The toughest school year I have ever experienced finally came to an end on Friday. Not only did we master the art of homeschooling, we figured out how to nurture what matters as each child did their best to make the most of this school year. All the materials submitted are now home and I have begun to do the wonderful task of sifting through to figure out what to keep and what discard. Something about seeing my children’s words and art warms my soul always. Like this little poem my daughter wrote with her friends called ‘BabyBirds.’ I remember how happy she was to have written this one with her friends and to actually read it for myself makes me proud. They began by describing the day. The sun is shining they note. Another spring day. Birds in the sky are chirping, some being born today, breaking out of their eggs to meet the warmth of the day. I can’t even imagine what goes into the mind of a 3rd grader to write in this way but I’m am glad that school allowed this exploration of the mind. Like how mother bird goes out look for food to feed her babies eager to learn the ways for the world. I imagine the same must be true for my daughter and her friends. For all birds, even baby ones have to learn about the world, whether with chirping or finding food to eat. But here comes the hard part for even mother birds and it’s that’s one day, even baby birds will leave the nest. They too will one day spread their wings and fly, far faraway from home. And when they do, the hope for mother birds, as with all mothers, is that they explore the world, full of possibilities, full of a life worth living, in their own terms. That what reading this little poem did for me today. As the school year finally comes to end, may all children, my own included, continue to fly, and soar to new heights. I keep this poem her as a proud mother bird.
My son has been learning about baby chicks. His school has a small brood of 10 chicks. It’s a new experience for him. I have always found animals in school to be refreshing. What better way to learn than from living things themselves. Everyday, his class gets to watch as the baby chicks prance around their small coop. Learning and helping to care for new life has numerous rewards. For starters it helps my son develop his sense of empathy and compassion. They are not only learning about what temperature matters for these chicks, but how to keep them warm, and what they need to eat to grow. There is true love between the kids and the chick. It’s generally believed that animals can have a positive influence on children’s learning. I see this with my son. Two other learning concepts I have observed animals teach. The notion of change and the concept of time. For starters, change occurs constantly. Baby chicks are prime examples of this change. To go from being eggs to a chick is a significant change. One my son observed from the beginning. Then there is also the concept of time. Growth cannot be rushed, even for baby chicks. He told me their baby chicks sit in incubators for 21 days before they hatch. He made art to illustrate this. I smiled. I see the importance of critically engaging little kids in constructive discussions about animals, including baby chicks. Not only do they learn to care for others, but they see firsthand why change matters and the significance of time. It’s for this reason I say keep baby chicks and little kids together. They help each other learn about the world as it ought to be. With love and love and love.
I am drawn to duality. The prolific Igbo author Chinua Achebe once described its importance in this way ‘where something stands something else will stand beside it. Nothing is absolute.’ Seeking a second point of view is essential for life. The intricate and deep structures that inform us are rarely examined when you take a first look. But when you examine anything closely, when you give it a second glance, a second read, a second look, it’s true meaning will be illuminated. It for this reasons I am forever drawn to nature. Every plant we encounter is full of dualities. They produce multiple meanings when you take a closer look, a closer smell, a closer feel. There are no permanent answers with any plant too. No permanent questions. No permanent solutions as everything is subject to change quite literally, season after season. It’s for this reason that I ask that you keep fragrant plantain lilies in mind. They are prime examples.
Not only are they a thing of beauty, but their apple green leaves with creamy white edges personifies the world duality for me. On one hand these plants are just that, plants like many you will see now during the Spring season. These fragrant plantain lilies are scattered all over the front of my house now. The prior owners of our home took gardening to another level. I remain grateful as I am clueless when it comes to plants. But this fragrant plantain lily is one to watch. I was hooked from the name personally as I absolutely adore edible plantains. To know this word as lilies and in my garden makes me smile. In terms of make up, it is also an ornamental plant whose plants deliver fragrance when they bloom sometime in July or August. Apparently come July, these plants will begin to display huge white trumpets that are essentially lilies with a sweet fragrance. Their Japanese name is ‘Yu-Lei’ which means white fairy. For now, even looking at the plants brings a smile to my face. But it’s duality as both plants and flowers is what I choose to keep as it bears many semblance to my dual roles as a mother and a professor.
