My awakening summer was 2020. Like the entire country, I was literally in labor. Something wonderful was born on this day, by 9am last year. We became parents to our fourth child. We call him Ranyenna. In Igbo, it means giving him back to God.

His hair was full, short, brown and crinkled. His eyes were big, brown and beautiful. They moved slowly to see this world we live in. His voice was tender, very mellow, very hush, except when he cried and only food, stopped all the fuzz. I imagine he was weary. I was too. The world was unfriendly and unkind, squeezing through my canal, equally unfriendly and unkind and he choose to make his arrival in the middle of a pandemic and a long overdue racial reckoning so unfriendly and unkind.

The times were changing but my baby was as beautiful as the setting sun. The loveliest thing about life, about love, was in my arms. I was prepared to protect him like an eagle. Nourish his being for he was regal. Watch him soar unfettered like a seagull. For he was mine to gaze and hold so dear. His entire being filled me with enormous pride. I too was prepared to say, here is my child, with whom my joy for life, cannot be denied.

Love was more than a four letter word, more than a feeling, more than I can even put to words. Love was him and together we were loved. To see a child pass through the different stages of becoming a being. To listen from the beginning and watch till the end for over 9months until they they make their arrival to this world defies words. I have been through this 3 times already, but everytime has a magic of its own and Ranyenna’s birth was no different.

I felt no pain, expect during the critical times of labor. I didn’t even know I was in labor. And people continue to underestimate my labor. We walked into the hospital the night before, with our masks on like never before. We were 2 days early. I felt contractions. They weren’t painful or I seem to know how to tolerate pain. My husband asked whether we should go check it out. I did so because he suggested. I felt completely fine. I left my purple hospital bag in my car. These were the terrible beginning months of the pandemic. I feared even my bag wasn’t safe on hospital grounds. I was taken to a room where the nurses started to check whether I was in labor or a false alarm. I was in labor, 4 cm dilated, and I didn’t even know.

They took us to a plain-colored room around 1am or so. I was curious about birth in a pandemic. I expected it to be surreal and unlike my other 3 births. It wasn’t, except for all the mask people wore around us. My husband and I wore no mask in our room. They put all their tubes, started epidural, and waited for labor to progress. I went to sleep. By morning, they broke my water. And my labor started in full force by 8:30 am on that fateful Wednesday morning and by 9am he made his arrival known.

My Ranyenna cried, piercing tears that were so melodic to my ears. Then he came straight to my body. Flesh for flesh, love for love, I held him completely mesmerized that he was mine. Completely in awe that I passed through the journey for the 4th time with no problems. I am the last person to ever share news of being pregnant. My mom once said that because pregnant women go through a journey called pregnancy, it’s best to keep mum about the journey until you become a mom. It has always been my philosophy to keep mum. Until they arrive.

With baby number 4, his arrival illuminated my spirit and set my world ablaze. My soul has been on fire ever since. Because of him, being fearless is all I know. You would too if you watched yourself give birth to a living being. It’s an out of body experience that I can never fully wrap my head around. This gift called motherhood. One that I will forever cherish because I am never overlooked. I struggle with that a lot. Struggle with when I should speak or stay silent. When I should lead or follow. Even when I should stifle my drive so others and their drive are not stifled. It’s a struggle I’ll admit that means women like me get overlooked and underestimated all the time.

But with my children, with my greatest treasures, with my profound creation, with my cup that overflows, I am looked at, with eyes that say I love you and words that speak it all the time. Love that knows no despair. Love as gentle as an evening prayer. Love that never wears or tears. Love that is always there. Love that allows me to go anywhere. Love that I will follow anywhere. Love that leads me anywhere. With them, I found strength for this thing called life. Their love is all I need to get by. Your love Ranyenna is all I need. Happy birthday my gift I gift back to my God always.

My love, happy birthday!

I begin this week in awe of becoming a mother for the 4th time. My last baby arrived this week, last year.

The pandemic kept us all distracted. This was the 4th month of mask wearing, social distancing and lockdowns. It was also a time where the virus was so debilitating that I feared a wrong move would put myself and baby in danger.

