Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ode to 'The Fine'.

January ‘09

I have tried varied ways; stern tone, joking tone, cajoling tone, displeased tone, lengthy explanations, everything but a can-can routine to explain to my girls that I hate being pressured to spend money. I like to be informed when things are running out, not when they are gone. I hate being told ‘Maman, there’s no fish’ ‘Maman, the boys don’t have any milk’ I really, truly hate that. I believe strongly, and have shared this belief with them, that only two professions afford a person the luxury of such an uncharted life and random spending; drug dealing and thievery. I have assured them also that they will be the first to know when I take up either trade. I will however insist that they ply it with me.

Still absolutely nothing got through. Week after week I would have my cheery mood dashed or a testy one aggravated by one or other of them, small voiced and sheepish-looking, telling me that there was no gas, no pork, no onion, no formula. It is never things you can do without till tomorrow either, like say oats or vinegar. No, it is always immediately pressing. It also always requires me slotting in a route I had not intended to use. No matter which way I was going, they manage to find something I buy in the opposite direction to demand. I buy diapers at the Mall and formula in Mammobi. If I were headed for instance to Legon, it could never be diapers that are we are in sore need of, it would have to be formula. Lord but it annoys me! I asked them once in the most patient of voices, ‘do your eyes roll upwards as you mix milk?’ ‘no Maman’ said Christina. ‘No Maman’ said Veronica. ‘So how is it’, I asked, ‘that you always seem surprised to be scraping the bottom of the tin?” I got a lot of foolish giggles but not a single coherent answer.
My life might have rolled along down this irksome path indefinitely had I not found a splendid cure. One morning as I was approached with yet another outstretched ‘we’ve ran out’ palm, I announced that it was the last time I was picking the tab on their irresponsibility. Thenceforth we would plan our every purchase; either with my money or theirs. If they told me something was going short, we had planned with my money; I would pay. If they let empty cans hit the bin before I was told, we had planned with their money; they would pay.

Not two weeks later I’m sitting behind my PC, enjoying the voyeuristic pleasures of Facebook, when Christina comes up to me. She bears the glad tidings that Vini has run out of milk. ‘Well then’, I say, ‘we must buy some and since you tell me after its finished and before my admission that I have indeed set up my own little cocaine academy ore become Mansa the Dread Highway Robber, you must have had this on your budget.’ I made each of them cough up GHc7.50 and we bought the milk. I then thanked them profusely for feeding my son, purely to rub it in. How they sulked! They spent several days with a weight in their gait and a glower, all of which was water down my back. I was not at all daunted. When I received the next shopping list, it came with the notice ‘Maman, we’ve just opened Vini’s last tin but one.’ I smiled to myself. As we say here, otwiaala!

Some time last year I bought a set of twelve glasses. They lasted about two months. Kofi bought us a new set, also twelve. They lasted three months or something like that. One evening, looking at the last two glasses we now possessed I grumbled crossly about wastage, and a conspiracy to embarrass me when I have guests. It was my fault, Kofi told me, because there was no punishment for such carelessness. Why exert yourself to avoid it when all you need do is utter an apology afterwards. It needn’t even be sincere. I saw his point.

We had read about Bisphenol A leaching into warm milk from plastic bottles and had promptly switched Dovie to glass. In the pre-Vini preparations, Kofi had had to buy some more since the girls had not left unshattered even one for Dovie to pass down. ‘They cost 4 cedis each’ I told the girls, ‘you break it you bought it.’ That first month they broke three. When I paid them I presented their bills. ‘You owe me eight cedis for bottles and you owe me four.’ I didn’t deduct my due at source. I gave them their total earnings, then made them hand over my bottle money themselves. They were very amused. They thought I was just making a point until I pocketed the money and walked off. The crestfallen look on their faces was too delicious to describe and its memory even now entertains me. I heard one ask the other if I was really going to keep it. I didn’t catch the answer, I didn’t need to. Of this I am certain; smirking hasn’t been this much fun in years.

We use a set of eight I bought at the Mall currently. They are very large and I love them. Kofi has infected me with a hatred for ‘drinking out of thimbles’. The more like a cauldron a glass is, the fonder we are of it. These ones hold about a half litre each and are therefore greatly loved. A watered down coke on ice- twist of lemon if possible (it adds even more to the look than it does the flavour) - has never looked colder or more able to quench thirst, I assure you. It has been four months and I haven’t lost a single one yet. Our elders say advice does not change people, only trials do. It appears also that the only thing that dries slippery hands is bills.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Speak no evil

January 09

The boys are bonding well. This pleases me greatly. Dovie has taken to his big brother role easily-far more so than I was led to anticipate- and I make a conscious effort to not make either one feel too special. In my zeal not to make Dovie feel replaced, I was starting to give him far more attention than Vini got. But because I didn’t let my help touch him- he was too young- and I took care of him myself, he hadn’t started to feel it yet. Fortunately I caught myself before it became our set pattern.

