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!

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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!"]
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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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Is It True There is a Place For Everyone?

While visiting New York City recently, a thought crossed my mind, “Is It True That There is a Place For Everyone?”
The City for [not] Everyone

The City for [not] Everyone

Apparently, everyone who moves to New York becomes a New Yorker instantaneously! New arrivals to the city attest to that, as do former New York City residents, ask me about the latter. I moved to NYC from Boston, MA in 2005. Interestingly, I never felt a belonging to Boston, perhaps because I lived there as a student and within the Boston students “inner enclave”, shut off from the locals! No doubt, Boston is the epicenter for high intellectual learning in America, offering abundant students opportunities: to hangout with fellow students, enjoy student events and student life. Though, migrant students into Boston live largely oblivious to the presence of real “natives” or “locals” in the neighborhood, whose claim to belonging is not a two-year, four-year, or seven-year stint in pursuit of an academic hood and cap!
So, when I moved to NYC, it did not take too long before I felt a sense of belonging. I caught on so quickly like a wild fire, assumed my entitlement on the first day I stepped out to start my job in Manhattan. Every morning and evening when I took the train Brooklyn-Manhattan-Brooklyn, I felt as much a part of the subway ride, the street experience, the music and rats on the illustrious subway. NYC brought back memories of Kampala, my city of birth in Uganda. Similar hustle and bustle, and “everyone got an attitude and knows it” style.  Like NYC, Kampala has something for everyone, street fanfare – art, food or accessories vendors, bike or food service delivery, lost souls and homelessness, plus abundant space to make, break or re-make anyone. In 50c lingua, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
But there is a price to pay for that “Free society” kind of Kampala or New York mindset. Certainly true in NYC! You will meet a lover for a minute or day, an admirer of your art, an ear to listen, a dance partner, entertainment, or free exhibition, gallery or museum opening with free cocktails!  None of these ‘freebies’ promise to stay for-ever, especially when you are living it out solo in The City! In that sea of people, it is 10!% possible to feel lonely. Single life is abundant in NYC, finding love is water in the desert, tougher for women who out-ratio men in the city. Out at a bar or dance lounge, you will mingle and easily make ‘friends’ for the night. But they will quickly become strangers as you exit; don’t try to claim you know them on the streets!
My recent trip to NYC brought back all those memories, images  and mixed emotions, looking at lonely people, homeless, robotic pedestrians, wannabes, freestylers, hustlers, friends and lovers. The city looked calm; even Chinatown looked too cool and clean for my liking, sadly! Not to suggest that I did not see happy people, street performers, beautiful boutiques, trendy stores, global brands or juicy splashdown sales. Or the corporate careerists, bubbly college students, colorful fashion, minimalist eateries.
