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 daughter and her friends poem ‘BabyBirds.’

“A year ago, today I witnessed a murder. The victim’s name was George Floyd. Although this wasn’t the first time, I’ve seen a black man get killed at the hands of the police, this is the first time I witnessed it happen in front of me. Right in front of my eyes, a few feet away. I didn’t know this man from a can of paint, but I knew his life mattered. I knew that he was in pain. I knew that he was another black man in danger with no power. I was only 17 at the time, just a normal day for me walking my 9-year-old cousin to the corner store, not even prepared for what I was about to see, not even knowing my life was going to change on this exact day in those exact moments… it did. It changed me. It changed how I viewed life. It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America. We shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around police officers, the same people that are supposed to protect and serve. We are looked at as thugs, animals, and criminals, all because of the color of our skin. Why are Black people the only ones viewed this way when every race has some type of wrongdoing? None of us are to judge. We are all human. I am 18 now and I still hold the weight and trauma of what I witnessed a year ago. It’s a little easier now, but I’m not who I used to be. A part of my childhood was taken from me. My 9-year-old cousin who witnessed the same thing I did got a part of her childhood taken from her. Having to up and leave because my home was no longer safe, waking up to reporters at my door, closing my eyes at night only to see a man who is brown like me, lifeless on the ground. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I used to shake so bad at night my mom had to rock me to sleep. Hopping from hotel to hotel because we didn’t have a home and looking over our back every day in the process. Having panic and anxiety attacks every time I seen a police car, not knowing who to trust because a lot of people are evil with bad intentions. I hold that weight. A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one. I was just in the right place at the right time. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day. Everyone talks about the girl who recorded George Floyd’s death, but to actually be her is a different story. Not only did this affect me, my family too. We all experienced change. My mom the most. I strive every day to be strong for her because she was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself. Even though this was a traumatic life-changing experience for me, I’m proud of myself. If it weren’t for my video, the world wouldn’t have known the truth. I own that. My video didn’t save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets. You can view George Floyd anyway you choose to view him, despite his past, because don’t we all have one? He was a loved one, someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend. We the people won’t take the blame, you won’t keep pointing fingers at us as if it’s our fault, as if we are criminals. I don’t think people understand how serious death is…that person is never coming back. These officers shouldn’t get to decide if someone gets to live or not. It’s time these officers start getting held accountable. Murdering people and abusing your power while doing it is not doing your job. It shouldn’t have to take people to actually go through something to understand it’s not ok. It’s called having a heart and understanding right from wrong. George Floyd, I can’t express enough how I wish things could have went different, but I want you to know you will always be in my heart. I’ll always remember this day because of you. May your soul rest in peace. May you rest in the most beautiful roses.”

I almost missed writing today. It has been a crazy month trying to wrap up two major projects. As they slowly come to an end, I realize that all that matters isn’t that I skip writing but that I hold myself accountable. I began this journey to chronicle life as a mother in academia. It is one hectic journey. From time management issues to time set aside for family, all of that can get in the way of whatever goals you set for yourself with your academic journey. I choose to write about my experiences because both are meaningful and critically important to me. There will always be day like this that get in the way of writing here. But still I intend to hold myself accountable for what I do as a mother in academia isn’t reflected anywhere. This one is truly a reminder to me to keep telling my story even on days when time isn’t on my side. Tell the story so the world knows that to be a mother, a professor and a grant writer is a field worthy of celebration. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

In the spirit of resting, I had this grand idea to go by the lake yesterday. I have heard so much about Creve Coeur Lake and so the goal was to finally check it out. Summer plans for this year will include nature walks and trips to the lake at least in my plan, since it’s only 15minutes from our home. It was also close to 80 degrees by the time we set out around 11am. I anticipate this would be a long hot one given that it’s only May. The lake itself was beautiful. Simple with a long stretch of trail for walking, running or biking. Everyone seemed to be doing the same thing I wanted which is to simply be closer to nature. One of my sons on the other hand, had other things in mind. I keep forgetting about his love for repetitive behaviors whenever he comes across certain things he has done before. Today’s request, a boat ride on the lake.

At Creve Coeur Lake!

Early this year, I wrote a post about wanting to go on a train at the Saint Louis Zoo, just for us to end up on a boat ride next the Zoo because of a massive meltdown at the Zoo (the trains were not working that day). Little did I know that despite all his tears and pleas for the train, he actually loved the boat ride and well associated it with lakes, all lakes now. At the Creve Coeur lake, there were 2 white sailboats on the lake and a father with his 2 sons and a daughter kayaking. There were no boat house or places to rent a boat. And so the repetition began. Rather than simply enjoying the walk by the lake, or playing with the water as his siblings were, my son pleaded for a boat ride.

