Under-expected Achievement – One year Teaching K-12, and Counting!

Thankful for my social media network, my anniversary teaching K-12 in my public school district would have passed me by! Without my social network, I would most likely have made no fussy attention to my anniversary. After all, I have worked in other places without ever being vigilant or celebrated an anniversary.

Thankfully, my LinkedIn network sent me congratulatory messages. Initially, I assumed the congrats were for my seven-year and counting, crippling social philanthropy. Not until I logged into my LinkedIn profile, and realized that March 2015 is when I started working.

Even after finding out the cause of the hullaballoo about my anniversary from among my social network, I did not get too excited; I wonder why? Well, “It is just teaching,” I said to myself.

“Plus, it is not a job I set out going to school for. Nor does it pay me any living wage to excite me,” my next thoughts.

But congrats messages continued trickling in, prompting me to reflect on this achievement. Perhaps the fact that other people are celebrating me more than I was, should have signaled to me, why I should treasure this achievement? After all, I am enjoying teaching K-12! True, I never set out to be a K-12 teacher, do not have an Education degree or full teaching license.

I am a Substitute Teacher [not yet permanently] employed with the public school system. I am one of the many teachers, recruited to fill-in, per need, for any homeroom teacher, or academic/professional school activity. I am one of the many convenient hires, increasingly a feature of the public school system, as in many other employment establishments, when the government does not want to offer a living wage to all its employability people. Like corporates, government is now seeking cheap available labor to do its difficult, dirty and dangerous jobs, without much financial responsibility or optimal workers welfare/compensation/protection.

That teaching is a difficult job is indisputable. It is also technically dirty and dangerous; those whom the teacher tries to protect might get one dirty. Indeed, working with children is not for the faint-hearted; they are as adorable as they are challenging. I often say, a teacher carries the entire world on his/her shoulders —of students, their parents, school administration, school supervisors, lawmakers, school budget dispensers, and the entire public, all invested in school output, more than input.

I confess that I had under-expected my achievement teaching K-12. Indeed, it is a big feat! This, from a girl who had sworn never to teach “little kids,” preferring instead, to stick to college and graduate-level students, “more mature and manageable,” or so I had convinced myself. Venturing into teaching K-12 was a path of transition back into the world of work, and because of my changed resume, which now primarily reads, “A Mother.”

I decided to venture into teaching K-12, to gain a deeper practical insight into the school curriculum and school system at the lower levels/early stages of formal education. Particularly because I did not obtain my earlier education in here in the United States, my new country of belonging. The educator in me is always curious about systems of learning I am not familiar with. I would like to be a great help to my child, an elementary schooler, as well as my new-found love for working with children, especially since becoming a parent.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not new to teaching young learners. As one of the last-born children in my family, I grew up with plenty of nieces and nephews, whom I played with, helped take care of, and equipped them with the “Children’s experience.” I enjoy hanging out with children, keeping them occupied, learning through giggling.

I enjoy the innocence of kids. I enjoy learning through them. I enjoy utilizing the lessons I learn from my child into my classrooms. Yes, Minecraft is an acceptable citation, when explaining logical, technical activities, or very brevity and resilience like the “Enderman.” So, are Dinosaurs perfect for illustrating how old one’s grandparent might be. And when you need to encourage young learners to “try something it might tastes or turn out good,” or that, “when you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything,” Daniel Tiger is a perfect to quote.

So, to all those, like me, who venture into teaching, go out there, and courageously engage with young learners. They have so much to teach us, about ourselves, about our abilities, and about our own parenting. I am so glad that, I also get a chance to teach in Special Needs classrooms, engaging with autistic children, emotional support, gifted, learning, and reading support, life skills, partial hospitalization, and early intervention. I am grateful for the opportunity and a challenge, that came to me as an under-expected achievement!

Aluta Continua!

New Years Resolution

Of course I am going to make New Year Resolutions. What would a New Year be, without resolutions! Lose 30 pounds in on one week!

Happy New Year 2016, Y’all!

Happy New Year 2016

We made it!

