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!

Job Interviewing Taboos –

We have all been to a job interview. By the time you get there, you have done a little bit of research about the institution you are interviewing with. At the very basic, you know a lot about the job profile and requirements, whether it requires travel, and have an idea about its clientele. You are told it is taboo to ask about ‘compensation’, until the prospective employer brings up the topic. Even then, it is safer to bounce the question back to the employer, and let them tell to you how much worth they think of you. Another ‘silent taboo’ is talking about family life at a job interview. Perhaps, if you are a man, indicating  you are a family man during a job interview could present you fairly, as a good family man, who wants a career to afford a good life for his family.  More than likely, if you are a man, you are not expected to spend most of your life as CEO of Home Affairs. Even in ‘liberal’, women are the primarily child rearers and homemakers/ home managers. But how about if you are a woman and a mother?

I recently read an article, “US Foreign Policy Gender Gap” by Sarah Kendzior writing in Al Jazeera, that perception and money affect the number of women in senior level foreign affairs positions. According to Kendzior, perception is related to the assumption that women are particularly diplomatic, or empathetic, or kind, while money dictates that one should be able to afford their way around, especially when competing for an internship in the nation’s major international affairs hubs like New York or Washington. As well, one should afford to fly to interview with The Economist in London or take up an unpaid internship with the United Nations involving temporary relocation to expensive global cities.

What we learn is that while money affects male or female alike, very few ambitious and talented young professionals or students from poor backgrounds can afford these opportunities, even worse mothers with small children. Already, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing for The Atlantic in summer 2012 told us “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, not because they are not super-ambitious but due to a lack of structural support to juggle family and work life.

But something these two writers did not mention was the “deafening silence” to the “Don’t Talk about family life when job interviewing Taboo”. Sure, we can liberally give the prospective employer our physical address, indicate that we are an email or phone call away to “further explore our job interests with the recruiter”, and are “available to start work immediately ”. But we are not exactly at liberty to talk about our family situation, although I have encountered men who ‘comfortably sneaked” in their family life during a job interview. My assumption is they do it because, it projects “a responsible family man”, who prioritizes his family obligations as central to his career success. But for a mother seeking paid employment, it is quite taboo talking about “family life” in a job interview.

Picture this, you are a single mother, with a toddler and would like to be in his life, while equally working a 9-5 job, the standard full-time work hours. I have no doubt that plenty of single parents have had to ask themselves these questions, and many have excelled at work. But I doubt any or many ever brought up their marital status and family life in their job interview, maybe until after the job was offered.

I have been living abroad for the last four years in three different countries, working excellently at my job, with a balanced family, work and “me” life, thanks to the flexibility of my scholarly research career. While living abroad, I scooped plenty of interviews, and job offers, even when I brought out my family status at the first interview. At one job interview, I stated upfront that I am was a single parent, and wished to balance “family, work and me life”, and asked for a flexible work schedule that would allow me drop off my son at school, and pick-up him up at the end of the school day, before the typical end of work day, and also take a personal day off each week. I got the job on my terms, with my son at the center, and with me as a single mother.

Now that I am back in the United States with a richer career experience, I am having trouble articulating “my three-tier life” to any prospective employer. In typical consultancy or NGO employment, plenty of work is done offsite of the employing office – we carry office work on our mobile phones, at home, on the plane and in coffee shops. And while we sign up for a 9-5, we usually put in more hours than we are paid. For one of my employers abroad, I had agreed to a 10:00a to 3:00p from Monday to Thursday work schedule. Yet, I arrived two hours earlier every work day, and also worked on some Fridays, my weekly day off. Whenever I went out to conduct field research and training of village communities away from my office and home base, I spent three days away from my son, without compensation for the nights-out for work.

So, why is it a taboo to ask a prospective employer to factor in the life of a single parent, trying to balance work-family-and-me life? I am aware that having an international career and a degree from a US university might have reflected favorably to my employers abroad, most of whom were in the international affairs realm. But I would like to be accorded similar consideration from employers in international affairs back here in the United States. Most probably though, employers in the US have in the back of their mind concern for, “who will take care of her child while she is at work”, especially when she has to travel to sites away from home? Similar concerns exist whether one is applying for international affairs positions, as a waitress at the local Red Lobster Restaurant, or as a Sales Associate at Walmart.

