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Quotes of the Day: “Despise.”

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I used to post quotes from K&O on the blog all the time. I don’t do it often these days because, at age — now 11 — GULP! — their quotes have evolved from “cute” to often-bordering-on-too-embarassing(embarassing-to-them)-to post. I have a rule for myself to not post stuff that might really humiliate them, and I usually check in with them to get permission before posting anything nowadays. They gave me explicit permission to post about this particular thing today.

This afternoon I was helping them study for tomorrow’s spelling test. Last spelling test of the school year! WOO HOO! I was quizzing them on their list of words — they need to know spellings and definitions. One of their words this week is “despise.” They both spelled it correctly. And both defined it correctly.

I then said, “So, Kyle, what do you despise most in this world?” Without any hesitation, literally without missing even 1/8th-of-a-second-of-a-beat, Kyle said, “What humans have done over time.” I was really stunned that this just spilled out of him so quickly. I turned to Owen and said, “Owen what do you despise most in this world?” He immediately said, “Segregation. Racism.” Again, I was really stunned with how quickly and confidently they could answer that question — and with how intense their answers were.

Love them.

Embarking on 7, Seeing the Future

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In just 14 short days, Meera will turn 7. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around that fact, but a fact it is. There’s no stopping time. It is just trucking along like an 18-wheeler on a fast-moving highway.

I try to press pause each day, savor the moments, be fully present. It is hard to do when life is moving at mach speed. When so much is happening, so fast. But I try hard.

Tonight was the “Spring Concert” at the bambinos’ school. Kyle and Owen were performing. Meera’s still too young to be in it, so we get to have her with us instead of watching her on the stage. This is a sweetness I savor — having a little one, still sitting with us in the audience, not yet up there with the big kids. Lucky for Meera, she has a whole gaggle of girlfriends who are little sisters of big kids. Somehow a whole group of them ended up sitting with Meera — and thus, with us — for the concert. Much to my delight. This also is something I savor — the chance to be a participant observer, for a moment, in the social world of my girl.

Before the concert started they were chit-chatting, and girl-bonding, as per usual.  One had a camera with her. And before I knew it, I found them taking photos of themselves. I tried to be fully present, but the moment was surreal — as though I was seeing the future. They are six and seven, but I had a little glimmer — a glimpse — of them at sixteen and seventeen.

The concert started. I had brought some colored pencils for Meera, to help keep her occupied during the concert. But I hadn’t anticipated her friends all sitting with us, so I didn’t have enough paper to go around. I ended up pulling out of my bag the only thing I could find to distribute to them for coloring on — a small stack of my business cards. So for over an hour I watched as they colored together on the backs of my business cards, while sitting in that audience as very well behaved Little Sisters. This was a glimpse of them no older than seven — just the sweetly little, little kids that they are — coloring away, with a concert happening all around them, seemingly without a self-conscious care in the world.

They had a great time. I had a better time, just savoring that time getting to see my girl with her girls. Whether at 7 or at 17, I hope she always has such good friends.unnamed

And, They’re Gone.

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Walking across campus from my home/dorm to my office. GORGEOUS day! Finals ended yesterday. “The Hill” (for non-LU peeps– this is where all the frat/soror houses are) is QUIET. The campus is beautiful, and deserted. It is such a strange time to be living on campus. I can’t help but admit: I savor it.

11! And My Dreams Come True.

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“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.” ~Harriet Tubman

Kyle and Owen turn 11 today. They are taller than me, and they are larger than life. But they are still my babies. I was about their age when I began dreaming about the life I wanted to live. I’m living it. And these boys are a big, huge piece of it. They are my dreams come true. Today we celebrate their birth.

This day is always emotional for me. I have to use my imagination to picture what the scene must have been like, in Cite Soleil, Haiti, on the day they were born. Sometimes I let my mind go there, and I try to imagine it. Hot and sticky and raw, people pushing the confines of everything, and twin baby boys about to begin an epic journey. We have records that say K & O were born at 2pm. Their birthmother would have been in labor right now, eleven years ago. I cannot even fathom it from her perspective. I wish I could have been there.