It ain’t a joke entering a new year! I sat down, waiting for the clock to ring in mid-night, for the ball to drop, pondering about the uncertainty of entering a new year!

Particularly because, I was on the road, traveling out of state, away from my habitual residence, to join friends in welcoming the new year. I left Child of Mine behind, the second year in a row! I have to shamefully confess that, this is my second year, in a row, welcoming the New Year, away from Child of Mine, third out of the last four years

2013 – I was in Uganda, and welcomed the New Year with fellow Drinkers with a Running Problem, Kampala Hash House Harriers. On NYE, I went on a group run around Kampala City, thereafter hangout with the group, and at close to midnight, proceeded to Kololo hill to watch the fireworks.

2014 —I stayed home with Child of Mine, and we tossed to the new Year.

2015 — I went on a two-year run with Pocono Area Running Club, starting 23:00 on New Year Eve. The clock ticked mid-night —New Year’s Day, while alone the route. But I went back home that night and kissed a Happy New Year to COM!

2016 — I traveled to the Big Apple to join my Scandinavian friend, and his international group of friends in welcoming the New Year. I decided not to take COM with me, to give myself a break from “Being Mommy,” and a chance to “Be Doreen”. I left him with his cousins and grandmother, until the following night of New Year’s Day.

I made it safely into The City, in under two hours. I took a public commuter van into The City, for my sanity and safety —no worry about parking, falling asleep in traffic or getting stuck on the road. I slept the entire ride to The City, and woke up in time to hit the bright city lights, and right on time for the party!

Thankful for rich friends, who can afford $2M high rise apartments right above Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. Reminds me of my friend’s kids who used to cal me “Our Rich Auntie from the Hilton” [Story for another day]. I had a clear “Point of View” of the entire city, on the top @the35th. It looked good, a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the streets below, packed with New Yorkers and plenty of its tourists, trying to catch a glimpse of the ball dropping. [Oh! “The Ball” dropping! Oh the fireworks!].

Great night! Barilla pasta, and french bread; of Norwegian candy, and french champagne, of Norwegian cheese and middle eastern humus; all courtesy of my former Norwegian landlord in Oslo. An international night! With the Norwegian host, a Norwegian family, an American, a Chinese family, and a Dutch Italian pasta-making man [who made the pasta dinner], and this very Ugandan very American girl. Impressed that all the European men present said, they are the main cooks in the family!

The crowd was a pleasure! All intellectuals, and academics in universities and research institutions. We laughed, cracked joked, ate, drank, shared parts of ourselves, exchanged resolutions, and our confusions at the ‘disappearance’ of the Ball dropping and fireworks at the tick of New Year 2016!

I spent soundly throughout the night, with a beautiful view of The City, the harbor and the Hudson! I woke up, then went back to sleep, until I did not have to. Woke up, drank tea, shared our life trajectories, interrogated our insecurities and our hopes and dreams and commitments with the Dutchman, ate bread, drank more tea. Went for a New Year’s Day run in Central Park in the company of the flying Dutchman.

Back to our 35th, took a shower, went out to the grocery store and picked up a couple of ingredients for dinner. Made another pasta dinner, and tuna sauce and leftover champagne. Then it was time to head back to COM, onto the subway, the bus and Exit 302.

