The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Where I’m From (Yes, I am a poet, too!)

mango tree

Some truths about me… I wrote this poem a while ago and just reread it. I love the feeling I get from remembering. It grounds me. And it reminds me that the road I have walked on was paved by many.

I am from pressed light blue school uniforms, from Bata shoes, Blue Bond margarine and walking to school with sister and brothers.

I am from the Indian Ocean’s warm, salty waves on the white East Coast of Africa, hot, coastal rain and a breath-taking view of mountains behind houses. 

I am from the mango tree with sticky, drippy, juicy fruit picked off the tree, African violets, and chicken and maize on the braai, the majestic baobab tree, with years of stories to share that can only be imagined.

I am from Sunday picnics on a rocky dam with eldest brother Henry leading the way across a stream on a makeshift bridge and laughter at the dinner table, from aunties and uncles galore, rarely related to me and Mayu my grandmother, in a white sari, digging into my shoulders for support on the walk to church from the Fernandes’. 

I am from the new clothes sewn by Mummy, and the hemmed, and the darned, and the pinned together hand-me-downs and mosquito nets, and the silent company of Daddy while I slept off a fever.

From “keep your elbows off the table” and “do something concrete with your life” and “save, save, save” because money doesn’t grow on trees.

I am from rosary beads. Church on Sunday, ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, confession on Good Friday, catechism classes, Holy Communion, and the sign of the cross. 

I’m from Dar es salaam and Goa, from samosas, potato chops, sorpotel and roadtrips to the Serengeti and Mo-si-o-tunya and to Harare for shopping and visits with family friends and from travels on and across oceans to stay connected with my past.

From the sweet laughter of a mother who never let down her family because she was never let down by Jesus, Mary and God, the strong shoulders of a father who always had time to play with his five children.

I am from home movies on reels and a projector, watched at family gatherings pausing every five minutes to save the burning reel, a big wooden chest filled with photos of family, a home scattered with pictures and carvings and photos of a childhood so far away and yet so close to the very core of me. 

I am from the hearts of those who have loved me and those who love me now.

The format of the poem is adapted from the work of the poet George Ella Lyon. You can be a poet, too! You can create your very own poem by linking to her website here. If you do create your own, I would LOVE to read it, so please share.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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The Last Day of ‘Cool

It’s been a really busy three weeks and as much as I promised myself I would keep writing through it all, I broke my promise. I need to work on this. I have got to keep my promises to myself better.

Kaya, my daughter, has been repeating the statement that, “Today is the last day of ‘cool. Today is my last day of ‘cool foreber.” She means “school” not her general popularity or ability to maintain her dignity no matter what kind of fall she takes. This time of year brings about many “lasts” and I have always been one to notice and feel them. I believe in feeling sadness and other feelings wholeheartedly and without trying to water them down with “but just think about how great it’s going to be when…” or “…you should look forward to….”, etc. I let myself and my children sit in their sadness over goodbyes. I’ve had a lot of experience in this area so I know something about it.  Kaya’s last day of preschool was on Monday and David’s last day of first grade was on Friday. It’s more bitter than sweet.

Both my kids have been so lucky to have been with truly amazing teachers this past year. I don’t know how to find the words to express the deep, deep gratitude I feel for having had my children go to school and be in the care of people who genuinely like them and care about their overall well-being. It’s all I truly hope for each year when I drive my kids to school and leave them with another person. True – I teach teachers. I teach them many great ways of being teachers. I get them thinking about important things like social justice and equity and being change agents of a system that does not offer everyone equal opportunities. I teach them to be aware of many isms such as racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism and linguicism. Then I teach them about culturally responsive and critical pedagogy and problem-posing education. These are certainly important and so necessary in our world today. I love this work I do and am very passionate about it.

But then…I drive my kids to school and leave them in the care of their teachers and the most important thing to me becomes their overall happiness and well-being at school. I want them to have good days. I want them to have fun. I want them to play. I want them to find joy in their life. I want them to love – their teacher, a story, creating, the world, a friend, a game, writing, art, fairness, a song. And I want them to be loved back. These are important things to me. So it was a hard last day for me when I picked Kaya up from her preschool. Here’s what I wish I could have said to her teachers but choked on the words as I watched her hug them goodbye through my tears.

