secrets, no matter how much time passes, no matter how much distance stretches between them, even if the friendship runs its course and they go their separate ways. "Frenemies" store up information until the time when you least expect it. They are like vultures circling their prey.

Do some inventory among your own inner circle. Ask God to reveal who is real and who is fake. You might be surprised by the results.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Choice is Yours

Over the past year, I've spoken several times to students at my former high school. My goal is to motivate young people who are up against all sorts of seemingly insurmountable odds. I tell them my story, explain how I made lemonade out of the lemons that I had to work with, and I encourage them to do the same.

It's not easy getting the attention of a room full of high school students. Usually, when I step into the classroom, the teachers are struggling to get the students under control. The students, themselves, are usually so full of energy and laughter that it takes them a few moments to settle down. They assume that I'm there to give them another boring lecture about some topic in which they have no interest.

Once they settle down a little, I usually start by explaining that I once attended the same school. Then they begin to try and guess the year that I graduated. When I tell them that I was part of the class of 1992 they are shocked (and my ego is sufficiently stroked! LOL).

I go into the details of my story - a straight A student who fell for a guy who said all the right things, cut class most of my freshman year, was pregnant by sophomore year, and was told by one of my favorite teachers that I had blown my chances of being anything in life and that I would be little more than a welfare recipient and a failure for the rest of my life. I tell them how I was whispered about in the school's hallways by students and faculty alike, and how I used that teacher's negative forecast of my future as fuel to push me toward excellence. Instead of being ashamed of my actions and believing that what that teacher said was a true indication of what my future held, I decided that I would prove her and everyone else who had doubted me wrong. I tell them how I worked my ass off to finish high school, how I studied harder and took extra classes and managed to graduate on time with the rest of my high school class. I tell them that I went on to college, though I didn't finish due to lack of sufficient child care. I tell them about the jobs I've held over the years, about sitting down to write my first novel and getting it published. I tell them about the career that has blossomed since then, about the eight novels and two anthologies on shelves worldwide.I tell them that none of my classmates or teachers (or even I) could have possibly imagined that out of all the graduates from the class of 1992, that Tracy Brown would be invited back to motivate and encourage the students. And then I have their undivided attention.

There's power in hearing that someone walked the same path as you, tripped over the same obstacles, fell into the same ditches, climbed their way out and made it to the other side. It gives you hope that you can do the same thing. So when I speak to the students (some of whom are still being told by uncaring teachers that their futures are hopeless), and I tell them that I was once just like them, living in the same neighborhoods, going to the same school, facing the same odds, they listen. They are hopeful that they, too, can defy those odds and make successes of themselves. My message is clear: Life is not always an easy straight path to success. There are often bumps in the road. But it's how you deal with those problems that determines whether you are a success or a failure. The choice is yours.

When I tell the story of the teacher who said that I would be on welfare for the rest of my life, the students I speak to are usually outraged.

"I would have punched her in her face!" they say.

"I would have cursed her OUT!"

"I would have cut that bitch!"

I laugh and tell them that I was tempted to do all of those things. But, if I had, I would have only been feeding into her perception of who I was. She would have been justified in her belief that I was just another statistic. Instead, I chose to prove her wrong. I decided that I would work so hard that someday I would make her eat her words. Instead of fighting her with fists, I fought back with my intellect. And I won. Today I am the opposite of what she forecasted. I am more than she ever imagined I would be. And I tell the students that they can - and should - fight back in the same way.

As an adult, I'm amazed by the number of my peers who are still affected by some hurt, some pain from long ago. They are bitter, angry, insecure, co-dependent, "woe is me" types who can't (or won't) move past the things that someone said, or did, or didn't do a long time ago. I have very little patience for that type of self-pity. Especially because my own life has not been anything close to perfect. I've had issues with a parent, been in relationships that ended badly, had to make it as a single parent, been betrayed by friends, been fired from a job, dealt with the death of a parent, handled being disappointed by a child, been broke, been talked about, seen people die, seen my share of hurt and pain and hardship. And I still manage to get up everyday with a smile on my face, and an attitude of optimism. When life throws a hardball at me, I've learned to either duck out of the way or to plant my feet and catch it with both hands. But moping about it, dwelling on it, allowing it to consume me...those are never options.

None of us gets through life without facing adversity. The storms of life are guaranteed to blow. How you react to those storms will make the difference between being victorious versus being defeated; being happy versus being miserable (and in turn, making those around you miserable as well); being
a success versus resigning yourself to failure.

