woman horizontal | the sound of him

all that motherhood inspires…

3 Jewels Yoga™

he wakes whistling, thrilled by the zipping wind
he conjures and reshapes into sharps and flats

snaps a crisp unpatterned rhythm
with supple-skinned thumb and middle finger
(wiped dry between refrains)
flickering his wrist for triumphant emphasis

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mutters a play-by-play commentary
to an imagined audience of rapt gamers
punctuated with shrieks, chides, wails and groans

jigs an exuberant popiscle-sugared dance
wagging his pineapple-cherry coated tongue
shuffling feet,
flexing knees,
scuttling erratically to a giggle-inflected beat
oh! mustn’t leave out the slapping bum finale and encore

drills up and down 14 stairs,
thunderous heel-stomping laps
and cushioned drop-and-rolls,
parkouring over and around the furniture
a streak of joy unleashed

bumps and bangs precede whimpers and squealed tears
beckoning empathetic triage,
strokes of comfort and mild caution to remember,
in all this play, that his body is growing and does not yet know
the new dimensions marking where it ends and external…

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how we came to be: the legacy of mary roth + wesley rhodes

 

 All our ancestors are in us.  Who can feel himself alone?
~Richard Beer-Hofmann

Inspiration

In May 2003, my sisters and I returned to Lansing, Michigan to be with our grandmother Gene (Hayes) Merchant during her heart surgery and subsequent recovery. Facing the illness and major surgery of a beloved quickly puts the value of life, family, and knowing one’s roots into new perspective.

Over the next few weeks, Tamara, Atia, and I sifted through several boxes of photographs on a mission to label, organize, and preserve these aging, delicate treasures. We were fascinated by the stories Gramma told us, bringing hundreds of captured memories—smiling faces with familiar features who gathered to share joyous occasions, milestones, or simply everyday wonders—back to life. We had also come across birth certificates and other documents, which provided some vital information and offered us a clearer picture into the past. From that moment, I was inspired to renew the vow I had made when I was 12 years old to research and document our family legacy.

After attending my first Rhodes Family Reunion in Hamilton, Canada the summer of 1989, I was excited to explore our German heritage. But books on German genealogy indicated that most records had been destroyed in World War I. A little discouraged that I could not immediately begin my search, I remained determined to someday have the means to put together the story of how we came to be.

The opportunity finally arrived soon after I had returned to my home in Brooklyn, New York in July 2003. The journey began in the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy at the world-renowned New York Public Library (the one with the lion statues featured in dozens of movies) in Manhattan where I discovered that Wesley Rhodes had served in the Civil War. Along with viewing census records of my great-great parents, Sylvia (Rhodes) Hayes & James Hayes, I obtained a copy of Wesley’s file card from the Civil War Pension Index.

I immediately enlisted the help of Tamara, who lives in Maryland, to visit the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration in Washington, D.C. and copy Wesley’s file. I was amazed when she excitedly called some weeks later that August to tell me that there were actually two huge folders of documents. (It was the best birthday gift I could have asked for!) Neither of us expected there would be so much information! But, as you well know when the government is giving you money, war veteran or not, it doesn’t come easy: they want proof of the proof! As thrilling as it was to hear my sister read the documents to me, I was eager to touch this history myself and visited the N.A.R.A. in October 2003 to collect additional information.

Family, please know how blessed we are to have access to such valuable information. Many people cannot begin to piece together their genealogy, to verify stories that have been passed down orally for generations, or to come upon surprises such as Tamara and I did! Contained within those files are birth, marriage and death certificates, letters written by Mary (or perhaps her daughter Annie on her behalf) to the U.S. Pension Bureau, depositions and affidavits from friends corroborating Mary’s and Wesley’s history, and even a document of Wesley’s health examination, recording his height at 5 feet, 8 ½ inches, weight at 185 pounds and his various ailments.

This booklet is my first endeavor to encapsulate the remarkable legacy of Mary Roth and Wesley.  For me, it is one of love against odds, courage, determination and the quest for freedom.

