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.

Reminiscing is when you indulge in an enjoyable recollection of past events. I did so today with my daughter. The event was her 4th birthday. Her smile was as dazzling then as it is today. This was a time when growing up was brilliant, when candles on a birthday cake evoked an endless happiness, when being a child was forever full of excitement. My Belle’s wide-spirited loved for her born day, didn’t start today and the celebration continues today past even the d-day. Everyday with her remains a true manifestation of God’s love, a divine encounter with love so tender, it can only be God. I see it in her everyday and on days like today where we reminisce, we do so enjoying every moment of our love, his love, perfected in each other. Keep reminiscing.

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.

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.

Tree of Life

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.

In 2007, my doctoral advisor wrote a paper entitled ‘on being comfortable with being uncomfortable; centering an Africanist vision as a gateway for global health.’ In the paper, he had an image of a child neither romanticized nor diseased, representations that are typically the norm in discussions in anything concerning Africa.

Photo by Olusegun Fayemi

The paper goes on to discuss the misrepresentation of African identity and how part of that framing lies with researchers who would rather interpret Africa as disease-ridden and crisis plagued rather than humanity that populated the region. It was for this reason that the paper asked the question ‘can you define who you are without referencing what you do?’ Most researchers are very comfortable speaking about their identity based on their profession and incapable of defining who they are outside what they do. The paper goes on to discuss how African identity should be at the center to research on African health and development. Also how we need to deconstruct conventional assumptions and theories used to frame public health and solutions for Africans. I share all this to say that this paper helped me define the gate through which I enter research. I value research where knowledge production, including the acquisition and distribution of it is affirmed by those who own the knowledge, including those traditionally underrepresented in research.

This paper also remains one of my favorite papers and a source for daily inspiration whenever I need the assurance that I am fulfilling my destiny in academia. See the past three months have been brutal. Not only did I work as a homeschool teacher as as mother to 4 children under 8 years of age, I took on the Herculean task of submitting 2 NIH grant proposals back to back with me as a lead. I have been here before. The work isn’t a problem for me. If you know my history with NIH grants, then you would know that I am most comfortable being uncomfortable with submitting 2 grants at the same time. The reason I went to my advisor’s article today after submitting the second one (the first one was submitted last week) was because I needed to read these words to myself and I’m paraphrasing “continue to propel yourself to new levels possibilities are endless.’ My advisor pushed the need to not conduct research from a deficit model, but from one where people are represented just as they are. Not diseases or romanticized beings, but people with possibilities that are endless. The two grants that I submitted are a reflection of these possibilities. Of course lord only knows the outcome, but I am satisfied with myself and my never ending quest for possibilities that remain endless. Keep this for yourself.

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

My daughter and her friends poem ‘BabyBirds.’

My home is surrounded by peonies in full bloom. They were planted by the prior owners. A gift to us that I will forever treasure. It’s fragrant too. The fabulous pink and white flowers are ethereal and with a fragrant undertone that is a special treat to our home. Ants like bees also surround the peonies. They are everywhere. They visit to collect the nectars extruded on the outside of the peony bud. The nectars are a source of carbohydrates for the ants. And in-spite of these ants, peonies continue to bloom in ways so extravagant but unforgettable, so carefree, but elegant. And my home is surrounded by them.

When our peonies started to bloom!
In full bloom!
My baby next to them.

Prior to the pandemic, one of the things I gifted myself on a weekly basis were flowers. Nothing special, just a thank you to myself for being me. It was a daily ritual for self-care. One that I neglected once the pandemic began. We were all striving to be Covid-free so the last thing on my mind were flowers. Enter this spring. Something about my home being surrounded by flowers keeps me on my knees in thanksgiving to my God. And his gift, the flowers I will forever now treasure as his gift to our home, to my eyes, peonies in full bloom. For the past 3 weeks, all sorts of colorful peonies have been blooming around my home. From deep purple to luscious pink and sterling white, every specie is truly a rare fusion of fluff and majesty. And to think that this stately and dignified flower belongs to me, my family keeps me on my knees in humble adoration to my maker.

Deep pink peonies.
Luscious pink peonies.

I am living out his testimony of trust. Even the young grow weak and tired, he says. But those who trust in the lord, shall truly live out his blessings on earth. Peonies are the sublime manifestation of God’s blessings to me. It never also occurred to me that I could harvest them. For the past 3 weeks I have been watching them that it never occurred to me that I could go a bit further and bring them home, into the house, like the other flowers I buy until this week. This week, my God reminded me that he is God. You say you want blessings, look outside, he said. You are blessed. You can also bring it inside.

This week, for the first time since all my flowers started to bloom, I brought my first flowers inside. Peonies are the first flowers from my garden in my home and they take my breathe away. Another thing, peonies are characterized by their morphology. Some are single with five or more petals with a center called staminodes for stamens that are usually not pollen bearing. Others are semi-double peonies have five or more outer petals and a center with stamens that are pollen-bearing. My garden is full of double peonies. My God is having the last laugh with me. These double peonies with their five or more petals and even central stamen are transformed into petals such that all you see are rows upon rows of petals. A full flower in all sense of the word, whose beauty takes my breathe away. Peonies are as fascinating as they are brilliant to the eyes. Keep them for the blessings they are.

Harvesting my peonies for the first time!

A friend shared this quote yesterday in the middle of a crazy work schedule: “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”― Patanjali

I will share insights from my journey the past month with writing the best grant of my life. I obviously don’t know whether it will ever get funded but it was pure joy writing this one. Reading this quote shared by my friend helped me a lot during the last mile stretch of the grantwriting journey. As if the universe also knew I needed further encouragement, I was taken to the book of Isaiah this morning, chapter 41 verse 10. Not only will God call you, but when he does, he wants you to not be afraid. He is God and nothing will terrify you. He is prepared to make you strong and help you. He is also prepared to protect and save you. He is ultimately the Lord your God and when you live in his purpose for your life, nothing will terrify you. I am not afraid to live in my purpose. The past month solidified it hence why I am keeping this here. Keep living in your purpose and trust God.

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.