It’s been over a year and some change since I last wrote – since I last “posted”. I’ve done some writing, but not as diligently as when I was abroad. A bit ironic…return to the states and my drive for writing plummets. Maybe the US is not as intriguing? In reality, this country is extremely interesting and there’s almost too much for me to say. So, I’ll just stick with what has been my new driving force: being a mama.
As I type this in my dimly lit room, I look up and see a baobob tree carved out of wood with a white teacher painted on it. I reminisce about my time in both East and West Africa every day. Today’s downpour in Newark reminded me of Kyabirwa and how amazing I slept when the rain pounded on Mama Ali’s tin roof. Or how heavy my shoes got because of the mud caked to them. And how red-stained my feet turned. When it gets so hot and humid, I think of Dakar and teaching 90 students in a hot room or traveling to Guinea and getting used to eating and sweating. Or squeezing into the car-rapide with hopes of catching the breeze as the driver flies down the VDN. All of these magical memories come to me at random times of the day and make me smile to know that I have homes on the big BIG continent of Africa. And of course, I can’t wait to return.
On some occasions, especially given our current political regime (yes, I chose the word regime purposefully), I question my return to the states. I hate to say this, but I definitely do not read as much news as I did while abroad. It’s disheartening. It makes you question the people who are supposed to represent you. It makes you angry and eager for change. That’s why I have the best job in the world. I may not be marching on Washington, but the ability to teach and share knowledge is a powerful thing. As one New Jersian woman I met this past weekend kept preaching: “Knowledge is power, man.” She sure is right.
Tonight, like every night, I have the pleasure of staring at the 15 pound tiny human breathing softly as his belly rises and falls. Maybe he’ll wake up. Maybe I should wake him up. Maybe he’ll sleep 5 hours. Maybe he won’t. Maybe Google knows. Being a mama involves a lot of maybes, since you never really know. It’s the most exciting, thrilling, and beautiful adventure ever. And I’ve experienced a plethora of adventures. From riding my bike 100+ miles in Steamboat Springs, to skiing in Alberta, to packing one bag and heading for Uganda, and then taking a chance on a Fulbright in Senegal, to finding love and my partner for life in Dakar, and then bringing it all home to New York. Without a doubt, I’ve been on a bunch of adventures, but this new adventure is by far my favorite.
It’s fitting that the last time I posted was on mamas as I take on this new identity of Mama Samba. Since my debut into motherhood, I’ve begun to realize something: Mothering is a lot like teaching. As a teacher, you sacrifice so much of you for others. Late nights grading and writing feedback, reaching out to parents, creating individualized plans for the students who struggle most. Tweaking lesson plans. Giving up prep periods to help another teacher. Getting to school before the sun comes up and staying well past sunset. On the same hand, as a mama, so much of me is now devoted to the little me (I should say little Bocar as he took his shape and size). I know I should be sleeping now too as every word of advice was to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I can’t help but look at him and soak up his existence. I’ve got a small window before he wakes up and eats and we play the “let’s try to get 3 more hours” game (which turns into a full on conversation of coo-coos until my little buddy poops himself out again). Every day, he does something that surprises me and constantly brings a smile to my face. Human development is insanely interesting – even more so before your eyes and not just in the documentaries. To his intense eyebrow expressions, his coo-coos, and even his little stutter laugh. Even the waking up to eat and/or play at wee hours of the night. My life has never been so beautiful.
As mothers and teachers, you are constantly exposing humans to something new – to get them to ponder and make meaning. It’s like when I put Samba on his belly to build his neck and back muscles. He’s not the biggest fan after a few minutes as his frustration to move move move takes over. He’s so determined and puts forth all of his energy to just budge an inch. Similarly, learning a new topic or writing an essay is not an easy task – it takes practice and time. And for middle schoolers, it takes a lot of scaffolding (for my non-teacher friends, this means breaking it down into chunks). Both babies and students struggle and they have to learn to struggle in order to succeed. One of the themes I had last year with my 8th graders was that struggling is normal and a necessity in order to grow. As humans, we have to experience some form of struggle in order to develop and learn and just plain exist. Samba has to struggle to get that tiny flip down. My 7th and 8th graders had to struggle through their argumentative paragraphs. I had to struggle learning a new language in order to assimilate into another culture. Life is about struggle – that’s what makes it worth living. And once we can conquer that struggle, we can succeed. As humans, we are hungry to succeed. I see this in Samba – he is so hungry to scoot even though he still needs to build muscles and motor skills. He loves standing on two feet when you hold him. He even tries to lift his tiny feet as if he were to walk. Similarly, my students wrote and wrote to tweak and perfect their paragraphs. Even myself — I spent countless hours (and sleepless) listening to my host family speak in Wolof to finally be able to speak on my own. Indeed, we all have this hunger inside of us and it manifests itself in more than one form.
As a teacher, I want my students to be able to make sense of the world around them. To grapple with the injustices and think of creative solutions. To know their place in the world AND to realize the power they have to change their worlds. As a mother, I want Samba to be able to make sense of the world around him, too. Not just his American world. But his Guinean world as well–beyond the French and bits of Pulaar we speak at home, but the actual place where his dad comes from and where he has a whole other family waiting to meet him (something we hope he can experience next summer). Most importantly, I want my students (and of course Samba) to know that they are loved.
So, here’s to another year of teaching–of sharing, of exposing, of opening, of experiencing. And here’s to every day of being the mama to baby Samba. This is living.