I observed my kids playing together the other day. One of them has a knack for collecting things. He collects specific things and like to know that they are by his side always. They same goes for the toys he plays with. He prefers for his toys to be in order. But what happens when things are not in order. To put it mildly, chaos ensures. Not only is everyone now looking for that missing toy, but my child is also inconsolable. Nothing you say or do, appeases him. Instead tears, and never ending ones too, are his vice. There are also screams and talking about why he needs to find the toy. We all look for the toy. Everyone from the oldest to the youngest search for the missing toy.

But I observed my smallest kid on one of these days. Everyone was scrambling looking for my oldest son’s missing hand cut planet Saturn that he left in his bucket. My youngest son was playing with it earlier and so naturally we asked if he knew where it was. He didn’t at first. So my oldest son started to cry. We all tried to console him. To no avail. We also started looking all over the house for the handcut planet Saturn. We even told him he could cut another one but still nothing. Then my youngest son joined in the search. He was perceptive and intent on helping his big brother out. Even saying at one point, ‘don’t cry, we will find it for you.’ As if on cue, my youngest son found the handcut Saturn for his brother. His empathy and sympathy was stunning to me. His kindness, refreshing. It my keep for today. In a world where people only think of themselves, where people live and dwell in their own bubbles, kindness matters. Keep it in mind.

We took a walk around Forest Park yesterday. The weather in Saint Louis this time of the year is unusually beautiful for a Fall/Winter and perfect for a walk in the park. One thing we saw all around the park were pinecones. There were lots of them all around and fun object to pick and play with as we walked around the park.

My daughter and her pinecone

But did you know that on rainy days, pinecones fold their scales? They do so to prevent seeds from spreading. But on sunny dry days, pinecones open their scales. They do so to spread their seeds at greater distance, far from the parent tree. While wet days are days for retreat, days for silence, dry days are days for building, days for dispersing, days for survival for pinecones. Dry days are how they disperse their seeds, even with scales that also dry, scales mostly dead. But how can seeds spread or even survival from dead cells? Turns out that water plays a huge role. When water is absorbed in response to air humidity, the cones and seeds stick to each other. Whereas, without water, the waterproof seed wing surface rapidly drys, so seeds detach and disperse.

A pinecone
My son and his pinecone

If there is one thing I have learnt from pinecones, it is that your dry days are not only your greatest days, but they are also your days for growth and most definitely your days for survival. Keep being as dry as pinecones.

A pinecone
Our pinecone collection.

I am always a little bored with demonstrations of greetings during the holidays. Demonstrations like, similar text messages that often begin on Thanksgiving and end, at least during the holidays, on New Year. They rely on the same things, the same promises, the same wishes, even the same prayers. I am sure you got a bunch of them yesterday. Most start with ‘Happy.’ I am guilt of doing so too. I typed it yesterday on my blog. But as the day wore on, as the cooking and silence continued, even as I spoke to some family members and knew that this year’s Thanksgiving would be a very quiet one, my own text messages became a bit intentional.

My 8year old’s gratitude drawing

I thought intently about each person and why I was thankful they were in my life, healthy, safe and sound, in the middle of a pandemic no less. I professed my love with words that came from my soul, words that I took the time to really reflect just how lucky I am to be blessed and surrounded by people who continually see the best in me. Things I often don’t see in myself, but yet, in their own way, they pull out each layer, one slice at a time, no matter how difficult or worrisome I can be. They all make be a better version of myself and for that, my yesterday was filled with gratitude to them. My whole being was grateful, blissful, content, joyful, blessed.

My 6year old’s gratitude drawing.

I told my kids to do the same, to take the time to reflect in writing or draw this year on why they were grateful. Of course kids would be kids, and besides being thankful for mom and dad, my 3 year was thankful for ice-cream, my 6 year old, learning especially from dad, and my 8 year, pizza and our home. That truly is the gift of this season. From my home and heart to yours, keep gratitude in mind.

