I almost didn’t write today’s post. Honestly, today’s workload was intense. Not only did I teach my grantwriting course to doctoral students, I had to sit with my six year old son for his reading, physical education, religion and developmental skills. By the end of the day, we were both tired. But still, I write. I write because I am on a journey to becoming the writer I know that I am born to become. This journey has been filed with obstacles, professional and personal ones, but still I write. I write to showcase my interior life. Work is hard. Being a working mother is very hard. But motherhood, with all is ups and downs is a gift that I am totally grateful to have, despite all the ups and downs. So I write, even though I am tired. I write even though I just finished homeschooling and some work-related meeting.

Homeschooling was tough today as my six year old cried and cried because he was tired. I write because we somehow continued work after he told his teacher the reason for his tears. He was crying because he missed his dad who was at work. I write because he did his coloring, 2 pictures on religion focused on the fifth commandment. I thought he didn’t stay within the lines. I reminded him to stay within the lines. He tried his best. His teacher mentioned his coloring has improved. So I write because small victories with homeschooling, like improved coloring of a six year old brightened my day. I also write because he also finished his reading assignments on his journey practice workbox, despite so many prompts to complete it.

Today’s religion assignment.

I write to share also that I made dinner in between the breaks we had during homeschooling, in between breastfeeding and two crying boys who wanted all my attention. I made jollof rice with baked salmon and chicken for dinner tonite. I write because although it’s only 3:50 pm, I really taught a 2 hour class this morning to doctoral students and somehow managed to cook dinner, calm a crying baby, console 2 crying boys all while completing homeschooling materials for today. I write, because even now, even though I am tired and sitting on my bed, with my 2 month old nestled on my lap and breastfeeding, my laptop is still open. I write some thoughts, my thoughts, written down as I wait for the next appointment with my student. I write because I enjoy speaking with students, especially those new to the field of public health like today’s student, who wants to end up in the field of public health disaster preparedness. What better field to end up in given the ongoing pandemic and the failure to prepare or contain it despite being one of the richest country on earth. I write because she made me smile, public health students and their genuine love for the public’s health are remarkable. Today was tough. But I write because my story, every thorn, every rosy smiles deserves to be told. Life as a working mother is hard. But I write so you get a glimpse of my life. For all working mothers, in the middle of this pandemic, keep writing your stories.

The reason I write.

If there is one thing I am thankful for with homeschooling during this pandemic, is that I am learning new things about my children everyday. Learning what makes them happy, what makes them sad, and what makes them curious about life. But what I love the most is the assignments from their teachers. My daughter’s 3rd teacher gave them an assignment focused on writing a narrative about their families. Toni Morrison once shared that ‘narratives are one of the ways in which knowledge is organized.’ To her, they are the ‘most important way to transmit and receive knowledge.’ But sometimes, even narratives, no matter how well organized, are never enough, noted Ms. Morrison.

Lotanna’s family narrative assignment.

Sometimes what is written about one’s family in narratives, what is useful or what ought to be discarded is eye opening. But eye opening is not enough. Instead, sometimes what is described, in simple language, particularly from your children lens, is remarkable. Not that a child is telling the story, but that it’s from their own perspective, from their own details, their own consciousness, their own critical voice about what makes their family, a family. That maybe telling and enough, a child’s critical examination of what makes a family, a family.

Dad, mom, Lotanna and her brothers.

For my daughter, it’s that we are cool. That’s all! Mom, a professor likes to run and dad, a doctor loves chocolate. We are both strict with school. Grandma called Mama, loves to pray everyday and cousin Tochi is in college. Then there are three brothers. One with autism who loves the color blue, another who also loves blue and computers and a baby brother who eats and throws up a lot. This is the first time I am reading an assignment with a reference to her brother’s autism. Articulating her thoughts about her brothers illustrates her nurturing and caring power. Being a family is not only about her, but about them too.

Grandma and Tochi.

