Thursday, December 4, 2008
I’ve learnt a humbling lesson in recent weeks. I’ve learnt that all the fuss I used to make about how I put effort into my looks for myself; how the male appreciation it garnered was pleasant but purely incidental for I was the focus of my efforts; how it was to make me feel good that I did it and all that jazz is precisely that: jazz. There apparently is not a word of truth to it.
I’m trying to shed my maternity weight and I’ve done encouragingly well- 10 kilos in 4 weeks, with minimal exercise. Now I’ve got to the point that’s hardest – I no longer look appalling but I’m not as hot as I could be. It is tough because even if I never got any slimmer, I wouldn’t look bad- as my friend Liz put it- ‘for someone who has had two kids’. But seeing as I’ve never been able to content myself with being average –except in maths- that I look decent for ‘someone with 2 kids’ is not at all comforting. In fact it is downright depressing.
If there is a downside to having a husband who likes me for more than my admittedly fly figure and active participation in all matters connubial it is that its bad for weight loss regimes. Indeed marriage in general is very hard on a girl’s quest for sexiness. How do you force yourself to pass up on that glorious meal being placed in front of him? Or walk away from that chocolate? Not only do you have someone constantly doing what you are, by dint of sheer force of will, avoiding, he also thinks you are fabulous though you are fat.
I have had to concede that sexual admiration from men- in the plural- is a huge motivator, at least for me. It is hard to stay on the treadmill after the third minute when you know that all that exertion is for the appreciation of a single man who you have conquered already. I’ve never minced words about women who three years into marriage become frumps. Although I am now less puzzled by how that happens, I am no more empathetic. I maintain that it is good for a man never to be overly confident of his hold on his woman even in long term relationships. It keeps a bit of the chase in the game and the chase has a certain je ne sais quoi that is exciting for both the hunter and the prey. So I intend to continue to incite sexual interest and invitations even if I never take any up. To do that I must shed my fat, not because I believe fat women can’t get a man but because everyone, man or woman, has a size at which they hit maximum confidence in personal sex appeal; mine just happens to be a 10.
Today I took my first post pregnancy picture. Hunger is such an unpleasant thing and ignoring it is no easy job so I had started to weaken a little. Not to mention that all the surprised approving exclamations regarding my current borderline size12 were getting to my head. I was starting to feel quite the slender lissome one, my vigilance was slipping away. I have in the last week eaten supper late twice, cheese once and chocolate twice- the second time Maltesers. All of which are a far cry from the unrelenting bredze totoe and nkatse (roasted plantain with groundnuts) lunch and -if hunger overcame discipline – the meager supper that sucked those ten kilos off my body.
Considering the effort I put into the pre-picture preening I think my expectation of a wall-worthy piece was not unreasonable. Imagine my shame and disappointment when the most eye-catching thing in the photo was the massive arm which but for its attachment to a restraining ball joint might easily have been Captain Caveman’s cudgel.
Now a good deal of my resolve is restored. As the delectable and beautifully presented dinner was set out at table tonight, I held the CCC (Captain Caveman’s Cudgel) moment at the front of my mind’s eye and though I was not strong enough to spin on my heel and walk away from temptation, I stooped only to cereal- poor comfort when juxtaposed with the grilled-to-perfection fresh fish.
Cost what it will I will become that 10. Already there’s a new undercurrent of excitement and sexual tension with my husband. I doubt we will ever relive the scorching highs of our love’s first flames but if we both put enough effort into it, we should have sufficient fuel to keep the embers hot as long as it takes. I am in no doubt that two months after I’ve got where I want to be I will have lost all insight into the mental workings of the frumpy wife. My voice will carry, when speaking of them, a genuine bafflement and, I imagine, superciliousness at their sorry state. I feel no shame in this pomposity. Why should I? Everyone who has ever subjected themselves to the oppression of self-control and the drudgery of exercise will agree, I’m certain, that I am not only allowed, I am entitled.
I was raised to believe that children cherish their first birthday party to almost spiritual levels. That contrary to all logic and even evidence, they do think back on it fondly- and frequently too- as the first sign of how loved and welcome they are. What you usually see, however, at such parties is an overdressed baby, looking uncomfortable and teary and surrounded by plenty of older children with drinks in paper cups and uninteresting looking plates of food. On the other side of the party grounds are the accompanying adults who are having a pretty good time by the look of it and for whom all the good food has been saved.
