Palm on the glass, touching. Face to face, I stand. Unspeaking, I look into my eyes. Silent, knowing.’

In the book ‘The Origin of Others,’ Toni Morrison shared a story about a trip to Vienna Biennale. She described being in a room with artworks on display. She was asked to enter a dark room where she faced a mirror. Within few seconds, a figure appeared. Slowly taking shape, they moved towards her. A woman, she described. When the woman was close to her, same height, she placed her palm on the glass and asked Ms. Morrison to do the same. The woman and Ms. Morrison, stood face to face, unspeaking, looking into the eyes of the other. Slowly the figure, faded, shrank before disappearing altogether. But within few seconds, another woman appeared. They repeated the same gesture. Palm on the glass, touching. Face to face, they stood. Unspeaking, they looked into the eyes of the other, the eyes of each other. Slowly, the second woman faded, and disappeared altogether. Then another woman appeared. Same gesture repeated. Palm on the glass, touching. Face to face, they stood. Unspeaking, they looked into the eyes of the other, the eyes of each other. Until, she too faded, disappeared, with another woman reappearing and the same gesture repeating. Face to face, they still stood. Palms on the glass still touching. Unspeaking still, they looked into the eyes of the other, the eyes of each other. Morrison, noted that this gesture of touching each other’s palms, looking into each other’s eyes, went on for sometime. And every woman was different. Different in age, different in body shape, different in color, different even in dress. This story she recounted was the premise for her novel ‘Paradise.’ This intimacy with a stranger. A silent knowing. Acceptance of each other, one to one.

Paradise with it’s one to one narratives, amid struggles, chaos, but affection, personifies the seeing that I hope to capture with the stories I share on this blog. One to one. My journey through life with you, a stranger, reading this. Accepting I hope, each story, each keep. If only more women, more mothers, those who work, those who tend, those with voice, those without, can stand face to face, palms on this glass called life, unspeaking, but looking into the eyes of the other. Accepting each other, one to one. A silent knowing of the hopes, impediments, but survival of this thing called motherhood. What will we see? What will we learn, when we face each other, face ourselves. Would we build each other up? Face to face, would we help each other adapt, to the touching, palms on the glass. Or would we, even unspeaking, ensure that we work to secure the resources we all need? Or would we look into each other’s eyes. A silent knowing instructing each other of what to keep or discard, which chaos are messy but beautiful.

I tried Ms. Morrison’s experience for myself. I closed the door to my bathroom. Turned on a dim light. Placed my palm on the glass and for one brief moment, I stood face to face with myself. Building. My dreams. Adapting, deep breaths, with each palm on the glass. Face to face with my being. Unspeaking. Fears. Securing. Hopes. Looking into my eyes. Looking into myself. A silent knowing. Keeping. Acceptance of myself, with all my flaws, all my struggles, all my hopes, served beautifully, as stories. Keeping this. One to one, one keep at a time. Keeping this. For myself, for each other, for you. A silent knowing, whomever you are, however you read this. Keep this. Our silent knowing. Keep it.

We named our daughter Lotanna to remember our father, our son Chiwetel to marvel at the gift we got from God, our other son Olisadubem for God to be his guide, and our baby Ranyenna to be grateful and as a reminder to give God what belongs to him always. The names we gave our children are powerful, a sacred and solemn gift from us, their parents, to them. Names are life-giving, pregnant with meaning, full of promise and possibilities, full of insight for one’s journey, one’s destiny through life. Like roots, names and their power, are buried deep below the ground, a hidden source of nutrients and a foundation necessary to rise, to the demands of life. And the road ahead will be rough, full of turbulence, hurricanes and even dark storms. Even as your spread far and wide, as you roam the earth in search of ways to stand upright, your name will always be your guide when strong winds blow, always be your guide with every hurricane, every storm, so you don’t fall. But when you live out your name, when you live out it’s meaning, it’s significance, it’s power, then your destiny is in the hands of your Chi (your God). Your name becomes your shepherd, guiding you along the right path.