But the test of the power of family narratives lies in the child’s own perspective of themselves. The ability at the age of 8, to imagine the self, to familiarize the trivial, enlighten the essential, makes a child’s narrative of their families, powerful. For my daughter, who loves bunnies and elephants, I learnt she was a day dreamer, with a ‘big dreaming imagination.’ She also loves to read, chapter books being her favorite especially the Emmie and Friends series. She prays with Mama and loves running bath water for her baby brother. She loves exercising with dad, jumping on the trampoline at the back of the house as well as playing fun games with her brothers.

Lotanna reading a book to her baby brother.

Clearly Lotanna loves her family, and we are very special to her. Her story, her ability to imagine and create is compelling, is sterling to me. Family narratives can help make sense of what makes families, families. At least it made me look deeper about what makes our family special from my daughter’s lens. Keep writing family narratives, they are remarkable, especially from a child’s perspective.

Our family narrative by Lotanna.

One of my 3year old’s first assignment as a junior kindergarten student was to make a butterfly. His teacher sent the video of Eric Carle’s The very hungry caterpillar. We also read the book. It one of my kids favorite books to read. His teacher shared how caterpillars start as eggs, then into a pupa, then a caterpillar. Then they build a house for themselves called an cocoon, spend some time in their house before turning into a butterfly. This lifecycle of a butterfly was eloquently portrayed in Eric Carle’s book.

As I read the book to my son again and we made our butterflies wings with watercolors, I was struck by how caterpillars do not adjust to their environments on their journey to becoming butterflies. They infuriate many as they look for food. They refuse to be defined by their small stature. They build and nurture themselves first! Imagine something so small building their own home so delicate, all to nurture themselves, their whole being in their own safe spaces, their way. They then guide their homes through treacherous landscapes until it’s time to display their beauty. In the midst of rough terrains, in the middle of uncertainties, they emerge light and beautiful, stunning and sterling, like a baby coming into the world for the first time. They fly away almost immediately, living life courageously, still through treacherous landscapes and rough terrains. This courage has been on full display from the beginning.

Our butterfly!

Courage is heightened for every pupa who seeks to become a caterpillar, every caterpillar who seeks to become a butterfly. Courage demands swift action, sometimes infuriating, but always on your own terms, at your own time, like a new baby coming to the world for the first time. Courage involves building safe spaces, your own space, where you nurture yourself, until it’s time to display your beauty to the world. The condition of life from the beginning, from being pupa to caterpillar is courage. Without it they never become butterflies, they never fly. Like butterflies, we all have the same courage, to live through treacherous landscapes, through rough terrains, but most importantly, to fly. So keep flying like butterflies!

Fly butterfly fly!

Toni Morrison once wrestled with eloquently describing ‘Paradise’ credibly and effectively. Images of ‘Paradise’ tend to be ‘grand,’ she said, and ‘accessible, familiar, common, even trivial.’ Paradise, physical paradise, can denote ‘beauty, plenty, rest, exclusivity and eternity,’ noted Ms. Morrison. But how to reveal the complexities of paradise, as ‘a sane intelligent life itself,’ despite being ‘already perceived, already recognizable,’ was a vexing problem for Ms. Morrison. For some women, motherhood with all its hues, with all its beauty, with all its thorns and forms of exclusion, despite being recognizable, is paradise.

A glimpse of Toni Morrison’s essay on ‘Paradise.’

Motherhood is accessible, familiar, common, trivial and very recognizable. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic makes motherhood noticeable. According to a recent 2020 report by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean in Foundation entitled Women in the Workplace, ‘working mothers are at extraordinary risk of being penalized during the pandemic. Everything mothers need to do right now to both work and care for their families makes motherhood much more noticeable.’ So much so that, ‘1 in 4 women are looking to quit or reduce work because of Covid-19.’ I can relate!

