I almost didn’t write today’s post. Honestly, today’s workload was intense. Not only did I teach my grantwriting course to doctoral students, I had to sit with my six year old son for his reading, physical education, religion and developmental skills. By the end of the day, we were both tired. But still, I write. I write because I am on a journey to becoming the writer I know that I am born to become. This journey has been filed with obstacles, professional and personal ones, but still I write. I write to showcase my interior life. Work is hard. Being a working mother is very hard. But motherhood, with all is ups and downs is a gift that I am totally grateful to have, despite all the ups and downs. So I write, even though I am tired. I write even though I just finished homeschooling and some work-related meeting.

Homeschooling was tough today as my six year old cried and cried because he was tired. I write because we somehow continued work after he told his teacher the reason for his tears. He was crying because he missed his dad who was at work. I write because he did his coloring, 2 pictures on religion focused on the fifth commandment. I thought he didn’t stay within the lines. I reminded him to stay within the lines. He tried his best. His teacher mentioned his coloring has improved. So I write because small victories with homeschooling, like improved coloring of a six year old brightened my day. I also write because he also finished his reading assignments on his journey practice workbox, despite so many prompts to complete it.

Today’s religion assignment.

I write to share also that I made dinner in between the breaks we had during homeschooling, in between breastfeeding and two crying boys who wanted all my attention. I made jollof rice with baked salmon and chicken for dinner tonite. I write because although it’s only 3:50 pm, I really taught a 2 hour class this morning to doctoral students and somehow managed to cook dinner, calm a crying baby, console 2 crying boys all while completing homeschooling materials for today. I write, because even now, even though I am tired and sitting on my bed, with my 2 month old nestled on my lap and breastfeeding, my laptop is still open. I write some thoughts, my thoughts, written down as I wait for the next appointment with my student. I write because I enjoy speaking with students, especially those new to the field of public health like today’s student, who wants to end up in the field of public health disaster preparedness. What better field to end up in given the ongoing pandemic and the failure to prepare or contain it despite being one of the richest country on earth. I write because she made me smile, public health students and their genuine love for the public’s health are remarkable. Today was tough. But I write because my story, every thorn, every rosy smiles deserves to be told. Life as a working mother is hard. But I write so you get a glimpse of my life. For all working mothers, in the middle of this pandemic, keep writing your stories.

The reason I write.

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.

One of my 3year old’s first assignment as a junior kindergarten student was to make a butterfly. His teacher sent the video of Eric Carle’s The very hungry caterpillar. We also read the book. It one of my kids favorite books to read. His teacher shared how caterpillars start as eggs, then into a pupa, then a caterpillar. Then they build a house for themselves called an cocoon, spend some time in their house before turning into a butterfly. This lifecycle of a butterfly was eloquently portrayed in Eric Carle’s book.

As I read the book to my son again and we made our butterflies wings with watercolors, I was struck by how caterpillars do not adjust to their environments on their journey to becoming butterflies. They infuriate many as they look for food. They refuse to be defined by their small stature. They build and nurture themselves first! Imagine something so small building their own home so delicate, all to nurture themselves, their whole being in their own safe spaces, their way. They then guide their homes through treacherous landscapes until it’s time to display their beauty. In the midst of rough terrains, in the middle of uncertainties, they emerge light and beautiful, stunning and sterling, like a baby coming into the world for the first time. They fly away almost immediately, living life courageously, still through treacherous landscapes and rough terrains. This courage has been on full display from the beginning.

Our butterfly!

Courage is heightened for every pupa who seeks to become a caterpillar, every caterpillar who seeks to become a butterfly. Courage demands swift action, sometimes infuriating, but always on your own terms, at your own time, like a new baby coming to the world for the first time. Courage involves building safe spaces, your own space, where you nurture yourself, until it’s time to display your beauty to the world. The condition of life from the beginning, from being pupa to caterpillar is courage. Without it they never become butterflies, they never fly. Like butterflies, we all have the same courage, to live through treacherous landscapes, through rough terrains, but most importantly, to fly. So keep flying like butterflies!

