My Child, the Nature Lover!

Don’t be scared, that your child is “doing nothing.” Rocktating

Don’t be suspicious of the “silence coming from your child.”

Be thankful, for the “nothingness” that your child might be engaged in. OR so you might think!

 

In fact, he might be daydreaming. “And there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming,” as I tell child of mine, a huge fan, that it has literally become a hobby. I tell him, “Through daydreaming, you can create magic, imagine big, write books, and make dreams come true!”

“It is ok to daydream,” I let him know to him. “As long as you don’t get lost for-ever, that you miss out on all your other responsibilities and activities.”

Through his quiet, he re-imagines what he has observed, dreamed of, or designs in his head. There are animals, robots, make-believe creatures, zombies, architectural structures, fruits, places. Increasingly, I am becoming more and more fascinated, and attached to his [re]imagination about the fauna and flora. How he interprets what he learns about them, incorporates them into his everyday play activities, and utilizes them to benefit our nature wanderlust!

My son the Nature Lover enjoys all things wilderness! My son knows the names of animals and plants I have never heard of, in all my eyes. My son knows features and characteristics of plenty of animals, even ones I have never heard of. He knows a lot about our environment, our waters and plant life. Little wonder, he founded “Kids Earth Patrol,” to mobilize kids in his social network protect Mother Nature, with an annual Kids Cleaning Laurel Lake, in commemoration of World Earth Day!

We have “Wild Kratts,” to thank, a children show on Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) about nature. This, from a previously sworn “Enemy of TV!”

Mommy says, “TV rots the brain,” so he would tell to all his friends and family.

Well, that is because I never exposed him to TV when he was young, unless of course he was watching videos of the super-ambitious, “Your Baby Can Read,” at six months. When we lived in Norway and South Africa, after he turned one, we did not own a TV set in our apartment, by choice. I am typically not a TV person. Thereafter, in Uganda, I intentionally and actively kept him away from TV, due to the lack of streamlined screening of TV shows, with no hour or channel designated specifically PG. Kids watch adult shows on TV anytime of day, not exciting for this TV hater.

On returning to the US, I kept him away from TV to avoid the “TV trap” kids common among kids in America, often glued on TV the entire day. Then I learned about PBS Kids, and all these amazing children TV shows like, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Curious George, Sid the Science Kid, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Arthur, Super Y, you name it all. And the more he grows, the more exciting their become —now there’s odd squad!

Nature Lover_Fotor (1)

Child of mine is now addicted to Wild Kratts; he has learned about so many animals, their behaviors, what they eat, their lifetime, their powers, name anything. Thankfully, his addiction comes handy! This past Saturday, while attending a Wateriest event organized by our neighborhood Brodhead Creek Recreation Authority, child’s “nature expertise” came handy!

On the Scavenger Hunt for animals hidden in the creek, he identified birds by their sounds, beaks, feathers and how they glide in the air. On a nature/trail walk through the creek, he identified plants and trees, told me their classification, and growth patterns. He knew the conifers, the pines and deciduous trees. He observed leaves and flowers with his magnifying glasses, and enjoyed playing “a Spy Scientist.”

When at a fish shocking demonstration, I asked why they were shocking the fish, getting them out of the water and back. He explained to me that, fish shocking helps with testing water quality; if there are more fish, then the water is safe and of good quality. And the water expert agreed with child, and supplemented that fish shocking also takes stock of fish in our water basin.

 

How did he learn that? Through “Reading Rainbow Video” he watched at school! Hello my scientist! While he is into robots, as he says, he’s not too far from water science. Sitting by the stream, watching fishers, he came up with an idea of making our own fishing rod. He found an abandoned hook, fishing line, a stick and some scattered fish food. We tried our hands at designing our rod, Voila! Except that, we did not catch any fish….But, there’s always another time. Maybe when we go Fly Fishing next Sunday!

And when, Mr. Snake chased us from the waters, were we had been swimming, my Nature Lover took the first guess, “Maybe it is a rattle snake!”

It was not, but at least, it was great to have somebody with an idea. While, I was the scout and main driver to go enjoy the nature festivities in the community, child’s immense love and knowledge depository was the icing on a hot day! I had tons of fun, taking in all that nature has to give in our neighbor, while learning from my child the specificities in our natural surrounding.

Everybody should have a Nature Lover! Nature gives us so freely!

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Teaching School Children is Blissfully Rewarding!

