We are, some of us, loved. Not the kind you never see, nor the kind you never feel. Not even the kind you never know, or the kind you never hear. We are, some of us, blessed. Not the kind you never say, nor the kind you never shout about. Not even the kind you never jump around in joy, nor the kind you never pinch yourself about. We are, some of us, persistent. Not kind that gives up, nor the kind that quits. Not the kind that never gets up, nor the kind afraid to get on their knees. We are, some of us, light. Not the kind that hides it’s glimmer, nor the kind that forgets to glow. Not the kind afraid of the dark, nor the kind unsure of our spark. On this day and at this very moment where I brought you forth into this world nine years ago, My Belle, know that you are loved always, you are blessed always, keep persisting too, for you are light. Like a city built on a hill, your spark can never be hidden. Happy 9th Birthday.
Everyone needs a sense of connection. A sense of relation. A sense of belonging. A sense of knowing that you matter to a particular group, a particular family, or a circle of friends. To belong, is to have life and live it out fully. Irrespective of how you find yourself, to belong, is to have joy and have it more abundantly. Even in this moment, to belong is to become part of an infinite story, one told for years to come, about how your people framed who you are, framed your identity, framed your possibilities. I am enjoying belonging to my people. They are my national treasure, my soul’s desire, my inner peace, my place of joy, my guilty pleasure, my lover’s rock, my shield and protector, my endless possibilities, my heart content. I am nothing without my people. They make every single thing I do worth it. To find you people, to love and treasure them is to find peace for the world and its ways. To celebrate your people too, to let them know how much you treasure and value every single fiber of their being is to know love for yourself. This week, after a gruesome couple of months of working, I am on a journey to celebrate that which makes my heart leap everything. My Belle.
I became a mother because my Belle gave me this once is a lifetime opportunity. I also remember the day vividly this week nine years ago. Of how I walked into labor at 41 weeks. Of how nothing seemed to make her want to come into the world until she was forced out. Of the pain of child birth, my first, with the unfortunately tear that occurred when she passed through the ring of fire and it it was fire. Of how she came still, with an angel’s kiss on her forehead. Of how tiny she way in my arms. Of how she became mine to protect and nurture and love. The past nine years of being surrounded by her love has been divine. To know you belong to her and she belongs to you makes my heart content. She pierces my air with bubbles full of joy, full of laugher, full of excitement and full of possibilities. I keep repeating the word ‘possibilities’ and it’s because she demonstrates it powerfully to me every single day. I am a mother because she became my first child this week nine years. I am a mother because I learnt how to become one through her. I am a mother willing to change the rules on mothering, including writing about it because of her ways, full of hope, full of sheer determination to live out her God’s given destiny. If you see all the stories she has written, all the art she has drawn and all the life lessons she continues to teach me, then you will change too. So from this week and till forever, I am on a mission to nurture what matters to her. Every single aspect of her souls desire is mine to fulfill because she belongs to a people who love her unconditionally. She belongs to me. Find your people, learn from them, adapt to as your learn, but ultimately nurture them endlessly. That’s the plan for this week and beyond with Belle. Keep belonging to those that matter.
I almost missed writing today. It has been a crazy month trying to wrap up two major projects. As they slowly come to an end, I realize that all that matters isn’t that I skip writing but that I hold myself accountable. I began this journey to chronicle life as a mother in academia. It is one hectic journey. From time management issues to time set aside for family, all of that can get in the way of whatever goals you set for yourself with your academic journey. I choose to write about my experiences because both are meaningful and critically important to me. There will always be day like this that get in the way of writing here. But still I intend to hold myself accountable for what I do as a mother in academia isn’t reflected anywhere. This one is truly a reminder to me to keep telling my story even on days when time isn’t on my side. Tell the story so the world knows that to be a mother, a professor and a grant writer is a field worthy of celebration. Hopefully this is just the beginning.
I saw a image on LinkedIn. An image focused on the invisible load of motherhood. Invisible load of mothering black children. I froze because I knew the image was talking directly to my soul. I saved the image. I didn’t want to read it at first because I knew it would be to heavy for my mental health. I looked at it after awhile and all I could say to myself was yes, yes, and some more yes. The load is heavy. From protecting our children’s innocence to feeling pressured to have well-behaved children, all 9 statements spoke directly to my soul that all I will do know, for now is keep this year. Black mothers have a lot to deal with. Keep us in mind every time.
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.
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.
We didn’t go to church last year. We didn’t celebrate with other mothers or listen to the special Mother’s Day prayers from our Jesuit Priest. We didn’t even get the flowers we normally receive at the end of mass, a symbol of our Church’s reverence for today. The pandemic with all its adversities was to blame. Today we are prepared to radiate in full bloom, in brilliant colors that highlights the beauty of the day. And there is something about Azaleas in full bloom at the entrance of my home, that gives me radical hope, one year later, as a mother, today.