How the poor baby, whose memory even of the best days of this age will be negligible if at all existent, is supposed to store this party as a piece of his soul and history I find impossible to surmise. My mother tells me I had more fun than any other baby she’s known at my own party. Having walked at nine months, I spent the entire function following anyone with an interesting drink or nibble. I have not the foggiest memory of this blast that I supposedly had. I warrant those who enjoyed theirs less, cannot be better off memory-wise.
Dovie turned one today and we didn’t have a 1st birthday party. He did have a cake baked and decorated by mammy herself. We did some finger painting, splashed in our splash pool, ate the customary eto that Akans mark all monumental events with and played all the throw-me/ chase-me/wrestle-me games he and his dad play. He had a great time and so did we.
When I first mentioned that we wouldn’t have the traditional party, almost everyone who heard was horrified. I was read the 1st birthday gospel again and again and made to feel so bad I almost caved in. But the fact that neither our friends nor our cousins have children yet made it easier for me. It would have been a long day with Dovie being sidelined and me being overworked seeing to the needs of my two little boys and whichever other token children I was able to round up while being perfect hostess to all our older relations who came. It really wasn’t worth it.
But leaving the path and the doctrines I was raised on are not really easy to do. After you have believed or even heard something long enough from credible sources, it becomes practically counter intuitive to do differently. I don’t want my children to have issues about being the only ones whose first birthday passed without pomp. But can’t I just explain why there was no fanfare? Would his child’s mind appreciate what I would say? I wavered till the weekend before his birthday when I finally decided I would take my chances.
I do not remember my little sister at her first birthday, though I was four then. The only thing I remember, apart from the dancing competition I think my elder sister won after an intense faceoff with a childhood friend, is my mother. I remember her cooking and bustling about the kitchen for an eternity. She went in to change when the guests started arriving; she was so sweaty and so very tired. I remember her exhaling and squaring her shoulders just before she stepped out the door to greet her guests. That mental picture has done much to endorse my decision.
It is harder than you might think not to do things the way your parents did -especially things that appear to have been to your benefit. They form a part of your self-assessment criteria in a way you won’t even realize until you step into their position. The first birthday dilemma has been a source of a good bit of scolding and vacillating. But I look at the pictures and the video we took today, they show clearly how much fun we all had. And as I watch Dov who fell asleep a good hour before his bedtime from sheer exhaustion, I know I was right. It won’t matter to him in later years that plenty of adults didn’t come and sit around his house, make merry, leave his mother haggard and his father a little lighter in the pockets in the quest to make him feel loved and welcome.
The unanimous social disapproval his partylessness caused has been good for me. It is the first parenthood decision my very supportive- if opinionated-family (and friends to a lesser degree) have opposed strongly. It does require a bit of balancing or at least tact to tell people who have been an unfailing help to you with your children that you are the parent of the child, your decision is final and you will not be bullied.
Now that I have done that, I am breezing through the horror my declaration that we are not going to hang up Christmas decorations is causing. Christmas, it is true, is half in the glitz and colour of decorations. But even with no festive ornaments to pull down, break or try to swallow, Dovie is enough of a handful. I refuse to tease or is it goad him by hanging all sorts of foolish decorations that will result in my Christmas being worried and fatiguing rather than fun and relaxing.
Still my son will get the Christmas fun everyone so badly wants him to have, never fear. I am writing down a list of all those who said he deserved to enjoy Christmas colour; we will do a tour of their houses. And I will look on with loving indulgence as he wrecks one Christmas tree after the other. And if they appear even the slightest bit exasperated, I will say in the bubbliest tones ‘isn’t it nice to watch a child in all his innocence enjoy Christmas in all its festivity?” I dare them to say no.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The short answer to a question I was asked this week is: no, I no longer wrestle with my help. It is an almost amusing thought to me now that I ever did. To some measure it is a reflection of my own recent maturity. I’ve grown past the obsessive possessive stage I went through a few months back- except when it concerns my husband, of course. But it would hardly be honest to claim full credit for this present serenity. Dovie deserves a good share of the praise too. He didn’t exactly shake off my clinging grasp but he did inspire a desire to loosen the hold. In fact these days, even when I’m playing with him, I like her to be there to catch him when he makes his quick getaway crawl toward something he is not supposed to touch or to clear the messy trail he is fond of leaving in the wake of his explorations.