There were no research on its effects on pregnant women. There were more deaths in black and brown men and women. I did not want to watch the news for we lacked leadership from those sworn to protect all men and women. This was also the time of protests by brave men and women.

A wide-awakening was ongoing and finding ways to refine ourselves was eminent. Enough was enough was all we could muster even as we protested our rights to exist, amidst ignorance for their bluster. Of course I stayed home, but my mind was on the streets.

We stayed home and prayed God’s plans for his children were of prosperity. Baby’s due date was eminent and so I focused on how to create another baby, another life, within an already pandemic and race-inflicted world.

Creating a new life, a new being, a new beginning, a new purpose within a world committed to a path leading to doomsday, seemed to be the last thing anyone should be undertaking.

But then again, I am not anyone.

Exactly one year ago today, at our 4th of July barbecue.

By this time last year, it seemed that the most fruitful thing I could do to for a world so filled with darkness, was to shine a bit of light, with a dash of hope, and a sprinkle of love.

Imagining what his eyes would look like, his first smile, even his tears occupied my mind. It was a ‘He’. My third one for a world where I wished he was a butterfly. Love appears impossible in times of despair and frustration, but I choose it as a valuable experience. I choose it to fly away to the spaces and places full of brilliance, his brilliance, his beauty.

The beginning of love, a future full of hope, all of which seemed to be dissipating in the world at that time was a gift to the times.

So throughout this week, I want to keep these moments in mind. I want to relive this experience through words and pictures too. I want to contribute a share of myself to your world so you sense the light of my motherhood.

It’s a gift I continually gift myself. Like a restorative balm to soothe the realities of a world so full of harshness.

Motherhood shakes and informs every aspect of my being. It restores my soul too, in the way quiet streams of water do.

Like a Phoenix, I rise to every occasion, countering every interpretation necessary to showcase that my interior life, my nurturing life, even my academic life, as I define it, is so valued and revered and I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.

The beauty, the brilliance of being a black mother in light is my keep for the week. My doors are open. Enter if you may.

I am a Rainbow mom. My daughter gave me a priceless card in the form of a bouquet that explained why. All of the colors are needed to make me she noted and they personify my talents. For example, as the color Red, I am a great thinker with a big heart. For Orange, I am fun, cheerful and an awesome cook. For Yellow, I am happy and I cheer up my daughter whenever she is sad. For Green, I am kind, hate messes, but love gardening and nature. For Blue, I am cool, confident and an amazing mum. For Purple, I am creative, religious, thoughtful and I love to write. Finally she shared how alone each color is striking, but together, a beautiful rainbow is created within me.

My Rainbow Mom card.

This poster card made my heart leap with joy. I remember when she started making it. She said it’s a surprise and that I should wait for it. Only hint was that it would be full of colors. I didn’t know what to expect. But receiving this yesterday made me so thankful to be her mom. It also reminded me of the passage from the gospel John read during mass yesterday. Something that I believe personifies the love that my kids showered for me yesterday during Mother’s Day. They say you never forget the first moment you become a mother, the first baby you called your own, the person who called you mother, the first moment unconditional love becomes love unconditionally. My Lotanna Belle and her brothers are everything and more, who reminds me always of this moment. Thank you for choosing me, and helping me bear fruit that will remain. And yet again to all mothers, happy Mothers Day. May you know love this unconditional.

When the gates of new possibilities are opened for children, they go through. My daughter is a prime example. For her, reading is life. I have watched over the years, how it continues to transform her consciousness. I see it’s power through her lens. I see it’s push to higher spaces through her commitment. What I didn’t expect was the ways it would keep her responsive and alert to her own unique possibilities. Often we don’t see this transformation. Often we truly do now know that exact moment when a child becomes an author, when a child picks up a pen and starts telling their own story, when a child awakens to their own possibilities. I am living in that moment.

