On an occasional basis, my first son cries. For no reason at times. Just cries. He wants to stop. He asks you to please help him stop. But still he cries. He also laughs. For no reason, just to himself, he laughs. Then another son cannot seem to remember his sight words. I know he is 3 but it’s frustrating to be here again. To struggle once again with another child’s delay even though it’s as trivial as sight words. The significance of the past makes me alert to every struggle. Then there is the baby, another son whom we have to watch. He is only 3 months old, but I want to know early what we are in for with him. Does his eyes follow a toy when you present it across his face? Is he able to sit up on his own or with aid? I am well aware that this is too early also. But if you know what we went through with son number 1, then you will know why we are alert with son number 2 and 3. This struggle, every significant aspect of it is important. It’s the reason why I choose to look on the bright side.

I enrolled son number 1 in a daycare right after he turned 2. He was kicked out 2 days later. I cried alone in my car with him that afternoon. How could my own son be kicked out of school at 2? That day, I vowed he would be more than he could ever hope or dream of. That day, I vowed he would excel in all this academic work. That day, I knew I had to protect him from the world, line his being with love for his unique ways, empathize and adapt to his struggles, insulate him when he stumbled, and elevate and praise all his distinct ideas with relating to the world. That day, I also slowed down and did research. This time not for work but for my family, for my son. I read all the evidence-based literature I could find on ways to encourage play, interaction, eye contact, even what to eat whether on a gluten or casein free diet. I took him to the park the next day. Just the two of us. I watched as he swung back and forth on a blue swing. I smiled as he went through a tunnel. The shirt he was wearing said look on the bright side. I did. I have been looking on the bright side ever since. He is one of the best things that ever happened to me, alongside my daughter, my other sons, and my husband. He is the glue to our unique family.

Like the hummingbirds who build and line their nests with silk, my nest is built, lined and surrounded with love, fierce love, and passion, deep passion, with bonding, intense bonding and protection, supernal protection for and from my family. My children and my husband are my secure base through life as a working mother. They protect me from the struggles of academic life, line my being with love for my unique ways called research, empathize and adapt to my struggles and failures, insulate me when I stumble, and elevate and praise all my distinct crazy ideas with implementing sustainable innovations in resource limited settings. Nothing fazes me at work because of them. Nothing surprises or overwhelms me because of them. In fact, I am a great multi-tasker, a better thinker, a better researcher because of them. I am innovative with life and work because of them.

Yesterday at my son’s appointment with Dr Anu, his integrative developmental pediatrician, he was interactive. Something he rarely does. She was amused. He told her he wants to be an astronaut. Named all the planets and noted that he specifically wants to go to the moon. We chuckled. I looked on the bright side. He was kicked out of school at 2 years. He wants to go to the moon at 6 years. The bright side is better to me, sublime in a way, with a future way brighter, way bigger than he could ever hope for or imagine. On an occasional basis he still cries and he still laughs, but this time, even his tears and laughs are brilliant, a sign of his beautiful struggle through life, a sign of my beautiful struggle as a working mother. Like the hummingbirds, my family is my silk and because of them I’ll keep looking always, at the bright side.

One of the best things about homeschooling for my 3rd grader is her journaling assignments. Every morning, prior to the start of her school work, her teacher provides a prompt and asks the students to reflect on the prompt. For the past several months since school started, my little girl has been writing her heart out. It is the most beautiful thing to watch. One of the prompts at the beginning of the school year focused on what she would like to learn through the year. My daughter, (bless her heart), said she would like to learn how to be a doctor. Not just any doctor, but a pediatrician. She felt that in 3rd grade, she should be exposed to medical science that would allow her to practice medicine. I was in awe.

Warren Berger’s book A more beautiful question, helps me understand the power of journaling among children. Berger emphasizes the power of inquiry even for children as young as my daughter. He suggested that questions, especially when posed to children, can be used to gain information, foster a desire to know more while enhancing an awareness of what they don’t know. One good journaling question posed to a 3rd grader can give rise to several layers of answers, inspire decades-long searches for solutions, prompt changes in entrenched thinking and ultimate generate new fields of inquiry.

Reading my daughters journals this school year have been gratifying. The floodgates of her imagination seem to open up every time she journals. Watching her unlock her potential every time she writes has also been quite stunning. Whether it’s her thoughts on ways to be a good friend or why she would rather live in a tree-house instead of an Igloo or a sandcastle, I see firsthand how crucial it is to ensure that children write. Her curiosity and creativity with every journal entry helps to maintain her propensity to inquire and learn in profound ways even now as a 3rd grader. She would live in a treehouse by they way, as it would have a fun slide and allow her to see or have a good view of everything. That by they way is why writing as a child matters. It fosters inquiry. Keep encouraging it.

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.’

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.

My son Olisadubem.

Today marks the 30th day of my journey into writing. I didn’t think I would make it to this day. Writing is hard. Writing about the journey of a working mother homeschooling in the middle of a pandemic is very hard. There were days I didn’t feel like writing but I continued. There were days were the words just kept on coming and I allowed it. There were days full of love for life, days full of reflection on the journey, days inspired by homeschooling, days inspired by work, by my family, especially my children. Writing was hard, but still I write.

Keep rolling-our first post!