Continue reading “how we came to be: the legacy of mary roth + wesley rhodes”

breathing beauty into the world: a mindfulness practice for children (who are learning to see with eyes of compassion)

Each day I rise, waking to a world of possibilities.

I breathe and smile, happy and ready to learn, grow and share.

I see the sky, sun, clouds above me.

I see the earth, plants, water below me.

I feel the air around me.

I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

I choose to see beauty in myself, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my teachers, my community, and all living creatures.

I choose to speak words from my heart that are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.

I choose to act from my heart in ways that are helpful, healthy, inspiring, and kind.

Even when I do not feel or act my best (whether I am sad, scared, confused or angry), I remember to place my hands on my heart and breathe.

I smile, knowing I can begin anew.
I can ask for help and comfort from those I trust and love.

Each night, I rest, thankful for all that I learned and shared.

I see the sky, moon, stars above me.

I see the beauty all around me. I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

[originally written Fall 2012]

This writing has multiple sources of inspiration:
  • My experiences as an aunt, mother, and substitute teaching assistant for a preschool program;
  • My experiences as a practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation, which is rooted in my practice of Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh;
  • My dear friend TaNesha Barnes, who asked me some time last year to create an affirmation for Beyond The Surface, the critical thinking and social justice academy she literally built in her own backyard!  A 21st-century embodiment of Wonder Woman, TaNesha is a mother, entrepreneur (t. barnes beauty), educator and social justice advocate with a clear heart-driven mission to empower students to become “global thinkers for equitable living.” When she recently posted the draft version of this piece (typed one late-night and stored as a memo on my BlackBerry) on Facebook, I was not only honored that she announced it would be recited daily in her upcoming program, Breathing Beauty Rites of Passages for Black Girls, but also compelled to add some long-awaited finishing touches! I am so deeply grateful to have lived, learned and grown up with TaNesha over the last 19 years and, on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (#MOW50), am excited to continue collaborating with her on programs that merge spirituality and wellness with social justice.

reflections in the 7th year of #motherhood

i was initiated into “mothering” by practicing (with much fumbling + failing) on the many littles in my family who arrived before i became a parent 7 years ago.

then, on my son’s 1st birthday, it suddenly dawned on me that the celebration was not singularly for him, as culture and industry have dictated. it was a day for us to honor the blessing of our journey as parents, our vision for ourselves and our child(ren), and the circle of loved ones who support us in the process.

the day my son took his first breath holds most meaning for me and is what i officially recognize as mother’s/mothering day. it is when i became the mother that was seeded and nourished in the wombs of countless generations. through teresa, gene, sylvia, mary, dora and all the mothers before them, i bloomed into being. and it is this very specific moment in april 2010, that cord of memory, and those bodies that i wish to connect more deeply to — our collective labouring and birthing day.

and less and less to what feels fabricated and complicated by the realities of internalized grief and trauma, interpersonal strife, unjust institutional policies/practices that create inequities, disparities and barriers for children and caregivers/parents, and distorted gender-biased ideologies about motherhood that upholds a narrow vision of who can lay claim to the experience of mothering.

so i arrived at this day with mixed feelings for many deep-seeded/emerging/evolving reasons.

nonetheless, as always, i continue to celebrate:

mothers + all others who love, advocate for, educate, empower, inspire, nurture, and protect children. 

while also reflecting on the ways that consumer culture + commercial industry dictates who, what, when + how we celebrate. 

especially when, under the influence of profit + politics, these same commercially-driven institutions fail to advocate for (or struggle to protect) the health, education + well-being of children, caregivers, and parents.

this illustration by mari andrew is the most authentic expression of my it’s-complex-and-complicated “reframing” of Mother’s Day/Mothering Day.

spring cleaning fever

​when the kiddo wakes up before us, and we come down to find him tidying up!

unprompted. with no previous convo about chores. just straight-up took the initiative to clean house.

guess somebody got spring cleaning fever, and i’m totally here for it! these are the precious moments that affirm our decision to homeschool — to see the seeds we’ve planted, and water daily, are blooming beautifully. our son is not only demonstrating responsibility and an understanding of the value we place on taking care of our home, but also his own emerging appreciation for cleanliness.

