Why We Celebrate Birthdays

A BBC World Service interview this week got me thinking that, perhaps, I should say something about, “Why I Celebrate Birthdays. The interviewee was a former Somali refugee, resettled to Australia, where she has since campaigned for a seat in the Australian Parliament [If I listened to that correctly.]Mas

In the course of the interview, the interviewee mentioned that on her nineteenth birthday, she found out that the Australian government had granted her resettlement to its country. She was living in a Kenya refugee camp, with her family had lived since fleeing Somalia at the age of twelve.

“I had not celebrated my birthday since fleeing to the camp because I did not have reason to, with my family not well. But that was the best birthday gift,” she said.

Her statement made perfect sense to me, given my attachment to celebrating Child of Mine’s and my birthday! Regardless of what others may say to me or think about birthdays, I will continue to celebrate our birthdays. I treat each birthday, as a very significant milestone in our lives. Plus, it is a memorable tradition I carry from my childhood, and a family tradition.

“Why do I care to explain,” you may ask?

Because within Child of Mine’s family, are religious opinions that, “Birthdays are pagan celebrations”. Recall, I have said before that, I do not pre-empt discussions about religion or politics with family. I stray very far away, to avoid antagonizing any souls, especially on subjects often very passionately, very dogmatically adhered to by the followers.

I will discuss or comment on politics and religion to “The World”, that is people within my social network, whom I do not share very close personal relationships. Folks, I am not exactly concerned would explode into eternally wounded hearts, if we were to disagree. I am comfortable on platforms, where I believe are for intellectual public discussions and interrogation of our differences and different understandings of social life, not personal attacks.

Beeks 3rdStill, I pride myself as tolerant of differences, never to dictate to others their ways of life, nor speak ill of their life choices and dogmas. I will raise concern and disagreement, but never to do harm to anybody! I am not religious, but I have family and friends across the religious divide – Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, Muslim, Seventhly Adventist, Mormon, Mennonite, and plenty more religions. Religious tolerance is not a cliché in my life; it is a way of life. After all, we are all humans first!
So, I take offense to anyone trying to dissuade me from celebrating a birthday using, “Because it is evil!” I do not speak ill about your religious practices, regardless of my views on religion, and I would expect the same respect. Anyway, no arrows from here, but let me give a little insight into why others, like me celebrate birthdays, and will keep doing so.

For the Somali refugee on BBC, she left behind a lavish middle class family background in Somalia, when she fled to a life of living displaced, desperate and disposable in a refugee camp in Kenya. Thus, her nineteenth birthday gave her an insurmountable reason to celebrate, yet again!Beeks 4th

In her words, she had not celebrate since she left Mogadishu at twelve years of age! Her father and brother were shot and killed in front of her mother and herself. Her family had been involved in a life-threatening accident while in the refugee camp, and had remained terribly sick; conditions had never been the same again. In fact, she turned down a scholarship opportunity to study in Canada, deciding against leaving her family without a caretaker.

So, a resettlement opportunity to Australia, to start life anew was more than enough reason to celebrate her nineteenth birthday; as a promise of living life anew and rebuilding hers and that of her family. And to smile again, in safety, away from the fear of rape and physical violence that characterize life within the refugee camp.

I am also reminded that, where I am from, children are not guaranteed to live beyond their fifth birthday. For instance, in my country of origin Uganda, under-five childhood mortality, the number of children who do not live to their fifth birthday, is 69 out of 1,000 live births. And with life expectancy at birth at 59 years, these are more than justifiable reason to celebrate every year beyond the fifth birthday, and every year beyond 59 years of age.  Beeks 6th gang

Perhaps more personal to me, celebrating birthdays was a significant part of my family tradition, growing up. Even if we ate popcorn and black tea, we still celebrated each and everyone’s birthday in my family.  Only my father did not know his exact birthday, but guesstimated from his mother’s death.Beeks 6th

My paternal grandmother died when my father was still breastfeeding. Nor did his father keep an exact record of his birthday.  Popsy finally settled for one date December 12, he would get rather excited, order whatever anyone wanted, and made all us danced the night away on our living room floor!  We partied! We enjoyed each other!

