Parenting: Another Chance at Living Selflessly

My Little Ninja

My Little Ninja

Perhaps no other life experience has given me the opportunity to learn to live selflessly like Parenting. And I do not throw around the “P-Word” lightly, for anybody who ‘spews’ their ‘chemicals’ to produce a child. In my book, a parent is one who commits her/his self, actively to raising her/his children – born to them, born for them, adopted or as caretaker. It could be an aunt or uncle, or grandma raising children of their relative, or a stranger adopting a child unknown to them.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that parenting is the only way to live selfless or care for anything other than oneself. I know plenty of non-parents who are intimately engaged, or may I say, engrossed in all sorts of life ventures, as humanitarians, community mobilizers, mentors, fundraiser, trainers, teachers, friends or volunteers. I was one of anyone of those categories before I became a parent, and intimately committed to whatever and whoever I invested my time and energy into. Yet, as I have learned since becoming a parenting, while I could walk away from any of those preoccupation to create a just and friendly world, I do not have the same luxury with parenting. That is, if one is a parent – totally different from being a father or mother.

What prompted me to say all this? A couple of things. But, one most recent as this weekend. I took my son to participate his first ever Tae-Kwon-Do Tournament, Nam’s Veterans Martial Arts Tournament in Stroudsburg, PA. The organizer, his Tae-Kwon-Do teacher, is a Grand Master, international olympic judge, and trainer and National Coach for both Team USA and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. By the way, Master Nam is a great teacher, I hate the thought of moving far away from him!

N’way, the whole experience at the tournament was amazing, so deep and personal. I watched, as parents, including grandparents, uncles and aunts, and siblings, braved the morning downpour to bring their children to competition. Parents preparing their children, investing energies and a whole day to stay with their children and see them through all the competition. There were plenty of joys and celebrations of wins, as well as tears of sorrow for losses and no wins. I cheered on my son, as well as friends, whom we know from our school

Though, one unfamiliar face stuck onto me and hit me deep. A father carrying a bag full of broken boards, and more in his arms, with his two children each carrying two giant trophies [girl- first and second place; and boy – two first place finishes], following him to departure. Daddy had a grin on his face, showing lots of excitement for his children’s achievements.

Nothing beat the feeling I had for my son’s achievements. While he did not win first or second place, he had three third place finishes, fetching him three trophies and three medals. I was a mixed bag of emotions; I cried and celebrated tears of joy and accomplishment. But also a little sad that he did not get first place, even though we had not expected anything more than a “certificate of participation”. I cried because he cried; he does not do losing very easily. I was even more surprised and saddened that another kid, usually not as good as my son is, beat him in “Forms”. How did he take second place from him!

As a parent, I had to hide my tears from his face, instead cheered him on for his achievements. I told him to pose for pictures with his trophies, with a smile. I asked for a picture with him. I reassured him that, the first time around is not always easy. But he should be proud of himself because some kids did not get a medal. I urged him on to try harder next time, grow his strength and scoop the top prize, next time around.

Perhaps we should participate in more tournaments going forward, to get him accustomed to competition and grow a spirit of fighting harder. My commitment to my son’s accomplishment has taught me a lot about myself and family. That my needs can take a back seat, as I nurture this little one, to partake of this world, and lay his footmark on this planet. Since becoming a parent, I have also learned a lot about my mother’s parenting style, and contextually appreciate the decisions she made [consciously or not] as a parent. I also much more appreciate, parents dedicated to raising their children, and providing the best they can afford and know how.

As I have always maintained, everyone is going through their hustle, do not judge! One must not sit on their high horse and judge the decisions of another parent, without stepping in those shoes, including for parents who seemingly or indeed go astray with decisions they make about parenting their children. Parenting is a wonderful thing. For some people, once they take that step to parenting, it is all they live for, and live selflessly for-ever-after!

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

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In the Middle of Everywhere!

Have you ever felt stuck in the Middle of Everywhere?

In the Middle of Everywhere

In the Middle of Everywhere

Imagine for a minute that you are stuck in “space”. Let’s call that space, a basement. There is limited natural light, it is really cold in the Winter, floods with melting snow when Spring comes, hot in the Summer. For most part of the year, you cannot tell day or night, except by the hourly talk of your alarm clock or when your TV announces the news. Since you are in constant fear of missing your daybreak due to lack of sunlight, you have to keep some kind of artificial light on 24-hours. You decide, the lead light will be the cheapest.

