How This Afro-Latina Author and Mamá Gets Ready For Back-to-School Season

Among the many titles LaTonya Yvette holds — author, curator, and New Yorker being only a few of them — mamá is the one closest to her heart. River and Oak, her 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, are at the center of everything she does. “I encourage them to be kind and curious,” she says. “Raising kids is raising future adults.” She describes River as mature for her age and a lover of fashion, reading, and dancing. Oak, she continues, is silly and sweet and also loves to read. While the three of them are the core of their family, it expands to encompass many loved ones as well. “Family to me isn’t just my children, it’s also our close group of friends,” she says. “I’m a single mother, and my friends are so important to me. We all take care of each other. Community is family.”

As the summer winds down and the kids excitedly plan to return to school, Yvette is preparing for the changes that come with this seasonal shift. Over the last three months of the summer vacation, they’ve been alternating between the city, visiting friends in Germany, and spending time at The Mae House, their upstate home in Athens, NY. The home, which they also rent out for short-term stays, was dreamt up with the intention of providing a space for Black joy, care, community, and rest. The cost of your stay helps fund sliding-scale rates to BIPOC guests who cannot afford a full-price stay, along with a free quarterly residency program for BIPOC community members.

“Since we bought The Mae House, I’ve wanted to give [River and Oak] an appreciation for nature,” she explains. “[An appreciation] for what can happen when you start a project and see it through, and put care into everything you do.” Spending time at the 173-year-old colonial house provides the opportunity for play and relaxation that isn’t always possible in the city or during the school year. “During the year, we definitely have a strict routine to get to school on time, and also keep a regular bedtime,” she says. “But summer days are more relaxing, and even though it’s really hot in New York, we spend as much time outside as we can.”

Navigating the return to school includes calming any nerves as River and Oak settle back into the school-year routines. While both kids are excited to be back in school and with friends (and Yvette looks forward to having a little more time in the afternoons to focus on writing, meditating, and her other passions), it’s only natural for worries to come up. “I think generally there’s always anxiety, but being present and encouraging is the best I can do,” she says. “I dedicate time to just be with them — giving lots of cuddles and listening to what they have to say.”

Being a mother also means wanting to keep her kids safe from natural threats like germs, and after living through the pandemic over the past couple of years, anxiety around illnesses is always lingering. Luckily, Yvette has a cleaning product she finds comfort in: Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, keeping my family healthy has been my top priority,” she says. “I know that when I swipe a countertop, or a bathroom sink, either at home in Brooklyn or at the Mae House, the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes are effectively eliminating germs.

For any parents who might be nervous about the return to the school year (or who are just trying to cross off everything from an overflowing to-do list before that first day), Yvette recommends trying to stay positive and present. “I would say prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” she says. When she thinks about River and Oak returning to school, Yvette focuses on what she’s grateful for. “I just have to stay positive and grateful that they go to a wonderful school here in Brooklyn that wants to keep them safe. Every child deserves that.”

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