Mommy School: Learning with kids About Persons With Disabilities

This week in “Mommy School,” Child of Mine (COM) and I are learning about Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), as well as preparing for Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, in a week – January 18, 2016. COM is already involved with PWDs, reading to “Therapy Dogs” at our library Paws n’ Pages program.

I have explained to him the meaning of “therapy,” and that therapy dogs help people who cannot help themselves —such as, guide dogs that help their owners cross the road, comfort dogs for companionship, emergency rescue dogs helping owners out of fires, running errands around the house, or notifying 911 in case of life-threatening emergencies.

COM and I picked up a book from the library entitled, Sometimes Mommy Gets Mad, by Learning About Persons with disabilities - Jan 11 16Bebe Moore Campbell  (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator), which explores the subject of “Bipolar Disorder” to young readers. It is a story about Annie’s mom, who is bright as the sunshine, but sometimes does not smile and gets very angry. Luckily for Annie, she has an understanding and caring grandma, her fortress to lean on, when mommy is having her “bad days”. And Mr. Neighbor, who understands that Annie’s mom does not mean bad, when she snaps at him, just for saying hello to her. Most importantly, Annie knows that, even when mommy seems angry on the outside, she loves her very much on the inside.

I explained to COM the meaning of “Bipolar disorder,” emphasizing the parallels between Annie’s mom, and when I am angry and displeased with him. Luckily, for me, COM reminded me that, I am not like Annie’s mom because I get mad at him for not making “good choices”—when he does not stay focused on his homework, or when he plays in the bathroom, instead of doing his routine — brush, floss and rinse.

I thought it would be helpful to supplement our book reading by introducing him to a real PWD who overcame challenges to excel. I thought it would help him understand that PWDs are not always sick and underachieved. I did not want him to feel sorry for them, but make him realize that he is privileged and has the abilities to excel, if PWDs can become winners.

I immediately thought of Oscar Pistorius, a South African spring runner and Olympic medalists, nicknamed “Blade Runner,” who overcame double amputation to compete in field and track with able-bodied persons. But after, murdering Reeva Steenkamp (no, I do not believe his “self-defense” crap), I did not want to expose COM to a tainted personality; he is not a role model, anymore!

Thankfully, there is the WWW, and there is YouTube, with plenty of videos about athletes with disabilities breaking records, and disabled persons doing extraordinary amazing stuff. We watched three videos:

1) Marcel Hug, winner of the 2015 Boston Marathon Wheelchair from Switzerland. COM got to see a marathon competitor in a wheelchair, using his hands, instead of his legs to race and climb the hill around Newton on the Boston Marathon route.

2) A mom and her son born without arms, but not deterred from enjoying life to the fullest, as active persons —swimming, cooking, playing sports, writing, dressing up themselves and getting on with their daily lives with smiles. I told COM that he had no excuse for not doing and achieving greatness, if a child without limbs could do everything.

3) Video about a double amputee mom, who found happiness after an attempted suicide. She tried to take her life by laying under a train, losing both her limbs. After becoming a mother, she said she found new meaning in life, and realized that life was not all about her. Having a child helped her find happiness and a purpose to live. And her latter boyfriend, made her life easier, and supported her in raising her son.

I explained to COM the meaning of “Depression,” when some people feel so sad and incapable of finding happiness within themselves. Some people take their own lives/kill themselves or the lives of others. COM got to see artificial legs, and the mom putting them on and off.

Next on our agenda is a practical experience of “the life of PWDs”. We will practice using crutches and a wheelchair, play a game, where he tries to eat with his hands tied up, and write a story while blindfolded.

Have you have you introduced your little ones to the subject of Persons With Disabilities? Share your stories and strategies.

I am sad, but I am happy —Year-Long Musings

I am sad, but I’m happy IMG_2412
I am lost, but I’m found
I am soft, but I’m a hard shell
I stumble, but I don’t fall
This is my Year-Long Musings!

Another year, another 365 days going down. Plenty of soul-searching, reviews, pondering, and hope. What else would I have, if I did not have home?

I am feeling a little funky lately.
I have not been driving for a while. But I am back to driving.
I have also not drove the Mercedes August. But now it is back, and all mine. Well, hopefully!
The first day I got back to driving it last week, it brought me a little sadness. To the pile of sadness I have.

