Failure is always an option. That’s my mantra these days. I have failed in so many aspects of my life. The one that I keep doing these past days is motherhood. No, mothering is not easy. It has never been. It takes effort and patience and moving in some direction even if it seems like you are making no movements at all.

A great friend of our family visited over the weekend and together we made a local native soup made out of water leaves and kale called Edikaikong. While trying to figure out how to make the soup, I shared with her that back in my dissertation days I kept a blog focused on mastering the art of African cuisine. Not just Nigerian cuisine, but all things African. It taught me a lot about spices for example and I will always be grateful for the addition of cumin in my life thanks to that blog. But it failed. Or rather I failed. I never really mastered the art like I intended and well before you know it, the love for cooking fizzled away.

From there on, life got in the way. I finished my dissertation, met my husband, graduated and moved our family to Paris. I spent 2.5 years working in Paris and just as I was leaving, I started a fashion blog to curate all things I loved about African fashion. It was the bane of my existence then. It taught me so much about African fashion. I even dreamt it would become like an African Vogue one day. I also discovered Ify and her Ladymaker brand. That blog, like the one on cooking, changed my life and I still see African fashion from this lens, though the dreams of fashion have long since fizzled out.

As we discussed, I realize that starting and stopping, or even failing with my initial ideas were commonplace. There was once a love for beading jewelry. I still love to make jewelry though for myself but there is a story on failure there as well. There are the never ending desire to become a childrens story book author. I have enough manuscripts to last me a lifetime, some published but for my family’s eyes only and some dating back to when my daughter was still in my womb and yes 10 years later, I am still far from achieving that dream in all the ways I had once hoped.

So why reflect on failure now and why does it matter. As I prep for my grant writing course, I am truly humbled by the mantra that keeps coming in my mind and it is simply that ‘failure is an option.’ Nothing personifies my life more these days than all the numerous grants that taught me how to fail successfully. I know it seems hard to imagine and yes, with motherhood, you will fail. I keep failing and I am learning from my mistakes every day. The latest is with my five year old and lord knows it seems like no matter how hard I try, I keep failing with him. Take for example an incidence the other day at school where his teacher queried the motives of his classroom drawing. Yes my son had depicted himself laying in a pool of blood and I stood by him crying. On probing further with him one on one, it turns out that the blood was actually strawberry juice and that I was not crying because of him, just upset with some blue marks on my shirt.

My son’s love mom drawing depicted with crosses.

In the course of reprimanding him about his drawing, I found myself telling him to curtail his public drawing as people may take it out of context. He listened and now my five year is very sensitive about what he draws for fear that people do not take it out of context. As a mother, I really failed here as the last thing I want is for my son is to never feel like he can draw anything he wants. I am slowly working with him to regain his love for drawing and even if it entails gory scene, these days I am like fine. At least, I know what’s in your head and we can talk it out. Will I fail again with him or any of my children. Yes. Failure is always an option. But after failure, comes lessons, experiences, and anything else that personifies learning. These days, I submit to whatever failure sends my ways. It is always an option.

Ooh and the soup turned out right.

Thank you Chidinma for reminding me once more that failure is an option. By the way, watching the sunset over a lake with our families is a thing and I think I will be adding more of this our lives.

Grow

Grow at such a fast rate

Grow and still grow even when growth seems secure

Grow because life without growth is a waste

Grow simply because you have to

Grow because every lesson learnt along the way is a gift.

I’m on a fast track towards all things that will keep me growing.

I choose to grow because life without growth is meaningless.

Finally, this day of grace, so amazing, has arrived. This day will forever be etched in my memory now. Not because of what I get to call myself from today, A full Professor, but more so for the untenable reality I molded for myself, reduced to manageable, transforming essence, my way, now my knowing so deep.

I think about the Late great Toni Morrison’s letter to women, girls, daughters like my own, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, mother in law, herself, often. But especially today. To that letter I would add fathers, mentors that are male, brothers, uncles, friends that are male, my sons and my husband. All of you have been the rim of my world, my beginning and everything that personifies the word primary.

