Friday’s and every day are for the future. Today we read a splendid retelling with brilliant illustrations on why everyone should care for the planet. It’s a story that’s at least 500 years old, a Benin folktale on why children should respect the earth and the sky. Why the Sky is Faraway, by Mary-Joan Gerson and Illustrator Carla Golembe was published in 1995 and won the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the year for use striking illustrations to retell this folktale that resonates with today fight for a sustainable future for us and our planet.

In the beginning, the sky was very close to the earth with plenty to eat and drink just by reaching up to the sky. My son and I tried to imagined such a world. There would be strawberries in the sky as illustrated by the book and french fries and Ice-cream plus pizza and chicken, he said. If anyone was hungry, all they have to do is reach up and take a piece of the sky and eat. Such a world seems wonderful to him. Such a world seems so radiant and perfect. A sky full of everything you want, all your favorite meals, all by reaching up to the sky.

But like everything we inherit on earth, even a sky full of food was not sustained overtime through people’s wasteful habits, people’s disregard for something vital to their own existence, something as simple as the food they eat. It’s no wonder the sky became angry and moved faraway. So what do we do I asked my son? Whatever we do to bring the sky back, he said. I agree. We may never live in a world where the sky is very close to the earth. We may never physically reach up and take a piece of whatever we want from the sky and eat to our hearts content. But we can do our part to not be wasteful, not be greedy and actually take care of our planet. Whatever we can do to respect the planet is vital and for my children, telling these folktales is a necessity.

How do we harness love in the middle of a pandemic that shows no sign of abating? Joining meal trains is one way. The other day I got an email from one of the moms in my son’s junior kindergarten class. She asked if families could start a meal train for a family in our community with a baby born with a heart defect. I have never heard of meal trains in this format until her email and I was moved. For the past 2 months of his life, the baby has been in a NICU fighting for his life and in the middle of a pandemic. I was moved by the email because I cannot imagine being in this family’s shoes right now. The baby was also born one month after my own baby so this feels personal. Plus in my Igbo tradition, there are so many things a new mom should have access to by now including certain foods she is supposed to have eaten by now to start the healing process following birth. Food is also one of the critical ways we show new families support and so this modern day approach to supporting new moms via meal trains is inspiring and vital.

My jollof rice.

In addition to their baby brother, there are 2 young children to nurture as well as the mom and dad. I signed up to participate. It’s my first online meal train, providing dinner tonight for the family. I made my traditional jollof rice with a dash of curry and bay leaves. I also baked salmon to go with the rice. For starters, I went with a kale salad and dessert, a box of red grapes. I hope that as the eat their dinner tonight that they feel and know that they are loved. I also pray that this love continues to surround them during this truly difficult time. Whether the pandemic comes to an end or not, whether we social distance or distant ourselves socially due to the pandemic, I hope we all find unique ways to keep spreading love. The world needs love right now and you can join me in spreading it via meal trains.

My first meal train.

Tina Turner in a recent interview for Instyle Magazine (here) shared that ‘ambition is having a dream and dedicating yourself to making that dream come true, no matter how many obstacles stand in your way.’ In her latest book entitled ‘Tina Turner: That’s my life,’ she shared how she has always been ambitious because she believed she would accomplish all her wildest dreams. And she did. Ms. Tina accomplished everything she could every imagine or hope for.

Peter Lindbergh, 1980

In fact, here is a woman who start working when she was young and continues to work even at the age of 80. Here is a woman who describes her work as breathing to her, a necessary oxygen that keeps her going, for when you love your work, it fills you with energy and strength. Here is a woman who treasures the relationship she has with her audience because they gave her love when she had none. Here is a woman who wore beautifully designed costumes, one for example with wings that made her feel should could fly and soar when she was on her own for the first time (after leaving her husband Ike) and she did. Here is a woman whose red lips and legs were always glamorous, always powerful, always ready for anything.

Harry Langdon, 1980

Her career has been epic, everything she did, transformational, even as she reflects on her most cherished moments for the book, all I can think of is here is the woman who simply lived her best life despite all obstacles. Like Tina, I will keep living my best life being ambitious with what I love to do especially with my wildest dreams, loving work which is like oxygen to me also, treasuring the relationships I am build along the way, flying and soaring no matter the obstacles and with a red lipstick, my favorite color as well. I intend to keep simply being the best me.

Harry Langdon, 1980

Two days ago, I read a Hollywood News Reporter story (here) on Shonda Rhimes. Here was a woman who produced some 70 hours of annual television in 256 territories; making tens of millions of dollars for herself and more than $2 billion for Disney, but yet in constant battle with her network ABC, over content, over budget for her series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.

