These days, I consider it pure joy when my children ask questions, especially questions that stump me. Like when will the pandemic end? Or why do we still have school, even homeschooling the week before Christmas. Or this one that warmed my heart, why do we give presents on Christmas Day? My daughter thinks it’s because the wise men gave baby Jesus presents, silver, gold and oil she thinks. My son wants to know when Christmas will begin so he can start to open the Christmas presents he has received from our family friends. My children’s questions even around things like Christmas or the pandemic reminds me once more, about the significance of questioning in children.

We all know the value of questioning in the classroom, but what about at home. How might we foster the joy of questioning in our households and with everyday activities? How might we encourage questions to naturally arise in our children? Or how might we train our children to ask questions in the way we potty train them? How can we help our children use their questions to seek knowledge, explain things, or understand a phenomenon? How can we simply foster opportunities for our children to ask more beautiful questions, including questions of things they want to know, things they are curious about or what they themselves see as important to discuss, whether it’s Christmas or a pandemic? I was inspired by this keep and the need to continue to work to hone my children’s questioning abilities after seeing a 1995 book in my collection, of 1001 Enuani (an Igbo dialect of Nigeria) proverbs during a cleanup around my home. I scrolled through the pages and landed on proverb 732, my all time favorite proverb in this book and one I have used in a speech to Bucknell undergraduate students about the significance of questions back in my grad school years.

I forgot about this speech until I wrote the prior post on why we all need to keep knowing our why. If you recall for me, my why centers around being a professional questionologist in every sense of the profession. I am inspired by my mentor whose motto in grad school was that we ‘learn to question the questions.’ Also Warren Berger’s book on the need for ‘more beautiful questions.’The primer though for me is proverb 732. It has been my guiding light since grad school and one that I hope to pass down to my children. It simply states: Onye ajuju, aya e-fu uzo: He who asks questions, never misses his way. Keep asking questions my children!

Have you tried to put a baby to sleep at 4am?That’s my dilemma now. So I decided to mediate on the word. And here is what the Lord said to me this morning: ‘those who love knowledge want to be told when they are wrong.’ That was my meditation for today from Proverbs chapter 12 vs.1. I want this with me in 2021. To surround myself with corrections, especially from those who really care about me and all the load I carried during this pandemic. Correct me if you think I am wrong. I love knowledge, and if I am wrong, please tell me. I long for this.

The verse goes on to say that it is ‘stupid to hate being corrected.’ I paused for a moment because there are indeed times when I hate being corrected. I hate being told I am wrong or my approach is wrong. But I am also learning that corrections should be welcoming. Correction, especially from the right person with the right heart, can be a thing of pure joy. It can also be helpful, to air grievances in a purposeful way. Correction can direct, help you reflect, help you perfect or even foster empathy. It is better to love being corrected especially when you are wrong. That’s the keep for today. Another short one. That and the fact that as you scroll through the chapter you will see this gem nestled in verse 15; ‘wise people listen to advice,’ listen to their correctors. I love the book of Proverbs. Keep surrounding yourself with those who correct you.

One of my sons rarely has time for small talks. Except if it involves planets. He also rarely gets emotional. Except when he is crying for something missing. When he becomes vulnerable, especially when he becomes profoundly into you or something that absorbs his mind, he becomes an emblem of empathy, a tower of sincerity, a pillar of love. The other day he found my small purse with notecards and colorful pen and proceeded to make something he said, for his baby brother. A card of sorts. When he was done, he gave it to him, smiled and walked away. Baby barely knew what it was. I looked at it and smiled too. The message was simple. But if you know this son, if you remember how he rarely gets emotional, you will also understand how special and timely his message was. It also warmed my heart. Keep telling those around you how much you love them. The world truly needs love. Do your part to also keep spreading love, your own way, and especially through cards you draw by hand. It warms the heart. Keep also knowing that you are loved. You. You are loved.

My son’s love card to his brother.