For starters, azaleas are a a symbol of womanhood, of softness with their deep luscious purplish pink colors that are dependable as blue skies on a very sunny day. Azaleas beauty transforms any space becoming a dramatic focal point of any landscape, in the same way mothers transform life. Then there is the supercooling tendencies of Azaleas which makes these flower a symbol of hardiness. During the winter months, Azaleas hardy stems super cool to low temperature to avoid any freezing injury, enabling them to tolerate the presence of ice and survive. So too is motherhood. How we bear the pains of childbirth, particularly the illustrious ring of fire, the moment a baby makes its appearance, personifies the hardiness of Azaleas.
That one plant can personify both soft and hard, with grace and beauty, even in times of stress is the reason why azaleas give radical hope to motherhood, radical hope for my journey as a mother. By being both soft and hard, at its core Azaleas provide a sense of agency for change, a sense of agency for fight. Adversities will come, as with freezing cold temperatures of winter nights, and finding ways, supercooling ones, to fight through the ice, is crucial for survival. But in the Spring, there will be beauty, brilliant colors in full bloom, that radiates the moment you see Azaleas, the moment your eyes meet to greet these plants, such that the fight through the ice, is never futile, the fight through adversities is never futile. Azaleas commitment and courage to survive winter and achieve this flourishing vision for Spring, is the radical hope I keep for mothers today. The pandemic has been one great adversity. Testing our endurance and abilities to both juggle home and work at the same time. For some of us that meant, there were no separation. Work came home and home became work, not just for ourselves but with the children we homeschooled and the family members we nursed. The pandemic was like Azaleas during winter months. Yet we fought, through the ice, supercooled where we could, to survive this adversity of a life time.
But on this day, a year later, we celebrate you. On this Mother’s Day, may your beauty dazzle. Be as vibrant as you can be and wear those vivid colors that make you radiate like Azaleas. Become a dramatic focal point today and let every eye direct attention to you. This significant Mother’s Day, this one past the adversities of a pandemic, highlights the need to never forget our collective past (though still ongoing) of survival as we envision a collective future full of possibilities, where flourishing will always be at our core like Azaleas in Spring, as we embrace the meaning and purpose of motherhood. My prayer for you also is that you explode with colors so breathtaking that the memories of you beauty lingers on past the ongoing pandemic, throughout today and into forever. It’s what Azaleas do for themselves, a radical hope through life, a collective commitment to heal and transform the adversities of winter, to achieve new forms of flourishing in the Spring. I keep Azaleas here for you today and always.
I learned about auto ethnography the other day. Partly because I have been searching for meaning, including understanding for what I have being doing with writing as I do, every single day on this blog. Auto-ethnography I learnt, is a methodology that seeks to connect personal experience to cultural process and understanding, particularly from the view of researcher and participant or me and myself. When you engage in this method, you are essentially highlighting as close as you can, a process or a journey that creates potential for greater depth and understanding about yourself. I learnt it also has great relevance for mental health. Privacy, even stigma, may mean that many of the thoughts or hurdles, or even successes that shape us, are often not shared with the world, often kept tightly tucked away in that little corner of ourselves that we call our mind. For some, these issues however they manifest in our lives, can move from tiny, to small, to big, and huge, all in a matter of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months. For others, it may take years, or pandemics, for you to realize what truly matters for your mental health. I learnt that in engaging in auto ethnographic writing, I gave my mind the freedom to just be.
No need keeping it all neatly and tightly tucked away in that corner I labeled private. No need, forgetting some experiences that were actually teachable, learning moments. No need silencing the many adaptable voices that speak to my existence as a mother, a wife, and an academic researcher. No need wondering what the plan through life is after all, or who are the people that help me thrive, or why do they matter and what should I do to continuously nurture their presence in my life. In fact, no need keeping things that matter to me private. In reflecting about my life experiences the past 8 months, I have gained a deeper understanding of my own unique journey through life. I choose to make the personal overt, critically help myself and those trying to make sense of their own journey.
When I started this journey, two egg crayons, one yellow, one green, where my guide. My son on the spectrum was my muse, and watching him roll his eggs, was my path. We have been rolling since and I would not change this experience for anything else. In fact, it has saved me. All I knew when the journey started was that I was desperate. Tired and desperate. There was a pandemic. I was a new mom. Three kids were homeschooling and yes, I was teaching a course to graduate students. In the middle of all that chaos, family members and colleagues died, and I was wondering, what then is life after all. There seemed to be nowhere to go, but to that neat, tucked away corner I call my mind. I was either going to stay there, and suffer in silence, or open up so the pain and fears, or even the chaos, all of them, become my story, my experience. I choose to open up and since then, I have been writing. Autoethnography saved me.