He is –like his mother before him I’m told- a fountain of boundless energy. My son doesn’t spend one second more than necessary being still. Being his everything is therefore a grueling punishment of largely un-fun chores and aerobic workouts. To outdo my help, I must be willing to dash after him and spot dangerous objects in corners hitherto unacknowledged before he does, play crawl-tag, sing please-eat-your-food coaxing songs, have food spat in my face as a mutual joke etc for half the day. Not to mention, 3 times a day baths, diaper changes, formula fetching and what not.
What’s the point? ? I have to pay her either way, I hate tedious chores and he loves me more, he really does. So no I’m not wrestling with her. Not when he always chooses me. In fact he has an angry cry he uses to underscore his displeasure when she comes to take him from me even for a meal. To keep me humble though, whenever he spends a whole day with me, he abandons me completely on sighting his father and cries when I try to take him from him- even for a hug.
Dov is very popular with his grandparents –all hundred of them. They are always competing to be his favourite. Any sign of preference is usually quoted ten times to anyone who will listen and there’s always an unmistakable me-Tarzan pounding of chest note in the voice of the ‘favoured one’. Aside from competing with each other, they even compete, or at least try to compete, with Kofi and I. It is not uncommon to hear one or other of them say how he prefers them to me or how when he’s with them he barely notices and never misses us.
Six months ago that would have been a surefire way to guarantee you would not see him for a good while. These days, both as a result of my new found mellowness and my unshakeable security in his adoration and preference of me over all other Homo sapiens, I don’t even flinch. I just laugh. On my more smirky days, I even strike a deadpan pose and agree with whichever proud preening grandparent is pounding his//her chest, ‘you know I think you are actually right; I think you are his favourite’ - not!
When earlier this year, I made a wish, I forgot the cardinal rule myself and wished wrong and when it seemed I was going to get my wish I panicked, prayed intently for its reversal and promised God a forfeiture of all the vice I enjoy if only He would ignore my original wish.
04/08 : To shut my husband up and end his irritating teasing, I took a pregnancy test. The test said he was right. I promptly sent him out for another. He was still right. I wept. Not 2 weeks earlier, I’d boasted to a group of friends how impeccable my child spacing plan was. Now here I was facing another torturous pregnancy; another awful labour. I’m a soldier, not a suicide bomber. How would I do this?! My family, God bless their hearts each one, was very supportive. I got past that quickly and was soon thrilled I was going to have another baby.
06/08/08, Wednesday: I got into bed around 1am, feeling excited. Come morning I would start law school. Suddenly I felt a wetness between my thighs and found I was bleeding. I think my heart actually stopped. I began praying frantically, ‘Lord please don’t take him away from me. Please. I’m sorry I was ungrateful in the beginning.’ After an interminable 77 days of bed-rest during which I prayed more frequently and fervently than ever I have before, my baby came home.
Somehow I got lucky. My foolish wish was ignored. God played by His rules and as always with His children, I won. I intend to delight in all the sunshine that my children will bring and to be the best mother God could have given them- because that’s what He did.
Right now though, I’m experiencing post natal exhilaration and my pleasure is double layered. Like his elder brother, he curled five little fingers in a tiny fist around one of my chunky inelegant ones and for the second time, the pieces of my heart unlocked, shifted and rearranged themselves permanently around the little creature.
The second, delicious layer of pleasure is in not being pregnant anymore. I’m ecstatic that it is over. I feel like I’ve been pregnant since I was 12. I’m sick of my maternity wardrobe; I’d be glad to burn each XL piece of clothing I possess. Lately, I’m often to be found grinning stupidly at my reflection in the mirror. I’m not what I remember me as yet. But heck, it feels so good to see an unpregnant me! I’ve waited 3 weeks to recover decently from the surgery, regain some strength and shed some weight. Come Monday I’m hitting the salon: pedicure, manicure, facial, nails, the works. For the first time in 6 years I’m longing for long hair (short hair now being a maternity memory). Fortunately, it is for sale. I’m hoping by Monday my nose will have returned to its natural size, my face will no longer look like a cake that didn’t rise and my feet will be swollen no more. Then I’m going off in search of miniscule skirts and skimpy tops.
