When it All Came Crashing Down

By our thirties I would say most of us have had a crushing moment that at the time we couldn’t imagine we would come back from.  And reminders of this moment might still cause a small panic attack.  My moment is nothing as terrible as a debilitating illness or worst of all losing a loved one, but still hurts all the same.

Five years ago I was finishing up my masters in musicology and about to give birth to my second child.  My masters had been a dream come true as I enjoyed studying music history, discovered there was such a thing as ethnomusicology, and had supportive teachers that were more of my friends than my other classmates.  With the support of this enthusiastic, warm staff, I applied to doctorate school so I could achieve my dream of being a professor of West African music, traditional and pop.  I applied to many schools, but only visited the school in my hometown area, where I would be near family and high school friends and in a large city for Wole to find work.

When I visited, it was obvious this little, elite, private school was vastly different from my accepting, teaching based public university.  The professors were more snooty, but I could deal with that right?  The one ethnomusicologist on staff seemed easygoing and fun to work with and the other professors said they didn’t see why I couldn’t make my West African pursuits happen there and eschew some of the traditional musicology courses that wouldn’t apply to my research.  So when the acceptance letter came I was understandably overjoyed and felt like everything was falling into place.  I was accepted to speak at the Black Studies Conference about my thesis and I was going to the school I’d wanted, so everything for my career was on course, right?

My first red flag appeared shortly after I was accepted.  The amount of my stipend was up in the air and I wanted to start planning for rent and child care, so I contacted the head of the department at my new school.  I was informed that I was not one of their top picks and they were figuring out what would happen with them first.  This was a punch to the ego, but I would prove my worth and the value of ethnomusicology.

The next blow came closer to the start of school.  I had moved, but Wole still had not found a position, so he was gone during the week and coming to us on the weekends.  Child care was a huge concern, so I tried to find out when my classes would be.  I was informed we “chose” classes the Friday before classes started on Monday, meaning I would have to scramble to make sure my children were watched.  Almost all my classes wound up being at night, so I had to hire a sitter.  That wasn’t the worst of it though.  I was going to have to take four classes, when I knew realistically I could only handle three and when I voiced my concerns I was basically told to deal with it.  I had to take an Intro to Research course I had already taken in my masters, because I hadn’t taken it with this institution (slam to my old school).  The course load was ridiculously hard.  I was expected to read a 500 page book of dense academic reading in every class every week (that’s 2000 pages if you’re with me) and write almost 1000 words in each class every week, while still working towards a final 20 page project in each class.  With limited finances, I could only afford to have child care during classes and another two hours most days, so I pretty much gave up sleeping.  Even that didn’t mean uninterrupted time at night, as I was breast feeding and attachment parenting, so I was reading and typing with a baby on my breast most of the time.  Oh and I forgot, I also had to take piano classes in an attempt to pass a proficiency test that piano majors were having trouble passing.  Again practice time usually involved a baby in one arm and a four year old trying to pound away at the same time.  Most nights I wound up breaking down and crying from exhaustion and frustration, only to push through and go on.

In class, I struggled with the teaching style.  Whereas my masters had been concentrated reading excerpts that we discussed in depth and mined for treasure, my doctorate became a roast on each writer.  Everything we read, our professors seemed to hate and we were expected to ridicule the books with them.  Why would we read something that wasn’t any good?  Why would we spend our time tearing down other academics who had strove and struggled to present us with this reading material?  I refused to be so dismissive and hateful, so I was labeled as not discerning.  At the end of the semester, my work was done if not perfect.  I thought this was acceptable and would get better, because Wole found a job in town!