My overt inclusion of myself, into this investigation of what it means to be a parent in academia has been profound to me. Every thing I wrote in one form or the other helped shape my understanding of my place in the wider world. Rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist, I delved deeply with a back and forth gaze to scrutinize and publicized myself ultimately for me. Every outward focus on the social, environmental or cultural aspects of my personal experience with an inward exposure of my vulnerable self, helped to tell my story, helped to showcase the healing potential of writing for the mind.
In the end, but from the beginning, it has always been about intentionally making an effort to roll through life, to roll with the punches, to roll with the triumphs, to roll with the tears, to roll with the sighs, to roll even when nothing makes sense. Writing as I do, is now the very medicine I never knew I needed to make sense of my life, my plans for life, the people that matter, all the lessons life has to teach so I learn, the changes or adaptions that I constantly have to make, but ultimately the things worth keep, worth fighting for no matter what. Auto ethnographic writing as I do, and continue to do, helped me heal. Even when looking back was difficult, or looking forward was uncertain, this form of writing helped me find my place, helped do the work necessary to keep what matters. As I sit here, reflecting on the past 8 months, what I know for sure is that I know my story. I know my purpose. I know what I am called to do, even on days when nothing makes sense. I finally know my plan. For me, this blog is and will always remain a place of healing, a space that allowed me to remain well, a gift that keeps on giving. By placing myself at the heart of the intersection between parenting and academic productivity, autoethnography, allowed me to heal. My positionally in this world is clear. Keep auto-ethnography in mind, especially for it’s healing power.
I am drawn to duality. The prolific Igbo author Chinua Achebe once described its importance in this way ‘where something stands something else will stand beside it. Nothing is absolute.’ Seeking a second point of view is essential for life. The intricate and deep structures that inform us are rarely examined when you take a first look. But when you examine anything closely, when you give it a second glance, a second read, a second look, it’s true meaning will be illuminated. It for this reasons I am forever drawn to nature. Every plant we encounter is full of dualities. They produce multiple meanings when you take a closer look, a closer smell, a closer feel. There are no permanent answers with any plant too. No permanent questions. No permanent solutions as everything is subject to change quite literally, season after season. It’s for this reason that I ask that you keep fragrant plantain lilies in mind. They are prime examples.
Not only are they a thing of beauty, but their apple green leaves with creamy white edges personifies the world duality for me. On one hand these plants are just that, plants like many you will see now during the Spring season. These fragrant plantain lilies are scattered all over the front of my house now. The prior owners of our home took gardening to another level. I remain grateful as I am clueless when it comes to plants. But this fragrant plantain lily is one to watch. I was hooked from the name personally as I absolutely adore edible plantains. To know this word as lilies and in my garden makes me smile. In terms of make up, it is also an ornamental plant whose plants deliver fragrance when they bloom sometime in July or August. Apparently come July, these plants will begin to display huge white trumpets that are essentially lilies with a sweet fragrance. Their Japanese name is ‘Yu-Lei’ which means white fairy. For now, even looking at the plants brings a smile to my face. But it’s duality as both plants and flowers is what I choose to keep as it bears many semblance to my dual roles as a mother and a professor.
On one hand my days are full of diapers and tears. These days erupting tooth and growing pains of transitions from infants are the norm. That and the gift of watching my son transition from crawling to walking. This duality makes me smile as he keeps making great strides everyday with perfecting the art of walking as with this video below.
By day and night I am also a researcher, one passionate about research that lasts. It’s why I remain drawn to writing grants as it helps me address one fundamental reason why research never lasts and it’s the lack for funds. But what if we have funds and then draft our research in ways that ensure that they remain. Another duality, subtle but there when you begin with the end in mind even for research grants or interventions you carry out. I adore this new focus on duality. One that I am grateful to plants like fragrant plantain lilies for teaching me this Spring season. Keep them in mind as well babies crawling and walking and mothers working as researchers.
There is something about motherhood that keeps me in awe every single time. It’s that journey between being pregnant and welcoming new life. My people call it a journey and they are quick to remind you to say nothing until you go on the journey and return safe and sound. I take this journey very seriously. Which is why you would hardly see pregnancy photos of myself plastered anywhere. Not everyone makes it through the journey. I get it and I value that too. So to go on the journey and come to the other side safe and sound, is the most awe inspiring moment ever.