I also intend to completely disappoint and displease all the self-appointed advisors and quack life coaches who have told me authoritatively that a mother of two must be recognizable from a distance. Her fat frumpy matronly mass and nightlife comprising telenovelas must be stamped all over her person. Thanks for the advice but no. I’m not going to become unappealing to myself just to qualify for a mother-of-two sticker for my jacket.
The energy and freedom I so hankered after are finally here. They will dissipate soon enough in my life’s course, so I will enjoy it to the fullest while it lasts. Before the month is out I’ll be hitting the clubs, most likely in an itsy bit skirt. I don’t and can’t believe that raising children right is antithetical to youth and sex appeal. After all I’ve endured to get here, I know for a fact I’m the best person to teach me how to do this. So I’m going to work this mother-of-two thing my way- in grand style.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Then I discovered how nice it can be to have perfect strangers notice the most obvious thing about you. ‘Old lady’, random people would jokingly call if I was walking, ‘come sit here and rest your feet.’ In the banks they would smile and say ‘bofti/ aberewa, come up to the front’. I didn’t spend much time in queues. Acting on a craving one day I went to Papaye-a fast food joint- and ordered some food. It is generally a very busy place and it was a particularly busy day. I asked the waitress how long it would take because I was weary and wanted to know if I could wait. She said ‘never mind’ and entered it. When the next order was ready she called it out then explained to the guy that the pregnant lady wanted the same thing. ‘Let her take it’, he said, ‘I’ll wait.’
One afternoon we stopped to fuel up at a Shell station and I lied to Kofi that I was going to get some water. I got some chocolate and nkatse cake-peanut brittle then picked up a small bottle of water for cover. At the counter, the girl entered the water, entered the chocolate and then refused to enter the nkatse cake. “It is not good for a pregnant woman to eat so much sugar. Do you want the baby to be ill? Go and put it down!” she ordered imperiously. And I did. It felt so good being important to my whole society that I did.
The most precious of these community love experiences for me though happened when I was about 8 months pregnant. I woke up one morning with swollen feet, a headache, a piercing pain down my back, heartburn, muscular pain, nausea and pain in my hips. On top of which Kofi and I had had a fight. I was feeling absolutely miserable. It was a Saturday, Kofi was meeting some clients and I hitched a ride to spend the day at my parents. His clients were both women; an elderly Ghanaian and a younger European. The Ghanaian woman took one look at me and said ‘it gets better my daughter, I swear it does’. I burst into tears.
I’ve learnt to appreciate so much about my community since I became part of this motherhood club. I’ve learnt to be less impatient with what really are just minor flaws in our social interactions and to be more helpful to strangers.
Today I went to the clinic and I saw a woman with a baby about 3 months old. She had come alone and was trying to eat while holding her baby. ‘Shall I hold her for you’ I asked. She smiled a heartfelt smile of gratitude and said that would be very kind. I’m sure it was nice for her. What matters to me, though, is that I enjoyed it. Her child was not one of those especially cute babies that everyone wants to hold- unlike mine-I barely paid her any heed as I held her. But all the time I held her I smiled, reveling in the knowledge that I was giving to this unknown woman a piece of that warm feeling that was given to me when I least expected and most treasured it.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I’m a perfect middle child. I come complete with all the neuroses and paranoia that middle children are supposed to have. What’s more, I’m 16 months younger than my elder sister. Children that close in age often have troubled relationships. This was certainly true of my sister and I for many years.
Looking at Dovie one day I found myself deeply saddened. I looked at the little cherub sleep and it hit me that he would hurt me much in this life and there was nothing I could do about it. Everybody has issues they haven’t forgiven their mother for or failings or fears or dislikes they blame her for and as I looked at him I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would fail him in some way, even if only in his mind and he would spend all his life holding it against me. It made me unbearably sad. ‘I’m sorry my love’, I whispered to him. ‘I’m sorry I will fail you. But I love you so much. Please forgive me.’ he continued sleeping, oblivious to my drama and content in his innocence.
There’s stuff I have yet to or barely forgiven my own mother for. I’ve judged her handling of the delicate situation of close-aged children and because I have hurt when a judgment call she made didn’t turn out as she had hoped, expected or interpreted, I have been very harsh with her in my heart sometimes.