So, back to my resolutions

  1. Giving more gratitude to my family and friends
    i) My family, who love me regardless. I think, and I know, they love me unconditionally. Spoken or unspoken, they show me undying love. They don’t judge me, they don’t pressure me. They wait for me, to rise up, if I fall, and recuperate at my pace. They have outpouring love for Chid of Mine, steadfast love. I do not have to say it umpteen times, because they know I love them…as much as they love me…and I appreciate them. May 2016 be a year to see and enjoy the physical company of my family, more often.
    ii) My friends; I have the best friends in the world —one is Resting in Peace, around me! My friends, know me and appreciate me, regardless. I can call on them in an instant, and they will listen, and hold me down. They are the best the world could ever gift anybody. They inspire me, pump me up, remind me of the beauty of the life within me, and our shared friendships. They see the good in me, and remind me of my strength. They prompt me, knowingly or not, to hang on, hold on steadfast, and continue to pursue my best. May 2016 be the year filled with friendships. Hoping to see my friends in person this year.
  2. Understand Child of Mine (COM) much more. Continue working on being the best mother and father to this child. Work calmly and firmly with COM, listen as much as I speak to him. Support as much as I demand from him. Nurture as much as I suggest from him. Provide comfort and confidence as much as I teach him. Guide, as much as I learn from him. May 2016 also bring us another person into our lives —a partner and father figure for COM.
  3. Become Doreen, again. Do all the things I have always done to represent my brand. Lose the baggage — on my body, my mind, my head, and get back into my fit, healthy, fighter spirit again. Get back into winning and rising above all challenges. I am no stranger to this! Find the go-getter, creator and winning innovative Doreen.
    Keep an active on Social Media, communicating, learning, negotiating, and continuing to grow and thrive as a person and social being. Accepting the challenges of social media, challenge social relations and improve and grow my communication channels.
  4. Grateful, that social media has taught me not to take personal the differences of opinion, but negotiate my place and refine my views. I have become more accepting of difference of opinions and accepted alternative reactions, even when it is personal attacks against me or bitter responses against me. Social media is social living.
  5. Continue writing for fun, for meditation, for inspiration, to share, to relate to others, to learn, to teach and reach other. I hope to publish one or two writings in reputable fora. I hope to get back into writing for active citizenship of the African Diaspora and as a public intellectual.
  6. Focus on finding *meaning* in life, as a journey to *happiness*. 2015 gave reaffirmation that Emotional Intelligence/“Emotional Quotient,” is as important as “Intellectual Quotient,” or “Logic”. I felt vindicated by the social acknowledgement of “meaning” rather than just “happiness,” as key to a fulfilling life.
  7. I will keep treading the hard paths and staying the course. I will keep talking the hard talk, not shying away from it, irrespective of the audience. I will persevere, venture outside my comfort zone: commit to my social causes —of fundraising, building a brand; transforming my passion into my livelihood. I will bring my child with along with me, while we build a brand, to serve others, while also serving ourselves.
  8. Get back into the Dating Game. Intriguingly, 2016 started off with me in the “company of men”; the right kind of men, from the geographical zones I want to live. No! I am not running away; I am running into greatness. Never “actively searched,” but I am open to different avenues of finding love, real love and commitment. I want to date.
  9. Run four marathons in the year; three marathons will be fine. One marathon per season: winter, spring, summer and fall. If my finances will not allow me to sign up for one each season, at I will run a marathon on my own. I know I can wake up in the morning, and ran a marathon. But I hope to afford going out, and running with a group. I have identified four potential marathons, on my bucket list…two in my geographical location; one close to family [will need two air tickets] and will find another, possibly where another one of my family is located. Or another location without a need for a plane ticket or hotel accommodation.
  10. Finally, Give less Fcuks than POTUS gave 2015. With all the achievements on the economy, diplomacy, politics and social service, POTUS still got rotten eggs slammed at him, demeaned, undermined and belittled like a subhuman. So, rightly, he ran out of Fucks to give; haters gonna hate, and he just shook it off! Same here, I am plan to care less about failure, and more about trying again. I am going to pay less attention to disappointments, and devote more attention to rising up. I am going to devote less energy into self-criticisms, and more self-appraising. I am going to shut away the misgivings, misunderstandings, and under-appreciation. I will focus more on transformation, recovery, strength and achieving.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016 Y’ALL!