The Mercedes represents grandpa. It reminds me of grandpa. It replays the entire memory of the life I knew of him, especially this year.
It reminds me of witnessing the pain and agony of his life, straight up, in the same house.
I had never been in the same space, up-close, with a person so sick.
Yet feeling inadequate to help. Often feeling, it is not your place to show great care and concern.
Not sure whether I would be construed as “overstepping the boundaries” or “crossing the line.”

But I wonder, how could somebody ail so much! Yet not get well to enjoy life after that gruesome pain?
How could one go down too fast? It seemed it all came and went down too fast!
How could one hurt so much, yet remain strong for others, for those he loved?
He surely kept on taking care of those he loved — his wife, his children, his in-laws and his grandchildren.

I particularly recall him seated in the living room, groaning with so much pain in the abdomen. Especially, whenever he tried to get up.
He loved driving, to the mosque, to the store, to take school kids to school, to take his wife to work in the morning or to take his family on long trips.
But getting up to go drive, was the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Throughout the ailment, he drove on other family trips: to Detroit and back to PA, down to Atlanta and back, to Toronto and back.
I recall so vividly his last long drive, a 500 miles roundtrip PA-MD-PA, while trying to contain excruciating pain.
He avoided eating, and barely drank, the entire trip. He did not want to have to get up and go to bathroom; it was too much hardship.
Yet, he stayed steady on the wheel, without a single incident. He did not knock off the steering wheel, and only took very brief rest stops

So, with such display of stamina and resilience, how could he not live through his ailment to full recovery? I still wonder!
Because, his strength did not burn out.
He often woke up in the wee hours of the morning, drove wifey to the NYC bus terminal in our PA-hood.
He drove two girls from their Muslim community to and from their school bus.
Because their mother, worked early and long hours, and left and returned home before and after school bus hours.
I watched how he splashed his grandkids and children in-law, with love and adoration.
But he is gone. It is three months later!

But that is not the central feature of my sadness. Though, it struck me as well.
I am sad, as the year draws to a close. Reflecting on what has transpired.
How much gained, how much lost. Of course, plenty gained —especially in the weight department!
I see me in my “new mother suit” again. And that makes me sad, and induce me to create more sadness.
It has to go, I cannot keep it around in 2016.
Can’t support it no more! Big is not always desirable.
But I will take big pockets, and big bank accounts!

Big, I will embrace, to rise again. Big dreams, to become big reality.
Big smile, big achievements. Big social networks. Big alliances
Yeah, I will even take a bigger contribution to the carbon footprint, then settle back into my “tree-hugger-ness”
I want to fly by, be big, celebrate big and sleep big.

I’ll take all that will keep me happy, I need big happiness of mind, body and soul.
I need the positive energies that come along with big feelings and big achievements.
I need my big confidence to rise and shine through again.

I miss my big old-self!
Santa baby, I want my big happy self back
I want a sing a new song
That, I am happy more than sad
I am not sad, but I am happy!

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”.

Watching TV as Productivity!

I will be the first to admit that I used to beat down on people who “watch TV”. I was always big mouthing how “TV Rots Your Brain”. I succeeded in feeding that to my son, and he in turn repeated it to anyone who tried to lure him into watching TV. In my world, TV was unproductive, because adults sit at home with eyes glued on TV the entire day, vegetating and doing nothing, was my “turn off the TV” alarmist rant. Plus, kids getting exposed to all sundry on Nicky Nite, Disney Channels and so much more channels I am discovering now in other peoples living rooms! Especially in places (like Uganda) where TV is uncensured, kids are not protected from all sorts of nasty adult TV liberally broadcasting kissing adults on soap operas, war games, violent movies with murder, blood and vengeance. Yes! Sometimes even the Oscars, the Grammys and other celebrity award shows are  “R”! Interestingly, I have since come to agree that, TV does not always rot the brain, and maybe adults at home do not sit and watch TV all day! 