Dovie has, after a slight ripple in the waters, gotten used to me or his papa playing with his brother. To my amusement he has yet to understand or accept that his grandparents are Vini’s too and gets a bit put out if they seem too enthralled with young Master Vini. When the baby cries, Dovie often pats him on the back, or will rock him in his bouncy chair. He used to beat on Vini a lot more till his father started doing unto him as he had done unto his brother. He would smack Vini’s face and Kofi would smack his. He’d cry, we’d hug him and that would be the end of it. He soon stopped thinking it was fun to whack the kid. I still occasionally have to scold him for hitting his brother but all in all we are in a good place.

I am lucky that my son was so young when his brother came along. I’ve thus had a chance to learn some things that I would have paid heftily for if Dovie had been older at no extra sweat. Top on the list of these is the effect the careless talk that abounded before Vini was born would have had on him.

‘Look at you, playing so happily, mwah, you don’t even know that you’ll be dethroned in a few months poor boy. Mwah, mwah mwah.’ ‘You go on and cling to your mom and don’t let me carry you some. In a few months she won’t have a moment to spare for you then you’ll see’ ‘O Dovie, why are they dethroning you so quickly, your mean parents.’ They didn’t mean anything by it. It was only thoughtlessness that made them speak so. No one expects it to damage the child. But I shudder when I think how it would have affected Dovie had he understood more language then.
Even if he had had no strong objection to the existence of his brother, being constantly told by so many people of so many walks that something dreadful would follow the baby’s arrival would definitely have made him- as would have anyone else- rethink his generosity.

I was slightly annoyed by the suggestion that I would neglect Dovie because of Vini. But partly because I didn’t want to make strident claims and find out that everyone was right; there was after all only so equally a human mother could love her children and partly because I was a little shy to take on people who I know are full of good will for me and my family, I let it slide. By the time the potential impact dawned on me and I decided to put an end to such talk, he had heard a good number of calls to resentment. Luckily for us all he didn’t understand a word of it. He was too busy trying to figure out why heeding a ‘bra mummy’ could sometimes lead to a hug and other times to the loss of that fabulous new toy he’d picked up from the corner and was just about to taste.

Now that Vini is here, everyone seems to have lost interest in this topic that, only months ago, was pressing to comment on and a good thing too! Lately Dovie is ever surprising us with his comprehension of language. If those careless words were bandied about now, though he might miss the nuances the words have picked up in their evolutionary journey, he certainly would get the general message. I’m thankful I did not have to tell the adults; people, who are mostly good parents themselves, not to say things they must have said a hundred times before with no obvious catastrophe ensuing. And there’s nothing like slapping somebody down to kill their joy in your children. I’m glad, so glad I was spared the necessity.

But like we say, if you pass by someone’s window and hear them advising their child, stop and listen, you might be the wiser for it. So this lesson I’ve learnt, luckily only as a concept, I pass on to everyone who would hear. Do not let anyone tease your child that their unborn sibling is replacing, dethroning or usurping them. The cost is steep, the effects permanent. If they can’t think of anything genuinely harmless to say, let them take a cue from Dovie. ‘tja’ and ‘na na na’ can be the foundation of some very deep conversations.

Never again another Tylenol through my lips!

January 09.

I’m a worst case scenario imaginer. It is not that I’m a pessimist. It is that I have a wildly hyperbolic imagination. It can take anything, however innocuous, and blow it up into a catastrophe that would make the stoutest heart quiver. For instance if I call someone important to me four or five times in one evening without getting a response, I break out in a deep fear that something horrible has happened to them; they have had an accident or are alone and unconscious in their car by the wayside or in a bush. It could never be simply that they were asleep, though it was only eight or that they just didn’t feel like talking to me.

I had a boyfriend once who cheated on me. After a good deal of brouhaha and cartloads of hurtful words in both directions, I decided to give him another chance. Only, thenceforth every time he didn’t pick up his phone I envisioned him with the other woman telling her how much he loved her and asking her to be patient; he would dump me he just needed time to break it to me gently. Within twenty minutes of dialing his number I would be furious with him, and poised to leave him. When we met or spoke, I would bring up the ignored calls, looking for signs of deception, so I could walk. Often he would respond with something like ‘I was still in that meeting’. –the presentation of which I had helped him work on -or ‘O sorry baby I was asleep.’ Then whoosh out would go all the hot air and I’d be weak from the pent up anger, but would play it cool so he would have no inkling what had just happened. If he went out of town I imagined they were hosting a first anniversary party at a hotel and all his friends were there. I was the only one who didn’t know about them in all Accra and was therefore a standard joke. Again I’d plan some elegant yet melodramatic way to dump him that would make the list of the ‘top ten ways to dump your man.’ Eventually the tension of such a high adrenaline life got to me and I got out.

