Toni Morrison once wrestled with eloquently describing ‘Paradise’ credibly and effectively. Images of ‘Paradise’ tend to be ‘grand,’ she said, and ‘accessible, familiar, common, even trivial.’ Paradise, physical paradise, can denote ‘beauty, plenty, rest, exclusivity and eternity,’ noted Ms. Morrison. But how to reveal the complexities of paradise, as ‘a sane intelligent life itself,’ despite being ‘already perceived, already recognizable,’ was a vexing problem for Ms. Morrison. For some women, motherhood with all its hues, with all its beauty, with all its thorns and forms of exclusion, despite being recognizable, is paradise.

A glimpse of Toni Morrison’s essay on ‘Paradise.’

Motherhood is accessible, familiar, common, trivial and very recognizable. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic makes motherhood noticeable. According to a recent 2020 report by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean in Foundation entitled Women in the Workplace, ‘working mothers are at extraordinary risk of being penalized during the pandemic. Everything mothers need to do right now to both work and care for their families makes motherhood much more noticeable.’ So much so that, ‘1 in 4 women are looking to quit or reduce work because of Covid-19.’ I can relate!

Coivd19 and Women in the Workplace 2020 report.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a request to reschedule a work-related meeting that occurred during homeschooling. I apologized for this because I didn’t feel others should have to readjust their schedules for my needs. I hoped that the request maybe considered, just a little, as I wanted to attend the meeting. It wasn’t. I was numb. Not because I didn’t expect this as I apologized ahead for the disruption with other people’s schedule but because for the first time, I realized that I can’t be both an ‘ideal worker’ and a ‘good mother,’ as described by sociologists. Both roles are incompatible. I have worked hard at being the ideal worker, doing my part to thrive in academia, completely devoted to my research, working long hours in some cases and rarely taking time away from work. I do my part with being a good mother. I sometimes bake or cut vegetables with my kids on the weekend for our occasional backyard family picnics. We go for walks or ice-cream runs at the local ice-cream shop. We pray, we sing, we dance or tell imaginary stories, anything to let them know that I prioritize their care. So when I read the report and the subsequent article about it on The Atlantic here, I was numb.

Our weekend picnics

I was numb because we may never fully understand how working mothers are coping during this pandemic. We may never fully understand how normal, everyday life with work and motherhood has been upended during this pandemic. We may never fully understand how rest is dwindling in currency these days for mothers or why many of us can’t sleep well at night despite working less. Our work and our mothering responsibilities are on full display and not as exclusive as before.

But the inattention to, the mutedness, or numbness to the plight of working mothers during this pandemic is repulsive. It will remain this way if working mothers do not start now to share our interior lives. Many of us are still struggling to cope and that is fair. But the only way to describe ‘Paradise’ according to Ms. Morrison is to ‘begin the story.’

So my story; I am a wife to an incredible essential health care worker and a mother to four children, one girl and three boys, with my last son born in the middle of the ongoing global pandemic. I am also a global health researcher. Motherhood is really important to me. We are living through a global pandemic that shows no sign of abating. Global health is important. But for now, at least for me, being a parent at this moment, is extremely important to me. I am also working four shifts: as a mother, a working mother, a teacher and a developmental specialist ( I will reflect on this later). My work shift, my academic productivity as a global health researcher will suffer during this pandemic. I accept this guilt. I am no longer numb to this guilt because I am focused on what really matters; My children, my family!

(p.s. I know my keeplists are supposed to be short, but writing this led to a longer essay for a full context that I will publish one day on my medium page).

The year is 1918. Despite a flu pandemic and the end of World War 1, Ms Annie Turnbo Malone became the first self-made African American woman millionaire. As part of homeschooling, my daughter and I went to the Missouri Museum of History’s ‘Beyond the Ballot’ exhibit to learn about the pioneering work of Ms. Malone.

Born in 1869 in Illinois, Annie Turnbo Malone, was an astute African American business woman who developed a complete line of beauty products. She taught women how to become franchise owners of her company, employing close to 75,000 women worldwide. The year again was 1918. Racism was still very much alive and this was at the end of World War 1 and also during the pandemic of 1918. But somehow, Annie Turnbo Malone thrived.

In fact, before there was Madam CJ Walker, there was Ms Malone, the first, self-made African American millionaire. As a chemist, she invented Wonderful Hair Grower for black women. As an entrepreneur, she built a training and distribution center for her beauty products. As a philanthropist, she presided over an orphanage and gave most of her money to charities. While her achievements have been widely overlooked given those of Madam CJ Walker, I am glad the history museum continues to find ways to celebrate this pioneering woman. Over 100 years later, she remains a phenomenal example of why we should keep thriving even during a pandemic.

