Snow On The Ground

“Mom, it’s snowing outside!”, my last man child exclaimed. “Yeah right, what snow, in San Antonio?”. “Dude, I shall believe that when I see it”, were the only words I could come up with in response. You see, even though I couldn’t imagine that my youngest son was lying about the snow, I still couldn’t believe it. Not in Texas…

But it was snowing…a lot.

In fact, it snowed for hours that night, and I LOVED every moment of it!

“I hope we don’t have school tomorrow”, I heard his 16-year-old voice add with a note of finality. “Me three”, I agreed. Glad to hear the happiness in his voice. Ever since the online schooling thing began, he has been outwardly so brave and so agreeable and gone with the flow, even as I know deep inside that he hates it!

My heart went out to him. He is such a brave boy. His parents got divorced when he was only 3. Even though his father is showing a semblance of presence in his life these days, I know it must be tough. Dealing with not having his older brothers in the house anymore, and his mom and stepmom going through a separation.

Being only 16, missing his friends, having to endure high school on a computer, with his mother around the corner, in the same house day-in, day-out, must be hard. But he has been nothing but gracious about it. He is a cool kid. Even if I have to say so myself. The strongest of the three, emotionally, I think. But what do I know? I am only their mom, LOL.

Morning After
Night Of

Back to the snow.

That night I took some pictures and even went live on Facebook to share. I love the sound of snow falling. The softness of it. I love the color of snow. The whiteness of it. I love the peace and calm that often comes in the morning. Everything is white, the sky is bright, the air crisp, the snow cold, clean and inviting.

I ran outside at the crack of dawn the next morning with Lulu, my pet rat terrier-mix who appeared to be enjoying herself as well. She was prancing around in the snow and seemed more comfortable in it than I thought she would be, knowing this was her very first-time seeing this much snow. She is 8 in human years. Wait, did I just spy her lick some of it? Lulu! 😊

I remember the day the boys and I picked her up at the pound. Her sister had just been adopted. Her original name was Honey. She had actually picked us. She was the only Black dog there, and she was beautiful. She kept jumping up and barking at us, like she was saying “Pick me, pick me”. And pick her, we did. Her full name is Lucretia, so we call her Lulu for short.

My street was quiet. Everything around me was covered in snow. Roof tops, branches, cars, the street, shrubs, sidewalks, everything. Que buena! Not a soul was outdoors. No cars, no kids, no parents, no school buses, no pets, not even the birds were out yet. None of the usual suspects of neighbors who walk in the morning. Noone. Just me, my dog, my phone, and my thoughts…

For a few moments my mind went to her. I wonder what she is doing right now. Would she be awake? Would she be outdoors? Would she be by her window watching, thinking, wondering? Is she lonely? Does she miss me? Does she even think about me? She did not come to walk Lulu this past weekend because of “Inclement weather”, her text had read.

I miss her.

I miss calling out her name, “Elle!” when I walk in the house. I know I would have been all over her this morning, if she still lived here. I would have been in her room first thing, waking her up with my usual Tigger-like excitement, wanting to share it all with her, asking her to come out and join me for a walk, to which she would nearly always respond with a cold “No”. 

“Why do people do that?” I asked myself for the 46th time. “Why did I do that?” Stay in a loveless relationship. Was it desperation? Was it love? Was it to fill a void? Both my beloved youngest sister, and my relationship coach, Dr. Sonia Wright, had asked me the same thing. “How long were you going to stay?” and more importantly, “Why?”

I knew both of them meant well.

“I don’t know”, was the best I could come up with each time. “I don’t know”. As a coach myself, I know that-that is not true. Everybody knows. We all know why we do what we do. We all know why we make decisions that may or may not serve us. We do know, but we mostly choose not to accept it, or more commonly, choose to deny it.