Dear Miss Kiah & Miss Mo,

Thank you for loving my daughter, Kaya, during her preschool years. It meant so much to me each time I saw you wrap your arms around my little girl in the mornings and I knew you were genuinely happy to see her. She is so lucky to have been with you. You said this morning, Kiah, that she was one of the kids that taught you how to be a teacher because you’ve been with her for three years. What a beautiful thing to say! What a beautiful thing to say that she taught you how to be a teacher. It’s really something that you could see it this way. Because you and Mo taught her so much in the short time she was with you. You taught her to care for her friends and also to care for critters. You taught her to be curious and kind and generous. You taught her little bits of who she is. You taught her how to throw a basketball and how to help a friend who is hurt. You taught her that she is important. You taught her that she is lovable and fun and creative. You taught her that she is tough. You taught her how to get dirty in the mud and sand and then how to clean up. You taught her how to see her world – really see her world in ways that many of us miss in our everyday busy lives. You taught her how to slow down and take peace breaths when she needed to – she taught me how to take those and I take many these days. You are both teachers at heart and it is beautiful that you see your students as your teachers. I loved hearing stories about what Miss Kiah and Miss Mo said and I could always count on you to say things with love no matter how hard some moments may have been for you.

Thank you for being her teachers. And thank you for always, always being so patient and gentle with me as I learned how to be a parent of school-age kids. I appreciated your kindness and patience more than you will know. You were always, consistently, reliably calm and happy each day I brought my little girl to you – no matter how frazzled, tired, unprepared or late we were. It meant a lot to this mama.

My hope for you is that all the love you have poured into your little students will surround you wherever you go in your life. While showing up everyday and dealing with all kinds of noises and bad moods and snotty noses and spills and tattling and willfulness and preschool tears may not seem so glamorous on a day-to-day basis, it is indeed glamorous to those of us who bring our little ones to you everyday and leave them with a heart that beats calmly and a mind that rests easy because we know that they are safe and loved by you. You are rock stars in our world. I am one of your biggest fans.

Thank you for loving my daughter for these very important years of her life and for teaching her lessons that will stay with her the rest of her life.

With love and gratitude,

Rhina

(Kaya’s mom)

Miss Kiah & Kaya (so much love)

Miss Kiah & Kaya (so much love)

 

Miss Mo & Kaya (post tearful goodbye)

Miss Mo & Kaya (post tearful goodbye)

And here’s what I wish I could have said to David’s teacher after my conference with him over his First Grade Portfolio.

Dear Ms. Deaton,

Teachers like you give me hope in the work I do. You exemplify all the things in the books about good teachers. If I could, I’d bring in my university students daily to watch you and learn. You have created an amazing community of learners and I have been so thrilled to see all the big ideas we talk about put into action. But today, I want to thank you for what you’ve done for my son.

Thank you for nurturing David’s curiosity about the world. Somehow you found a way to learn about his interests and then ran with it. You asked him questions but you also encouraged him to ask lots of questions. And instead of giving him answers, you showed him how to find the answers for himself. You taught him that he could seek out answers for himself. I love that he wrote down his questions and was so proud to have sought the answers to write them down. You showed him his power to be a part of the world he lives in. 

And thank you for teaching him how to read! Reading opened up a whole new world for David! And it wasn’t just that you taught him to read words, you taught him to read the world. This has been one of my greatest joys this year to experience his love for reading and I will be forever grateful to you for teaching him to love reading. 

Thank you for giving him the opportunity to experience being part of a community that encourages and supports and cheers for the successes of everyone in the group. Thank you for giving him the gift of feeling essential to a community. In the world we live in today, it’s so hard to find this kind of space in the world. Because David has experienced it, he will seek it out for himself and strive to create it wherever he goes. 

Thank you for the peace of mind I had every day I sent him to school because I knew that he was in the care of someone who cared about his spirit. It meant so much to me to know this. It was a joy to have you be a part of David’s life and learning in this world. We were honored, and some may say highly favored, to have you as David’s First Grade teacher. Thank you for an amazing year!

With love and gratitude,

Rhina (David’s mom)

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The Yin and The Yang of It

I’ve been working on this post for a few weeks and can’t seem to find the truth of it all. Maybe it’s just how it’s supposed to be.

It’s just the Tuesday since spring break and it feels like we’re a month into the week! I am proud to say that I embraced some down time while the kids were on their spring break last week. I started out the week with visions of quality-time activities jam packed into every minute of each day. As it turned out, life is not that glamorous for this mama. We spent three of the days not getting out of our pajamas the entire day, one beautiful, slow-paced, sunny day at Sweetwater Creek Park with friends, and I can’t even remember the remaining days except for the fact that we did get dressed on those days. The quality-time was experienced in kairos moments rather than whole diems (this blogger, Glennon Melton, was the final push to start a blog). I flitted ungracefully between gentle, loving parenting and crazed-mama parenting all week long. I apologized often to my kids. I do that often – maybe even too often – but that’s for another post. I just can’t help but get the odd feeling that they are NOT often conspiring in my favor unlike the rest of the Universe. In fact, I sometimes think they plan their moves just to play mind tricks on me. All-in-all, I wouldn’t change much about the week other than to have started it with low expectations so as not to feel bad about the laundry and organizing that did not happen as planned.