Lost In Translation…Between Santa and Religion…

I am revisiting the discussion about parents celebrating with their children, or is it children celebrating with their parents, or parents imposing their will on their children. I am still “Lost in Translation”, not an outcome of feedback I received on my most recent piece parent-children relations, but a feeling of “unfinished business”. I still cannot understand how a parent would expect his/her children’s excitements to be about or around them, not the opposite!
I have heard that, if your message does not come out as you expected, it is most likely because you did not communicate effectively. At least that is agreed upon by those who put the interests of their audience over and above theirs, and are comfortable accepting blame for not being understood. Others would be quick to blame their audience for “not understanding them” or missing the point. I tend to belong to the former, preferably because it helps me grow as a public communicator.
N’way, I still believe that every person has a right to their beliefs, grounded in own social, economic, cultural political or religious understanding. I am comfortable tolerating different belief systems, as part of my commitment to humane social living. I lose nothing by not disagreeing with others about their beliefs. Everybody believes in some unexplained power or authority: buddha, meditation, yoga, running, deity, karma, giving, good luck, prayer, handwork, capitalism, democracy, community, social living, family, religion, or something.
I am a great observer and learner from different belief systems. Though, I steer clear of directly confronting anyone about their belief systems, unless of course they are a source of social injustice and disharmony. I will not hesitate to challenge notions or pronouncements that undermine other forms of social organization or social living, like racism, sexism, ethnocentrism or capitalism. However, I have made my peace, to never engage in arguments about politics or religion with anyone in my circles, who I do not care so much about, but I would not dare to lose. Typically, anyone I regard as an acquaintances or not very close relationship. I am comfortable engaging my family and close friends because of the relationship and trust we have cultivated overtime, which would unlikely end due to religious or politics disagreement.
And while many religious followers often emphasize that their faith embodies love, peace and hope, on the contrary, I have experienced religion as a source of high social exclusion, intolerance and self-centeredness. Many religious believers preoccupy themselves with convincing you that their way is right, righteous and loving, while implicitly judging your [alternative or non-religious] beliefs and lifestyle choices. I was once told that I would not pass the test on “Judgement Day” [whenever and wherever that would be], because I have no religious backbone to lean on, other than my belief in humanity. I have sat down with a religious family, where one stated in my face that a child born out of wedlock brings great shame to the family. I was also scolded for privileging “Santa” over “Jesus Christ”! I could not be more misunderstood than in the last incidence!
For those who know me, I do not subscribe to “organized belief system”, except perhaps my cultural affinity as a Muganda. Even then, I pick and choose what works in different situations. I do not subscribe to most fantasies either, like Santa, dead people or nativity. Put more appropriately, I ceased subscribing to such fantasies, the more I learned about the world. Then I became a mother, and my ‘mystical-free world’ made a u-Turn. Now I sit through TV or Video shows of action figures, ninjas, anime; open myself up to learn about fictional characters through books, outdoor activities or tales from my child. Sometimes I am tasked by my little one to research facts about all sorts of characters in videos, TV and children’s reading books, or listen to long and windy stories that I have no interest in, but because that’s “What’s hot in the KidZone”!
Lately, I am a victim of the expectation to honor all sorts of celebrations and holidays that were never of any interest to me in my solo world. For my son’s birthday, I have to come up with cakes of all shapes, sizes and toppings from what fascinates him at the time. I have directed the production of cakes that look like Lightning McQueen, fire-spitting dinosaur or Sonic the Hedgehog. For Halloween, I lost the right to present him with a costume of my choice, such as Curious George custome for his first year. Now, it has to be either Ben10, Captain America, Ninja Turtles or some other Ninja, in addition to coming up with a costume for myself, per his request.
For Christmas, he does not care whether I give him any presents. My presents are highly expected and appreciated any other time, except Christmas, when it is “Santa” comes down the chimney with presents from his workshop in the North Pole. While I do not worship at the altar of Christmas, I have to ensure that gifts are purchased, wrapped, and left under the chimney the night before Christmas, so that he wakes up to the magical giving for that kindhearted mysterious creature. While others might find their mystery through God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah or Messiah, to many children, it is the Tooth Fairy, Ninja Turtles, Sonic or Santa. Mysteries help children cast their imaginations far and wide, expanding their brain power to dream big, and that is why I support my son in fully experiencing them.
So, do not demand that your child’s fantastic mysteries be about you or what you believe to be the “perfect or acceptable mysteries”. Allow them to create their own mysteries, and support their ability to enjoy their mysteries. Until such a time when their world view changes, when they will learn that there is more to life than mystical characters and fantasies. Social living involves thinking beyond oneself, accommodating everyone’s belief systems and lifestyles, which might one day have to be their own children!

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?