As a mother of children with names that are grounded in our Igbo culture, I am always alert when my kids ask questions about their names. Names are significant in my culture, almost like the sighting of the deer post I previously wrote about. It help you see yourself, see the hopes and dreams parents wish for their children as they embark on their own unique journey through life. My mother has a saying that the only thing she could truly account for was the baby in her stomach. Once the baby is outside, he belongs to the world. Their names are their guides, their direction for the journey through life on their own terms. Needless to say, names matter a lot to me. A glimpse of who you are, with far reaching consequences for your destiny.

Now for an understanding of where you are from, Yamile Saied Mendez and Jamie Kim have written and illustrated a beauty book for children worthy of praises. It’s about a little girl wondering where she is from. The illustrations are as beautiful as the the words. Effortlessly written to help tell a story of the girls origins and guide through life. Not only is she from gaucho, brave and strong, but she is also from the palm trees that stretch and caress. From hurricanes that are dark and strong. Even from the sunshine that lights our path in this world and the rain that washes our mistakes. I truly love this book. It’s a reminder to keep knowing where you are from. Like one’s name, it’s the insight children need these days. You matter, you are loved and you come from a generation of people who are as powerful as they are fearless, as divine as they are sublime, who want nothing but the best for their children. Keep knowing where you are from. Like your name, it truly matters.

In the spirit of Black History Month, my family and I have been reading about Anna Julia Cooper, the 4th African American woman to earn a doctorate, something she accomplished in 1924. Anna Julia Cooper was as fearless as she was powerful, as sublime as she was effortless in her discussions not only on the plight of black women in general, but the need for women to attain higher education. The professor in me is always alert to women who paved the way for me to call myself a professor. Women like Anna Julia Cooper, with her profound book ‘ A Voice from the South’ which urged black women to not be mute or voiceless, but happily expectant and ready to add our voice to the experiment and experience we call America. One statement she wrote in the book that made me alert is: ‘Woman, Mother, your responsibility is one that might make angels tremble.’ This statement was eloquent then as it is perfect for me today. I look forward to the future always with zeal, knowing that the many words of Anna Julia Cooper will be my guide. Keep her in mind.

Anna Julia Cooper

Have you ever tried to crawl? To place your hands on the ground, your knees as well, and slowly meander forward. Have you ever gone lower? This time, with placing your stomach, flatly on the ground and slowly meander forward. What if you placed an object afar? Then slowly, even effortless, meander forward, towards the object, or anything else desirable your eyes meet. For over a month, I have been watching my 7-month old son practice the art of crawling, floating forward free of the burden of walking. With his hands and feet, and his knees at times, not touching the ground, he crawls. With each movement at a time, each sense of direction, new knowledge of the limits and possibilities of self is acquired, secured, even kept. Every baby, almost invariably passes through this stage, from crawling to walking on their own terms, even without fear. Some would rather skip the stage and move straight to walking. My baby belongs to this category. Others enjoy the process of discovery as their body readily adapts to movement of their own making for the first time. But no matter the approach, crawling, like motherhood, takes time.

It’s in crawling that we see and learn about ourselves as mothers. Not the complaining self, but the self willing to meander, albeit slowly forward, effortlessly through this journey called motherhood. And what a journey, to learn how to crawl first, to pass through a phase, that requires you to bring your whole being, literally down, to the ground. Motherhood, like crawling, enlightens, opens doors, helps us make connections, with ourselves, within the spaces and the boundaries we find inside ourselves. It is also instructive, as with the directions we take, or the movements we make. How crawling, like motherhood, forces us to stretch, to reach and own every limit, every possibility, we make in a very personal way, interests me. That and the fact that even when we master crawling, the journey ahead has only begun. Babies like my son, who try to crawl with their knees not touching the ground, consistently fall to the ground with each attempt they make. My son is yet to learn how to fully crawl with his knees on the ground.

And it is always about the ground after all. It has always been there for my son to do and use as he pleases. The ground is always calling us, always insisting that we pay homage, to bring our whole being, to kiss it even. For it too has its own purpose. Even the ground, as naked as it may seem, has its own purpose. To learn or build knowledge necessary for moving, to crawl or adapt with every movement, to stretch and secure key resources, all while keeping, its limits or the possibilities in mind. An unblinking witness to our potential. But if we ignore the ground, a fall is certain. Something, my son is learning every day. Keep motherhood like crawling and the ground in mind.

