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.
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.
We didn’t go to church last year. We didn’t celebrate with other mothers or listen to the special Mother’s Day prayers from our Jesuit Priest. We didn’t even get the flowers we normally receive at the end of mass, a symbol of our Church’s reverence for today. The pandemic with all its adversities was to blame. Today we are prepared to radiate in full bloom, in brilliant colors that highlights the beauty of the day. And there is something about Azaleas in full bloom at the entrance of my home, that gives me radical hope, one year later, as a mother, today.
For starters, azaleas are a a symbol of womanhood, of softness with their deep luscious purplish pink colors that are dependable as blue skies on a very sunny day. Azaleas beauty transforms any space becoming a dramatic focal point of any landscape, in the same way mothers transform life. Then there is the supercooling tendencies of Azaleas which makes these flower a symbol of hardiness. During the winter months, Azaleas hardy stems super cool to low temperature to avoid any freezing injury, enabling them to tolerate the presence of ice and survive. So too is motherhood. How we bear the pains of childbirth, particularly the illustrious ring of fire, the moment a baby makes its appearance, personifies the hardiness of Azaleas.
That one plant can personify both soft and hard, with grace and beauty, even in times of stress is the reason why azaleas give radical hope to motherhood, radical hope for my journey as a mother. By being both soft and hard, at its core Azaleas provide a sense of agency for change, a sense of agency for fight. Adversities will come, as with freezing cold temperatures of winter nights, and finding ways, supercooling ones, to fight through the ice, is crucial for survival. But in the Spring, there will be beauty, brilliant colors in full bloom, that radiates the moment you see Azaleas, the moment your eyes meet to greet these plants, such that the fight through the ice, is never futile, the fight through adversities is never futile. Azaleas commitment and courage to survive winter and achieve this flourishing vision for Spring, is the radical hope I keep for mothers today. The pandemic has been one great adversity. Testing our endurance and abilities to both juggle home and work at the same time. For some of us that meant, there were no separation. Work came home and home became work, not just for ourselves but with the children we homeschooled and the family members we nursed. The pandemic was like Azaleas during winter months. Yet we fought, through the ice, supercooled where we could, to survive this adversity of a life time.
But on this day, a year later, we celebrate you. On this Mother’s Day, may your beauty dazzle. Be as vibrant as you can be and wear those vivid colors that make you radiate like Azaleas. Become a dramatic focal point today and let every eye direct attention to you. This significant Mother’s Day, this one past the adversities of a pandemic, highlights the need to never forget our collective past (though still ongoing) of survival as we envision a collective future full of possibilities, where flourishing will always be at our core like Azaleas in Spring, as we embrace the meaning and purpose of motherhood. My prayer for you also is that you explode with colors so breathtaking that the memories of you beauty lingers on past the ongoing pandemic, throughout today and into forever. It’s what Azaleas do for themselves, a radical hope through life, a collective commitment to heal and transform the adversities of winter, to achieve new forms of flourishing in the Spring. I keep Azaleas here for you today and always.
Some may never get your ways. That’s okay. Some may say it’s impact is not understood. That’s okay too. Some may say you work too hard and for nothing. That’s truly okay too. In fact not getting your ways or understanding what you do is perfectly fine. So long as you know who you are. So long as you remember always that you are light and so let your light shine. I keep coming back to this on days when things seem out of place not because there will be days when things are perfect but mostly for the days when things make no sense. On those days, on days when things are just as confusing to you and everyone wonders what’s the purpose after all. Tell them I said that it’s because you are light. You cannot be hidden. Even when your ways make no sense. As light, it does. Even when no one understands what you are doing. As light, he knows. Even when it’s impact isn’t as tangible as it should. As light, it is. In the end it’s for his glory. It’s for his praise. We are all called to be the light of the world. All of us are including you. So keep being light especially on days when things seem out of place. For as light, your glimmer, in fact, you cannot be hidden.
