The first moment they laid eyes on him was breathtaking. Because of the pandemic, no visitors were allowed around hospital grounds for the pandemics grip was ground breaking, heartbreaking too, for all the lives lost to poor leadership and decision-making. That we were heading home with baby about 36 hours later following his arrival was so striking. The pandemics grip was so tight that even newborn babies didn’t need the customary 48 hours in a hospital where the virus impact remained captivating. We arrived through the backyard. Grandma was watching the kids and knew we where on our way home. The kids were clueless. Dad held the car seat with baby and the hospital bags. I held my phone camera up ready to capture the joy I hoped would be striking.

The moment they saw us, the moment they saw baby, even the joy for the moment will forever be etched in my mind as it was amazing, this joy so elating. They sang how he was welcomed in the name of the Lord. Twirled and jumped around in excitement so exhilarating. Mama was singing and praying. The children were calling and repeating the name baby over and over again as if we named him baby. My middle son had a red shirt one with an emoji with four yellow smily faces making crazy but happy faces. My children did the same with all their crazy but happy faces. We were indeed welcomed in the name of the Lord following a birth during a pandemic so mesmerizing but still so frustrating. That we could come home with no problems and a healthy newborn kept me like grandma, singing and praying for this joy we found so intoxicating.

As was customary during the pandemic, everyone had to wash their hands or use hand sanitizers before touching baby. My children were no exception. He is so cute, my son said. My daughter agreed too. Baby lay restful in his car seat, straddling between being awake and being sleepy. They world was a scary place that refusing to choose either states made complete sense to me as well. What’s his name again, asked my daughter. Ranyenna. My son, refusing to learn just blurted that well we have two Olisa’s (the name of third baby now displaced from being our last baby). No we don’t, I said. His name is Ranyenna and you will learn how to say it with ease. Hi Breana, Hi Rihanna, they kept saying, until Ranyenna rolled from their tongue with ease.

But just when I though I had seen it all, my children surprised me with a bag. They say it was for baby. They back up some of their old toys in a plastic grey paper bag and made a paper card for baby’s arrival. They presented it to me to keep for baby. Their gift, even though full of toys used and old, is forever etched in my mind too as an example of love so blazing. Grandma talked about how she couldn’t sleep at night, about how she stayed up praying for our safe delivery. My kids talked about how baby was cute, how he was so cute and tiny, a cute tiny baby. I basked in their joy, knowing that the journey this time around was different, full of turbulence, made worse by a pandemic, whose path was groundbreaking, heartbreaking too. That our journey would end with us singing and praying was liberating. Watching Ranyenna awaken finally to their stares was joy so amazing that my soul kept singing and praying, for his blessings totally worth praising.

There were days of silence. Not because I had no words, but because they won’t do. There were days of screaming. Not because I had no control, but because my mind needed to hear myself say Ahhhhhhhhh from the depths of my soul. There were days of tears. Not because I still had no control, but because what is control anymore. So I cried. I screamed a lot. I cried some more. I broke down and when I could, I pulled myself back up. I gave myself permission to accept not being okay. On those days, I hugged myself more, laid in bed and looked at old photos and videos with my children. Something about recollecting a pre-phase, helped. Especially for days where I gave myself permission to run. 12 miles a week, my highest on record. I gave myself stillness, a silent one, to just look and stare at the clouds or trees. Trees with their mysterious ways, especially icy trees, became my friend. That and nests. I gave myself permission to learn about nests, why birds build them, how they secure them, even how they discard them when done. I learnt a lot about nests. Hummingbirds for example build their nests with silk. Imagine that. I gave myself permission to ask questions. Beautiful ones too especially with my children. I told them to do the same and they have been non stop. I gave myself permission to radiate kindness or dream big, all words across my son’s shirt. That and happiness. That there could be happiness in moments like this was an anomaly. But with my children, I gave myself the permission to choose joy.

I also gave myself permission to listen to poetry. Pinke Gordon Lane for example dedicated to a woman poet or my dear friend Ritamae Hyde’s a mother’s love. My daughter did most of the reading and I simply listened so the words could reach the depth of my soul where screaming, and tears remained. I gave myself permission to imagine. Our imagination took us to the dinosaur park, the looking up statue, and everything Forest Park had to offer. The park itself was a constant ray of hope through all the struggles. Finally, I gave myself permission to read. Also sorts of books became my friend. All Toni Morrison books and Bell Hooks, and Audre Lorde and Patricia Bell Scott. There were also all the books by Chinua Achebe, Ifi Amadiume, Chinelo Oparanta who became my friend though on social media, and Ben Okri. Toni Cade Bambara’s Black Woman made me feel seen. Also Ta-Nehisi Coates Beautiful Struggle. He helped me give myself the permission to struggle beautifully all while keeping what matters. Between the world and me was a constant reminder that I mattered.