Though, none of the solutions seems to work because you still feel stuck in a basement. You are losing yourself. You are losing your creativity, your energy, your imagination and your umph! Every idea you come up with, seems to evaporate right before you put it on paper. You really don’t know where you are headed. You go to bed everyday, with a promise to wake up and accomplish at least one goal per day. Yet, the energy dwindles from you half way into your goal of the day!

Stuck in the basement, you are losing your sense of direction. You are losing your confidence. You are losing your trust in miracles. You begin feeling that  life has given up on you, and connived against your flourishing and success. Yet, you cannot get back any time, minute or second that has gone by you.

The basement is swallowing your pride, as much as it is enhancing your bitterness. The basement is stimulating your delusion and destabilization more than your boosting your determination. The basement is where dreams no longer come true, where dreams die, dreams become confused, and entangled in mourning, regret, bouts of sadness and soul searching.

You want to get out of the basement. You vow to get out of the basement. You give yourself a timeframe to quit the basement. Yet you no longer seem to know how the paths to tread. Or perhaps you know, but the basement has eaten up your courage to get out. The only time you step out of the basement is for a cup of tea upstairs, or go for a run outside or to the bus stop. Or perhaps you are embarrassed to show your face to the world that has held you up, expecting a lot of you and from you. You would rather shut your face away from the world that expects high performance from you.

You are in the middle of everywhere, yet you are alone and lonely. You do not wanna be alone, yet alone is when you feel the most relaxed and humanized. What else is there to live for? The basement reminds you of all the responsibilities you have incurred in life. The knowledge you have and continue to amass, which needs to be put to use for yourself and those in your life. The basement reminds you to show it appreciation for shielding you from the wrath of the world, and give back to the world. The basement is where it all unfolds-folds-unfolds again. Yet, you cannot fold yourself up forever.

There is no noise in the basement, except for the occasional rotation of the extra fan, turned on when it is really cold, or the TV or clock at the top of the hour. The basement offers a huge place to breath ideas, recapture them before they disappear from your imagination, escaping your little fingers. Put them on paper, transport them into virtual reality, into other people’s spaces.

In the Middle of Everywhere is where your creativity should come back to life. Move out of the basement, hit the streets and never look back into the basement. You will be a giant, again, In the Middle of Everywhere….Everywhere but the basement!

Perhaps there is Freedom in Suffering?

It is a given that all humans live in pursuit of happiness! We all want to be happy, with ourselves, our loved ones and our families. We want to enjoy life, and always wish the best for ourselves. None of us wishes to be bonded to pain, sadness or misery.
Our pursuit of happiness manifests itself in different forms. Self-help books, filled with “lessons on becoming/staying happy”. Shrinks in form of psychologists, psychiatrists, religious prophetesses and prophets, guidance counselors and friends, all remind us how worthy of happiness we are. Lest we forget the “Happy Singer” Pharrell Williams, whose “happy” has ‘infected’ every corner of the world, including places amidst chaos and war. Fitness and body weight loss programs restore and build our happiness, as are TV, video and radio and plenty of other entertainment disposable to make us happy. Implicitly, Happiness is the ultimate measure of personal freedom; sadness the worst form of human living, which should be avoided at all costs!
Perhaps we are all wrong! That sadness is after all not fatal, not miserable and not undesirable. Perhaps there is freedom in suffering? Freedom to liberate, to take time off the world’s absurdities into oneself. Time to reflect and rejuvenate oneself, time to ponder over one’s failures, disappointments and hurtful moments, then recreate success, satisfaction, love and happiness. Through suffering, we might find the strength to claim our space in an unfamiliar, unjust and uninviting world. We might stop being voiceless by finding our voice, or among others concerned about their plight. We might also find the creativity to rebuild our lives and reclaim economic, political and social security for ourselves and loved ones. We might create our bubble of happiness, false or real, longterm or short-lived.
Here, I am thinking of Gays and Lesbians, very often living as outlaws in many societies, but are able to find avenues for self-expression. Transforming alienation, antagonism and ostracism they face into spaces to display of themselves to the ‘unsuspecting’ public through art, spoken word, activism, performance, dressing and festivities. Through disobedience they are transforming their suffering into freedom from confinement in the ‘underground’/‘unseen’ world into outer space.
Battered and abused spouses, as well, find freedom in suffering, through silence or disobedience against demands of their abusive spouses. For some, sexual intercourse is the channel for release their suffering at the hands of abusive spouses for a ‘momentary’ moment(s) of enjoyment. Sexual intercourse transpositions them into a world away from their sadness, reconnecting with their inner most desires and blissfulness. Others find freedom in infidelity with ‘lovers’, one-off strangers or sex workers. Married men buy prostitutes to satisfy their sexual infatuation. Overtime, some of the transactions transcend mere sexual encounter, as the sex worker becomes a listening ear and shoulder to cry on about their marital woes, an avenue to release oneself freely, a source of ‘free’ marriage counseling and education in sexual intimacy. Married women also take on lovers or boyfriends for sexual satisfaction, and to feel desired, adored and youthful again.
Even the unemployed find freedom in suffering a financial loss and job insecurity. The mind is released from the daily demands of a work-life to wander off into places of sadness to imagination to creativity. The loss and pain that often comes with unemployment also avails one more time to think, invent, regain the courage to rebuild oneself, and recreate one’s freedom, through a new employment elsewhere, or by creating own employment.
Drug addicts unleash their pain and suffering through drugs, even if its a few minutes of ‘make-believe’ happiness. I have learned that crack cocaine users ultimately become addicted in a search for “that first high”, that can never be attainable again. They just want to relieve that moment of no fear, wild happy feelings and flying high in the cloud.
Ultimately, even in the most suffering comes moments of freedom for all of us. Moments when we would rather not be disturbed by any offers of love, attention or comfort from outside ourselves. When we all resort to the power within us to overcome suffering and define and recreate our freedom on our terms.