 
Believe you me, I did not own a TV set until after grad school, when my then boyfriend handed-me-down his TV, as he was preparing to move overseas for work. I took it but refused to sign up for cable TV, instead maintaining the basic channels. My TV served my basic interest in watching news and weather forecast in the morning before I went off to work, and in the evening when I came back home before bed. “That is all I needed,” I told myself. After all, it gave me a little bit of surreality, delivering me from news over-circulation, with shows like Survivor, the Amazing Race, America’s Next Top Model, Judge Mathis and Jay Leno
 
A while later, between waiting to move into my condo, I needed a short-term rental. So, I moved in with a roommate who already had cable TV included as part of the utilities, and I had to accept by default. Thereon began my life of ‘binging’ on Cable TV, watching plenty of reality shows – notably The Hills, The City, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Chopped, Project Runway, Say Yes To The Dress, and House Hunter International. And now there is OWN TV with plenty of Tyler Perry shows.
 
Recently, while watching Undercover Boss on OWN, it struck me that maybe watching TV can actually boost productivity at work, wherever one’s work is. My work is usually from home, where I feel most comfortable. I tend to prefer working in a noisy environment because my productivity is  lower in quiet places like a library; I often fall asleep or get distracted especially when I am reading. Then I either switch to social media or internet news. So, I prefer to work from a place burbly and busy. I feel guilty sitting in a coffee shop and not buying anything. Since I do not want to spend on teas and bites, I choose to stay at home where I have plenty to distract myself with including tea breaks, my email, social media, a stretch, and the gift of a TV remote! 
 
From Undercover Boss, which I have grown to like, plus a couple of other shows like Iyala Fix My Life, HGTV Home Improvement, Shark Tank, and my longest addiction to Judge Mathis, I learned about the power of TV in boosting personal and professional productivity. Talking about Undercover Boss, this is a show where CEOs or CFOs/COOs of Fortune-500s go on a ‘clandestine’ mission around the different locations of their companies, taking on the jobs of their “everyday employees”. Jobs that would otherwise be classified as bare-minimal wage jobs, like cleaning toilets, collecting trash, flipping burgers and picking lettuce on their farms. The CEOs spend a day with their employees, getting first-hand experience of how the real people who hold their companies down, who make the money that afford the big people private jets, are struggling to afford the next meal, to put their children in daycare, to afford medical treatment or physical therapy for their loved ones or a room over their heads. Stories about people who have slept in make-shift cardboard houses, along railways trucks, or on the streets, but wake up every morning to come to work with a smile. I heard the story of a woman raised by her grandmother, but was not able to afford her an education. Her grandmother tried homeschooling her and her two siblings the best she could, but did not go too far. She wanted to be a water technician, had the hands-on knowledge and experience but could not gain the confidence to raise her hand and speak in class. Imagine somebody born in America, with free elementary education, but could not afford a chance of going to school! Yet she serves all her clients diligently with a smile!, not imposing on them her life’s miseries!
 
Once I had wiped away my tears, I felt a sense of rejuvenation and optimism for my pursuit of the next big grant to support my social philanthropy. That story re-ignited in me the passion to keep trying and utilizing all the skills I have accumulated in my years to re-make my life and put myself back on the road to recovery. It reminded me that giving up, failing and despair is not an option. That even if circumstances seem bleak, I am more privileged than I might acknowledge sometimes. While I worry about student loans to pay off, I have a graduate education, international work experience, a sharp mind and eye, a huge social network and a fully-fuctioning body. I am also privilege to have 24-7 wireless internet connection, a laptop, iPad, iPhone all functioning so good, with electric, water and food. From Judge Mathis, I have become more “court smart”, gaining plenty of tips on court etiquette and how to present a case in a small claims court. Of course I also like Judge Mathis for his ‘unbarred’ and unabashed reproach of those who appear before him, while also dispensing free counseling to anyone who cares to listen.
 
Watching various TV programs has boosted my personal and professional productivity, with plenty of new ideas for survival and excellence. Shark Tank is another productive hour spent learning lessons in investment and business management. The show features kids 11 years of age, who are already running own businesses and seeking investors to grow higher. So, why not conquer my fears and regain the umph to succeed and put your ideas to work? Even the not-so-smart TV shows like the Kardarshians and Housewives teach us interesting skills in strategic planning and wealth creation, that we perhaps never gained in a graduate class. People with no or little education end up making billions out of those with an elite education, and in fact employ us to toil for peanuts! That is the American way! So, the script turns – TV does not entirely rot the brain; it boosts plenty of productivity.