Coivd19 and Women in the Workplace 2020 report.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a request to reschedule a work-related meeting that occurred during homeschooling. I apologized for this because I didn’t feel others should have to readjust their schedules for my needs. I hoped that the request maybe considered, just a little, as I wanted to attend the meeting. It wasn’t. I was numb. Not because I didn’t expect this as I apologized ahead for the disruption with other people’s schedule but because for the first time, I realized that I can’t be both an ‘ideal worker’ and a ‘good mother,’ as described by sociologists. Both roles are incompatible. I have worked hard at being the ideal worker, doing my part to thrive in academia, completely devoted to my research, working long hours in some cases and rarely taking time away from work. I do my part with being a good mother. I sometimes bake or cut vegetables with my kids on the weekend for our occasional backyard family picnics. We go for walks or ice-cream runs at the local ice-cream shop. We pray, we sing, we dance or tell imaginary stories, anything to let them know that I prioritize their care. So when I read the report and the subsequent article about it on The Atlantic here, I was numb.

Our weekend picnics

I was numb because we may never fully understand how working mothers are coping during this pandemic. We may never fully understand how normal, everyday life with work and motherhood has been upended during this pandemic. We may never fully understand how rest is dwindling in currency these days for mothers or why many of us can’t sleep well at night despite working less. Our work and our mothering responsibilities are on full display and not as exclusive as before.

But the inattention to, the mutedness, or numbness to the plight of working mothers during this pandemic is repulsive. It will remain this way if working mothers do not start now to share our interior lives. Many of us are still struggling to cope and that is fair. But the only way to describe ‘Paradise’ according to Ms. Morrison is to ‘begin the story.’

So my story; I am a wife to an incredible essential health care worker and a mother to four children, one girl and three boys, with my last son born in the middle of the ongoing global pandemic. I am also a global health researcher. Motherhood is really important to me. We are living through a global pandemic that shows no sign of abating. Global health is important. But for now, at least for me, being a parent at this moment, is extremely important to me. I am also working four shifts: as a mother, a working mother, a teacher and a developmental specialist ( I will reflect on this later). My work shift, my academic productivity as a global health researcher will suffer during this pandemic. I accept this guilt. I am no longer numb to this guilt because I am focused on what really matters; My children, my family!

(p.s. I know my keeplists are supposed to be short, but writing this led to a longer essay for a full context that I will publish one day on my medium page).

There is a shirt my little boy wears all the time. It simply reads ‘radiate kindness.’ That’s all. The 2 words on the shirt are more than information. Radiate kindness should be a way of life. The way people live, the stories they tell, even how we rise or fall, speak up or remain silent, should embody kindness.

There is a strong tendency to demand it from certain folks and not others. We expect those lesser than us to radiate kindness but not us. We get infuriated, demand kindness, forgetting it a force that radiates from our being. But the point is to be kind. Live it, pass it on. It will come back to you.

Every time my son wears the shirt, I become alert. I can’t be a parent if my being isn’t filled with kindness. Every time my children cry for the most mundane thing, I have to be kind. Like yesterday when my son cried because the Planetarium was closed thanks to the pandemic. Crying is an understatement. He knew the Planetarium was closed. We had passed by it numerous times and each time he asked about it, I reminded him that it was closed due to the pandemic. Yesterday was the climax. He was outraged. He screamed, he shouted. He cried, he grieved and no words could console him. Kindness was all I had. So I let it radiate from me to him. I allowed him to cry as we are all tired of the pandemic. I would cry too if I was a child as it has robbed them of their childhood this year. We all have the power to be kind. There are no winners or losers when we absorb it and pass it on. It is the right thing to do. Keep radiating kindness.

The year is 1918. Despite a flu pandemic and the end of World War 1, Ms Annie Turnbo Malone became the first self-made African American woman millionaire. As part of homeschooling, my daughter and I went to the Missouri Museum of History’s ‘Beyond the Ballot’ exhibit to learn about the pioneering work of Ms. Malone.

Born in 1869 in Illinois, Annie Turnbo Malone, was an astute African American business woman who developed a complete line of beauty products. She taught women how to become franchise owners of her company, employing close to 75,000 women worldwide. The year again was 1918. Racism was still very much alive and this was at the end of World War 1 and also during the pandemic of 1918. But somehow, Annie Turnbo Malone thrived.

