We spent this morning at the hospital. Baby Ray was due for his 3 month shot. We got up early. I gave him a warm bath, put on a blue play suit as it was a cool morning, gave him his meds and spent a little over 30 minutes breastfeeding baby. Hospital visits like today have a way of making me feel nervous. It’s almost like I am the one getting the shot and not baby. It’s nerve racking in a sense.
When we got to the hospital, and into the room where it would happen, I almost had a panic attack once I saw the shot. I was told by the nurse to undress him down to his diaper. I did. She took his pulse and temperature. He squirmed. I held him closer to my chest. She brought a weighing machine and asked me to put him on the scale. He was 7.595kg. I didn’t bother to ask for his weight in pounds. It didn’t matter. As if sensing something was amiss, he drew closer to me. I held him tightly. The moment was close. I unbuttoned my black shirt and placed him on my breast. I hoped the feeding would blunt the pain of the needle. It didn’t. He cried. A slow soundless scream that erupted into heavy sobs.
I tried to console him, said sorry in Igbo over and over. Ndo, Ndo, Ndo. Placed his lips back on my breast. Fed him for about 4mins. The nurse came back with the discharge summary. We didn’t speak. Baby didn’t smile and I didn’t either. I slowly put his clothes back on, slowly but him back in his car seat, and without saying goodbye, we left. What can I say, I was relived the experience was over, but wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. I know these shots are important and vital for all newborn baby. We have another appointment next month. I’m sure this cycle will start all over again. In the meantime, his smile at the end of the day, even in pain, keeps me going.
I grew up in Nigeria watching a series on TV called ‘Tales by Moonlight.’ In the series, an aunty, gathered children around and told them traditional folktales or stories that inculcate societies values into children. She began by stating these words that made a deep impression on my mind: ‘Story, story.’ The children replied: ‘Story.’ Then she stated; “Once upon a time.’ To which the children replied ‘Time, Time.’ Then the story began. The stories were mostly about societal norms, respect for authority, unity with siblings, and morals heavily laden with lessons on how to live, how to act, when to speak, or when to talk and what was expected from every child even in childhood. The stories were inseparable from every aspect of life in Nigeria and used to tell children what to do and how to do it.
In turn, the show became an exemplar on how to transmit and continue values that make society and family systems whole. An exemplar on how values of a society enhance unity, group solidarity and cooperative effort rather than individualism, how values foster understanding between generations, how values teach the proper role of everyone in a society, and how values vividly imagined in our minds, in informal, serene and unruffled ways, highlight the essential conflicts between what is right and what is wrong in any given society. Tales by moonlight with its stories full of lessons for life, was valuable to me.
As a mother now to four little children, I am always in search of materials that teach life lessons in informal, serene ways, especially through stories that allow my children to vividly imagine for themselves, the things that are of value in any given society. In fact, some nights we end the day in the same way aunty began her stories on Tales by Moonlight, ‘Story, Story.’ In the absence of the show Tales by Moonlight, book helps my children imagine and gain practical lessons in values of our society. Enter the book, ‘Anansi the Spider.’
As part of our weekly reading series for homeschooling, we read Anansi the Spider to my junior kindergarten. His sister made a spider for her class work last Friday and so today’s reading was a perfect fit.
Anansi the Spider is a tale from the Ashanti People of Ghana adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott. It was a 1973 Caldecott Honor book for its vibrant, stylized realization of this classic and timeless folklore from the Ashanti people.
In this colorful retelling, we are introduced to Anansi’s sons: See Trouble, Road Builder, River Drinker, Game Skinner, Stone Thrower and Cushion. When Anansi got lost and fell into trouble, all his sons used their special skills to save him. When he wanted to reward the sons for saving him, he discovers an important lesson. Each son, from See Trouble who knew when he was in danger to Cushion who helped when he fell from the sky, is equally important. None of the sons are more valuable than the other. In other words, everyone one is valuable and has a role to play in this life.
Stories like Anansi play a role in fostering values of everyday life that matter. They impressed the traditions and values of my heritage deep into my consciousness. The essential goals of folktales like Anansi are admirable and remains sterling. We should all do our part to keep reading these folktales to children.
