I’ve been toying around with this notion of what it means to be resilient. When I consider the state of the world, writing these words feels like I’ve made it to the next level of Jumanji. And each day I navigate the course so I don’t lose a life and fight on to the next day. Retaining a spirit of adaptability has definitely been part of the ongoing theme and some days I’m a rock-star while other days, I just make it to the finish line.
Merriam Webster defines resilience as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Resilient people are aware of situations and tend to maintain control of a situation thinking of new ways to tackle problems. Life is full of challenges. And when I think about my youth and how I rushed toward the proverbial #adulting finish line, I had no idea of what was ahead.
I think about this particularly as I am teaching my son how to continue to press on to reach the goal and not be overwhelmed to the point of paralyzing himself out of fear. That’s a big one for me because I have become very self-aware of when I am confronted with my own heightened fears. Being resilient as an adult has a different connotation than perhaps through the eyes of a child. As I look at my almost five foot tall, size 9 men’s shoe wearing little boy, I often question how he is interpreting what my husband and I are teaching him about resilience, and particularly during this unprecedented time. And insomuch as we are his teachers, I often reflect on the lessons he is teaching us about it.
Psychological resilience is defined as the process of mentally or emotionally adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. Resilience exists when a person protects self from the potential negative effects of stressors, such as family and relationship problems, health challenges or workplace and financial stressors.
CMK’s pandemic emotions have often challenged me because I can’t control what’s happening and know how best to support him. I’m doing the best I can. Because quietly he’s been navigating what I call “pandemic anxiety,” there have been moments where I allow his strong will to not do something shape the course of what we are doing activity-wise. He’s not really excited to participate in activities and super comfortable and content at home in our apartment. There are also moments where I have to challenge us as a family to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. The irony in his ability to be resilient throughout these quarantine months has often forced me to further confront my own fears and be keenly aware of being present in each and every moment. And that’s the win.
CMK is a curious, thoughtful and kind young man. He’s my emotive cancer baby who has a blend of both RK’s DNA and my own – both in looks and personality. He loves all things basketball and can deliver a healthy commentary on player dynamics, both past and present. CMK is great with math, enjoys non-fiction storytelling, has an appreciation for 90s hip-hop thanks to viewing past episodes of Fresh Off The Boat on Hulu, which compliment his contemporary hip-hop sensibilities when he finds joy in playing Fortnight on his Nintendo Switch. As his day one stylist, occasionally, he’ll indulge me in wearing button-ups shirts but prefers more “comfortable clothes” like t-shirts and sweats now that he has a strong opinion on his clothing selection.
When I consider what resilience looks like through CMK’s eyes, it is as simple as me capturing these two moments alone in 2021. On the left, we started the year with a hike – literally. We’ve had to reimagine activities during quarantine and admittedly, I’ve never been an outdoorsy type of person, particularly in the winter. When the opportunity presented itself, I raised our hands to have at it – masks and all. So what if I had no idea we really needed hiking boots and walking sticks to make it happen efficiently. By the time our group of 8 reached this half way point of our 4 mile hike, CMK had left me in the dust and arrived at this point with the group before I did. It was a steep, rocky climb, where the trail levels off to an open rock ledge, with a panoramic east-facing view with the New York City skyline. Apparently we climbed about 400 vertical feet to reach this spectacular viewpoint, and I needed to capture it.
I was exhausted by the sheer navigation of forest, trees, colored trails, rocks and wet terrain, yet proud to have made it this far without injury. And there CMK was taking it all in with the crew, kind of waiting on me, but not really. His perspective was not my own. Even seeing that his kicks were full of mud, pants were too. I learned he took a fall that I obviously did not see (or over-react to). There he was, dirty hands and jacket, standing there taking it all in and content.
“What happened to your clothes and shoes?” I inquire.
“I fell Mommy!” CMK responds matter-of-factly.
“Are you ok? I didn’t know. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to help you,” I share in a concerned tone that I missed the moment.
“It’s ok Mommy. Don’t worry. Everything is fine. I have a big stick now to help me,” he declares.
Seeking to pivot and not make a big deal out of it, “well, are you enjoying this hike, because you weren’t super excited to venture out this morning?” I inquire.
“Yes Mommy. This is actually really cool! I like it,” he offers
Here I was reconciling how to continue to push my boy outside his comfort zone. At the point I saw CMK at the top of the peak, I realized that he can focus in on the task at hand and push through to accomplish the goal. In this case, not only complete the hike but adapt to satisfy Mommy’s request. He didn’t necessarily view this as being resilient, but I sure did. I felt the same way about the picture on the right that I captured while on the way to school.
We opted as a family to navigate through the blended learning model across New York City public school. Between 2-3 days in the school building on alternating weeks, by the time CMK has to navigate back to the classroom, some days it has been an entire production of pep talks to get out the door. The walk to school however has always been our time. Our time to chat about everything – school, weekend review, dreams, fears, motivational talks, plans. You name it and we are covering off of it. CMK is at the age now where he wants to stretch his independence. I’ve accommodated some requests and been resistant to others. On this day in the picture, the chat shifted to navigating the remainder of the school year with confidence.
“I’m excited for your today CMK. Aren’t you excited to see your friends?” I lean in with full smiles and energetic enthusiasm for 8am.
“I guess,” he musters.
“Aww, I bet your friends are excited to see you.” I offer.
“Mommy, I’m just trying to stay focused and safe to do what I have to do, but I’m still a little nervous, because you know, Covid 19 has changed everything,” he responds in his serious 9 year old tone.
“I know. But I hope you feeling confident because you are being safe. You know you are smart and capable of doing your best. And I know you will keep your mask on and keep your distance.” I offer.
“Yes Mommy. I know.”
“CMK, you are resilient,” I share.
“What does that mean again?” he inquires.
“It means you are capable of adjusting to anything that comes your way. You are going to consider the opportunity as well as the challenges and then make the decision to push through. I know it isn’t easy. In this case you know that Mommy & Daddy would never put you in a position to be unsafe. You know that while some decisions might be harder to make, we have your best interest at heart. And by continuing to commit to being flexible throughout this quarantine process, you are resilient.”
“Okay I understand Mommy,” he acknowledges reflectively.
At this point, we are approaching the corner to cross the street toward the school and I whipped out my camera to take the shot in his full sentimental mood. Maybe he wasn’t all the way excited, but he was all the way ready. So before we depart, I give him our rock star hand gesture and end with our empowerment close “have a powerful day,” as he gives me the side-eye not to walk any further toward the school. And with that, normalcy and resilience all rolled into one. In that moment, I pause and say a prayer of thanks because I’m so thankful to be the teacher and the student.
KK is an energetic storyteller, creative marketer and servant leader with a kaleidoscope of professional pathways in music, print publishing and television. Currently, KK is a marketing executive at a major media company. Faith and family anchor KK’s ambitions, and she believes Luke 12:48 hold true, “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” KK leverages her gifts, talents and abilities in support of advancing others, particularly in motivating her 9 year old son CMK.
Passionate about education and inclusion, KK is a graduate of New York University with a MS, Integrated Marketing and she supports her undergrad alma-mater Wesleyan University with dual, alumni volunteer leadership roles. As a Trustee on the Oliver Scholars board, preparing high-achieving African-American and Latino students for academic success is a priority. Through her writing and in her relationships, KK continues to unpack and explore life transformations the only way she knows how – with unconditional love, raw honesty and a touch of humor.