When I stepped into academia 8 years and 11 months ago, I knew it was not ready for women like me. Those dark like me. Those that will not stop motherhood for anything. Those also prepared to do the damn work necessary. So I battled demons. Literally did as Psalm 23 noted and walked through the deepest darkness, never forgetting that I have everything. I lost friends along the way. Mentors too. Lost loved ones, one of which whose death is still as painful as the day she died 11 months ago as if it was today. Before the journey began, I laid the path that I knew I would follow my way and followed as I knew how best too, stumbling and getting up along the way. There were plenty stumbles. But also many rising up too. Silence tried to keep me down. It succeed for a minute until Audre Lorde reminded me it will never protect me. Suffering was plenty. Not just with work but also at home. But still, like Ms Morrison would remind me, I am like no other. Not in the way I suffered or stayed silent. But for what I did through both. I was never the most loved, not the most celebrated, maybe the most silent and of course the least eloquent about my experience in academia. But I did it all my way without blinking and that way still agitates me over and over again. Even on this day, even in this moment, I am so grateful for Ms. Morrison’s letter and for the reminder that I did all right. I celebrate today with grace knowing that my sweep is grand. I will forever be endlessly refreshing when it comes to the work I do. They can say what they like but I know the work will change lives and if you don’t know yet, learn my history. I come from a lineage that was not meant to be. The word perseverance was etched in our soul, and it runs through my veins. I know Papa and Mama and Angi would be happy with me as they celebrate today in heaven too. You have done alright Isioma (my middle name), they would say, the one for whom we literally named knowledge. You took this thing many fear, passed through it and even danced through it your way and in the best of company, all of you whom I call my people. We did it. I thank all of you that got me this far. You are so many and my heart is full. I thank you for crying when I cried. I thank you for celebrating when I celebrated. The birth of my children, my marriage, failed and successful grants, new and old jobs, thank you for walking alongside me through this journey. Thank you for being there even when I could not be there for you. There is still movement in the shadow of the sun. I am still coming from the rim of the world. I will always remain that disturbing disturbance you all know so well, neither hawk nor stormy weather, but now as Professor Juliet Iwelunmor-Ezepue, a dark woman of all things. I intend to keep rustling, like life. Thank you Ms. Morrison for this knowing so deep. Thank you to my community. This one is for you all.

Yesterday, I sat in the midst of women championed to tell stories their way. We were beckoned to come on stage, snuggle in a new space and maybe even reach a summit. Whatever you do, know that you matter and your ambitions, all of them that keep your blood warm, are valid. I am on a quest to truly become ambitious with life and it’s because I choose to courageously preserve. Thank you Korede for an enlightening afternoon. Thank you to our fearless lead r who continues to live out her mission to bring goodness!

I am in love with Nikita Gill’s Where Hope Comes From. It’s my go to guide for healing and light. And her poem How to be Strong is one of my favorites. There are no rules when you are already strong. Your strength is within you, always no matter the obstacles you face. The idea that strength is already within me is the keep I truly need for these crazy days. Enjoy.

Our ancestors are our first audience. Christell Roach reminded me of this yesterday. They have stories long forgotten and must be told by us their legacy that remain. So here is my attempt with that.

I have tried to understand my creation story. Tried to know on whose shoulders I stand. My father’s side has plenty empty holes. Of his father, his mothers, and all the ancestors that came before him. The only thing I am left with is his surname, Iwelunmor , an Igbo name which means ‘anger never reaches my soul.’ So from him, I am never supposed to be angry. And if I ever get to the point where anger hijacks my thoughts, my words, my actions, then I must stop short still with letting it reach my soul. That is the extent of my father’s side that I hold on to too. It gives me hope.

My mother’s side, has holes too. Mainly with her father, but especially with her mother. I am always drawn to every single thread of information I glean about her life. For starters, she was an orphan with 2 siblings, a brother and a sister. I am unclear of when her parents died, except she was young and was subsequently raised by her uncle. Then we were told she married my grandfather, a chief, early and without the support of his people. So their marriage was never fully recognized. Their marriage also never bore any children in the early days which gave my grandfather and to the joy of his people, the right to marry more women. He did. Not just one, but two. They would go on and give him numerous children and my grandmother, watched all of this and even joined in raising those children. That she still persisted to have her own is the creation story I long to complete for myself.