Fly butterfly fly!

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).

In March 1919, as the nation continued to grapple with the 1918 influenza pandemic, Dr. Wilmer Krusen, the Commissioner of Health and Charities of Philadelphia presented a truth to the people of his municipality. Simply put, it stated ‘Spit spreads Death.’ The statement was displayed as a poster on the front of trolley cars and the Commissioner used them to impress on people, ‘the exceedingly important lesson in sanitation and health.’ This striking way of presenting the truth to the public was common during the pandemic of 1918. In 2020, from the beginning of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, has been withheld from the public.

March 1919, AJPH 9(3) 207

Six months into the pandemic, we are still far from presenting truths to the public and its starts from the leadership in place. If only they started from the beginning with the following: ‘Covid is real. It can affect anyone. It is not a hoax. Anyone can get sick. Test. Quarantine or isolate. Social Distance. Stay six feet away. Wear a mask. Wear a Damn Mask. Wash your hands. Contact Trace.’ Simple truths like this, presented to people, from the beginning, could have averted 209,000 deaths. Simple truths could have prevented 7million infections. Simple truths could have helped my children return to school. Simple truths would enable us go to church on Sundays. Simple truths would have meant we all return back to some form of normalcy, wearing a mask of course. Every infection is a sad one. Every infection is a tragedy. Every infection can be prevented. Every death could have been avoided. Mask, distance, trace, simple truths that matter. Simple truths that should have be presented from the beginning at the highest levels.

Simple truths: Wear a damn mask!

So at this point, I am ready for change and yes my life depends on it. My family, our well-being, all that we love, depends on it. We want simple truths from our leaders. We want leadership that believes in science, leadership that believes in public health, leadership that puts the lives of people first and not their own interests, leadership that cares, leaderships that unites, leadership that brings calm, leadership that represents the best of who we are as humans, leadership that quite frankly, tells the truth!

In 1983, Chinua Achebe wrote a very short book entitled ‘The Trouble with Nigeria.’ In it he suggested that the trouble with Nigeria then was ‘simply and squarely a failure of leadership…the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility which are the hallmarks of true leadership.’ A student asked one day, why Nigeria, why are all my National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants focused on Nigeria. My response to her and to others who ask is why not Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. If we succeed in Nigeria, we can succeed anywhere else. Nigeria is full of people who have the will, the ability and the vision to lead health, it’s discovery, it’s innovation.

As the country celebrates its 60th independence today, the question for me is whether Achebe’s sentiments remains, whether the failure of leadership still prevails, or whether Nigerians with the will, ability, and vision to lead health will ever emerge. At some point, thoughtful Nigerians have to rise up so those leaders emerge to make an impact on the nation. Nigeria and Nigerians all over the world have the ability to facilitate innovation with health. With the exception of few, the fear that should nightly haunt its leaders, Achebe noted (but does not) is that those leaders (for health in this case) are not assuming or fulfilling that destiny in Nigeria.

For me personally, as I reflect on this day about Nigeria at sixty, with Achebe’s words in my mind, I would have concluded that the trouble for Nigeria sixty years from today will not only be a failure of leadership but also a failure of innovation, a failure to provide the opportunities for a critical mass of Nigerians to do something different that adds value.

NIMR COVID-19 test kit.

The ongoing pandemic alongside the zeal of some Nigerians have changed my thinking. Many Nigerians have risen and continue to rise to the occasion to lead health in ways often not discussed, shared, highlighted or praised. From the molecular test kit for COVID19 developed by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research that can produce results in 40 minutes, to the life-saving work of Temi Giwa-Tubosun who delivers medical supplies to hospitals in Nigeria, or to my ongoing research I-TEST-innovative tools to expand youth friendly HIV self/testing for Nigerian youth led by Nigerian youth.

Temi Giwa-Tubuosun of Life Bank.