We generally choose to say those three words first, “I don’t know.” It is easier. It is safe. It absolves us of responsibility. It prolongs the time of indifference. It allows us to remain in the victim mentality. But it also keeps us stuck. Shackles us to indecision. Prolongs our pain, and might I add, prevents our progress. Because if we can’t figure out what it is, or call it out by name, we can’t truly fix it.  

So, that morning, standing there in the middle of my street, alone by myself, enjoying the scenery, while taking pictures of the snow, of my house, of Lulu striking a pose on the lawn, I asked myself the same question for the 47th time, “Why did you stay?” Reluctantly, I finally responded in a series of whispers…

Because I love her.

Because I wanted her to love me back.

Because I needed her.

Because she saved my life.

Because I loved being married to her.

Because I kept thinking and wishing that we would somehow magically work through all the mess.

Because I wanted us to make it.

Because, even though we were both suffering in the relationship, I still wished we would get through it.

Because I was still rooting for us.

Because I was in denial.

I love the feel of the snow under my rain boots. The soft crunching sound it makes as I walk down the street with Lulu coming along for her morning walk. The air was cool as I inhaled huge chunks of it into my lungs. I am cold, but I am so loving this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It snowed, in San Antonio!

Except, I am here by myself. Not able to share the moment with anyone, but me.

Then I recalled Dr. Wright telling me that I had to learn to embrace solitude. “Look at it as a welcome experience,” her soft voice came through the phone. “When we call it loneliness it has a negative connotation to it.” “This could literally be the beginning of the best time of your life, but you have to let it in,” she added. “You have to first go through all the emotions that come with a split from an 8 year-long relationship…”

“What if it’s OK to feel the way you feel right now?” I ran through my list of feelings; Unsure, angry, sad, devastated, disappointed, betrayed, afraid, shocked…” The list went on. Wait! Was that also relief?? Somewhere in the back there, was relief. I briefly looked at it and skipped it. Anguish, panic, despair, melancholy, heaviness in my chest… I continued.

At one point during the call, Dr. Wright instructed me to embrace “I am enough” in every sense of the word. While still crying my heart out to her, I realized that I have struggled with self-acceptance in that sense. I crave companionship, as a result, I have settled for relationships that amongst other things, have been unfulfilling and to some extent, toxic.

I have entered them from a place of scarcity. From a place of lack. No wonder I remained needy even as I constantly told myself I had a mate. I remained lonely in most of my relationships, even if they all started the same way, with excitement and the idea of commitment.

Apparently, I have always felt like I needed someone in my life in order to feel whole. It became clear as we talked in hushed tones around 11:30pm that night, with snort and tears running down my nose and my eyes, that I have struggled with a fear of abandonment…for years.

My earliest memories of being abandoned came up during the conversation. My mother had been unable to nurse me during infancy, I was told. When I was 6, my father forgot to pick me up one day from school and I had to walk all the way home. I had been the only child from my neck of the woods on the elementary school bus and was consequently bullied like crazy by the other kids.

My parents never came to visit me during my 5 years in a boarding high school in Nigeria, I got into high school at 11. Neither did they come to visit me during my entire time in medical school, another 5 years. I went to med school at 16. Looking back now, I grew up forcing myself to believe that they loved me, but this was their weird way of showing it.  

I remember vowing when I was a young adult, that I would never miss a visiting day in my kids’ lives. That I would be the mother I had yearned for, all those days, the father I had needed those early formative years if given a chance to have children of my own. Today, I can only hope that I am.

Before the call ended, we discussed the possibility that I had-had an emotional affair. What? Yes, she kindly explained. I had immersed my heart and soul into my work on trauma and suicide prevention in youth these past few years, because, in her words, I wasn’t “getting the nurturing and attention I needed from my marriage“. So, I guess, I cheated with my work. Is that even a thing?

Wow!