The next semester, I was crushed to learn there were no music courses that pertained to me.  I was forced to do another retake of Advanced Research, an anthropology course, and Medieval Music.  Ugh.  If there was any way I could have not taken Medieval Music, the least useful, the most uninteresting possible way to go, I would have happily gotten out of it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t and I therefore sealed my doom.  It was quickly clear, this one woman professor in the whole department, was dismissive of us student peons, particularly the women.  We quickly learned to send any of our questions to the one male in the class to ask her.  She met with each of us individually, and when she met with me it became clear I was just going to have to survive this class, not excel.  She felt I would need this class for anywhere I wanted to teach (who hires a West African expert to teach about chant?) and that with two kids I couldn’t do this.  I still thought it was just a matter of surviving this semester out, until I came to her for funding, because I had been accepted to speak on a paper in Amsterdam.  I’ll never forget her response, “That’s if your still enrolled with us after this semester, and I don’t think you will be.”  I felt physically punched.  I went to the head of graduate students and then to the dean, only to discover I was part of a war that had been raging with students as the casualties.  The newer professors accepted ethnomusicology students, while the older professors found ways to dismiss us.  I still stupidly thought I had a chance and pushed through to the end, going to the writing center, which found nothing wrong with my writing, and holding study sessions at my house as me and my classmates struggled to find the terms on our Medieval “review” sheet in our notes or book to pass an impossible test.

In the end, none of it mattered.  No one spoke to me, but on the last day when all the students were meeting for dinner, I found a letter in my mailbox.  It only said I would not be continuing on.  I tried to still go to dinner with everybody, but had to leave and get away as they discussed next year, a reality I was no longer a part of.  I went home and as soon as I saw Wole I collapsed on his shoulder and sobbed like I hadn’t since I was small.  He held me and reminded me over and over again that I still had an amazing family who loved me.

I talked to the dean and she assured me no more ethnomusicology students would be accepted and forced the department to write me a detailed letter on all my failings.  But the damage was done.  Even if I could get another program to accept me, I couldn’t move the family again.  We said, maybe someday we would, but I knew deep down it was done.  I’ve returned to teaching, which some days I love and other days I never want to go back.  I’ve gotten used to my house that is more than my younger self every dreamed of, a steady income, and stability for my kids.  Every once in awhile though, I still dream of writing, studying, and teaching about the history and cultures I love and fight an ache in my heart.

.

Religion in Search of Tolerance

Having shared Wole and I’s difficulties heading toward marriage, this post is a tough confession, but I’m being honest with myself, so here it is….

I want to believe I will not be hypocritical when it comes to my daughters’ dating lives.  I want to believe I would be open to any race, nationality, and sure even gender.  My daughters should never have to go through the hell their father and I went through right?  Unfortunately, in soul searching there is something I would judge a future mate by and probably fight a match.  That something is religion.  Now before you shut down and tune me out, let me clarify.  I am not saying anyone who comes along that has any kind of religious leanings is out.  But, if you are fanatic of any religion, it would be hard for me to silence the red flags that would start waving in my face.

I consider myself a Christian.  My face automatically cringes even as I type that.  It is not that I am ashamed of God or the teachings of Christ, but I am ashamed of the acts and horrible words people spout invoking Christ or God’s name as an excuse.   Whenever a reality show personality speaks the words, “I’m a Christian,” usually stupid, bad things are about to happen.  The main teachings of Christ are wonderful words of advice to live by:  love others as yourself, don’t judge others, and don’t be materialistic. (I’m paraphrasing, but I could find the verses if you wanted.)  That message often gets lost, as Christians find small details to judge others by and start a tally of the things that will get you to hell.

Christian fanaticism has been on mind in particular of late, because of my now daily encounter with Nigerian Christianity.  Currently my in-laws are staying with me for a few months, which is wonderful, but does bring some culture shock for both of us.  Mummy and Daddy are both lovely people with sweet dispositions and I adore them, let me make that clear.  However, Mummy in particular, is part of the Nigerian Christian warriors.  (Which has almost wiped out the Yoruba culture, but that’s a story for another time.)  Nigeria’s religious state has no moderate setting, something Wole was keenly aware of growing up.  There is church, various meetings at the church throughout the week, and of course nightly fellowship.  Basically life is church with a few other things sprinkled in on occasion.  This was never more keenly felt than Mummy’s last visit where we were at a friend’s house over New Year’s and we partied instead of spending the night praying.  Mummy was so frustrated at one point, she went to the basement to pray, undoubtedly for our wayward souls.  She also complained to every nearby Nigerian ear she could find that we don’t do nightly devotions.  I have my routine I do with the girls of reading a picture and chapter book and singing lullabies and Wole prays with them about what they are thankful for.  It works for us and I’ve been happy with the kids spirituality.

