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What a Move to the ‘Burbs Taught Me About Community

I first heard the statement “It takes a village to raise a child” in my single years, and all I could imagine was several hands grabbing a running toddler.

Now that I’m a mom of three toddlers (yes, three under three), I see that the village is much more than a collection of hands, it’s a collection of valuable relationships — an extension of the family, no matter what that family looks like. The village is not just a space for children to be nurtured, it’s the core of our human existence. Our civilizations, nations, and businesses are built from communities – all of which are an extension of those villages.

As a mother, artist, and cultural leader, I see the importance of the village in everything I do. That’s why I made a point to build a new village when my family moved across the country recently.

It wasn’t easy transitioning from Bedford-Stuyvesant to suburban Southern California, though the latter is where I actually grew up. When I moved into my first brownstone on Hancock between Throop and Marcus Garvey, I felt at home in my core. I knew I’d arrived at that settled place for my spirit to blossom.

Growing up as the token Black girl in almost every environment I walked into had done it’s fair share of damage. Being surrounded by the Black community in Brooklyn really nurtured my deepest self and gave me the confidence to discover my true passion, using my voice as a vehicle for change.

Finding home and building from that foundation is where the seeds of life begin — where mothering is a true extension of yourself and not just a job. And though I am no longer in Bed-Stuy, I remember how I felt while living there. Returning to that place in my mind gives me fuel through the day. Home is not always where you are physically. Home is a state of mind where I go to reset my system. Home reminds me of what’s important.

Figuring out what’s important

Building a village from scratch takes a lot of inner work. Home usually has a flow or a rhythm that aligns with your inner pulse. What does your pulse feel like? What makes your heart skip? Those will be the moments when you can identify your values and build a value system.

One of my greatest values is in making social change and addressing inequity. In my article, “Artists Changing the Course of the River,” I talk about how I believe my art practice cannot exist in a vacuum. I cannot fully express my full self on stage without challenging inequity and the lack of diversity that exists in my field.

Furthermore, what is a challenge for one Black soprano, woman, mother, and wife will almost always be a challenge for the next. I am stronger when I acknowledge my connection to all in the struggle and look for strength in the village.

Also, as a Black woman and mother, it is imperative that my children have a true sense of pride in being Black, knowing Black history, and maintaining a healthy sense of self. I must make that extra effort to drive my kids to events where they will see positive images of themselves, and where they can play with other Black children. I design my daily schedule around what I can do to nurture Black love and Black joy in my home and parenting.

Starting with gratitude

I always start from gratitude. As much as I dislike suburbia, it is admittedly great for raising a family. My husband and I somehow managed to move to a neighborhood with the most drama-free shopping I’ve ever experienced. Yes, we live in Cookie-cutterville, but stroller walks are serene and the babies sleep through the night. We have space to run and play and plenty of parking and no snow to shovel.

I have to remind myself of those blessings. Gratitude is the soil where seeds germinate. Now that I have a home, I can have friends over for dinner and host sister circles and book clubs. Now it’s up to me to make that first step and invite the community in. I have to build the village I want to see.

Being unapologetically me

Being a mom can sometimes be so overwhelming that you lose a sense of who you are and what your goals are. I’m an opera singer, entrepreneur, visionary, vocalist, and community organizer just as much as I am a mother of three children and a wife.

Knowing this, I have to be real with people and deny those invites to mega-churches and suburban-mom playdates. I have to be real and say, “No, I don’t want to sell Mary Kay,” “No, I don’t microwave my kids’ food,” and “No, we don’t eat at McDonalds – I like organic, local produce.” No matter how weird I will look to some people in this small town, I have to be me. My children need to know me and they need to see me if I want them to have the confidence to be who they are.

Finding my spiritual mothers, aunties, and uncles

When you look for a mentor, you think about where you want to be in your career. I had to think about the folks in my town that I admire as leaders, those who I want my children to learn about: living civil rights leaders, teachers, and historians. I had to find them, and when I did, I sought to nurture those relationships. Little do they know, they are uncles and aunties for my kids to look up to. These same individuals are also an inspiration to me and my work.

Throwing down in the kitchen

Community and relationships should be seen as assets rather than liabilities. Sometimes having friends over feels like more work: more cleaning, more cooking, etc. While that is definitely true, it’s essential to building the village. My best moments of connection in my community have happened when I’ve cooked.

Food is fundamental to how we interact and opens us up to have genuine conversation. For some, cooking is a chance to show off a complex recipe they’ve been dying to try, for others it’s more like “I’m opening a bag and putting it in a bowl.”

Whatever your talent and threshold, food and drink stimulate conversation. Those conversations are how I’ve built my closest relationships.

Building a village while raising three kids is not easy. At times it feels like double the work, especially when my husband travels and my folks are hours away. But I have learned that it’s the most essential part of who I am – being a part of the community and giving my kids real-life stories they can experience, not just read about.

Written by Malesha Jessie Taylor for Mater Mea.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44


7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)


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