People will try to speak negativity into your existence. Haters will pray for your downfall. So called friends will laugh at your ideas. Those who lack vision will tell you that your dreams are impossible. Naysayers will count you out before you even get started. It's up to you to prove them wrong. When you're miserable and dwelling on something negative that's happened to you, there is no room for your blessings to pour forth. CHOOSE to THRIVE in spite of your childhood traumas, failed relationships or old friendships. Turn your negative experiences into positive turning points.

In the infamous words of Mary J. Blige, "It's up to us to choose whether we win or lose. And I choose to WIN!"

Friday, May 18, 2012

Reading Between the Lines

About two years ago, I started a book club with a handful of friends. It wasn't my first book club. I had started one years ago, but it fizzled out. This time, however, I was determined to put together a group of adults who, like me, adore the art of the written word. We started out as a tiny group of friends meeting in the basement of a local restaurant once a month.

That was us at our first meeting. We had a great discussion, some food and drinks and a movement was born. Soon, we grew to as many as twenty members! We established bylaws, began paying dues, appointed officers, ordered T-shirts, and before we knew it, Between the Lines Book Club was leading by example in advocating literacy in Staten Island, NY and beyond.

Our book selections have been diverse. We've read about British royalty in the 16th century, about blacks owning other blacks as slaves in the 1800s, about an old man who ran away with the circus, about women who stayed in physically abusive relationships, about a woman who raised her male child as if he were a girl. Our conversations have been intense (at times downright LOUD) and our opinions have been diverse. We've discovered a great deal about one another, but we've also discovered so much more about ourselves. Our journey together over the past couple of years has been filled with joy, pain, laughter, anger, and most of all FUN. As a group, we've given back to our community via Project Hospitality, packaging up items at a food pantry for needy families. We've toasted each other's accomplishments, supported each other during times of hardship or bereavement, marched together in protest, and established a bond that surpasses even our shared love of books.

Our club is proof that being smart is fun, that reading is a great group activity, that adults like us can give back to our community and set an example for others. Many entrepreneurs began to emerge from BTL. Aside from me and my career as a writer, we have another author, we have a freelance bartender, a Mary Kay consultant, a caterer, a baker, an entertainment promoter, an Avon lady, and a freelance photographer. We support each other in all of our endeavors and we have become a shining example of what it means to have a support system of like-minded individuals. BTL was a force to be reckoned with.

We decided to add a teen chapter. BTL Teens was started in December 2011 and six young people joined. We considered this a huge accomplishment because everybody knows that teens are not typically enthusiastic readers. To get kids to agree to dedicate themselves to read a book each month in ADDITION to the books they're required to read for school was quite an accomplishment. We had a few reluctant readers in the group (my 16 year old son, included) who were being forced by their parents to participate. But by our first meeting and the ensuing discussion, we had converted them. By our third meeting, the teens were comfortable with me and my co-facilitator Darnell Young, and were eagerly suggesting books for our next discussion! Trust me when I say that there is no greater feeling than making a teenager see the joy in reading a book - especially in this day and age of instant gratification like the Internet, Xbox, Blackberries, iPhones, Droids, cable TV and all the other things that kids spend their time doing. The good 'ole fashioned art of reading was beginning to appeal to them. And the discussions have been incredible. The amount of intelligence, understanding, insight, and wisdom that has come out during our monthly chats is astounding. The teens are sharing their personal experiences, their plans for the future, and they are forming friendships based around their mutual gain of knowledge. What an incredible group of future leaders!

This summer, we will start a chapter called BTL Kids. It will be a summer program for kids ages 8-12, and we are excited to reach a new group of youngsters. Our goal is to show them early in their lives that literacy is important, that reading is FUN! Our two month program will be a great way for them to spend their summer. And once school resumes, the kids will be encouraged to read recreationally throughout the school year, and will be assigned books over extended breaks such as Christmas or mid-winter recess. By the time all the details of our summer program were finalized, we already had each of our twelve slots filled!

My own children will tell you that when they were growing up, I constantly taught them about the history of slavery in this country. I wanted them to always have knowledge of themselves, of their ancestors and of what obstacles they were up against just for being young, gifted and black. One of the things that I've explained to them is that slaves were forbidden to read. The slave owners knew that if their slaves were educated, if they were given the power of literacy, they would no longer be able to keep them under submission. The penalty for a slave caught reading were intense, often brutal. The phrase, "If you want to hide something from a black person, put it in a book." became commonplace - and sadly true. 