…at least in the common areas of the house ’cause his room is not tidy at all! baby steps though.

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a boy + his dog hat

We cleaned out closets today to donate clothes and shoes that the kiddo has outgrown. But he ain’t lettin’ go of this hat his nana gave him back in 2011!

Even though he hasn’t worn it in years, his dad nearly became his mortal by suggesting it go in the donation pile. He’s totally his mama’s child in this way — some things are too precious to give away! 

See how serious K was: he napped* in it. I took it off so he wouldn’t sweat and, sure enough, when he woke up he came bounding downstairs with it right back in place.

(*this ultra-rare event was a gift of quiet for me.)

family storytime | black history month

After attending the Children’s Social Justice Reading Group at East Lansing Public Library last month, I jumped at the chance to volunteer in any way to help broaden awareness about this much-needed program in the greater-Lansing community (much-needed and instantly popularthey initially anticipated 30 participants, had 150 register, and 209 attend). So I was geeked when the Youth Services Librarian contacted me a few days later to assist with a Black History Month reading for their Family Storytime.

It was such a pleasure to collaborate with Miss Eva on book selection and to share ideas about activities. In fact, I knew we were on the same page the moment she pulled out Be Boy Buzz by bell hooks from a stack of first picks. I was over the moon to get the chance to read it at storytime! It will always be one my favorites not only because it’s a celebration of black boy joy, but also for creating one of my sweetest memories of K when I read it to him years ago — inspiring my then-toddler to recite the words along with me unprompted for the very first time. Sharing this story with her, we both agreed that instead of focusing strictly on historical figures — who were either dead or old and less relatable — it was important to show black characters and real life black kids doing ordinary and extraordinary things. Simply living, enjoying time with family and friends, using their imaginations, building, playing, problem-solving, taking care of pets. Just like them. Just like their friends, classmates, and neighbors. Just like the little girl in another book on our list that I got to read: Lola at the Library! And just like brave and talented kids such as fellow Michigander Amariyanna Copeny, who wrote to President Obama about the Flint water crisis, and Robby Novak, the adorable ambassador of kindness popularly known as Kid President. Both were among the group of smart and creative kidtrepreneurs and big dreamers featured in the Who Is Your Hero? craft, which Miss Eva modeled after the Black Heritage Series stamps with blank frames for the kids to create portraits of people they admired.

Offering lessons specifically tied to Black History Month, we decided to open storytime with We March; let the kids get their wiggles out by playing the Stoplight Game, which was the ideal moment to teach them about its inventor, Garrett Morgan; and created a final interactive activity based on 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World. The latter was too text-heavy for the age group, so I suggested we invite the kids to pick a number and have their parents read about the corresponding day (check the photo gallery to see how Miss Eva set it up). For Day 29, there’s a beautiful poem that I thought tied perfectly to the question Miss Eva would ask the kids and parents to consider — a question that we hope will resound beyond this moment — What Kind of Community Do You Want to Live In?


Today

What will today bring,
what will today be,
will today be the day you make history?

Will your thoughts evolve science,
will you skill earn gold,
will your life story be
one worth being told?

Will your questions change laws,
will your words inspire others,
will your name be passed on 
by fathers and mothers?

Will the fire in your spirit
spark a revolution,
will your actions advance
humanity’s evolution?

Will others follow you into battle
to defend liberty,
will today be the day
you add to history?

Today is the day,
today is to be.