Truth is, I did not feel the Joni “Squeal’ Ernst, “The Greatest Country on Earth” vibe! I didn’t feel as much bustle and energy that tourists feel and bring crowding NYC streets, or the colorfulness that fills NYC streets on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rockefeller Christmas Tree or the Caribbean Labor Day Carnival. It was a cloud of loneliness that typically engulfs NYC residents whose lives do not allow them a joyride on the the cities  Citi Bikes, to look up in the skies and count the clouds, a walk in Central park, a minute break to enjoy the street performers on 14th street, the gifted artists on the subway platform, or the “bright city lights” of Times Square. I saw many more lost far from the magnificence of the Big Apple, for whom sinking $4.99 into a street meal would mean a lifetime of bad investment .
Yes, NYC reminded me that there is a place for everyone! From dog walkers, street artists, natural foodies, executives, academics, fashionistas, bus drivers, tourists, smokers, little schoolers, corporate junkies and hourly workers. They wore their “I am a New Yorker” attitude, but the streets also told another side of their stories. There was a lot of emptiness! From Canal, through Chelsea to 14th street, it was not the “Brand NY” anymore, per me. Even parents walking home from school with their children along Broadway and 14th street, or mom and daughter seated in a pizza joint in The Village did not stimulate my duct bile for “My New York”.
The young woman, who spent over thirty minutes in a restroom at Dunkin Donuts, turned the clouds grab! After waiting [im]patiently to use the bathroom, for what could have been thirty minutes, she came out looking timid, reminding me of the ‘hard-knock’ living it out in The City.  She was carrying many bags in her hands, looked a little ‘freshened-up’, put on her ‘fresh jacket and scarf, and headed headed out for the day. Thankfully, DD provides the opportunity to use a restroom sink and sitting area, for those without a permanent home or waiting area.
Lest we forget, NYers come together in time of great need, to share stories of inspiration, pain, achievement, accomplishments, sacrifices and life events. Indeed, no better platform captures the sprit and convergence of the New York sprit than Humans of New York (HONY)! In true American Spirit, no better non-institutionalized non-conscious establishment can replace HONY, providing a platform for NYers to be the random strangers becoming friends, they are good at, reach out for one another in words, skill or process, and share concern, courage and encouragement with each other.
With all its variety of global cuisines, the breathtaking architecture, the ‘walking’ Zombies, the burbly or mechanical lifestyles one encounters on NYC streets, plenty are prancing up and about the streets in desperate search for “the next rent gig”, for love, security and stability. “The Place for Everyone” is also a scary place for plenty of others looking for more than a cosmopolitan affair or wild city dream. True, NY eats natural, organic and minimalist, except when worshiping at the altar of Haute Couture, splashing off Runway, or committing to remain Forever 21. Public spaces are abundantly curved out with seats in the middle of the street for a coffee, bite or to bask in the lunch-time sun at Herald Square, illustrious runways at Bryant Park and dog play park at Washington Square. New York City wants to be that artistic piece that never fades of anyone’s imagination and longing, a lover entrapping one into a lifetime relationship. Yet with all its welcome and host to feet from all walks of life, its spirit does not belong to everyone, its soul ages with time, and its culture is a mixed bag of post-realism, hullabaloo and a lot of emptiness!