In many ways, Child of Mine aka COM reminds me a lot about myself. He is a very popular kid, just like his mother was back in her young days. Well, she still is, for a fact [smile]. Except, my child is not the “naughty childish-type” I was. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I used to skip compulsory school meals and church services, just because I did not want to!

My child is loved! And for that, I am so grateful.

It’s a pleasure watching a kids’ stampede, just to touch, speak, or sit next to COM. Even in his absence, kids tell me how he is the best thing ever invented! Not even sliced bread [or should we say, pizza] comes close. He’s everyone’s favorite, super nicest person, ever! “He does nothing wrong, never” as I was told by one of his former classmate.

At his elementary school, I am now known as “Biko’s Mom” —“because I do not have a name of my own,” or “Mrs. Henderson” —“because I derive my relationship from my child!”

Please believe that I had no influence in getting renamed by these child friends of COM. It is just because, most kids I now know are through my child —at his elementary school, on the school bus, martial arts school, library, birthday parties, community activities or play parks.

These are kids who know COM from the same Kindergarten, First or Second Grade class, belong to the same school Recycling Club, met him at birthday parties of their relatives and friends, through Cub Scout, Tae-Kwon-Do or Tang Soo Do. Some even recognize me from dropping him off at the school bus! They all rave to me, how amazing he is, and spoil me with outpouring attention, and free hugs!

These past couple of days, I’ve been with a Second Grade class where literally, everybody knows my child! One of the kids decided to call me, “Mommy.”

“She’s Biko’s mother!” said another.

Then, they had a change of heart, “Can we all call you Mommy?”

And just like that, I was no longer, “Ms. Lawenger,” but “Mommy!”

The change of name came with showers of favors: ushering me to comfortable sitting, “rest while we complete our work.”

They covered me with my coat to keep me warm; I became the class pet.

Two girls offered to bring him to me from his class at the end of the both school days. I completely forgot he had Recycling Club on Day Two, when I gave them a go-ahead to bring him to me. He came in, confused that I had called him, and went back in haste, “Mommy, I have Recycling Club!”

My day ended with smiles, hugs, spontaneous “Thank You cards,” colored pictures, and unwavering attention throughout the day. One brought a gift bag from home containing an assortment of candy, with a “Thank you for helping us learn and play” note.

 

At the end of day, I told COM about all the love I got, thanks to him, and the many “children I am now mommy to”. He was overjoyed to partake of his celebrity moment! No surprises, his dreams  in the night were loud and filled with laughters, which he told me was because he heard “choruses of mommy,” from the kids my class in his dreams.

 

Ready for more surprises? The next day, as Art Teacher, my first morning class was, “my kids” from the last two days! They all engulfed me in a big family hug, as their teacher looked on in astonishment. She, too, thanked me for a wonderful job! Honored, is an understatement; had to fight back teary eyes!

I love kids, and I love teaching. I am so grateful that I allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone of teaching college and graduated school level, demystifying to myself “Teaching in K-12.” Day by day, I become more comfortable in the classroom, more savvy with teaching aides, more technical following lesson plans, incorporating, or developing my own whenever need arises. I am more energized by the students in my classrooms, and more strategic navigating tough classrooms.

I now know how to command a classroom, dealing with badly behaving students, extending incentives for good behavior, and “putting the shine” on those students making great choices. My students, naughty or nice are as memorable to me, as I am to them.

I meet them at the grocery store or community events, at our local library or COM’s after-school events. Some tell me when they see me running along the streets, during morning or afternoon “bus duty,” or walking in the hallway.

As a friend once told me, “Children Bring you blessings.” Thus, my commitment to share of the blessings of education to children everywhere in the world, by mobilizing as many people to join me in giving a part of ourselves, to promote access to education.

Every change you give can make a change. To you it might be a roundtrip bus or train fare to work; to children somewhere in rural Uganda, it is a dozen of school books and writing materials.

Please join me in giving to the Fishing Communities of Ssi Bukunja in rural Uganda, through the African Social Development & Health Initiative, an organization founded and run by native-born of the area. This is my Birthday Wish and commitment 2016

https://www.crowdrise.com/celebrate-d-lwangas-b-day-with-uganda-fishing-communities

Children bring you blessing. Be Blessed!

Santa Bebe Came Into Town!

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Yesterday was Christmas 2015. In our household, that means, first and foremost, “Santa Comes into Town,” per Child of Mine aka COM.
Yes, He still believes in Santa, I let him play along, or he is he making me play along! I am beginning to wonder, who is fooling who?
Oh well!

