I once said to myself, you are in the business of being light. To do, I became prepared for light to guard my thoughts, my words, my actions and all I profess to be. By light I leaned on words from the Bible: A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. By light, I clinged to these words by Toni Morrison where she asks: ‘Does your face light up when your children walk in the room.’ By light I also dwelled on these words by Chinua Achebe where he noted: ‘not to disparage the day that still has an hour of light in its hands.’ To become light, I was motivated by Ben Okri’s words where he asks that we: ‘infect the world with your light.’ And by light these words by Audre Lorde’s forced me to act: ‘The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live.’
If I am to become light, to truly be in the business of being light, then I knew that I had to be brave enough to see it and be it in my life in the way Amanda Gorman eloquently expressed during the Presidential inaugural address. But here in then lies my greatest dilemma: In being light you will come across places and people and spaces that try their hardest to diminish or put a glimmer in your essence. Your duty is to overcome them. How? By reminding yourself no matter whether you are on the journey alone, that always, you are light. You cannot be hidden. Let your face light up when all things come your way. Whether it’s your children or life and it’s many hurdles. Choose to still light up. For when you do, the whole world will be infected by your light. And the quality of you, your life’s product, will always be light. That’s truly what being in the business of light making entails. That you remain light always, against all odds and the infect the world with it. Keep being light always.
The assignment was simple. The Cat in a Hat, comes to your house one rainy day and you have so much fun. Use your imagination to describe all the fun you have. My daughter let her’s fly. Mom and Dad went out, she began and left her alone with her brothers and a baby sitter. Suddenly, Cat in the Hat, came by the house. While one of her brothers were afraid, she was so eager to meet him. She watched as he played many tricks including juggling with weird items like a soccer ball, a fork, and a drum. She was afraid he would make a mess. He still continued to juggle, now with mom’s flowers and dad’s globe. And as he continued to have fun, mom and dad arrived. We too, she noted, joined in the fun which lasted until midnight. My daughter ended her story with scenes depicting the event. One showed her baby brother sleeping. Another showed, Cat in the Hat juggling all the sorts of items while she tried, though in vein, to ask him to stop. The final scene showed mom and dad arriving home from our meeting. Her imaginations with this assignment, as with so many others, are the necessary jolt I need, to wake up from my slumber.
I know I have written extensively elsewhere that to be in her world, in her imaginations, even in her illustrations is a gift I will forever cherish. She reminds me everyday of the possibilities inherent within ourselves if only we extend ourselves a little. On days where I feel overwhelmed, there is always a story, an image of hers lingering around our home, waiting for the right moment to cheer me up. It’s as if the universe knows that I will need a source of inspiration and she remains that steadfast assurance my imaginations needs to thrive in as well. Ours is a learning relationship I will also keep always. That our children can teach us things we adults need to learn is never at the top of conversations. Yet with her, I learn every day. I learn about the worldview of a child. Things I agree with and things I don’t. I learn about how they stretch their imagination, to places far and near, where anything, including a Cat in the Hat juggling flowers or a drum is possible. I learn about about her use of words. Some of the most interesting combination of words occur in the hands of children like my daughter, who are carefree in their thoughts and use their words for power. I also learn about how she does not limit herself to anyone’s depiction or discussion of how she ought to tell her story. Nothing blinds here to her imagination. Nothing tells her she to go high or go low, juggle items with a Cat in a Hat or pray he stops so he doesn’t make a mess in the house. Nothing stands in the way of her imagination. That’s the the keep for me today.
Keep a child’s imagination for yourself whether with Cat in a Hat or anything else. She knows herself well, conveys her story for herself well even to the delight of her teacher who shared this quote while grading the assignment: “what an imagination and way with words.” Her own contributions to my world and work will forever be sterling. She continues to give her imaginations a place to stand, to use it as a potent device to tell her story, her way and that is enough for me to join her teacher and say well done.
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.
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.
I learned about auto ethnography the other day. Partly because I have been searching for meaning, including understanding for what I have being doing with writing as I do, every single day on this blog. Auto-ethnography I learnt, is a methodology that seeks to connect personal experience to cultural process and understanding, particularly from the view of researcher and participant or me and myself. When you engage in this method, you are essentially highlighting as close as you can, a process or a journey that creates potential for greater depth and understanding about yourself. I learnt it also has great relevance for mental health. Privacy, even stigma, may mean that many of the thoughts or hurdles, or even successes that shape us, are often not shared with the world, often kept tightly tucked away in that little corner of ourselves that we call our mind. For some, these issues however they manifest in our lives, can move from tiny, to small, to big, and huge, all in a matter of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months. For others, it may take years, or pandemics, for you to realize what truly matters for your mental health. I learnt that in engaging in auto ethnographic writing, I gave my mind the freedom to just be.
No need keeping it all neatly and tightly tucked away in that corner I labeled private. No need, forgetting some experiences that were actually teachable, learning moments. No need silencing the many adaptable voices that speak to my existence as a mother, a wife, and an academic researcher. No need wondering what the plan through life is after all, or who are the people that help me thrive, or why do they matter and what should I do to continuously nurture their presence in my life. In fact, no need keeping things that matter to me private. In reflecting about my life experiences the past 8 months, I have gained a deeper understanding of my own unique journey through life. I choose to make the personal overt, critically help myself and those trying to make sense of their own journey.