I write because we are all living through unprecedented times. Even the word ‘unprecedented’ was an inspiration at times. How many times are we all going to live through a pandemic and actually live through it? How many times are we going to shut down everything, schools, church, wear mask every time we go out, keep our distance, wash our hands all because of a virus? It has never been done in my lifetime before and we are living through it. The first months of the pandemic, the March and April months were a struggle. I was overwhelmed. School was a struggle and demanded a lot from my children. Work was a struggle and demanded my complete attention from students and my ongoing research. I personally struggled as I tried to make sense of it all. But in preparation for the fall, in preparation for another school year with homeschooling, like the journey from a caterpillar to a butterfly, all the struggles along the way had to change.

Our butterfly assignment.

I write to live out the change, on parenting and academic productivity in the middle of a global pandemic. I am still and will always be a global health researcher passionate about finding innovative solutions to health in low and middle income countries. But I am first a wife to an incredible essential health care worker who works on a daily basis to literally save lives. Like yesterday, when he worked to ensure that a 40year old man with stroke can be healed for his three little children. I stood in awe as he showed a text where his nurse thanked him for what he did, for giving the family their dad. Today he is their hero. He has always been a hero to us. To see him, to watch him do what he loves in the middle of a pandemic has been awe inspiring. March and April was especially difficult for us as everyday we didn’t know whether that would be the day he would expose us to the virus. Still he worked. He is my hero too and a hero every day to our children.

Our hero!

I write for my children. For them, I vowed this school would be different. I focused on why I struggled in the Spring. Homeschooling was new to me. Bringing work literally home was too much. And my children wanted, no demanded that I pay attention to them. So for them I had to change. It meant work had to take a back seat. I prepared myself to not only excel as their mother but also as their teacher, their counselor, anything that would allow them to thrive.

Motherhood to four little children is already hard. The addition of homeschooling makes it even harder. But having the right mindset has made this year different. We still struggle everyday especially with my six year old but his story for another day. We still struggle to balance all the demands of homeschooling and a childhood gone array due to the pandemic. But we float like gravity, we are firmly anchored against everything and much more prepared not to fail. And this time, as I look back on my reflections, on the journey this past 30 days, even the struggle is beautiful. Happy 30day writing anniversary!

Our latest addition!

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.

Lotanna’s family narrative assignment.

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.

Dad, mom, Lotanna and her brothers.

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.

Grandma and Tochi.

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.

Lotanna reading a book to her baby brother.

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.

Our family narrative by Lotanna.

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).

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.

Doors open when we let our minds wander. This is a precious gift worth nurturing and protecting at all costs. Imagination is a precious gift. To be able to dream about places far and wide, to focus on what is within our control, our own recollection of what matters most is a gift. Imagination is a sacred gift. To be able to hold hands, one ours, the other our mind, together we invent, together we dream, together we are appalled, together we are amused. Imagination is a sterling gift. Our own freely given to us to make use or take part in, however we see fit. Imagination is our gift. Becoming the highest version of our selves even if in our dreams, is a gift. And it starts with our imagination, or in today’s post, being scary monsters.

A scary monster

Yesterday and thanks to an empty Amazon box, my kids used their imagination to make the head of a scary monster. The monster had big red eyes, with black eyebrows, blue teeth and green ears. Every detail with this monster head design was specific. Their perception of a scary monster, informed by their imagination was enchanting. It’s wasn’t something they did, but what informed their sensibilities. In their mind, scary monsters could be playful, but still scary, could be colorful, but still scary, could be amusing but still scary, could be made out of boxes, and still scary.

This sweet, intimate connection with the mind is full of intelligence, full of grace. The grace to see scary monsters in all their vivid humanity. It is a total communal experience with the mind. There is something so marvelous about an unblinking mind that wanders, and their effect, their gaze whether through art or the written word is something really divine. We can all go there, to that side of our humanity, that requires, no demands that our minds wander, if only we keep being scary monsters.

There is something so special about drawing, especially like a child. Like the drawings on my children’s kite from yesterday’s post or the stick figures my daughter drew last week of herself and her brother. To see life celebrated through their drawings is always sterling to me. Everyone has art in themselves. Yet, drawing is an art form we adults loose on the journey to adulthood. Everyone is able to understand, use and even take part in making art. But, it’s so profound to see art from a child’s perspective, how they draw their world in ways that make sense to them, in ways that are truly wise. There is no apology at all when children draw. Drawing is a serious matter to children. No need to be perfect or subscribe to what society dictates as the norm. No need to limit yourself to any standards as it blinds you to reality. Art from the perspective of a child is often easy, not difficult. Often simple, not hard. Often colorful, not bland. Drawing will always remain serious to children.

Lotanna’s art

I wonder why I no longer draw as freely as my children. When or where did the assignments end? Why didn’t I enjoy them the way my kids do. Granted, I grew up in Nigeria and truly not surrounded with as much crayons as my children. But I was also exposed to art. Granted I wasn’t expected to practice art. But the joy to even draw isn’t in me the way I observe it in my children. Yet, I wish we could all draw like children. That I could draw and love it the way my kids do. If one looked at a child’s drawing and compared it to what we adults do, you will understand why life is meant to be easy not hard, full of hope, not impediments.

My children’s paper kites

Children are indeed blessed with a sense of creativity that should be nurtured and protected with vigilance. They instinctively feel life and supply it in any art form they engage in. They know who they are even if it’s in stick figures, why they exist, what is the meaning of life, and why we should celebrate our existence. And drawing is the medium that is most serious to them. Their art is in service of simplicity, it’s in service of joy, it’s in service of humanity. We cannot be apologetic about the way children draw. Their art makes no apology to the world. They show us what is permissible in life, the good and the bad, within the margins or out of it, the richness of life, they celebrate it all in their drawings. Which is why we should all keep drawing like children.