Micro aggressions are everywhere especially in academia. Uncovering them is key. Last week in discussions with a colleague, we shared how this word manifests in workplace environment. Not because we didn’t know it has always existed in academia, but to see it in full display made us cringe. It begins with small acts of exclusion. So small they often go unnoticed. If you are listening you’ll notice. They are never overt or explicit. Never obvious or even recognizable at first. Subtlety is its defining element and receivers know when they see it. Yet they are so ingrained in everyday behavior beginning from the tone of voice we use to, to the gestures we make, the terms we use or even the people we publicly acknowledge, all of that combined make up the perfect storm for micro aggression. And to be on the receiving end, to listen as your whole being is dismissed, denied, or even diminished can be so debilitating except you know yourself well. That is, you see yourself clearly enough to recognize the stakes of inaction. Thus confronting your micro aggressor becomes the next logical step. And when you do, the actions you observed so keenly maybe explained away, denied, and once more dismissed as a figment of your own imagination. It’s for this reason I say why bother. Micro aggressors will be micro aggressors. You will never change them. But you can change yourself. Rather than dwell on their act, learn from it, even write about it. As Toni Morrison once wrote in Beloved, ‘the only grace you would have (even from a micro aggressor) is the grace you imagine.’ So imagine grace for yourself. See it, feel it, then have it for yourself. And when you do, healing from micro aggression will begin. Keep this in mind and learn so you don’t become one.
The month of May is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Today we crowned her head with roses, covered her body with blue scarf and adorned her fingers with a white and pink rosary. It’s subtle things like this that make my heart swell with love and pride for our church family in the Ville. We are truly a unique bunch but completely devoted to our Catholic faith. Sunday after Sunday, the same people attend and we know everyone if not by name but surely by sight. One of our church members prior to church today said they don’t know how I do with all my children. He noted they could tell they all have a strong personality judging from what they choose to wear to church each Sunday. It’s as if he was in my home every Sunday morning with a front row seat to the daily struggles of dressing little children with different personalities. My son Chiwetel for example, only wants to wear traditional outfits from Nigeria. I remember buying the perfect suit for him just this Easter which he balked at and wore his traditional clothes. The color was peach-like so I let that slide. The next Sunday he wore the ones with brown pants and we have been roating with different traditional outfits Sunday after Sunday. My other son is obsessed with suits and ties. He wore a blazer with a matching tie to church last Sunday and you guessed it, he fought to wear the same thing this Sunday. My daughter is the only one that is easy going when it comes to clothes. I know I digressed but it’s details like this, from another church member’s lens that personifies why I love coming to church every Sunday. It’s a small group of people, a small family, but Sunday after Sunday, we all feel connected on this journey through life. And as I look through the picture from our May crowning of the Virgin Mary, I can’t help but be thankful for the opportunity to call this my church family. Keep crowning the Virgin Mary, the mother of all families
I am drawn to duality. The prolific Igbo author Chinua Achebe once described its importance in this way ‘where something stands something else will stand beside it. Nothing is absolute.’ Seeking a second point of view is essential for life. The intricate and deep structures that inform us are rarely examined when you take a first look. But when you examine anything closely, when you give it a second glance, a second read, a second look, it’s true meaning will be illuminated. It for this reasons I am forever drawn to nature. Every plant we encounter is full of dualities. They produce multiple meanings when you take a closer look, a closer smell, a closer feel. There are no permanent answers with any plant too. No permanent questions. No permanent solutions as everything is subject to change quite literally, season after season. It’s for this reason that I ask that you keep fragrant plantain lilies in mind. They are prime examples.
Not only are they a thing of beauty, but their apple green leaves with creamy white edges personifies the world duality for me. On one hand these plants are just that, plants like many you will see now during the Spring season. These fragrant plantain lilies are scattered all over the front of my house now. The prior owners of our home took gardening to another level. I remain grateful as I am clueless when it comes to plants. But this fragrant plantain lily is one to watch. I was hooked from the name personally as I absolutely adore edible plantains. To know this word as lilies and in my garden makes me smile. In terms of make up, it is also an ornamental plant whose plants deliver fragrance when they bloom sometime in July or August. Apparently come July, these plants will begin to display huge white trumpets that are essentially lilies with a sweet fragrance. Their Japanese name is ‘Yu-Lei’ which means white fairy. For now, even looking at the plants brings a smile to my face. But it’s duality as both plants and flowers is what I choose to keep as it bears many semblance to my dual roles as a mother and a professor.
On one hand my days are full of diapers and tears. These days erupting tooth and growing pains of transitions from infants are the norm. That and the gift of watching my son transition from crawling to walking. This duality makes me smile as he keeps making great strides everyday with perfecting the art of walking as with this video below.
By day and night I am also a researcher, one passionate about research that lasts. It’s why I remain drawn to writing grants as it helps me address one fundamental reason why research never lasts and it’s the lack for funds. But what if we have funds and then draft our research in ways that ensure that they remain. Another duality, subtle but there when you begin with the end in mind even for research grants or interventions you carry out. I adore this new focus on duality. One that I am grateful to plants like fragrant plantain lilies for teaching me this Spring season. Keep them in mind as well babies crawling and walking and mothers working as researchers.