Needless to say, Monday came around at just the right time and everyone was kinda ready for a bit of a change back to a routine in which you were required to get out of your pajamas and brush your teeth prior to noon. By the end of Tuesday and two relentless days, I was left feeling exhausted and grateful for the time I had had with the family just being around each other. Thinking about these simple joys reminded of a conversation with a chica mama recently. She was telling me that, lately, she’s been thinking a lot about the joys in her life and wondering why her? Why is it that she feels like one of the lucky ones who has beautiful healthy children living in a pretty safe world with a pretty (well….handsome) wonderful man in a country that allows her most of her human freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Why her? Why does she get all this while so many others just don’t? Why her? When so many mamas in Iraq are carrying babies in their wombs, looking forward to their miracles and then giving birth to babies with severe medical conditions resulting from warfare. You can read about it here. It’s quite horrifying and heart-wrenching to read about. The birth defects are considered even worse than what happened in Hiroshima.

My chica mama and I sat there together with this thought that hurts both our hearts deeply. We talked about how we could imagine and almost feel the pain of the Iraqi mamas who were going through this terrible experience with their babies. What could possibly be the reason that we get to live in our privileged environments while they have to live in theirs. Just as they had done nothing to deserve theirs, we had done nothing to deserve ours. Where was the method to this madness? And it seemed ironic that we were talking about these scary experiences almost in tandem with talking about the joys in our lives. It was almost ironic, but then I remembered Brené (Brown, but I like to think we’re on a first name basis because I think of her as one of my chicas) saying,

“If you ask me what’s the most terrifying, difficult emotion we feel as humans, I would say joy.” 

Think about it. Every time we feel joy, we also can’t help but feel the fear of the possibility of losing whatever it is that is bringing us joy. I shared this with my friend and her next logical question was, “Well, what did she say to do about it?” Of course that’s the hard part. There really isn’t anything you can do about it. That’s just a feeling you have to acknowledge as part of your joy. You know yin-yang, dark-light, good-evil. Both are part of a whole. One can’t exist without the other. One, when it reaches its peak, transforms into the other. One actually TRANSFORMS into the other. So the thing to do with that fear that is joy, at its peak, transformed, is to lean into it. To allow yourself to be vulnerable. And when we do this, then we do great things. That’s Brené’s message. That to ‘dare greatly’ we must be vulnerable. And it is in our daring greatly that we do great things. So really, what feels like the weakest, most naked, vulnerable part of ourselves is exactly the point at which that same part can begin to TRANSFORM into the bravest, most beautiful, most daring part of us.

It’s beautiful, really. But then, I am left still feeling a little antsy. Because – what do I DO now? How must I be daring? What’s the dare? It just doesn’t feel like enough to think these thoughts and talk and teach and write about them and sign change.org petitions daily and then carry on with my privileged life. There are mamas (yes, papas too) who are in the center of the most horrific circumstances and it just doesn’t feel right for me to carry on. To shop and take my kids to the park and sleep in and go out for sushi. Just doesn’t feel right. This is a truth for me. I struggle with what to DO in my comfortable little world to make some kind of a difference where it matters. I don’t have a satisfying answer to this struggle. So I suppose I must sit with it and keep leaning into the discomfort until the opportunities  to dare become impossibly visible and I can do nothing but dare greatly because I can no longer sit in my discomfort. I suppose I must learn in until I get to the peak of my discomfort and then am left with no choice but to transform into whatever is on the other side. In the meantime, I have a tightness in my chest and a sense of desperation that does not seem to be serving me or anyone else well. Of this I am sure, those mamas and papas in Iraq are just like me and feel love and sadness and fear and disappointment just like me. Their pain over their children is no different from mine. And this is why it feels so wrong to be here in my life waiting for my fear to transform. And this remains on my mind.

King quote

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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All in The Family

family-quote

I’ve been out of town in the beautiful city of San Francisco for the last four days and away from my kiddies and I can’t express how wonderful and hard it has been. The first two days weren’t so bad because the kids were with their Daddy, but then he left to join me in San Francisco and that’s when it got really hard. I don’t like it when our family is apart. It just doesn’t feel right. We belong with each other. It’s hard to believe that just 8 years ago our family did not even exist and now I can’t even remember what it was like not to be a family. Well let me clarify that with some truth – I do remember free time and NOT knowing what it was like to lack sleep and to have lots of energy and sleep in on weekends, but I don’t remember what it felt like NOT to love Brian and David and Kaya and to NOT love them as a unit. It just doesn’t seem real that there was a time when we were not a family. I think every one of us has felt this un-rightness the last couple of days. Over the last two days together in San Francisco, every time Brian and I passed other parents with young children, my heart ached a little bit and I became even more aware of the emptiness next to me and the yearning for a little hand to hold as we walked.