This visit Mummy has determined to rectify our heathen ways and force fed devotions the week after she arrived.  Daddy was also recruited to chastise us, offending me with the comment, “Is there even a bible in this house?”  I acquiesced, but quickly saw I needed to reclaim and take over the endeavor when Mummy had my oldest reading a passage about a prostitute.  Even scarier, when Wole asked her to keep things more child appropriate and understandable, Mummy started explaining what a harlot was, until we screamed for her to stop.  I found a kid devotional the next day, but even that was a struggle.  Every devotional I found mentioned listening to the voice of God on every page.  Sounds inane enough, but that concept has been troubling me of late.  I have heard many a person excuse bad decisions or even put off obvious, easy decisions, because “God told me to.”  That ends all discussion, because we can’t question what God said to a person.  I also long felt like I wasn’t spiritual enough, because I never heard this mysterious voice.  It’s all in God’s word right, but let’s face it, I can interpret that word to whatever I want it to mean.  So what I really want my kids to learn is to listen to advice, consider if a decision will fit with loving your neighbor, and feels right. The other teaching I was weary of is the “gospel of prosperity.”  Churches and preachers that ask everything of their congregation in promise of blessings here or in heaven make me slightly ill.  When well meaning elderly are giving you all their retirement money that you took in the name of God I have a problem.   I eventually found one devotional I could live with, that’s first lessons were on the value of work and being thankful.  Wole told me later that after we did that first kid friendly devotional and I took the kids to bed, Mummy asked if that was going to be all we did?  I’m proud to say, he told her yes and that was the end of the discussion.

This explain my weariness of fanatic Christianity, but what about other religions?  I believe there is something beyond science and reason and a higher power out there.  Christ’s teachings make the most sense to me and the Methodist tenants, of do no harm, do good, and belief in a loving God make the world seem better to me, but I don’t think that is the only path.  I am mildly aware of the basic tenants of other religions and if you are a moderate in them, tolerant of others, and based in love, I see no issues for us.

At the beginning of this post, I said, I would have to raise concerns with my child if they wanted to date or marry a fanatic of any religion.  What fuels all of this?  Someday I want my children to feel as loved as I feel and as much as I love their father.  I believe and I love, but the God I want in my life has to be okay with my family coming before anything else, church included.  They are my heart and heaven here on earth and I wish the same for my daughters.

TMNT NIGHT

This isn’t my normal type of post, but the kids and I had so much fun, I though I’d share.  Last night we had a great Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle night!  My youngest daughter loves all things ninja turtle, although she’s never seen the cartoon or any other video representation, until last night.  Her birthday was last week and she wanted a ninja turtle theme, but we had the party at a children’s museum, so they did all the decorating and treat bags.  So last night I decided to surprise her with a TMNT night.

For us the most important part of a theme is FOOD!  My oldest even told me once, “Its not fun if there is no food involved.”  Pizza would be the obvious choice, but we had just had pizza two nights ago and my idea was cuter.  I started with hot dog turtles.  Now, when I looked this up on line, all I could find was bacon turtles.  You take a hamburger, place hot dogs in it and then wrap the whole thing in bacon.  Since I got the meat sweats just looking at the picture, I decided to modify this idea a bit.  We kept the hot dog and I cut crescent rolls to a turtle shell shape for above and below the hot dogs. I think they turned out pretty cute!

 We also had toxic waste (lemonade with about 5 drops of food coloring in the whole bottle).