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!

Embracing the Rejection Letter

What is your first reaction when you receive a Rejection Letter?
 

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I know plenty of us share that experience; from a job application, a lover, a rental application, loan or business proposal. Here I am talking about Rejection Letters from a Job Application.
 
I have had mixed experiences and reactions with a rejection letter: kicking myself, crying, or cursing the institution. Nowadays, I take a positive attitude as an opportunity to learn, either embrace and acknowledge the rejection letter or write back to where the rejection letter came from.
 
Sometimes, you apply for that job that “speaks to you”, one you say, “this is mine”, then things do not work out the way you hoped. After graduate school, I wanted to move back and work in Africa, so badly. So, all the career jobs I applied to where in Africa, while busting tables and retail sales in the United States on the side. I applied for almost any job that came up in human rights or program management at the African Union, printed, photocopied and notarized job application documents, and airmailed applications to Addis Ababa. Do not ask me how much it cost me; that is what the AU wanted as opposed to the US-way of applying via email. I never received a single response from the AU. I did not give up, but switched attention more toward Africa regional organization in Eastern and Western Africa, and in South Africa. 
 
I remember  a job in The Gambia as Deputy Director of a regional human rights organizations. I went through round one of interviews, then round two, and then called for an in-person interview. Yes, the organization flew me from Boston to Banjul, put me up for two nights all expenses and gave me an allowance for time taken and personal expenses. I went through a face-to-face interview with the board and Director, and took a written and computerized test. I was told, the organization was looking for someone who would double as Ag. Director, since both the Director and Deputy Director were leaving. I was told we were three finalists, although only two showed up. I did not the other person, until I met her in the taxi we shared to the airport on our way out of The Gambia. A Ugandan, woman, lawyer, Legal Officer of a refugee organization I helped set up years before I left Uganda. She pretty much had resume, expect she was still working “on the ground”, while I was “theorizing human rights” based in America. Plus, there is always that ‘subtle’ quizzical look that sometimes rears its ugly head as a question to Diaspora Africans seeking opportunities to return to the continent, “Why would you like to live “the comfort” of the United States to come back and live and work in “DDD -Dirty Difficult and Dangerous Africa”? But when I saw Ms. Lady, my gut told me, she had got the job. Needless to say, our ride back to the airport was about her “scheduling her date of resignation from her job in Uganda and moving to Banjul.” That’s how I found that the end of a beautiful dream and received my unofficial Rejection Letter on my ride back home to Boston
 