I have had the privilege of being a witness to this transformation with my daughter. Writing for her started passively, something to keep her busy with during the unprecedented summer of a lifetime with the start of the pandemic. In a pre-pandemic era, we read to oblivion. She earned her way through reading. I have no problem admiting that it all started when she was 6 and I promised to give $100 dollars for reading 100 books. She did and I paid. I have tried this same tactic with her brothers to no avail. So I pressed on with her. The following summer, the same charge, 200 books for $200. She did it again. And so our summer reading behaviors solidified and I of course was happy. Until the pandemic. One way to make up for all the books we needed was to go the library. The pandemic closed her abilities to use her library card. In a rather feeble attempt to keep her busy, I casually stated, why don’t you start telling stories then. What I didn’t realize at the time was the power of the word. That parents can birth new dreams in their children with words is astounding to me. I gave her the gift of possibilities.

She went away to that special place that writers tap into for inspiration and wrote her first short piece, illustrated by her and published by me. I have written about it in an old post focused on writing like a child (here) In fact the first lengthy piece that stretched my own writing when my keeplist began was my reflection of her first storybook Kaylin and Little Foot. I was stunned that she would take my request on and work on a story she would like to read. Since then, she has been writing and journaling non stop. I have pressed on too with my writing. She reads this keeplist. She also awakened me to my own possibilities with writing. When I recently asked why she continues to write, she said is because I do the same. She has made me more responsive and alert to the power of my words and action. Often we don’t hear this direct stuff as to when writing begins in childhood so pardon my focus on it.

But my keeplist today isn’t even about my daughter’s writing from the past. Rather, I want to talk about the future and how she represents what I know would be great ahead. A little over a week ago, I gave her a little blue book to keep her busy again. Her school was beginning Spring break for the week and she wanted things to do. I said let’s read. She mentioned she has read all her books and needed new ones. While we were talking, I was busy cleaning the house. As if on cue (the universe and it weird ways), I found a little blue book full of empty pages while rifling through materials I was cleaning. I tore away the used portion and said, why don’t you go write stories again. Be open and take us on an adventure. I left her to decide how to approach this assignment. I expected it to keep her busy. Little did I know that it would awaken the possibilities in her.

Enter, ‘The Golden Sapphire.’ How she comes up with her titles and table of contents is mesmerizing to me. How my words take her to a place where anything is possible is sterling to me. How she chooses to be open in this manner is what I intend to keep, for it is beautiful to me. I don’t know what the future holds, but the possibilities of it are there, if only she continues to do her part to see the richness of her ways. And she is stupendously rich. The unexpected dimensions of her ways keeps me alert to her future, one that personifies that word Nkiruka, what is ahead is great. I am keeping this here because I have no idea what I have done to awaken this in her. Like I said earlier I have tried and failed with her brothers, though the verdict is still out and I know they look up to her. Speaking visions of possibilities to our children is the most generous investment we can make. One that I intend to keep for myself and gift to her always.

Even as I share the images above, I am only using them here for emphasis as it’s the current story she is busy working on. Kaylin and Little Foot went on to become a chapter series, about 12 of them. Then there was The tiny, tiny team below, a short story collection illustrated by her, and a host of other collections. What I have learnt through this experience is that the ultimate gift we can offer our children is possibilities. The richness of it all is there, if only we help them discover it’s unexpected dimensions for themselves. Of course they must go through the door themselves. But the thought of bursting open, the gate of possibilities, the thought of awakening her to her potential, the thought of empowering her creativity, is a keep worth celebrating. It also a reminder to keep seeing the possibilities in children.

The saying that no one is free until we are all free is seared deeply in my mind. That it shouldn’t have to been this way, with vigilance now as an ethos, stays deeply in my mind. That eight people, 6 of them Asian would be killed for no reason, also seats deeply in my mind. That they were working hard for a livelihood, at a place where rest should be the norm, burrows a hole deeply in my mind. That I imagine they felt protected, maybe even secured, with each other, is etched deeply in my mind. I imagine they fought to live, fought to claim their rightful place in the land of the living, in a place of rest, breaks my heart in pieces. I imagine their eyes, the look of disbelief, the look of shock, maybe even awe, not for the killer but for life, breaks my heart in pieces. I imagine they did their part to ensure we remember their names, and not the cowardly act of a fool who shall not be named. I imagine them free, from all the pain this world gives. Free from all the attack, free from all the hate. Just free.