I Never Signed Up to do “Men’s Work….but…

Perhaps, those who know me maybe surprised that I am making genderized statements. After all, I am that kind of girl often pigeon-holed as a Feminist. You know, feminism does not come with collar popping praises, similar to capitalism. It is too loaded, too abhorred by plenty, as much as it is celebrated and revered by others. To some, it is the “Coming of Age of a Woman as a [Public] Person”. To others, It is the end of Womanhood, as we love, know and expect of a good and worthy woman. I personally chose to stand aside and let the battles rage on.
I am a very proud woman; it is my third or fourth identity after: 1) Human; 2) Muganda; 2) Black; 4) PanAfrican; oops it is 5) Woman, in order of my identity. No one can ever take away from me the fact that I am born human; the rest I have annexed as I come of age into this world. It is possible that Black comes before Muganda, though my unequivocal allegiance to Ssabasajja Kabaka – King of Buganda supersedes my cling onto blackness. Biko grandpa got this
Then, if my “woman” identity is so far off, why I am making genderized statements that I Never Signed Up to Do Men’s Work..?
As I repeatedly say, to be human is to be contradictory. I hate to be pigeoned-holed into any form of identity, thought process, time period or affiliation. My thought process, my understanding of life, my allegiances, my desires and my commitments are as transient as my geographical belonging.
There was a time I thought it matter greatly that, My Mechanic is a Woman. Not anymore! I want my mechanic to be as knowledgeable, courteous, consistent and cost-effective, as possible. I do not know so much about cars, otherwise I would be fixing them like I do with parenting. Whereas I detest social constructionism, and repudiate structuralism, many a times, I cling on to certain structures with nostalgia.
I reminisce about the days when men and women lived their social lives in their equal right, without necessarily having to compete with each other for recognition. Men enjoyed things men do [hanging out, playing soccer, flexing muscles, and women did the same [chatting, laughing hysterically, and cooking meals], stories I learned through experience, passed on to me as tales from my mother or my social circles, or have read about.
As a woman, my grandmother, who did not go to school, commanded the house to order. My grandmother guaranteed that food was planted and grown on family land by family labor – boys or girls, gardens weeded, four Sonic 13 on all six lanesood harvested and cooked for the family to eat. She ensured that every member of her household actively engaged in household chores, kept them grounded with respectful behavior for elders, adults and the neighborhood, and supportive of one another. She was The Boss Lady in the household, who never shied away from sparing the rod..and… No! She did not climb trees to harvest the mangoes, or ladders to construct the houses and barns and kitchens. She did not fix broken bicycles or pans, or build cars with children. She was a good Muganda woman, with the necessary mechanics for sharpening a blunt knife.
My grandfather took on his role as the overall in-charge of the household, especially the financial provider for the family. He went out to work for financial compensation, paid his monthly tax burden, school tuition for over fifteen children and bought the meat, sugar, bread, whenever he could afford. He also bought the land on which his family house resides to date. Prior to his death, he demarcated a plot of land equally to each of his children regardless of their sex – girls or boys.
I can say the same about my father, who took to [not heart but] muscle being The Head of the Household. While not without his faults and shortcomings, my father ensured that school tuition fees were paid, land purchased to farm family food and build family houses, and builders paid. He bought food home, especially his favorite fish and meat, and clothed the family and toiled himself into retirement.
My mother contributed greatly to holding the family together and supported my father’s financial pursuits. She provided a clean and reliable supply of my father’s wardrobe, wore the pants and dresses whenever my father was away from home or traveled for work, supervised builders on site and ensured abundant supply of water and other building material, planted food, managed the farms and gardens and brought food on the table, contributed to the children’s wardrobe, scholastic needs and upkeep, and run the general household. She was Superwoman!
Then enters moi, who came into feminism embracing its mantra as, The Radical Notion That Women Are People, a bumper sticker on a Senior Female Law Lecturer that I greatly admired as a feminist and scholarly activist. That summed up all my attraction to feminism, as a young girl. I did not want anyone restricting the length of my dress, the style of my hair, the offices I could step into, the words I could public say, the arguments I could engage in, or the causes I chose to defend. I did not want anyone defining my public lifestyle and pursuits. I wanted to climb trees, speak about human rights violations, wear my knee-high dresses or saggy jeans pants, rock dreadlocks, party hard, and drink to this and that, whenever I felt like.
But NO! I did not want to take responsibility for climbing ladders to build or paint my house, fix my bulb, repair my car, wash my car, shove snow from the driveway, build cars, carry loads of household equipment, mow the lawn or pay my bill at a restaurant on a date. That is what men do. Nor did I sign up to be my son’s playmate, especially in ‘boys games”, or build his cars. I love watching and learning vicariously through him, but do not enjoy being the center of making it happen.
Fast forward, and here I am: dressed up as a Ninja, playing flash, sonic, spiderman, supergirl and batgirl. I am the ‘adult partner” to his Cub scout meetings, building cars, building rail tracks at home and anything boys do. I do not mind climbing trees, and chasing him around the yard. Though, I do not want the entire weight fitted onto me. I want him to build cars with boys and with males. Perhaps then, we will have a winning car in the next Pinewood Derby Car Race.Team Biko Sonic 13 at the Pinewood Derby Car Race

Dear Parents, Your Kids Celebrations Are Not About You…!