In fact, before there was Madam CJ Walker, there was Ms Malone, the first, self-made African American millionaire. As a chemist, she invented Wonderful Hair Grower for black women. As an entrepreneur, she built a training and distribution center for her beauty products. As a philanthropist, she presided over an orphanage and gave most of her money to charities. While her achievements have been widely overlooked given those of Madam CJ Walker, I am glad the history museum continues to find ways to celebrate this pioneering woman. Over 100 years later, she remains a phenomenal example of why we should keep thriving even during a pandemic.

For poetry yesterday as part of homeschooling, we read the poetry of Margaret Esse Danner, especially her poem “This African Worm.’ Every week my daughter picks out a poem she likes and we spend sometime reading the poem, studying the poet, while trying to make sense of the lessons learnt from the poem. Margaret Esse Danner was a prolific poet, born in Kentucky but grew up in Chicago. She was the first African American assistant editor at Poetry magazine. Her poetry often engages African artwork and culture.

Margaret Esse Danner

Her ‘This African Worm’ resonates with ongoing struggles in our society today often faced by people everywhere. No matter where you are, the struggles are the same. Whether it’s a fight for justice or equality, whether it’s a fight to end hunger or poverty, no matter whether in Africa or North America, we all experience the same strife. Even to my daughter Lotanna, if you are a worm for now, that’s not good. We keep our heads low, as we make sense of the burden we are experiencing. We crawl and wait as Ms. Danner’s poem suggested. Until a time comes when things change, when things start to shift. Though we may crawl today, though our heads maybe low today, but there is hope in the wait. There is hope even as we take little steps or crawl like worms while making sense of our journey. That in the end, is the essence of life. That one day, one day, things will truly get better for people everywhere.

Margaret Esse Danner’s ‘This is an African Worm.’

This hope was evident in a comment shared by Margaret Esse Danner in an essay we found about her online at the University of Chicago library for a book entitled Black Poets in America in 1975-she wrote, “As for my poetry: I believe that my dharma is to prove that the Force of Good takes precedence over the force for evil in mankind. To the extent that my poetry adheres to this purpose it will endure.”

Your poetry endures today Ms. Danner and a new generation, my daughter’s generation in particular, will use your words for good. Until then, I’ll keep waiting.

Lotanna reading ‘This is an African Worm’ by Margaret Esse Danner.

Yesterday during my son’s Zoom Art class he was given an assignment to draw a bee. His art teacher started by instructing her students to draw a big circle for its face, then 2 small circles for its eyes, a small but wide letter u for its nose and a large, wide u for its mouth. My son only drew the large circle at first, then looked at me as asked, what’s the assignment again? I said, well you teacher wants you all to draw a bee? He looked at what she was drawing and seemed a little confused. Then without hesitation, he began to draw what a bee looked like to him. I tried to redirect him, but he kept drawing his version of a bee. By this time the teacher was focused on the hair of bee, telling the kids that their bees could even wear masks given our present day situation with the ongoing pandemic. My son had his own ideas and stayed focused on drawing what a bee should look like. I gave up trying to redirect him and allowed him to draw what he wanted.

Zoom art class.

As I recounted the story to my husband last night, I realized the lesson in my son’s insistence to draw what a bee looked like: It’s the need to keep being different. It’s tough to teach children how to stand out from the crowd but my six year old seemed to understand what many grownups still struggle with. No point being like the rest of the world. Just be yourself. By moving ahead to draw the assignment in a realistic way, I learnt why drawing matters. It’s is truly an age-old disciplining that allows us to learn things faster in clear, meaningful and concrete ways. I have since lost the gift of child-like drawing. But these days of homeschooling has opened up my eyes to the endless possibilities of drawing and why they matter for life.

My son’s take on the assignment also showed why being different matters. The moment we start to complete an assignment, no matter the deviations or distractions along the way, stay true to yourself and press on with clarity. Watching him perfect his assignment also showed why you should stay they course no matter the challenge. You can adjust or refine your thoughts on the original idea, but be different. You can take risks or move in an entire new direction, but do so with integrity. Being different allows you to exist, allows you to remain unique, allows you be authentic in this world full of duplicate ideas. From my son’s homeschool art class, I learnt why it’s important to keep being different.

