Sunday, January 18, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I intend to start another soon. I want to do something with all the random thoughts that pop into my head. Although I’m sure I will yap about the oddest things, I hope I can have your company there.
Vinyo is a handsome baby. Everyone says that. Not that I could think any differently even if a report from the World Independent Commission on Beauty stated the contrary. But it is still nice to be part of the majority. A lot about his looks reminds me and everyone else of Dovie. They look quite alike. I thought it cute initially that everyone remarked how like his brother he looked. But it didn’t take long before it began to irritate me.
People would exclaim that he was Dovie’s brother indeed and then either do a quick compare and contrast essay or stamp everything about him as ‘he is really Dovie’s brother’. For instance the fact that he is a big eater confirms that, ‘he is really Dovie’s brother’. He has dimples, again because ‘he is really Dovie’s brother’. ‘Where is he?’ ‘He’s asleep.’ ‘O he is really Dovie’s brother’. ‘What beautiful hair he has, he is really Dovie’s brother.’… It is making me wonder what I ever did to make the whole world doubt my fidelity to my husband; I feel almost relieved that that particular secret concern seems to have been put to sleep. Of course no one is saying how he really is Kofi’s son so it is possible all I’ve proved is that my children share a father and not necessarily that I have taken ‘forsaking all others’ to heart.
Dovie is a handsome boy, a darling, everything a little boy or rather a big baby his age should be. I would be the first to shout it from the rooftops. But the subjugation of Vini’s personality to his is completely unacceptable. It is early yet, when he is older his own traits will be established. I feel though that if I allow this ‘Dovie’s brother’ nonsense to go unchecked and unremarked it will be so deeply entrenched that he will always be assessed in reference to Dovie. ‘He’s a good athlete, unlike Dovie.’ Or ‘he doesn’t do as well in music as Dovie.’
No observation made about Dovie was preceded or followed by a comparison. He didn’t have to be fair unlike my ex boyfriend’s son or smarter than Kofi’s one night stander’s daughter. He was just fair or smart or cute or funny. And Vini deserves the same. He is no less complete a baby.
I am not saying, never anyone dare mention both their names in the same breath. I have no objection to any comments about the similarity in looks. ‘They really look alike’ does not offend me. It is ‘he is really handsome, just like Dovie’ that does. Why not ‘what handsome boys they are’? What’s wrong with ‘your sons are heavy sleepers both’? Why must his personality stand in relation to his brother’s?
Some things are difficult to refrain from commenting on I concede. It is impossible not to notice that both my babies are big boys; that Vini is bigger than Dovie was at his age and his face is a different shape than Dovie’s. But that’s where it stops. Behavioral comparisons will not change what they are and will only serve to make them resentful of each other and the makers of said juxtapositions.
And I will not permit it. I refuse to have my sons made to feel insecure or inferior just to satisfy somebody’s desire to share an idle observation. I have officially outlawed comparative statements among my peers. I have yet to find a respectful and tactful way to do it with the adults. I’m working on it. I’ll soon come up with something.
I was a shy child and I was clumsy. It was not too difficult to acquire complexes. The unintentional unkindness of being compared with my nimbler elder sister, tidier cousins, less talkative peers soon took its toll. I am the only left handed person in my family. I have 2 sisters, 23 cousins, 1 nephew, 7 uncles and an aunt and not a one is left handed. But thanks to my old folks, I have always been inordinately proud of it. They never let people bully me. Despite the negativity attached to the left hand in our culture they found a way to make me unashamed. In class one, my teacher tried to force me to be right handed and it soon began affecting my work badly. I was failing miserably at right-handedness and the anxiety of facing another day of failure was making me lose interest in school and schoolwork. As soon as my mother found out what was going on, she descended on the school authorities and told them to stay away from her child. ‘God made her left-handed’, she said ‘and God doesn’t make mistakes’
I myself am sometimes guilty of the sin of comparison. Occasionally I catch myself thinking ‘Vini is stronger than Dovie was at this age’- like it makes a difference to anything. When I do, I chastise myself severely. So I recognize from my own experience that it is not always easy to avoid the greater than/less than speech. But I am making conscious effort and anyone who wishes to be part of their life better make one too.
I will stand in defense of my children’s distinctiveness. Anyone who tries to warp their self esteem and confidence, even if by accident of careless talk, will feel the unrestrained sharpness of my tongue, famed even when tempered for its acidity. The exception is with the adults. This method cannot be applied to them without social sanction both for myself and for the children I am using it to protect. For them I’m polishing my tact. When such statements are made, I will politely but firmly state my displeasure. If it is dismissed airily as complaints by the young often are here, I will not make a fuss. I will hold my tongue. Just be sure you say your fondest and most earnest goodbyes when the kids are leaving you. Chances are you will never see them again.
My sons are away this week. They are spending it with my Uncle Alex and Aunt Margaret- with whom I used to spend weekends as a child and who happen to be the sitting president and first vice president of the Dovie-is-a-wonder foundation, a not-for profit organization based in Tema. Everyone tells me how lucky I am to have such help; they don’t know how right they are. I am; I truly am. They have been wonderful. Not only do Dovie, and now Vini as well, spend days at a go with them being overindulged, overfed and adored, Kofi and I also get the royal treatment whenever we are there. In fact we spent the first 3 weeks post-op with them and were waited on hand and foot; a major factor in how it is I recovered so quickly and so completely. It is, without a doubt, because we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us that we stand tall.