If there is one thing I am thankful for with homeschooling during this pandemic, is that I am learning new things about my children everyday. Learning what makes them happy, what makes them sad, and what makes them curious about life. But what I love the most is the assignments from their teachers. My daughter’s 3rd teacher gave them an assignment focused on writing a narrative about their families. Toni Morrison once shared that ‘narratives are one of the ways in which knowledge is organized.’ To her, they are the ‘most important way to transmit and receive knowledge.’ But sometimes, even narratives, no matter how well organized, are never enough, noted Ms. Morrison.
Sometimes what is written about one’s family in narratives, what is useful or what ought to be discarded is eye opening. But eye opening is not enough. Instead, sometimes what is described, in simple language, particularly from your children lens, is remarkable. Not that a child is telling the story, but that it’s from their own perspective, from their own details, their own consciousness, their own critical voice about what makes their family, a family. That maybe telling and enough, a child’s critical examination of what makes a family, a family.
For my daughter, it’s that we are cool. That’s all! Mom, a professor likes to run and dad, a doctor loves chocolate. We are both strict with school. Grandma called Mama, loves to pray everyday and cousin Tochi is in college. Then there are three brothers. One with autism who loves the color blue, another who also loves blue and computers and a baby brother who eats and throws up a lot. This is the first time I am reading an assignment with a reference to her brother’s autism. Articulating her thoughts about her brothers illustrates her nurturing and caring power. Being a family is not only about her, but about them too.
But the test of the power of family narratives lies in the child’s own perspective of themselves. The ability at the age of 8, to imagine the self, to familiarize the trivial, enlighten the essential, makes a child’s narrative of their families, powerful. For my daughter, who loves bunnies and elephants, I learnt she was a day dreamer, with a ‘big dreaming imagination.’ She also loves to read, chapter books being her favorite especially the Emmie and Friends series. She prays with Mama and loves running bath water for her baby brother. She loves exercising with dad, jumping on the trampoline at the back of the house as well as playing fun games with her brothers.
Clearly Lotanna loves her family, and we are very special to her. Her story, her ability to imagine and create is compelling, is sterling to me. Family narratives can help make sense of what makes families, families. At least it made me look deeper about what makes our family special from my daughter’s lens. Keep writing family narratives, they are remarkable, especially from a child’s perspective.
One of my 3year old’s first assignment as a junior kindergarten student was to make a butterfly. His teacher sent the video of Eric Carle’s The very hungry caterpillar. We also read the book. It one of my kids favorite books to read. His teacher shared how caterpillars start as eggs, then into a pupa, then a caterpillar. Then they build a house for themselves called an cocoon, spend some time in their house before turning into a butterfly. This lifecycle of a butterfly was eloquently portrayed in Eric Carle’s book.
As I read the book to my son again and we made our butterflies wings with watercolors, I was struck by how caterpillars do not adjust to their environments on their journey to becoming butterflies. They infuriate many as they look for food. They refuse to be defined by their small stature. They build and nurture themselves first! Imagine something so small building their own home so delicate, all to nurture themselves, their whole being in their own safe spaces, their way. They then guide their homes through treacherous landscapes until it’s time to display their beauty. In the midst of rough terrains, in the middle of uncertainties, they emerge light and beautiful, stunning and sterling, like a baby coming into the world for the first time. They fly away almost immediately, living life courageously, still through treacherous landscapes and rough terrains. This courage has been on full display from the beginning.
Courage is heightened for every pupa who seeks to become a caterpillar, every caterpillar who seeks to become a butterfly. Courage demands swift action, sometimes infuriating, but always on your own terms, at your own time, like a new baby coming to the world for the first time. Courage involves building safe spaces, your own space, where you nurture yourself, until it’s time to display your beauty to the world. The condition of life from the beginning, from being pupa to caterpillar is courage. Without it they never become butterflies, they never fly. Like butterflies, we all have the same courage, to live through treacherous landscapes, through rough terrains, but most importantly, to fly. So keep flying like butterflies!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.