For poetry yesterday as part of homeschooling, we read the poetry of Margaret Esse Danner, especially her poem “This African Worm.’ Every week my daughter picks out a poem she likes and we spend sometime reading the poem, studying the poet, while trying to make sense of the lessons learnt from the poem. Margaret Esse Danner was a prolific poet, born in Kentucky but grew up in Chicago. She was the first African American assistant editor at Poetry magazine. Her poetry often engages African artwork and culture.

Margaret Esse Danner

Her ‘This African Worm’ resonates with ongoing struggles in our society today often faced by people everywhere. No matter where you are, the struggles are the same. Whether it’s a fight for justice or equality, whether it’s a fight to end hunger or poverty, no matter whether in Africa or North America, we all experience the same strife. Even to my daughter Lotanna, if you are a worm for now, that’s not good. We keep our heads low, as we make sense of the burden we are experiencing. We crawl and wait as Ms. Danner’s poem suggested. Until a time comes when things change, when things start to shift. Though we may crawl today, though our heads maybe low today, but there is hope in the wait. There is hope even as we take little steps or crawl like worms while making sense of our journey. That in the end, is the essence of life. That one day, one day, things will truly get better for people everywhere.

Margaret Esse Danner’s ‘This is an African Worm.’

This hope was evident in a comment shared by Margaret Esse Danner in an essay we found about her online at the University of Chicago library for a book entitled Black Poets in America in 1975-she wrote, “As for my poetry: I believe that my dharma is to prove that the Force of Good takes precedence over the force for evil in mankind. To the extent that my poetry adheres to this purpose it will endure.”

Your poetry endures today Ms. Danner and a new generation, my daughter’s generation in particular, will use your words for good. Until then, I’ll keep waiting.

Lotanna reading ‘This is an African Worm’ by Margaret Esse Danner.

Yesterday during my son’s Zoom Art class he was given an assignment to draw a bee. His art teacher started by instructing her students to draw a big circle for its face, then 2 small circles for its eyes, a small but wide letter u for its nose and a large, wide u for its mouth. My son only drew the large circle at first, then looked at me as asked, what’s the assignment again? I said, well you teacher wants you all to draw a bee? He looked at what she was drawing and seemed a little confused. Then without hesitation, he began to draw what a bee looked like to him. I tried to redirect him, but he kept drawing his version of a bee. By this time the teacher was focused on the hair of bee, telling the kids that their bees could even wear masks given our present day situation with the ongoing pandemic. My son had his own ideas and stayed focused on drawing what a bee should look like. I gave up trying to redirect him and allowed him to draw what he wanted.

Zoom art class.

As I recounted the story to my husband last night, I realized the lesson in my son’s insistence to draw what a bee looked like: It’s the need to keep being different. It’s tough to teach children how to stand out from the crowd but my six year old seemed to understand what many grownups still struggle with. No point being like the rest of the world. Just be yourself. By moving ahead to draw the assignment in a realistic way, I learnt why drawing matters. It’s is truly an age-old disciplining that allows us to learn things faster in clear, meaningful and concrete ways. I have since lost the gift of child-like drawing. But these days of homeschooling has opened up my eyes to the endless possibilities of drawing and why they matter for life.

My son’s take on the assignment also showed why being different matters. The moment we start to complete an assignment, no matter the deviations or distractions along the way, stay true to yourself and press on with clarity. Watching him perfect his assignment also showed why you should stay they course no matter the challenge. You can adjust or refine your thoughts on the original idea, but be different. You can take risks or move in an entire new direction, but do so with integrity. Being different allows you to exist, allows you to remain unique, allows you be authentic in this world full of duplicate ideas. From my son’s homeschool art class, I learnt why it’s important to keep being different.

Chiwetel’s Bee Assignment

There is something so amazing about flying handmade paper kites. Maybe it’s the colors used to make them standout or the lines cut neatly in diamond shape. Even the strings attached to the kites have lasting significance for strength of the kites, the strength to withstand even the most gentle breeze, strength to just simply fly in a finite direction no matter where the wind blows. The end product of a flying kite, a handmade paper kite is always sterling, always satisfying, especially when flown by the children who made them.

Last Sunday my kids and I went to park to fly their handmade kites. My daughter got the idea to make kites on Saturday and proceeded to make one big kite for herself and her brothers. At first they were all happy to have their one big kite and ran around the house with it all Saturday. Then Sunday came and she had the brilliant idea about going to the park to fly their kite. The happiness the boys all had for their one big kite evaporated. Now they wanted their own kites and not one big kite. I told them not to worry that when I go to the store I would actually buy simple kites at Walmart that they could all fly.

But the boys had their own ideas. How about we make our kite? I looked puzzled. It’s Sunday morning and the last thing on my mind these days, especially on Sunday is more work with the kids. I simply said sure, that means no park today. But the boys had a will and they determined to persevere. They went back to the basement location of homeschool and proceeded to make their own kites. I honestly laid in bed. About 30 minutes later, they ran upstairs with their handmade kites. All three of them had kites made with paper and they were now all excited for the park. I looked at them in awe.