I never thought I’d be that adoptive mother — all melodramatic about grieving losses and missing pieces. But here I am. I’m her: all weepy and flooded with emotion. Thinking about all we’ve gained and all we’ve lost has become an annual event for me on this day. It is so much more than my sons’ birthday.

My sons, however, are all rich-lightness and dreamy-eyed leading up to May 8th. I check in with them, thoroughly and consistently, year-to-year, as we approach this day. But, at least so far, they aren’t like me with this day. They understand the grief, the loss, and the missing pieces of it. They know the impact. But they save their own churning emotions for their Adoption Day. Birth Day seems reserved for pure celebration.

So, I guess, at least for now, we take turns. They have their annual upheaval in January. Me, in May. This has become our pattern. And while their January is so painful for me to witness, in the past couple of years it’s become clear to me that they enjoy seeing me all choked up and pensive and wrought with my May emotions. They seem to savor observing me go through it– they smile at me, tease me, and hug me or pat me on the back. “Oh Mom!” they say, and they appear filled with what I can only describe as elation, exhilaration, glee. They love it.

When they were little and they’d be struggling or sad, we’d talk about how my hugs and kisses and whispering-of-sweet-nothings were meant to “fill up their love tanks.” I’d see them downtrodden and ask, “Do you need your love tank filled?” And I’d pull them up onto my lap and fill them right up. I see them now, at 11, getting their love tanks filled up on seeing how deeply I ‘get’ the love, loss, and depth of it all in May. I think they like seeing (need to see?) their mama all broken up over the missing pieces, while at the exact same time creating the celebration of all the awesome. While I’m weepy over losses, I’m also the most joyful mama you could ever imagine as I make May 8th their happy birthday. That’s the essence of adoption: all loss and gain, joy and pain, mourning and celebration wound up together.

I won’t always be able to make their dreams come true. But I’m happy that, even now, at age 11, I still can a little bit. They are embarking on their own paths now; beginning to follow their own dreams. They’re at that age — they’ve got their own lives to live, their own dreams to make real. So, this year, to honor their wishes, despite my own selfish missing-of-it, there is no big birthday bash for my boys. No huge party on the lawn. No bounce house or marching band or piñata. Not even a special birthday dinner. It is basketball practice tonight and a big bball tournament tomorrow. Entirely their choice, their love, their spirit, their dreams-come-true — their AAU schedule made anything else impossible — and Kyle and Owen are 100% good with that. With no party in the works, there was a much bigger gift budget. They had big dreams of iPods and Beats headphones (they live on a college campus, after-all, so only the Beats are the ‘real deal’). And this morning their end-of-the-bed presents made their dreams come true.

These pictures capture the morning of their 11th birthday entirely. No big party this year, but the same birthday boys, as happy as can be, just bigger by the year. Only their mama was choked up and teary-eyed behind the lens snapping these.

It is messy and complex. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is the dream I imagined living. 11 years in, I am more and more grateful for them by the year.

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My Heart.

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Obi Terrence“Help these boys build a nation their own. Ransack the histories for clues to their past. Plunder the literatures for words they can speak. And should you encounter an ancient tribe whose customs, however dimly, cast light on their hearts, tell them that tale; and you shall name the unspeakable names of your kind, and in that naming, in each such telling, they will falter a step to the light. For only with pride may a man prosper. With pride, all things follow.” ~Jamie O’Neill, At Swim, Two Boys

I started teaching at Lehigh in 2001. I chose to be at Lehigh — meaning: it was consciously and deliberately my choice. I didn’t end up here by default.

I was always an early bloomer, and I was fortunate enough to recognize in myself, very early on, that I had a rare gift (and burden) for teaching privilege to the privileged. I could pass in their world well enough to not totally alienate them, and I felt compelled — driven, really — to teach to them. I wanted to be in a place where I’d teach the historically privileged, where the legacies of structural privilege would be looming large, where I’d be able to get into the heads of the soon-to-be-plentifully-powerful. I went in with my eyes open; I knew it would be challenging. At Lehigh I found them in droves. It was perfect.

