The words rise up. I note them. They come on their own, with their own nodes, own goals, that unfold one note at a time. They come with their own meaning everytime. I am obedient to the sounds that flow, the insights that grow, within minds long in need to ignite, in need of light. I am light. Like a tree that grows higher, and higher, branching out in different directions, like thick branches with lush green leaves full of water. I am green. I sit, listen, and let the words sway like trees on a windy day after hurricanes that stroke with water-like canes. Still these tree rise up and grow. For where trees grow, water flows. I am water. So to are my words. I have been discovering for the past year that where words flow, stories flow. I am stories. For one year, the stories in my mind, in spaces and boxes I once carved as private, have been flowing like a river. I am a river. A naturally flowing river, in search of an ocean, or a sea, a lake or another river. I have arrived at my destination. Words are my water, collected now in a river that flowed through a complex meandering path I called keep lists. There were no short paths. Every thing that mattered were loosened and dislodged like the rocks along the sides of river beds. I became loose with words that deepened my riverbed, eroded my hard phases, and elevated my soft places, all with grace. I am grace. An amazing grace, once blind but now open to all the spaces that make me whole. I poured myself into this space, poured my soul to the possibilities of this phase, of writing something to keep, words to keep, in a list to mold and shape as my own, in a list to own. And through this list, my words became fast-flowing. A source of energy, of life. I became soaked in the opportunities and form of each word, each list of things to keep. I am a list.

I have been reading a lot lately about lists, about why people use them in the first place. Most people write lists, to-do lists for example, to stay organized. Some write lists to stay in control, ticking things off when completed or moving things around to track completion. The first time I saved a list was in the middle of the pandemic. There were nothing to do with my lists. Nothing to track or even complete. My lists were focused on what to keep. A keep lists of experiences. The only objective: to write one list a day. The list was expected to make sense of life as a mother, a black working mother in academia with four children, one born in the fifth month of the pandemic. There were no organization necessary. No length was too long. Or to short. Everything was allowed in the lists. My thoughts, the news, my work, my family. Writing long lists was gratifying. So too were short ones that cut right to core. But lists about meaningfully people in my life, like my children, my students, my mentors, even the experiences of my husband on the frontlines or the last days with my sister in-law and her battle with cervical cancer were extra fulfilling. The pandemic and it’s impact were intense for all families. It was also equally frustrating, equally challenging, yet equally mesmerizing, and equally joyful. Not for the illness it brought or the deaths or sorrow it left behind, but for the discoveries, unexpected ones, like making a list, a virtual keeplists of time in a pandemic. There were no end in sight too. The pandemic held us all in a tight grip. And so the list grew and moved beyond the pandemic itself to capture life as we lived it one day at a time, all to preserve and protect all that mattered in a time where living was truly fragile.

Today marks the one year anniversary of this list. Words still do not fail me. They have become my everything, my hope, my joy, my hurdles, but yet my triumphs. I thank all of you that have read anything I wrote here. I thank you for coming on this journey with me. There is still no end in sight. Only that where my words still flow, my stories will surely flow.

We survived week 1. One full week of school. One full week of lunch packs. One full week of homework. One full week of early morning wakes; 6:30am. One full week of early bedtimes; 8:30pm. One full week of mask wearing. One full week of non stop questions. One full week of stopping to ask questions. One full week of endless days. One full week of mindless haze. I still wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even homeschooling. To be back full time is blissful. Our children need schools. You need to wear your masks and vaccinate so they have endless days of school.

We have been experience very hot summer days. 100 degrees hot. We stayed indoors. Stayed closed together too. My boys love outdoors. Jumping on their blue trampoline is one of their favorite things to do. All of that came to a halt the past few days. Staying cool inside the house was all they could do. Until this afternoon. My daughter has the bright idea of using our sprinklers to stay cool. Against my better judgement, I agreed. The water was cool. Their peals of laughter, even soothing with our new found tool . I was pleasantly surprised. Even sprinklers on a hot day works. It’s kept the kids cool, kept them dancing too. Kept me cool, dancing too, as I watched the joy in their eyes and feet. Keep dancing with sprinkling water.