In 2017, after 15 years with ABC, she left for a first-of-its-kind, nine-figure overall deal at Netflix. However in February 2018, according to the report, before Rhimes had even found a first project to sink her teeth into, Ryan Murphy, another television shown runner inked a deal, reportedly worth as much as $300 million, or double Rhimes’ then-reported sum, and the media narrative shifted. ‘It was no longer, simply, “Shonda Rhimes, trailblazer,” but rather about the now booming eight- and nine-figure market for producers, with at least a few reporters wondering, publicly, why the Black female showrunner appeared to be making so much less than the white male one.’

After reading this section, I saw myself in Shonda. I saw multiple black women who work extensively but rarely claim their space however they define it. Our spaces are never ours to own. Our spaces are never ours to even brag about. Even Rhimes described feeling obsessed watching Murphy not only claim, but own his space. But when she was awarded for Luminary award at an Elle’s Women in Hollywood event, she came to the conclusion ‘that men brag and women hide, even when they don’t deserve to brag, men brag. When men do deserve to brag, they’re good at it.’ But because of the award, because she was being celebrated for inspiring other women for the first time ever, and on behalf of women everywhere, Shonda bragged and rightfully so. Not only is she a black executive producer in Hollywood, she let it be known that she was ‘the highest paid show runner on television.’ She claimed her space even though it felt uncomfortable. She claimed her space not only for herself but for every other women she inspires everyday.

Coincidentally, claim your space is the title to a paper I co-wrote with colleagues years ago. In it we shared an African proverb to illustrate why leadership and claiming your space matters. The proverb simply states: He who is leading and has no one following is only taking a walk. Leaders we argue, all have to do the necessary work to build up the visions of those around them and not just their own. I try my best to embody this style of enlightened leadership with the students I mentor.

But the African quote on the section we wrote on claiming your space, which simply states: ‘Until the lions produce their own historians, the story of the hunt would glorify only the hunter’– is my favorite proverbs of all times. Shonda Rhimes, is the lion of our times, claiming her rightful space as the highest paid show runner on television. Her story, her resilience, her ability to inspire is the reason why we should all do our part to keep claiming our space and brag about it too.

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.

I keep returning to the book The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe. It was written in 1983 and described then as a must read for all Nigerians who care about their country, who feel they can no longer stand idly by and wring their hands in anguish while Nigeria is destroyed by bad leadership, corruption and inequality.’ The year again was 1983. This trouble eloquently described by Achebe remains our trouble in 2020.

Like I noted in yesterday’s post, a country that kills its own youth, kills its own self. Nigeria is still in trouble. Nothing has changed. Bad leadership, corruption and inequality still prevails. We all still care about Nigeria and we all can no longer sit idly by and wring our hands in anguish this time in 2020 as Nigeria massacres it’s own youth. The time for action then was 1983 and it pains me to say that the time of action once again is 2020. When will all this end. When will we all join in the effort towards new social and political order for Africa’s most populous country.

The odd thing with the book is that Achebe dedicated it to his children and their age-mates in Nigeria whose future he noted warranted the argument. The inspiration and the vigor of the book come from them. In other words Achebe was writing for Nigeria’s future in 1983. If Achebe’s generation could not do it, if their labors were in vain, what then must we do so that my children’s generation will not quote me or Achebe in the future. The trouble with Nigeria remains. But given the need to end police brutality, to end bad leadership, to end inequality, to end corruption, it also needs to end now. Enough is enough. Hopeless as things maybe today, we are not beyond redemption noted Achebe in 1983. ‘Nigerians are what they are only because our leaders are not what they should be,’ said Achebe. The time for change is now. Keep focusing on the trouble with Nigeria. And this time, under brave and enlightened youth leaders, maybe we will get it right.

There is a bubble guppies dvd in my car that my children watch over and over again. We watched it yesterday during our trip to the park. In the episode (and I paraphrase), the guppies meet a substitute teacher, Mr. Grumpfish and they say ‘Good morning,’ to him to which he replied, what’s so good about the morning. Then the guppies go through a series of events that finally has Mr. Grumpfish being engaged and hopeful for the day. This episode has always stuck in my mind because of Mr. Grumpfish’s initial response about what’s so good about a morning. I say everything. Now more than ever, we all need to keep saying those words.

From Bubble Guppies.