I typically do not write about family affairs. I have a self-censored rule that “I shall NOT wash my family dirty linen in public. Even with all my multiple identities: as a humanist, a Pan African, a Black person, a woman, a cosmopolitan, an internationalist, I still believe in the “private-public dichotomy. Yes, in my world, there is still a “public” and a “private”, and the private should be spared and jealously safe-guarded from public eyes and ears, and scrutiny. The more I have come of age, the more I realize that I do not have to say everything I feel or think. I am grateful that the heart is hidden inside our bodies; nobody can claim to know my feelings. Although, those who seek to find fault, will always claim knowledge of your sentiments, feelings and intentions. Nor, do I need to offer an opinion on everything that I read, observe or hear of. I am grateful that my fingers, mouth and head allow me to excuse myself from uncomfortable situations, until such a time when I am ready to resurface. As my mother always told me, who can claim that you hurt them when you did not say a thing? [Apparently some still take it personal, mommy].
N’way, allow me a minute to break my Code of Silence about “The Private”, and say,
“Dear Parents, your child or your children’s celebrations are not about you. Nor are their intrigues, their excitements, or their dreams. It is their moment. Please do not feel offended if they would like to play with their toys, friends or cousins instead of sitting around chatting with you. If you are on a phone call with them, please do not expect them to maintain a long attention span, unless of course they are talking to you about something that excites them, like their favorite fictional characters. When you give them presents, please let them enjoy the occasion for receiving your gifts: perhaps it is their birthday, they lost a tooth, Easter Bunny visited, it is Halloween or Santa came into town. That is what kids talk about; please allow them to enjoy their childhood. Sometimes they might offend you by saying that they wished for “Pokémon” instead of the “Spiderman” you got them. Please find a constructive way of reminding them the importance of being grateful, and hopefully they will receive what they had wished for next time. Although, as we all know, our children’s interests change as quickly as their attention span. The next time you think of gifting them, or another celebrations comes around, they might wish for snow or white sand from the forest!”
Why I am saying all of this? I presume that if you are a parent, you probably already know all these facts about your children. Though, I have learned that not all absentee parents have these facts at their finger tips. Some want their children’s excitements, beliefs, celebrations and interests to be centered around them. They want their children to follow their own trajectories, as scripted from their childhood, even when they have never spent an equivalent of a month per year, since their children were born! When the kids do not respond per their expectations, the custodial parent is to blame!
Perhaps the same is true that custodial parents also want our children to ‘be like us’. I must say though, I have learned to “let my son be”, allow him to dream as wildly, explore as wide, and seek as far and beyond. I have put on hold my needs and comfort for the sake of my son until that time when he comes of age, or says he does not desire me anymore. I have opened up my son to venture into territories I had abandoned long ago or had excluded from my lifestyle. For instance, I was never a cheese-easter, but I started eating cheese regularly while pregnant with my son, because my OB/GYN said I needed to eat more protein, particular cheese and eggs. I had vowed myself as a cosmo girl, who would never fit or be caught living in suburbia away from the bright city lights, until that all changed in pursuit of “the school district”. I abandoned my geographical place of comfort, in the name of “raising my child around his family”. I have even learned to make, and sometimes taste pancakes, pizza, muffins and donuts, for the sake of my son, although I ensure to make them as healthy as it comes. If you had told me six years ago, that I would be spending my Xmas morning googling, discovering and reading about action figures/fictional characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Ninja Turtles, Pokémon, Spider-Man, …. Thank You Santa! Or that I would be consciously celebrating Christmas, again!
