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!

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!

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!

Non-Religious Celebration of Christmas

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I never thought I would willingly and consciously arrange for Child of Mine to celebrate Christmas at my own volition. Not since I quit organized religion umpteen years ago! But, that is before I became a parent.

Before I realized that parenting is a totally new era in one’s life; of undoing one’s beliefs and comfort zone. Before I realized that parenting is not about you!

This year, I am gonna let Child of Mine experience a Christmas celebration, as part of my parenting.

On one hand, parenting is scripted. There are tons of books for new parents – the indisputable What to Expect series, starts When You’re Expecting…going all the way into the Second Year. It is so influential, that it was ‘canonized’ into a movie released in 2012, starring Cameron Diaz.

The alternative new parenting scripts include lessons that mothers of the Expectant mother/parents eagerly share, either unsolicited or unwelcome. Plus, Old Wives Tales, passed on through generations to expectant mothers and the new parents. Not to forget that, if the expectant parent(s) was/were born around little children — siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews, or friends children, The Parenting Script is available through first-hand observation.

Parenting, we tend to think, is easy peezy, right? Plenty of resources —reading all the books, listening to ‘experts’ advice and watching other parents! You swear to an entire Parenting Script of NEVERS!

- You vow never to repeat the ‘mistakes’ other parents commit against their children. 
- You will not allow an unruly child in your household. 
- You will not bend your rules to accommodate your child’s needs or demands. 
- You will not introduce your child to any systems of socialization that you do not adhere to, including religion, entertainment, schooling or relationships. 
- You will not babysit a five-year old child!

And many more!

Until one day, you actually become a parent! And wonder, whatever happened to your self-avowed script, the script passed down unto you by parents before you, the script you wrote when you were expecting, and the script you re-wrote as a new parent. Some among us even wrote our own What to Expect: The Birth Plan.

We also had our post-birth parenting scripted in our heads, laid out well-tested rules and regulations to maintain order, transmit culture and ‘good moral character’ into all children in our household.  Then, one wonder why you are making so many compromises to accommodate your child’s comfort over yours!

But none of the tolerable comforts include intimacy with organized religion or becoming indolent.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not have any problem with the religious. In fact, my best friend – RIP was religious. She is one of the very few people I know, beside my mom, and my mom’s father, that practiced the humanity of religion. She was more human than religious. She was never judgmental, yet she subscribe to the new religious revivalism. The pentecostals, baptists, and the whole nine yard, who scare you and ostracize you, that if you do not convert to JC, you will go to hell fire. Or that Allah is the only true path to afterlife, and there is “Judgement Day”, when everybody is gonna be judged according to their religious practices.

See, I come from a family of multiple religious beliefs. My mother’s father came from a Catholic family, but converted to Protestantism, growing up with a Protestant family. He went on to become a Reverend, serving the Protestant Church. Two of my sisters are married to Muslims; one of my sister’s ex is Catholic; my paternal family has plenty of other religions that I can only relate to old school protestantism and veganism. So, religious pluralism was never an option for me, nor religious tolerance a luxury; it was the humane way of life.

Religiosity is rife in Uganda, where I come from. There is a prevailing expectation that everyone is religious, and anyone who says s/he is not religious —that is— does not subscribe to any of the Judeo-Chiristain or Islamic religions—is often frown upon. Yet, there is a laissez-faire approach to religious tolerance.

It is not uncommon to hear the Catholic church bells toll at the top of the hour, or the Muslim call for prayer every morning and evening. Yet, the loud noise from these places of worship has not caused a societal revolt, but taken for granted as part of social living. To some, like my mother, the morning call for prayer from the neighborhood mosque has served as her wake-up alarm clock, since I was a child. Similar to the morning cock crow in the villages.

But in America and other western societies that count themselves as “civilized,” such loud ‘noise’ cannot be tolerate, as part of social living! Or perhaps there is selective tolerance of noise in different parts. For instance where I live, the church bells doth toll, yet it is unfathomable to imagine a tolerance of the Muslim Call for Prayer!

Exposure is fundamental to nurturing tolerance of others. My siblings and I attended Catholic schools, even though we were raised Protestant. We went along with the Catholic rituals at school—going to mass, reciting the rosary, observing lent period, and anything catholicism required of us.IMG_3347

None of us grew larger or smaller because of practicing a religion outside our beliefs, None of us felt indoctrinated and coopted, because outside school, we were still Protestant and went to Protestant Church. Plus, to reiterate, I have catholic family, whom I love regardless of their religion, and who I do not have the luxury of discriminating against.

Coming to America changed my relationship with religion. I ran away from religion, as soon as it started confusing me. I had never imagined that one can be religious, yet pray and support dropping bombs on others.

