25 September 2014

Grandpa

I was blessed with 4 grandparents when I was born.  My paternal grandfather died when I was young. I only know him through pictures and tales I heard about him at the time of his death.  Amazing stories, firsts, feats, and greatness.  My paternal grandmother I knew in person.  My first name is hers.  I sometimes feel like I remember her voice, but I definitely remember her smile.  And her hands.  For some reason, I remember her hands.

From a young age, the family began traveling to Nigeria for summers or for the Christmas holiday.  I began to know my maternal grandparents more and more as I grew.  Both of them also visited StL pretty regularly, too.

I will never forget watching episodes of Jerry Springer with Grandma and her turning to me to ask, “What does ‘nahmee’ mean? Took me a while, but, I finally figured out that she was referring to the slang drawls of people saying (never really using it as a question) “You know what I mean?”

I don’t remember how the nickname started, but my grandpa always referred to me as Ada-Potato-Ada-Potata. I loved it.  I loved having a nickname that he anointed me with and that he called me and that some of my aunts and uncles started to call me, too.

My grandfather was really incredible.  I mean that.  It is unbelievable some of the things he has accomplished in his life!  If you don’t believe me, read at the Vanguard, or on this blog.

Even when I was small, I was impressed by how in awe so many people in the village were of him.  It was like he was a celebrity.  I wanted to know why.  I learned that he was a judge – the first judge to come from his village.  He not only became a judge, he became really big and handled some really big cases.  This was impressive even to me - a child of a lawyer.  I mean, how many people have a grandpa who was a classmate of Margaret Thatcher in school?

I cherished hearing him tell tales of his times in England when he visited us in the States and we could take up all of his attention without others around as it tended to be in Ohafia.

At the same time, I loved seeing him in his element at home – more and more often in more casual wrappers and undershirts as he got older.  Not in suits and ties and judges robes any more, but still looking distinguished at all times.

Over the summer, news reached me that he was growing ill.

My first thoughts were about how it had been so long since I’d seen him.  Then I went to thinking about how I needed to immediately buy my tickets to Nigeria for December 2014 so that I could visit him and Granny.

Each new message from my mom about her father was a little more unsettling.  

I barely slept all summer thinking of him.  Hearing his voice.   Hearing him say my nickname.  Seeing him on his balcony entertaining guests.

At the beginning of August I found out that my big brother was going to Naija with his fiancĂ©e and my mom.  I jumped on that trip real quickly.  It would coincide with the end of summer school that I was teaching. 

After tickets were bought, knowing I was going on that trip and would see him again gave me my first decent night’s sleep in a really long time.  I was going to get to see him again.  We had word that he was eating again. My aunts even were sending pictures of him sitting up and looking alert.  Much thinner than Grandpa I had seen 6 years before, but still alert and smiling.

Six years.  How had I let it go that long without getting to Nigeria?

I had a train to DC scheduled for the last day of summer school; I’d meet bro and Slaw (my loving name for my one and only almost-sister-in-law) and Mom and then the next day we would fly to see Grandpa, Granny, and the rest of the family.

During an end of school year staff meeting, I missed a call from my mother.  I called back as I walked out the door on my way to the subway that conveniently was right outside the school. I was on my way to get home, pick up my suitcase, and head to Penn Station for my train.

Very calmly and almost like she was just stating facts like that I am her daughter and my skin is brown, she said, “We were too late.”  She went on to say more, but at that moment, those four words shook me to my core.  My heart literally seemed to skip a beat which caused my lungs to not inhale and for me to stop walking and lean against the side ledge by the school. 

How could we be too late?  How did our quick, perfect plan to see him one last more time before IT happened not work out?

I listened to details about how he had passed on with Granny right by his side.  I think that at first this gave me some relief, but then that relief turned to fear that maybe since he died in his sleep she had not been able to say a proper goodbye to her life partner of 60+ years.

Even though the subway stop was less than 20 meters from where I leaned, I took a walk.  I walked and I walked.  I passed two more subway stations.   I just kept walking.  I cried as I walked – at first I hoped that my large sunglasses and the fact that it is NYC and crazy stuff is seen all the time on the streets would keep me inconspicuous.  Then I stopped carrying and just kept crying on my walk.  I got on a train. I cried on the train.  I had to transfer to another train and cried on the platform while I waited and then cried some more on the next train and on the walk up to my apartment.

