Her art teacher told her to draw a jungle. The instructions: Draw a jungle and put whatever you want in it. She listened. She wanted to draw extraordinary things or things not typically seen in a jungle. At least to her. So she drew a penguin. You wouldn’t find a penguin in a jungle. They prefer cold climates and not those typically seen in a jungle. She drew a dog. You would not find a dog in a jungle. And if you do, they won’t be typical. It is not normal to find dogs in a jungle. But far off to the corner, she drew an elephant trunk. You would not notice it unless you look closely. She didn’t want to draw the whole thing as it would take up the entire space. So she drew an elephant trunk as it tried to spray the top of the dog’s head. Finally she drew the sun. That’s typical and an extraordinary necessary condition for any forest. That and all sorts of vegetation suitable for jungles. That her imagination propels her to new height is an understatement. For whom is she drawing? In what mindset does she draw? And to what end?

These questions stay with me everytime I see something my daughter took the time to draw. An inescapable feeling arises too, waking whatever dormant spirit I possess to new heights where anything is possible. So I ask questions. What provoked this art form? Always eager to learn, my daughter proceeded to narrate the opening sentences of this keep. Seeing life and it’s many ways through her lens is pure delight. She dwells in a perpetual abyss of imagination and creation, of silence and glistening sound, of thoughts provoked by feelings full of new ways of seeing and being. She is her own masterpiece. To her mind there is no limit, no lines drawn or boundaries marked, not with dreaming or imagining, with her creation or her narration. To her mind, even a jungle can be filled with penguins or blue birds with elephants spraying water of the heads of dogs. To her mind anything is possible. This is my keep to her today. That as she turns nine, there was a time when anything was possible. And may she never forget that she is the jungle of her dreams, a den full of possibilities, full of passion, full of love, today, for tomorrow and always.

My daughter’s jungle.

The toughest school year I have ever experienced finally came to an end on Friday. Not only did we master the art of homeschooling, we figured out how to nurture what matters as each child did their best to make the most of this school year. All the materials submitted are now home and I have begun to do the wonderful task of sifting through to figure out what to keep and what discard. Something about seeing my children’s words and art warms my soul always. Like this little poem my daughter wrote with her friends called ‘BabyBirds.’ I remember how happy she was to have written this one with her friends and to actually read it for myself makes me proud. They began by describing the day. The sun is shining they note. Another spring day. Birds in the sky are chirping, some being born today, breaking out of their eggs to meet the warmth of the day. I can’t even imagine what goes into the mind of a 3rd grader to write in this way but I’m am glad that school allowed this exploration of the mind. Like how mother bird goes out look for food to feed her babies eager to learn the ways for the world. I imagine the same must be true for my daughter and her friends. For all birds, even baby ones have to learn about the world, whether with chirping or finding food to eat. But here comes the hard part for even mother birds and it’s that’s one day, even baby birds will leave the nest. They too will one day spread their wings and fly, far faraway from home. And when they do, the hope for mother birds, as with all mothers, is that they explore the world, full of possibilities, full of a life worth living, in their own terms. That what reading this little poem did for me today. As the school year finally comes to end, may all children, my own included, continue to fly, and soar to new heights. I keep this poem her as a proud mother bird.

My daughter and her friends poem ‘BabyBirds.’

How seeds survive in the midst of prevailing obstacles is my keep for today. My son’s class read Eric Carle’s wonderful The Tiny Seed book. This simple story of a seeds journey towards becoming a flower is the life lesson I needed to hear as this school year comes to an end. It’s an emotional one for me as I will not wish the experience of schooling especially for children during a pandemic to any other generation. That means we the grownups have got to act so we don’t go through this again. But in the meantime, we are all seeds. That’s the moral of the story. And as seeds, our journey through life, our journey to becoming flowers, becoming beings full of possibilities, full of light will always be filled with obstacles. But when we get through these obstacles, when we blossom and become the flowers we were always destined to be, then life would be sterling. That’s what Eric Carle’s book that my junior kindergarten son read today did for me. Keep being tiny seeds. Your journey towards becoming a flower is destined to be divine even if you face great obstacles. Ooh he made this beautiful flower to showcase what he learnt today.