Next to the lake!

His insistence on going on a boat began the moment we crossed the street and started our walk until the end. I spent the nearly 40 minutes walk we took, assuring him that we will go on a boat ride, just not at this lake but by the boat house at Forest Park which was about 22 minutes from the lake. It was almost like I was talking to a brick as nothing I said to assure him seemed to work. He also seemed to a least walk along the trail so that helped a lot. Plus being close to nature I have come to learn does wonders for his being. Though his insistence for a boat ride occurred throughout the walk, he walked nonetheless, repeating the same thing, as he walked. When the walk was over, I motioned it was time for lunch. Then we go on a boat, he said, almost immediately. I said sure. We got lunch. He barely ate his, just focused on the boat. He even knew the road to the boat house. I never really think that he is paying attention, but with each passing day, I see and know first hand that he is. When we got to the boathouse, the place was crowded. An impromptu band was playing next to the restaurant. I drove up a bit to see if there were any boats sitting on the dock. There were some. So we packed our car and headed to rent a boat. The moment we got on it, my son looked like he was in heaven. Rest also became his portion. I also seemed to know how to drive the boat this time such that we all took the time to enjoy the many wonderful gifts of nature.

Like a white egret which flew across our path along the lake. Or the quiet streams of water flowing through the lake. Yesterday was as gentle and beautiful as I never would have imagine. And a boat ride, thanks to my son’s love for sameness, helped usher in rest. Sometimes society, myself included may feel like we have all the answers and know what is best for us. I am learning everyday with accepting my sons love for sameness, that connecting certain things together like a lake and a boat ride is just as powerfully as merely walking on a lake. We started the day walking next to a lake. I thought that was plenty. But we ended the day literally on the lake. It was the serenity I didn’t even know I needed until my son vocalized it over and over again. I listened and my soul at the end of the day, felt at ease. Keep boat rides on lakes in mind even if vocalized by a 7 year old on the spectrum. They do wonders for the soul. Ooh and now he thinks Saturday’s are for boat rides. Wish me luck this summer.

How seeds survive in the midst of prevailing obstacles is my keep for today. My son’s class read Eric Carle’s wonderful The Tiny Seed book. This simple story of a seeds journey towards becoming a flower is the life lesson I needed to hear as this school year comes to an end. It’s an emotional one for me as I will not wish the experience of schooling especially for children during a pandemic to any other generation. That means we the grownups have got to act so we don’t go through this again. But in the meantime, we are all seeds. That’s the moral of the story. And as seeds, our journey through life, our journey to becoming flowers, becoming beings full of possibilities, full of light will always be filled with obstacles. But when we get through these obstacles, when we blossom and become the flowers we were always destined to be, then life would be sterling. That’s what Eric Carle’s book that my junior kindergarten son read today did for me. Keep being tiny seeds. Your journey towards becoming a flower is destined to be divine even if you face great obstacles. Ooh he made this beautiful flower to showcase what he learnt today.

The school year is coming to an end. My son is thriving. Something that seemed so difficult to do back in the fall, seems so easy to him these days. Homeschooling a child on the spectrum was by far one of the difficult things I have ever done. Not because my son isn’t bright, but more so because home is home and not school. Merging the two, home and school was too much for his brain to handle. And so we had our share of meltdowns, so many that recollection won’t even do them justice. So why even keep this? Because I see the possibilities and potential everyday. I see his light even as the school year slowly comes to an end.

It’s like a switch is flickering, deciding still if to stay full lit, but definitely hovering towards light. That’s what schooling my son feels like these days. Pure night and day. Pure joy and bliss. To watch him do work all on his own, without prompting, without cajoling, without pleading, without even bribing him, none of which worked on our tough days, is bliss. That this day has finally arrived even as the school year comes to an end is like the quote I shared previously about things being impossible. With kids on the spectrum, it will always feel and seem impossible, until they in their own unique way, defy expectations. I was simply fine with whatever we got out of him. But to see him pushing himself, without my help is the light I needed to see at the end of this pandemic school year tunnel. For kids like my son, ‘there is always light,’ like Amanda Gorman would say, ‘if only we are brave enough to see it.’ I see it everyday, and it truly fills my heart with joy. Keep this light for boys, and children like my son. They will defy expectations if only we are brave enough to see it, brave enough to them light up this world. And to see them in their light, to see and feel their potential is the very thing I needed as we begin to wrap this very strange school year up. It’s amazing how he continues to light my world.