All the many ways why I love celebrating birthdays, believe in the social value of celebrating birthdays, and as I have said, will continue, until child of mine says, No More!  Beeks 7th

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Nobody is Ever in a Permanent State of Being

We grow, we age
We age, we experience
We experience, we learn
We learn, we rethink
We rethink, we enlarge
We enlarge, we seek
We seek, we traverse, we travel
We travel, we encounter
We encounter we fall in love
We fall in love, we fall out unfulfilling
We fall out, we hurt 
We hurt, degenerate
We degenerate, we rejuvenate
We rejuvenate, we strive for peace
We strive for peace, we make peace
We make peace, we give peace
We give peace, We live Life
Lately, I have been going through the emotions. Various emotions. Why we fall in love? Why we let people into our lives? Why our hearts long for what has left us? Why we let others play with our hearts? Why we let our hearts long for the unavailable? Why we let the unavailable, unbothered and under-fulfilling and incompetent ruin our happiness? Why we pay attention, we weep, we sulk, we anger, we grope for those who should not have been in or enjoy our lives? Those who do not qualify to partake of our love?
Then I realize, it is human nature. Nothing is more human than to love, to err and to learn. Nothing is more human than to forgive, to dust off, to try again. Nothing is more human than optimism. If for nothing else, hope is all we should desire to recreate ourselves. To find the inner peace, to live life anew.
That comes with forgiving, Forgiving starts with ourselves. We cannot forgive others unless we forgive ourselves. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, it never will. But it is so worthy, in order to move on. In my experience, I have found beauty in two of the most hard-hitting life experiences: to forgive and to fall in love.
First, I unexpectedly forgave my father in 2013, extricating myself from deep wounds accumulated since. My father and I never had a relationship; except the biological attachment. I credit the death of my best friend in 2013 for opening up my heart to living life anew. I do not know, if it was her beautiful soul speaking to me. She always told me, “I pray that you will one day have a good relationship with your father.” I guess I had lost the only true soulmate [beside my mother], I knew understood me [more than my mother – I say], guarded my innermost secrets and cheered me on. And it happened. I completely forgave my father from the bottom of my heart, without coercion, mediation or cajoling. Now! I miss my father, many times! I have not forgotten all the wrong, pain and suffering he caused me. But I forgave him. At least I am now able to experience his happiness, and gratitude that I forgave him. He calls me from time to time, something that had never happened before. We sit down, talk and laugh, like time does not hold any painful memories between us!
Second, I have partook of the beauty of falling in love, and out. The “out” is most painful, but does not last forever. The “in” lasts forever. It is joyous reminiscing from time to time,  “falling in love”, a feeling distinctively apart from all other love relationships. The “out-lived love” prepares you to let go of any others, without succumbing to the same slow excruciating pain of love. It is equally intriguing pondering over why your heart fell for “that person” and not the other(s)! Especially, when the one you fall in love with and got away may never come clean to you how s/he really felt about you. Again, we make peace with the lost love, forgive, and live life.
Indeed “Love” and Forgiveness” epitomize my belief that Nobody is Ever in a Permanent State of Being. If we can love, we can forgive, and if we can forgive, we can love. Love for an inner peace; for goodness for ourselves and in others; for respect for self and others; for joy for self and others; for honor, success, celebration and understanding for self and others.
We, go through phases in life; hopefully we all do. Nobody is so evil without a glint of goodness! Even the mighty fall, soften and loosen up to different people and in different circumstances. We all love; we might not all know how to express our joys. Perhaps, our life circumstances might not allow us all, to smile or “make nice”, even when our hearts desire. Or we might not know or feel comfortable communicating our story. Maybe I might never hear my father tell his story from his mouth. At least I knew, he expressed his commitment to his family by providing an education to all his children, and a permanent roof for all his marital relationships. That fills me up! To his friends, he partied with them and made them party with him. He was a very trustworthy “kitty keeper” for plenty of his friends, and managed budding investments to fruition for many. Hopefully, they too, will remember him for that.
We, each have our insecurities, which are questioned, challenged and teased out as we progress in life. Sometimes our insecurities make us arrogant, introverted, aggressive, puppets, trigger-happy, or adventurous. At some point in life, it is all about “me”. Until we progress into “lovers of the earth” or “tree-huggers”. Or “fight for the rainforest” as a “survival for the fitness”. Finally, [or perhaps not] we [re]create goodness in ourselves and see goodness in others, and just agree to be, and let others be.
Whatever it is, we live and learn. We learn and let live. Hopefully, each one of us has a chance to life, to live longer to experience, to open ourselves up to learn, to love, to forgive, to give of ourselves, and to partake of what life offers us. And, to appreciate those who bring so much joy and pain in our lives, for they bring us great challenges, lessons and opportunities to become better and re-emphasize that we can never have a Permanent State of Being. Nor should we expect anybody else to stay permanently stagnant!