I always planned to space my children 2-3 years apart. I was going to do everything my mother did wrong right. My children were going to have a better experience of growing up together than I did. I realize now that when I said I wanted my children to have an even better childhood than I did, what I really had set my heart on being was a better mother than my own. Of course my spacing plan meant I would never be in her situation so the motherhood decisions I would have to make would be different. Convenient, I could play basketball and still compete with her for the FIFA World Cup.
Now I have 2 sons. And they are 11 months apart. I’m in an even tighter spot than my mother was. I too now have to juggle children who are so close in age their emotional and physical demands are practically the same. At their ages, each one’s needs are consuming. I am going to have to meet and manage the two and make judgment calls in situations I’m sure will be identical to some of those my mother faced, which caused me pain and for which I have resented her.
I didn’t spend my childhood and early youth spouting publicly about these grievances so there is little to call me out on, which is fortunate. If only my memory were fuzzy! But it is not. I remember clearly the conversations between me and my heart and how contemptuously I’ve dismissed instances she handled poorly and I’m struck with dread, almost fear that I will face those same situations and that I, like her, will fail. Sobering, humbling, reforming thought.
I pray about it a lot. I don’t want them to wait 25 years to become friends with their brother, like I did. But now I’m here at the starting line of the same race, the heart of my prayer is not to be a better mother than mine was. It is not even that I do right by them. No. what I pray most is that they will forgive me for what I will do wrong.
Mother was right. Though it is undoubtedly the most beautiful experience on earth, there is no denying that everything about motherhood is painful.
My son Dovene is a strong lad; very active, full of boundless energy and curiosity and surprisingly strong willed for a baby. At 6 months, its amazing the things I’ve garnered about his unfolding personality-not the least of which is that he does not like being laughed at in the middle of a new effort!
From 6 weeks on, he began to play and fuss, he’d nap long hours in the afternoon then at night, suddenly as if he had been possessed, he would wake up and want to play till 1 or 2am. By the time he was 3 months old, I was drooping with fatigue.
One fine evening, I decided I had had it. I was the mother. I was the one with the oppression rights. So I declared 8pm his bedtime. If you think you’re strong willed and disciplined, you wait till you come up against a feisty miniscule human being. At 8 I put him to bed and turned out the lights. My original intention was to pray with him and sing him to sleep. But I was forced to retreat from the room in order to even put him in his cot. He began by sniffling then whining then full scale high octave screaming. Around 8:30 I convinced myself that I had made headway with him, threw in the towel picked him up and begged for forgiveness. I haven’t felt as evil as I did that night my entire life.
Day 2: we try again. This time I’m determined to win. I don’t. But I do make a new discovery: babies can raise the volume and pitch of an angry cry simultaneously. I thought he would exhaust himself and sleep but no, the tenacious little brat screamed till 9 when tail between my legs I returned to the room and picked him up. The next day I had a headache, I didn’t even try.
Day 4 I noticed something that stiffened my spine. When I put him down he began at once to cry, only this time he would stop after about 10 minutes and wait to see if I’d pick him up. If I didn’t then he’d resume at a higher pitch, louder volume. I told myself that my will had survived stronger wills than his, I would win. He continued to scream, I shut the door. It got louder, we left the living room altogether and went to sit on the porch. I would check on him from time to time to make sure that it really was just attention crying. It got louder and my heart just bled. I got up ready to concede. ‘Maybe’ I said, ‘he’s too young for this bedtime thing’. Then Kofi stepped in and said ‘sit down’. I didn’t but I did halt the procession to the door. I stood there irresolute till he said ‘sit down Mammie, he will be fine. Don’t let him push you around and don’t worry so much baby, you’re a good mother.’
So we raised our voices to be heard above the din and had a half-hearted lightweight conversation we could that neither of us could concentrate on but pretended we were enjoying. Eventually the crying stopped, he’d fallen asleep. I came back to the living room and I sat down and I cried. I felt wicked, unfeeling, relieved, victorious, smug. It was easier from there on. For about a week he put us through this less than delightful routine.