And Mommy had her own toxic sludge (margarita baby)

When we were all done with dinner we watched the 1990s ninja turtles movie.  There’s a 2014 version on HULU right now, but the turtles look like roids were mixed in with the toxic waste, I prefer classics, and I knew the old one was kid appropriate.   We loved it, although I was a little disappointed that I remembered wrong and Vanilla Ice wasn’t in this one.  I love that cheesy rap scene! “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!”

We finished the night off with turtle sundaes!

The Same Thing Happens Every Vacation

Vacations.  The word holds hope, excitement, anxiety….wait why is anxiety there you might ask.  Well, Wole and I have very different ideas of vacation.  I am a self-diagnosed control freak that needs to plan, so to “go with the flow” is not exactly my thing.  At work this is helpful, as I have a lesson road map in my head and check off each item and keep the class moving.  Wole is more of a perfectionist, which means he’s more worried about meticulously checking and rechecking an item, not hurriedly checking it off his list, which is great for his career.  On vacation our great combo takes some compromise and maneuvering.

Wole has joked I should look into being a travel agent, because if I plan for work, I plan twice as much for vacations.  When I vacation I want to see, eat, and do all that I possibly can in the time allotted.  If there is down time I am kicking myself for all that we’re missing!    Wole on the other hand is more relaxed on vacations and in no hurry to get anywhere.  You can see where problems might arise.

For example, the vacation of all vacations:  Disneyworld.   We got up leisurely, had a long breakfast and slowly waited for the bus to meet us at the hotel to take us into the park and didn’t arrive until 11am.  For the three hours it took us to get ready and there, Inside Out’s Anger was running laps in my brain, screaming at anyone and everyone, and stomping up and down for extra measure.  Everyone else was seemingly content and non-pulsed.  Once we were at the Magic Kingdom, Anger took a coffee break, ate his Mickey pretzel, and took a nap.  This same basic scenario plays out every trip, no matter what the destination.

So, how do we not make each other insane on trips?  Well, sometimes we do.  I am aware that I am control and schedule crazy and realization that you have a problem is the first step right?  Seeing that I’m stressing does not always allow me to shut down the crazy and Wole still gets frustrated with the cray cray even though he knows it’s coming.  We are almost always able to push past the frustration and remember:  we love each other deeply and spending time together is a treat not to be taken for granted.  Wole will always be my best friend and favorite travel partner, even if the laid back approach makes me twitch a little.

My Back to the Future

First of all, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything, I know.  Once school starts my life belongs to my family and students and I don’t regret that.  Finally, I’ve found some time for me and something I want to write about.

It’s been over 15 years since I graduated high school, which means time has edged off most pain and heartbreak and heightened the fun and camaraderie I had.   Recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting up with four of my best friends from high school and self-reflection began.

When I started college everyone told me I would make my friends from high school would fade away and college friends would be my friends for life.  I didn’t believe them then and time has proven me correct.  I won’t dwell on the fact that my only lasting close friendship  from college was Wole, but I will delve into why the five of us are still able to get together and feel just as loving and connected as always.

We were originally joined by our shared band dorkdom.  Band was a full time commitment in high school with Friday football games, Saturday competitions, during school practice, before school practice, and after school practice.   Our days were full of each other, but if that had been it the friendships would have died as the band experience went away.  No we also sought each other out during all our free time and that is what still seals us together.  We all were pretty clean cut kids that enjoyed hanging out to see movies, play games (like poker for candy), and talk about what we thought were the all-important subjects that faced us at the time.   More importantly, I think we all taught each other something, whether about the world or ourselves.  I know each of the four influenced me.

Melanie was almost always full of giggles, a little devious, and would dance in the middle of a fast food place with a straight face.   I never could feel too down while she was around and learned to break the rules just a little every now and then.  I also learned much later that she had dealt with parents who had a substance abuse problem bad enough to where she couldn’t come home at times.  She still kept her head up and has been successful in her career and life.  She has definitely taught me not to dwell on the bad in life.