As well, Christmas is a day my family, who believe that, Jesus Christ is born and comes to bless their loves. So, I honor them with the privilege of being with them in spirit. I grew up in a Christian household, and we got gifted on Christmas with new clothes, shoes, and feasted on all sorts of special foods and treats on this day!

For 2015, we spent Christmas Day at the Lakshmi Cow and Animal Sanctuary in Bangor, Pennsylvania, a 30-minute ride from where we live. We signed up to volunteer to feed the animals, and share a meatless potluck lunch. We also volunteered to carry a dish/es with us. Everybody we hung out with, we were meeting for the first time. But we did not feel like strangers.

In fact, from the time at the Animal Sanctuary, I learned two things:

  1. I am a small god; my conscious and soul is that which makes me.
    I had never thought of myself as a “small god”; I call myself “a human,” and that’s the way I live my life. I believe in the notion of communitarianism, human living, I believe in Karma, in horoscopes, zodiac signs. I believe that we are the pioneers of our own lives.

Still, I will embrace my new-found realization that, “I am a small god,” because I believe our conscious guides our every action or inaction, thoughts or pronouncements. Our conscious cannot let us rest happily, whenever we are not representing ourselves or our social relations as we should.

  1. If I refuse to smile, I refuse to see positive about myself, and deny to live the beauty of life. I get myself stuck in negativity, stress, depression and agony. [Well, I knew that, but I guess I simply refuse to practice it. That was my mantra in 2013 —time has taken its toll on me. Challenge 2016

Well, I learned a couple of more things

  1. Just because you are Hindu Indians does not mean you are not scared of cows. Quite like the common stereo type that, “Africans live in perfect harmony, with no fear of animals or bugs, because, “They are Africans, duh!” I was shocked on seeing our Hindu lunch-mates running away from cows, while COM and I got into their face, up and close, feeding and patting them!
  2. Cows eat rice, they eat watermelon, they eat carrots, they eat bananas. Cows eat the same foods at humans. They eat cookies as well! Oh! Do not feed cows, by throwing food on the ground or in the dung; it is dirty and will get them sick!
  3. When a cow grows old or dies, do not ask, if it is slaughtered for food. It is buried or cremated. I had to bite my tongue, and not talk about those yummy beef cows in Uganda, that also give us Mulokoni [soup from cow hooves], hide for mats, and accessories, horns for decoration and accessories too, and lots of milk.
  4. By the way, cows farms exercise preferential treatment of their cows! Those who specialize in beef or milk cows do not keep newborn calves, but pass them onto other farms happy to take care of them.
  5. Turns out, I do not have to schlep myself all the way to an Ashram in India for a mom-free retreat, when there is one in my neighborhood, called Aisha Vidya Gurukulam! They’ve got classes for kids, as well, on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month. Me thinks, at my convenience! I might have to check that out.

I am re-living the fact that:

  1. Children bring blessings. Plenty of COM’s Christmas gifts this year were courtesy of my BFF, and golden Aunty Jude. And thanks to Cyber Monday, if at all there was any difference in price! Yes, I contributed, but I cannot thank my BFF enough for her kindest generosity; she always comes through! Living proof, you don’t need religion to do good, if you have a human heart!
  2.  Surprises are always welcome and greatly appreciated! Child procrastinated on writing his “Dear Santa List,”Christmas and thought he was not getting any gifts. Then Christmas morning he climbs upstairs, face to face with a living room full of gifts! He loved all his gifts, so he said, when I asked him. No special preferences!
    He was animated about plenty of the gifts, “No! No way! It’s a Wii U control [from his Dad]…Now I can play with Cole!”
    “Minecraft Legos! We can build together, mommy,” immediately co-opting me.
    But then he saw The Guitar, “This is all I ever wanted!”
  3. Live Life freely, wildly and be earthy! Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. In fact, take your child to venture out with you. If it is to feed animals on a rural farm on Christmas Day, go for it. Meatless potlucks, partake, and bring a dish! Hang out with retirees, like you are one of them; there will always be commonalities — running, gym, health eating, and vegetarianism. Experience is the best teacher!
  4. Always prepared to be flexible. Allow another person to dictate your schedule, sometime. Done with the Christmas Day, I planned to pat myself on the back and pop my collar for my “Santa Hat-trick,” settle down, sip my ginger tea, and read 109 pages of #JanetHalley’s Genealogy of #FamilyLaw.