Bawled so hard.

I tried to stop so I could give the news to the boif that the suitcase I packed so immaculately sitting in the middle of the living room would not be put to use for that last visit, but I could barely get any words out.  I stuttered through my words as tears choked my voice.

The family cancelled the trip that day. They had already cancelled the flight before I received The Call.

We wanted to transfer the flights to whenever the funeral would take place.  That is something I don’t want to miss.

That suitcase stayed in the middle of the living room floor for almost two weeks.  Taking items out and moving the case would mean that it was really real. Grandpa was really gone. 

As weeks have gone by it has sunk in more and more that it is the end of an era.  Despite that he is gone, I continue to learn more and more about my Grandfather and to become even more and more impressed by his professional accolades and his dedication to his village town.

I also continue to burst into tears at random times and in random places when I think of him, hear his voice, or see him either in my memory or in pictures.

I know he was older and older people – and all people – have to die.

I also know that he has influenced my life in so many ways.

Since I was small, I have wanted to live in a home with a balcony in the front (or at least a front porch area large enough for many chairs) so I can people watch and also so that people can see me as people saw Grandpa and just stop by for a visit.  I have only thrice succeeded in garnering an apartment with a balcony, but they are never substantial and are always in neighborhoods not conducive to walk-bys. 

I have not been able to have an open-door policy with my home, but do so with the same welcoming spirit as my grandfather with my classroom.

Because Grandpa was so educated and spoke with such clarity, I have pushed to learn more and more.  Each day I push to either use my word-of-the-day dictionary app to learn a new word, read various types of articles and books, or watch educational, eclectic, informative shows and movies on tv.

I remember how much pride it gave me when my parents and siblings would say I was teaching someone in the house something new each day; the joy I felt when my father was so impressed that his non-medical school daughter understood and could explain medical terminology and concepts; I loved being there when my mother and her lawyer colleagues were shocked and awed by my legal knowledge at a legal trivia night; I enjoy shocking my students when they ask their social studies teacher if they can go see the math teacher for help and I am able to help them with their problems.
I do it all to honor ALL of my grandparents.

It took me a long time to put pen to paper to write about my grandfather. Each time, I would try to try to even THINK of what I wanted to say, my thoughts would get jumbled.  I would start to cry so hard that it was purposeless to try to create this.  I am glad I have finally done so – this creation was not without tears, just like all of my thoughts of him and of my family that I don’t see enough and don’t talk with enough.

I know that death is an inevitable side effect of making it out of a womb.

I also know that I need to do a better job of living.

I need to stay in contact more with people I care about.
I need to share more of my life and my ideas and my feelings and my talents and more me with people.
I need to laugh more and smile more and make others laugh and smile more.
I need to listen more.
I need to do what I want to do more.
I need to be in the moment more.
I need to live more.


I need to continue hearing Grandpa’s voice in my head telling Ada-Potato to honor him and all my predecessors by being generous and kind and loving – just like him.

07 June 2014

I want to inspire people

Yesterday night, I saw a FB post by a friend about inspiration.


It made me really hope that I can inspire people in my life - students, family, friends, even strangers that I just do random acts of kindness toward.

A few minutes after I saw this and was thinking of how I hope I inspire people, I saw an email notification on my school email.

At first, I was going to ignore it since I don't like to do work emails on the weekend and it was around 11pm on a Friday night.

However, I saw the sender, and it was a student.  I always look at those since there may be something wrong and I want to make sure the students are ok and don't need any help.  It was from a student who has struggled at the school for three years.  Had a child two years ago, didn't do too well last year, and at the start of this year, when she became one of my students, she was skipping school a lot.

The past few months, she has been on top of her game.  She has turned in all of her work, some even early, and is passing the class.  She also took part in the school's first open-mic night that I helped sponsor, and the school's first guitar concert where she played one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs ("Isn't She Lovely").

Yesterday morning, she came by my room before school and I told her how I had really loved her performance and told her the history of that song and why Stevie Wonder wrote it.  I also told her how much I love that she is doing well in school at this point.

I was shocked to get an email from her so late, so immediately went to read it.

It almost made me cry.


