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.

At Creve Coeur 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.

Next to the lake!

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.

What a week. And we missed posting yesterday. All I can say is there will be days like this when nothing will be done. On those days rest. What you maybe carrying maybe to heavy for you hence the need to rest. Put it down and take a break. It’s okay to do nothing. I did. Slept my afternoon and night away and woke up refreshed and ready to take on the world. Keep resting.

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.

My office desk has an image of a step. It was used to illustrate how I would build creative confidence in young people. It was also for research with words and illustration used to highlight an ongoing intensive grant I am presently working on. I also forgot to put the paper away after making my drafts. This evening when I returned to my desk, I saw this image next to it by my daughter. In it she noted steps to being her best. First, she was voiceless and shy and stood at the sidelines rather than participating with the crowd. Next, she started to speak up a little. And though better, it wasn’t her best. But when she started to speak, when she became happy and stood tall to speak, her best became amazing. These steps to being the best by my 8 year old is worth keeping if not for anything but to remind you to stand tall, be happy and speak. And when you do, well, you will be amazing.

We may know what we do. Talking about it may also be easy. We definitely know how to do the things we do. Describing it would also be easy. But why? Understanding why we do the things we do is probably the most difficult thing to explain. Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start with Why’ is a treasure. It allowed me to uncover my Why just as the pandemic was ravaging the country. It’s the thing that keeps me going, my Why. It’s also the most important part of my journey through life. We are all called to be the light on this earth. To be the salt to where we can. If in doing so we help others uncover their worth then more light can seep into this world full of darkness. Being the light is a key part of my why. To know that everything I do, let’s God light shine a bit brighter is truly inspiring. The moment you wake up and realize this for yourself, is the day your story begins. Being light helps to fulfill my why. I hope it helps you to keep knowing your why.

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.

Azaleas at the front of our home!

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.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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.

Me and one of my writing muse!

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.

The eggs that started this autoethnography journey.

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.

Me and one of my writing muse!

Some may never get your ways. That’s okay. Some may say it’s impact is not understood. That’s okay too. Some may say you work too hard and for nothing. That’s truly okay too. In fact not getting your ways or understanding what you do is perfectly fine. So long as you know who you are. So long as you remember always that you are light and so let your light shine. I keep coming back to this on days when things seem out of place not because there will be days when things are perfect but mostly for the days when things make no sense. On those days, on days when things are just as confusing to you and everyone wonders what’s the purpose after all. Tell them I said that it’s because you are light. You cannot be hidden. Even when your ways make no sense. As light, it does. Even when no one understands what you are doing. As light, he knows. Even when it’s impact isn’t as tangible as it should. As light, it is. In the end it’s for his glory. It’s for his praise. We are all called to be the light of the world. All of us are including you. So keep being light especially on days when things seem out of place. For as light, your glimmer, in fact, you cannot be hidden.

Micro aggressions are everywhere especially in academia. Uncovering them is key. Last week in discussions with a colleague, we shared how this word manifests in workplace environment. Not because we didn’t know it has always existed in academia, but to see it in full display made us cringe. It begins with small acts of exclusion. So small they often go unnoticed. If you are listening you’ll notice. They are never overt or explicit. Never obvious or even recognizable at first. Subtlety is its defining element and receivers know when they see it. Yet they are so ingrained in everyday behavior beginning from the tone of voice we use to, to the gestures we make, the terms we use or even the people we publicly acknowledge, all of that combined make up the perfect storm for micro aggression. And to be on the receiving end, to listen as your whole being is dismissed, denied, or even diminished can be so debilitating except you know yourself well. That is, you see yourself clearly enough to recognize the stakes of inaction. Thus confronting your micro aggressor becomes the next logical step. And when you do, the actions you observed so keenly maybe explained away, denied, and once more dismissed as a figment of your own imagination. It’s for this reason I say why bother. Micro aggressors will be micro aggressors. You will never change them. But you can change yourself. Rather than dwell on their act, learn from it, even write about it. As Toni Morrison once wrote in Beloved, ‘the only grace you would have (even from a micro aggressor) is the grace you imagine.’ So imagine grace for yourself. See it, feel it, then have it for yourself. And when you do, healing from micro aggression will begin. Keep this in mind and learn so you don’t become one.

I usually write in the morning. It’s my best time for thinking. But the past few weeks my mornings have been preoccupied with work. I have been in grant writing mode since the start of March. It’s has been a painful and bittersweet journey to get back into. The last time I went on this journey was about a year ago and well, I failed. So to get back on it again is full of trepidation. But still I continue. When your mind is as chaotic as mind, grant writing can truly become an obsession. Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Beautiful Struggle noted how when he obsessed, he wanted only what he wanted and gave no attention to other matters. Grant writing is like that for me, a beautiful struggle that keeps me transfixed whenever I begin. Someone asked awhile back to a catalogue my grant writing process. How do I begin and how do I end?

Grantwriting is like a beautiful struggle!