I usually write in the morning. It’s my best time for thinking. But the past few weeks my mornings have been preoccupied with work. I have been in grant writing mode since the start of March. It’s has been a painful and bittersweet journey to get back into. The last time I went on this journey was about a year ago and well, I failed. So to get back on it again is full of trepidation. But still I continue. When your mind is as chaotic as mind, grant writing can truly become an obsession. Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Beautiful Struggle noted how when he obsessed, he wanted only what he wanted and gave no attention to other matters. Grant writing is like that for me, a beautiful struggle that keeps me transfixed whenever I begin. Someone asked awhile back to a catalogue my grant writing process. How do I begin and how do I end?
For starters the beginning is full of doubts. I try to find any reason not to write a grant, not to put myself through the process, not to even think that I may have any idea and that the idea may indeed be valuable. In the beginning, I dread the grant writing process. But then slowly it’s like I am bitten by a bug. A grant bug. I look for the deadlines. If it’s 2-3 months away, then it’s potentially doable. But more doubts creep in. Who are co-conspirators? Is it worth bringing them along? What will they add? Why even bother? There are more doubts in the way of starting any grant journey. They key is to wrestle through it with different folks until the bug bite becomes an itch that simply won’t go away. The more you scratch, the more the ideas start to make sense until you plunge headfirst, into a grant writing abyss that takes you on an never ending journey towards many unknown. I am currently on that journey. They doubts are still intense but the people I keep meeting across this journey are the fuel I need. Take for example today. I was in a room full of black scholars. All seven of us have one degree or the other and we came in all shades of brown skin so divine, that it makes you want to join Beyonce and say just how beautiful we are when we come together for our people. I have no idea where this particular grant journey is taking me. I am also prepared to fail. That’s another part of my process that I share with every one I encounter from the beginning. We may fail but I would still rather go in this journey with you. It’s is a journey after all and like I always say, I am glad I have a plan. Surrounding myself with the right people, learning from them, adapting or changing the course of the grant where necessary all while nurturing that which makes us unique is the reason I absolutely love grant writing. I keep diving head first to as it’s it’s a journey from the head to the soul for me and with the right people, i am prepared to fail. But what if we are transformative. That then is the start of an endless journey, once that the destination is still unknown. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything else (singing Brown Skin Girls)…
Blue skies on a clear day. Trees, confident ones too, standing tall next to the sun. All glorious, all majestic, is the sun, blazing, on a glorious day where the blues skies are clear. I imagine these words whenever I see this picture painted by my daughter. It was from her girls scout meeting this past weekend with her troop. The last time our family met in person with her troop was over a year ago and today seeing this painting personifies the hope for me. Hope for a future free from a pandemic like the assurance that there will always be days where the skies are blue. I also imagine there will come a day where mask wearing isn’t the norm and social distancing is no longer in vogue. The CDC began to usher in such a day this week with their latest mandate that folks who are fully vaccinated can meet without masks with other folks that are equally vaccinated. It’s the kind of relief we have all been waiting for, hoping for, like blues skies on a clear day.
Amidst the pain and toils of such a pandemic that spared no one, hoping for a day when the skies are blue, and the sun blazing, with trees standing confident and tall, is like my hope for a pandemic free life. One that I’m praying will come to fruition but just in the US but in India and Brazil and every where where the virus continues to tighten its grip. Such a day is possible. One can only hope it would arrive soon with every one doing their part to ensure that everyone they know is vaccinated. We all need to be vaccinated as it’s for the public’s good. I imagine that a day too will come when the vaccines are not just for those in high income countries but for people anywhere for one one is free unless we are all free. Where the skies are truly blue and trees truly confident may seem impossible even for a pandemic. But we can only dream and for today, I pray this too comes to pass. Keep blue skies and confident trees in mind for a post-pandemic phase where all of us are vaccinated and the pain and suffering and deaths end.
There is something about motherhood that keeps me in awe every single time. It’s that journey between being pregnant and welcoming new life. My people call it a journey and they are quick to remind you to say nothing until you go on the journey and return safe and sound. I take this journey very seriously. Which is why you would hardly see pregnancy photos of myself plastered anywhere. Not everyone makes it through the journey. I get it and I value that too. So to go on the journey and come to the other side safe and sound, is the most awe inspiring moment ever.