I always try to greet the kids into my class with a smile and a warm welcome to Global or welcome to Social Studies or welcome to room 412 or some other happy welcome greeting.  I don't ever really think about it making a difference, but I do love to see the kids smile back and some of them walk over to my door without a smile, but begin to smile or at least snicker at my giddiness when they see me and hear my greeting.

It is always hard as a teacher to realize when you make a difference in a child's life, but it feels great to know that it is so.

I guess I am an inspiration to some, just as I had hoped I was just a few minutes before seeing this email.

Makes me really love my job - especially in these last days as I have been stressed with end of year Regents Exam preparations.

03 June 2014

Copy that?!

Quick rant:

I have to be at school for zero period (before school class) every day but Friday. It kills me.  I love the class, enjoy the students and the coteachers, but getting up that early and then teaching a full day is tough.  I have literally had days when I want to stay on the subway an extra stop just so I miss mine and may "accidentally" miss the class.

I have also had a day when I suddenly started crying during my walk from the subway to the school because I started thinking about how much I dislike getting to school early and having to still teach a full load of classes and than have teacher meetings or an additional (mandatory) student help session at the end of the day.

Today, was a day the students took a Regents exam so there was no zero period day.

So wonderful!!!

Words cannot express my joy knowing that today I did not have to get up early to teach that class!

I got to sleep a little later, eat breakfast, leave for work with my boif, and just be relaxed in the morning.

One benefit of getting to school for zero period is that I am always the first person to get to one of the two copy machines for teacher use.  I can copy to my hearts content until it is time to get to class.

Because I knew that today was a late arrival day for me, I made all my copies yesterday. However, after grading a class's work last night, I decided that I wanted to print their progress reports so they could see their current grades.  (Yes, NYC is still in school and won't be finished until June 26 - that is not a typo.  June 26)

I got to school 20 minutes before school started (instead of an hour and a half early like zero period days) and went to the copy room to print my 26 single-sided copies.

When I got there, both machines were in use and one teacher was almost finished with one of the machines.

Before I could print my items, the teacher that was on the machine what was nowhere near finished said that she was about to start copying a shit-load of stuff on the other machine, too.

I almost screamed at her.  How can you use BOTH machines in the copy room?  I asked her fairly calmly, but in my head I was screaming.  This made absolutely no sense to me.

There are two copiers for 30+ staff.  You can't gank both of them to make your last minute copies to do something you have known about for over a week.  You also shouldn't be making hundreds of copies early in the morning that you need them anyway -- copiers jam and you may not get what you are trying to get copied.

I'm just saying.  That's what preps and lunch and after school are for.

She said that since she got to school earlier, she had the right to take up both machines.

I said that I also had the right to get ready for my first period class and to be able to print 26 pages.

She said something jokingly to me and pushed my head a bit. I'm not sure what she said because I not only was pissed about the copies, but also don't like my head being touched, let alone pushed - and, I'm a strong son-of-a-gun, but this one does not know her strength.  I restrained myself from putting a hand on her - it was still before 8:15am, and I like getting paid for work.

She allowed me to get in on one of the machines after a little while and I finally got to print my reports before the start of the day, but was still kind of pissed about the whole situation.

Not a good start to my Tuesday.

I tried to go back to this motto about good ish and breathe easy.

Getting my replacement ink cartridge in the mail today makes it easier to breathe it all out since I will be able to make more copies at home again.

And it is only Tuesday, despite my thinking it feels as though at least half a week has passed since Sunday and that it could be Thursday...

30 April 2014

Sharing Sharolyn's Joy

I still feel a rush of emotions when I remember my uncle and when I reread my post (here) I wrote after he died.

My birthday is still bittersweet because it was on my birthday that my family buried my uncle.

Now, 6+ years later, a lot of those feelings rushed back to me.

A few days ago I got word that his ex-wife as ill, in the hospital on life support, and had multiple organ failure.

I remember when they were married.  She was the American wife to a kind of old-school Nigerian man, but in front of us at least, she was always so friendly.  Always full of cheer.  I rarely saw her not smiling.

To me, at the time, their divorce seemed sudden and out of nowhere.  Looking back and at my uncle, I'm sure being married to him and dealing with all of his issues could have been draining and straining.

Even after the divorce, she would sometimes be seen at some Nigerian family/friend functions.

At my uncles funeral, she was there with us as my siblings, my father, and my mother went through the emotional service. She was there smiling as I read my blog post for the mass of guests.  She was there with us even through the after events.