Though they are gone, love will conquer the hate they tried to sow deep in our minds. Love will heal and put back the broken pieces of our heart. Love will free them all. One after the other, love is all I have left, with all 8 of them now buried deeply in my mind.

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.

Ethereally lost in the world of words, Pinke Gordon Lane was a poet’s poet. She once said, her ideas, her reality, filled her with a drunken desire. I am learning about this desire with writing. Pinke was a master at writing poetry her way. She had a way with words that could make you feel drunk. She also wrote for herself, the kind of poetry she wanted to hear herself. Take for example one of her poem’s entitled ‘A quiet poem’ where she spoke of things often not quiet among blacks people, like pain. But rather than delving deeply into the pain, Pinke used words instead, like a soothing balm, to quiet the mind, the origin of pain. But it’s her poem, ‘To a woman poet I know,’ that I want to share to you all in praise of International Woman’s Day.

Pinke Gordon Lane

I deliberately choose to write my blog now, not because I didn’t have anything to say like the cliched Happy Woman’s Day, but because I wanted my words to move me as well. I am drawn to Pinke and her words because she first wrote for herself, the poem, or in my case, the stories, I have always wanted to read. If only more black women scholars wrote this book and I was given opportunities to understand as only we sisters know to speak, what to do when the devil knocked at my door. That my mind would wander is what Pinke’s poem states. It would wander but fall into it and wait for the truth. That my voice would not save me, is another thing Pinke stated. That I maybe lost, standing on the edge, even surrounded by terrible darkness as we help ourselves to make sense of where we find ourselves in academia. A space in need of light was the gift she offered. That and the need to dispel any personal and private hell black, lovely and lost women may be experiencing. Even when our voice cries our, with the silent air, dissolving us, our essence, our being, Pinke reminded me that my beauty and strength, my very existence, were all destined from the begin. She may have been writing to a woman poet. But Pinke was speaking to my soul. Keep knowing the beauty and strength of you. Pinke would want that.

He cannot find his tape. We awakened to tears. He wants to fix something. A book in pieces, he says, between tears. But he cannot find his tape. So he cries. He starts his morning some days like this, crying. Today it’s for a tape. Other days a piece of crayon or a book, even a favorite toy. Little obsessions like this can lead to a day full of meltdowns. All his mind knows is that something is missing. Like a train out of its tracks. Everything stops. No amount of comforting even pleading can reset his mind back to its track until that thing is found. We begin today with a tape. It’s only 6am. But such is the life of a kid on the spectrum.

That we have been helping him get by, past the tapes, past the obsessions, past his tears, past his inability to stop them, is no small task too. We acknowledge. He cries. We give hugs to quiet the noise, he cries some more. We are stern, unyielding. Still he cries. His brain and mind is in control. So we look for the thing preoccupying his mind. He cries further. The tears are strong, unmanageable at times. Some may see cries for attention. Three people are looking for the tape. He knows we care. He sees it in our eyes. He mutters in between the tears, with his hands on his head, a desire to stop the tears, to quiet the inner noise, his brain seems to relish. To know him, his frustrations, his obsessions, his tears, even his inability to stop them, is to know love..

Ritamae Hyde, a Belizean poet wrote a poem about a Mother’s love. In it she shared how a mother’s love cannot be confined to beautiful words or abstract expressions. But her love is and remains one of the purest form of human expressions to be felt on this earth. This love she writes about so eloquently portrays what lies silent, under, between, hidden, beneath, and invisible for mothers, and other mothers who mother a child on the spectrum. With torn and crying hearts, we look for tapes. Amidst a desire to quell his inner noise, our insecurities, we turn the room upside down. We hold, we hug, we plead, we pray, still the brain wins. We hide our tears, our crying hearts wishes to spill. Only thing left then, since we have been here before, in times of labor, in time of unbearable pain, is the purest form of expression, one we felt in the beginning, one we still feel even in this moment, is love.

