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Welcome to Kalamazoo

We arrived at the beautiful Kalamazoo Airport about 9.00 pm on Friday evening (2.00 am UK time); which was full of modern art, such as the scene below. From here we were transported to our hotel by a complementary shuttle bus.

As we checked in the receptionist announced with surprise that there was another booking with the same surname. Kofi's brother, who lives about two hours drive away, had reserved a family suite for the following night at the same hotel. What a lovely surprise!!

Refreshed by Family

After a good night's sleep we spent Saturday exploring the area and preparing ourselves to meet part of our American family. This would be our first time meeting the children.

It was quite a noisy welcome in the foyer, with the brothers reminiscing about childhood and school days and calling other siblings on the phone to join in the reunion.

Don't be deceived by those sweet looking, handsome boys. William and Jon Paul are both black belt karate champions, soccer and basketball players/coaches. Seven year old Elijah is definitely the boss in the family and beautiful, confident Adelaide, is the image of our daughter, Joanna in London. Though separated by time and distance the image and spirit of the family still unites us.

Ben (left) and Tasha (second from right) treated us to a feast on Saturday evening, and then to a leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning; creating time and space to bond and plan for future reunions. 'Eat as much as you like boys', Ben announced, 'today we're celebrating family'. Needless to say, it was an emotional goodbye on Sunday morning but we were left feeling refreshed, and invigorated by the love of the family. We could not have started our time in the USA in a better way. Thanks Ben and Tasha and hopefully we'll see you in London before long. Well... we waved the family off and turned our minds to the conference.

My first task at the conference was to find my USA hosts, Ann Michele Stacks, Carolyn Dayton, Deborah Weatherston, Carla Barron, Rebecca Wheeler and several others, whose contribution I will share as we proceed with our itinerary. I felt instantly welcomed and included in the Michigan Infant Mental Health family and full of excitement to get to know these passionate professionals. and their work.

Infant Mental Health ... 'a way of being with'

Michael Trout set the scene for the conference with a skillful presentation about the parent-infant interaction and the meaning of early experience. Using music, poetry and a soothing tone of voice he created a rich reflective atmosphere; demonstrating to us the importance of being mindfully present: A quality of 'being with' the parent and infant rather than doing. Being present and fully attentive in the moment rather than implementing strategies or bringing our own agendas.

On Sunday afternoon I attended a workshop presented by Marva Lewis, PhD and Kandace Thomas, MPP, entitled Colourism: Another Factor to Consider When Assessing Parent-Child Relationships. Marva and Kandace presented a programme based at the The Center for Natural Connections (CNC), which promotes the positive benefits of the daily task of combing hair as an opportunity for parents to connect with their children, culture, and community. The programme helps parents to fully accept their child regardless of their skin colour or hair type, and teaches active listening using the simple, yet powerful, daily routine of combing hair. It was quite revealing to share our own early hair stories and what it felt like when our primary carers combed our hair. A powerful session evoking a range of positive and negative feelings in delegates.

The London Lady

Marva and Kandace were both keynote speakers for the conference so their seminar was very full. During the presentation they invited people to contribute from the floor about their early experience of hair combing and to share other perspectives. I grabbed the opportunity to introduce myself to the conference; share about my Winston Churchill project and to invite people to come and talk to me and share their work in Michigan. I also raised the issue of foster children and what is evoked in them when their hair is combed by a foster carer rather than their birth mother. Which mother would they be unconsciously responding to during the hair combing session?

From that moment onward Marva christened me 'The London Lady' or simply 'London' for short. For the rest of the conference I was approached humorously by delegates singing out my new title. This led to many meaningful conversations and laughter but I did remind them in the next seminar that my name is actually, Yvonne.

We ended the first day of the conference with a banquet to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the

Michigan Association of Infant Mental Health (Mi-AIMH). Over dinner I was able to share in rich conversations and learning about IMH in Michigan and listen to inspiring speeches from those receiving awards for their contribution to the field of Infant Mental Health.

So as not to give you indigestion I will stop here for today and continue with learning from the conference in my next blog.

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