Night Of
Morning After

As Lulu and I turn the corner at the end of the street, I spy one of my White neighbors who never speaks to me, walking slowly in our direction with their own dog in tow. I immediately made a U-turn, I really couldn’t care much about messing up my beautiful and serene revelry with a snooty neighbor this morning…

We walk on, slowly, quietly, in the opposite direction. Lulu appears to step on something, and momentarily begins to limp. But she regains her gait, and we continue. She stops from time to time to do her business. I register the deep yellow color of her urine against the white snow, and make a mental note to check on her water supply when I get home.

I can barely hold on to my phone by the time we get back to the house. My fingers are so cold that they hurt, but my body is warm, my heart is happy, there is snow on the ground even if I have no one to share it with. I walk inside the house and call my name, “Dr. Lulu!” It’s weird, but I am doing what my coach has told me to do. I am trying to get used to being with me. It might work, only time will tell.

In the distance, the world is beginning to wake up.

It will be a good day.

“In life, you must know when to make a you-turn if possible” ~ Dr. Lulu

BB

The Making of My MD/MBA

Dear Blog,

 “Adult Ed is a Mother, but it’s also a Keeper!”… Dr. Lulu

Last Friday as I found myself finishing up the last day of the last week of my 27-month journey into the land of a Masters in Business Administration at UTSA, my heart was a mixture of all sorts of emotions, the strongest of which was joy! Since I couldn’t keep it to myself, I did an impromptu FB Live and literarily broke into song and dance on screen! I no longer have to stay up late studying and doing homework EVERY NIGHT. I can now stop using “school” as my excuse for everything (I really don’t want to do). I get to add those coveted three letters to the other two after my name. I can now get much-needed rest (umm, say what?) Let me rephrase that, I shall try going to bed at 11pm every night (yeah right!) I finally, realize my dream of walking on an American stage wearing the black gown and black “crown”, and as an added treat, I get to wear VA cords!

In September of 2016, my 4yr term as a Lt Col. in the United States AirForce came to an end. In deciding what to do next, I realized I had multiple options to pick from; join the Air Force Reserves, go back to school and get a Masters Degree, or get a regular job as a pediatrician. I decided to go for the last two options. And no, I had no specific “why”, I simply wanted to use the VA educational funds I was entitled to, it was more like a “why not?”. The decision was met with a combination of gasps, shock, surprise and some reluctant encouragement from friends and family. Never one to waste too much time chewing on a thought, I jumped in with two feet (before I lost my nerve) Coincidentally, my first son was about to go into college at the same time and my spouse had also decided to get her Masters degree as well…so, I was in good, no, great company! (That sh** just about cost us our union, but that’s another day’s blog, LOL)

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Later that month, as I was walking out of my job interview at Communicare Health Centers, I remember wondering to myself how I would manage a full-time work schedule and a full-time school schedule. I had initially wanted to do the combined MPH/MBA program, but FEAR and its close friend DOUBT, proceeded to discourage me and talk me out of it, so I settled for just the MBA. I was as excited as I was anxious! My colleagues, (after getting over the initial disbelief) quickly got on board and started cheering me on. I still had no idea how I was going to “manage” it, but I put my best Naija Igbo Woman foot forward (as per we no de eva carray last) and started the regular MBA at UTSA. Not online, in person, albeit, nearly 30 years post graduation from medical school, owning my own private practice for nearly 15 of those years and doing a brief 4yr stint as a Lt. Col in the US Air Force! I was going about mine backwards.

The first semester went like a breeze (or did it?) I now only remember that I had a hard time getting used to not only going back to school but also going back to school in the tech age! Just like my initial shock when I first came to the USA which I shared here in this earlier blog, going back to school, in America, was FULL of new experiences…!