The school year is coming to an end. My son is thriving. Something that seemed so difficult to do back in the fall, seems so easy to him these days. Homeschooling a child on the spectrum was by far one of the difficult things I have ever done. Not because my son isn’t bright, but more so because home is home and not school. Merging the two, home and school was too much for his brain to handle. And so we had our share of meltdowns, so many that recollection won’t even do them justice. So why even keep this? Because I see the possibilities and potential everyday. I see his light even as the school year slowly comes to an end.

It’s like a switch is flickering, deciding still if to stay full lit, but definitely hovering towards light. That’s what schooling my son feels like these days. Pure night and day. Pure joy and bliss. To watch him do work all on his own, without prompting, without cajoling, without pleading, without even bribing him, none of which worked on our tough days, is bliss. That this day has finally arrived even as the school year comes to an end is like the quote I shared previously about things being impossible. With kids on the spectrum, it will always feel and seem impossible, until they in their own unique way, defy expectations. I was simply fine with whatever we got out of him. But to see him pushing himself, without my help is the light I needed to see at the end of this pandemic school year tunnel. For kids like my son, ‘there is always light,’ like Amanda Gorman would say, ‘if only we are brave enough to see it.’ I see it everyday, and it truly fills my heart with joy. Keep this light for boys, and children like my son. They will defy expectations if only we are brave enough to see it, brave enough to them light up this world. And to see them in their light, to see and feel their potential is the very thing I needed as we begin to wrap this very strange school year up. It’s amazing how he continues to light my world.

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.

Azaleas at the front of our home!

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.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I have a friend in India. She needs your prayers. India is literally on fire. I asked how she was doing. Her parents are both in the hospital on ventilators. She is at home trying to breathe while remaining calm. Every thing is a mess and their is no help in sight. I asked what can I do, even though I know nothing I do may help. I said I’ll pray. I did. But to my prayer, I want to add that whoever is reading this should please keep India in mind. People are literally dying. There are no hospital beds, no ventilators, many are dying at home, gasping for air, a precious commodity there these days. According to NPR, there are also no tests. No one is doing coronavirus tests and if you do get tested, your results may come in five days later. By that time, people are dead, even cremated. The country reached a milestone this week: 402,000 cases per day, more than any country on any day since the pandemic started. Some suggest it may reach 1 million cases by mid-May. Deaths too will rise. And the light and the end of the tunnel seems uncertain. My friend asked that we pray for India. I ask that you do the same and keep them in mind. None of us are safe from the pandemic until we all are. What maybe happening in India may seem far away but understand that India has 1.4 billion people. Everything that happens in India affects us all. We will not be able to get rid of this pandemic if we don’t keep India in mind.

Lines of people waiting for coronavirus tests. Courtesy NPR.

Blue skies on a clear day. Trees, confident ones too, standing tall next to the sun. All glorious, all majestic, is the sun, blazing, on a glorious day where the blues skies are clear. I imagine these words whenever I see this picture painted by my daughter. It was from her girls scout meeting this past weekend with her troop. The last time our family met in person with her troop was over a year ago and today seeing this painting personifies the hope for me. Hope for a future free from a pandemic like the assurance that there will always be days where the skies are blue. I also imagine there will come a day where mask wearing isn’t the norm and social distancing is no longer in vogue. The CDC began to usher in such a day this week with their latest mandate that folks who are fully vaccinated can meet without masks with other folks that are equally vaccinated. It’s the kind of relief we have all been waiting for, hoping for, like blues skies on a clear day.

Blue skies on a clear day by Lotanna Ezepue.

Amidst the pain and toils of such a pandemic that spared no one, hoping for a day when the skies are blue, and the sun blazing, with trees standing confident and tall, is like my hope for a pandemic free life. One that I’m praying will come to fruition but just in the US but in India and Brazil and every where where the virus continues to tighten its grip. Such a day is possible. One can only hope it would arrive soon with every one doing their part to ensure that everyone they know is vaccinated. We all need to be vaccinated as it’s for the public’s good. I imagine that a day too will come when the vaccines are not just for those in high income countries but for people anywhere for one one is free unless we are all free. Where the skies are truly blue and trees truly confident may seem impossible even for a pandemic. But we can only dream and for today, I pray this too comes to pass. Keep blue skies and confident trees in mind for a post-pandemic phase where all of us are vaccinated and the pain and suffering and deaths end.