 

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Family Storytime Reading List

See what else we’re reading:
bodhicitta bookshelf | not just black history

 

Other teaching resources:
ABC Me Flashcards
Buzzfeed List of 26 Children’s Books That Celebrate Black Heroes
9 Craft Activities That Teach Preschoolers About Black History + Culture

bodhicitta bookshelf | not just black history

I chose these books well before Black History Month to help answer my observant child’s questions and expand his understanding of social justice after we’d watched and discussed the post-election episode of our favorite show black-ish (“Lemons“). Though K had been plugged into the campaign from catching clips when my husband watched the news (for my sanity I opted to read articles when I was in the headspace to manage small doses of the absurdity), he only learned of the election results when black-ish aired them in mid-January. Even though I’d explained the night before, during our beloved president’s farewell address, that Obama had less than two weeks left in the White House, it didn’t sink in that someone new would be occupying his office. When K asked if we could vote over the next 10 days to keep Obama as president,  I told him about term limits but still didn’t have the heart to announce who would be next.

So my baby, who had rallied hard for Hillary Climpton, was thoroughly shocked when No. 45 was revealed! (He had made HRC and the “other one” into LEGO figures and built a version of the White House with my niece one weekend.) That black-ish episode reflected every emotion and tension-filled conversation that my friends and I had experienced. At 6-and-half years old, K clearly understood and stated in his own words: “[That man] made the brown people and white people turn against each other.”

When the show ended, our bedtime lesson on the mistreatment of people of color began. I touched on the decimation of the Indigenous when this country was colonized by Europeans, slavery, segregation, civil rights and the current fight for justice and equity. I talked about our own family’s history, pointing out that we wouldn’t be who we are if those who came before us had not been able to marry because of their different races. That he wouldn’t be possible if those laws were still in place to prevent his dad and I from being together. I explained that those same harmful attitudes and actions are still present today and that No. 45 spewed dangerous words and ideas that encouraged bigoted people to think they were free to hurt anyone who was different from them. Worse yet, he picked more bigoted people to be on his team and together they can help make decisions that hurt everyone in our country, especially those who are not white, Christian, rich, educated and male.

I shared some hard truths about how scared and angry people are with what has been happening, pointing out that the same disagreements we watched unfold in a scene with Dre and his co-workers on black-ish were occurring in real life between friends and family members. K asked if people had known about all the mean and offensive things that had been said before they cast their vote. I explained that, sadly, those hurtful words had been stated loudly, publicly and repeatedly. Even still, people who would be considered decent, intelligent, and kind endorsed the candidate who incited so much hate.

Wanting to know how he was processing this all, I asked how he would feel if he learned that people he knew had voted for No. 45. Without hesitating, he said, “It’d break my heart.” I admitted that I felt the same way then turned the focus to how we can work to love and protect our community. (I checked in with him the next day, asking if he’d forgive them. To which he shrugged and replied, “Probs.“) As we finally settled down to sleep, I assured him that we’d keep him safe and then sang the metta-prayer I wrote for him when he was an infant with more fervor:

as the day turns into night, it’s time to send our love and light near, far and wide to everyone.
be happy. be safe. be well, have peace. good night, sleep tight, dream sweet until morning light.

I immediately picked out these books to give K a clear picture of the people who took bold and courageous risks to fight for our freedom to be treated as humans. This particularly troubling moment in our country — where the politics of the new administration are steeped in racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, injustice and inequity — demands more than ever that we pour into our babies that which nourishes their spirits, builds their esteem, cultivates their resilience, and strengthens their love for self and heritage as well as their understanding and respect for others. Whether fictive characters or historical figures, I am committed to selecting stories for my son that feature people of various ethnicities and cultures…every single day of the year. Representation matters and the history of North America belongs to all of us and is ours to tell.

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I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer | Carole Boston Weatherford

Rosa | Nikki Giovanni

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X | Ilyasah Shabazz

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage | Selina Alko

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope | Nikki Grimes

love notes

From crafting an all-in-one Valentine/Birthday card for dad in our homeschool co-op class, Project Penmanship, to writing a Love Letter to Lansing at Bloom Coffee Roasters, we found and shined some light on this dreary, rainy day!

My guy wasn’t feeling well enough to write more than his name, but I’m so glad we were able to spread a little love in our hometown!

radical bodhicitta: planting seeds + liberating minds

i love naps but i stay woke” ~ dopest sign worn by a little darling at the #WomensMarch

On the morning of the Women’s March, we had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the launch of the first Children’s Social Justice Reading Group at the East Lansing Public Library, a library in our neighboring community.