Crocs store-1.jpgFirst off, I was one of, if not the oldest student in that regular MBA class! I was not happy about that at all. I hated the fact that I was in class with late teens and early twenty-something-year-olds. Their mannerisms were a total lack, they were disrespectful, noisy, lackadaisical, and sometimes rude to the professors(s). What struck me the most was their tendency to not do the work! They were very content with not showing up for class, joining in class discussions or even doing their portion of the school work at all… (I guess I am seriously old school) This bothered me so much that after that first semester, I went back to my student adviser and requested to disenroll. Luckily, she was kind enough to understand my position and suggested I sign up for the Executive MBA program instead. I was really lucky because I literally made the interview on the last day! Reminds me of a similar incident with Howard University Hospital Residency interview, I also talked about here. Thankfully, I got in! Since my paperwork was already in the school of business, all I needed was an intradepartmental transfer. She hit the jackpot with that suggestion because once I understood what an Executive MBA was, I TOTALLY LOVED the idea! However, a couple of my “friends” queried the “executiveness” of it all…”make sure it is not a watered down version of an MBA”, is it an E-MBA as in online/electronic? “are you going to have a real MBA degree when you get done?” and, “why de heck are you even going back to school, aren’t you tired?” Hmmm…how does one respond to all that love?IMG_0818

At the Executive MBA program, my cohort comprised of people closer to my age, adults. managers, business owners, entrepreneurs, vice presidents, CEOs, executives, parents, grandparents, wives, and husbands. A fair number of them were still younger than me, but the age gap was not nearly as much. The youngest in my class was 31 yrs old. They had all seen life and lived it a little. A lot of them were well-traveled. They were much more experienced and for the most part, wanted to do their school work. My kind of people. We were different, yet the same. A few were veterans like me, a few were foreigners like me, a few were mothers of kids in college like me, a few were divorced like me, and one was not only the other one Black person, he is also Nigerian like me! Awon Naija sha! I believe I lucked out!

In spite of all that, the school work was still a huge challenge for me. I had to get used to school the American way. Folks actually call their professors by their first names around here, huh? Not in Nigeria, tufiakwa! I went to medical school in the 80s, graduated in the very early 90s. We had real chalkboards, not smartboards. Our blackboards were not virtual, they were really black and physically present in the classroom. I had no concept of the word office-hours, luckily, my son who was then a freshman at Stanford University explained what that meant to me. I had no idea what it meant to access library books online, and be able to “check them out” virtually? What de? As shocking as these findings were to me, there was more to come.

IMG_0841As the only physician and one of 2 Blacks of the lot, 33 of us to be exact, I had no one else wearing my exact shoes, hmmmm. I had no one to hold on to when Statistics got tough (yea, I know, I did biostatistics in med school, so I recalled sensitivity and specificity, but certainly not Anova or Covariance Analysis) I had no one to hold on to when Accounting reared its ugly head, or when Finance got crazy (my poor mom, a retired accountant, who was visiting at that time, got a daily dose of complaints from me). As a self-proclaimed hater of numbers (except those on my paycheck and bank account) I loathe Excel…still do! First of all, I had never really heard about it, furthermore, I not only had to learn its basics, but I also had to learn to apply it to Accounting, and Finance, WHY!? All of which made for many a tear-filled day at the professors’ office. Every now and again, I did feel lonely and left out in my cohort, but my resilience and adaptability would kick in and I would win the little battles.

IMG_0800Economics was good as long as it was Macro Economics and the professor who worked for the FED was a kindly older gentleman with a thick Texan accent and a friendly smile. Still, I spent too many afternoons in his office at the high-security Federal Building downtown San Antonio. Corporate Restructuring was okay at the start until we got deeper into the mathematical aspects and calculations, then it ceased to be fun. Since I love words, Organizational Behavior was great, Ethics was a bit confusing. Marketing, Negotiations, Business Strategy, and International Business Studies were easy for me because I had no numbers to worry about, furthermore, I LOVE reading and discussions. Looking back now, one of my favorite subjects was Leadership. Not only was our professor really cool and soft-spoken, but the cases were also interesting, intriguing and thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning about exemplary leaders. I learned about myself and my own flavor of leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed the final TEDx talk we each had to give at the end of the class. Oh, my talk was on the power of the word, NO.