Talking about Christmas, I ceased celebrations when I parted ways with Christianity umpteen years ago. In my entire stay in America, I had never celebrated Halloween until after my child was born, and I partook in Thanksgiving fetes because friends or family invited me to share with their families. Generally, my personal politics and convictions determined my response to many celebrations and traditions, even though I respect the choices of those who follow these traditions. Halloween to me was a “ghostly blood sucking ‘orgy”, which I always skipped because I hate blood and was fear dead people. Thanksgiving robbed Native Americans of their lands and culture by invading colonialists, whom I did not wish to honor. Christmas and Easter were channels of institutionalized control, miseducation and European colonization of the black mind and erosion and denigrating African culture and traditions. I could say the same about Eid, but since I was not born into Islam [like Christianity], I embraced it, whenever it welcomed me to partake, until my recent departure from consciously seeking to enjoy it or any other inklings of organized religion. [Did I say that I was once engaged to be married to a Muslim African man? Uhm! Story for another day!] I believe the stronger basis for our existence is the fact that we are all humans first born onto this planet in human flesh, with one life to live, before we vanish, or perhaps re-incarnate or hang around our loved ones as spirits.
So, I have learned to let my son live his dream. I do not force him to adopt my own beliefs or confine him to my desires. Well, there are a few exceptions; to protect him or encourage him to learn, or teach him to be a strong and respectful man. I often tell my son that it is important to be polite, respectful and appreciative, than to have high academic grades. As a member of society, there are certain requirements I am gonna impose on him, to learn, to live and excel in human society. As a single mother raising a man, when I have never been a man, moreover a young American man, I am gonna go beyond his wishes to ensure that he becomes a man he, myself and well-wishers will be proud of.
I emphasize to him the importance of “Please”, “Sorry” and “Thank You”, drinking water with his meals, at least between meals, eating vegetables and fruits, getting his homework done and doing his weekly chores of cleaning the bathroom sink, toilet and wiping dressing mirror. I offer no apologies for that!
Still, I let my son dream his dreams. To him, Christmas is about “Santa coming down the Chimney to bring presents to kids who behave well.”  Who I am to tell him otherwise? The “Tooth Fairy” rewards kids who lose their teeth, Halloween is a “Trick-Or-Treat” moment for little kids, the only passport to going out very late at night, on Thanksgiving, it is time to eat turkey, even when mom would rather we ate “Tofurky”, and a Birthday is a very special day to eat cake and receive as many presents. It does not matter that I do not celebrate Christmas, which according to me it is a Christian holiday, my son will celebrate it for as long as he wants, and because I have plenty of family who are Christians. The same way I let him celebrate Eid with his muslim paternal family, [I too have muslim family and friends].
I am not gonna bombard him with the religious symbolism of Christianity or Eid; I parted ways and have no interest in exploring that with my son at this age. In fact, I tried to let him share his paternal families Islamic culture, until grandma gave us the ultimatum, “If he cannot attend Sunday School regularly, he should not come at all.” My intention was to give her an opportunity to spend some quality time with her grandson, since she did not see him a lot in his five years, and she does not ask to spend one-on-one time or take him out, until her other grandkids are visiting.
For as long as I am expected to be the sole parent for this child, I will continue allowing him to believe as he imagines, that Santa came down the chimney and dropped off all the presents, including any entrusted with me to ‘secretly’ give to him. I remain protective of my child’s excitements and wildest dreams, from unnecessary scrutiny and criticism, especially coming from anyone who offers no help or support in parenting him. I know and believe it takes a village to raise a child, but let the village not only come in to condemn.
Hopefully, we as parents will learn to support our children’s dreams and fantasies in their imagination, rather than stifling or suffocating them with our mystical convictions derived from religious dogmas that do not unite but divide us as humans. After all, I am learning that most of what my child is fascinated and get hysterical about is from interacting with age mates, exposure through reading, visual and digital images, his classroom teacher interaction, and lastly from myself as a parent [I know some might disagree]. Perhaps our children’s excitements will enable us to look back eighteen or twenty-one years later and say, “Job Well Done!”