To the French it’s Bonjour, or Spanish people Buenos Dias, or the Igbo’s Ututu Oma, or those who prefer English, Good Morning. There is something so powerful as simply saying these words to everyone one you meet in the morning. The simplicity and reasonableness of such a statement is profound. I grew up in a household where the first thing we all said to each other upon waking up was Good morning. We really listened when and how mornings weren’t good. Especially as related to bad dreams or sleepless nights. Every Good morning we uttered was an opportunity for rich conversations focused on our social and emotional health. Then we prayed it all away and went on to start the daily routines for the day, shower, breakfast etc.

I have been teaching my children this routine since I had the privilege of calling them mine. It seems like a trivial task. But in a world where civility is no longer the norm, where humanity hardly prevails, where we fail to listen to each other, a simply gesture, with those 2 words can go a long way. It’s one of the reasons I love running in the morning. Almost every runner you met, strangers at best, with mask or no mask, nods their heads, waves their hands, in a simple gesture that means for me good morning. Positive emotions at the start of the day may enhance satisfaction, engagement and maybe even foster wellbeing throughout the day. Positive emotions may influence creativity, triggering creative thoughts especially for those who start their day early in the morning with daily activities such as writing. Positive emotions may build positive expectancies such as hope which in turn leads to dedication or vigor for what ever plans you have for the day. Our country needs simple positive gestures like this. So as I start my day, good morning to anyone who reads this.

I love a great friendship especially one that endures through time. Yesterday on 2 separate text messages, I connected with 2 sets of friends that I have known for very long time. They say friendship is like fine wine. It never goes old. My friends are truly the most delicious wine.

The first text was with a friend that I grew up with in Nigeria. She also happens to be a brilliant Nollywood actress now. We had not spoken to each other in months. When we connected yesterday it was as if the last time we spoke to each other was previous day. She still remains down to earth despite being a celebrity. We caught up on everything, from the ongoing pandemic to the ongoing police brutality protests in Nigeria. We made plans to schedule her to speak to a group in the US that I know would be interested in learning more about the ongoing campaign to end SARS in Nigeria. I am hoping we can use her platform to get more young Nigerians in the US to key in to the ongoing protests in Nigeria because it affects all of us.

The other was a group chat with 3 friends I met in college over 19 years ago. One of friend is a famous news journalist now and it’s always a joy to connect to the friend we knew before the accolades. Again, it was as if the last time we talked to each other was the previous day. We caught up with each other’s life, laughed a lot and even managed to pray all in a manner of minutes. One of us chimed that she stepped away for a minute just to see 64 new texts by the time she returned. That’s how my friendships are. Pure delight. They are with people who are just straight up loving and kind and genuine about each other’s progress. I cherish these connections.

But the icing on the cake for me yesterday was reading my daughters journaling on friendship. Her teacher asked what are some of the ways that you could be a good friend. She responded (and I paraphrase) that she would; 1) cheer her friends up when they are sad; 2) make them laugh; 3) read (to them); 4) give what I have; and 5) share with others. That in the end is the essence of good friendships. That we are there for each other especially in tough times. We learn from each. We laugh together. We read or pray together. We also give and share ourselves and our precious time no matter how small. That my little girl gets it at this age is lovely to me. It made my day. I intend to keep being a good friend to all my friends.

This was the take home message from a Zoom home-going celebration I attended yesterday. Papa Ajibade as we all fondly called him was well-loved. He was a funny man, always the life of the party, generous to a fault and a gem to his six children. End of year parties at his house were a delight growing up and some of my best childhood memories of happiness, laughter, love and dancing occurred at his home. So when we heard he passed away, our hearts sank.

Obviously the ongoing pandemic meant we won’t get to grieve in person with his family so they came up with the idea of celebrating his life via Zoom. I attended. I listened as family members and friends shared one funny story or another, like the time he signed his daughter up for the army without her consent. She was at her apartment, her junior year of college when army officers came knocking at her door, stating that her father had signed her up for the army. Suffice to say, he meant well, but the Army was not for his daughter. We all laughed as she shared this funny story.

But the sermon, particularly from Bishop Atuwanse was sterling. We all say life is too short, but really, according the Bishop, what’s really short is time. We don’t have enough time in the world to do all we want to and when the time is up, it’s up. Papa’s time maybe up but his legacy lives on. Bishop also shared how people for example, may crash weddings, but no one crashes funerals. Those that attend funerals attend because the dead in one shape or the other made an impact in their life. He reminded us all to spend whatever time we have, with those who will attend our funeral. That’s all.

I felt this sermon. I have wasted time with a lot of people. Time that should have been meant for silence rather than talking, time that should have focused on building rather than tearing down, time for joy rather than sorrow, time for love rather than hate. These days I plan to do what the Bishop says and I urge you all to do the same. I choose time. Spend time now with people that will attend your funeral. They are the only ones that really matter. You have done your best Papa. Rest In Peace.