Child of Mine had other plans, to drag me into building a Minecraft Lego City. I went in kicking and screaming, but in fact enjoyed becoming a “Minecraft Lego City Builder,” earned a “Stamp of Approval,” and very much enjoyed learning to lego- and Minecraft-away! Learning never stops!

I guess my biggest challenge is gonna be, returning to myself. Saying no to all the luring things that are not good to this body. It is gonna take 20 lbs under, to measure success — I literally need to tuck away that much! Yes, I am sick and tired of seeing this face, and have to drop it. I cannot give up on myself! Never!

And throughout all my experiences, I reconnected with the value of keeping positive, and letting positivity surround you. Yet, I still heartily believe that it is ok to share one’s sorrow and sadness, as a phase in life, a true testament of the human spirit and beacon of hope and optimism that things will always get better!

This is to hoping that everybody, near and far, had a fabulous Christmas Day. Let us continue to give, let us continue to love, and be loved. Celebrate!

Maybe School, but Learning is Not All About the “Benjamins”

You have heard that song before, It’s all About the Benjamins, from Puff Daddy (P. Diddy aka Diddy aka….) No Way Out 1996 album, right? Ok, forget all about the lyrics and let’s focus on the title, “It’s All About the Benjamins”.

Often when we talk about going to school and attaining an education, they are correlated with having “The Benjamins”. Not just the $100, but enough to get you a quality and rewarding education and post-graduation experience. Granted there is public education in this country, where we do not have to pay to go to school, thanks to the taxes dollars paid by our parents, relatives, local community, state, and federal government. Even then, parents have to make a financial investment into their children, providing school meals, school uniform (if required) or regular clothes, scholastic material, transportation to school or school bus, and fees for participation in school activities. Let’s not forget though that, most public schools require proof of address of abode in the school district where one is applying for her/his children!  Private education has similar costs, in addition to tuition fees and other optional costs for educational trips organized by the school administration. For both private and public schooling, many parents incur costs related to after-school programs or extra-curricular activities like sports, art, music and drama, or give-back-to community. In essence, there is no “absolute free education”.

For plenty of potential learners, financial obligations constrain access and participation in formal schooling. Quite often from Education Research on “Improving Teaching and Learning” and “Curriculum Design” reveals that money makes a big impact on whether, how and what students learn. The “when” are students going to learn is  also a vital consideration and determinants of learning. While some parents have the luxury to make choices about “when” they are comfortable starting off their children in school or defer school for alternative “sources of gratification”, like a paying job, travel opportunities and personal growth and social commitments, it is not true for every learner or parent of a learner.

Some parents defer enrolling their children in pre-school, if it is not publicly-funded, until they are of age to start the publicly-funded kindergarten. Parents, as well as adult learners defer school to when they have the financial resources and time, then enroll or resume later at a later age, work-study students, mid-career students or lifelong learners. In countries like Uganda, most low-income parents send their children to publicly-funded schools, which provide “Universal Primary Education” and “Universal Secondary Education”, even when the education is substandard. Others enroll their children much older than the normal school-starting age, when financial resources become available or when it is economically viable to let them go for a few hours of the day, when they can exempt them from providing family labor.

Still, it is possible that “Learning is not all about the Benjamins”.  Schooling, we could agree requires more financial commitment than learning. Learning, defined herein as the active comprehension of education material and study opportunities in a study environment. The environment can be in the form of homeschooling, in a formal school classroom setting, informal arrangements, online or on study tour. The power of money could become secondary to the attainment of learning. Just as not all school-going children from high-income households learn or excel in their education, not all children from low-income households learn nothing or fail.

Here are a couple of illustrations that, sometimes learning is possible ‘without the money’, and that learning equalizes students across many socio-economic divides, including social status, school district, international origin, racial composition and family background. A friend from Inglewood, California, raised by a single mother in a low-income and socially broken-down neighborhood made it into a Harvard PhD in Sociology. We have heard of Khadijah from LA homeless shelters and Liz Murray from the Bronx streets, both of whom made it to Harvard, by ‘churning their miseries into reading books and revising for school testings from public libraries within their geographical locations. In former western colonies of Africa (and in the Caribbean), schools still largely operate on a western education curriculum but in under-resourced school environment. Yet, school children excel in learning and go on to compete with students at western universities. These illustrations speak volumes about the determination to learn and excel, beyond one’s economic status or conditions. The challenge is to broaden the scope of strategies for improving learning [and teaching], not giving up on those without high financial status or access to learning resources but incorporating them and meeting them “halfway”.