Kids are Cultural “Whores”: Wait, can you say the “W” with Kids…?

It is amazing how quickly kids switch cultural identify. Well, if like me, you believe that “language is culture”, that’s what I am talking about. Last summer we returned to the US, after three-and-a-half years globetrotting. We left the US immediately following my child’s first birthday, for a much deserved break and scholarly experience around the world.
About last Fall, I noticed my child’s accent changing, become less  “Ugandan” and more “American”. My friends did not help me feel better; they said it would be gone by December. I felt a ‘teeny weeny sadness’, at the thought that my son would no longer “be a Ugandan” with ‘the brand’ accent gone. Alas! I have not been good at making the accent stay! I did not realize how tough it is to teach a child another language in another country with a predominant language. Especially with my multi-national child: African [by ancestry] and American [by birth and ancestry].
Power to parents who succeed at nurturing multi-lingual/multi-national children. Sadly, not many of us Africans are good at keeping children fluent in our first languages, especially when born or raised abroad, but even when born and resident in our own countries to same nationals or foreigners. We get into the stupid “western culture superiority” complex, and deny our children a chance to become fluent in our Africans languages, arguably because ‘they will not develop’ or ‘compete in the globalized world’. Forgetting that we were born and raised speaking our mother tongue, or of parents who spoke our mother tongue.
Yet, many like me, become surprised that our children are ‘losing our culture’ or are becoming culturally distant and lost! I am always shocked when talking to my child, that recollection of our time spent in Uganda are not forthcoming! At times, he cannot even remember part of my family, the playmates he had, we had bathrooms or a kitchen, or that we ate food similar to what we have here in America. The worst, but without blame, he does not remember that we lived in South Africa (before Uganda) during the last couple of years abroad.
So, I decided to give him a “Lesson about South Africa” while we were at our local library recently. I pulled out a book, “South Africa by Pat Ryan”, which talked about how “Africans lived happily” [of course there is an element of romanticization typical of a western writers about Africa]. Then white folks came to South Africa and began fighting with the blacks, took their land, culminating in a system of “Apartheid”, where whites lived, worked, played segregated from blacks.  Black people became poorer than whites, lived in terrible housing, and could not shop in the same places as whites. I showed him the grass thatched huts where black people lived, and still live in the countryside; he thought they were “Weird”.  [btw, thanks to this young man, my love for the word “weird” no more!]; I showed him clothing of f the black people made with beads, which was strange, as well as the men racing on Ostriches. That made him laugh so hard! Well, at least he laughed; which means he learned something, right?
We discussed the book after reading, and I asked him what he had learned from the book. He told me that “brown” [not “black”] people were poor, while white people were rich. “Why did he swooped “black” with “brown”?” I asked him. He said, “Black is like darkness, when you cannot see properly or like the black shoes. But the people in the book were not black; they were brown.” I asked him, whether he knew of any black people, and he said, “I am black.”[ If you know my son, he is not “black like darkness”.] Surprising to me, since he has thought of himself as white, until our conversation not to long ago, about “black-and-white” in America’s racial conception.
Kids are smart ‘cultural whores’; telling it as it is, using their wit to make sense of nonsensical labels. To him identity is defined by color not the labeled per race. He sees brown, chocolate, and pink, He has protested before when I said his playmate “C”, classmates “M” and “S” are white, because “they do not look as white as paper,” he said. For now, he has accepted that label, since the conversation with mom following a class reading about Martin Luther King Jr.
Anyway, happy to inspire a young generation of thinkers, readers and critics. We hope that the reality of his eyes is followed by the reality of race relations when he comes of age. I hope he does not become a victim of racial profiling and racial injustice blatantly metted out against black folks in America, particularly our young black males. I think I am doing all I can to keep him openminded, culturally international in thoughts, ideas and experiences, and innocent to the brutality of life. Yes, I do agree to myself sometimes that “Ignorance is Bliss”!
Still, as a parent of a young black male growing up in America, particularly suburbia America, I worry very often whether this country will allow him to live and grow up without the preconceived injustices? Will he still be that “cute boy” at 12, 13, 14, free to skate around the neighborhood without anybody calling the police on him? Or would he be a sense of uncomfortable curiosity, that even the neighborhood dogs bark uncontrollable at him, just like they do with me. Would he still comfortably ware his jacket or sweatshirt hood over his head? Or walk in the neighborhood without an encounter from nasty neighbors. I believe this is the beginning of a lifelong education about the American culture, that he so innocently takes on as part of him, but that one day, he will fully recognize that it labels him [in fact labeled him since childhood], as a person to be feared, dreaded and be monitored all the time! Perhaps then, he won’t have as much luxury to ‘whore up’ this American culture, and would have to find another geographical and culture to experience and become a part of….?

Different shades of Special Needs

“There is no one student who is similar to the other. And no one student behaves the same everyday,” so she said to me.

I cannot agree more! Picture being in any classroom of Students with Special Needs. Whatever special need you can think of: Autistic Support, Post-Hospitalization, Life Skills, Early Intervention or Multiple Disability Support. Or so you may believe! Turns out, that is not always the case.

Even when a class is categorically labelled as “Autistic Support”, the students come in “Different Shades of Special Needs”. Each with own disability, no uniformity, and with varying needs that a class teacher who has not one, but possibly eight or ten students is expected to ably manage every single day. Moreover, there is no guarantee that any one of the children will display consistent behavior and attitude on every other day, or throughout a  single day. Happy in the morning, sad by mid-morning, and erratic, violence and explosive in the afternoon. Happy one minute, crying the next, then bouts of laughter!