My son never ceases to amaze me. He did again with math during homeschooling today. He was preparing for a test next week and his teacher wanted to assess whether he would be able to do it all by himself. The instructions were to give him the worksheet and let him be. I knew this was going to be a long morning. I gave him the worksheet and his pencil. He wrote his name with ease, without any prodding. I should have known that would be the sign of how our morning would occur. He proceeded to start and before completing the first problem, he asked whether he could have my computer afterwards. I said yes. The worksheet was complex, at least to me. It had both addition and subtraction. His brain loves order and so I figured this may not be an an easy one for him. The first math problem asked that he add 8+7. He stared at the problem and did nothing. I asked that he focused. His mind wandered. He asked if he could have the computer again. I said sure. He asked whether he could do the problems on his own. I said by all means. He asked if I remembered how he used to do all his work by himself at our old house. I said of course and can you do the same now. He started to play with his pencil. He looked at the worksheet after close to 3 minutes and said 15, the answer is 15. I was shocked.

I expected him to count, to write out sticks, anything from all we have been doing to teach him how to do math. He had other ideas on his own. I actually thought it was a fluke too and proceeded to ask that he try the next problem, this time 9+8. His mind had other plans of its own. He asked if he could have the computer after work again. I said of course. He reminded me that he could do the work on his own. I said please go ahead. We did this back and forth until he blurted 17, the answer is 17. I was now in awe. How come? If you know what we go through with teaching him anything then you would understand.

Here is a kid who has a love hate relationship with school work with the hate winning on most days. But on days where love is supreme, nothing can stand in the way of the brain’s many gifts. So I proceeded to walk away. Maybe I’m the distraction. Maybe he can’t seem to focus because I remind him always to focus. I went in search of additional light as the room felt dark to me. I stepped away for about 3-4 minutes and by the time I returned, he was on problem 7. I checked prior math problems. They were all correct. I said nothing and watched in silence as the brain did what it knew best. A short time later, he was done. He didn’t count, he didn’t draw sticks, he just looked at the math problem and supplied the answer.

I really have no words except to keep this here today. This is a reminder to myself and to all mothers with kids on the spectrum to say that we should never underestimate the brain’s many unique ways. Here is a child for whom homeschooling can be though, for whom even math problems can be difficult at times, but today, when he did what worked for him, everything, including completing a math problem that seemed complex was as gentle as a breeze. Keep seeing this form of thriving with kids on the spectrum. They do and can underestimate even your own ideas of their abilities if you let them be. Keep thriving even with math

I am on a mission to experience joy in my journey through life. To that, I am learning what makes me feel whole. Bell Hooks’s Sisters of Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery is leading the way too. From her, I learnt that I am moved by passion. It’s in everything I do these days. Reading and learning about myself, using words to shape my life, my own way, my hurdles and my hopes, makes me hungry for opportunities about the life-force inside of me. Passion has also helped me break free from the clutches of others. More than ever, I am reclaiming my life, reclaiming my dreams, reclaiming my peace and telling my story along the way. My sense of self is becoming more in union with those I call my community. For them and only them, I am moved by passion.

My journey through life keeps unfolding!

I am also moved by two things storytelling and grantwriting. I didn’t realize how both helped me love and live my life on my own terms. But they do. With stories, I am able to counter the narratives you may have of me. With stories I insert myself into herstory (her and story) so that myself has the final say on what they, you, anyone, say about me. With stories I am free to be me. When minds are decolonized, anything is possible. Nothing I say about myself can be used in contempt against me. Its my tools after all, sharpened in my hands. Just as knowing what you do is equally important with claiming your space in academia, it is so true that none of this will ever make sense, if you don’t understand your why, your reason for being, your core. So in meeting the challenge to create a space where I flourish, I am passionate about writing grants. It helps me understand my core a lot better. It is also storytelling at its finest. For to convince strangers to give you money, requires a very beautiful story worth telling over and over again. And when you have that story, once your iron out it’s kinks and make sense of its arc, it’s constraints, it’s opportunities, you will find out that it’s all connected to the core, the why, the reason for being. It’s an endless journey, this journey, my journey.