Ultimately I gave myself the grace to accept this experience. The grace to see it like a famished road, a crawling baby, an invisible ink, even a deer, my post on the mere sighting of a deer being a favorite for me. This was a pandemic of a lifetime. We were living through unprecedented times. That word was everywhere, though it never fully meant much to many people. So I accepted that people are never going to understand. I accepted that that those who cared, well, cared. In their own ways, they reached out and saw me and touched the silence, heard the screams and the tears, and did their part to fill the gaps that remained with love. Those that did, helped on those days when the burden was unbearable. Those that demanded, well I know their place in my life. For them, I gave myself permission to be like small axes.

But through it all, I fully know why my keep list matters. It has been like a space for therapy through this pandemic. A space for self-discovery. Like an eagle flying in the sky, it has become as space where I soar on my own unique terms. Like a root buried deep in the soil, it has become a space where I unearth the hidden, invisible parts of my life as a mother, including telling the stories of my children, one on spectrum that I never ever intended to tell. That I have been dealing with his beautiful struggles the past 6 years was supposed to be for me and my family. But the pandemic made me uncover it so others may understand why some mothers are screaming. I screamed too. I also cried. I was silent. And I survived. And such is the ramifications of the COVID19 pandemic one year later. To which I say keep all mothers and all caregivers in mind.

How many ways can one write about joy? I would like to know. With each passing day, joy for me, is becoming a true devotion, my heart’s desire. To seek and find joy in things that matter to me. My heart is content. Like with my little boy. Every attempt he makes with crawling is joyful. To be able to see the start from the beginning, of one’s walking journey is a joyful thing to behold. Many of us take it for granted, our ability to walk as we like. But not babies. It’s a purposeful driven mission for them. The ability to crawl, walk. Mission becomes more critical when other little people around them, like his siblings are walking, running all around him. So the past couple of days, watching him have been joyful. Every move, every stretch, one hand after the other, one push after another, all on his own is a thing of joy. To see him accomplish the feat makes my heart joyful. We still have a long way to go with crawling. We are nowhere near walking yet too. But one thing I know for sure, is that this experience with him, is joyful. So how many ways can one write about joy? So long as I keep finding it, then I’ll simply keep writing about joy, even if it’s with a baby crawling, one baby step at a time.

Baby learning to crawl.

I wrote a story for my middle son Olisa. He is 3 years old and no longer the baby of the house. When I gave birth to my baby this past July, the pediatrician warned that there maybe sibling rivalry with Olisa and the new baby. He mentioned we should remind him always about being a big brother. It worked for the past 4 months. But as we slowly enter month 5 with new baby, Olisa keeps trying in his best way possible to remind us that he was once our baby. For example, when we leave the house with baby for his doctors appointment, Olisa wants one too. So we started to leave the house with only him. It made him feel special. When I read stories only to him, something I did prior to baby’s arrival, he is elated. We try our best to have alone time with him and that makes him happy alongside reading stories that are only about him, like the one below I made just for him. The story is an adaptation to one of our favorite books in our home, Greg Pizzoli’s ‘The Watermelon Seed’ and my version is designed with Olisa in mind. It goes like this:

I love Olisa. He is a funny little guy.

I love his head.

I love his cute nose.

I even love his cute green dinosaur sweater that he wears every time.

I love Olisa.

Gulp.

I swallowed Olisa.

Oh no.

I just swallowed him.

I can feel his eyes, his nose.

I am turning into his green sweater.

I don’t want to be his sweater.

Somebody please help me get him out.

Please.

Burp.

That was too close.

Are you okay, Olisa. So sorry I swallowed you.

Never again.

Will you still be my friend.

Thanks Olisa.

I love you so much.

The end.

It’s a cute little story and it makes him laugh and laugh. I also wrote another one focused on tickling him all over, fast and slow and the laughter on his face is pure joy. That was always my intention, to let him know that I still find joy in him, even though he is no longer my baby. He will always be my joyful son, one whose laughter melts my soul, satisfies my being everyday. Keep laughter especially with little middle sons. His name by the way Olisa, means God in my Igbo language. Another reason to keep joy.

My Olisa!

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

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

My joyful 4month old baby.