The separation of our family has had me thinking about families. I believe that families are of the Divine. I believe this to be true regardless of how well or badly the family works. Each member – no matter how she or he arrived – is chosen for a very specific purpose. I believe that our families are formed to help us become more like our Divine selves. More like the image of the Divine Spirit of which we are created. We are chosen to be together. I believe we each come to this planet in little packages prone to quirks and habits and tastes and interests and personalities that are designed to offer lessons to the people around us.

An example of this – my entire childhood right up until college, I believed that I knew a whole lot, dare I say everything. I was very literal and had an answer or comment to just about everything. This side of me showed up the best for my family members because I was shy around most other people. I’m guessing this not-so-endearing personality trait was a repeated test for my family members who often gave up trying to convince me of things or explain another perspective. So I’m not sure what lesson they learned other than patience and the ability to love even the less-than-charming pieces of me.

Fast forward to this new family I’m in now and I hear my dearly beloved son at age two telling his Granddad that he knows everything and what he doesn’t know, he just hasn’t thought of yet. At age seven he is still going strong and has an answer and comment for everything. The first time I became conscious of myself in him was humbling. It went something like this, “David, give it up already!” And then to myself, “Wow! He sounds so familiar.” And then, “Uh oh! He sounds just like ME! And it’s not pleasant at all! Oh no! So THAT’S what it was like for my family!” Very humbling experience. Fortunately, I am offered the opportunity to atone for my lack of consideration by loving my son through this stage and gently trying to teach him how others experience his amazing, unlimited knowledge of answers and comments to everything. If you should be so lucky as to experience this side of him, please be gentle, too.

There’s another kind of family that we are sometimes offered in our lives. This kind of family is like a bonus family (maybe because you need more teachers in your life). I was lucky enough to be reunited with some of these family members during my time in San Francisco. This was a family of loving, kind, gentle people who matched our family perfectly and from the moment we all met each other when my family moved to Zambia in 1979, it was as if we had known each other our entire lives. We barely needed time to ask the getting-to-know questions before we were playing and talking and laughing and singing (really, our families did this without a karaoke machine) together. Our mothers would spend hours talking and giggling and their four kids and our five kids got busy with all kinds of silliness. Our families took our first trip to Harare, Zimbabwe, together and we still reminisce about our ridiculous and dangerous behavior in the hotel room when the parents left us for an evening. Something about locking ourselves in one room and walking along the outside window into the room next door – definitely higher than the 3rd floor of the building. Don’t judge the parents – they were awesome parents in the 1980s. Perfectly reasonable for those days to leave 8 kids ranging from 7-16 in a hotel room, I’m sure. As much time as we spent together, I’d say our families practically grew up together in Zambia. But, as often happens with family, we eventually got separated and spread out as life happened to us. We now occupy a total of seven cities on three continents.

Needless to say, I was looking forward wholeheartedly to spending time with my other-mother and her daughter and family in San Francisco after not seeing them for about 10 years. And I was not disappointed. In fact, my heart exploded a little when I finally arrived at their home at 11:30PM to see a table laid out beautifully for dinner with me. I teared up a little bit then and remained on the verge of joyful tears the whole time I was with them. My heart was that full! So full that I could not contain the tears. Every minute with each family member was precious and I saved the feeling in my little heart for days I know I will need it. I felt so loved and treasured and cared for by each one of them. Being kissed goodnight on my forehead at night by my other-mother was almost more than I could take. And then when Brian arrived and they met him for the first time, they wrapped their arms around him and welcomed him into the family as if he had always been there. As is he’d always had a place there.

That’s what it feels like with family. Like they are and always have been a part of me. That’s why it’s not easy to remember what it was like before my little family was a family. That’s why it matters how we develop as a family. It matters what traditions I pass on or create with this family. It matters that I tell David and Kaya that they have to take care of each other and that we make decisions based on whether or not they are good for the family and the world. It matters that we love each other through the delightful parts of ourselves and also through the not-so-sparkly parts of ourselves. This is a place where we learn how to be in the world. This is the place where we must learn how to take risks and then whether we win or fail, we still love. This is a place where my children will learn how to love and be loved. It is a place where our spirits came together and it is a sacred space.

I am typing this post from over 10 0000 ft off the ground in an airplane, while my family is scattered between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. I cannot wait for the world to be right again when we are reunited. While I am grateful for this opportunity to notice the sacredness and Divine design of families, I am so ready to wrap my arms around my kiddies and smell their hair and feel their little hands in mine. And when the four of us are together again, we will have to celebrate and notice that we are together and the world feels right again.

I often ask myself how I got to be so lucky to have these particular people in my family. And it is a question to which I have no answers nor comments.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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