The simple, the very serious, but simple solution for Nigeria today and beyond is innovation. Whether it’s sustaining, whether it’s disruptive, whether it’s breakthrough, it won’t matter. For Nigeria to facilitate mankind’s advancement, doing its part to create something different that adds value is its destiny. At sixty, to Nigeria, my hope for the future, is that we keep unleashing innovative solutions, particularly with health. Today, it is time to take a hard and unsentimental look at the critical question of innovation for Nigeria by Nigerians. Happy Independence Day!

My ongoing research work in Nigeria.

Every day, after the Wolf Blitzer show on CNN, he lists the names of Americans who have died as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Yesterday, he shared the story of an African American woman, Patricia Ashley, age 53, a wife for 25 years, mother of three children and a grandmother to 15 grandchildren. She was also a pre-school teacher at a private school who caught Covid-19 after returning back to work. Today she is dead. One in 1,000 African Americans have died from the pandemic. If nothing changes from now until the end of 2020, the number will increase to 1 in 500. I am an African America woman. Something has to change!

Patricia Ashely, aged 53 and died of Covid-19.

The debate last night was a disgrace. We have over 206,000 dead Americans, over 7 million have become infected and there is no solution in sight. For the past 6 months, we have watched as our lives essentially shut down. Our schools, our churches, where we eat, where our children play, everything is closed. The debates were supposed to reassure us that someone has a plan to change or turn things around. We have all waited for the current leadership to do something. Nothing has changed. We watched as our lives went into flux in March hopeful that by the start of the new school year, normalcy may return. Nothing has changed. We have heard testing may have increased, tracing maybe underway and those who test positive may be isolating themselves. Nothing has changed. We have been told to wear masks, social distance, wash your hands and keep your personal hygiene in order. Nothing has changed. We have now watched as business opened, schools opened, places of worship opened. Yet the pandemic remains and nothing has changed.

I am married to an essential worker and I remember the months of March and April when he isolated himself, took of his clothes in the garage before he came into the house, didn’t hug his children until he took his shower, walked around with a mask and slept in the basement. The summer months became bearable and he stopped isolating himself. We brought in a baby to the world and became hopeful that something will change. On Sunday for the first time in a long time, after he returned from work, after he took his clothes off and showered and before hugging his kids, he wore a mask. I froze. He felt sick. Headaches, pain, fever. I felt sick. He went to work the next day and asked for a test. It took nearly 4 hours to get tested at the hospital where he works. He did not come home that night. His results were not ready. He slept in his hospital office. So we waited and waited. Waiting for the results lead to more anxiety. What if he tests positive? What if he has exposed the virus to his family, his new 2 month old infant? Waiting for the results made us all sick. Almost 30 hours later, the results came back negative. He returned to work. Thirty-six hours later, he came home and showered.

My husband still working despite being sick.

Like many essential workers with families, our number 1 issue this election is the pandemic. We have been homeschooling our children since March. We have done our best to wear masks all the time, wash our hands and practice social distance. Our kids want to go to the closed planetarium and to the park. I want them to return to school. Something has to change. That’s all. That’s all I am asking for. Something fundamentally has to change and that is all I am voting for. The very serious function of governments is to provide calm and peace and assurance, not anxiety or chaos. The debate last night was chaotic. But like many families of essential workers, I will keep seeking for change until the pandemic ends. That’s our only issue this election. Change!

Do schools kill creativity? This question was the topic of a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor in education at a Ted Event in 2006. It has gotten over 19million views and counting. Homeschooling has showed me first hand how school killed my creativity. I used to love drawing and writing stories and being creative like my children. I even had a collection of short stories that I used to read to my daughter when she was a little. They were all written by me, with some illustrated even. Like my short story on how Tortise really won the race. But since I choose the academic route, since I worked hard to achieve all I could academically, my creative confidence died.

How Tortoise won the race?