When I was a kid growing up in NYC during the crack-plagued 80s, my older sister would send home a big box of books every summer from her dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. She challenged me to read the entire box by the end of July in exchange for the privilege of visiting her in Pennsylvania. I didn't realize it then, but that challenge began my love affair with books. When I opened up a novel, I was transported from being a black girl in NYC in the 20th century to a white girl in Sweet Valley, California or a princess in England in the 1800s, or a young boy named Tom Sawyer, or a brat named Ramona with her big sister Beezus. My world took on new shapes and colors and the writer in me began to take shape. Sadly, not many of my peers shared my love of reading. As I grew older, that didn't change. Most of the guys I knew in my community didn't read anything - not even the newspaper - unless they were incarcerated. Most of the girls I knew in my community would read only on occasion. It seemed like black people were feeding into the old slave rule of not being caught reading.

With the resurgence of urban fiction, more and more people of color are reading books that run the gamut of genres. Book clubs are a big reason for this change. It's great to read a good story. But it's wonderful to read a good story with friends and exchange ideas and opinions. As a writer, I love the fact that I get to share my thoughts and dreams with readers around the world. It's a great feeling to walk into a bookstore in any airport, any library, chain store, or street vendor and see my work on display. But my greatest accomplishment as a writer so far has been to emerge as a literacy advocate, bringing the book club experience to my peers and to the youth in my community. When I log onto the BTL Teens' Facebook page and see them discussing the fact that they can't put down this month's selection, or when my 16 year old son texts me during study hall to tell me that he's so engrossed in the book that he's laughing out loud, or when the teens tell me they're worried they're getting older and won't be able to remain in the club (the same club their parents forced them to join!), those are the moments when I feel like I'm doing exactly what God meant for me to do.

People often wonder how they can make a difference. We hear horrible stories in the news about our young people. We read terrible accounts of events that have taken place in our communities. But most of us are left with a sense of helplessness, wondering what we can do to change things. Many of us feel that we're powerless to make a significant difference. We leave it up to the politicians to fund programs. We expect the teachers in the schools to spark something in their students that will motivate them. We look to everyone else for help, without realizing that there is something you can do right now with exactly what you have. Take your talent and share it with a young person in your life. If you dance, teach a dance class. If you draw, mentor an aspiring young artist. If you like to knit, start a group and teach that craft to a young person. If you enjoy reading, start a book club in your community. Each one, teach one. You never know how much of a difference you can make until you try.

I'm grateful to have a vehicle through which I'm able to share my love of reading with my peers and with my children and their peers. As the summer approaches, what can you do to spark a fire of excellence in your community? DO IT! You may find that you'll make some great friends, do some major networking, ignite a flame within the youth, and find personal fulfillment unlike anything you've ever imagined!

Go ahead and start something. I dare you!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Good 'Ole Days...

I'm not an old lady. At just shy of 40 years old I've still got some pep in my step, still got a little sway in my strut! But if you ask my kids (ages 22, 20 and 16) they will tell you that they hear the 'Golden Girls' theme whenever my girlfriends and I get together. They will tell you that I am an old lady trapped in a 30-something's body, evidenced by the music I listen to, the TV shows I watch and the things I like to do for fun. When they were little they recall me blasting the latest hits from DMX, Jay Z, Lil Kim, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Wu-Tang, Nas, and Mary J. Blige. They thought I was the coolest Mom, mature enough to hold them down but young enough to listen to (and know all the lyrics to) the music that was hot and new. They watched with pride as I spit bars while cleaning my apartment, riding the beat with Lil Kim as if I belonged in the studio, too! They marveled at my grasp of all things cool!

As the years passed and my babies went to middle school, then to high school and beyond, music changed. DMX relapsed and stopped recording albums. Lil Kim went to jail, had some plastic surgery and her personal life overshadowed her talent. Biggie and Tupac were murdered. Wu-Tang disappeared from the HipHop landscape. Nas, Jay Z and Mary kept the good music coming, but less frequently. My radio, which had once been tuned to NYC's Power 105.1 and Hot 97, was now permanently alternating between 107.5 WBLS and 98.7 KISS FM. My kids started shaking their heads. Mom was getting OLD!

I wasn't going down without a fight, though! OLD? ME? I refused to accept that. I started trying to force myself to listen to the "younger" stations. In my car, I turned up the volume and told myself that it couldn't be that bad. Despite the fact that my ears were pissed off at me, I persevered and listened as I drove along.

Souljah Boy. Wacka Flocka. Nicki Minaj. Lil Wayne. Ashanti. Ciara. Cassie. Lil Boosie.