The new school year is in full swing. A note to myself: Take it easy. Remember you are not really in competition with anyone but yourself. Hidden within the commandment love your neighbor as yourself, is the need to love yourself first. Without which I am sorry for your neighbor. So love yourself this new school year. Whatever you want to do, however you want to do it as well, do. It’s your ride and race. This thing called life. Here today, gone tomorrow. And the world would move on as if you never existed. So yes, take it easy or take am jeje, as pidgin English would suggest. Life na jeje after all.

For them, I will be taking life easy. (Shot by my 4 year old).

No need attending anything too you don’t feel like or liking anything you attend. To be of use, to yourself first, to those you love, like these little boys and a growing little girl that needs a present mother, a loving and gentle one too is all that matters. Life Na jeje after all. No need overdoing anything or letting anything overdo you. It’s just a thing afterall and you matter. All of you. If the thing is going to lower your vibrations or take you down a path worth avoiding, then don’t go. Only go towards things that lift your vibrations up, challenge you too to do more than you can ever hope or imagine. Move towards things that let you remain in light. With grace and beauty too, take the time to become the light you were and are destined to be come in your own way, your own pace. This life Na jeje after all. Finally no need being in spaces that don’t value your many phases. We all change. A blue sky turns grey in a twinkle of an eye. Plants too and trees. So how much less all of us humans. So need being in spaces that don’t understand what it means to change. You will change. You have changed through this past year alone and I expect more change to come your way as you embrace this phase of your life. Afterall, even this phase of your life Na je je with all you have to care for.

To be of use to them, will require you to be of use to yourself, take an easy, don’t attend what you don’t want to attend, don’t do anything you don’t want to and don’t be in spaces that don’t value all of your phases. This life Na je je and as the new school year begins in full swing, take am easy is my keep.

We started the new school year today. We started full of hope for what lies ahead. We expect the pandemic to continue raging on. We expect debates on mask wearing to keep waging on too. While, I am so glad homeschooling has finally come to an end, I remain apprehensive as the pandemic isn’t coming to an end. I also wonder whether this is the right thing to do for kids who expect us to keep then safe till the end. My kids were happy to be back to school. Most parents I watched were too, part happy, part longing for them to remain close by, but thankful they are also gone. My daughter talked about butterflies in her stomach for the new school year. There were butterflies and balloons on school grounds welcoming them back to school. The pandemic took a lot from them last year. Here is to hoping for brighter days ahead, gentler days too. One that will allow our children to remain children, despite this never ending pandemic.

There is a power that emerges when you gift yourself and your family, the simple and freeing pleasures of walking. We gave that gift to baby almost 2 days after his arrival at home. We took him for his first walk along the paths of Forest Park. The pandemic was still breathtaking in its design. Lockdown was still in full force. So too was mask wearing in all public spaces, though ignored by many by design. We wore our masks, and with a bundled up baby, we walked together along the pathways of Forest Park.

I have alway found walking to be a site of joy, pleasure too and freedom. There is an African proverb which states that ‘if you want to go fast, walk alone. But if you want to far, walk together.’ My family and I are prepared to go far. Walking for us, is and remains a site of joy, pleasure still, and freedom too.

All our being, all our senses as one family are nurtured, protected too, because we took one step forward, and another, together. There is love, affirmation, support, and freedom to see and observe things as they are, when you walk through life with others. Baby sat on his stroller oblivious to this gift. We kept giving it to him knowing the impact of our gift.

My daughter in her blue denim overalls tried to tell him about the world as we walked along Forest Park. She played I spy with her brothers, spying things they saw along the way, like something green such as all the trees and grass along the Park, or something brown like dead leaves along the path, or something blue like the clear blue skies that brighten our day as we walked along the Park. Their spying game while walking, it’s meaning and value, were never lost on me.