When I started this journey, two egg crayons, one yellow, one green, where my guide. My son on the spectrum was my muse, and watching him roll his eggs, was my path. We have been rolling since and I would not change this experience for anything else. In fact, it has saved me. All I knew when the journey started was that I was desperate. Tired and desperate. There was a pandemic. I was a new mom. Three kids were homeschooling and yes, I was teaching a course to graduate students. In the middle of all that chaos, family members and colleagues died, and I was wondering, what then is life after all. There seemed to be nowhere to go, but to that neat, tucked away corner I call my mind. I was either going to stay there, and suffer in silence, or open up so the pain and fears, or even the chaos, all of them, become my story, my experience. I choose to open up and since then, I have been writing. Autoethnography saved me.
My overt inclusion of myself, into this investigation of what it means to be a parent in academia has been profound to me. Every thing I wrote in one form or the other helped shape my understanding of my place in the wider world. Rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist, I delved deeply with a back and forth gaze to scrutinize and publicized myself ultimately for me. Every outward focus on the social, environmental or cultural aspects of my personal experience with an inward exposure of my vulnerable self, helped to tell my story, helped to showcase the healing potential of writing for the mind.
In the end, but from the beginning, it has always been about intentionally making an effort to roll through life, to roll with the punches, to roll with the triumphs, to roll with the tears, to roll with the sighs, to roll even when nothing makes sense. Writing as I do, is now the very medicine I never knew I needed to make sense of my life, my plans for life, the people that matter, all the lessons life has to teach so I learn, the changes or adaptions that I constantly have to make, but ultimately the things worth keep, worth fighting for no matter what. Auto ethnographic writing as I do, and continue to do, helped me heal. Even when looking back was difficult, or looking forward was uncertain, this form of writing helped me find my place, helped do the work necessary to keep what matters. As I sit here, reflecting on the past 8 months, what I know for sure is that I know my story. I know my purpose. I know what I am called to do, even on days when nothing makes sense. I finally know my plan. For me, this blog is and will always remain a place of healing, a space that allowed me to remain well, a gift that keeps on giving. By placing myself at the heart of the intersection between parenting and academic productivity, autoethnography, allowed me to heal. My positionally in this world is clear. Keep auto-ethnography in mind, especially for it’s healing power.
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
What are the things you wish to change for yourself? What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What hurt, or pain, or emotions do you swallow day by day? What sickens you, even kills you, still in silence? These words from Audre Lorde’s essay on transforming silence into action are my daily source for life. I highly recommend every woman to read this transformative essay by Audre Lorde. It literally changed my life after an ugly, painful experience I faced last year. It helped me transform my silence into action. It also helped me face my fears even at the risk of being annihilated. I can gladly testify that it helped me understand fully that many people are not suppose to journey with you through life and though that may come with fears of it own when the journey ends, because of this essay, I am prepared to face my fears.
So can I be the face of your fears. Look at me. I am woman. A black woman. A black woman and a mother. A black woman, a mother, and a researcher. A black woman, a mother, a researcher, a grant writer. A black woman, a mother, a researcher, a grant writer, and a story teller. I am me, through it all, fearful or not. I am also a warrior, too, with so many scars. I am willing to do my part, to share them so you change your ways and become the warrior that you are destined to be. Can I work with you to transform your silience into language and action? It would be my greatest joy to journey with you on this journey we both find ourselves so you to find your way to breaking all the many silences you have. This sharp awareness, to the full possibilities of journeys we take, whether in fear or in light, is the keep I am sending out to the world today. Break your silence, transform them and face your fears. When your do, you will live a deeper life, one full of power and awe of the possibilities that flow within you.
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.
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.
The prior owners of our new home loved planting. You can tell by the rich array of plant species surrounding our home. These plants are not so common or well I’m not used to seeing so many different species of plants. So I did the next best thing and got an app to begin to learn. And I’m in awe. The next series of posts will take us on a planting spree. The prior owners were not playing. It’s is all truly beyond gardening as a hobby. So let me begin with the one that brings joy to my heart every time I look at it. If there is one tree that represents Spring, it’s a magnolia. It began to bloom sometime late last week and is supposed to keep blooming from now until mid summer. The back of our home is surrounded by their deep lustrous green leaves. The tree is not too tall, and their flowers very delicate. But it’s their light purple exterior with a light pink interior and yellow petals that makes me smile.
Lily magnolias I can tell will be my favorite for there is much to learn about them. For starters, it’s a small tree native to China but planted not just in China, but Japan, some countries in Europe and in the USA. Though they maybe battered in the fall and winter from strong winds and very cold temperatures, they emerge in Spring as beautiful as can be with colors just as bright as the dazzling sun. Because I didn’t know their value, we didn’t water them through the fall or winter, as they need to be watered regularly. We only pruned the hedges that had grown all around them when the prior owners moved out of the home over a year before they sold the house. We pruned them due to advice we got from others and let them be. Judging from how they are thriving now, that maybe all they need, though we will now incorporate water for the future. Still, they are just as glorious as can be with a truly mesmerizing elegant appearance. They are visited primarily not only by beetles but also by bees, something that drives my kids crazy as they hate to see them. I on the other hand love to see nature at its best. To see such a sun-loving flower at the back of our home keeps my joyful and hopeful for all the possibilities nature has to offer, if only we do our part to tend to it. It’s for this reason that I liken lily magnolias to motherhood.
We can bloom as mother’s if only we tend to ourselves. Our exteriors can be just as vibrant, elegant too as our interiors like those of lily magnolias if only we do our part to love ourselves, to prune the hedges that surround our hearts and minds, water our soul thoroughly and bathe ourselves in the dazzling warmth and brilliance of the sun. These are the lessons I am keeping from lily magnolias. I expect now that there will always be strong winds and freezing temperatures in the form of people that may come to batter me in the fall or cold days. But like lily magnolias, I intend to still emerge beautifully, mesmerizing too in Spring and beyond.