Then one day I put him to bed. He said. ‘Aarrgmmpph’ and he slept. Just like that. He stopped fussing and began to fall asleep wherever he was at 8 and even crying if we didn’t put him to bed immediately. These days he doesn’t nap for more than 30 minutes during the day and has begun to crawl. It is like hanging out all day with the Energizer Bunny and boy, am I glad I had this bedtime thing in place before the long sleepless play days and energetic nights rolled along. Every now and then he tests the limits to see if the rule really holds. Because I’ve gotten used to his cooperation, he always gets me. His father is made of sterner stuff. Each time I fail the test we have another few days of war. Though invariably I win, it takes its toll.
I love him madly; he is the light of my life. But this is one light I’m always glad to turn off at 8. In fact sometimes Kofi has to stop me from cheating and sending him off to bed at 7:30. [Though once I heard him exclaim tiredly, as he made a quick swoop to take some dangerous thing or other from the curious young man, ‘ooh! five whole hours more till your bedtime’.] When finally it hits 8, I smile and say with near tangible relish ‘bedtime Dov.’
I spend the first post bedtime half hour savouring the silence and enjoying being still. I fetch myself a tall glass of watered down juice -with ice for effect- stretch out on the couch and sigh with pleasure. Ah bedtime, what a lovely little invention!
Only a few weeks ago I announced proudly to Kofi that I’d let go my death grip on Dove, and I’d learnt to let others have a piece of him. Lately though I’ve been having some not so lofty emotions inspired by, of all people, my eager, slow-witted childlike 21 year old nanny. When Dovie sees her, he smiles and makes happy noises, which, oddly, is simultaneously reassuring and most irritating. It is heartening to see evidence from the prince himself that he is treated well in my absence. Still why is he so pleased to see her? Four months ago we didn’t know she existed and here he is grinning at her.
When I’m rational about it, I admit that in his bootsies I’d make happy noises too. She carries him on her back and I make her play with him for hours on end. She often changes his diaper and endures the long and trying process of spoon feeding a baby. He sees her as his playmate and little wonder. To hear her talk to him you’d think she was 4 years old. I can’t help but be annoyed when I’m playing with him and she comes into the room and he looks up and smiles and makes happy noises. I’ve caught myself turning him so his back is to her more times than is acceptable in a mature woman. When he’s with her and I come into the room, he always wants to come with me regardless how happy he was the minute before. I like that. Sometimes I find myself mentally sticking my tongue out at her when he chooses me. He doesn’t always smile immediately he sees me however and when he does that, I stay and chat and play till he does even if that means running late for an appointment. I worry, foolishly I know, that he is losing interest in me.
It is stupid to feel that way about my help. I love having one. Babies, delightful though they are, come with a lot of not particularly enjoyable chores. Its great to do the fun bits and leave the tiresome ones to another. I tell you I wouldn’t for all the undivided Dovie adoration in the world want to do the work I dump on her; changing diapers is not a bonding experience no matter what the books say. But a child does become used to and then fond of a person. I know that at this age, one month after she leaves my employ, he will have no idea who she is. Furthermore, no one can replace me in his soul no matter how much more fun they are than me. I’m his mother and that really is that. Still it doesn’t mean he should smile so cheerily at her does it?
Of course I can’t let any of this show. First because I hate it when I have to face Kofi and admit that I’m being petty. Second, because I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable in a hostile environment and leave. It is hard to come by decent nannies here because there are far too many unemployed and unemployable youths who haven’t got a single skill and who for a small sum will work as nannies even if they hate children. There is no monitoring body for infant care workers and there is little recourse the snail slow overworked and understaffed justice system should you find you nanny has abused your child. Unless it is particularly serious, you usually just let them go and find a new one. Though easy to afford, nannies can be nerve-racking to procure. Korkor’s childlike nature means I can trust her with my son. Being a teenage mother, she has experience with young babies and can care for my son adequately and this she does not only well but, more important, happily. I intend to keep her content so she’ll stay as long as possible. The third reason is that it doesn’t do much for my authority to descend to her level and squabble with her for my own son’s affections. She’s the help, I’m the madam for heaven’s sake.
I start law school in August so he’ll be spending more time with her. Their friendship is good for me because I will feel free of mind and hand to do my work. But I tell you petty or not if I think he’s getting fonder of her than I want him to be, I will let her go, even if she were to win 15 international words for infant care! He’s my son; mine. Nobody is going to get a chance even to compete with me on that one.