As we move forward in life, whether freely, or openly, we bear witness to the truth that we are never meant to walk alone. Baby’s first source of food for life, where from the milk oozing out of my body. His first bath, were from Dad’s hands, as he gently washed him with a fragrant free soap that is supposed to nourish his being from his hair follicles down to the sole of his feet. Everything we do with babies are never done in isolation. So too is walking through life.

As we crossed the bridge along the park, we stopped to take photos with baby. We gathered ourselves around baby, who laid gently in his stroller. With the sky still brightening the day with the most perfect of blues, and with heads held up, with perfect eyes smiling beneath our masks, we took a photo to capture this moment in time, a moment we first walked together with baby.

Stories of families who walk together, black families in particular, often remain within the families, often within their albums tucked neatly away, in their memories, or phones, never to see the limelight or become fully represented as something we also do. We walk, never alone, but together. Aretha Franklin once belted this as a tune. And when we walk, we gather ourselves together, hold our heads up high, and smile, whether through storms or perfect skies. We do so together, because we know, that in life, no one, not even a newborn goes through their journey alone. So get your courage together and walk on, Ms. Franklin would say. Walk through the rain, even through the storm, just know you never walk alone. It’s the perfect gift we gave to baby as a family, one that I intend to keep always.

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!

Our room was shaped like a square with a baby cribbed next to a wall covered in grey paint. There was a grey rocking chair for breastfeeding and a silver and white changing table stood next to the window awaiting the arrival of baby.

There were no baby rooms. I was never a decorator mom. I never took the time to fashion a room or think of ways to make it a child’s room. None of my other children had one. I expected baby to sleep in our room.

The researcher in me is to blame. When conducting a review on sleep in diverse cultural settings, I read somewhere about the benefits of children sleeping in rooms with their parents. In close proximity to their beating hearts, however you choose. A friend reminded me once, that we all grew up like this in Nigeria, in close proximity to our parents. All my babies have been doing so since then. They transition, when they get older to their rooms.

We began the day like any other day. Baby’s purple hospital bag was ready. I found it at a goodwill store by our home. It was purple and in great condition. Looking at it, one would have thought it was something befitting for a king. I bought it because my son is a king.

My mind was already in the labor room, even though my other children demanded it remained with them, at least for now.

One in particular was my three year old. His keen awareness for the times was incredible. Not only was he clingy, tugging my legs to carry him or hold him at every opportunity, he knew that the arrival of baby would mean he was no longer the baby of our home.

Looking at him, I had the sense that the joys, the fears, even the hopes of no longer being our baby were all lingering on his mind. To ease his concerns, we took him for a walk. Just Dad and I.

We choose to go out with him alone (wearing his baby-blue baby-shark pajamas), just so he knows he would always be our baby. Love will always be his, whether on his dad’s shoulder or on the arms of mom.

Whether by rivers or on top of bridges. Whatever life throws his way, love will be thrown right back. We are all never meant to walk alone. I wanted him to know that he would always find comfort and solace in us.

( I digress-but one of the side effects of the pandemic is an insistence on wearing pajamas. I wonder if other parents are going through this).

There were many flowers along the walk through Forest Park. Even flowers may shrivel and dry up as they cling to the day. Almost all flowers, bloom and whither with each passing day. But tomorrow, they awaken, like yesterday never happened.

It’s this vision of awakening that I want to cling to as well.

In moments where fear becomes intermixed with joy, in moments when things change, and your place is no longer what you expect it to be, even in moments when things seem to be moving at a pace beyond your control, I will always remember our walk through the park with my son. The full force of lesson he taught us this time last year, is only beginning to be clear in my mind. We are never meant to walk alone. Whether in joy or through moments of fear.

So we walked forward together, lost in his world, clinging to the solace and comfort we found as we watched all the flowers blooming in his world.