The point I’m endeavouring to illustrate is what a James Bond my imagination is. Imagine then, if you can, my utter horror and the madly spinning flight my mind went into when early Tuesday morning last week, I came back into my bedroom from a quick dash to the car to find Veronica –my help- taking half a 500mg tab of Tylenol from a smiling Dovie’s mouth. To this day I do not know how it is I didn’t go into cardiac arrest. He was sitting sprawled on the floor with the bottle of easily a hundred pills lying scattered around him. I grabbed him and, in a most un-first-aidy move, held him tightly to my heart crying ‘o Dovie, o God.’ When I remembered the urgency of time, I stopped squashing him and looked into his mouth. I considered giving him water, then decided against it. Some poisons require water but others milk, and yet others orange juice, I recalled foggily from a long ago Girl Guide Camp. I didn’t want to complicate things so I left it alone.

Kofi came back from the cafe and I told him. He said quietly that that was how a childhood buddy of his had lost his hearing. ‘he’s little o, he’s so little’ he said in sad grave tones looking at Dovie. I don’t have to tell anyone who knows me even a little that I promptly started crying. ‘Dovie.’ I called. He ignored me. ‘Dovie! Dovie!’ I started freaking out and went to him shook him ‘Dovie’. He looked up puzzled touched a hand to my teary cheek and smiled. ‘tja’ he shouted and went back to his game.

The boys had a weighing appointment so I had planned to make one trip of it. Dovie would see the doctor then we’d go and see the nurses for the weighing. After learning about the hearing loss incident, I began worrying that it had been the wrong thing to do; that I should have left with him immediately and come back later for Vini. I said a quick furious prayer that it be not too late.

Poor Veronica. I called for her. She didn’t respond, I called again, no response. I yelled her name out like a drumroll and when she got there I turned to her, a volunteer for the weight and stress of my fear. ‘why do you always make me shout for you, do you think I’ve nothing better to do with my energy. Who told you our neighbours like to dance to your name. Ah I’m sick of you.’ I yelled. I rushed us through the dressing up and hopped in to the car and driving a little too fast, a subdued Veronica, worried me, sleeping Vini and a happily playing Dovie set off for the clinic.

There was nothing the matter with him. It seemed he hadn’t eaten any. He had only just managed to put that half in his mouth when Veronica came in. A baby reacting to a drug, I was told, did so within seconds of consuming it and left one in no doubt as to what was happening. I was so relieved I had to sit down. My knees were weak.

It is true that I had left the bottle on the dresser but he really shouldn’t have been able to reach it. I’m willing to swear a week ago he couldn’t have. That’s the trouble with babies, they grow so fast that some of the changes are nearly imperceptible to one in constant contact. It was not physical development that gave him access to the pill bottle; it was an increase in mental capacity. The bottle was indeed too far out for him to reach. But the bottom drawer was slightly open and his smarter-this-week-than-last brain told him that if he used it to climb up he would get to it. And it was right.

Practically everyone in the clinic, nurses, the doctor, the pharmacist, the receptionist, other mothers, ventured to tell me not to put bottles on low shelves; to construct a wooden cabinet box and put it high up on a wall, never to leave him alone in a room with pills or bottles. It grated; all that admonition, it burnt. I could feel me get prickly inside as people gave me how to be a good mother advice. As if I didn’t know how. I already have a medicine box alright. Mchew. But I couldn’t say a word. If I were doing it so right, why were we there? How did he end up with Tylenol in his mouth. So I stood by smiling through gritted teeth and saying ‘o I say. Children; take your eyes off them for a minute…’

I was happy to get home. He was fine. It was over. I sent Veronica to buy me a coke with more money than she needed and when she came back, I sheepishly told her to keep the change. It was my way of apologizing. She had had such a bewildered look on her face. And indeed, what had she done? Had it not been for her, Dovie might actually have had time to bite into the pill. She really hadn’t deserved the yelling. Though she is in the habit of pretending deafness, she knew we were going to the hospital so had packed the boys’ bag and gone to change when she was summoned with the bellow.

Dovie, like they promised at the clinic, is right as rain; full of energy and joy and hearing complete. Veronica has since been restored to glory, I’ve outlived my shame and all is quiet on this front. Lately the exaggerator is being put to better use. No longer am I wasting energy worrying that Kofi has had a flat on a deserted road when his phone’s off. These days me and my imagination expend our energies exploring the possible dangerousness of every little thing invented by man; matchsticks, pens, pen tops, even padlocks. When Kofi tried to take my lip gloss from him the other day I nearly said ‘o let him have it what harm can it do.’ At once my imagination answered. An event flash of Dovie with my lip gloss thick on his eyelids holding one eye shut, and being prepped for emergency surgery and I quickly agreed with him. ‘Give me that you’, I said, swooping down to snatch it. All his protests and tears didn’t so much as move a cord in me. How could they, filled as I was with smug satisfaction that I had thwarted the eye disaster that had surely been coming.