The way I was raised, there were no options. You went to school, you made good grades, you went to college and you graduated. Then you got a job and you commenced to acting like a responsible adult. Period. The lockdown in my household was so serious we were not even aware of other paths to choose. Take a year off and backpack through Europe? Who heard of it? Go straight into the workforce? Not an option. We had been trained to the point where it didn't even occur to us to try. Parents. Weren't. Having. It.
I remember the day I graduated from college vividly. BougieMom was ill so I had taken finals early and come home to be with her. So instead of strutting across a stage to "Pomp and Circumstance," I strolled downstairs where my parents said, "Mornin' graduate!" Good enough. Later that day, BougieDad sat me down at the kitchen table. I was all puffed up with my diploma-earning self and expected a congratulatory speech.
My father called me "Mich" and he had different tones and inflections in the one syllable. I could always tell from the tone whether I had done something good or needed to hide from the belt. He had a South American accent, a deep booming voice and even now, nine years after his death, sometimes I swear I hear him calling me. So on graduation day when he sat across from me and said, "Mich, I have something important for you," I was excited. It was the "something good" version of Mich.
He pulled out some envelopes and my heart raced a little, graduation dollars? I was already spending in my head when his words registered, "This is the electricity bill for this house. If you are going to live here, one third is your portion. Phone, gas, water, cable, internet – none of these things are free. And while we are talking about it, here is your American Express bill that Dad has been paying… all yours now, due in total at the end of each month. You can keep the gas card because you're going to need it to get out there Monday and look for a job." He got up and kissed me on the top of my head, "Your Mom and I are proud of you, sweetie. Here are the want ads." I got the message. Welcome to the real world. I had a job in three days and was applying for law schools within six months.
One more BougieTale and then I'll get to my point. BougieSis (5 years older) graduated from college and moved home. She took a job in retail and was enjoying post-collegiate life in Dallas. The BougieParents (affectionately called The 'Rents by me and BougieSibs) did not approve of the career or the lifestyle. They beat her about the head and neck (verbally) until she took the entrance exam for business school. When that did not motivate her to keep moving forward, they pulled me into the scheme. Behind my sister's back we proceeded to fill out applications for schools. I filled in blanks, wrote the essays, forged her signature. They attached her scores, transcripts and the application fees. When my sister got her first letter of acceptance, she was so proud – "I didn't even apply, they must have really wanted me!" Before she knew what hit her, she was sharing an apartment with me off campus at The University of Texas while I was in undergrad and she pursued her MBA. At her graduation dinner, we finally shared what we had done. She wanted to be mad, but it was SO BougieMom/BougieDad that she just shook her head and laughed.
This was how I grew up. Priorities were God, Family, Education and Football (just joking, sort of). So I was amazed and not amused this week when I noticed many, many bloggers of color going on epic rants. They were actually angry about Obama telling folks to get up in the schoolhouse and stay there. No, it wasn't the freshest thing to say, sure he went a little Cosby, but as we say in the Bougie household… stop him when he's lying.
Maybe there's another surefire, tried and true way to advance. And by advance I mean to live a productive life with the ability to give back whether you are advancing within the Black or mainstream community. The debate about whether the best way to bring the race up is from within or without is for another day. For today, if there is something that has a better success rate than education, hard work and dedication… I'd love to hear what it is.
I had BougieMom read one of the "Obama has gone Cosby" posts and she went ballistic. Bear in mind that BougieMom is Old School. She's a 77-year old, Bible-quoting, designer suit-sporting, pearl-wearing, card-sharking, hat-tilting AKA grandma who grew up in a part of Baltimore I wouldn't drive through after dark. (Shout out to my Balto relatives, ya'll know I speak true). She went to Morgan State University for her Bachelors and Clarke-Atlanta (then Atlanta U) for her Masters in a time when it was not fashionable for women (Black women!) to pursue higher education. She taught on the elementary, high school and university level before becoming an accountant. She enrolled all four of her kids in private school, saw them each graduate from college all while staying married to a proud Black man for 45 years. (I can't find a man I want to date for 45 days, but that's another post) Long story short, BougieMom is NO JOKE.
So I asked her, what would you say to parents of young kids these days to get them on a better path? BougieMom's answers were not ground-breaking but good old practical common sense. Of course, someone said 'common sense isn't common anymore.' Some of her points:
- Turn off the video game, the TV, and the music thing (it's an iPod Mom) – make them read books and turn in book reports on them (yes, I remember the weekly book reports)
- Every time they use a curse word, make them give you 5 synonyms for that word in writing. (refuse, debris, human waste, feces, anal discharge - that's five!) Your kids are not your friends while you are raising them, don't worry about whether they like you or not.
- There is nothing wrong with going through your child's things, music, notes, clothes – find out what your child is up to so if there is a problem you can stop it early.
- Know your children's friends and their parents, anyone who has an influence on your child should be someone you know well.
- Get your kids into the best schools you can afford early. Even if you can only send them to a premiere school for a little while, it's worth it.
- Nothing wrong with swatting behinds from time to time(now this cracks me up as BougieMom rode with a stick from a kite set in the visor of her burgundy Caddy and would reach into the backseat and tear up anybody who was on her nerves or in the path of that stick)
- Don't speak to your children like children, they do not respect baby talk coming out of your mouths, use your vocabulary so they'll learn early.
- Take your kids to church and go with them. Your kids should be busy and well rounded, put them in as many extracurricular activities as you can afford and have time for.
- Your kids should do work around the house, they should cook, clean, iron, vacuum, whatever to instill that work ethic from a young age (please note that BougieMom was forever making lists of chores and posting them on the fridge. If the 'Rents came home and that listed wasn't finished… you didn't want that kind of wrath)
- Start talking to your children about college early, if it's all they hear, it's all they'll know.
She finished by saying that she doesn't know if this is the only way to go but it was the only way she knew. I remember thinking she and BougieDad were incredibly strict, I could not make a move without them on my a- um, tail. If I brought home a B, they wanted to know why I didn't make an A. If I brought home an A, they wanted an A+. If I came in with an A+, they wanted to know where the extra credit assignment was. When I complained that they were "being a little tough" my Dad said, "Not as tough as the real world. At least we love you." I was wildly dissatisfied with that answer at the time but I now know it to be truth.
All of this being said, I ask you… what's wrong with pushing education as a means of progression for self and community?