{On the Parenting Post} You Don’t Want None Of This.

If you see me walking down the aisle at the local Target and my 34 C’s are sticking out just a little bit extra today, know that it’s because my Mari has done me proud. My 11-year-old, a reserved, kinda shy sixth grader who tends to mumble a little too much for her outspoken mother’s tastes, let a little bit of her attitude and sass slip out recently—enough to put some little precocious boy who clearly thinks highly of himself in his place. A recap:

Seems that The Boy, who kinda sucks at trumpet, thought that he could come for Mari’s Number 1 spot. See, Mari sits first chair—a spot she won for her controlled, warm affectation over her instrument. She practices hard, plays harder and deserves her place in her school’s band. This is widely respected, understood and acknowledged.

Even—and especially—by The Boy.

But recently, he decided to challenge, one by one, the trumpet players who sit in chairs ahead of him, knowing that if any of them showed up on challenge day sans their trumpets, he’d move on up the line. It worked on a few, and he got into some choice chairs on forfeits, not skill. Until, that is, he challenged my Mari.

On the morning she and The Boy were supposed to square off, Mari came stomping down the stairs with her trumpet, ticked. “I’m mad because I don’t feel like dragging my trumpet in to school,” she huffed, balancing her trumpet and her book bag as she bounded into our kitchen. “I know I’m going to win anyway and it’s a waste to have to carry it to school.”

Oh, say word? Confidence from my quiet baby girl. Love.

Of course, when Mari brought in her trumpet, The Boy, clearly unaware of the fact that my kid is a walking hard drive with the memory of an elephant, who would never have to forfeit her chair for something as simple as forgetting to bring her trumpet to the battle, backed out of the challenge. But later in the week, he tried again.

Bad move, homie.


The Boy: Mari, I challenge you again.

Mari: Seriously?

The Boy: Yes. I’m going to win your seat.

Mari: You know what? The last time you challenged me, you forfeited the day it was supposed to happen. And I dragged my trumpet here for nothing. There is really no point to me doing that again. You can deal with second chair. Now do you still want to challenge me or what?

The Boy (mouth agape, jaw on the ground, really weak): Um. No.


Later, when Mari recounted the story, she added, “I didn’t tell him I’m better than him. He already knows.”

That’s right: Real G’s move—and threaten and insult—in silence.

And I couldn’t be more happy with baby girl’s trumpet gangsta. Because up until this very moment, my Mari was a mumble mouth—the kind of kid who is a tad reserved and can’t always summon up the perfect words for every conversation thrown her way. She’s a kid, still, and talking to people—especially grown-ups and the more outspoken peers—can be a little intimidating. But I’ve long been trying to get my extremely smart, well-spoken, thoughtful 11-year-old to start exercising her networking muscles—figure out how to start and hold a conversation, answer questions thoughtfully and use her communication skills to get comfortable in not-so-comfortable situations.

Knowing how to talk to others, after all—whether on the playground, at a birthday party, on a job interview or at the office soiree—is a part of etiquette 101—as important, in my book, as using the right fork at a fancy dinner table or saying “thank you” to the person serving you. It shows not only that you have manners and a firm grasp of the King’s English, but that you’re confident and in control of your own thoughts and opinions and quite capable of expressing yourself—things that serve the most successful among us well as we navigate everything from the workplace to our closest relationships.

Which is why Nick and I have been running Mari through the paces. She knows the drill: I introduce myself and offer my hand; she shakes it and introduces herself, says, “I’m pleased to meet you,” and then answers my questions with a clear voice, thoughtful words, and follow-up questions. Sometimes I ask her about camp, sometimes about her school, sometimes about her favorite food or music and if she would recommend any of them to other kids.

We’ve been practicing introductions and handshakes since she and her sister were old enough to replace the baby talk with a confident, “Hello, how are you?” But the Q&A piece was added more recently, when their dad and I realized that learning how to communicate AND be comfortable doing it is something that should be taught and learned, rather than picked up along the way.

Of course, we don’t advocate she put herself at risk talking to strangers just because we’ve said speaking when spoken to and being comfortable holding conversations is the polite thing to do in social settings. But we promise her that when she’s 25 and at a networking event and a potential boss or client or boyfriend comes strolling her way, she’ll thank us.

And now that Mari’s used her voice, attitude and confidence to punk down a kid who deserved a little “get right” for playing my daughter like she’s a weakling, her mom, a pretty attitudinal, straight-talk-no-chaser kinda lady, knows there’s hope for the girl.

There’s hope.

This piece ran in my new MyBrownBaby post on Parenting.com’s The Parenting Post. If you’re so moved, leave a comment.

Have a fab weekend!

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Patrice Trimiar

    Good Morning, Deneane,

    I am so proud of your daughter. My daughter was the same way in that she was three years old and still would not talk. I was getting nervous that she would begin school and not have the talking skills of others her age. Someone told me that my daughter just doesn’t have anything to say at that moment, but when she’s ready to speak, she’ll do just fine. That person was right.

    Your daughter seems to be sensitive and shy. With that said, as she observes and compiles information on others, she will allow another to work their needles under her skin until she’s fed up. Her back was against the wall and she had no other choice that she knew of but to ‘take care of her business.’ I am proud to hear her story and proud of you and Nick in her support. But remember, a bully needs the person they pick on for strength. Your daughter exuded more than enough strength by keeping silent that long. Bullies are the weaker ones trying to survive. Sometimes, we just need to embrace the ‘bully’ with love collectively, because they act out in pain for whatever the reason and want to make pain on another, but they really want the LOVE! If we can save them in time, they too can have moments to be proud of.

    Your daughter is the Shining Star. I am glad you have the opportunity to recognize HOPE in her. Now, you can see her amazing strength too!

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story.

    Patrice Trimiar

  2. Barbara Soloski Albin

    Dear Mari, I could comment on what a wonderful job you did of handling the second chair – so smooth! I want to congratulate you on being first chair. That is the big deal. My son, Jereme’ who is 30 now, was first chair with his trumpet at your age and he loved the music, specially the jazz. He played all the way into college, then politics, speech and debate took hold of him. His son Bayne is now using that same trumpet at his school. All I can say is yea for the music you are playing and also being able to speak up for yourself. No way are you giving up first chair! Barbara

  3. i read this and from a mother/woman’s perspective, i wondered: i wish i could do that. let me explain:
    i believe i am a very expressive person and very passionate about my thoughts and feelings, however, i presently don’t feel at all confident i could do well in a business setting. “hearing”/reading you talk about how you taught your children to network has perked my interest, to say the least. i really wish i could do that. i wish i knew where to learn how to do that. i believe i am destined for greatness, but…*sigh*…that lack of knowledge along with fear has crippled me from living my life to the fullest.
    thank you for this post!

  4. Gone, Mari. Blow your horn.

    Denene, loved the photo of Miss Mari on that trumpet. Yup, “tomorrow.”

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