This entire week has been exhausting. I am completely drained and fatigued and want everyone and everything to understand this election needs to end. Everyone needs to move on. Count the vote because every vote counts. Then call it already. We all know the winners. We watched as their votes came. Poised and calm, steady hands and heart. They can’t steal it from them. So instead we watch and as we keep facing the truth, they keep filing lawsuits. I will keep praying over our power, over any lawsuit, because surely the truth always prevails.

One of the greatest burden and gift of living through this pandemic is homeschooling. It’s a burden. Simple. Ask any mother currently homeschooling any child and they will list all the burden. For me, my list is long, but I’ll spare you the trouble and focus on one-Attention. Attention is difficult for a six year old especially through a technology we restrict for play but allow for education. Attention is also hard for an 8 year old especially when siblings in the next room are crying because they loathe math or reading or even science via Zoom. Then there is the 3 year for whom attention is very minimal at this age. Attention for him is a chore especially when it comes to watching any school related materials on Zoom or remembering sight words he read out loud less than a minute ago. Like I stated above, homeschooling and it’s insistence on focused attention from children is burdensome.

My son and his sister watching an African storyteller telling African stories

But learning, all forms of learning that has occurred during this period of schooling at home is one of the greatest gifts my family and I have received as a result of this global pandemic. Learning for us is a gift, part of our natural existence not restricted by any curriculum or any agenda. Not a forced activity imposed by any professional or occurring in isolated spaces. Learning, unapologetically realized, recognized, is done everyday at home, insides spaces without walls, through lens never needing to be closed, from the pirate stories, to astronaut goals or even scary mummies all for example, for Halloween celebrations yesterday. Learning for my six year old for example, occurs through interactions with his siblings on a daily basis, something formal education would have restricted or curtailed by now. For him, it’s in the way he politely asks for his turn. That’s all. Interaction is a big developmental task for him and the opportunity to learn at home has instilled asking politely for his turn with a laptop, a book, even the last piece of chicken on the table. He politely asks before proceeding to do anything.

A pirate, an astronaut and a mummy.

For my 3rd grader, learning is expressive. Like the way she draws everything for every occasion like Halloween yesterday, a black cat and jack-o-lantern. Or the way she took a short story she wrote and made it into a chapter book, now with 12 chapters and counting. But as if that’s not all, learning, especially our poetry sessions once a week is about normalizing the mistakes she makes with reading poetry, repeating the process over and over, despite whatever setbacks she feels, until she becomes comfortable, even confident with the words and her understanding of the power of language. For my junior kindergartener (also for his brother and sister) learning occurs within a complex network of people, places, nature, and things. Like with our Sunday walk around the amazing Forest Park in search of the Dinosaur Park (will make a keep story of this soon) or with making leaf man out of dry leaves he picks along our walks during this glorious Fall season. Learning is everywhere, something he does everyday, without any curriculum, just part of his daily living.

My daughter’s Halloween drawing.

These are the gifts homeschooling has given to my family. Learning for us is part of our DNA, fundamentally connected to our everyday existence. Beyond this pandemic, I intend to do my part to keep affirming my children’s learning in this way.

For art this week, my third grader made a unique, ravishingly beautiful but simple depiction in celebration of the Day of the Dead. The instructions were simple. Watch the Festival of the Bones book on YouTube, then draw skeletons in white in an interesting background highlighted with a bit of accent color and gel pens. The cute, funny book, Festival of Bones by Luis San Vincente is a delightful read, apt for her assignment and this weekend’s celebration about the Day of the Dead. But it’s my daughters drawing, her focus on rethinking the architecture of skeletons, to mark out a space where even skeletons can flourish via the possibilities of her imagination, that I keep today.

My daughter’s art assignment

My daughter drew 2 skeletons having a picnic in a snowy night. I asked why a picnic and a snowy night. She simply said it is her drawing, as a result, anything is possible. Why not render skeletons in another light? Not as scary creatures but as delightful beings, doing delightful things even at a time or during a weather vastly different from how people imagine skeletons to act, to be, to live. I was stunned by her description, and her vivid and confident illustrations of the 2 skeletons having a picnic in a snowy night. This same vivid and confident portrayal of skeletons is possible even with motherhood, especially for working mothers.

Two skeletons, a picnic and a snowy night by Lotanna.