This and That of 2014

Facebook shared its review of my year 2014, though I did not endorse it. Nothing against FB’s compilation about me. In fact, it 2014 in a Wrapcaptured plenty of blissful moments I had throughout the year, filled with celebrations, travels and social living, fitness, community engagement and giving-back.
A little flashback! We celebrated my birthday in the Spring, and my son’s birthday in the Summer; traveled to visit Atlanta family in April; visited Philly-based friends in May; and more friends in Pittsburg in November. We enjoyed the child’s extracurricular achievements: obtaining a yellow belt in Tae-Kwon-Do; a Bobcat badge in Cub Scout; his name plastered on the “Wall of Fame” in the Summer Reading Program at our local library, and multiple Certificates of Appreciation collected from reading to Therapy dogs in our library ‘Paws ’n Pages’ programs. Don’t forget ‘Trick-or-Treat’ on Halloween, first pumpkin carving before Thanksgiving, playing at the park, riding his bike, playdates with the neighbors and plenty of experimenting with baking and other cooking. this might all sound like it was “all about the child”, but I had my fun too,  keeping well and fit, rolling on the hills of Mount Pocono, and “Run[ning] and getting Dye[d]”. Plenty of “firsts” recorded, since re-sailing ashore, including settling in suburbia America for the first time. So, it was a good year!
Well then, why did I not endorse “Facebook ‘glitz n glamorous’ review of my YR2014? Perhaps because I have another version of my year, blasted in one word ‘Displacement’! I started off the year with a lot of positive vibes, umph and soccer mom power, resolving to keep it rolling positive all-year round. Too bad resolutions are not meant to last 265 days [or are they?]! The Year 2014, rolled out a tougher, more challenging and less appealing side of itself, testing me several times to keep it real resolution-like. Not know to “conform to the norm” [oops! Did I just confess that I kind of break and make the rules, sometimes 😏], I kind of reshuffled my resolution, inadvertently, and picked up a couple new preoccupations for the year 2014. Makes me wonder, if I should totally give up on resolutions….!
Because…
My emotions, my joys, my confidence, my umph, stability all got ‘jerked up’. My optimism, my security, my sense of self and hope, fell victim too! True, I had some semblance of support system ‘dans temps en temps’, and here and there, but a larger part of what I know of myself and what I have cultivated of myself became displaced. I regard myself to be a strong independent savvy and creative person. I can sell every part of myself [decently] for the greater good of family, community and self. I give and trust openly, and fight for what it right, just, fair and worthy. As a young college Sophomore, I was already visiting supermax prisons facilities, interviewing inmates deemed the most dangerous persons, petitioning government criminal justice institutions for human rights violations, and mobilizing legal aid and human right entities to provide pro bono legal representation for indigents. All that, pursued and accomplished without much of a clout of contact cards or diploma papers, but the zeal and thirst to just do it! See what I am saying: Been there, done that! I am tougher than deer meat!
Yet, 2014 flustered me into many moments of self-doubt and self-criticisms, causing me to cow into myself! Though, when you have an extra mouth to feed, you do not have the luxury to dissolve completely. You cannot let go, no matter what you do. Instead, you listen to Aaliyah…“Dust Yourself Off and Try Again…” You need to succeed, and you need to chase success hard and faster than the wind, with all the aggression and persistence, because there are plenty more chasing before and after you.
How have I done that? Find the things that bring a smile to your face and brain, adopt them up or keep doing and reigning them. In my case, I go out running miles to stay sane mentally and emotionally. My favorite runs are in the rain, although that seems to have claimed my delicate mobile phone, causing me to ‘need’ a new one before end 2014. Whenever I go out, I wear a strong happy face because the world does not need to interface with your suffering; it is loaded with plenty of its own!  While out dropping and picking up child from the school bus stop, I spend a minute or more, chatting with the moms to share about us and catch up on ’the village gossip”. I scout for and get involved in social engagements to meet new people, projects and places. I signed up child for Tae-Kwon-Do and Cub Scout, to grow our social/community circles where we live, in the middle of everywhere! Together, we participated in Cub Scout “Go-See-It, at the environment centers, Veteran’s Day commemorations, visited a Radio station, the Volunteer Fire Department, toured the library, and the summer street fair. Plenty more of course, at different seasons throughout the year. Of course, I read, read and read, as I write, write and write. That helps put me ‘onboard’ to share my reflections and my passions.
Among my greatest passions is to aggressively defend the “Wholeness of the Human Spirit, beyond the color-line”, and our “Common Blackness in Diversity”. Toward the end of 2014, I spent a large chunk of me, highlighting the human worth, human dignity, and uniformity of Black people. Ironically, even among descendants from a black heritage, are many preoccupied with highlighting and advocating differences than sameness of Black Folks! Still, I am passionately committed to defending the peremptory norm of the “Right to Be”, “to Self-Determine”, “to Self-Define”, as a right for all, and the indisputable danger of a single story. More so, to forge, afford and guarantee a decent living for us all!
May 2015 be the year of new tears of happiness, slim body and fat bank accounts, ripe investments, hope to reality, thriving family, and smashed records! And if it maybe displacement, again, may displacement be in a comfortable open, free and and happy place of belonging and proprietorship!
Happy 2015, Y’all!

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!”