These days I’m focused on measuring my value with the people that matter. Like with my tiny but mighty son who turned three months 2 days ago. His smile melts my heart everyday and it’s one of peaceful and sane things about the ongoing pandemic. He has also managed to force me to say sweet affirmations to him every time we take a bath. They seem cheesy but captures what he does to me succinctly as in the video below:

My son.

I am also mindful that as I celebrate his 3 months on this earth, another family member of mine is still struggling with the loss of her son whose 3 month anniversary is today. I spoke to her yesterday. She is a strong woman, a fighter and my hero. My heart breaks for her as I can’t imagine what it is like to be in her shoes. But I am comforted with the knowledge that this thing called life is truly a divine gift. Whether we spend 10 years or 3 months, every life is precious, every life is loved.

So I dedicate this post to you Kaysen. I love you. You are still the best thing that ever happened to our family. You are truly the epitome of tiny but mighty and because of you, love is powerfully felt and elegantly elevated with your lasting legacy. Because of you, love is impressive, takes us all to new heights where no evil can reach. Because of you, love is really beautiful, really intimate, really profound and unites us all to the power of you. Because of you, love is our guide through today, and tomorrow. Because of you, love will forever be on my lips and in my heart. You have taught us why love matters and the lesson will be passed on to others so that at the sound of your name, love is all everyone will remember. I love you. Sleep well.

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!

My dear friend Ritamae Hyde, a Belizean Poet, has a poem entitled ‘Mahogany Whispers.’ Its also the name of her book of poetry. It’s one of my favorite poems. It is short but apt with the idea that when Mahogany (and for me, here, the tree) speaks, its speaks not with a singular voice but with a plethora of voices on behalf of all voices. Last night during the Vice Presidential debate, Senator Kamala Harris was like a Mahogany tree.

She spoke from within on behalf of all women, all black women in particular, who know first hand what it is like to be interrupted every time we speak. The exchange was painful to watch, but I watched because I saw myself in the exchange, not once, not twice, but all the times she said the word ‘I’m speaking. Still, she was treated in a condescending tone, as if her thoughts, her experience, even her facts aren’t even worth being listened to. Every time she said ‘I’m speaking,’ she spoke with poise, dignity and grace. Every time she said ‘I’m speaking,’ she shared my deepest fears. Every time she said ‘I’m speaking,’ she spoke to my existence as a woman, a black woman who understands the weight of being silent, the weight of surviving, the weight of speaking no matter the circumstances. Every time she said ‘I’m speaking,’ she fought for me. Every time she said ‘I’m speaking,’ she spoke to me.

Racial and gender dynamics are real. I know first hand what it is like to be told my tone is angry or that I don’t have enough experience. I know first hand what it is like to be interrupted, mansplained to, spoken over or generally ignored for my thoughts or opinions. Like Senator Harris, I have had to tread that fine line between being silent and speaking up. Not because I didn’t have much to say but because silence in many cases is golden. Vice President Pence didn’t listen, didn’t even hear when she said the first ‘I’m speaking.’ Instead, he talked over Senator Harris throughout the debate, interrupted her to the point where she reminded him again and again that she was still speaking.

I watched in awe of her smile, in awe of her silence in some instances, in awe of her restraint in others, in awe of her general will to survive, in awe of her ability to remind the VP that she was still speaking, especially that ‘Okay’ she added in one instance as if to say ‘Damn it, I’m still speaking for the last time.’ That’s how I heard it in my head. That’s how many women heard it too. Still, the VP kept belittling her, kept undermining her, kept treating her like she did not deserve to be on the same stage as him. His behavior, his condescending behavior on full display for the world to see is the number one reason why many Black women choose to stay silent as they figure out how to survive in a system where we are never meant to survive, never meant to speak as noted eloquently by Audre Lorde. We speak so other women, especially the next generation, like my daughter can speak without fear, these 2 words ‘I’m speaking.

Lotanna reading the poem Mahogany Whispers for homeschool.

The potential to speak like a Mahogany tree, is our lesson for today, etched in our heart for tomorrow and beyond. Senator Harris’s spoke in defiance of those who tried to silence her. And like a Mahogany tree, not with a singular voice as she is fully aware that she is not a singular being. Senator Harris in sharing her history and experience as the second woman ever to be elected to the Senate and the first black woman ever to become a Vice Presidential candidate, spoke from a plethora of experiences, a plethora of voices on behalf of all women, all black women in particular. Keep speaking, no matter what, black woman, all women, speak, ‘I’m speaking,’ loudly with the poise, the dignity and the grace of a Mahogany tree.