My son is now learning to crawl with his knees now touching the ground.

Imagine seeing a deer for the first time in awhile. On a snowy or dry day. Along a road full of tall trees or in a park or a village where people and animals co-live. What would you do? Would you pause and take in the beauty. Its gaze, its tenderness, its stride or even its stillness. Or would you scream and run away. Your reality. Would you bravely watch from a distance, depending on your intent, how the deer sets its big eyes on you, moves to your movement, even with grace, all while making sense of your own reaction, your intent with the sighting. For one brief moment, the deer sees you too, a human, whose only purpose, at least to them, is to inflict pain, inflict death. A deer’s reality. Whatever the intent, whether purposeful or by accident, whether in joy or in the pain, the mere sighting of a deer, is much more important than the killing of it, your reaction to it. Seeing, regardless of your intent, leads to a reaction.

A sighting of a deer.

So too are the stories of motherhood along the margins, along the spaces of radical openness as the author Bell Hooks would describe it. Seeing motherhood for oneself leads to radical openness. My goal: To tell the stories, from my perspective, one at a time, 500 words a day, 3000 a week, until my I become the storyteller, a radically open one, for my generation of mothers with lives along the margins. Margins of work and family, race and racism, gender and sexism, overt or subtle, in sickness or in health, in silence or in survival, from my children’s lens or my thoughts, all with the grace for the hopes, grace to bear the struggles we encounter along the journey through life. Remembering key experiences, one story at a time, is the sighting, the doing, the perspective, the openness I hope to offer. Not as a prescription or a bag full of solutions, but a basket full of the possibilities and limits of motherhood. My tomorrow is uncertain, but for today, the mere sighting of a deer will do.

Insights into life of working mothers and the pandemic are rare. Not the stories of coping well, but the pitched battle of silence and survival. When I come across these insights (see picture below), I feel seen. The past 11 months of the pandemic has been debilitating slowly. It has taken a lot to make sense of it all. That it shows no sign of abating is terrifying. That most people act like it’s gone, is equally disturbing. But when folks write about working moms, our primal state, then, for one brief moment, I feel seen. I also feel like screaming too.

As a working mom, I have 3 choices with the pandemic: first to ignore it and act as if it is only restricted to places I don’t visit or people I don’t interact with. But that would mean I remain in my own bubble, for what is motherhood or even work without people. For to even feed my household, I have to venture into spaces and interact with people whether at the grocery store or at a restaurant even for takeout. Second, I could be indifferent to the pandemic. It’s been 11 months and counting, so what difference would another day make. A whole lot. No one can act indifferent to the fact that everyday, close to 3000 people are dying from the pandemic. Multitudes more are becoming infected despite the availability of vaccines. It is all around us that no amount of ignorance or indifference will save me if I don’t do my part to stay safe. The third choice is my imagination and it’s possibilities are endless when writing is intentional. It’s where my hope resides, where my learning occurs and my memories are recollected and reassembled so that history would capture my multiple points of views, the impediments of work, family, productivity in the time of the pandemic. Insights on the pandemic’s effect are rare. History will ask questions one day. So it’s extremely important, at least to me, to try and write, even when tired, about the state of affairs for women with children who work during a pandemic.

It’s my hope with this list. The constant reminder I have to try not to diminish my reality or accept established realities of what it means to be a working mom these days. Every keep is my authentic way of remembering, not forgetting, the silence, the survival, all the hopes and all the impediments. It my way of doing the writing necessary building, adapting, securing, and ultimately keeping what matters so history will see us too. Keep basking in your writing, keep it. It matters.

Almost missed a day of writing. I reminded myself not to. Yet it almost happened. Writing is indeed a tough business. It takes dedication and time and I applaud all writers who do this everyday non stop. This post also is short and reminder to myself to keep writing. I realize that it is easy to become tired. It is also easy to let a day go by. But those who find a way to persevere, become the writers they want to be in the end. So keep writing even when tired.