Making an investment in our learners should not necessarily require enrolling them into expensive schools, buying all the books, electronics, spending every weekend, school holiday and summer vacation on education trips, an after-school full schedule of extracurricular activities- music recitals, dance, fencing, harp practice. Though, all of these resources and opportunities are highly recommended and appreciated for enriching the learning experience. Learning may require spending more time with your school-going or school-age children, listening to their excitements, reading with them, encouraging and participating in their fantasies and exposing them to the world through family, friends, neighborhood activities. Or taking them to the public library to read and participate in children’s activities and signing them up for community children learning activities.

Parental involvement in their children’s learning is vita to augmenting their school experience, providing emotional support, connecting and following their learning progression. Learning starts before the child is born, through reading to the developing fetus inside the womb. By the time s/he is born, books, words and sounds are already a constant in her/his environment, and a ‘default’ enforcement of their curiosity to learn on their own and with their parents. While we all agree that “time is money”, “money makes the world go round”, let us not lose sight of the power in decentralizing “The Benjamins” as the driving force in the making of learning.

Help Your Children Dream

I strongly believe in the power of dreams. They shape lives, build relations, mentor professions, restore hope and courage. They could be the keys to our personal and professional trajectories and success!

Just about every morning, my son wakes up with a dream. Either he is building a machine that will stop snow falling in winter, or he had Ninja powers or he was laughing with his cousins. Lately, he has had plenty of dreams about mommy getting married, to her [ex]boyfriend, who lives in another country. The first time, that dream made him sad and cry, because it meant, “mommy would leave him and go live with her boyfriend”. Since I told him, “I can never leave you, because I live for you, and you and I will go live with my PM when I get married,” he is now happy to dream more about mommy getting married. In fact he wants to dream about mommy getting married, as much as about mommy getting long hair! Never mind that “the dreamed for” does not exactly have marriage in her dreams or foresight. She has another dream, colored “green”. Yes! And it is part of that dream I would like to talk about.

Recently, I was coaching a fifth grader, and we were talking about traveling. I asked if she had been to her father’s country, Nigeria? She said no, and told me that she would never travel to Nigeria because there is Ebola. In fact, her father wanted to go to Nigeria, but she begged him not to go. I asked if she would go to other Africans countries, to which she responded with a vehement “No!” There are many diseases and people are poor! I asked her if my son and I looked poor, or her father. She said, No!

Yeah! That is the story about Africa, as told in America. I told her that Ebola is not everywhere in Nigeria, or every Nigerian would be dead. I told her my son and I took planes to come back to America, and while in “Africa”, we ate food everyday and did not catch or bring back any diseases. Then she told me that she would never got to place on a plane or boat or train. She will only go to places where she can drive or walk. She is not taking a plane, a boat or a train because she is afraid to die. Then I told her that one can die in their sleep or in the house or on the road. She said, “at least she would die peacefully”. I asked her, “how about in a car road accident,?” Well, she did not exactly have a response to that, but still no traveling, not to Africa and not by plane, boat or train. Life jackets do not work, planes fall in big oceans. Excuse after excuse!

I wondered, how a child of an immigrant from Nigeria could be devoid of a dream to travel and see the world? Didn’t “Tiger Mom” tell us that Nigerians are among the “Triple Package” aka  the “eight highly successful cultures”, thanks to their superiority complex! True, Tiger mom (with hubby co-author) mentioned something to do with “insecurities”, but in the sense of feeling inadequate or underaccomplished, instigating the strive to become and accomplish more. Not to shun traveling the world or getting on a plane!

I worried about this American 10-year old fifth grader, not having a dream beyond her fears. I wondered what may have shaped her fears? After all, her mom, many generations American has also traveled the world, including to Africa studying and learning about the world. Why would her daughter not wish to follow her mom’s footsteps, even if it were to board the plane to the world of California that is “without the African diseases”? Where is her curiosity about the world of her father, beyond the images and tale-tales from her news sources? Why can’t she compare herself to her parents who have been around the world?