However, upon teaching my first year of classes at Lehigh, a surprise came too: I realized a gift I hadn’t known I’d had. In addition to the students I knew I’d teach — the white and wealthy children of the elite — I also found my classes peppered with a contingent of students who soon came to be my heart of hearts: minority students, from all walks of life, struggling to navigate the rocky, rocky, rocky terrain of upward mobility at an elite university. I discovered something surprising — I could teach to them too. Profoundly. With these students I found a powerful connection rooted in their strong craving for someone like me to speak truth, and in my deep desire to disclose insight for maneuvering within an elite institution while experiencing marginality. Word spreads quickly in these worlds, and in no time my classes were split about 50/50 between white privileged students and non-white structurally-disadvantaged students, all trying to figure out their complex lives in a very complex arena.

This, as it turned out, was beyond perfect: it was engrossing and enthralling and incredibly exhausting and beautifully gratifying. It was draining and invigorating. This is what has kept me at Lehigh.

I’m at the end of my fourteenth year of teaching now. I know I can’t sustain it inevitably, because it takes so much out of me. But, for now, it is still what I’m compelled — no, driven — to do. I am someone who finds myself in the amazing position of knowing, for sure, in my heart, that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, using my gifts just as they are meant to be used, during this particular era of my life. Because this truth is so deeply in the core of my soul, I don’t need confirmation from any external sources to keep me fueled. But, every once in a while, despite not needing it, I receive the most soul-affirming re-fueling to keep on doing what I do. An experience this week was one of those affirmations for me.

Several weeks ago an old student reached out to ask if he could visit and have lunch with me at Lehigh. I was thrilled to plan for his visit. He was coming from California, and despite the fact that I hadn’t seen him in over a decade, I remembered him well and couldn’t wait to see him. On Tuesday, not only did he arrive for our lunch, he surprised me by bringing a classmate of his — another student I hadn’t seen since his graduation, but remembered very well.

Obi and Terrence graduated in 2004, after having taken my Race and Class in America course with me during the spring of 2002. I remember that class so well — it was my first time teaching it. I can still name, from memory, so many of the students in it: Obi, Terrence, Maggie, Erica, Kat, Tres, Teniece, Howard, Ali, Keith, Silk, Tashieka, Justina, Tutu, Valerie, Oscar, Jessica. I’m sure if I looked at my notes from that course I’d remember all the others too. I’m like this with these classes I teach — I remember them. They root into my heart in a deep way.

To be able to sit on Tuesday afternoon, with these 33-year-old-gorgeous-accomplished-brilliant-proud-grown men, ten years after their graduation from Lehigh, and to hear them talk about their lives and their thoughts and their feelings… was a two-hour precious treat for me. Oh, my heart. My heart.

Obi and Terrence. And so many others. These were — and are — my boys, before I had my boys (K & O). These were — and are — my girls before I had Meera. My children are my children, exclusively and uniquely. But these people — my students — these are my people. They are the only ones in this world who truly know what I have done and am doing. Only they know me as the professor that I actually am. Only they know the work I really do. Only they know how deeply my spirit runs through them, and theirs through me. And I know each and every one of them in a very particular, very special, way too.

Once a student of mine, always a student of mine. And there is nothing more awe-inspiring and humbling than to see what they go on to do in their lives, and with their lives.

My boys. My students. My people. My heart.

Obi and Terrence, I am so proud of you, and so proud for you. Thank you for visiting me.

“Teach them the quiet words of kindness, to live beyond themselves. Urge them toward excellence, drive them toward gentleness, pull them deep into yourself, pull them upward toward manhood, but softly like an angel arranging clouds. Let your spirit move through them softly.” ~Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

82 and sunny. Gotta love it.

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Sunday afternoon, classes at Lehigh have ended, studying is well underway, Heather is just about out of the woods for her crazy busy time and Meera had a chance to swing a little.

Kyle went with Heather to an event and Owen is shooting hoops. 

All good. 

Grandparents Day

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Grandparents Day 1It has become a tradition for my parents to come for Grandparents and Special Friends Day at the kids’ school each spring. This was the fifth year that MorMor and MorFar have made the long trek from New Hampshire to attend this annual school event. We really appreciate them making the trip!

This year came at a particularly crazy time of the semester for me (they arrived on my last day of classes). As a result, we ate out the entire time they were here! It made it very easy for me, and a special treat for us all (and it gave my parents some keen insight to my foodie children).