On one hand my days are full of diapers and tears. These days erupting tooth and growing pains of transitions from infants are the norm. That and the gift of watching my son transition from crawling to walking. This duality makes me smile as he keeps making great strides everyday with perfecting the art of walking as with this video below.
By day and night I am also a researcher, one passionate about research that lasts. It’s why I remain drawn to writing grants as it helps me address one fundamental reason why research never lasts and it’s the lack for funds. But what if we have funds and then draft our research in ways that ensure that they remain. Another duality, subtle but there when you begin with the end in mind even for research grants or interventions you carry out. I adore this new focus on duality. One that I am grateful to plants like fragrant plantain lilies for teaching me this Spring season. Keep them in mind as well babies crawling and walking and mothers working as researchers.
There is something about motherhood that keeps me in awe every single time. It’s that journey between being pregnant and welcoming new life. My people call it a journey and they are quick to remind you to say nothing until you go on the journey and return safe and sound. I take this journey very seriously. Which is why you would hardly see pregnancy photos of myself plastered anywhere. Not everyone makes it through the journey. I get it and I value that too. So to go on the journey and come to the other side safe and sound, is the most awe inspiring moment ever.
Today, another great woman I know went on that journey and brought forth this little bundle of joy. There are no words. Seeing the picture above evoked memories of my experience. I remember the first nights vividly, of wondering how I would take care of the baby. They are so tiny in the beginning and so fragile that the idea of becoming my responsibility can be so daunting. But still, we persevere. To be a woman, to be a mother is no small feat. I am reminded about this everytime I hear another story of another successful journey of another woman. Those who never make the journey too, keep me alert. I know that fear all too. Every pregnant woman comes across it too and not make it makes me just as equally speechless. There is power in womanhood, in motherhood and it’s a gift I will always cherish. So when my family grew larger today, when we literally welcomed new life today, when we told another powerful woman I know that we thank God for the journey mercies, it dawned on me once more that there is power in being and becoming a mother. Something I will always celebrate and cherish for the privilege this aspect of my life entails. So in honor of our latest arrival, keep knowing the sterling power of mothers. We are awe inspiring every single time we bring new life to this earth. We are awe inspiring just as we are. It is by no means a easy task but you are still there and for that, I celebrate you mothers for all you do.
Keep winning. I got a great text message tonite. It basically said, congrats on winning the …raffle. I was speechless. We won? How? When? At first I thought this was a joke. We are almost through April, so anything maybe possible with making a fool out of me. But then I remembered that my kids school had a fundraiser yesterday. One of the most spectacular fundraisers I have ever seen. And it was virtual. The amount of money they raised during a pandemic is nothing short of phenomenal. I went to the school’s website to watch the event from yesterday. I scrolled all the way to the last 2 minutes and watched as the fundraiser chair put their hands in a pile full of 1100 raffle tickets. You guessed it. Out of 1100 tickets, a ticket with my name won. I am still speechless. I have watched the video numerous times and each time my ticket was picked and we were declared the winner. We had a blast today, with family and friends and winning this raffle ticket, well just simply made this day phenomenal. Keep winning. This picture, taken after church today, personifies the joy in my heart for today.
My son never ceases to amaze me. He did again with math during homeschooling today. He was preparing for a test next week and his teacher wanted to assess whether he would be able to do it all by himself. The instructions were to give him the worksheet and let him be. I knew this was going to be a long morning. I gave him the worksheet and his pencil. He wrote his name with ease, without any prodding. I should have known that would be the sign of how our morning would occur. He proceeded to start and before completing the first problem, he asked whether he could have my computer afterwards. I said yes. The worksheet was complex, at least to me. It had both addition and subtraction. His brain loves order and so I figured this may not be an an easy one for him. The first math problem asked that he add 8+7. He stared at the problem and did nothing. I asked that he focused. His mind wandered. He asked if he could have the computer again. I said sure. He asked whether he could do the problems on his own. I said by all means. He asked if I remembered how he used to do all his work by himself at our old house. I said of course and can you do the same now. He started to play with his pencil. He looked at the worksheet after close to 3 minutes and said 15, the answer is 15. I was shocked.