Very often we are told that in order to be happy, we should not to compare ourselves to others. That is so cliché!  Plenty of my accomplishments are a result of comparing myself to others I have interacted with or got to know about. Watching, reading or learning about their accomplishments gives me the boost to keep going. Stories of folks who dropped out of formal schooling and built empires and lived large. Stories of people struggling worse off than myself, yet still afford a reason to smile, remind me to keep positive. Stories of my grandparents who never went to school but had the dream of educating their children. My paternal grandfather was not very wealthy, and could not afford to educate all his four children. So, him and his three older children agreed to send my father, the last born to school, with the hope that he would look after this family upon competition of his education, and got a good job. My maternal grandfather educated over 15 children while serving the church [unpaid] as a clergy, in pursuit of a dream that his children would never have to lack anything in life. They would afford to buy themselves clothes that he was never able to afford them.

In Africa where I was born, dreams are what childhood is made of! We are not afraid to dream! As a child, we often heard people dreaming about “going to Makerere”, the main university in the country and epitome as success. It was once the “Harvard of Africa”, so you can understand why many dreams focused and stopped at Makerere. Coming from a family that afford us a livelihood and decent education, not frequent flyer miles, I would say my dreams were not too far from Makerere either. Then as a little girl I went to Nairobi, Kenya with my mom, to shop for my first-born sister who was going off to secondary school. That was a big deal, where rich Ugandans resided, including my uncle and his family. Perhaps that shaped my love for adventure and travel, I cannot say so with certainty.

But I travelled the world, including within my own country. The more people I met and interacted with, the more my dreams widened. I thought of opportunities beyond my background, and seized them at a tender age. Nothing unique to me, but it is the characteristic of the African spirit. Little children dream of an education, they dream of becoming pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers. Yes! Including dreams of meeting the US President and themselves becoming the US Presidents. Yet, we also know of the “American Dream” of getting rich and living large. Or as 50 cents said, “Get Rich or Die Trying”. Plus the Black struggle in America was sustained by the dream of freedom. Slaves, not allowed to exist as humans, to vote or to read and write, often found ways of ‘stealing’ the resources to learn to read and write and one day free themselves. Frederick Douglas, a slave, self-taught himself to read and write and publish, and went on to have a very illustrious and influential career. Political prisoners on Robben Island with Mandela during Apartheid South Africa told stories of ‘stealing’ empty brown cement bags and creating own writing tools that they used to write out their political strategies, which they tossed to each other over the cubicles in which they were detained. They also wrote letters and poems to their families and loved ones outside prisons. They had a dream to stay alive and sane by any means, and achieved it.

So, what stifles little minds like the one I encountered here in America, the land of “Big Dreams”, from dreaming? We as parents have a huge job of helping our children dream. Help our children live their dreams beyond the fears pandered by sources around them. Undo their [un]truths, to avoid them getting suffocated. Let them live a world of adventure, or risks, or searching and imagining. The world were impossible is nothing. Were careers and personal relationships are built on dreams beyond our wildest imagination. After all, dreams can come true. Haven’t they?

Amidst the Economic Hardship, Parents are Still Raising their Children on their Terms

Even amidst the economic hardship that has defined America’s workforce for nearly a decade, parents are still raising their children on their own terms. Many couples and single parents are finding ways of staying on top of their children’s learning, health, nutrition, wellness, sports and social engagement, while at the same time negotiate their economic survival above water.

It is also true, once again, that educated parents are more likely to take the drastic decisions that put their children at the center of their lives. Yet, single or married, parents are also trading in financial comfortable and higher paying jobs and taking on low paying less stressful jobs that allow them more time to lounge around, and avail them with more conveniency  and time with their children. It is not uncommon now for parents with graduate and post-graduate degrees to opt for elementary teaching jobs, work-from-home, start-up own business or volunteer with a local charity, church or coop, in the name of managing their time on their terms. Couples are either working together or ‘trading spaces’, dividing the time as “stay-at-home’ parent or the ‘main-parent-of-contact-at-home’ at a particularly time. Granted it is typically mothers taking on “CEO-of-Home Affair”, but fathers working from home or with more flexible professions, as academic professors, for instance, are  increasingly taking on more time at home with their children. Single parents (often mothers), without the support network of an extra parent are also finding ways of risking it for the sake of their children.