My ears began to plot a mutiny.

Things improved whenever Jay Z, Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross, Beyonce, Kelly Rowland, even Rihanna were on the radio. I found myself singing along! But my joy was shortlived because the deejays seemed scared to stray from playing the same 5 or 6 songs in different order! For every good song, they played four bad ones (the same four bad ones!). Soon, my radio dial was right back on the "Classic HipHop & R&B" stations, where I was guaranteed to enjoy myself. Finally, I was hearing some real music - free of Autotune, devoid of "bitch", "ho", "drop it low", "make it rain", "spread 'em wide", "back it up", or "make it clap"! I was singing along to Al Green, Patti Labelle, Earth, Wind & Fire, New Edition, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Eric B and Rakim, Run DMC, LL, Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick. I was HOME!

My kids were giving me the Side-Eye. They said I was in a rush to grow old, that I would fast forward to the age of 70 if I could. Of course this wasn't true. I was just sick of hearing NOISE!

Panic seized me! Suddenly, I was starting to sound like my parents. When The Sugarhill Gang, LL, Run DMC and The Beastie Boys hit NYC's airwaves in the late 70s/early 80s, my doo-wop loving Daddy was disgusted. NOISE, he called it! Gibberish! I laughed at him, and decided that Daddy was out of touch, OLD. And here I was...quoting him!

I switched off the radio. Maybe I didn't like new music, but surely there was something on TV to entertain me. I got sucked into the phenomenon that is Reality TV. Soon, I was familiar with all the Housewives and Sports Wives! But then even that began to trouble me! The fighting, the backstabbing, the cattiness, the FUCKERY! Not to mention the Kardashian epidemic that didn't even require you to have talent or be relevant in order to get famous! I found myself longing for the good 'ole days. Back when I used to watch Dallas, Knots Landing, Dynasty, Murphy Brown, In Living Color, Martin, A Different World, The Cosby Show, Little House on the Prairie (don't judge me!), The Facts of Life, The Jeffersons, Good Times, 227, Amen, Family Matters...  I started longing for Saturday morning cartoons, Video Music Box, Yo MTV Raps, even the after school specials! I realized the reason I was feeling "old" was because all the new crap was GARBAGE! Then the unthinkable started happening...

Michael Jackson died! It was a shock. We thought he was invincible! Who would be left in his place? Usher? Omarian? Chris Brown? None of them were suitable replacements for the musical GENIUS that was MICHAEL!

Amy died! She wasn't old school, but her SOUND sure was! Who would sing me through my breakups now that Mary was making happy music??  I looked around and saw no one in the crop of new female artists who could take Amy's place. Yeah, Adele is good, but she is no Amy!

Not DON CORNELIUS...Mr. Soul Train, himself! That Afro was on my TV screen throughout my whole childhood, the birth of my children and beyond! Soul Train was the first thing I turned on each Saturday morning. It was the only place I was able to see the artists I listened to growing up. Losing Don Cornelius felt like a chapter of my life was forever closed. And where could I turn now? 106th and Park? MTV Jams? SMH

NO!!!!!! Not WHITNEY!! I started pulling out her Greatest Hits CD, blasting all my favorites. My kids were shaking their heads and covering their ears as I tried to hit the high notes. I recorded her performance of the Star Spangled Banner on my DVR and watched it over and over, getting chills each time she got to "....and the rockets RED GLAAAAAAARE!!!"  I watched her funeral and cried right along with the mourners. I watched The Bodyguard, The Preacher's Wife, Waiting to Exhale and even the black Cinderella movie! I started throwing the WORST Side-Eyes at Bobby Brown! Whitney was THE VOICE. Who would step into her shoes? Fantasia? Brandy? I began to pray daily for Jennifer Hudson's well being. She was my only hope!

THIS WAS TOO MUCH!! While I was too young to remember very much about American Bandstand, I could not recall a single New Year's Eve that Dick wasn't with me. Who was going to pick up the torch? RYAN SEACREST? UGH!!

NYC's beloved radio station was the next on the chopping block. No more "Kissing...after dark". No more Michael Baisden in the afternoons. No more "Classic HipHop and Today's R&B"! I felt so sad, so abandoned. Now there would only be ONE station for people like me. WBLS was all that remained for those of us in the 30 and over demographic. KISS FM had been the soundtrack for my life. And now it was silenced forever.

*Dries tears*

Today, Donna Summer passed away. I began to play her songs and was instantly a little girl again, singing into my hair brush, "Talking 'bout bad, bad girls..." I was right back in the good 'ole days again and it made me smile inside at the memories.