I, for one, had no clue what “Austin support” entailed before I ventured into a classroom of elementary autistic support students. I imagined that they are similar to students with Multiple Disabilities, till I found out about a special category called – Multiple Disability Support (MDS). Still, I wanted to experience dealing with and teaching autistic children. My fears and initial reservations were not in vain! Challenging, scary, traumatizing and soul searching, are among the many thoughts that come to my mind reflecting on my experience in two separate classrooms of K-4th grade students with autism.

No! The kids did not throw stones at their teachers, although they were capable of hurting with the same zeal as they were loving in the same instant. Like any other humans, they hurt the people they love and care for! They pinched, scratched and punched their teachers, then smiled and asked for special favors with barefaced shame. They screamed, cried and ignored authority, but expecting the teachers’ attention and kind heart to give in to their demands.

In one classroom, I experienced different shades of autistic children. One boy scratched me (and other teachers) several times with his blackened nails. Yet, he obeyed when told to sit down on the ‘calming chair’, until he was asked to stand. When he was asked to eat, or when the TV showed scenes he did not like, he yelled. He became distraught, restless and cried repeatedly when he saw school buses pulling up in the parking lot an hour before official close of school. To calm him down, we told him to put to put on his jacket and prepare to go home, or just ignored him.

Then this kid with a beautiful smile, picked up his mess whenever he was told, and agreed to sit down but after persistent reminders and supervision.  Yet, every after lunch, he became erratic, rolled himself on the floor, took off his pants and underwear, put his hand in his pants, threw books off the shelves, ripped the classroom apart, spewed out plenty of obscenity and stormed out of the classroom, running and screaming down the hallways. A minute later, he was a calm lovely boy, apologized for his nastiness, and said he wanted to see mommy! Another kid, generally calm and obedient, responded to instructions quickly, did great one-on-one class activities, and excelled in his academics. Except when he was not engaged in classwork, and every after lunch, he was unsettled.

The room teachers did a great job managing their classrooms and responding to the needs of their students, especially in comparison to:  a) my prior experience in other special needs classrooms; and b) with the insurmountable challenges they had to deal with. Only two teachers, one permanent and her Associate – for eight autistic students! Yet, they used various activities and techniques to engage their students in learning as much as possible, as a group and one-on-one at individualized level. They taught their students to work for special privileges, counseled them when they were acting up, and rewarded them for good behavior. Still, that did not deter the explosive students from going off, or the cool ones from staying calm.

I wonder if after the experiences, thus far, my expectations of transformative teaching are dwindling following my in-class observations and interaction with the teachers and students?

I know for sure that each student is different from another, and from each time of the day. For many kids, adjusting their program to half-day and returning home in the early afternoon, might be helpful for both the kids and the teachers. After all, many are restless after lunch and hard to keep interested or attentive within the same classroom environment, even when teacher substitutes rigorous academics with age-appropriate infotainment, TV programs, internet videos, iPad and hands-on learning. For some kids, their medication seems to wane down by lunchtime, making them more agitated and uncomfortable for the rest of the afternoon.

Beside the dire need for human resource enhancement for classrooms with autistic children, introducing half-day programs for some kids might be. They could return home after lunch to their parents, breaking the monotony of staying for a longtime in one physical, human and learning space. With additional human resource, the teachers would afford to split roles, and take the kids with capacity to participate in mainstream classroom special activities.

Or more exercise and stretch routines should be added into the classroom schedule, to reduce the length of disposable time. Plus, a little one-on-one massage might also do the magic. Though, it is a heavy task engaging students one-on-one, given all the work required of the teachers in a day to fill out daily paperwork on each students, plan the next day, clean up, cater to students with extra-special care needs, and prepare student for pick-up or drop-off at the end of the day. Sustaining transformative learning is a challenge without parental cooperation and participation of parents in reinforcing the skills learned and taught at school.