But all is not lost for single “family-centralist” mothers. As Sarah Kendzior says, for women, [and for single mothers [or single fathers] one has to recreate their professional ambitions, by perhaps becoming a writer or blogger. I know plenty of [single] mothers who have quit lavishly paying and professionally rewarding careers to go on their own and have afforded the ability to put their children’s central. Handy and artistic work is another option that single mothers could pursue. If you are into academia, there are possibilities of teaching, student counseling, or organizing summer camps and student internships abroad, with a flexible schedule. However, getting your footstep in the door is the first mighty step to take. Still, that might not come easily, by telling the prospective employer that – “I am a single mother and I have a five-year old”. That is still a Taboo to Job Interviewing! Image

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014!

It is the New Year 2014! Hoping, everyone is happy!

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I am getting a little scared lately. I do not feel I am being very productive yet!

Well, not productive in the things I set out to do, and not at the speed I run.

Granted, I have achievements to tick off my “to-do list 2014”: bought me a new car, keeping up with my physical fitness, and eating real healthy….

But I am not running as fast as I set out – especially finding me a new paid gig. Now I need one. The “honeymoon” is over! Back to America, back to the grind…for real!

Still, there is a lot to be thankful for! 2013 was a very good year! I achieved all the plans I set out to fulfill at the start of the year. I declared 2013 a “YEAR FOR FAMILY”, and made that happen. I am still standing, with my family at full support. Spent the first part of the year in Uganda, took a one-month vacation to the UK, and back to the good ol’ America. Of course with my most precious gift – my son! I am so grateful for this five-year old. Sometimes I watch him while he sleeps, and realize how very fortunate I am to have him. I am filled with so much gratitude, thinking of his head…that works around the clock, this talk machine, he has plenty of names for himself, “Biko Speaks”, Super Biko”, Ninja Turtle Biko”, “Biko Hen”….AND I have other names for him…Le Beekster, “Biko Cha”, “Mr. B”, “Small H”…He is truly my joy and pride! May he continue to excel! 

Anyway, back to the year 2014! I think I need to add a “wearing eye glasses” to my “list of surprise acquisitions 2014”. Yes, computer glasses, maybe, and I guess driving glasses. First, I need to get my eyes checked out. For real, I have been procrastinating on this way too long because I have not wanted to have an eye exam for donkey years, out of fear of the truth -that I will be found wanting of eye glasses. But the last time I took a reading examination, while applying to change my Driver’s License to PA in the summer of 2013, I did not exactly pass the reading test. I literally could not see, especially those minuscule characters on “Line 4”! Just yesterday, my eyes were super-painful! I could barely see! It felt like a film covering my pupil! Understandably, I spend the life on my “apple air toy”….and a couple of more gadgets. Yes, I eat plenty of carrots and veggies, but too much time spent on the computer…can never be too good for eyes! So, off I go, to get my final verdict stamped [or not] this Thursday – with my first-ever real eye exam!  

Meanwhile, I continue waking up at 02:00 in the morning, to get some work done. Yes, I finally parted with my second longest job….as Scribe for Kampala Hash House Harrier! I had to let that go. I spent the last half of last year as a “Scribe by International Correspondence”. It worked out great, but too much blood, sweat and cursing went into getting folks to work across a seven to eight hours difference. Especially when communication the Ugandan style is already too cumbersome, deadlines not honored, phone calls ignored, emails returned a day later, and meetings abused and ignored. Yet, they Ugandan style of “urgent” rules the days. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the work I did as Scribe, grew and transformed the portfolio, and withstood all “rotten tomatoes” and “shoes thrown at me”. Still, I am also glad I let go and did not offer to take on another year. I am glad another person came on board. I hope all will go well! Nobody will say, I did not put in two-and-a-half years of volunteer service to promote, health, wellness and fitness, and of course boost the beer economy in Uganda…plus Misters, Johnnie Walker’s and Jameson global dynasties:)

In the meantime, I need to get back to where I started, find me a paid, convenient and satisfying job and grow my non-profit – Wholesome Communitarians….which is pretty much my plate for 2014. Thereafter, we can toss to a HAPPY 2014! 

Back to Boston with Big Dreams and a Heavy Heart

This past weekend I returned to Boston, after four years away. The last time I was in Boston, December 2009 was to visit my BFF Phina (R.I.P), and bid her farewell. My then 17 months-old son and I were moving to Cape Town, South Africa. Little did we know that would be the last time we would see Phina in person.