In one of my daughter’s journal entry for school, she was asked ‘what makes her family special?’ She wrote: My family is special because we are always fun.’ I chuckled. But the next sentence made me alert. She wrote: ‘They also understand whenever I make mistakes.’ As a family, we are keenly aware that mistakes are necessary. Almost expected from everyone, including our children. That I fail with work comes as no surprise to my children. They know when my grants for example are not successful. A lot of them are never successful. And they understand what to do to cheer me up. Red velvet cake makes me happy.

Mistakes, failures, are inevitable conditions necessary for living. There are two choices, one can make when they encounter these challenges. One, you can ignore them, or two, you can learn a lesson from your mistakes or failures. Whichever choice you make, know that understanding is a key antidote. One that we do not take for granted in my household. That my daughter, wrote this in her journal is compelling. Understanding is also doing, one that I will keep staying alert to. Mistakes are inevitable with children. Keep understanding even when them make them.

The past few days have been filled with work. Not the kind of work that academics love to do. But the one that people who truly love what they do. It’s sublime, forces you to be still, so the words flow. Word work is becoming my solace in the middle of this pandemic. It’s not enough that you read the words too, but you also hear it and feel it. That’s my goal. Every single word strung together, will be full of grace, full of a melody so smooth, so satisfying like a choir of heavenly angels. Ultimately each word one it’s own or together, should force you into a dialogue with me. Force is you into my path. Force you to take a closer look at my intentions, my purpose with putting these words, my thoughts together.

My son learning to crawl.

As I type this, the sounds of my baby awake in the other room forces me to put anything that comes to mind down in a hurry. My children running water above in their bedroom also forces me to rush through my thoughts. They are after all they treasures I have, the reason for focusing one what matters. Word work requires this. The past few months reminds us all to stay alert to those things that matter, the things we hold dear, like my children, my peace, my journey through a life full of questions, in search of endless ones, all committed to lasting, all committed to putting words together in ways that make tell the story of my purpose. I watched my baby try to crawl the other day and for him, I know that what matters is critical. What matters, even with word work, like learning to crawl is urgent. I may not know the outcome of the exercise, the outcome of each experience, but I am committed. Every word matters. Every word is for you too. To keep what you can or discard what you must. It was always yours to keep. The essence of every essay I write is always with you in mind. Keep, I say, always, what matters. It has always been my intent even on the journey to making sense of words that work together nicely. I hope you join me on this journey.

Let me sit down for a moment with you. For one minute if you have it. You can close your eyes, if you choose or just be still where you are and stay with me if you can. For one brief moment, know that you are like a rising star. Keep knowing this in your heart. My very own star. Your light cannot be hidden, no matter how hard you try. You are truly amazing. That’s what you are. How you do this thing called life so effortlessly, so easy, so breathtakingly divine with ease, is beyond words. You are one remarkable person. For one moment, I want you to know, to understand that how you live, how you keep doing things your way, even with tremendous challenges and difficulties, but still persevere, still defy the odds, is nothing short of brilliant. Your desire to keep what matters, to build where you can, to adapt if you must, but to keep seeking new ways of being, new things to learn, things that even make you uncomfortable, is superb. You and all of your being, is stellar. I would tell you that the next 10 years would be outstanding. But you already know this. If you doubt me, look around and see just how blessed you are and know that the next 10 years of abundant blessings is only just beginning. See all that snow outside, even if you count every flake one by one, they would never be enough to describe just how remarkable the next 10 years would be. And it would. I just want to let you know this for just this moment, between me and you, know that you are quite simply sterling, and magnetic and captivating and those dreams in your heart, in your soul, will come to pass. All I ask is that you remain you and believe that my plans for you are beyond even your wildest dreams. They are. And if you ever forget, get up again, rise up and start afresh, one day at a time, until you become my greatest treasure, my light for the world to see, my very own star.

You are like a star!

This is a letter to myself that I was asked to pen as part of a new program that I will begin in February. It the altMba progam conceived by the indomitable Seth Godin. The universe is calling me to rise and begin an incredible journey through this thing called life and I am ready. Keep rising my star, keep rising.

All the snow outside is nothing compared to how blessed you are. You are.