For starters the beginning is full of doubts. I try to find any reason not to write a grant, not to put myself through the process, not to even think that I may have any idea and that the idea may indeed be valuable. In the beginning, I dread the grant writing process. But then slowly it’s like I am bitten by a bug. A grant bug. I look for the deadlines. If it’s 2-3 months away, then it’s potentially doable. But more doubts creep in. Who are co-conspirators? Is it worth bringing them along? What will they add? Why even bother? There are more doubts in the way of starting any grant journey. They key is to wrestle through it with different folks until the bug bite becomes an itch that simply won’t go away. The more you scratch, the more the ideas start to make sense until you plunge headfirst, into a grant writing abyss that takes you on an never ending journey towards many unknown. I am currently on that journey. They doubts are still intense but the people I keep meeting across this journey are the fuel I need. Take for example today. I was in a room full of black scholars. All seven of us have one degree or the other and we came in all shades of brown skin so divine, that it makes you want to join Beyonce and say just how beautiful we are when we come together for our people. I have no idea where this particular grant journey is taking me. I am also prepared to fail. That’s another part of my process that I share with every one I encounter from the beginning. We may fail but I would still rather go in this journey with you. It’s is a journey after all and like I always say, I am glad I have a plan. Surrounding myself with the right people, learning from them, adapting or changing the course of the grant where necessary all while nurturing that which makes us unique is the reason I absolutely love grant writing. I keep diving head first to as it’s it’s a journey from the head to the soul for me and with the right people, i am prepared to fail. But what if we are transformative. That then is the start of an endless journey, once that the destination is still unknown. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything else (singing Brown Skin Girls)…

Keep winning. I got a great text message tonite. It basically said, congrats on winning the …raffle. I was speechless. We won? How? When? At first I thought this was a joke. We are almost through April, so anything maybe possible with making a fool out of me. But then I remembered that my kids school had a fundraiser yesterday. One of the most spectacular fundraisers I have ever seen. And it was virtual. The amount of money they raised during a pandemic is nothing short of phenomenal. I went to the school’s website to watch the event from yesterday. I scrolled all the way to the last 2 minutes and watched as the fundraiser chair put their hands in a pile full of 1100 raffle tickets. You guessed it. Out of 1100 tickets, a ticket with my name won. I am still speechless. I have watched the video numerous times and each time my ticket was picked and we were declared the winner. We had a blast today, with family and friends and winning this raffle ticket, well just simply made this day phenomenal. Keep winning. This picture, taken after church today, personifies the joy in my heart for today.

The sign of winning!

One of the key micronutrients for plants essential for stabilizing cell walls and membranes is calcium. It also acts as a second messenger helping plants sense and physiologically respond to environmental cues. So a soil’s calcium content is crucial for plants and their survival. Enter flowering dogwoods, a key source of calcium.

Flowering Dogwoods.

One of gems along the street by our home is an array of flowering dogwoods. Spring seems to be their time to shine. And they do with their bright pink colors dominating the sidewalk. Flowering dogwoods are best known for their high calcium content. Their foliage, twigs, and fruit are high in calcium and contains amounts that are above those needed for adequate skeletal growth by other species in the environment including birds and deers. But it’s their ability to improve soil content that I want to dwell on today. Flowering dogwood are known as soil improvers due to their calcium pumping technique. When their leaves litter, not only are they a rich and important source of calcium for soils, but they decompose more rapidly than other species making its calcium content more readily available to the soil below. Yet regardless of it abundance, only about 16% of its calcium content are sequestered to the soil and other species. The rest are retained within flowering dogwoods. The only way soils can tap into 84% of its calcium content is when the leaf litters around it. Let this sink in for a moment. For soils to access the rich intracelluar content of a flowering dogwood, the tree has to shed its leaves. Otherwise the calcium content remains within flowering dogwood. Which is why for me and today’s keep, motherhood for those who work and care for others is like a flowering dogwood.

The past few days of my life have been busy with me delving into a grant-writing full time. For the past seven years, most of my grant writing occurs during the Spring semester and my process is like the story of a flowering dogwood. On the surface, I’m just as pink as can be, truly bright and radiating with ideas that are as splendid as a flowering dogwood. Something about Spring season makes me feel alive and full of ideas hence grant writing. But can I be honest? No matter how much I write, my grants only get 16% of my time. Like flowering dogwood, despite being abundant with ideas or calcium in their case, none of that will come into fruition unless reviewers understand our 84% potential.

Most mothers in academia and elsewhere maybe relate. We give our all, often a small portion of our existence, yet we are only fully vindicated when others see or know for themselves the full breath and merit of our potential. Nothing in my grant will say how I wrote this while homeschooling or being a mother to four children. Nothing will shed light on all the multitasking it takes to write grants. Nothing will even highlight all the meetings, all the phone calls, all the assistance, all the sleepless nights it takes to put just one grant together. This is why I can honestly say I consider gender greatly when I review grants. For to be a mother, to put in just a fraction of your existence into any grant, is a tremendous feat alone. I’m not saying or asking for grant reviewers to be partial to mothers or women, but when the statistics shows that most successful grants are by men, flowering dogwoods should come to mind.

Of course men are successful, they can put in 84% of their best foot forward while women actually give 16%. Take a look at the graph below from a paper I usually share at the start for my grant writing course. Men remain in funding pools at rates higher than women overtime. The funding longevity for women are low, with women holding fewer grants in general, submitting fewer applications and successfully renewing grants. Let me repeat this again for emphasis, flowering dogwoods and their potential should truly come to mind here. Of course the statistics are worse for researchers of color but that’s another post for another day. Our resilience is out of this world, not only as a mother, but as a black woman in academia. I usually joke but maybe it’s isn’t a joke, but if only I had a space to go away and just write my grants, maybe a weekend getaway or sorts with no kids crying or no after school games to schedule, then every grant would get my 84% just like soils get the full calcium content of flowering dogwoods when their leaves litter.

For now, 16% will do. That’s the lesson I am keeping from flowering dogwood. To still do my part to improve the public’s health, even if all I can give is 16%. It’s for this reason I ask you to keep working mothers like flowering dogwood in mind. We can give 84% if only conditions are right. But rarely are conditions ever right, so what you see from us is only 16% of our potential. And when that 16% thrives, when you come across a working mother who makes the most out of her 16%, get out of her way and watch as she blossoms like a flowering dogwood.