My 3year old’s gratitude drawing with help from 8year old.
He really loved reading this.

The Bible verse in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5 verse 18, notes that we should ‘be thankful in all circumstances.’ This verse takes on a special meaning when you consider all that we have endured in 2020. Still, we are told to be thankful in all circumstances. Hardly a Thanksgiving day goes by without folks expressing what they are thankful for. Everyone knows that gratitude plays a role in today’s Thanksgiving celebration. This interior attitude of thankfulness regardless of life circumstances takes on a special meaning this 2020. Not only am I grateful that key people in my life allow me to thrive on a daily basis, but this a year, I am especially grateful for the blessings I am consistently surrounded by. I choose to be thankful in all circumstances.

Still on my children, my thanksgiving.

Even with this pandemic, as challenging as it maybe, with social distancing, not going to church as we want to, homeschooling, working from home at the same, even wearing masks all the time. I am thankful in all circumstances. The past couple of months, I have also watched my husband work extremely hard to save lives, at the risk of his own life as an essential health care worker, with some stress, some deaths invariably, given his line of work, some deaths so painful, he brings it home just to release and be vulnerable around those that love him. Still, we are thankful in all circumstances. That silence and survival are my life’s greatest stories which chapters that keep writing themselves, chapters that shouldn’t surprise me (but still does after yet another incident just yesterday), chapters that truly capture what it means to be black, and female in academia, chapters that motivate me and serve as a reminder that there is a time to plant (silence) and a time to sow (survival), my life’s story unfolding before my eyes. Still I remain thankful even in these circumstances. Then there are my children. My life’s greatest joy, the core of my being, the strength of my life, my brightest light, my glowing moon, my blissful water, my passion for living, the source of my heart’s content, my innermost peace, my happiness personified, my creative confidence, my perfect poem, my sustainability, my grace. My children make me a better person. They help me grow and thrive in a world full of unknowns. Because of them I am content in who I am. With them, even a pandemic has allowed me to turn the unknown into opportunities of growth. The skills that I have gained from mastering homeschooling for example, are worthy of thanks. For them, I am thankful in all circumstances.

Thankful for the lifesaving gift I am lucky to call my husband.

This season maybe harsh, brutal, even painful for so many. I know it is easier said than done. But still be thankful in all circumstances. Life itself, even in the middle of a pandemic is a gift. Our tomorrows are not guaranteed. But today and always, it is important to keep being thankful in all circumstances.

Imagine ‘never seeing the sun shine so brightly or moon glow so brightly.’ Imagine ‘never seeing waterfall so impeccable or lights so bright’…But yet ‘just as sure as the sky is blue, you feel so blessed and fortunate’ to have people that matter in your life. So fortunate to know who you are, your goals and life’s work. That’s how I feel these days. Fortunate.

My boys are my reminder of just how fortunate I am.

The quote above are also lyrics from Maxwell’s song ‘Fortunate.’ They personify my mood as we enter this Thanksgiving holiday. I am so fortunate to be loved and to share my love to those that matter. I am so glad love is in my life and that’s what I am thankful for this year. Love, for myself, my husband, my children, family and even work the key people that understand and get my vision for a sustainable research platform. I am also very thankful for those who like and read anything I write here. It’s my way of keeping my divergent views alive. I love what I do in academia but I always known that if I didn’t end up in academia that I would write, what I have no idea, but I am thankful that the journey becomes clearer by day. As 2020 slowly comes to an end, keep knowing how fortunate you are especially with people around you who love you no matter what. It’s a blessing to be fortunate in a year filled with so many unknown, so many uncertainties. Still to be so love and fortunate is worthy of a thanksgiving celebration.