My office desk has an image of a step. It was used to illustrate how I would build creative confidence in young people. It was also for research with words and illustration used to highlight an ongoing intensive grant I am presently working on. I also forgot to put the paper away after making my drafts. This evening when I returned to my desk, I saw this image next to it by my daughter. In it she noted steps to being her best. First, she was voiceless and shy and stood at the sidelines rather than participating with the crowd. Next, she started to speak up a little. And though better, it wasn’t her best. But when she started to speak, when she became happy and stood tall to speak, her best became amazing. These steps to being the best by my 8 year old is worth keeping if not for anything but to remind you to stand tall, be happy and speak. And when you do, well, you will be amazing.

I am a Rainbow mom. My daughter gave me a priceless card in the form of a bouquet that explained why. All of the colors are needed to make me she noted and they personify my talents. For example, as the color Red, I am a great thinker with a big heart. For Orange, I am fun, cheerful and an awesome cook. For Yellow, I am happy and I cheer up my daughter whenever she is sad. For Green, I am kind, hate messes, but love gardening and nature. For Blue, I am cool, confident and an amazing mum. For Purple, I am creative, religious, thoughtful and I love to write. Finally she shared how alone each color is striking, but together, a beautiful rainbow is created within me.

My Rainbow Mom card.

This poster card made my heart leap with joy. I remember when she started making it. She said it’s a surprise and that I should wait for it. Only hint was that it would be full of colors. I didn’t know what to expect. But receiving this yesterday made me so thankful to be her mom. It also reminded me of the passage from the gospel John read during mass yesterday. Something that I believe personifies the love that my kids showered for me yesterday during Mother’s Day. They say you never forget the first moment you become a mother, the first baby you called your own, the person who called you mother, the first moment unconditional love becomes love unconditionally. My Lotanna Belle and her brothers are everything and more, who reminds me always of this moment. Thank you for choosing me, and helping me bear fruit that will remain. And yet again to all mothers, happy Mothers Day. May you know love this unconditional.

Before there was Humans of New York, there was Radio Diaries. For 25 years, Radio Diaries was the go to space for extraordinary stories of life, one person at a time, one history at a time. It’s a rare kind of journalism, Ira Glass, a famous NPR host proclaimed, one that makes us see what it would be like to live someone else’s life. From their website ‘if Radio Diaries has a mission, it’s to break down stereotypes and stigma, to understand issues in the news differently by telling the complicated, complex stories of everyday people going about their lives.’ One diary entry that best exemplifies this is the story of Thembi here (https://www.radiodiaries.org/thembis-aids-diary/).

Thembie.

“Thembi was a teenager living in one of the largest townships in South Africa. She was HIV positive. For two years, Thembi carried a tape recorder to document her struggle with AIDS. She collected about 50 hours of tape: interviews with her family and friends; late-night dancing with her boyfriend, Melikhaya; the sounds of her baby, Onwabo; and the moment when she told her father she had AIDS. One of the first things Thembi recorded for her radio diary was something she called her “HIV Prayer.”

“Hello, HIV, you trespasser. You are in my body,” she said. “You have to obey the rules. You have to respect me. And if you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you. You mind your business. I’ll mind mine. And I will give you a ticket when the time comes.”

Thembi spoke of her concerns with living with AIDS at that time, her love for her boyfriend, and her aspirations with life. She also told her story eloquently at a time when stigma for people living with HIV was rife throughout the country. Radio Diaries gave us all an insight into her world, an insight into her journey to tell other to accept living with HIV. We also saw a glimpse of her journey into becoming a mother with the birth of her daughter Onwabo, borns AIDS-free. Although Thembie died in 2009, her boyfriend and her teenage daughter live on. Radio Diaries was there once more to meet her daughter, so she too can tell her story. This is what Ira Glass meant about the enduring power of Radio Diaries. It’s ability to see, even feel, what it means to live in some else’s life, is like no other. Storytelling at it’s fine, one person at a time, one history at a time, is what I ask that you keep today. Keep Radio Diaries for the extraordinary work they do to help people document their lives. Also keep the for these reasons below:

Thembie.

“ I think Radio Diaries live in a unique space between biography and autobiography. When we tell our own stories, we often go for the big moments, our conclusions and realizations. We might not see our blind spots or our blemishes. Most of us can’t fathom that the detritus of our lives — the everyday sounds of hanging out with friends, a conversation at the kitchen table — is the raw material of our story. It requires a witness, a curator, an editor — someone to see the bigger picture and put a frame around it.’ This is truly Radio Diaries at its finest.

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.

My son and his baby chick illustration.