I expected him to count, to write out sticks, anything from all we have been doing to teach him how to do math. He had other ideas on his own. I actually thought it was a fluke too and proceeded to ask that he try the next problem, this time 9+8. His mind had other plans of its own. He asked if he could have the computer after work again. I said of course. He reminded me that he could do the work on his own. I said please go ahead. We did this back and forth until he blurted 17, the answer is 17. I was now in awe. How come? If you know what we go through with teaching him anything then you would understand.
Here is a kid who has a love hate relationship with school work with the hate winning on most days. But on days where love is supreme, nothing can stand in the way of the brain’s many gifts. So I proceeded to walk away. Maybe I’m the distraction. Maybe he can’t seem to focus because I remind him always to focus. I went in search of additional light as the room felt dark to me. I stepped away for about 3-4 minutes and by the time I returned, he was on problem 7. I checked prior math problems. They were all correct. I said nothing and watched in silence as the brain did what it knew best. A short time later, he was done. He didn’t count, he didn’t draw sticks, he just looked at the math problem and supplied the answer.
I really have no words except to keep this here today. This is a reminder to myself and to all mothers with kids on the spectrum to say that we should never underestimate the brain’s many unique ways. Here is a child for whom homeschooling can be though, for whom even math problems can be difficult at times, but today, when he did what worked for him, everything, including completing a math problem that seemed complex was as gentle as a breeze. Keep seeing this form of thriving with kids on the spectrum. They do and can underestimate even your own ideas of their abilities if you let them be. Keep thriving even with math
Yesterday my bright daughter was upset. Division was the cause. We are now in the phase of elementary school where failure with math is inevitable. For her, it has begun and it all thanks to long form division. Everything seems hard she said. She kept trying, and trying and still got everything wrong. She doesn’t like to fail and is doing her best but division is so hard. No one in class understood too until the teacher showed what they were all doing wrong. What made her so upset was how easy it actually was when her teacher explained it all. But why didn’t she see it? Why did she fail when she tried it herself? I listened intently as I understood well what was happening here.
I ask why is failing so bad? Her response-I don’t like to fail. I asked again, why don’t you like to fail? Because I keep trying my best but still I fail. So I asked again, why did you keep trying and still failed? Because it was making me so upset, she said. I still asked, why does failure make you so upset? Because there is nothing to learn from failure? Why can’t you learn from failure? I said? Because, wait, you can learn from failure? Breakthrough, I smiled, I replied of course you can. So what are we going to do now that we can learn from failure? I will try not to be too upset? Why will you not be upset even if you fail? Because I know I tried my best. Why will you keep trying even if you fail? Because I can learn from failing. Why is failing now good? Because it teaches me something about myself. I was curious and asked what did it teach? She said, never to give up even if you fail. Mission accomplished.
Teaching how to fail as well as learning from failure is a tall ask for little children. But my grantwriting hat helped me here. I fail all the time I told her. She said really. I said yes. Sometimes the papers I write are rejected and even all the hardwork I put on my grants too. But still I learn from every failure. It’s a teacher too. And like you, it teaches me never to give up. Division has helped me understand the significance of teaching children why failure it’s important. It’s a major keep I intend to continue to work on with my daughter. One that I hope you keep too.
My daughter once told me a story. Of her and her friends and their plans to save the world from goblins, or little monsters with green skins and two horns on their head. One friend was a wizard ninja, the other a pixie fairy and my daughter a purple fizzle, also known as bubble girl with a magic bubble wand and a skateboard. Together, they were unstoppable and will do whatever they could to protect the universe. She shared the picture below to illustrate this vividly.