Once she found us all on FaceBook, it was on.   She was often one of the first to compliment me or my family on our recent photos and wished us each a happy birthday each year.  Always two days early.

She was so freaking nice that her illnesses and the fact that they made her suffer for longer than I could imagine dealing with illness make me cry just typing this.

It hurts to think that I didn't speak to her since early March, and even that was through email correspondence.

It makes me wish that all people in my life - current, past, close, not-as-close-as-we-once-were could be seen now, given a hug, or at least share a laugh and some messages.  Messages of how they've touched my life, improved my mood, made me think, shared my joy, helped me in times of sorrow, made me stretch beyond my comfort zone, made me question myself, made me improve myself, or even just sat next to me during a boring workshop or meeting.

I always hold myself out to be strong and steadfast in my stoic nature.

I remember when some crazy stuff happened to Kid Sis #2 and my mom was shocked at how hard I took it - shocked at how much it impacted me and that I cried, hard.

I cry over shit.

I've started to cry at little things - including stupid scenes in tv shows.  I cry at joyful things as well as sorrowful things.

I am almost always impacted when events involve people I love, have loved, or care about.

I can't help it.

I don't know that I want to help it anymore.

I'm fine with my emotions coming out at times.

What I want to be better at is contacting people I care about more regularly.  I need to be better about letting them know how much they mean to me before it's too late, or before they forget that I ever cared.

I need to spread the joy that my Aunt Sharolyn spread with her smile and all of her kind words.

Hopefully, she knew how much I loved her and her energy...

29 April 2014

My (no longer) secret love affair

I used to be the person that made fun of this stuff when I saw women modeling them in infomercials.  I used to think that people who wore them must be lazy and insane.

Jeggings.

I never understood the idea.  Why not just wear tights?  Or just wear skinny jeans?

Now, I am (almost no longer ashamed to admit that I am) a convert.

Two weeks ago, I became the owner of multiple pairs of jeggings.

I was walking through Uniqlo one day a few weeks ago and wanted so bad to find something that I could wear, something springy, something to bring me into the warmer weather that we seemed to be moving into, yet was quickly taken away from us here in NYC.

I couldn't see any tops I really liked and pants of the world don't fit my body frame, so I always bypass those.

I got to the back of the store, where it was surprisingly empty.  I saw a wall full of beautiful colors.  I walked closer and touched them and they felt so incredibly soft for pants.  I remembered that Uniqlo alters hems and waists for free, so I decided to try on a few pair.  I was hesitant because, even with the hope of alterations, I can never find a pair that a tailor can alter; usually there is too much fabric to take in at the waist if the thighs actually fit.  Former track sprinter problems, right?

Anyway, something made me grab a few pairs in a few different flavours and a few different sizes and head to the dressing room. 

I fell in love with what may be my most hated item of clothing from an informercial (2nd only to the Snuggie).

Me and my jeggings
The pants fit my whole lower body.  There was no gaping.  They were not too tight on my thighs.  They had really cool colours.  They were reasonably priced.

It was a spring-time miracle.

I admit it - I love jeggings - though I don't fully have to call them that since instead of that bastardized name, Uniqlo calls them "legging pants", not jeggings.

I don't know why I doubted them, and the people who wear them, for so long. 

These pants are the best of two worlds.  I have always loved athletic tights - I would live in those if I didn't think they were inappropriate for anywhere besides a place to workout and the path to get to that place to workout.  And sometimes the grocery store on the way home from working out.  A good pair of athletic tights in the right thickness and a funky pattern are so incredibly amazing!!

Jeans are also my fave.  There had previously been no other pant I could wear to any occasion beside jeans.  These leggings have back pockets like regular jeans which is so awesome.  And belt loops in case they start to gape as I wash them over and over again.  I can dress them up or down - they are my new go to pant.

Now, I have four new loves of my wardrobe life.  Purple, white (which I'm pretty sure I will somehow stain during my first wear), and two pairs of the black. Two black because I know I will wear out, or fade out the first pair through washing.  Two will allow me to save a fresh new black pair for when that happens.

I will no longer dis legging pant wearers, and I hope you all won't dis me.

26 April 2014

Parent of the year?

I really can't understand why this was seen as acceptable by the adults who are involved with this child.