I don’t understand religion that welcomes strangers, yet excludes those who do not profess the same religion. I do not understand a religion, that also preaches love, then practices hate and prejudice. I do not understand a religion, where “sisterhood” is built on the notion of religious belief, not family connection or our common humanity!

Although I must say that I have been embraced by some religious communities — among the Mormons, Mennonites and Catholics—whose religious convictions is informed by a sense of community and a shared humans. I have felt very comfortable among them, never felt judged, ostracized or evangelized to, but welcomed and supported as a human being.

Coupled with my upbringing, I have remained open to embrace the religious, and allow my child get a glimpse into the various religions. We participate in religious festivities with family and friends.

But, I am not about to push him into any form of religious indoctrination. I realized that his family was not willing to incorporate him into their religious festivities because of his non-religious status, and stopped trying to get him introduced to their beliefs. On the contrary, my family takes a laissez-faire approach to him or myself, recognizing that we are more than our religious proclamations!

Still, religion is not too far from Child’s mind; he is learning about various religion from school teachers. Forget about separation of church and state, in public schools! We are talking about PA, not in NYC, where a school principal recently banned Santa, The Pledge of Allegiance, replaced Thanksgiving with “Harvest Festival,” and Christmas Celebration with “Winter Celebration!

Recently, curiosity caught the best of my Child,

COM: "Mommy, what is my religion?"
Me: "You don't have a religion."
COM: "Why don't I have a religion?"
Me: "Because I do not have a religion."
COM: "Can you check my DNA and find out what my religion is?"
Me: "So, I can know your religion from your DNA?"
COM: "Yes."
Me: "Child, you are clearly a Pennsylvanian."
COM: "Noooo! I want to be Ugandan."
Me: "Ok, you are that, too!"
[Thinking to self: Oh! It gets worse...Religiosity gets worse in Uganda!"]
😶😶

Still, we will not be subscribing to any organized religious gathering or denomination soon! But, we will accept any invitations for celebration. What better time than now in December, when we welcome Santa and his the elves, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, al bearing gifts on Christmas Day! While we do not put up any trees, decorate or sing carols, he gets opportunities of making trees with his Cub Scout Pack and makes Christmas wreaths and talks about JC in school.

At home, we are making gingerbread cookies, dressing up in green and red, and eagerly await Santa’s gifts under the chimney. I have already taken him around our neighbor to watch Christmas decorations and musical shows stationed in yards. No religious recitals! No religious talk!

And we will spiritually join our family in celebrating Christmas, as they do every year, and the years he was in Uganda. I doubt he remembers the celebrations in Uganda when he was three and four years. I want Child to learn that some people celebrate Christmas because of their religious beliefs. I strongly believe that exposure to religion, or other social experiments/systems, breeds understanding, and breeds religious tolerance.

The religious intolerance, witnessed among some Americas, is symbolic of when religion is treated as an “exclusive club” open only to the believers. Religion in America is largely about exclusion than inclusion of those who do not profess the same faith. Those who convert from one religion to another tend to ridicule the religion they left. Some religious groups are not receptive to curious non-religious, nor encourage partaking in the celebration of customer of other religions.

Contrary to my experience growing up with religion in Uganda. Eid Christmas and Easter are all designated as public holidays. Unlike America, only Christian holidays are accorded public recognition — Christmas is conveniently scheduled as “Winter Break,” and  Easter as “Spring Break,” celebrated as days-off from work, and big shopping weekends at commercial establishments. A few establishments, employers and cities would grant “a day-off” for Muslims to celebrate Eid; in New York City, Jewish holidays and recently the Muslim Eid are designated as days-off in the school calendar. Of course the atheists and satanists aint celebrating all these religious display, in their faces!

But I want my own child growing up, with an understanding that, while mommy is non-religious, some people celebrate religious holidays. I also want him to understand that there is nothing wrong with the religious and non-religious, and none is better or more knowing than the other; they all belong to the same global society.

In fact mommy’s family is religious, and mommy friends who are religious. Mommy’s best friend who died was religious. But Auntie Jude and mommy are not religious.

I want to know that parenting involves setting goals, and exercising flexibility when raising our children as social beings. Most importantly, I want Child to know that what binds us together is our common humanity. We should be good and strive to do good to others, not because we are bound by some religious doctrine or conviction, but because it is the human thing to do.

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Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

While I pride myself in running an efficient and persistent Mommy School, I have also made peace with the notion that, “Homeroom Teacher Knows Best,” in Child of Mine’s word. No, he has not said that to me directly; he has made me aware, just about each time I labor to teach and work with him on academic learning.

I understand that Child of Mine [who I prefer to call COM] is not unique in his thinking.