In listening to my daughter recount this story, I became transfixed and transported into the realm of possibilities with stories. For my daughter and her imagination, there are no limits. Even a ninja with a staff can be a wizard. A pixie can be a fairy and fly around with her human friends. A bubble girl can not only possess a magic bubble wand that erupts magical bubbles, but she can also use her skateboard and run around a rainbow colored universe with her friends. Together they work to protect the universe from goblins and their their evil plans. Her story was not only engaging, but illuminating. My daughter took me on a journey to stories endless possibilities, one where openness is the destination for abilities that are limitless. Not only did she construct a narrative to describe how anyone can become anything, her narrative is also an illustration of an important lesson that she learned about own herself, something in fact expressed in the story itself. That she too can be anything she wanted to be. An endless possibility.
Stories like what my daughter shared, illustrate how they powerfully give meaning to one’s life. But authoring your own story for yourself, recounting ever act and action, every event and expression, is the greatest gift. One that takes you on a journey towards knowing and telling, reflecting and learning. Listening and learning about each character in my daughter’s story, how they feel and what they do, opened her eyes to their see their abilities, all full of endless possibilities. The reflection, inherent in the stories we tell, is the learning about ourselves that I gleaned from my daughter and her story. As her eyes opened to their possibilities, so to did her mind open to become aware of the power of her thoughts, her feelings, her actions, all infused in her story.
That to me is the power of stories, the power of authoring your thoughts and feeling as only you know how to do best. The power to resist and overcome all forms of oppression, the power of your voice with its gifts for suppression, repression, everything wanting to cause depression. With stories, the possibilities are endless. Stories are a function of our society, an opportunity to make and remake, to form and reform, to define and redefine, how we all become one. Powerful and liberating, stories help you author aspects of you that only you know best. Stories even those as unthinkable as a wizard ninja helps you claim authority over you. The world will try to define you. The world will speak ill of you to and use words meant to destroy rather than build you. But it’s in your story that you lay claim over how the world should see you. Not from the mouth of others, but from you, your acts, your actions, one after another. Such an authority over yourself is inspiring, divine, a sterling gift to oneself.
All of us, whether as young as my 8 year old daughter or as old her grandmother, have stories to tell, have point of views and values to share that many would be willing to hear. How we author our lives through stories is the thing I never knew I had in me, the thing I never knew I would also see in others until this keeplist began a little over 9 months ago. Finding stories, keeping and nurturing them, has opened my eyes to their power and freedom. They also helped me see the endless possibilities in all my life’s abilities. So for today and always, keep stories, even from a child’s lens. Find your story too. Author it. It will help you think, act, feel, the best in you that you may not even know exists. It has helped me find my way, through a life where nothing weighs me down. I am a master of my journey because stories showed all I needed. My daughter’s story by the way is called ‘The Rainbow Universe Society.’ Like I said with stories, the possibilities are endless.
I had this grand idea to go to the Zoo with my children today. It was grand considering how one of my kids loves the Zoo. Not for the animals but for the train rides. We actually go to the Saint Louis Zoo just so we ride the train around the Zoo. We went two weeks ago and it was a hit. I made my appointment for today, got the kids ready, arrived on time, parked and hoped for a glorious day. All of that came to a halt the moment we went through the entrance and I asked for our train tickets. Trains were canceled for the day. My son had a massive meltdown. You mean no train? I said yes. But why? The weather maybe? But I see the train tracks? I know. Maybe we can actually look at animals since we are at the Zoo. We proceeded to try to see whatever animals we could find along the River’s Edge portion of the Zoo. I prayed for elephants or anything along the way through Africa or Asia. But the entire time we walked, my son cried. Not little sobs that you could maybe reason with, but loud meltdowns that are destined to make anyone think we have no control of him. He screamed, he shouted, pleaded for the train, apologized for his tears, all in between weird stares for strangers at the Zoo. Our trip lasted 10 minutes. Thank God for Zoo membership with their free parking. We turned around quickly for nothing along River’s edge could appease him. Not the black Rhino we managed to spot or the cute little warthogs along the way.