The ability to combine my pleasure for storytelling and grantwriting is the forth dimension to my life. Some may know me as a mother. I value this life immensely. Others may know me as a wife. I equally love this role with my partner in crime, my fiercest critic who is ready to tell me as it is, even when it hurts. Some truths about oneself are different when they come from those who love you. Others may know me as a professor, a researcher. I remain grateful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity. But few know me as a storyteller and a grant writer . It’s my best asset, my greatest secret, my strength and place of safety. In my stories and my grants, I am most alive whether I succeed or fail. I learn so much about my possibilities just because I tried. It’s this dimension that I intend to spend time honing. A movement is coming. One that will expand this experience of joy, the experience of companionship, one story at a time, one grant at a time, all of which I have learnt from this journey through life. It will be led by women for women and I will be part of it. Putting this movement together will be the greatest joy of my life. For know, keep this journey, my journey, our journey in mind.

Pandemic hair. It’s a thing. And for many people, it’s personal. Full of stories. Some that are cringe worthy. Some that are truly part of this moment we find ourselves in, even grounded in the need for an anti-racist lens. My family has it own story too. Early in the pandemic, around this time last year, my daughter had the grand idea that cutting her own hair would be fun. So she did what most kids her age do, grabbed a scissor and trimmed the front of her hair. We have since spent a year trying our best to get the front grow back out and it has. My own story is well messy. I basically gave up on my own hair. Not only did I not regularly shampoo or even condition my hair, if I am being honest, I simply didn’t care for it. I figured if I was going to be home anyways why bother. So I pat my hair into 3 and gave myself 3 braids, a stocking cap and a wig. I spent the year falling in love with all sorts of wigs and pretended I didn’t have actual hair. Fast forward to yesterday. A moment of reckoning. I faced my hair for the first time in a year.

My pandemic hair!

My hair must have been disappointed in me as I was disappointed in me as well. I booked an appointment at the Paul Mitchell school for my daughter and myself. We both needed a proper iron work and a hair cut. Something about going to this school brings a smile to my face always. Maybe it’s because of the many young women of color that I come across as students. Many just starting their journey through figuring life on their own terms. Others, in need of something else, something different, for themselves, their families, and on their time. I met one such brilliant young woman yesterday. Not only does she work as a mail-carrier, gets up 4am in the morning everyday by the way for her regular job, she also manages to find the time to come to school all while not being home to her seven year old son, her crown, her reason for being. Her support system is excellent though, especially with one of her aunt who promised to give her shop to her once she gets her license. I asked why not something else, why hair. She emphatically restated why not hair. She loves doing hair, has always loved to do hair, just needs the license now to set herself up for the future on her own time. I was proud. It’s for women like her that I gladly patronize the school.

My phenomenal black hairstylist for the day!

So we set out to do magic to my hair. I apologized profusely as I knew she would be so disappointed in me. I was disappointed in myself too. She used the best Paul Mitchell products on my hair, and spent close to 30 minutes removing so many tangles. It’s like I was receiving a new birth. Untangling myself from the tensions and stress caused by the pandemic all from a hair therapy. She intuitively knew what my hair needed and my soul was full. By the time she was through with my hair, what I felt was dead to me, came alive for the first time in over a year. If my hair could speak, it would say a vote of thanks to her for a job well done. I wish this is where the story ended. But it isn’t.

Her magic hours (yes hours) later!

My daughter’s experience was something else. This was the first time at the school and well, it didn’t go as planned. For starters it began with some that, well never handled black hair before. It went downhill from there. I didn’t mind at first because the teacher in me felt the need to give her a chance to learn. She didn’t seize the opportunity. It’s been said that black people are forever willing to give others a chance but others never really try. So I’m learning now to trust people to be and see them for who they are. Those willing to try will show themselves for who they are too. My daughter’s learner didn’t. It took close to 4 people to try to get my daughter the treatment she deserved and when all else failed, my own learner came to the rescue once she finished my hair.

Sis tried to teach fellow learner!

Being anti-racist has signs that imitate actions. These signs are a representation of who we are and they society we want to live in. These signs are also the basis and the process of how we choose to evolve as a group. They are inseparable from ourselves and if we choose to live in an anti-racist world, trying is not an option. I learnt that yesterday at a hair school of all places. It’s my keep for today. We don’t need those willing to try. We need people ready to stand in the gaps to demand an end to racism in all forms and manner and especially from the hair follicles down to the soles of our feet. I made the mistake of trying yesterday to be open. It cost my daughter unnecessary stress that we black people endure only to find strength in ourselves. I’m done doing that. I will still return to the school but I know who I’m booking with next time. No use pretending we are all in this together. Some of us have life goals worth celebrating at the school and for them I’ll be back. Keep an anti-racist lens even with black hair.

When Sis took over!