She called it the tree of life. In the middle stood a Tiger. It was surrounded by symbols that personify life. Like green palm fronds and an orange pumpkin. Green jumping frogs and a colorful butterfly. A green turtle stood at the bottom of the picture. A purple snake encircled the tiger’s head. The imagery was as vibrant as it was perplexing. Why would all these animals huddle together in an image called the Tree of life? We forget how easily we are all connected she said. All of us are connected to each other. We forget how we need each other too. How this need can become a powerful lure, helping us to endure, all that life offers made sense to my thoughts. That my daughter’s Tree of Life can become a powerful metaphor for life is my keep for today. That and the fact that we need each other.
The animals get it. Even plants understand this. To hear this desire from a nine year old too is powerful. What is there possibly left for us to do except to embrace all that life has to offer, including our connections to others. Once we accept our connection, maybe then we can start living, knowing that nothing, can have power over us, if connected to us. So from now on, I am meeting people as they are, figuring the connections we have, so that as we bid our time together, we will both equally thrive magnificently like my daughter’s Tree of life.
I watched as she accepted her brothers ways. As she knew he was different, knew he had meltdowns, even knew we called it autism. I vividly remember the day a parent from her school sent an email to me because of what she shared in class. She told her classmates that her brother had an illness, one that makes him different from most children. The parent reached out, to console us. I thanked them and explained his type of difference, his being on the specturm. They understood. I wondered if she did. If she too bore the weight of his difference as she would say. The many times we canceled one activity or the other, one event or the other, was never really about her but him. I wondered if she knew.
Over the years I have seen the toll being a sibling to a brother on the spectrum can take. I have tried my best to shield her from it, from his meltdowns, from his difference. There are days when we struggle and nothing seems to make sense to his brain. On those days, everyone wishes for this difference as she calls it to go away. But then there are days, when his essence is like a ray of sunshine, when his smile is like the perfect poetry, long on words that vividly make the soul leap with joy, like a new born in their mom’s womb. On those days, I wonder what she is also thinking. I wonder if the weight of this difference is a bit lighter on her too.
It’s hard to comprehend what the past 7 years maybe for her. But I still vividly remember the day she first met him at the hospital. Her hair was tied in knots we call thread hair style, a feat accomplished by mama. She wore pink overalls, with a pink turtle neck sweater underneath and pink tights. She was so happy to see us at the hospital. Her joy leaped up some more the moment she laid eyes on her baby brother. All she muttered over and over again while holding him close to her heart was he is mine, mine, mine. He has always remained hers over the years and he knows to. Always seeking her attention, her approval for things as mundane as what to read or how to play. She has become the fearless leader of men, not afraid to walk the earth because she boldly leads the way. I love her leadership and I know only time will tell but for today keep the many wonderful ways of being a sibling in mind. Especially to one on the spectrum. They are beyond resilient in every single fiber of their being because they first loved and saw love differently.
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.
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.
In the spirit of resting, I had this grand idea to go by the lake yesterday. I have heard so much about Creve Coeur Lake and so the goal was to finally check it out. Summer plans for this year will include nature walks and trips to the lake at least in my plan, since it’s only 15minutes from our home. It was also close to 80 degrees by the time we set out around 11am. I anticipate this would be a long hot one given that it’s only May. The lake itself was beautiful. Simple with a long stretch of trail for walking, running or biking. Everyone seemed to be doing the same thing I wanted which is to simply be closer to nature. One of my sons on the other hand, had other things in mind. I keep forgetting about his love for repetitive behaviors whenever he comes across certain things he has done before. Today’s request, a boat ride on the lake.
Early this year, I wrote a post about wanting to go on a train at the Saint Louis Zoo, just for us to end up on a boat ride next the Zoo because of a massive meltdown at the Zoo (the trains were not working that day). Little did I know that despite all his tears and pleas for the train, he actually loved the boat ride and well associated it with lakes, all lakes now. At the Creve Coeur lake, there were 2 white sailboats on the lake and a father with his 2 sons and a daughter kayaking. There were no boat house or places to rent a boat. And so the repetition began. Rather than simply enjoying the walk by the lake, or playing with the water as his siblings were, my son pleaded for a boat ride.
His insistence on going on a boat began the moment we crossed the street and started our walk until the end. I spent the nearly 40 minutes walk we took, assuring him that we will go on a boat ride, just not at this lake but by the boat house at Forest Park which was about 22 minutes from the lake. It was almost like I was talking to a brick as nothing I said to assure him seemed to work. He also seemed to a least walk along the trail so that helped a lot. Plus being close to nature I have come to learn does wonders for his being. Though his insistence for a boat ride occurred throughout the walk, he walked nonetheless, repeating the same thing, as he walked. When the walk was over, I motioned it was time for lunch. Then we go on a boat, he said, almost immediately. I said sure. We got lunch. He barely ate his, just focused on the boat. He even knew the road to the boat house. I never really think that he is paying attention, but with each passing day, I see and know first hand that he is. When we got to the boathouse, the place was crowded. An impromptu band was playing next to the restaurant. I drove up a bit to see if there were any boats sitting on the dock. There were some. So we packed our car and headed to rent a boat. The moment we got on it, my son looked like he was in heaven. Rest also became his portion. I also seemed to know how to drive the boat this time such that we all took the time to enjoy the many wonderful gifts of nature.
Like a white egret which flew across our path along the lake. Or the quiet streams of water flowing through the lake. Yesterday was as gentle and beautiful as I never would have imagine. And a boat ride, thanks to my son’s love for sameness, helped usher in rest. Sometimes society, myself included may feel like we have all the answers and know what is best for us. I am learning everyday with accepting my sons love for sameness, that connecting certain things together like a lake and a boat ride is just as powerfully as merely walking on a lake. We started the day walking next to a lake. I thought that was plenty. But we ended the day literally on the lake. It was the serenity I didn’t even know I needed until my son vocalized it over and over again. I listened and my soul at the end of the day, felt at ease. Keep boat rides on lakes in mind even if vocalized by a 7 year old on the spectrum. They do wonders for the soul. Ooh and now he thinks Saturday’s are for boat rides. Wish me luck this summer.
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.
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.
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.