My daughter’s artwork helped me to rethink the subtle yet pervasive attachments we may all have to the fabric of motherhood. The need to think about what it means and what it takes to do both, work and motherhood, effortlessly, defiantly, with struggle in many cases and but a rugged ease in some instances. Just today, I not only reviewed four NIH grants in need for funding as a peer-reviewer, but I managed to put on a home-based Halloween party, albeit for four children, while also watching a movie that celebrated my daughter’s art assignment.

The artist herself.

Rethinking motherhood, for working mothers is a necessity. What I am determined to do is take what is sidelined, the sheer strength, fortitude in all our roles, and elevate it, concretize what it is, outside of fiction, whether rendered or thought as impossible for working mothers like me, who do both work and our roles as mothers effortlessly sometimes or with impediments other times. For us, anything is possible. My daughter’s imagination is a reminder for me continue to work to rethink the piecemeal notion people may have about work for mothers and mothers who work, to lay it bare down to its bones, because every successful advancement, every failure, every hope or every struggle, requires that we all learn and know firsthand that being a working mother, is both possible and meaningful like 2 skeletons having a picnic in a snowy night.

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.

In Religion yesterday my son learnt about God and how he created everything. Religion is the one subject that truly captivates his attention for a long time compared to other subjects. Since the start of the school year we have been coloring and learning about the 10 commandments. I honestly don’t know if he remembers any of them. But there is something about learning about God and Jesus in particular, that makes him still. His stillness with Religion (via the same technology he loathes with other subjects) is piercing. His love for religion, with word for word memorization of the Catholic mass since he was 3 for example, has been profoundly insightful to our family.

At 3, he knew how to say the Catholic prayers during Holy Communion.

Yesterday we spent time learning about the wonderful things God created. Like the moon. My son adores the planets and the moon. The picture of the moon in the chapter we read was his favorite picture. His teacher asked why the moon was his favorite? He replied, because it shines on everything. Just when we thought he had provided his answer, as his responses are often short, my son goes on to explain why the moon was his favorite.

The moon he said, shines on the trees as well as the elephant. It also shines on the grass as well as the peacocks. Even the fruits and vegetables, the horses and the butterflies and also the fishes and the birds in the sky. The moon shines on everything. I love it because of that. His teacher and I were stunned. I was also speechless. The depth of his thoughts surprises me always. Here is a boy for whom interaction can be quite a task, his responses very minimal, and his disdain for homeschooling very high. But the moon and its power to shine on everything was spectacular to him and worth underscoring how it shines on everything.

Just when I thought the class was over, his teacher asked him to draw what of all God’s creatures he loves. My son said his family. He would draw his family as that’s what he loves. He proceeded with focused and purposeful determination to draw me, his dad, himself, his sister and his brother. I was in awe. Everyday with him is different. Some days can be silent. Some days like yesterday stunning. But in the end and like the moon he continues to shine bright in ways that make me smile. Keep shining my son, as bright as the moon, shine.

Our family.

My infant son plays with his feet with confidence. He received a toy set from a dear friend that allows him to use his feet to play with a toy piano. When we initially introduced him to the toy at around 1 month of age, he would just sit there and not interact with it. Granted he was still making sense of his world after only just leaving a dark womb 30 days ago and so his interactions with everything were very minimal. But recently and now at 3 months of age, I introduced the toy set to him again and he was in love. His eyes lit up to all the colors of the toy piano. He became determined to master the toy and boy did his determination pay off. It helped him learn to play with his feet, and he played over and over again, playing tunes on the toy piano. Truly, how he make sense of his world fascinates me, especially how he learns, and how he adjusts to life playing with his feet. And he is playing away.

My first undergraduate research job at Penn State University was for the Family Life Project, a longitudinal study of the biological, individual, family and community influences that affect rural children. As an undergraduate researcher, I was trained to code how children interacted with the toys they were presented with. Specifically, I coded an interaction whereby a child was presented with a jigsaw puzzle and watched for certain cues like; did the child reach for the toy immediately or did the child simply stare at it? Did a parent assist the child with the toy in anyway he or she chooses? The idea behind these coding was that how children interacted with a variety of developmental competencies even with something as simple as toys may lead to later success or failures not just throughout childhood but also in adolescence and adulthood. So early acquisition of skills necessary for interaction or play are in turn important for interaction with peers as well as adjustments to tasks in schools.