Then came a job with a regionalized organization in South Africa to work with Civil Society Resource Mobilization. With all my donor, grant making and grant seeking expertise, I knew this was in my bag. Believe me you, threw out my vow that I made when I left in 2000, never to return to work in “xenophobic South Africa”. I wanted a job, with a regional focus, and several organizations in South Africa do exactly that, including plenty in security, natural resources and international politics, which were the fields of my professional interest and scholarly focus. The South African job gave me a tingle too, and put me in cloud 7. For one, one of my referees was a reputed civil society activist known in most of Africa, and to the organization. Secondly, a friend had worked with the organization, and he gave me plenty to know about the organization. So, I thought I had this in the bag. This time, I pulled out all the lessons learned about “interviewing over the phone and computer”. !) Before the interview, do a mock interview with a friend, and looking at yourself in the mirror, paying attention to your intonations, your vocabulary and flow of communication. 2) On a telephone interview, stand upright to allow your voice projects better to the person(s) on the receiving end. 3) Smile over the phone as that reflects in your mood and the way you speak on the other end of the phone. What else didn’t I do? Yes, I also did a long written test, pouring my heart out! Alas! Rejection Letter came via email! Oh! I cried so hard! I reached out to my BFF (RIP), who had helped me prepare for the interview, cried to her, and she consoled me.  After wiping away days of tears, I wrote to the organization that had rejected me, and asked why they had rejected my application. Instead of sulking and hating the institution, I gained more insight into what organizations look for. 
 
I backed off applying to Africa regional organization, and went back to my previous dream – the United Nations, and added international organizations working in Africa – like Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, Care International, plus more. I uploaded my resume to many databases of international development, human rights and humanitarian consulting groups. My professional profile got registered, among the first by an agency that recruits on behalf of UNHCR Legal/Protection. Until I ‘unkindly’ expressed my dissatisfaction with being short-listed for several opportunities but not succeeding with any. I got struck off the list, and my cries and efforts to be reinstated were unwelcomed. But I learned a valuable lesson, “Speak your truth quietly”, and everyone is looking for a job, not just you, some with higher qualifications than yourself. 
 
At least an Italian Brick Oven Restaurant in Somerville, MA did not reject my application for a Hostess position, even though I did not get the waitress position, because my experience in the position was only mental. It gave me a little paycheck to look forward to, and afford me pay the monthly electric bill and personal expenses, while I housesat for my professor who had away from the brutal Boston winter to was India. Note to self: Always have Plan B, to help offset the financial burden when you are looking for work. With access to my professor’s full house, a computer, internet electricity, hot shower and a bed, I could sit in his study and type all job application letters.
 
Finally, the one thing that I have always believed in more supreme in success  -social networks -happened to my job search. It was not all my lucid applications and interviewing, but my social networks that found me the job I took. Don’t get me wrong, I got other job offers, five in total, thanks to my resume and personal interviewing skills. Three of the jobs were with the institution that shaped my decision where to go for graduate school -the United Nations. I got a call from the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, The UNV and UN Human Rights Office in Senegal. I also got a call to interview for a consultancy with the World Bank Resettlement Project in Chad, while shopping for shoes in downtown Boston on a Saturday. By then, I had already made up my mind to move to New York City. I dropped the UN for fear that “the recruitment process and final move would take longer, when I was tired of being underemployed and really wanted well-paid employment. I guess, my “work abroad obsession” had waned off, and considered the opportunities of moving to NYC, working with an academic institutions, and potentially enrolling in my PhD [still hoping to do it]. But why five jobs at once, when I could not get one when I desperately needed it? The lesson learned, you can never predict success and winning. I had learned much more about myself and my resilience. I sharpened my resume and cover letter writing skills, my interviewing skills. In fact, I have sent “Thank You for Considering My application”  letters to some organizations that have sent me a rejection letter. One was so grateful and wrote me back, “I wish everyone would take a negative response as diplomatically as you did.”
 
Now that I look back at al the rejection letters, and I am back into the job search, I am applying all the skills I obtained from multiple applications over the years: get on your feet and go look for work, apply and apply for as many opportunities as you can, refine your resume specifically for the position you are applying for, keep your friends in the loop that you are looking for work, and remind them of “that resume you sent”. Though, there are changes to my job search, some of which are beyond my control and design. The economy is not doing are good as it used to. Gone are the days, when I could walk into a retail department store or restaurant, apply for a job and told to start tomorrow. Ultimately, a Rejection Letter is not the end in itself. Nowadays, even a restaurant hostess position requires a resume!
 
I am keeping my options open, and casting my net wider. I am now grateful for any institutions that writes me back, even with a rejection – at least somebody looked at my application, so I tell myself. Ultimately, somebody will wash away all the “Rejection Letters”, and send me that one “Acceptance Letter” that I need.-