To be a child is an amazing gift. They see the world in ways we adults have long lost on the journey to becoming adults. Nothing is truly impossible for them. The end product of flying kites, especially flying handmade paper kite at the park on Sunday with all the things that could have gone wrong with paper made kites, was indeed sterling and extremely satisfying.

I hate Zoom, especially for children. I hate that it’s the new way to teach. I hate that this pandemic has forced all of us to incorporate it into our daily routine. I hate Zoom especially for my children’s learning. It’s sounds contentious, I know, and hostile, I know, and defensive, I know and old-fashioned. I know that. But I am the parent that prefers learning the old-fashioned way. Not from tablets or online, but from books and outdoor exploration, like with butterflies perched quietly on a grass or books that make the mind dance.

I am not suggesting that Zoom does not have its benefit but I hate how it’s forcing my children to sit still and learn via a screen rather than from one on one interaction with their peers and teachers. Teaching my children is not something I take likely, it is the essence of their life and the tools I must use to do so must make sense to them. Zoom doesn’t. I can’t say no to tablets and somehow allow Zoom. No to TV or all sorts of distractions online, but then transport them to a Zoom utopia. Rational tools for homeschooling with our children during a pandemic are a necessity these days and it’s only September. Parents like myself eager to construct meaningful learning in the face of our country chaotic response to the pandemic must be nurtured, protected. And it’s our right to hate Zoom.

It’s vital therefore to know the consequences of the Zoomification of learning. The erasure of face to face learning, whether in math or social studies, recess altered or denied for fear of succumbing to a virus, canceled soccer games, unstaged children’s play, the peeling away of normalcy even for children, the thought of this pandemic never ending is frustrating. I hate Zoom, but I hate the pandemic even more.

I started to run again. It was favorite thing to do during graduate school. Life since graduating got in the way so I stopped running. Sure I run occasionally, but not as consistently as I did during graduate school. Since homeschooling started this fall, I wanted something that I could do consistently so that I keep up with the demands of teaching 3 kids at home. Running was the only thing that made sense again. I set a target to run 10 miles at least 3 times a week. I have consistently met the target except this week.

This week, my second child started his own Zoom lessons. Imagine keeping a 6 year old 1st grader focused on Zoom and doing school work at the same time. My 8year old is a pro now and is enjoying every moment of it. My three year old loves his worksheets and reading time with no Zoom. But my 6 year old who was fine at first with just doing the worksheets, became tired of learning all together when Zoom began. I was tired too. Adding Zoom this week was erratic not just for him but for me also. And it almost stopped me from running mid-week to achieve my goals. I came up with every excuse I could come up with to justify why I shouldn’t run and it all made sense. I was tired and I needed a break. I was tired of waking up earlier than normal to start the Zoom process for him. The weather seems to be changing and Fall is in the air and I am tired. All of the excuses are okay these days. Yet I knew that running was for me.

Running has allowed me to stay focused. Running, especially running consistently with a goal in mind, has allowed to see homeschooling from a different lens. Running allowed me to choose joy this school year. Even when I get tired with the first mile of every run, I keep running. Even when the skies are gray and pelters of rain are felt on my skin, I keep running. Even when my mind is preoccupied with thoughts of my never ending to-do lists, I keep running. Even when my knees start to hurt by the third mile all the way to the end and I feel like giving up, I keep running. I keep running so that I accomplish my own goals. I keep running so that I stay sane through homeschooling. I keep running because it’s my favorite thing to do once again. I keep running for the flow of it. I keep running because I choose joy. I keep running for me.

My son loves egg crayons. Not to color with them, but to roll them on the ground or down the stairs. It’s his favorite thing to do and my least favorite thing to watch. After each rolling session, I am right behind him picking each crayon up one by one to put them neatly back in their box. But just as soon as the box is neatly packed, my son would start the process all over again, rolling the crayons on the ground or down the stairs.

Today, I watched and listened as another crayon rolled on the ground and down the stairs and landed with a heavy thud, and continued to roll on. I saw the happiness on his face and how he just stared at the crayons mesmerized. For the first time, I saw with a childlike eye, why my son enjoyed rolling the egg crayons on on the ground. They never stop rolling! Even when things got in their way or they experienced a heavy thud, the crayons kept rolling on. It’s was as if the crayons were really meant to roll, not to color or be kept neatly in a box, just roll and roll and roll. I finally got it.

Life is not meant to be neat. Life is not meant to be colorful either. We are all going to experience challenging times, but the key to overcoming whatever problems we experience is to keep rolling. I learnt that today from my son and his rolling egg crayons. With life, no matter the circumstances, keep rolling.