I read the other day that as our knowledge grows, we become less open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of behaving, even new ways of being. We are intrinsically connected to the old. Something about comfort, ease, experience, makes us want to stick with the familiar rather than exploring new terrains or new opportunities. I must confess here that I like old things. They make sense to me, the familiar. New, especially new ideas that are demanding from the beginning are a turnoff. I made the mistake to sign up for something new the other day. A huge mistake. The ideas were too much to wrap my head around. Not that I didn’t think there were some valid points, just honestly not for me. And that’s ok. I shouldn’t have to apologize for not trying new things, especially when they are not for me.

But still, I have since learnt the having a lot of knowledge, even if it’s of things old can be a dangerous thing. Research suggests that ‘the very fact that older learners know more may make it more difficult for them to learn something new.’ I agree. That is why my keep today is short and a reminder to myself to keep staying open minded and learn something new, even if I prefer things old or familiar.

It seems so simple, that people should matter with efforts to curtail a pandemic. Yet we are our own worst enemies. Case in point, an essay I read yesterday on the blog sapiens one why the CDC needs social science. Robert Hahn an anthropologist and epidemiologist who recently retired from the CDC, shared insights of how people actual interact, their behaviors, needs and even concerns, have yet to penetrate the soul of the nation’s top primary health agency. And we wonder why we are in the mess we find ourselves?

As a public health researcher, why people refuse to wear mask for example, remains one of the public health mysteries of 2020, and one that truly lacks any answer besides the fact that we still don’t keep people in mind. Robert Hahn takes this a step further and offers another explanation. The idea that sickness remains a biological concept. As a result, how even sick people react, what behaviors they engage in even while sick is often an afterthought and not a forethought. It’s no surprise then, that this pandemic continues to persist, 10 months later.

I’ll like to add one more thought to his explanation and that is people should be at the heart of every response to public health, especially during and after a pandemic. We also need to do more polylogue or confront people with diverse and sometimes conflicting points of views that require critical evaluation. These forms of engagement with people will be crucial with efforts to ensure vaccine uptake. Myself and my household are ready for the vaccine. But I do recognize that some folks may not be and so it’s our duty to keep them in mind on the journey to end this pandemic for good.

There is something wild and powerful about choosing simplicity. It is also liberating, when choices are simple, easy and effortless by design. I have been on a purposeful progression towards simple. Especially with my family. In choosing simplicity, we went for a walk at Forest Park yesterday. The weather was beautiful for a December day and so we and many others took advantage of it. We walked along the Taylor Kindle River way, picked up dry leaves along the way and walked across two bridges, my children’s favorite activity. That and seeing mallards, about 16 of them basking along the Taylor River marsh, a wetland habitat and something we learnt recently in Science. To cap the evening off, on our way home, we saw a snowman at the back of a well-lit Christmas truck. A first for me, and pure delight to my children, the idea of riding on a highway with a snowman at the back of a Christmas truck.

In the middle of a pandemic, in the busyness of an unusual holiday season where wearing masks, social distancing and even solitude may be the norm thanks to the virus, finding time to see the joy in mundane, simple things is a necessity. My words may not convey a sense of the peace I feel now that the choices for me are simple. In fact it was like the junction we approached along our walk through Forest Park yesterday. The park is full of pathways or junctions that forces one to choose a side. One of my sons tell us to freeze when we come across them to decide which way to go. We listen and freeze. Then I guide my family along the path that best serves our needs at the moment. For yesterday, it was the easy effortless path back to our car. If I say the word simple, I am sure something comes to mind, something very specific or concrete to you. What if I said the choice, was also up to you. However you choose to live your life, the idea of keeping things simple, is also yours to define, whatever path you choose. Like my yesterday. It was simple and sometimes that all we need, the simple pleasures, simple things of life. Find them, and keep them for you and your family.

A snowman at the back of a Christmas truck!