For art yesterday, my son’s homeschooling teacher noted that the destination was their imagination. She said they were free to draw whatever they liked, however they liked and proceeded to play Florence Price’s Juba Dance from her Symphony 1 to help spark the children’s imagination. For my son, the first thing that came to his mind as he listened to the Symphony was space, a spinning solar space system, with all the planets in orbit. I have always known that he loved space and all the planets and stars and the galaxy. For Halloween last year, he was an astronaut. I have a video of him explaining how he wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. This assignment though was eye opening. Granted, the destination was one’s imagination, but to think that space and all it’s inhabitants occupies his mind consistently is astounding to me.

My son’s solar system.

So I asked him why space? His response, why not space? Why not a place with giant planets orbiting close to the sun? After making his planets, hand drawn and cut by him, I expected him to line them up one after the other, in similar fashion most pictures depict the planets. Not my son. He placed them one by one instead, orbiting around the sun. The picture may seem messy, but take a closer look and you will find every detail you can think of worth knowing about planets, from their names, to their position next to the sun, even the stars next to the planets were all illustrated in his piece of art. The essential feature of his art as I observed him intently, was that he was drawing from memory with many, many details, as if he has indeed gone to space before. He was drawing what he knew about space. All this truly got me thinking, what really is the purpose of education and at what age do you start letting kids explore what matters to them, what fills their mind with rapt attention? These questions became more important when we moved to the next class on Zoom. Granted it was reading, but my son and his mind were still on the planets, his attention so fixed, so attuned to it’s specifics, that the idea of reading was frowned upon the moment I mentioned it to him. Luckily he had already completed the materials requested so he got more time to focus on that which truly sparked his curiosity, his creativity.

The famed Lev Vygotsky once shared the ‘all else being equal, the more a child sees, hears, and experiences, the more he knows and assimilates, the more elements of reality he will have in his experience, and the more productive will be the operation of his imagination.’ This to me is the fearsome power of a child’s imagination, their ability to trace impressions of things different, things distant, with accurate precision, accurate specification, for minutes or even hours, purposeful and so powerful. Through my son’s lenses I am beginning to understand and appreciate the power of imagination, the creative reworking of one’s impressions whether big or small, natural or acquired. It’s all worth it, especially when combined together in a precise fashion. Keep imagination, keep creativity.

My happy son with his solar system!

Books that read like poetry are my favorite. Especially for my children. Enter this classic book ‘What you know first,’ by Patricia MacLachlan written in 1995, with engravings by Barry Moser. It is one of my unique finds from a trip to our local thrift store. I’m probably one of a handful of moms who consistently patronize and scour thrift stores for rare children’s books and I have been so lucky. In fact, most of the books my children read are from thrift stores. Not only is the price right (you can’t beat children’s book at 50cents-$1), but if you are lucky, will will find rare books, books out of print and books with profound messages for kids like Patricia MacLachlan’s book. What I know first tells the story of a little girl who must leave her beloved home on the praire. The pictures were sublime with words so gentle, so spare, but yet haunting. Saying goodbye to the things she loves on the prairie is tough. Who can blame her when she lives on land where the sky is endless, and the day starts with a rooster crow, with a tall cottonwood tree with leaves that rattle when dry, or an ocean of grass everywhere. Still, even in the midst of the known, even if you must let it go, what you know first stays with you, her father says. Remember that.

Like the little girl, it’s so hard to forget one’s birthplace or the things that help shape or mold you especially during this pandemic of a lifetime. What you know first stays with you. It lingers even when you leave a beloved place, or a beloved thing, or beloved people or a beloved way of life. There are so many reasons why I love this book. Though the circumstances compelling the family’s move are never explained, I can’t help but wonder why leaving or letting go of things makes one feel so sad. As a reader, you are left to fill in the blank as you see fit. That’s truly is the significance of this book.

The touching words, which read like poetry is sterling. The words are also reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s invisible ink with Patricia MacLachan truly inviting her readers to help write every text. What lies under, between, outside the lines and hidden until the right reader discovers it, is admirable. I was completely attuned to the book’s invisible ink when I read it to my kids today, reminding them again, that what they know first, in our home, even during this pandemic homeschooling, will stay with them. Still, I long for them to keep discovering something new, a new world, a new horizon, a new book, even a new version of themselves always. Find ways to carry what you know first, the known world even in the face of the unknown or when the old one seems so beloved, so hard to let go. Keep what you know first. It matters.