I know she persisted as we are the evidence of her persistence. I would not even be here writing this at this moment if she gave up. So nestled within my DNA, long before I would become, is the insistence to persist. That creation story had gotten me through many periods of self-doubt and despair. I exist literally because my grandmother persisted. So who am I not to do the same. But even with this story, there is still an aspect of her life that I still want to know, the how and why? The how because it took her 20 years to give birth to my mother and why because 20 years is a long time to never give up. The how too because this was a time of no artificial insemination. There were no hospitals and, well, a water goddess has a hand in my creation story. So I exist because my grandmother met a water goddess who gave her some potions that enabled her to give birth to my mother. I stand before you, in full bloom, birthed by the hands of a water goddess.

My grandmother!

So now I am obsessed with this story. I long to bear witness to this power of persistence and Christell Roach and her lecture on Storytelling as a tradition on witness, is my guide. Our light festival did more than I could ever imagine yesterday. It got me up today thinking in essence about child birth in a time where women were lucky to have any form of hospital or maternal care. That my creation story is tied to maternal, child health is my muse now with public health storytelling that all I can say is stay tuned. I am in the business of storytelling now and I will do like Outspoken Bean suggested and begin anywhere. Welcome to the fire that our first LIGHT festival has lit within me and stay tuned for next year. We are coming with more fire.

We are coming with FIRE for public health!

My eyes judge your fullness in delight. Ten years of coming into your light. On the day we dedicated you to the universe, the day we raised you up to the one who first loved you, surrounded by all those who loved you, I imagined this for you. I still do for today and tomorrow.

How it began!

That you will remain as beautiful as the day of your birth. That your days will be as as lovely as the sun. And your nights as majestic as the moon. That you would shine as bright as the stars and remain as breathtaking as the clouds in the skies. That you would remain as gentle as the morning breeze or as heavenly as summers rain. That you would soar beyond your wildest dreams and tower above the tallest trees. That they will speak of you in distant places and marvel at your kindness and gentle spirit. That your smile may melt the hearts of people and your presence enrich their lives. That you would dance like angels dance and let the most high guide you every step of the way. That you will succeed in everything you do and never give up when things become hard. That you will never forget who you are and cherish every beautiful moment on earth. But above all, may your rhythms continue to capture our spirits. May you continue to bloom within, like peonies in Spring. May grace, joy, peace, love and happiness be with you always and may good things and beautiful things follow you all the days of your life.

10 years later!

I find myself spurred to relieve moments long forgotten with you. Day and night in June in Paris seems like eternity with you. Like resting underneath canopy trees at Bercy gardens with you. Or running our hands through silver-colored birch trees with you. Reuilly Diderot, Avenue Daumesnil may sound strange to you. But they hold memories of times with you, the beginning of you too, I will never forget. Thanks to dear friends like Richard who love you just as you are, our dear Belle.

At Bercy gardens then!
Same spot now!
Love you to the moon Richard! Thank you for being there from Day 1 through pregnancy with Belle and now

Nearly 10 years ago this week, I embarked on a journey that changed my life. It was grounded in love. The kind that liberated your heart to do anything. My life has become radiant, joyful, light, all because I found love. It’s this love that I seek to speak about this week, to awaken my heart once more to never forget the first memories of becoming a mother. Come with me all week as I take a trip down memory lane with becoming a mother for the first time.

In the beginning.
And then there was just two of us!

A son found his mother, slumped on the floor one night, stiff, unresponsive. He picked her up, thinking she slipped and fell, maybe from a heat stroke, a stressful day, and laid her gently on her bed. Not before he put a cool towel on her forehead and kissed her cheeks as he bade her good night.

The next morning, the son went to check on his mom. He found her just as he laid her, stiff, unresponsive, only this time, life became more urgent. Not his, but for a mother who lived and slumped, as if life never meant anything, as if all it seeks is to leave you stiff, and unresponsive too.

Stroke by stroke, each hour is a gift. Piercing through life, each moment fragile. Now son buries a mother, he first saw stiff, unresponsive. A mother departs, not as she came or lived, despite giving life to sons and daughters who still live.

I am wise enough to see that this mother could be anyone who forgets first to live. So with each passing day, I beg mothers anywhere, do what makes you smile. Cherish sunsets and long walks alone. Be friends with friends who make life glorious till the last call on a Friday evening. Laugh through ice creams and daffodils. Kiss foreheads of little ones and big ones you love. Live so life never finds you stiff and unresponsive.

Lucille Clifton always had the best images of black mothers. This is one of hers I love.