Developed for children aged 4 to 11 years old, this program intends to introduce multicultural stories that reflect and honor the diverse experiences of people in our local and global communities; to broaden and deepen our little ones’ understanding of and compassion for the differences they notice and become curious about in others as well as the similarities they share; and to cultivate their listening and critical thinking skills.

With over 200 eager participants signed up (more than 6 times the modest 30 souls they guesstimated might be interested in a 10:30 am event on the same Saturday as the sister march taking place a few miles west at our State Capitol), the program coordinators whittled down the massive crowd by age-clusters and assigned us separate storytelling spaces. After the readings, each group was broken down into smaller discussion circles of five or six to answer questions, share thoughts, and brainstorm actions they might take if they met kids like the characters, Amelia and Hassan. Rounding out this special morning were snacks and crafts!

bodhicitta bookshelf

This month’s books focused on the theme of migrants and immigrants (a printed list with other titles for further reading was also provided):

Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs

The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman


 

Update: #HomeschoolersBeLike

I was so geeked about the possibility of expanding this program into our district’s library and the homeschooling community that when I spotted librarians from my home district and the hosting site, I rounded them up, pleaded with them to stop working in silos, and shamelessly begged-volunteered to help!

So, guess who was invited to help with the storytime for Black History Month and the next SJRG?!

bodhicitta bookshelf | what was your dream dr. king? by mary kay carson

I was pretty surprised when my son and husband returned from a quick trip to the library a couple weeks ago with this book among their new selections. Even more so, when my husband confessed that he had no hand in picking out a single item! Granted, our library does a great job of displaying books connected to a season, holiday, special event, or other poignant theme.  But my action-adventure-and-technology-loving 6 year-old typically gravitates toward superheroes, dragons, dinos and the like. So I was super proud and impressed by his awareness of the kinds of books that I would choose for him!

Now we’ve started this monumental week in our nation’s history by honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and will close out by attending the first ever Children’s Social Justice Reading Group offered at a local library this weekend.

on refuge + resistance | reclaiming king’s dream

3 Jewels Yoga™

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We begin this historic week with the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the National Day of Racial Healing as we trudge toward the final day that our country’s first Black president, Barack Obama, will stand as head of state. Fueled and aflame, with our hearts and minds resting on justice, liberation and healing, we take refuge in the good works, legacy, and words of wisdom from emissaries of light.

In intimate circles, we draw closer, lean into, speak truths and listen deeply to one another — resisting the temptation to be pulled under by despair, fear, hate, and hopeless.  En masse, we gather, convene, rally, and march — using our voices and bodies to resist the normalization of this new swell of injustice and violence that seeks to impoverish, divide, and oppress us. Wherever we are, we reclaim the integrity of King’s vision: to stand firmly…

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touching the earth | a reflection on zenju earthlyn manuel’s “Way Seeking Mind of Martin Luther King Jr.”

reflection

As a Zen practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, my study of his teachings and personal history provided a surprising lesson about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This gleaming insight into their relationship renewed my appreciation and broadened my understanding of King’s legacy as it elucidated the global impact of his compassionate mission.

Several years ago, inspired by the “inter-being” between these two leaders as well as my own dharma as a Black American woman on this path of practice, I led my root sangha in the Touching the Earth prostrations to honor King and Thay as spiritual teachers.

Since then, my Monday evening Yin+Yang Yoga class has fallen on this national holiday. Each asana that brings our hearts closer to the earth (like these two favorites: Child’s Pose + Anahatasana) becomes a prostration, in which we fully embody the mindfulness practice of remembrance and reconciliation. We remember our origins and connections: to ancestors, by blood and spirit; to this Earth that sustains us and upon which our complex and interwoven histories have been built. We may began to penetrate the deep suffering emanating from our painful histories, which continue to manifest in new forms and to impact our experiences and abilities to relate to one another because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability and a whole slew of “differences” that seem to separate us. Breath by compassion-filled breath, we may began to reconcile these histories as we acknowledge, cradle, and heal our own suffering. We give it back to this wondrous Earth to absorb and transform it, as from the mud blooms a lotus.