I am the product of an academic system that did not necessarily foster any inquiry-based type of learning or learning that fosters divergent thinking. So do schools kill creativity? Yes. It is time though for creativity to be treated just as fundamentally as Math or Science or Literature. Without creativity Tom and David Kelley in the book ‘Creative Confidence,’ suggested we lose our ability to come up new ideas and the courage to try them on. Without creativity, we may never nurture or strengthen the innate gifts that lies within all of us. Without creativity, we may never develop breakthrough ideas that inspires and improves people’s lives. Without creativity, the fear of failure may linger limiting opportunities for growth, learning, discovery, innovation. Without creativity, we may never change the world.

Creativity matters. One of the side effects of this pandemic and homeschooling is that I am finally working on unleashing my creativity. I courageously started this blog to write everyday, anything I want, my way, no filters, no review. Just writing. For the first time, I can call myself a writer. That’s it. Not a global health researcher or even a grant writer, just a writer. This is what the pandemic and being home has done for me. Discovering your creative potential is the best gift any human can give to themselves. It is how we make a dent in the universe, how we think differently to create things that have benefits or values. I see my place in the world now more clearly. I am a writer with audacious goals. Writing everyday is allowing me to embrace new skills, allowing to reflect, observe and parent my kids in ways that also nurture and unleash their creative potential. I hope you continue to join me as I work to embrace my creative confidence.

There is a shirt my little boy wears all the time. It simply reads ‘radiate kindness.’ That’s all. The 2 words on the shirt are more than information. Radiate kindness should be a way of life. The way people live, the stories they tell, even how we rise or fall, speak up or remain silent, should embody kindness.

There is a strong tendency to demand it from certain folks and not others. We expect those lesser than us to radiate kindness but not us. We get infuriated, demand kindness, forgetting it a force that radiates from our being. But the point is to be kind. Live it, pass it on. It will come back to you.

Every time my son wears the shirt, I become alert. I can’t be a parent if my being isn’t filled with kindness. Every time my children cry for the most mundane thing, I have to be kind. Like yesterday when my son cried because the Planetarium was closed thanks to the pandemic. Crying is an understatement. He knew the Planetarium was closed. We had passed by it numerous times and each time he asked about it, I reminded him that it was closed due to the pandemic. Yesterday was the climax. He was outraged. He screamed, he shouted. He cried, he grieved and no words could console him. Kindness was all I had. So I let it radiate from me to him. I allowed him to cry as we are all tired of the pandemic. I would cry too if I was a child as it has robbed them of their childhood this year. We all have the power to be kind. There are no winners or losers when we absorb it and pass it on. It is the right thing to do. Keep radiating kindness.

I am a long distance runner. I figured this out this past month. For the last 30 days, I have some how managed to achieve a goal of a 10mile run each week. Some weeks I did close to 12miles, but for the most part I completed my goal each week to a big surprise to myself still. I never knew I could run 1-2miles let alone 4miles.

A successful 4+mile race.

When I started running back in graduate school it was for 1mile or less. Since life took a hold of me, I stopped running altogether. Though I may run occasionally with my husband, it was never with a goal in mind. We just ran. He on the other hand is a short distance runner. He loves to sprint really fast, and stop. I used to be able to keep up with his style of running until I couldn’t do so anymore. I would get tired so easily. At times I just give up and start walking while he sprints away.

That was until I picked up running again this past month, my style. I set a small goal at first, at least one mile. Then slowly, it became another mile, then another and now I can comfortably run at least 4miles a day. I was in awe with myself. Then my hubby, Zobam joined me one day and started to sprint away fast. I tried to keep up and I couldn’t run. One mile was tiring, 2 miles painful and I practically gave up by the third. That was when I realized we both had 2 very distinct running styles. He likes to sprint fast in short distances and stop, while I am more comfortable with long distances.

Understanding my running style also made me realize the lesson with today’s post. Keep sprinting race through life your way. That’s it. We all have our own races to run and something it may require that we complete short tasks, other times, longer task. The key is to do what works best for you and those who support your race your style, in my case my Zobam. To compromise, on some days we run short distances. I still get easily tired with short distances. On other days, we run long distance and I am in heaven. Keep sprinting your own race with those that matter, for life is to short.

A successful 4+mile race.