My mother says, “What goes around, comes around.”

OR, as I would say, “The apple” and “the tree,” are geographical neighbors.”

Put more crudely, Every dog has its own day!

Karma is, indeed, a female dog!

Very often, while helping out with school assignments, it is not uncommon for COM to tell me, “But my teacher said….” OR “My teacher does…” I have learned not to fight it outright, but try to influence and expand his thinking and conceptualization beyond what and how he learned from his homeroom teacher.

It does not help that I did not obtain my early schooling here in the United States, but in a totally different education system in far-flung places across the big pond. Uganda, my country of origin and a former colony of Her Majesty, imitated the British education system. The formalized national education system was initiated by European missionaries, predominantly British missionaries, later supported by the British colonial government in pre-independence Uganda. Everything, including phonics and phonetics, mathematical problems and sounds, are taught and conceptualized differently from the American education system.

So, I signed up to become a Substitute Teacher in the K-12 school system, to gain a deeper practical insight into the US education system. Hitherto, my teaching experience in the US was limited to college and graduate schools. I had vehemently sworn off teaching “children,” from Pre-K to 12. I was comfortable to appear in such classrooms as a guest parent or guest instructor, but not command an entire classroom as the sole teacher.

That all changed, when COM became of school-going age, and returned to America, after three years living and studying abroad. Well, he still went to school in all three locations we lived: Norway, South Africa and Uganda, and I enthusiastically participated in his learning and academic schooling.

Perhaps not too actively, but I participated in “guest parent programs,” to read to his classmates, fundraised for donation of books and medical instruments, and never missed a parent-teacher conference, or an opportunity to share my opinions on the school curriculum or learning environment.

And just in case he forgets, “All your other teachers come and go, but mommy will always be your main teacher,” so I tell him. Yes, COM has heard me telling him a couple of times, that I was his first teacher, and will always be his most consistent teacher. Evidentially, since we part ways with teachers, whenever he moves geographically, or up another grade.

Moreover, I would like him to accept my engagement in his learning, and understand that schooling does not only belong to “structured classroom buildings”. He now knows that, Mommy School does not close, even on snow days, when there are security concerns in the school district, or on national holidays. Most importantly, Mommy School exists to reinforce what he learns at his general school, and because mommy went through elementary school.

Fortunately, signing up as a Substitute Teacher in the school district has proven strategically empowering to myself, and reassuring to COM. He realizes now that, perhaps mommy knows something about my classroom activities and assignments.

“My mom is a teacher, too,” he often boasts to his homeroom teachers.

I am cautioned, by fellow moms and friends that, he is still at that age, where he is not ashamed of his mommy teaching at his school, hugging mommy in the school lobbies or kissing mommy as he gets on and off the school bus. And I am loving it! Until the day it unravels!

Still, mommy is yet to win the battle of Who is Smarter than the Homeroom Teacher? Not that we are actively fighting to overtake the ‘super-know-it-all’ homeroom teacher(s); I am in full support and enhance the homeroom teacher(s), in true PTO spirit – Parent Teachers Organizations.

Teachers appreciate parents who are supportive, participate in their classroom activities, and engaged with their children’s homework. Not so sure whether COM feels me like his homeroom teacher(s); sometime — maybe; all the time — mommy don’t know it all!

Take for instance yesterday, when COM was doing his ELA assignment on  “Vowel Team”. The instructions required to, “Write words: sweet, sleep, meet, sheep and more — breaking them up into syllables, then underlining the phonic pattern.” COM on First in Math

He said he had to “syllable loop,” by breaking the sounds independently. I explained that the assignment required him to break words into syllables….and to me…they were all single syllable words. He got frustrated that I was using the word “break,” not “loop”,his choice word. I told him, I was reading the words, per teacher’s written instructions. Him and I went back and forth, asking him to say out the words and hear the syllables. He insisted there were more than one syllable, three in some cases!

I suggested to him, to write his way, then hand in his homework, and wait for the teacher’s feedback tomorrow. I told [bribed] him that, if I had to do his assignment, I would ‘loop’ each words into a single syllable! He became more frustrated. I suggested that we consult the online syllable dictionary. Each word had “one syllable”. Still, not fully convinced!

Thankfully, he and I come from families of teachers; both his grandmothers — my mom and his dad’s mom are teachers. Thankfully, daddy-grandma was listening in. She suggested, similar to what I had read online, “Clap the word and make out the syllable(s).” That he did, and it was “one syllable.” I asked him to clap the word “Purple”; that was two syllables. Phew!

At last, mommy seems to be getting somewhere! Maybe she knows something about homeroom teacher’s assignments; and can be respected and trusted to help out! We still working on it. Until then, surely the Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

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.