In every class, I invite the practitioners to cultivate compassionate understanding of their bodies, minds and hearts through the alignment of breath and posture. Generating such mindfulness and loving awareness for ourselves teaches us how to skillfully extend compassion and loving-kindness to others.

When we abide in mindfulness, our senses become clear and fully attuned to the spectrum of beauty and suffering in the world. We acknowledge our own contribution to that stream–how our actions increase beauty or increase suffering. We make amends when we cause suffering and begin anew, watering seeds of compassion. Each heart-driven act–embodied on the mat, the cushion, among our beloveds and within our communities–commemorates the King’s legacy.

On this path, as teacher and practitioner, I know I am a continuation of Dr. King.

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[Originally posted 31 January 2013; Updated 20 January 2014]

Related:

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel |The Way-Seeking Mind of Martin Luther Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. | King’s Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Letter for Thich Nhat Hanh
Rev. Dr. Andrew C. Kennedy | Martin Luther King Jr. + Thich Nhat Hanh

[Broken links updated 16 January 2017]

bodhicitta bookshelf | holy-day lessons

Nixing Xmas

Long before I began studying the dharma, Christmas had lost its tinsely-sparkle. My interest and effort to participate waned as I became increasingly disheartened by the conflation of generosity with consumerism, of Jesus with Santa, of prayers with wish lists. Wedged between this fall’s incendiary election and the new year’s looming inauguration, these typically family-oriented holidays became the fallout zone of politically-endorsed hate and division that seemed only to escalate distortions of faith.  It further illuminated the problematic ideology of Christmas and its pervasive cultural narratives, which whitewash holidays in a Hallmark hue and subsequently generate carols of racist backlash that seeks to stake exclusive, rage-filled claim to the icons of comfort, joy, and holly-jolly cheer.

Letting go of Christmas has not only been a process of minimizing my participation in the “fanfare and frippery” of festivities for which I feel no personal connection. More than that, it has been a proclamation of both my commitment to center and uplift practices that make space for inclusive, inter-cultural understanding and my resistance to engaging in toxic cultural customs. Rather than occupying space as a mere bystander at a holiday gathering, I would prefer to cultivate “the enchantment” of the season through activities that bolster a lasting sense of goodwill, gratitude, and kinship with our community.

Celebrating the Simple + Sweet

We’re a keep-life-simple-and-sweet kind of family in general and are just as vigilant in applying that rule to holidays (and birthdays). Our son has reached the age where he’s aware that our way of doing things doesn’t necessarily look the way that other families do things. When he makes observations to that point, we explain how our values/preferences are reflected in these choices. If met with a request to make adjustments, we often brainstorm fresh ways to expand our perspective and integrate his ideas.

For instance: When K commented that we never put up a tree and lights, I told him that his dad and I weren’t interested in accumulating seasonal knickknacks. Instead, I offered to help him decorate his room. Then…we watched the Just Christmas Baby episode of black-ish, and he adamantly quashed my suggestion! (So glad to have dodged that.) Decorations aside, we may watch a few holiday movies and listen to songs. But we’re far more likely to get enthused about having enough snowfall to go sledding than we do for unwrapping gifts.

Of course, K loves gifts as much as any kid and gleefully receives them from family members under the auspices of Christmas. But we’ve explained to him that we simply don’t make a big deal out of getting gifts that we can otherwise purchase on any given day (though my husband will take advantage of the sales season for things we’ve already had in mind for the household). And, like most parents, we hope our child will have a healthy appreciation for material possessions balanced with a practice of generosity, a commitment to simplicity, and (the struggle of all struggles) a capacity to let go of things that are no longer useful.

The question always is how to embody and integrate those values in our daily experiences; and, during special times of the year, how to creatively channel the energy of the holidays to bolster what’s most important to us.