Myself and my household have reached fatigue levels when it comes to the pandemic, homeschooling and work. We are also ready for 2020 to come to an end. Nothing seems as it should. Time seems to be going neither fast nor slow and it’s only the 10th day of December. Day 31 can’t seem to come fast enough. Or should it. What difference would it truly make if today was the end of 2020 and I have nothing to show, nothing to share, not even stories or experiences of how 2020 taught me to live. It did. For all its headache and heartaches, all its pain, all its chaos and role confusion, 2020 taught me to live life, experience it fully, notice it, invest in it, not passively but actively, as if every single minute, every single hour, day, month, mattered. They do. 2020 will go down as the year I started to find my flow, one experience at a time, even one daily keep at a time, all on my own terms and I have so many books like this one below to thank.

I am also blessed to see and experience life clearly through the lens of those who sacrifice theirs daily or the little sacrifices we make for others. Around 4:30am this morning I watched as my husband rushed to work for yet another case of stroke. He got home last night around 9:30 pm and barely slept through the night with one page after the other. I am a light sleeper so whenever he is on call, I am too. The hospital where he works has a Covid-19 surge and one critical manifestation is stroke. As I type this, he is probably scrubbing in to remove yet another blood clot from a Covid-19 patient. Apparently he does this often, performs surgeries on Covid-19 patients, intentionally exposing himself and his family to the virus and yet people refuse to wear mask.

I should also be sleeping but I can’t, not while I’m still breast feeding a 5 month old boy who eats on demand. Then there are the never ending obligations, never ending homeschooling assignments. By the time you add all this up, the ability to experience life on its own terms, to learn new things, to empathize or even grow beyond my limit is the last thing on my mind. Yet, I am determined to experience life to the fullest. Not with big things, but subtle things, slow things, passing things, even mundane things often taken for granted. Like typing this as I breastfeed my son in one arm. It’s my way of a staying up as he breastfeeds. Even the sacrifice of yet another sleepless night is worth it when you consider how babies create ripples in one’s life that is startling, with demands of fixed attention for every breath, every smile, every milestone achieved, every single moment demands attention. I wouldn’t trade this world, the serenity of a breastfeed sleeping baby after another round of feeding, for anything.

Neither would my husband. Every case is precious to him, another life worth saving, another clot worth removing and though it takes sacrifices like sleepless nights and early morning surgeries in the middle of a pandemic. If he was typing this, he would also agree, that we all need to keep experiencing life as is. Our experience won’t be perfect or by design. In fact, quite the opposite with sleepless nights in some case. But it’s ours, however we choose, it’s all ours to experience. So keep it, especially on your terms. I should be sleeping but I’ll rather do this. Experience life, one keep at a time.

I read in the book ‘Finding Flow’ by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, that our choice with life is simple. We can choose either to die or choose to live. If we choose to live, note that everything conspires against life. Everything. But still the choice is ours. The ability and will to live begins with me. Living life to my fullness, my greatest potential, my desire, even in my own unique way, whether ambitious or alert, in silence or in survival, however I choose to live begins with me. Today I mark 90 days of living, my way, one keep at a time.

Every keep is serene to me. Like melody, they sooth my soul, like the Wailers singing ‘Small Axe.’ Every keep is joyful to me. Like the joy on my 5 month baby’s face. I can’t believe it’s been 5 months already. Every keep is full of grace, full of gratitude for the many people that make life magical, make life happy. Like my son’s shirt and my decision to choose happiness. Every keep is a reminder to choose the slow route or a route that stops to reflect or admire the journey thus far. Like the journey towards knowing and understanding my ‘why’ and how it’s all connected to asking more beautiful questions for me.

My 5month old baby.

The past 90 days has been surreal. Writing one keep at a time has indeed shaped my life. Words so unreal, but mine, teach me to be intentional with what I can do or even feel. Many may say that there is nothing new or special about writing. All I can say is try doing so for yourself for 90 days.