Chiwetel’s Bee Assignment

On Saturday, we took our kids for a walk along Forest Park. We walked along the path leading to the planetarium until we got to a very tall stainless steel sculpture looking up to the sky. I stood for a moment, wondering what it would feel like to always look up to sky, the way the sculpture did. What lessons would I learn and how would I pass it on to my children? In the course of trying to take a picture of the sculpture, I tilted my head and looked up to the sky. The sculpture itself has a way of making you gaze up to the heavens. So when I did, all I saw was blue, the perfect shade of blue sky. Saturday was a clear day and all that was visible on this perfect day, were brilliant skies full of grace, every angle full of hope, every angle, still the perfect blue, and so full of love.

“Looking Up” Sculpture by Tom Friedman

Skies have a way of making you fall in love with life. Skies have a way of making you see a life truly worth living.

The ‘Looking Up” Sculpture at Forest Park

Maybe it’s the embrace. When you gaze up to the sky, it’s like the sky gazes back down and gives you a great big hug. You then begin to converse with clarity in a language understood only by the sky. Gazing up to the sky was peace, the perfect peace that only the heavens can offer. Gazing up to the sky was like music to the soul, the perfect song that only the skies could sing. Gazing up to the skies was freedom, the perfect freedom, strong enough to set every captive free. Gazing up to the skies is perfect, eyes meet eyes, gently inviting you to come in, and rest, the perfect rest. Gazing up, swallows you, the perfect food, shared in communion, in union with a sky slowly swallowing an imperfect you.

The “Looking Up’ Sculpture at Forest Park by Tom Friedman.

Once you tilt your head and stay there for a moment, that moment becomes eternity. Like the sculpture, we are destined to look up to the sky, if only for a moment. You will feel loved, protected, profoundly seen by a sky, the perfect shade of blue. The perfect embrace, the perfect rest, the perfect song, all in perfect union with a sky gazing so lovingly at an imperfect you. Once you look up, you will become dangerously free to roam this earth with your truth in perfect harmony with a sky so profoundly perfect. So keep looking up.

My daughter by the Looking Up Sculpture.

There is something so special about drawing, especially like a child. Like the drawings on my children’s kite from yesterday’s post or the stick figures my daughter drew last week of herself and her brother. To see life celebrated through their drawings is always sterling to me. Everyone has art in themselves. Yet, drawing is an art form we adults loose on the journey to adulthood. Everyone is able to understand, use and even take part in making art. But, it’s so profound to see art from a child’s perspective, how they draw their world in ways that make sense to them, in ways that are truly wise. There is no apology at all when children draw. Drawing is a serious matter to children. No need to be perfect or subscribe to what society dictates as the norm. No need to limit yourself to any standards as it blinds you to reality. Art from the perspective of a child is often easy, not difficult. Often simple, not hard. Often colorful, not bland. Drawing will always remain serious to children.

Lotanna’s art

I wonder why I no longer draw as freely as my children. When or where did the assignments end? Why didn’t I enjoy them the way my kids do. Granted, I grew up in Nigeria and truly not surrounded with as much crayons as my children. But I was also exposed to art. Granted I wasn’t expected to practice art. But the joy to even draw isn’t in me the way I observe it in my children. Yet, I wish we could all draw like children. That I could draw and love it the way my kids do. If one looked at a child’s drawing and compared it to what we adults do, you will understand why life is meant to be easy not hard, full of hope, not impediments.

My children’s paper kites

Children are indeed blessed with a sense of creativity that should be nurtured and protected with vigilance. They instinctively feel life and supply it in any art form they engage in. They know who they are even if it’s in stick figures, why they exist, what is the meaning of life, and why we should celebrate our existence. And drawing is the medium that is most serious to them. Their art is in service of simplicity, it’s in service of joy, it’s in service of humanity. We cannot be apologetic about the way children draw. Their art makes no apology to the world. They show us what is permissible in life, the good and the bad, within the margins or out of it, the richness of life, they celebrate it all in their drawings. Which is why we should all keep drawing like children.