This study as well as my overall background in human development and family studies thanks to my undergraduate years at Penn State, is one of the key reasons why I remain fascinated with how children make sense of their world. Research from the Family Life Project would suggest that my son’s interaction (albeit one small data point) with toys are necessary for self-regulation. I say that it’s is simply delightful to watch his determination with play especially his vigorous playing with his feet. Keep playing in life or with your feet as the willpower to learn, to make sense of your world, is in you.

We learnt about the letter ‘I,’ my son and I this past week. It was the perfect letter for a son who adores ice-cream. He also got the perfect math assignment to count with his favorite thing, ice cream cones. Homeschooling has been grueling the past few weeks and we finally did our first set of parent teacher conference this past Thursday and Friday. As I reflected with each teacher, as I listened to their assessment about this experience with learning, as I looked back on my children’s achievements this past quarter, as I even argued with one about a letter grade in art (I had to bring out the researcher in me for this one) I can’t help but smile. Their resilience, their courage, their determination, their perseverance, and even their ease with making learning work in the middle of an ongoing pandemic has been mesmerizing.

Homeschooling for all its difficulties and it is extremely difficult to homeschool 3 children while also nursing a baby and maintaining your own work-still, all of it is worth it. I have learnt so much from my children this past few months and I have slowed down a lot. Homeschooling forced me to focus on what really matters. Of course I love my job, but I love my family more. Of course, I want to make an impact in the world, implementing sustainable solutions that will improve people’s health in limited resources settings, but my family makes this passion truly worth it. Because if I can succeed with homeschooling, if I can make sense of the rugged difficulties at times like with homeschooling a child who has 1-5minutes attention span on Zoom, or the rugged ease at other times like with learning the letter ‘I’ with a three year old who adores ice-cream, then I can continue to refine my ideas about the rugged complexities associated with implementing sustainable health solutions. It’s all rugged in a way, homeschooling, global health and yes I love the word ‘rugged.’ But the ease of it all when it makes sense is sublime and truly worth fighting for.

Our letter ‘I’ assignment

As maternity leave slowly comes to an end, in the middle of a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, I will keep the rugged ease of learning with my children that homeschooling has taught me this year. It’s my mood for now, this ‘rugged ease’ with life and homeschooling three young children. I hope to continue to reflect on why as our experience with learning continues.

I grew up in Nigeria watching a series on TV called ‘Tales by Moonlight.’ In the series, an aunty, gathered children around and told them traditional folktales or stories that inculcate societies values into children. She began by stating these words that made a deep impression on my mind: ‘Story, story.’ The children replied: ‘Story.’ Then she stated; “Once upon a time.’ To which the children replied ‘Time, Time.’ Then the story began. The stories were mostly about societal norms, respect for authority, unity with siblings, and morals heavily laden with lessons on how to live, how to act, when to speak, or when to talk and what was expected from every child even in childhood. The stories were inseparable from every aspect of life in Nigeria and used to tell children what to do and how to do it.

In turn, the show became an exemplar on how to transmit and continue values that make society and family systems whole. An exemplar on how values of a society enhance unity, group solidarity and cooperative effort rather than individualism, how values foster understanding between generations, how values teach the proper role of everyone in a society, and how values vividly imagined in our minds, in informal, serene and unruffled ways, highlight the essential conflicts between what is right and what is wrong in any given society. Tales by moonlight with its stories full of lessons for life, was valuable to me.

As a mother now to four little children, I am always in search of materials that teach life lessons in informal, serene ways, especially through stories that allow my children to vividly imagine for themselves, the things that are of value in any given society. In fact, some nights we end the day in the same way aunty began her stories on Tales by Moonlight, ‘Story, Story.’ In the absence of the show Tales by Moonlight, book helps my children imagine and gain practical lessons in values of our society. Enter the book, ‘Anansi the Spider.’

The book Anansi The spider.

As part of our weekly reading series for homeschooling, we read Anansi the Spider to my junior kindergarten. His sister made a spider for her class work last Friday and so today’s reading was a perfect fit.

Anansi the Spider is a tale from the Ashanti People of Ghana adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott. It was a 1973 Caldecott Honor book for its vibrant, stylized realization of this classic and timeless folklore from the Ashanti people.