You know what? Maybe I am old. If "old" means longing for the good 'ole days of GOOD music with real lyrics, flowery, poetic words, and ORIGINAL BEATS, sign me up! If "old" means expecting that the artist I just paid $100+ to watch perform live will sound just like the CD, then somebody pass me my cane. If "old" means that I disapprove of women on TV who fight, curse, belittle and demean each other in one scene, then get disrespected by the men in their lives while they lie in bed with flawless makeup (can you say UNREALISTIC?) and accept it, then I need a subscription to AARP. If "old" means that I don't want to listen to a radio station where I hear "Same 5 Crappy Songs+Ignorant Immature Radio Personality" on repeat, then send me to the geriatric ward!

I miss the good 'ole days. The days when writers had careers in television because the shows were scripted and thought provoking. The days when I could listen to the radio in the car without having to change the station when I'm with small children because of nasty and explicit lyrics (the "bleeps" only alert the kids to fill in the blanks)! The days when the hottest videos featured black women dressed as Egyptian royalty or performing complicated dance routines instead of "dropping it low" and "spreading it wide". The days when HipHop artists rapped, "I Need Love" or "Hey Lover" or "Round the Way Girl, or "Tender Roni" or "All I Do is Think of You" or "Can We Talk" instead of "Move, Bitch!", "Shake Your Ass", "Say Aaaah", "Stupid Ho", or "Pull Over (That Ass is Too Fat)". The days when you could pay a few hard earned bucks for a concert ticket and get MORE than your money's worth! The days when producers and artists were creative and came up with original beats, lyrics, and images.

As I mourn Donna Summer today, I also long for the good ole days. The days when I was a young girl sitting in my bedroom window in the projects watching some guy walk down the block with his boombox blasting Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam; graffiti canvasing the scene while kids played double dutch and basketball; Soul Train on TV while my sisters and I formed our own Soul Train line in our bedroom; my mother blasting Donna Summer, Candi Staton, and Millie Jackson while she cleaned the house; my father watching Gil Noble on Like it Is and 60 Minutes on Sundays; the whole family gathering around to find out "Who shot J.R.?" on Dallas; being serenaded in high school by my boyfriend as he sang a New Edition song to me in the talent show; marveling as Michael Jackson showed us his moonwalk; trying desperately to mimic Janet Jackson's moves in the "Rhythm Nation" video. Those were the days!

Old? I'll be that! Somebody pass me my Geritol!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Ex-Factor

Yesterday, I contacted an ex of mine to offer my support as he endures a personal hardship. I heard through the grapevine that something traumatic had occured, and so I reached out to him via telephone call. It was the first time that he and I had spoken verbally in months (occasionally he and I text each other to say hello or to extend holiday blessings). As the phone rang, I couldn't help recalling how I used to get butterflies at the very sound of his voice, how excited I would get to see his number on my Caller ID!

When he answered the phone, the familiar thrill I used to feel wasn't there. In fact, in its place was a feeling of...(dare I say it?)...RELIEF! When we first parted ways, I had been left with a dark cloud over me. I felt defeated, confused, frustrated and a ton of other emotions. But as his voice filled my ear on yesterday afternoon, I felt nothing but peace, calm, and gratitude that my former angst had been replaced by a feeling of complete contentment. As our conversation began, I asked for details of the traumatic event. He began to tell me the story, and I listened intently. His tone was very unemotional, very matter-of-fact as he coldly and flatly laid out the details of what occurred. As I uttered an occasional "Wow", "Damn", or "You're kidding!", he proceeded to lay blame for what took place at the feet of everyone EXCEPT himself. In fact, he painted a picture of himself as the angel and everyone else as demons. He even informed me of another recent problem he had encountered and, once again, explained how he was the saint while everyone else was the sinner in the situation.

I couldn't help noticing how unfeeling, how cold, and even cruel he sounded as he belittled and verbally trashed many members of his own immediate family and inner circle. As he spoke, I recalled our relationship - how NOTHING was ever his fault. If he lost money, it was never because of his own actions. If he was in trouble with the law, it was because someone else had messed up. If his own car broke down, it was because someone else had borrowed it a month prior and surely they had somehow been to blame for the break down. I used to make excuses for his behavior. I chalked it up to him being a perfectionist, told myself that this was his coping mechanism, that it was no big deal. A part of me even liked the fact that he was an asshole at times, that he wasn't friendly. It meant that I was special because he DID like me. It meant that he wouldn't be smiling up in some other chick's face because he wasn't the outgoing type. But, yesterday, as he spoke so condescendingly of the people closest to him, I realized how ugly his personality is, how unfortunate his character traits are, how arrogant he can be. And I realized that during our romance I had fooled myself into believing that it was really no big deal.