New Rituals + Renewed Hope

K’s old enough to sincerely comprehend how and why we put these values into action. So we enjoyed a “giving back” family outing — crafting cards, drawing pictures, and donating food for holiday baskets that a local non-profit organization delivered to those in need. While this was not the first service project we’ve participated in, it was the first one connected to the holidays. And, it was truly heart-warming to know that we could add a little more light to someone else’s celebration.

However, on a deeply personal level, the holidays remained lackluster for me. Drawing on my son’s enthusiasm and curiosity, I reflected on my own heritage for a spark of inspiration. My matrilineal family is of Jewish ancestry, but the cultural and religious practices did not survive the three generations of intermarriage and border crossings that would produce such multi-ethnic, multicultural, multinational descendants of a matriarch who left Germany as a teen in 1880. So, unsurprisingly, Hanukkah was not at all a part of my family’s tradition. As for Kwanzaa, I have only vague memories of my mother wanting us to celebrate it when I was in junior high. It’s very likely that my siblings and I groaned and begrudgingly allowed her to drag us to a public event once. But we never adopted it in our home.

To see these traditions with fresh eyes and to show K that there are other ways to honor this season, we read books about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Both uplift principles can be integrated into lessons beyond what are intended to be these holy days of reflection on endings, beginnings, transformation, rebirth, renewal, and spiritual fortitude.

Holy HanuKwanzakah

Hanukkah Moon illuminates the lesser-told Sephardic Jewish traditions as it focuses on a special evening that a young girl spends with her aunt, who has recently moved from Mexico. They sing the Dreidel Song  in English and Spanish, hang a dreidel-shaped pinata, and celebrate the luna nueva (new moon) at Hanukkah in which the faith of women in ancient story is highlighted (Rosh Hodesh). In her “author’s note” and glossary, da Costa provides a brief explanation of the settlement of Jews in Latin America as well as the significance of Hanukkah as the celebration of re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

My First Kwanzaa is a primer on the seven-day celebration of pan-African cultural pride that is now in its 50th year. Though it is not a religious alternative to Christmas, Kwanzaa prayers have been written and incorporated into faith-based services.

Written from the perspective of a little girl who is experiencing the festivities for the first time, Katz illustrates in bright bold splashes the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Each concept is presented as a “special idea” matched with activities to honor each day. For example, on the third day, friends and family plant flowers in their neighborhood to demonstrate “working together,” a kid-friendly interpretation of ujima or collective work. (What didn’t quite translate well for me was the depiction of self-determination, wherein little girl asked her mother to braid her hair in a “fancy African way.” This principle could have been simplified as “making choices for ourselves” and the example strengthened by more clearly illustrating that little girl had been given the chance to choose her own hairstyle.) Like da Costa, Katz also includes a pronuniciation key for the corresponding Swahili word and an author’s note that explains the history and purpose of Kwanzaa.

However we ultimately decide to observe the holidays next December, these two books offered ideas that our family can lift up, reimagine, and put into practice all year round.


Follow your Curiosity:

A Brief History of Jews in Mexico
Kwanzaa 50 Years Later

dream tales

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Overhearing these two adorables wake up and tell each other what they dreamt about was the sweetest way to begin this final day of the year!

Until recently, my son couldn’t recall the details of his dreams beyond knowing if they had evoked scary feelings. So, being the archiving-curating-storyholding mama that I am, I was geeked when he launched into the wild Minecraft-esque adventure he dreamt back in October. He indulged my request to draw a story of it, which he called “The Disappearance of MJ.”

This morning, I could hear the kids rolling awake in their beds — sleepy voices brightening as they recalled dreamscapes filled with flowers big enough to sleep in, LEGO-built dinos and robots, and various characters and people from daylight activities superimposed onto a Jurassic World dimension.

More than being tickled by and capturing a cute moment, I hope to preserve and nurture the connection between these cousins — that they will continue to share their dreams whether seeded in heart, built by hand, or envisioned in slumber.