It was a quick visit, but a good one. We treasure these visits.Grandparents Day 2 Grandparents Day 3

A Really Good Papi

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Every week, on Monday nights, Meera has swimming lessons. She always wants Braydon to take her, not me. Her main reason for this? He is “gentler-er” when washing her hair post-swim-lesson. So, every week, he goes with her. And every week, he washes her hair afterward, and gets her into her PJs, and drives her home, and then reads to her, and then hands her over to me to put her to bed.

This past Monday, I went along for the ride, just to see the Meera-Papi Monday Night Routine for myself. I watched as he washed her hair in the communal shower (sure enough! he’s way, way, way “gentler-er” than me!!). There he was — my main man, my husband, the father of my children — after a long day of work, standing in the shower with all the other mothers, washing Meera’s hair with more gentle patience than I’d ever have.

So often, there he is, with all the other mothers. I’m not saying that the fathers are never there– every once in a while there is one or two. But let’s be honest about the situation: it is not common. Let’s call it as it is: there are certain kid-zones (mainly, just about anything kid-centric that does not involve sports) where dads just aren’t too frequent; these places and spaces are overwhelmingly dominated by the moms. Obviously, there are lots of reasons for this, and a whole lotta history that’s shaping this, but let’s not try to deny it: it is what it is. And there is Braydon — chaperoning field trips, escorting on the birthday-party-circuit, sitting in doctors’ offices’ waiting rooms, scouring Barnes and Noble for Junie B Jones books, washing hair in the shower at the swimming center…  him and all the mommies. So often, that’s what it is. He doesn’t ask for credit for this, and he definitely doesn’t want extensive praise for it (thank goodness!), but I feel pretty strongly that he does deserve acknowledgement for it.

Yes, he works a lot. So do I. No, he can’t cook a meal to save his life (that’s embarrassing). I can’t manage our cars’ maintenance or check a tire’s pressure or change the oil either (that’s embarrassing too). Is he always an excellent father? No. And I’m not always an excellent mother either. We fall short, we screw up, we are surely messing up our kids in all sorts of ways. And there are many, many things that drive me crazy about him (and not in a good way). But, man oh man, does he ever rock the Papi gig for swimming lessons on Monday nights. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

I had tears of joy and gratitude in my eyes as I snapped that photo with my iPhone the other night.

Hair Day

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This is how they feel about Hair Days

We — like probably most families who maintain locs (and/or many other styles of natural black hair) — have a love-hate relationship with Hair Days. Every 3-4 months we re-twist Kyle and Owen’s locs. It is a whole day of hair doing. Hair Days are looong and painstaking and painful (literally, physically painful at times for the boys’ scalps and for their mama’s back). And Hair Days are bonding, nurturing, precious and fleeting (I’m always aware that there will come a day when someone else does my boys’ hair). We’ve been doing this for ten years now, including Little Sister’s entire life. Saturday’s Hair Day was the first time that Meera — at age just-about-seven — expressed vehemently that she wanted her hair done too. She told me exactly what she wanted done, the number of braids, and the color beads.

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Lehigh 2015 Hackathon

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Posted by Braydon~

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If you know what this means, you should have been there.

A few weeks ago, Jon came by to see the kids and hang out for a few minutes. While he loves the kids and is just a great all around guy, he also happens to be working toward his masters in computer science and is super smart.

For the last few months I’ve been toying with an idea for a piece of software that I’d like to see turned into a business but wasn’t sure how to move it forward in a reasonable way.

As he was sitting there, it dawned on me – we could run a hackathon here at Lehigh!  I looked at Jon and suggested the idea – he immediately loved it.

Jon mentors some of the students.  Or maybe he's just cheating?

Jon mentors some of the students. Or maybe he’s just cheating?

But wait.  If you don’t know what a hackathon is, this might be a bit weird. Check here for a primer, but in a nutshell it’s one or two day event in which a bunch of software programmers get together and try to develop something cool.

Then there is the "please, please work!" everyone has had before.

Then there is the “oh man, come on and work!” everyone has had before.