Today, another great woman I know went on that journey and brought forth this little bundle of joy. There are no words. Seeing the picture above evoked memories of my experience. I remember the first nights vividly, of wondering how I would take care of the baby. They are so tiny in the beginning and so fragile that the idea of becoming my responsibility can be so daunting. But still, we persevere. To be a woman, to be a mother is no small feat. I am reminded about this everytime I hear another story of another successful journey of another woman. Those who never make the journey too, keep me alert. I know that fear all too. Every pregnant woman comes across it too and not make it makes me just as equally speechless. There is power in womanhood, in motherhood and it’s a gift I will always cherish. So when my family grew larger today, when we literally welcomed new life today, when we told another powerful woman I know that we thank God for the journey mercies, it dawned on me once more that there is power in being and becoming a mother. Something I will always celebrate and cherish for the privilege this aspect of my life entails. So in honor of our latest arrival, keep knowing the sterling power of mothers. We are awe inspiring every single time we bring new life to this earth. We are awe inspiring just as we are. It is by no means a easy task but you are still there and for that, I celebrate you mothers for all you do.
One of the key micronutrients for plants essential for stabilizing cell walls and membranes is calcium. It also acts as a second messenger helping plants sense and physiologically respond to environmental cues. So a soil’s calcium content is crucial for plants and their survival. Enter flowering dogwoods, a key source of calcium.
One of gems along the street by our home is an array of flowering dogwoods. Spring seems to be their time to shine. And they do with their bright pink colors dominating the sidewalk. Flowering dogwoods are best known for their high calcium content. Their foliage, twigs, and fruit are high in calcium and contains amounts that are above those needed for adequate skeletal growth by other species in the environment including birds and deers. But it’s their ability to improve soil content that I want to dwell on today. Flowering dogwood are known as soil improvers due to their calcium pumping technique. When their leaves litter, not only are they a rich and important source of calcium for soils, but they decompose more rapidly than other species making its calcium content more readily available to the soil below. Yet regardless of it abundance, only about 16% of its calcium content are sequestered to the soil and other species. The rest are retained within flowering dogwoods. The only way soils can tap into 84% of its calcium content is when the leaf litters around it. Let this sink in for a moment. For soils to access the rich intracelluar content of a flowering dogwood, the tree has to shed its leaves. Otherwise the calcium content remains within flowering dogwood. Which is why for me and today’s keep, motherhood for those who work and care for others is like a flowering dogwood.
The past few days of my life have been busy with me delving into a grant-writing full time. For the past seven years, most of my grant writing occurs during the Spring semester and my process is like the story of a flowering dogwood. On the surface, I’m just as pink as can be, truly bright and radiating with ideas that are as splendid as a flowering dogwood. Something about Spring season makes me feel alive and full of ideas hence grant writing. But can I be honest? No matter how much I write, my grants only get 16% of my time. Like flowering dogwood, despite being abundant with ideas or calcium in their case, none of that will come into fruition unless reviewers understand our 84% potential.
Most mothers in academia and elsewhere maybe relate. We give our all, often a small portion of our existence, yet we are only fully vindicated when others see or know for themselves the full breath and merit of our potential. Nothing in my grant will say how I wrote this while homeschooling or being a mother to four children. Nothing will shed light on all the multitasking it takes to write grants. Nothing will even highlight all the meetings, all the phone calls, all the assistance, all the sleepless nights it takes to put just one grant together. This is why I can honestly say I consider gender greatly when I review grants. For to be a mother, to put in just a fraction of your existence into any grant, is a tremendous feat alone. I’m not saying or asking for grant reviewers to be partial to mothers or women, but when the statistics shows that most successful grants are by men, flowering dogwoods should come to mind.
Of course men are successful, they can put in 84% of their best foot forward while women actually give 16%. Take a look at the graph below from a paper I usually share at the start for my grant writing course. Men remain in funding pools at rates higher than women overtime. The funding longevity for women are low, with women holding fewer grants in general, submitting fewer applications and successfully renewing grants. Let me repeat this again for emphasis, flowering dogwoods and their potential should truly come to mind here. Of course the statistics are worse for researchers of color but that’s another post for another day. Our resilience is out of this world, not only as a mother, but as a black woman in academia. I usually joke but maybe it’s isn’t a joke, but if only I had a space to go away and just write my grants, maybe a weekend getaway or sorts with no kids crying or no after school games to schedule, then every grant would get my 84% just like soils get the full calcium content of flowering dogwoods when their leaves litter.
For now, 16% will do. That’s the lesson I am keeping from flowering dogwood. To still do my part to improve the public’s health, even if all I can give is 16%. It’s for this reason I ask you to keep working mothers like flowering dogwood in mind. We can give 84% if only conditions are right. But rarely are conditions ever right, so what you see from us is only 16% of our potential. And when that 16% thrives, when you come across a working mother who makes the most out of her 16%, get out of her way and watch as she blossoms like a flowering dogwood.