A gorgeous boy ( Kofi) met a divine girl( Mammie) and they started hanging out between his sheets. One day this fellow said to his chick “ I want a baby with you, I will preg you”. She laughed the foolish girl. Somehow she knew he was serious but couldn’t summon the inspiration to get on some form of protection. The psychology behind that one escapes me and I’m both the author and character so don’t you even try to understand it. His explanation-u can’t fight evolution.
Anyhow so one day I woke up pregnant and shortly after that my boyfriend became my husband. After the long seemingly endless process that pregnancy is, our son was born. A beautiful, perfect little boy with a stout pair of lungs and balls rather large for his age. A piece of humanity so delicate it affirms my faith in God. We named him Dovene which means ‘now we are two’
Since we became 2 I’ve learnt so much and grown so much in so many directions. I still dye my hair outrageous colours, sing loudly as I walk down the street, wear tiny skirts my dad will never get used to and give sass. But beneath the surface in many tiny ways, I am changed forever.
Friday, October 31, 2008
My husband feels, with the birth of our first child, a huge relief, he says, that he has fulfilled a task he was sent here to perform. The interesting thing is he didn’t feel the weight of this task pressing upon him until he had successfully ensured the continuity of the genes for another generation. I can’t say I feel quite the same. Generally, I’m thrilled with not only my son himself but the fact of his existence. That is to say I think my son is a wonderful guy yes but more, I’m thrilled I’m a mother. Its coming to me so naturally I know I was made to do this.
Yet there’s a twinge of something sometimes. Not regret no, more a mourning of doors closed than regret over the chosen path. For instance I would have liked when I finished law school to take a job in East or Southern Africa. But with a husband and a baby and another on the way…, well that isn’t exactly feasible now is it? I’d like to do a masters or PhD in a world class institution. But what happens to my little son? Does he look at some other woman and say his first mama? So sometimes I’m a little sad because I feel earth bound .
My son, he has this beautiful smile that everyone adores. He’s always the party favourite. The compliments constantly pour in. Kofi and I bask in the glow of his perfection and our chests puff out with pride and every compliment we share weaves our bonds a mite tighter and our hearts a tad fonder. And then he has this special smile that he uses only on me. Those are the moments that my heart most completely contracts.
Life is about trade-offs. You take something you give something. You take up something you give up something else. The tricky part is picking the trade-offs so you don’t get stuck with the short end of the stick. Last week I had dinner with my friend Charlene. On our way out of my house I offered her some mosquito repellent. She declined saying it smelt foul. We both wore shorts. Three hours later sitting in the night breeze, my foul repellent smell had diffused into the air and she sat on the other side, stomping her feet to be rid of blood thirsty mosquitoes. It ruined her fun and eventually, sick of the battle, she packed it in early and went home to sleep away the rest of her Friday night. Pick your trade-offs with care. For the honour of the experience of motherhood, too complex to be described with any number of adjectives, I’ve had to give up the pleasure-and note how easily one adjective captures it- of indulging in a streak of self absorption.
I think what keeps those closed doors on my mind is a curiosity to see how walking through any of them would have played out. I suspect that if I could spend an evening behind the VCR watching in an hour what I would be wearing to work in South Africa or where and with which great quirky characters I’d hang out with after class, I’d be satisfied to turn off the TV and never give it another thought. For as you may notice it is not lost growth opportunities, financial coups or career highs I feel I’ve missed out on but silliness in my youth. I’ve lived a responsible youth: honouring my parents and their desires as often as I found possible; living up to family reputations and expectations; being mindful of my society and its values inasmuch as I could without diminishing my spirit.
I’m only 26 but when I look back on my 20s I know that if I could live my last 5 years over again. I would take a hell of a lot more chances especially on people. I’d guard against heartbreak with less vigour. I’d be more sexually explorative and earlier, I would be less interested in making friends and more in talking to strangers. I would in brief be more self-absorbed.
I don’t waste much time on these thoughts though. I’m more apt to examine life on the path I’ve chosen and I like most of what I see: my beautiful children, financial self-sufficiency ahoy, professional respect (also ahoy) and one hell of a man by my side. My Kofi is a man not just a male, a man. His heart is soft; his spine is steel, his head rules all. His touch is gentle, his scorn is harsh, his outlook ever changing. There are of course the minor added attractions that he is gorgeous smart and funny. Even alone he is a pretty damn good deal. Add awe inspiring things like motherhood, life-partnership, and a family and you should understand why there is that rather smug note in my voice when I say that the road taken is making all the difference.