Exactly one year ago today, we closed on our home. The experience seems hazy now looking back as it was at the beginning of a pandemic and I was expecting a new baby. Looking back, we didn’t do all the things people do when they purchase new homes. There were no housewarming or gathering of our families together to see the home. We didn’t move into the home until six months later. Some of that was due to the renovations we made prior to the move. It was extensive, but totally worth it. We changed the walls from an off white color to blue. Lots and lots of blue. We kept things from the home as is, like the gold colored chandelier the prior owners originally had and the large vanity mirror that lined one of the rooms and a guest bathroom.

February 2020, the moment we made an offer.
December 2020, the day we moved.

The renovations were more of a facelift in most places but totally worth it. When we moved in on the 23rd day of December, about one month and a half later, a massive winter storm hit our area. We were the direct recipients of it. It busted a pipe in the middle of our brand new kitchen and to say we were overwhelmed is an understatement. But God always has the last laugh. This time we lived in our home for over 1 month and a half as we began another daunting task to renovate. We uprooted everything from the kitchen and most of the basement. By the time we were done, the home was restored to its normal conditions thanks to our contractor who worked tirelessly to ensure things were back to normal.

The initial attempts at restoration.

The past year has been full of so many ups and downs and ups with this home, one that I would not trade anything else for it. One of the things the prior owners told us when we bought the home is that it would bring all the luck we need in the same way it did for them. They called it their lucky home. I agree. This home is lucky to us in all sense of the word. It keeps giving gifts that I will forever treasure, one of which is the endless array of flowers and trees that surround the home. We are so blessed and consider this a manifestation of Jeremiah chapter 29 verse 11 in our lives. For our God alone knows the plans he has for us. Plans to bring us prosperity and not disaster. Plans to bring about the future we hope for. He did so with this home and I look forward to all the many plans he still has in store for us.

We love all our many shades of blue.

We have orange day lilies in our garden. My kids and I spotted them. Their beauty greets the eyes in an unexpected, but magnificent way. It is impossible to stop staring at them. Nothing about them is hidden from view. Their distinctive orange color, in a sea of green shrubs, bores down into your soul. They truly demand that you notice them. And you will, even if for a brief moment. Not even your eyes will deny their communion. Yet for all it’s beauty, for all its dazzling mist which permeates your being in slow bursts, these blooming orange day lilies lasts for a day. For some reason, I keep dreaming about ways we in public health can become like day lilies, even if for a day.

This is because we have been dragging our feet through concrete floors for too long. Making no sound as we walk. With footsteps followed only by us and not the public. Our beauty is hardly known by the public, by us even. Ahead, knowledge of how things should be with no change in style or substance. Not with our curriculums or courses. Not with our frameworks or theories. None of it speaks of multiple layers of racism and the daily realities that even the public demand that we do something about. Behind, a new generation of learners, listeners, activists, gazing out to the field. Wondering whether this is truly what they signed up for. As they draw nearer, they too look outward to the direction of our gaze. They too become aware of a sharp disconnect between the public and the public’s health. We have not dared to glance behind us even though we know they are near. The new generations and us are inseparably linked forever by what the public demands and what we do even if for a day. Each failure to advance who we are, what we do, or why we do it, is deadly for the public, inaction with racism and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, being a clear example.

I keep wondering, why public health keeps being left behind. We got left behind during the pandemic. Our messages on wearing masks or practicing social distance was viewed by some in the public with suspicion. For their own health too. Our messages on getting vaccinated whether old or young, was also viewed by some in the public with suspicion. Even still for their own health. Our papers do not reflect the realities of every day people, including the insidious impact of racism in all spheres of our influence. Nothing in our introductions, methods, results or discussions humanizes the public either. We have grown accustomed to presenting findings that serve us and not the public we serve. No sane person talks about their health the way we do.

But now, the pandemic and acknowledgement of the pervasive role of racism has wrenched the doors wide open demanding that we do something. Demanding that we walk, so our footsteps maybe felt by people, not institutions or open sources. Will we wave our hands in surrender to the public, or will we keep walking, with no sound, along concrete floors?I suppose time will tell. For now, dreams of daylilies will do.