Why is the sky blue? Why are clouds white? Why do clouds even start with the letter C? These are common questions my three year old asks every day. He is not alone. Many kids his age get to the bottom of things by asking questions. Yet by the time kids reach middle school, they stop asking their parents questions. This is according to a Newsweek cover story, ‘The Creativity Crisis,’ published in the 2010. In pre-school however, kids like my 3year old on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. This decline in questioning has ramifications for children’s engagement in school, which tends to fall off the cliff when children move from elementary to high school. I came across these findings in Warren Berger’s book, ‘A more beautiful question.’ In it, he shared how children care much about the answers in their why questions. Still, why does questioning in children stop drastically and why is it not even taught in schools?

Why are clouds white?

As this first cycle of homeschooling comes to an end, I have become torn with the heavy focus on subject matters like math or language or reading, and the limited focus on building skill sets such as inquiry or even questioning. Take questioning for example, my 3 year old inundates me with questions everyday. At first, and like many parents, I was tired of the questions and began to respond with the typical statement ‘because I said so.’

Why are clouds white?

Lately and thanks to books I am reading like Warren Berger’s book below, I realized that his questions are necessary part of life, with kids like him actually being born questioners. My job now is to encourage it, to help him learn or even practice it where necessary. That’s all. Keep building questioning in kids. Keep letting them ask why. It matters, even when you don’t have the answers.

My husband leaves for work early and returns home late. He barely sees daylight given his work. On rare occasions when he is home, he notices changes here and there. Like on Thursday, he was home. He noticed how dark it got by 5pm and didn’t like it. Like him, I loathe this time of the year. My mood is sour, my weight unstable, my energy depleted and I long for light, plenty day light. I also explained there is a name for this and it is called seasonal affect disorder. It is also why my posts these past days have been irregular. Everything these days are. From the multitasking with work and homeschooling, to still being a new mom, everything is out of order. I told myself this week, stay alert, take risks, build character, even makeup stories with your kids. All of this was focused on helping me to find joy in an irregular time of the year during a pandemic that really shows no sign of stopping. Finding joy matters.

For me, it’s the smile on my children’s face when the wake up every morning. Their good morning signals the start of something good every day. Another day, another joy. It’s in my baby’s big brown eyes, and his big joyful smile that pierce my soul every day. Another day, another joy. Then it’s in the prayers and songs we sing and say to each other. Like God alone knows the plans he has for you. Another day, another joy. Then it’s figuring out what to do for homeschooling each day, what to make up from the day before or what is on track. Another day, another joy. Then it’s stolen moments for myself, just to reflect or mediate on me and what makes me thrive. Another day, another joy. Then it’s my husband’s day at work, especially days with successful opening of a vessel so blood flows to the brain. Another day, another joy. Then it’s it’s for the people around me that allow me to figure all the irregular days at home well. Like mama and Tochi and even Ucheoma for taking mama to her doctors appointment while I figured out homeschooling or Tochi with all her never ending help with kindergarten while I figure out 1st and 3rd grade. Another day, another joy. This time of the year can be a difficult one. Living through a pandemic doesn’t help either. But try as you may to find joy for yourself. Not in big things, but in little things and people that matter. Keep finding joy, for you and those around you. It matters. You matter. Joy matters.

My joyful 4month old baby.

We all know life is too short! It is! Here is another kicker, your tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. It isn’t. So choose to fight for what matters, even if it is risky. Today I had to fight for the right to keep 2 dear colleagues. I took a risk on them last year and it has paid massive dividends even in the middle of a pandemic. So for me, a global health researcher by day, risks is all I know. Risk is all I write about and risks are all I fight about. It is worth it for me. Keep taking risks, another short but apt post, perfect for these times.