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Parenting is a full-time job, not some part-time gig in which you collect a refund check at the end of the weekend.

Where most people hear words, a casual conversation or small talk, I often see and hear a story. Everyone has a story. Sometimes they’re inspirational, motivational, educational, but very seldom confrontational. I try and block those out. However since I’m interested in growth, I’ve come to learn that growth has no barriers or boundaries. So whenever uneasiness or discomfort tries to slip in and take shelter inside my soul, I have to release.  Even the unpleasant things are here to teach us a lesson.

Short sighted

Just the other day while I was out, I ran into a gentleman that I knew. Our now teenage sons once played little league sports together.

On this particular day, this gentleman and I stopped and made small talk. He cheerfully boasted about his recent vacation, his job as an artist and how he was really enjoying life and couldn’t be any happier. I smiled as I asked my next question, “So how’s your son doing?” His cheerfulness quickly diminished and was replaced with anger and disdain as he responded; “Well I haven’t seen him in a while. My ex-wife and me don’t get along; we can’t stand each other.” He continued with, “For her it’s all about the money. Whenever I get my son on the weekends, she doesn’t want to give me any of my child support payments back.” He then shook his head in disgust and closed with the words, “Do you feel me?” As if him and I were both on the same accord.

I paused as I was taken aback by his ignorance. Frustration suddenly kicked in and before I could bite my tongue I sarcastically responded with, “No I don’t feel you. Didn’t you just brag about how you went out of town over the weekend and how you were so happy?” He let out a half nervous smile and said “Yeah.” I then said, “Well did you have to look for a baby sitter in order for you to take that trip? When you get off work and you’re tired, can’t you just go home and crack open a can of beer and turn on sports center if you’d like?” His smile completely faded. My twisted facial expression along with the anger in my voice couldn’t easily be ignored as I was just getting warmed up. Before I could even utter another word he strategically looked down at his phone in an attempt to extinguish what was quickly turning into an out-of-control burning flame. I took that as a cease-fire and dismissed myself as well as his friendship on social media and politely walked away.

His lack of compassion and understanding for his child and his child’s mother was shameful, selfish and disrespectful. This man was clearly shortsighted; he failed to look at the bigger picture. Parenting is a full-time job; not some part-time gig in which you collect a refund check at the end of the weekend.

Unfortunately he is not alone

On any given day you will read or hear about some angry parent complaining about the court system and the significant amount of money that they pay — in what they consider to be child support. The non-custodial parent (male or female) somehow feel that they’re the one’s getting a bad deal. In some cases this could be correct but in many cases it’s not.

Children should never be viewed as a bill. Writing a check along with weekend visitation is too easy. This should never be considered child support but merely financial support.

Child support is about more than just money. The non custodial parent often times fail to realize the struggles and sacrifices custodial parents make in order to assure that their child’s basic needs are met. I’m referring to doctors’ appointments, helping with homework, preparing meals, science projects, PTA meetings, after school activities, peer pressure, bullying, social gatherings, heartbreak, hormones; not to mention being a disciplinarian, a chaperón, a counselor, a consultant, an advisor, a therapist on top of being a hardworking and loving parent. These things don’t even scratch the surface.

Life as a single parent

Although I am no single parent I can certainly relate to being one. My husband recently left for a business trip and I had to care for our two teenage sons solo for a few days and it was no easy task. I actually had to take a day off work because there was so much that had to be done.

My day started at 5:30 am with me preparing a hot breakfast before I was met with my first obstacle; waking my youngest child (A problem my husband never seem to have). I was greeted with “What time is it? I need a few more minutes. My dad doesn’t wake me up this early. I have to stretch first.” This went on for about 5 minutes before I threatened to make him walk to the bus stop in the cold. After about 45 minutes, we were finally out the house.

When I returned home I had some much needed me time which consisted of a cup of coffee, a 30 minute workout, cleaning the house and washing a few loads of clothes before it was time to get dressed and start my busy day.

I picked the boys up early from school and headed to the orthodontist, then to the pharmacy, the mall for new shoes, we stopped and had lunch, followed by the barber shop, then on to basketball practice for my oldest, his spelling bee afterwards, we went home where I made dinner before we were out the door again taking my youngest son to his basketball practice. Once we made it inside the car and buckled our seat belts my youngest looked at me and said; “Wow mom you sure did a lot today and you’re not even complaining.” I smiled at my son. The fact that he noticed all that I had done made those simple words priceless. If only he knew how tired I really was.

Needless to say, we didn’t make it back inside the house until 9:30 that evening in which I was greeted to a ringing house phone. It was my husband. I had been so busy running all day that I forgot to return his call from earlier. When I heard his voice the only words that I could muster was, “Hello honey I really miss you. Now what time did you say your plane would be landing?”

When I hear non-custodial parents like this gentleman complain about weekend visits and giving financial support, I immediately become frustrated. Our children deserve better. In my opinion there isn’t any amount of money in the world that can replace a physical parent who puts in time and effort.

“It takes a village.” If we are going to build strong children we must set our differences aside and make them our top priority.

Now that’s a story I yearn to write.

~T.L. Criswell


imageStraight Outta My Mind

I was born in 1970, which means that I was raised in the hip-hop era. Although I listened to rap music, I wasn’t a big fan of gangsta rap. So when the trailer for N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton was released, I thought that it looked interesting but I had no interest in seeing it.