And so I write. On my own terms, and to my fullest potential. In the book ‘Finding Flow,’ the author noted that ‘to live means to experience, through doing, feeling, thinking.’ Every keep I reflected on this past 90 days are my attempt at living. They are also my attempt at a steadier life, one filled with people and things that matter to me. That the world is an exquisitely unkind place to mothers who work is well known. The pandemic exemplifies this with people for example having work related meetings in the middle of homeschooling as if children are not home as well. Every keep forced me to prioritize, something I must confess I lacked the fortitude to do. Some keep made me alert to homeschooling and my children’s learning, while others helped me appreciate my dual roles in life.

We choose happiness.

I started writing this list of something to keep, to persuade you the reader that life beyond work, life with children, family, work, especially for women, matters. Every mother and father in many cases, is worthy of praises. I like to think that each keep, written the past 90 days gives our stories air to breathe. Every silence, every meltdown, every pain, every survival is startling worthy of delving into albeit in 300 words or more. So I delved. The past 90 days have been exquisitely divine, with me finding my flow, one keep at a time. I look forward with zeal to the next 90.

Yesterday, in yet another failed grant attempt, my proposal was described as ‘overly ambitious’. Cambridge’s dictionary describe the word ambitious as ‘having a strong desire to succeed.’ In the grant writing world, the word ambitious has negative connotations. It’s one of those dreaded words senior reviewers lash on junior grant writers to remind us to stay in our place. When all else fails, when even the grant has some merit to it, the reviewers use the word to remind you of the hierarchy inherent in the grant writing world. Bottom line, no one wants their proposal to be described as ambitious. Yet, majority of all my proposals, most of my failed ones, have been called ambitious on so many occasions. In fact I wrote so many ambitious grants that failed before landing on the grant of a life time. Ambitious questions are all I know.

Now and in the words of James, 1: 2-4, I consider it pure joy when my grant proposals are described as ambitious especially in the beginning because I know now that the testing of my abilities produces perseverance, produces a profound commitment to write more beautiful questions, questions that are truly ambitious in nature given pressing global health issues, this pandemic being a perfect example. My goal now is to truly own the word and so I thank reviewers from reminding me to keep being ambitious, keep having a strong desire to succeed. For when I am ambitious, when the work is described in the beginning as having the determination to succeed, the end makes more sense.

Ambitious questions are a necessity. Ambitious scientists are critical. I intend to keep being ambitious so as to finish my goal of research that is truly sustainable in resource limited settings. It will truly take ambitious questions and I am so prepared to keep asking them, no matter how many times I fail.

We took the kids to a drive through winter wonderland last night. Every first weekend of the December was Santa day. Since we moved to St. Louis 3 years ago, we started the day with Breakfast with Santa at my children’s school. Then we drive around looking for places that evoke Christmas so as to take our family picture. Last year was the old train station turned into a hotel. I remember being mesmerized by the place and all it decorations. My kids were in heaven. We even took them up a Ferris Wheel for the first time and they loved every single second of it. To us, Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Last year’s Christmas family picture.

With the pandemic this year, we knew things would be different. Breakfast with Santa was canceled. So also was driving around for the perfect place for our Christmas picture. This weekend was also a somber one. My husband came out of his week long quarantine after being exposed to a COVID patient. He had to wait a week later to test. So we spent the week in a COVID limbo for fear we may all have been exposed. After testing on Friday, by midnight Saturday he was informed he tested negative. Keeping wonderful moments in mind became more critical, more necessary for my family.

So we drove through a winter wonderland, over at Tilles Park in Saint Louis. This was a first for the family. Even though my kids wanted to come out, we kept reminding them they could not, thanks to the pandemic. We drove along side families on horse carriages which made my kids smile. To be so close to horses was magical for them. Then there were lights, lots and lots of Christmas lights, all in celebration of this wonderful time of the year. From the gingerbread man which one of my son adores, to all the named reindeers especially Rudolph, the watery lights and Santa’s workshop, everything at the park was wonderful and my kids were high on happiness. Keep wonderful moments still even in the middle of a pandemic. And feel free to make new ones too. Anything goes in 2020.