Jenny came to us late in the game, about half-way through freshman year. She was beautiful and quiet and got impeccable grades.  She always had a great love of family, a sweet demeanor, and was easy going. She was the first of us to get married and have a baby and seemed to thrive in all of it.   Jenny taught me that families can be close and to be a more calm person.

Julie and I had a special bond that began in junior high days.  Both of us had high strung, somewhat manipulative mothers that stressed us out and made us mature before our time.  We handled the stress together, sometimes crying it out, but most often making fun of our situations until we were in pain from laughing.  Julie and I were smart enough to treasure our friendship (I still have a box full of notes, mementos, and pictures) and even though we have drifted some and don’t see each other as often as I’d like, when we get together it feels like no time has passed.  Julie’s personality is just as big and wonderful as always and being around her still just makes me feel better.  She taught me that family isn’t always blood and how to be a friend.

I have saved Logan for last, because he has taught me the most.  Logan is the friend that chose us, at first choosing to spend time with us over his girlfriend.  He was aware of our cares and feelings and not afraid to share his with us.  When we started working together my junior year we became closer, as he and his mother became more of my caregivers.  His house was always the place for us to gather, because it was clean and inviting and his mother was warm and caring.  We’d watch movies and sometime Julie and I even narrated player guides while Logan played video games.  He was our designated dancer for all the dances and made us all feel cared about.  Of course we were all in love with him.  There had been talk, but my senior year people started to confirm Logan was gay.  I had been raised very conservative and had been vocal about that not being okay, particularly for our Logan.  When he finally talked to me about it and told me I was the one he was most scared to tell, because he thought I would no longer be his friend, I felt like the worst person on earth.  How could I let my friend who had been so wonderful to me think I would ditch him?  How could I think of him as less than any other human, when he was one of the best people I knew?  From that point forward, judging someone for being gay or in general became a lot harder.  Logan made me a more open person and I am forever grateful for that.

I have no idea what if anything, I taught them, but I am grateful to them.  We are still friends, because we formed each other and even though we’ve changed here and there we are still the people we helped each other become.  I was and am lucky to have them.

Top 10 Stereotypes About My Marriage I’m Tired of Hearing!

A while back Ashlyn Sullivan published an article in Cosmo about 11 things not to say to an inter-racial couple (http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/news/a39301/things-not-to-say-to-someone-in-an-interracial-relationship/) and I couldn’t identify with 90% of it and have wanted to give my reaction.  So here are my “Top 10 Stereotypes About My Marriage I’m Tired of Hearing!”

  1. “Your parents must have been cool with it, since you’re married now.”  Actually no they weren’t.  They tried to find a reason to deport Wole when our engagement proved the relationship wasn’t going anywhere.  I fought hard for Wole and would have cut off my family if I’d had to.   Eventually we got to a somewhat okay place, but I can’t say I’ve ever completely forgiven them for their bigotry.
  2. “Is your ‘you know what’ why he liked you?” Alright, yes I have a big booty.  However, I would like to believe my husband chose me for my winning personality.  And really everyone should like decent sized booties, or as I prefer it be called, the “healthy” look.
  3. “Oh, guys from over there are real domineering right?” I’m not going to lie and say Nigeria is not a male dominated society, but Wole has and always will treat me as his equal in this partnership.  Plus, those that live in glass houses… just saying.
  4. Telling me how my kids are more beautiful than non-mixed kids, comparing them to coffee flavors, etc. I wrote a whole post on this, so I won’t go there again.  You get it.
  5. Anything about chocolate preferences (This is where I agree with Ashlyn). I do prefer dark chocolate, but that is beside the point.
  6. “White women: black men’s kryptonite” I do not have some crazy powers over my husband, including some crazy bed stuff. Wole and I once found an article by a Nigerian man about the foreign white she-devil and her mind altering bedroom prowess.  Again, this is a partnership and I in no way control my husband.
  7. “What kind of food does he cook?” (usually with a look of fear or disdain)  Wole makes amazing dishes, such as fried rice and chicken.  Sure Wole also enjoys snails, ox tail, and goat, but I read recently foreigners find our root beer floats and processed cheese weird.
  8. “How did you meet him?” (also usually with a look of disdain) Believe it or not we have a lot in common and he was interesting to talk to.  I didn’t see him as an oddity, but somebody that I liked talking to and that was fun to be around.
  9. “Is his English good?” or “Was it hard to communicate at first?”  Nigeria is an English speaking country.  Need I say more?
  10. Anything about Ebola. No, just no.