One of my favorite experiences during my business school was Executive Coaching. As a matter of fact, I owe my executive coach, my entire career journey today.  She is one cool Chica. She used to work for NASA, so she is equal part brains, beauty, class, and control. I absolutely admire her poise and her presence. She exuded knowledge and she helped me figure out who I am/was, and what I wanted to do with my life after school. Truth be told, I only signed up for the MBA partially because the VA was footing the bill, and partially because I used to counsel my subordinates in the Air Force to take advantage of the GI Bill and Post 911 educational grants and go back to school and further their education. I never even thought I could do it, but I had to heed my own advice.

Singapore 4.jpgI must say the highlight of our entire MBA experience was the 12day international trip to South East Asia! A trip that cost me the attendance of my youngest brother’s wedding in Nigeria, which just happened to have been scheduled for the exact same day. We left San Antonio bright and early that January morning and went through LAX. The 17hour flight both ways was no match for the excitement I felt in finally seeing the world famous Singapore and Vietnam! I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember listening to the song “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, so, this was a sort of homecoming for me. Singapore, a country born with a golden spoon, is eating its cake and having it too. It is an example of how hard work pays off no matter what. Vietnam, a country that is well on its way back from the ashes of multiple wars, betrayals and “destruction of men in their prime, whose average age was 19” a la Paul Hardcastle in his Jazz Masters hit (one of my faves).  After everything she has been through, her people still wake up every morning, practice Tai Chi, get on their motorcycles and ride!

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I cannot put in words the excitement of Singapore! Its clean streets, ultramodern Singapore 2.jpgarchitecture, eclectic suburbs, fine dining, high-end shopping, educated minds, and multiracial indigenes all living harmoniously in spite of differences in religion, language, customs, cultures, etc. A hard lesson for all African countries to learn (sadly). Singapore welcomed me with open arms. I even got a chance to sing old Karaoke tunes with a local band at a local pub! Vietnam was different. More real, dirtier, noisier, almost “happier” than Singapore. Our class got to visit the Crocs factory, eat with the locals in a traditional Vietnamese home, and take a canoe ride on the river to the coconut village, where my sense of smell was completely mesmerized by the indescribable smells of coconut. Since my wife is part Island girl, and I am the quintessential Tropical Chic, this, was HOME! I was immediately taken back to my childhood, my grandmother’s hut…her smell, her heart, the essence of her being my Nne Akuobu.  As unbelievable as the trip was, I topped it up, by finishing the final edits of my first of many Amazon bestsellers on the plane ride home! BTW, get your copy on Amazon or on my website, it is the best parenting book ever! 😉Singapore 3.jpg

I shall miss school. I have always been studious. I have always had a quest for knowledge. Though old age is setting in and my memory is not quite as good as it used to be. I am proud to say that I completed the MBA and can now print out my new business card with all five letters in their proper order MD/MBA 🙂 I earned it. Considering I got the degree after I have already been in private practice for nearly 30yrs, and considering I have no idea what I am going to do with it…yet, I am still thankful for all the potential doors it will open for me. I admit I had NO WHY, I simply did it because I could, because the funds were available through the VA, and because I might have needed to prove to myself that I still gat it after all these years, or simply because…

In ending, I would like to say; just like that, my 27month program is done. Was it hard? Yeah! Is it doable? Hell yeah! Can you do it? All day! So follow your heart, try something new, push yourself. No one ever died wishing they spent one more day playing a round of golf. This is my legacy, what is yours? What is holding you back from following and fulfilling your dreams? Work? Kids? Family? What are your priorities? Are they in proper order? Remember, life is what happens while you are busy planning…so get off your phone, get off your couch and just do it! If I could do it, with my schedule, you can do it too! Peace still.

My name is Uchenna Umeh, MD/MBA, and I approve this message.

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