A mother’s love by Ritamae Hyde.

Through the tears, we love. Through the missing tapes or crayons or books, we love. Through the inability to stop, we love. That is the purest form of expression Ritamae writes about, one we want to share that all children on the spectrum need. Whether in the beginning or the end of a meltdown, for a missing tape or anything else, give love as only you can. Keep this mother’s love for children on the spectrum.

From her book of poetry ‘Mahogany Whispers.’

I have got three bright sons, one barely 7 months old, the other 4 years of age, and my first, 6 years old. Like most mothers raising black boys in America, I fear always, like I am raising targets. No amount of my education, my gender or even class, can protect my sons from the harsh realities of a racial society that first sees the color of their skin. My situation is made more complex and complicated with my first son who is on the autism spectrum. To know him, is to know love. Fierce, unbounded love, that glows as bright as the moon on good days. On those days, days with no meltdowns or obsessive, compulsive behaviors, our son is pure delight, sweet, tender, and moist, like the red on velvet cakes. But on days were tears are all he knows, all he understands, all that makes sense to his brilliant brain, our son can easily become a target, with his behaviors misconstrued as though he was a neurotypical child. It’s for this reason that homeschooling still makes sense, even when schools are slowly reopening and his own siblings even returning back to school.

My 7 month old!

Now imagine homeschooling a special needs child, all while working at the same time in academia. On some days I am the worst of mothers, and the guilt of abandoning work, and homeschooling, probably makes me the worst of colleagues and parent. Nothing gets done. Not math, language, reading or even music for him, or my numerous emails or Zooms for yet another meeting in the middle of homeschooling. On other days, especially days where we break all the rules, make our own rules even, days where we confront our fear, face our insecurities, our brains many electric stimulations is pure delight.

Take this week and weekend. Not only did we play with snow, we also painted, made jewelry, had a movie night, all with a brand new kitchen, now in ruins, thanks to a busted frozen water pipes. The first trade off, I abandoned work and allowed my soul to play. We needed it. The second is that they are my boys and I will do anything to protect them. The third is that even in the middle of chaos, even when his brain or my own is overwhelmed during a pandemic that isn’t abating, I will still work to see our brilliance. And we are brilliant, just as we are.

Our many footprints playing in the snow!

I will do my part to listen to the tears streaming down our beautiful black faces on days when we have our own meltdowns. I will do my part to hug our shoulders a little longer, even in the middle of yet another cold, snowy, sleepy night. I will pray. Yes indeed, I will cast all my cares on to God and thank him as we return to church, where all our other-mothers, Sister Cheryl in particular, can continue that loving, and teaching only she knows how too. Our grandmama is now vaccinated and so the fears of the virus, fears of its strong grip, are slowly disappearing, though with new variants, spreading rampart and wide, homeschooling remains. But above all, I will show them love. A fierce maternal love. If the goal is to nurture them, help them preserve, with their feet soaked fully in their culture, then maternal love is critical. Maternal love is a necessary foundation upon which my sons can continue to thrive and become resilient to to face and subvert the racist world they live in. Maternal love is also a serious matter especially where black boys are concerned, especially when the odds against them are high. The multitude and forms of the tolls this pandemic takes is persistent, but we will persist. With our heads unbowed, and our hearts unbroken, even with this pandemic, for my black sons, our mothering love, will persist. Keep persisting.

We started today in love. My 2nd son is also turning 4. So our home was filled with love. We choose to celebrate it today as his birthday is on Wednesday. Something about birthdays and days dedicated to love, fills my heart with joy. Like with my daughter’s gifts to everyone today. Handmade cards for each person, based on the things they loved. Like PJ Masks for one of her brother or a solar system card filled with love for her other brother. That children are vehicles through which we learn about the world is profound to me. I learnt about love, about humanity from my children’s eyes. That and why accepting each other is brilliant always. For love, true love is always kind, always patient, always divine, always sublime, and full of hope, full of joy, for those who choose to persevere, who choose to never fail. I choose to keep love today and forever and with cards made with love from my children. Happy Valentine’s Day.