There are a lot of reasons to run a hackathon, and in this case, pretty much all the criteria you could want were hit:  student growth and experience opportunity, tie-in to residential fellows program, community building with a local business, opportunity for student internships, and overall innovation programming at the university.  What’s not to love?

There's lots to love about a Lehigh hackathon - maybe mostly hacking with good friends.

There’s lots to love about a Lehigh hackathon – maybe mostly hacking with good friends.

It took us a few weeks, but we pulled it off.  Or more accurately, Jon pulled it off.  This guy has incredible leadership skills. Pulling people together at one of the toughest times in the semester is no mean feat. And bringing in Professor Femister for additional guidance was the icing on the cake. Watch out, Jon is going to go far.

None of this would have happened – ever – if we were not living on campus.  Who knew that magic like this would be possible.

Thus, for about 10 hours this past Saturday we had a dozen or so CS students hacking away at a cool concept for an interesting piece of software.  While there were bumps, a bit of anxiety, a surprising large amount of pizza consumed, and some prizes given out, the big win was seeing these amazing students come up with creative, innovative ideas and work together on teams.

I would be remiss without a shout out to Heather and the kids for hanging in there for the hackathon. Heather managed to do both boy’s hair (OMG how did that happen – that is a TRUE hackathon) and braid about 10 micro braids into Meera’s hair.

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So many times during the day I stood there seeing the future and feeling a wave of excitement for what is to come. Be sure to check out the article by an up and coming journalism major in the Brown and White!

Lehigh Hackathon 2015!

Lehigh Hackathon 2015!

We are already looking forward to the 2nd annual Lehigh Hackathon.  We’re taking what we learned here and making next year even better!

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Live Lehigh Rock the Block!

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IMG_8001Well, the J-Ms might just have found our new favorite Lehigh event of the year! Yesterday was the first (hopefully first annual) Live Lehigh Rock the Block Party!

IMG_7996Live Lehigh programs are focused on living learning communities for students on campus. These types of programs are, I believe, a central component to a successful, thriving residential college. At Lehigh, and schools like it, these programs are especially important as they create an alternative to Greek life. I am, shall we say, a huge advocate. Anyway…  the Live Lehigh programs came together to throw a big end-of-year block party 4-6pm yesterday. We picked up the bambinos from school and headed straight there. Upon arrival we quickly discovered that the event was loaded with so many of our favorite students!

IMG_8018Within no time, the bambinos (the only people under the age of 18 there) were running around like happiest-happiest-happiest bambinos on earth (this is their element!). For two hours straight we barely saw them, as they were fully immersed with the many students there whom they know and love. (I swear: these three kids are the most popular humans on this campus.)

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IMG_8013And Dash quickly discovered that this event was, quite simply, heaven on earth. (If he were human he’d compete with the bambinos for the “most popular” title. As it is, he is, for sure, the most popular dog on this campus.)

IMG_8006The campus is bursting with blooms right now. This time is so fleeting each year — within a few days the daffodils will pass and the blossoming trees will simply be flooded with green leaves. But for these few days, right now, the entire campus is lit up with flowers and color everywhere and it is totally spectacular!

IMG_7989IMG_8027 IMG_7990IMG_7991The Rock the Block Party was an ideal way to spend a couple hours, just soaking up the spring sun and enjoying one of the last few days we have with students before they move out for the summer and/or graduate. Seriously, Braydon and I were talking about it afterward — we love these students. We are so fortunate to get to stand there talking with these interesting, dynamic, amazing, young people. How lucky are we? Oh– and we got to watch the bambinos jump like crazy with the college kids in the bounce-house (that is a wild sight), and listen to student groups perform (holy cow! at one point one of the bands — a heavy metal group — announced, “Is Heather Johnson in the audience? Because this song is about sociology!” and then proceeded to do their thing — given it was heavy metal I couldn’t make out much, but I did hear the verse, “open your eyes!” over and over in there somewhere — now thatthat, seriously, was just about my ‘high’ of the entire semester!).

IMG_8003IMG_8017Yes, our family life is quite unique. Yes, we give up a lot by not having a more typical family home/yard/neighborhood/lifestyle. But truthfully: there is no place we’d rather be than where we are right now.

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