10 Year Speech

In the arrogance of youth, I was sure I knew all about marriage vows.  After all, I’d heard the vows on tv and in movies for as long as I could remember.   Ten years wiser, I realize how much the meaning of these vows has changed for me.

First and foremost in our vows, we promised to love each other for better or for worse.   When we married we had already had a lot of worse for 23 and 24 year olds.  Our relationship had been condemned by a large portion of my family and lost me my first job, but still we knew that we made each other’s lives better.  Our day was immediately better when we saw each other and thankfully that has never changed.  But better and worse isn’t just what happens to us, but also means seeing each other at our best and worst.  Neither of us is perfect and you have had to see me angry, selfish, mean, and looking a mess.  Somehow you have fulfilled your vow and loved me anyway.

Then there is the better.  The expression “my better half” is such an understatement when it comes to you.  Your caring personality, kindness, and can-do attitude inspires me on a daily basis and unequivocally makes me a better person.  My favorite example of you making me stronger was such a small, but intense moment.  The night we brought Omolara home from the hospital I had had about four hours of sleep in three days and Omolara had decided this new world was not acceptable and wouldn’t stop crying.  As exhaustion hit, sobs started to escape me, but you held my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.  “We are responsible for this little one now and we have to be strong enough to care for her.”  I stopped crying and found a new reserve of strength I didn’t know I had.  I thank you for always pushing me to be better and for your caring and detailed personality.   I like to think I help you relax with my laidback ways and silliness and together we make a great team that knows how to weather the worst and fully enjoy the better.

Second we promised to love each other for richer or poorer.  I realize finances are important, but this vow always mattered the least to me.  I realize this might have something to do with the fact that I married a mathematician and have my own personal financial advisor.  I know you figure out how to pay the bills and even when there is not much money to go around you know how to budget the family to make it work.  We’ve come a long way from our college days living on Ramen and recipes from a Man, a Can, a Plan, but you and I have remained constant.  We often joke about living on love, but with you baby, I really could.

Next we promised to love each other in sickness and in health.  My 23 year old self envisioned caring for each other through a debilitating illness or handicap.  Now my reality is caring for each other when we’re sick and there are two lovely children who still need us to care for them.  I am blessed with a teammate, who sick or healthy helps me keep the household going strong.  Then there is our mental health.  I had a year or longer break down when I had my career goals crushed and had to redefine my professional life and image of myself.  You cared for me the entire way through my minor depression.  You held me when I needed to cry it out, always reminded me of the awesome family that loved me no matter what job I had, and supported me as I made tough decisions.

The last part of the ceremony has become the most profound to me.  The couple is described as “becoming one.”  At the time I saw that as something physical, moving in to the same place, sharing a banking account, and a general combination of assets.  Now “becoming one” means something much more abstract.  So much of who I am is intertwined with who you are and vice versa.  We met at the very start of our adult lives and have been shaping each other ever since.  I do not know who I would be without you in my life, nor do I want to, and I know I have had just as vast an impact on your life.  We both have one person whose history, now, and plans for the future are all known and intertwined.

In closing I want to add my own new vow that isn’t in the Methodist tradition but I think it applies here.  In the Notebook Noah ends his last letter with a quote that always reminded me of us.  “The best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants the fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. That’s what I hope to give you forever.”