Among these parents, plenty are now homeschooling their children, for various reasons ranging from – concern about the quality of public education available to them, the constraint against their beliefs (often religious) and values absent in the public school system, the love to engage their children in ‘alternative education and learning’, and their sedentary work lives that do not allow them to settle in one geographical space all year-around. Once again, the economic choices such parents have embraced are also a huge determinant of how they are raising their children. I know a couple who quit their permanent habitat and employment, rented out their house, and took on a travel lifestyle with their two 4 year and 5 year old girl and boy respectively. Preferring a minimalist lifestyle without much material possession, and opting for chance to expose their children to the world, both parents took on a career in photography for a living,. They live in their car, on the road, camp out in open spaces, and occasionally spend a night or two at any of their friends for a chance to do laundry and enjoy a warm meal. I have married friends, where the mother opted to teach in Virtual School so she could stay at home with their growing children, while the father went out to work. Another mother-friend works from home, as director of programs at an organization with North American offices. Husband goes out to work in the office, a couple of days a week, then comes home early to spend some time with their daughter. Another professor friend, with a career in international politics, spends a larger part of the year traveling abroad for conferences, research and teaching. Her husband, who runs a home business has been more available to take care of the kids since their childhood and run the household.

I know you may be saying that I am talking about well-to-do parents or those who have made choices of convenience. Not the “real-world” struggling parents, whose life choices may not  put their children center-stage. The “real world” couples and single parents, who may not have the luxury to decide that being around their children transcends all other parental responsibilities. In most cases, these parents trust a “third party” with a larger part of their children’s upbringing, either a grandparent, a daycare/nightcare center, school or friend, while they are out to work. Yes, their children do matter very much to them, but they have to earn a living to afford to ’satisfy them’ and ’shower them with love’.

Yet even couples whose careers are “child-centric” can still attend to clients outside the home or out-of-town, take vacation alone or with their partner, go out to dinner and meet up with friends. They just have to call on the grandparents, some not living too far from them, or living with them. If not, CARE.com is an e-click away. I am also aware of single mothers, not receiving lavish child support from the absentee father, who have decided to run their careers and lifestyles around their children. It is a huge sacrifice, especially without the support, even if occasional, of a second partner or a family network. Like a friend, a single mother of two girls, with a full-time night-duty job but still on top of her children’s education. She enrolled them in the state online/cyber program, and hired a coach to oversee their study when she wants time off to run errands and take care of family business. She does not like to enroll them in public school, which she feel does not provide a respectful place for their religious beliefs nor a good learning environment, yet she cannot afford a private education. A single mother friend living in The City, quit her job at a huge private philanthropy with international travel opportunities to dedicate more time to her six-year old son and budding home business. Another mother chooses opportunities that fit within her single parenting lifestyle and resources availed to her, to allow her drop her son off at the bus everyday, pick him up from the school bus after school, and spend as much time venturing outside over the weekends. He professional career choices include taking up research fellowships abroad, home-based consultancies, work-from-home paid employment and building her social entrepreneurship. She also wants to ensure proper health and wellness, social skills, manner and a well-rounded development for her son.

Yes, there is a cost to pay, but life is a “cost-benefit analysis”! We all live by “opportunity cost”, choosing and picking from the ‘bountiful’ of menu availed but not always accessible to us. After all, teaching and learning continues across geographical spaces. One can attained a US education, while living on a military base in Germany or providing humanitarian assistance in a refugee camp in Nakivale. The opportunity to engage in one’s child[ren]’s learning is a highly courted luxury not affordable to many. Those opportunities are especially so lost on many parents without high education or financial independence. They work two to four jobs a day, just to make the next paycheck (or not), with no time left to sit down and immerse themselves in their children’s learning and development. Without much flexible to make it to their children’s next game or music concert, play, or the doctor’s appointment. They do not have plenty of time to read to their kids before they go to bed, sit down and do homework with them or play outside with them. Yet in the end, their lives might end as miserably as the Portuguese woman, who had four jobs, took a nap in the car, where she lost her life —and there ended her American dream!