I tried to keep this in mind all through my pregnancy and I found that keeping ickies to myself wasn’t the hard part. It was finding the inspiration by month eight even to comb my bloody hair that was. Still I kept hearing mom’s voice in my head and I struggled through it. Then came the baby. Labour is a painful, painful thing and Kofi, bless his heart was there singing to me the whole time. Or so I thought. I just found out that he deserted me to watch one scene in Stomp the yard. I have vowed never to watch it. He defends himself that it was during the hour, early in labour, that I was asleep. Humph! Anyway so after Dové came is when the true hold-my-mystery challenge came. I got a long tear in my vagina during delivery and was sewn up almost to my sphincter.
Here in Ghana, a new mother sits over a bucket with some boiling hot water, camphor and salt twice a day for the first two months of her child’s life at least. The point is to get the steam inside you to heal your womb. Though initially somewhat painful, it sounds worse than it is and you actually feel good afterward; kind of like massaging sore muscles with a mentholated balm. It feels good but it doesn’t smell so hot. Or look too sexy. Afterwards, the bathroom smells like you just cut up some freshly killed chicken in there.
Those early days, I was somehow struck with a desire to make him see all I was going through so he could feel the weight of what I had had to endure to make us a son. I wanted him to see my episiotomy and be grossed out by it. I wanted him to see the blood clots that fell into the bucket while I was purging and the milk squirting out fountain-like from my breasts when they were too full. I guess he was so thrilled about the baby I wanted him to be concerned about me too. It wasn’t the same for me you see. He and his baby were both great. I had a great baby but I wasn’t great yet and I wanted to bring him down to the same plane. So he could give me the support I felt I needed. At the same time, I didn’t really want him to think of my vagina as the patched up one or to give him a clear vision of my sphincter. I didn’t see how I could recover my sexiness from there.
So I kept it all to myself, sometimes raging inside about the unfairness of it all. How is it that I’m the female and I have to be macho? Sometimes I would feel very alone in my misery. Other times, my feminist strains would awaken and yell at me for being a slave to a man’s superficialities and letting his sexual preferences supersede my emotional needs. It would goad me to let him see all that went into this baby-making thing. According to the voice that would force him to respect me, “he better. You did all the work…” and on and on it would go. Somehow I managed to shut her up and would sit on my hot water after he went off to work and before he came home, apply my wound’s treatment locked up in the bathroom and when it hurt, I’d retire early. My reward was the pride in kofi’s voice when he told everyone that I was a soldier and the respect in my mother’s eyes. I have great respect for my mother’s toughness. Overhearing her telling kofi that I am a very tough cookie, made it all worthwhile- at least until the next hot water session.
Our son is 5 months old. Memories of the first weeks have all but faded, with all the new ones he gives us everyday. And I’m gladder than ever that I never let him touch the wound, or smell the chicken, or see the sphincter. I’m back to being smart, and sexy and funny and gorgeous and my post birth issues are long gone. Everyday I feel thankful (and vindicated to my pushy feminist voice), that I resisted the urge to subject us to group pain and disgust. Now when he gives me the appreciative once over, I know he does not see a sexy body over a patch-quilt pussy.
Today my second son is a week old. It is an important moment in our culture. Here a child is not really human until the eighth day of their lives. We believe he parts ways with the spirit world completely on that day. Now he can come outdoors, he can be named; he is truly one of us. Though I had the very best and warmest of medical care all through my pregnancy, delivery and post-op, I am still deeply emotional this day. My son has come to stay. [By the way, if you have a child or fertility issues in Ghana, seek out Dr. Richard Banful. He’s a miracle worker I tell you.]
A historical note: child mortality in days past was of course incredibly high. A child who was going to die would likely have done so already by the eighth day. We tried to reduce the agony of child loss by not naming or making public appearances with him till after that.My sons are named Dovene and Vinyo. Dovene means ‘now we are two.’ The emotion behind the choice I’m sure is self-evident. Vinyo means ‘it is good to have children.’
Vin akwaaba. Welcome to the world; cruel world, fun world, lovely world, cold world. So much to see, feel and experience. God guide your footsteps my sons all the days of your life.