Today, another great woman I know went on that journey and brought forth this little bundle of joy. There are no words. Seeing the picture above evoked memories of my experience. I remember the first nights vividly, of wondering how I would take care of the baby. They are so tiny in the beginning and so fragile that the idea of becoming my responsibility can be so daunting. But still, we persevere. To be a woman, to be a mother is no small feat. I am reminded about this everytime I hear another story of another successful journey of another woman. Those who never make the journey too, keep me alert. I know that fear all too. Every pregnant woman comes across it too and not make it makes me just as equally speechless. There is power in womanhood, in motherhood and it’s a gift I will always cherish. So when my family grew larger today, when we literally welcomed new life today, when we told another powerful woman I know that we thank God for the journey mercies, it dawned on me once more that there is power in being and becoming a mother. Something I will always celebrate and cherish for the privilege this aspect of my life entails. So in honor of our latest arrival, keep knowing the sterling power of mothers. We are awe inspiring every single time we bring new life to this earth. We are awe inspiring just as we are. It is by no means a easy task but you are still there and for that, I celebrate you mothers for all you do.
One of the key micronutrients for plants essential for stabilizing cell walls and membranes is calcium. It also acts as a second messenger helping plants sense and physiologically respond to environmental cues. So a soil’s calcium content is crucial for plants and their survival. Enter flowering dogwoods, a key source of calcium.
One of gems along the street by our home is an array of flowering dogwoods. Spring seems to be their time to shine. And they do with their bright pink colors dominating the sidewalk. Flowering dogwoods are best known for their high calcium content. Their foliage, twigs, and fruit are high in calcium and contains amounts that are above those needed for adequate skeletal growth by other species in the environment including birds and deers. But it’s their ability to improve soil content that I want to dwell on today. Flowering dogwood are known as soil improvers due to their calcium pumping technique. When their leaves litter, not only are they a rich and important source of calcium for soils, but they decompose more rapidly than other species making its calcium content more readily available to the soil below. Yet regardless of it abundance, only about 16% of its calcium content are sequestered to the soil and other species. The rest are retained within flowering dogwoods. The only way soils can tap into 84% of its calcium content is when the leaf litters around it. Let this sink in for a moment. For soils to access the rich intracelluar content of a flowering dogwood, the tree has to shed its leaves. Otherwise the calcium content remains within flowering dogwood. Which is why for me and today’s keep, motherhood for those who work and care for others is like a flowering dogwood.
The past few days of my life have been busy with me delving into a grant-writing full time. For the past seven years, most of my grant writing occurs during the Spring semester and my process is like the story of a flowering dogwood. On the surface, I’m just as pink as can be, truly bright and radiating with ideas that are as splendid as a flowering dogwood. Something about Spring season makes me feel alive and full of ideas hence grant writing. But can I be honest? No matter how much I write, my grants only get 16% of my time. Like flowering dogwood, despite being abundant with ideas or calcium in their case, none of that will come into fruition unless reviewers understand our 84% potential.
Most mothers in academia and elsewhere maybe relate. We give our all, often a small portion of our existence, yet we are only fully vindicated when others see or know for themselves the full breath and merit of our potential. Nothing in my grant will say how I wrote this while homeschooling or being a mother to four children. Nothing will shed light on all the multitasking it takes to write grants. Nothing will even highlight all the meetings, all the phone calls, all the assistance, all the sleepless nights it takes to put just one grant together. This is why I can honestly say I consider gender greatly when I review grants. For to be a mother, to put in just a fraction of your existence into any grant, is a tremendous feat alone. I’m not saying or asking for grant reviewers to be partial to mothers or women, but when the statistics shows that most successful grants are by men, flowering dogwoods should come to mind.
Of course men are successful, they can put in 84% of their best foot forward while women actually give 16%. Take a look at the graph below from a paper I usually share at the start for my grant writing course. Men remain in funding pools at rates higher than women overtime. The funding longevity for women are low, with women holding fewer grants in general, submitting fewer applications and successfully renewing grants. Let me repeat this again for emphasis, flowering dogwoods and their potential should truly come to mind here. Of course the statistics are worse for researchers of color but that’s another post for another day. Our resilience is out of this world, not only as a mother, but as a black woman in academia. I usually joke but maybe it’s isn’t a joke, but if only I had a space to go away and just write my grants, maybe a weekend getaway or sorts with no kids crying or no after school games to schedule, then every grant would get my 84% just like soils get the full calcium content of flowering dogwoods when their leaves litter.
For now, 16% will do. That’s the lesson I am keeping from flowering dogwood. To still do my part to improve the public’s health, even if all I can give is 16%. It’s for this reason I ask you to keep working mothers like flowering dogwood in mind. We can give 84% if only conditions are right. But rarely are conditions ever right, so what you see from us is only 16% of our potential. And when that 16% thrives, when you come across a working mother who makes the most out of her 16%, get out of her way and watch as she blossoms like a flowering dogwood.