I think a lot of women are guilty of that. When we're in love, we make so many excuses for the men we love. If he's mean, we chalk it up to being overworked. If he's mercurial, we tell ourselves he's just spontaneous and exciting. If he's cheap, we call it "good with money". If he's immature, we call it "fun". If he's got no job, we are certain that it's not for lack of trying. And in extreme cases, if he's abusive either physically or emotionally we tell ourselves that he's just "overprotective" or "He just loves me so much that he can't control himself." This act of lying to ourselves is dangerous. And it causes us to fool ourselves into believing that we've got a good thing when we really only have the imitation of a good thing.

Years ago, when my marriage failed I thought that I had lost out on something. I felt like I was in mourning. I thought I had lost a husband, a father for my children, my future. But in retrospect I can see that wasn't the case at all. The TRUTH was that I had never had a real husband - one who was faithful and committed and sincere about our vows. So I wasn't really losing anything! While my children wouldn't have the luxury of living in the same home as both of their parents, they still had both of their parents. Yes, my future with him was over. But my future with myself was just beginning. At the time, I wasn't able to see it that way. I felt slighted. But looking back now I know for sure that if I had remained in that marriage I would not have the literary career that I have today. I would not have had many of the life experiences I've had since then. I would not have learned to embrace ME the way that I have over the years. I would not have been forced to confront the insecurities that plagued me and which were stopping me from being a dynamo in my own right, a force to be reckoned with all by myself!

In the years since then, my ex-husband and I have established a great co-parenting technique. Together, we have raised some very fantastic young people. We are wonderful parents together. But I can see so clearly now that he wasn't the man I was destined to spend the rest of my life with. I couldn't (or perhaps wouldn't) see that years ago. Just as with my most recent ex, I couldn't see how incompatible we were when I was in the relationship. I was an optimist, he was a pessimist. I was outgoing, he was unfriendly. I was forthcoming, he was secretive. He liked 'Pac, me - Big Poppa. He was singing "Hit 'em Up" while I was singing "Who Shot Ya?" *JayZ voice*  ~ Venus vs. Mars :)

Sometimes, we convince ourselves that something so crooked is actually straight. Especially women. Men tend to have clearly defined limits that they don't compromise on. If they like pretty feet, they will NOT date a woman with hammertime in her shoes. If they like long hair, they won't look twice at Amber Rose. If they want a woman with no kids, the OctoMom is not an option. But women constantly bend their expectations for their man of the moment. We find gray areas.

"I know I said I didn't want a man with kids, but he's such a good dad!"

"I know I wanted a man who works out, and this guy is 400 pounds and can't walk without losing his breath. But he's so nice to me!"

"I know I said I wanted a guy who was financially secure, and this one lives with his mama. But that's only because his ex-wife took everything in their divorce."

And then when the relationship ends, we convince ourselves that we lost out. We lost a good man, a good relationship, the promise of a good future. But let's be honest with ourselves. If the situation was so good, it wouldn't have ended. Some things that we thought were good were actually no good for us at all. God works in mysterious ways. Have you ever run into an ex on the street and thanked the Lord that you walked away years ago? Ever hear through the grapevine that your ex was incarcerated, sued for child support, or caught up in some scandal? Ever see the guy you just adored in high school and realize that he has lost 85% of his teeth?!? While we weren't able to see what was on the horizon, God knew all along. Sometimes The Creator moves people out of our lives (not just lovers, but friends as well) so that He can make room for the ones He really wants to be there - those who will lift us higher and help us reach our highest potential. In His divine wisdom, God knows who is in our lives for a season versus those He places there for an eternity.

I'm learning not to question it when people head for the exit door in my life - especially if they chose to leave of their own volition. As long as my conscience is clear and I belive that I have done them no harm...Good riddance! Kick rocks! Deuces! I trust that God is going to remove the weeds and replace them with an abundant garden full of all my favorite colors and scents, because He know what's best for me.

As the seasons change and the exit door in your own life swings open and closed, don't sweat it. In fact, rejoice in it. Give yourself some time - months, years - and then look back. I bet you'll be glad it ended when it did, and that you're happier than you thought you'd be. Life goes on. Live it to the fullest!