A week before the movie was released, my boys (ages 11,12) asked if I would take them to see it. They claimed that they wanted to learn about the hip-hop culture. Since I never followed the careers, or owned any music by Eazy E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube, I thought that it would be a fun experience and without hesitation I agreed to take them, along with two of their friends. They seemed utterly surprised that I would agree to something like this considering my husband and I won’t let them play video games rated “M” for mature and their not even allowed to play with toy guns.

What was I thinking? After all, my husband and I are cautious parents who try to shield our boys as much as possible from the tough street life we once lived, witnessed, and experienced. So to be honest, I don’t know what I was thinking. I never realized what I was signing up for. In fact, when I told my husband that I was taking the boys to see Straight Outta Compton—his response was, “Really? You? I can’t believe that you’re taking them to see that.” I still failed to make the connection.

On opening night, the boys and I arrived inside the theater, which was packed with adults. All eyes seemed to be focused on us as we scrambled to find seats with only a few minutes to spare. Silly me… I thought that they were all staring at us because we were running late for the highly much-anticipated movie.

Once the movie started showing, my eyes doubled in size, my mouth hit the floor, and I started to sink right in my seat. The opening scene was loud, with explicit language and violence. It was then that the light bulb went off inside my head. I realized why all the grimacing stares, or the second-guessing from my husband.

My mind started to run rampantThese people must think that I’m some type of idiot for bringing these young children to see a movie of this nature. What the heck did I expect? N.W.A. were gangsta rappers. How can I be that so out of touch with reality? I have to be straight outta my mind!!!

I looked down at the boys whose young eyes were transfixed on the screen with their hand, filled with popcorn, frozen still at the tip of their lips. The only thing that I was thinking was “How in the heck am I going to get them out of this movie without being labeled as the meanest parent in the world?”

As the movie progressed, I was practically under the seat with my jacket camouflaging my face. It had gotten much worse. I begin to feel so ashamed and like a complete fool. I’d decided that I finally had enough of what I believed to be the glorification of sex, gangs, violence, and disrespect. I started packing up my things when suddenly I looked down at the boys. Their eyes still hadn’t left the screen. I soon realized that I was stuck and had to suck it up. I took a deep breath and leaned back into the chair and braced myself for what I assumed was going to be a painful ride.

At that very moment there seemed to be a turning point. The movie was coming together and starting to make sense. The guns, the drugs and the violence represented how a young Easy E, started off as a street hustler who put up the capital to start-up the successful rap group N.W.A. The women, sex, drugs and parties represented how one can become so easily consumed by quick fame and fortune that they lose focus of reality and how irresponsible, and reckless behavior can sometimes lead to deadly consequences. The song “F*** The Police” represented the anger and frustrations that so many black men face because of the unwarranted harassment by the police. The beefs between friends represented how money, greed and Faustian deals can turn even the best of friends into enemies.

At that point I began to sit straight up in my chair because the plethora of messages seemed to be so much bigger than the movie. As I stared at the screen, I no longer saw N.W.A. I saw the struggle of so many real everyday people. In my eyes this was more than a movie. It was a big cautionary tale filled with so many valuable and teachable lessons.

Midway through the movie I became excited. I found myself dancing and clapping, and rooting, and singing to songs that I had no idea I knew the words to.

When the movie was over, my kids seemed to be shell-shocked. They also had a greater appreciation for the simple life that we live. They had a better of understanding of why my husband and I won’t promote “M” games or guns.

When the theater lights turned on I was proud that I was able to suspend judgment and sit through the movie because it illuminated and generated deep discussions with my boys.

My naivety was no accident. Had I been in my right mind when my boys asked me to take them to see the movie I would have missed out on a great opportunity to discuss sex, drugs, H.I.V, greed, avarice, lies, fame, fortune, good, evil, police brutality, perseverance, determination and racism all in one sitting. Of course I don’t need a movie to discuss these things however, it’s good to have a point of reference.

When I walked out of that theater, my head was held high with my boys in tow. I was proud that I was able to turn what I first believed to be “a great crisis into a golden opportunity.”

T.L. Criswell




The Peacemaker Reviews…

“The best young adult offering of the decade! This writer takes us through the emotional progression of young Jayson Jackson as he emerges from juvenile delinquency to societal responsibility delivering a tumultuous hard knock that propelled the transition. This book is will bring you to tears as you share with Jayson the passions of the guilt that will forever be a part of his life. Kudos to Criswell for such an thought provoking contribution to our young readers!”

~Y/A librarian review~

“The author reflects very clearly the times and tribulations facing our youth today. The golden opportunities made available to them are smudged with the detrimental influences and choices they make..
~Amazon Review~

A great read for parents and young people. The ending is reason to applaud and believe that we should never give up hope and never stop believing that if we plant good seeds…they shall reap, despite the weeds that try to choke them…good crops.
~Amazon review~

“This is an amazing book, a must read for every pre teen”
-Amazon customer~

“Two childhood friends on the brink of manhood.
Two paths inextricably intertwined with a date with destiny neither could avoid. Sometimes talking is not enough, sometimes you have to feel the fire on your neck before you decide to move. In an instant dreams are shattered.”

“A story about a teenager that transcends race and speaks to the modern-day dilemma that many young men face in rural, urban and suburban communities alike.”
~Bonding over books~