The Trials and Tribulations of a “Strong Personality”

A strong personality is often admired in business, professional, personal and family relations. One is applauded for ‘keeping their head, when all others around are losing theirs”. There is no pride in being a wimpy child, a loose canon, or loose lips. Even as a parent, it is admirable to be strong for one’s child(ten) at all times to reassure them that “everything is gonna be alright”. Moreover, a mother is often expect to hold it down stronger than the father, as the key nurturer and builder of her children’s characters. So, we do not really have an ok to cry in front of our children (some psychologists might say otherwise), or go on a rant about our challenges and frustrations in marriage, parenting and relationships between co-parents. For the sake of our egos, even amidst torment and torture from life’s miseries or challenges, plenty of us often tend to keep a strong face to appear sane and happy. Thus the most common cliche, “I am fine, thank you” or “I am doing great, thanks”, even when one is dying inside. A strong personality is also a measure of good mental, psychological, emotional and personal health. What happens, then, when that “strong personality” is eating away at one’s heart, comfort, confidence and emotional stability?

strong personality

I am one of those [self-] identifying as having a strong personality, which I attribute to circumstances from my childhood that were not always beautiful and simplified. No! I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, even though I have tested food on ‘silver platters” many a times. I do not know if my strong personality has anything to do with the fact that I was the only child of my parents born outside my family home? Perhaps, maybe? But I know that as the second last child of my mother, I grew up observing the lifestyles and life choices of my older siblings, some of which I committed myself never to repeat. My family household was not all too beautiful, either, as do plenty of families I know with children from multiple maternal sources. Though I should add that, I grew up around family friends who got along so much easier than our family, without a glaring indication that they were from multiple mothers. I attribute this to their father, the source of the multiple mother, successfully ensuring that all children felt ‘equally’ loved and represented in the family.

Anyway, the other attribute that shaped my “strong personality” has to be growing up around children from very well-to-do or upper class families, while my family was pretty much “lower middle class”. The beauty about Uganda back then was that, one could afford to “rub shoulders with the rich and famous”, without coming from an upper class lifestyle. Children from peasant background made it to elite schools with children of the rich because of their good grades. Not exactly the same anymore, as money now dictates the kind of school one goes to, which are a strong determinant of one’s future life trajectories. Elite lifestyle is pretty much pre-determined for the rich, who can afford an ‘elite’ education from childhood, ultimately preparing their children for an elite higher education, and most certainly elite post-school employment.

Once again, the need for a “strong personality” seems more than necessary if anyone is to breakthrough the gutters to active belonging and participation in society. This implies that one has to withstand all sorts of humiliation, bullying, dirty talk and discrimination to become “a person”. To breakdown or cocoon under pressure and feeling of “a nobody” is not an option. In fact, it is a demand of “Survival for the fittest” in a cosmopolitizing global culture, as well as ‘successful’ parenting in mother-only households. A breakdown in front of one’s children is not a desirable option. In fact, sharing one’s frustration about an ‘absentee’ and disrespectful father with the children is scorned upon, lest they grow up damaged and not able to live normal lives in future. Even at job interviews and in personality tests, a strong personality is expected to reign supreme over any discomforts, trials and tribulations, which are considered ‘insignificant externalities’ in the pursuit of professional success. Moreover, it takes a strong personality to depart from ‘the established norm’, like women who revolutionized women’s dress code to include pants, and black people mainstreaming afro and natural hairstyles in white social and corporate culture. The introduction of non-white European cultural celebrations, foods, dresses, language, education, and languages in school systems of cosmopolitan settings  like New York, all demand a strong personality.

The question is who helps the helpers? Who helps the strong personalities when they need a little tender love, reassurance that everything is gonna be alright? When they have to put up with plenty of other beings who depend on their effort to remain strong? I was talking to a Muslim American woman the other day, who shared her discomfort that her husband was in the process of taking on another wife. Of course, she accepts that as part of her religious practices, and was well aware at marriage that time will tell. Though, acceptance of a norm is not agreeing to nor comfort with the practice. I could tell, she wished she did not have to welcome a “sister-wife” aka “Co-wife” into her marriage, but it is too late. She was born into this religion, and practices all its tenets sacrilegiously, including staying in a polygamous relationship. She has to put on her strong personality for the sake of her sanity, her family and her children. Yet, it is her strong personality that eats up her heart. Plus, she is a product of a double culture (may be more than a double); she is muslim and she is America. The latter preaches individual consent to a monogamous marriage, while the former involves family and religion in blessing the potentially polygamous marriage. I guess that same is true with African women who subscribe to polygamous family relations, not because they are happy ever after, but perhaps for the greater good. I have one such friend, and I have always thought I would be comfortable under such circumstances. Now I wonder! Perhaps it is not so easy and simple in practice. Perhaps my strong personality would fail me. For now, I believe that is pretty much all we got to hang onto and cherish for the sake of survival, acceptance and interaction within our social living. Over and above, a strong personality is what we need to get our next shelter, next meal and next paycheck; it is what is required of “belonging to society”.