In this colorful retelling, we are introduced to Anansi’s sons: See Trouble, Road Builder, River Drinker, Game Skinner, Stone Thrower and Cushion. When Anansi got lost and fell into trouble, all his sons used their special skills to save him. When he wanted to reward the sons for saving him, he discovers an important lesson. Each son, from See Trouble who knew when he was in danger to Cushion who helped when he fell from the sky, is equally important. None of the sons are more valuable than the other. In other words, everyone one is valuable and has a role to play in this life.

Stories like Anansi play a role in fostering values of everyday life that matter. They impressed the traditions and values of my heritage deep into my consciousness. The essential goals of folktales like Anansi are admirable and remains sterling. We should all do our part to keep reading these folktales to children.

My son Olisadubem.

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 love Toni Morrison. One of my greatest regrets for my life is that we never met. We never had a face to face chat about her brilliant, most sterling mind. We die, that may be the meaning of life, she once eloquently said, but we do language, that may be the measure of our lives, is probably the most poignant thing I have read. It is also my life’s quote. No one personifies this quote better than Ms. Morrison and boy did she do language during her life on earth.

For the past year since her death, I have been devouring any and everything Ms. Morrison has every written. Not her fictional literature that many of us love, whether it’s Beloved or Sula or the first book of hers I ever read, The Bluest eyes. No, her fiction was sterling, awe inspiring and downright brilliant. No, I haven’t been reading her fictional books. I have instead been reading everything non- fictional that this brilliant woman ever wrote. She wrote so many and my go to bible now, her last, ‘The source of self-regard’ is quite simply divine.

But the latest in my possession, a very short acceptance speech she delivered in 1996, on the acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, is by far one of the most brilliant essays I have ever read. This particular essay is a masterclass on brevity as well as the passion, pleasures, difficulties and necessities of the reading/writing life. It is the inspiration for this blog.

Toni Morrison’s The Dancing Mind.

In the essay, Ms Morrison speaks about peace, not just peace as a result of war, but the peace that comes with engaging with other’s mind when reading/writing. She described this as the dancing of the mind and asked all of us to become vigilant about preserving this peace from the peril it faces.

The real life work of creating and producing and distributing knowledge…the ability for the entitled as well as the dispossessed to experience one’s own mind dancing with another, in essence the real life work of the book world is a serious feat that warrants vigilance.’

When writing and writers manage to touch another’s mind through reading, the intimate, sustained surrender that is felt, without fear or interference, this dance of an open mind, fosters a particular kind of peace that requires vigilance. Securing that peace, the peace of a dancing mind, is our work. ‘There isn’t anybody else’ said Ms Morrison and I totally agree. She may be gone, but her words, are my source of inspiration. I hope to use this blog to help you experience your own mind dancing with my own. Securing this peace, the peace of the dancing mind, is now my life’s work. Rest In Peace Ms. Morrison. The dance continues…

I hate Zoom, especially for children. I hate that it’s the new way to teach. I hate that this pandemic has forced all of us to incorporate it into our daily routine. I hate Zoom especially for my children’s learning. It’s sounds contentious, I know, and hostile, I know, and defensive, I know and old-fashioned. I know that. But I am the parent that prefers learning the old-fashioned way. Not from tablets or online, but from books and outdoor exploration, like with butterflies perched quietly on a grass or books that make the mind dance.

I am not suggesting that Zoom does not have its benefit but I hate how it’s forcing my children to sit still and learn via a screen rather than from one on one interaction with their peers and teachers. Teaching my children is not something I take likely, it is the essence of their life and the tools I must use to do so must make sense to them. Zoom doesn’t. I can’t say no to tablets and somehow allow Zoom. No to TV or all sorts of distractions online, but then transport them to a Zoom utopia. Rational tools for homeschooling with our children during a pandemic are a necessity these days and it’s only September. Parents like myself eager to construct meaningful learning in the face of our country chaotic response to the pandemic must be nurtured, protected. And it’s our right to hate Zoom.

It’s vital therefore to know the consequences of the Zoomification of learning. The erasure of face to face learning, whether in math or social studies, recess altered or denied for fear of succumbing to a virus, canceled soccer games, unstaged children’s play, the peeling away of normalcy even for children, the thought of this pandemic never ending is frustrating. I hate Zoom, but I hate the pandemic even more.