Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No Longer Wrestling With My Help.

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!

Post-Natal Clubbing.

When I was a kid I was always puzzled when I read stories of people who got only one wish and wished wrong. I never understood it. I always wondered why on earth they didn’t do the obvious thing and wish for more wishes first.

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

God bless my homeland Ghana.

Ghanaians can be very annoying people. We believe our opinions are dearly sought after by everyone and we share them freely about whatsoever, whenever and to whoever the inclination hits us. This is especially true of people’s appearances. When we want to call the attention of a stranger we yell out their most obvious feature. HEY RED (fair person) BLACKIE! I SAY BLACKIE.OBOLO (fatso) [CLAP CLAP CLAP] O-BOLO-O! AKI-TI, AKI-TI-BO-GE (shortie) and we mean nothing by it. How else would we pick you out from a crowd of strangers? If a fat person eats in the streets, someone is sure to say ‘hey you’re still eating?!’ or similar. Nobody thinks for one second that you will be offended, and if you are another will tell you snappily that what was said about you is true. To our mind, falsehoods are terrible but the truth should not be found objectionable. I found our nosy tactless ways maddening until I got pregnant.

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

‘Everything about Motherhood is painful’

–H.J.A.N. Mensa-Bonsu.

October 08
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.

Bedtime battles

June 08

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!

Wrestling with my help.

April 08

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.

How I got pregnant- a brief history.

December 07
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.