Every step we took back to the car, was full of meltdowns and pleading to stay, pleading for trains, pleading to want to stop crying. All of it not sinking into the brain. No amount of stating and restating that trains were canceled seemed to get through. We walked briskly to the car, got in, and drove past the Zoo, past the highway, all the way to the ice cream shop in hopes to calm the tears. It helped for awhile, chocolate sundae with sprinkles and no cherry on the top seemed to do the trick for awhile. The day was still young and so we tried to look for other things to do. Then I got the bright idea to be adventurous for the day. If we cannot get on the train, how about a boat. My other kids said sure, let’s go. My son still wanted his train. I tried anyways to give them an adventure. We got life vests, and a paddling boat for the Boathouse at Forest Park and proceeded to paddle all his tears away. At first, it seemed like the worst idea ever. Two adults in front to paddle and three kids at the back, one on the spectrum. We went around in circle. The kids loved it all. We managed to straighten the boat and went in deep, past the rocks, past the daffodils, past the tears, past the meltdowns.
Adventures with kids on the spectrum are a trip on their own. Though the day started with trains, we ended up with boats which seemed to do the trick for awhile until it was time to end the ride. Of course my son didn’t want us to stop. We tried to take in the moment for awhile, to bask in the beauty around us, to ease the fears, and please the brain’s love for noise. All of that helped. And slowly, we made our way back to the boathouse. To be a parent of an autistic child, is to be prepared all the time for life’s adventure. Of course they never go as expected and it can be tough when the brain wants its way. But I am learning to appreciate the brain’s love for duality. If you can’t give me train, then fine, boats will do. They did for us today and now we have a new desire to return tomorrow for another boat ride. And train if we can plus the Zoo of course. For him, we will try to keep life’s adventure going, wherever the journey takes us. The memories too are blissful. Keep adventures always, whether with Zoo, trains or boats.
He cannot find his tape. We awakened to tears. He wants to fix something. A book in pieces, he says, between tears. But he cannot find his tape. So he cries. He starts his morning some days like this, crying. Today it’s for a tape. Other days a piece of crayon or a book, even a favorite toy. Little obsessions like this can lead to a day full of meltdowns. All his mind knows is that something is missing. Like a train out of its tracks. Everything stops. No amount of comforting even pleading can reset his mind back to its track until that thing is found. We begin today with a tape. It’s only 6am. But such is the life of a kid on the spectrum.
That we have been helping him get by, past the tapes, past the obsessions, past his tears, past his inability to stop them, is no small task too. We acknowledge. He cries. We give hugs to quiet the noise, he cries some more. We are stern, unyielding. Still he cries. His brain and mind is in control. So we look for the thing preoccupying his mind. He cries further. The tears are strong, unmanageable at times. Some may see cries for attention. Three people are looking for the tape. He knows we care. He sees it in our eyes. He mutters in between the tears, with his hands on his head, a desire to stop the tears, to quiet the inner noise, his brain seems to relish. To know him, his frustrations, his obsessions, his tears, even his inability to stop them, is to know love..
Ritamae Hyde, a Belizean poet wrote a poem about a Mother’s love. In it she shared how a mother’s love cannot be confined to beautiful words or abstract expressions. But her love is and remains one of the purest form of human expressions to be felt on this earth. This love she writes about so eloquently portrays what lies silent, under, between, hidden, beneath, and invisible for mothers, and other mothers who mother a child on the spectrum. With torn and crying hearts, we look for tapes. Amidst a desire to quell his inner noise, our insecurities, we turn the room upside down. We hold, we hug, we plead, we pray, still the brain wins. We hide our tears, our crying hearts wishes to spill. Only thing left then, since we have been here before, in times of labor, in time of unbearable pain, is the purest form of expression, one we felt in the beginning, one we still feel even in this moment, is love.
Through the tears, we love. Through the missing tapes or crayons or books, we love. Through the inability to stop, we love. That is the purest form of expression Ritamae writes about, one we want to share that all children on the spectrum need. Whether in the beginning or the end of a meltdown, for a missing tape or anything else, give love as only you can. Keep this mother’s love for children on the spectrum.