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My dearest Phina left this world last year in February 2012, for no justifiable reason other than a fibroid operation gone wrong! I had never imagined that she would be gone, while I am still here. In fact, she was my estate trustee, on behalf of my son. That’s how sure I was, she will still be here longer that myself. That is not true anymore.
The entire journey to Boston was a reminder of Phina’s soul, spirit and presence. I had dreaded going to Boston without her. See, we recently returned to the United States after four years abroad – Norway, South Africa and Uganda. We were not in the country when Phina passed on. This past Saturday and Sunday, I went into Boston to run 10 miles with the Tufts [Boston] Marathon Team (TMT). My son’s grandparents and uncle drove me to Boston. I had planned to take them to Phina’s former apartment but we did not have plenty of time left before they had to head back home. So, I let them leave me at my hosts’ residence in Roxbury, south of where Phina lived in Malden, MA.
It did not help that my hosts -Emma and Hope-were Uganda. Emma knew Phina, whom he had met through shared friends Dawn and Matt Wolfe also residents of Boston. Matt, Phina and I went to the same grad school. Emma told me that he went to Phina’s memorial service; the euphoria was emotional! Her brother gave a very moving eulogy of Phina. It was great to hear somebody who knew Phina…but equally painful. It made me so nostalgic for her! I wished she were still in Boston, it would have made life so much more fun. But then again, I would have missed a chance to meet Hope, Emma’s girlfriend. Or enjoy the comfort of their crib in Roxbury with hardwood kitchen cabinets, wooden refrigerator, center stove and built-in microwave, walk-in bedroom closet, rusty bathtub and shower, platinum looking taps and all things metal. It was magnificent. I caught myself saying, “Phina would have liked this.” she had a weakness for aesthetic. She was the “dandy girl”, my Ms. Pretty, as I often teased her:).
I woke up on Sunday morning and headed to my run at Tufts, about an hour to get to Tufts from Roxbury, with train and bus transport factored in. Unfortunately, I got to Davis after the bus had left, so I took a cab. That too reminded me of Phina, who loved taking cabs (with Jane) from our school dorm to Davis Square, a quick 30 minutes walk. I always made fun of them, “Princesses”!
While purchasing a Charlie Card to get me onto the “T” [Boston Train system], memories of Phina rushed back. She would have had a T-card ready for me to use. She always insisted on giving me her T-Charlie Card whenever I visited, even when I insisted that I would not be going out of the house and she would need it to go to work. She always insist that she had an extra Charlie Card, and would get me to keep it!
I thought about Phina on my run, and after my run. Tears came down so hard on me, after the run. I imagined how excited she would have been for me: packing me breakfast or a snack to eat on my way out to run. Coming with me to Tufts, before heading off to Church. Then planning to meet up and hang-out after the run. I thought of her cheering me on. She was always my biggest cheerleader. She understood me. For people like me with a strong personality, it is not very often that you meet a person who understands you all damn good! Someone who supports you and loves you no matter what. I thought of her, after running a good run – 10-50 miles at 7:37 minutes per mile! I thought of her as I stretched my muscles.
After the run, i decided to take a tour of Tufts campus and Fletcher. I re-traced the paths I remember walking with Phina: the Hall of Flags, Mugar Library, Institute for Human Security, Blakeley and the Green House. Some offices had changed location, but I found them. Blakeley, our hall of residence looked pretty much the same, as did our second home, The Green House. I sat quietly with tears flowing down my eyes in the Hall of Flags, as I remembered Phina walking through several times, with her backpack on her back, her brown winter jacket with the South African HIV/AIDS lapel pinned on. I remembered her black lips with shinny gloss on them. I remembered her curly hair weave. I remembered her giggle and her smile. I remembered her sitting in the Institute for Human Security, sometimes working too late into the night to put in as much income as she could. It was hard experiencing all that by myself. But I did.
I went to Harvard square, thereafter. To “OUT-OF-TOWN NEWS”, toured Harvard University, went bak to Harvard Law School, and The Coop. Fortunately, I got connected to the internet, so got a message about dinner plans with my hosts in time. I had to run through it. Finish up with Harvard Square and head to Malden – to take some flowers and Tiramisu to Phina’s to 30 Malden Place.  She loved Tiramisu, from her fav place in Harvard Sq! I got onto the “T”, and braved it to Phina’s apartment. Fortunately, there was a bus heading her way when I got off the T, and a cab had just pulled up to her apartment, as I was winding down. I delivered all that I had to. I missed her!
For the first time in a long time, I felt I was on my own, in the city of my best friend, without my best friend. She was really gone. Phina does not live in Boston OR Malden, no more. She lives somewhere in Uganda. Between bushes and trees. I had never imagined being in the US without her here. Moreover, never thought of her ‘resident’ in Uganda! Her absence and silence is deafening. The surreality of this is so bulky….We do not find so many people who love us for love!