So this week I’m traipsing around Accra masquerading as a young, single, childless woman and I’m loving it. It has been a delightful and most effective way to de-stress. Of course, the delightfulness lies primarily in it being an impermanent and voluntary situation I can reverse with a simple hour long drive. I doubt I would be rhapsodizing were it otherwise. The time our sons spend in Tema has proven very good for our relationship. My husband and I are all over each other. Sharing a space without our children takes us back to our dating days (when we lived in iniquity and the wicked pleasure that is bestowed by vice). That revisit gives our relationship a shot in the arm that helps it to thrive. With nothing to distract us from ourselves, we get a chance to enjoy each other thoroughly. The first night we didn’t go anywhere or do anything special, we both just slept- a full night’s sleep, what a total luxury!
This week I feel so free. I can walk faster without the baby hanging in front of me, I can go to the ‘corner-corner’ retail heaven where I shop in Mammobi, and I can go out and do everything I have to super-coordinate when the boys are home spontaneously. Its divine. Being frazzled and bothered takes away a lot of the joy in being with your children. So whenever I need me time or we need us time, I send them off. While they are gone I get to refocus on what’s great about them and miss them. Often some incident will inspire a wave of ‘child-sickness’ that makes keen the desire to bring them home, and by the time they get here, we are both in love with them again. (This time it was a Pampers ad with newborns and a cute toddler at the mall.)
The first time I took Dovie over to Tema, he was three months old. All week I was excited he would go away. I was too young to be held hostage by motherhood I said. I intended to celebrate to the full my temporary relief from my responsibilities to this very demanding master. Kofi and I made great plans of chilling, clubbing and sex and couldn’t wait to get them underway. But when the weekend finally came along and I took him over, I found myself unable to leave. I dallied till it got late and Auntie Maggie actually asked me to go home, at which point I began to cry. I cried all 20 some kilometers home and by the time I parked I was bawling. That first night was spent in a swirl of self-pity and loneliness and melodramatic misery. Kofi, to his credit, rallied and tried to seem to be having fun but Dov’s absence was so tangible he couldn’t keep it up. Eventually he abandoned the effort and joined me in the pits of gloom and we spent the first night extolling the incomparable virtues of our son.
By the time we woke up though, we were both better and starting to feel keyed up by the possibilities the weekend held. Not having to get up to feed or change or soothe during the night did a good job of drying my tears and cheering us up. We spent the morning just lying about taking pleasure in being alone together. Then, naturally, we moved on to said ‘great plans of chilling, clubbing and sex’. I cried again the first time the holiday extended from a weekend to a week.
Now though I’m a pro, an old hand. I can take them there, give a kiss to each, hop in my car and bugger off, singing all the way to Accra. I no longer need to spend a few days psyching and bracing myself to send them away. My decision to ship them off this time was made impulsively on Tuesday morning. So completely at ease is my family in my Uncle and Aunt’s home, bless their hearts, that I didn’t need to give even an hour’s notice.
Aside from the restoration of connubial privileges, very little I’ve done in this breather week is in and of itself exciting or fun but I’ve had such a blast doing them. I’ve painted parts of the walls in the bathroom, much to my help’s amazement- no madam paints anything, least of all a bathroom. I’ve wrestled Kofi (shocking poor Veronica nearly out of her wits – the boss and madam are ‘fighting blows’), I’ve followed him around on some work errands and just generally fluttered around the city like an unfettered bird.
Kofi has missed the kids in an o-I-wish-they-were- here way. I haven’t, not yet. I miss them in a pleasant what-lovely-children-we-have way. But because I have now learnt to share my children, because I know, accept and feel no shame in needing time off from being the central force in two little people’s lives, and because Uncle and Aunt are so very good to them, I don’t waste much of my holiday time thinking about them. I use it for what it is intended; I think about me.
By Sunday, I will have missed them sorely in a-come-home-to-me-my-children-let-me-hold-you-and-never-let-go way. Typically, on the morning of their return, I bug Kofi from the moment my eyes open for us to set out. ‘Aren’t we going to get the boys, its getting late’ I whine. Yes, I do have the time of my life on my holidays. But I enjoy their ends perhaps even more than I enjoy their beginnings. I will be as glad to be with them in 2 days as I am that I am not tonight and they will have a better mother for it.
Having finally accepted that I would not budge on the birthday party issue, my parents decided to have one for Dovie themselves. They told him-not me- to call up all his friends and invite them to a jam on the Saturday after his birthday. Unsurprisingly, they said it to my hearing, seeing as that is far more likely to yield result than a ‘two-man’ with Dovie. ‘Mum, he has no friends’ I said patiently. ‘Just you wait and see’ she replied airily, ‘we’ll have the best children’s party ever’.
During the week of the party, I saw and spoke to my parents about four times and each time there was some comment about how fun the party would be and what a bore I am, preceded or followed by a snort. On Saturday, we turn up dutifully outfitted for a children’s party. Daddy is supervising the canopies, Mum has blown up balloons when we drive in. The kitchen is stocked with paper plates, Styrofoam cups, balloons, pop-out whistles, toffees, chocolates, biscuits and a big blue teddy bear cake. She even had the food catered. She also told every invitee to bring a child along. There was every indication that it would be a great children’s party. I was humbled and touched by how much effort and expense they had gone to mark my son’s first birthday and anniversary of our parenthood. And I was almost ashamed that the children’s party for Dov was, contrary to all I’d sworn, possible.
Uncle Alex and Auntie Maggie were the first to arrive at about one thirty, with no child in tow. Then it was two, then two-thirty, then three. At nearly four we gave up the wait for the kids and set up the cake table. Then surrounded by grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, Dovie cut his cake or rather his parents cut his cake and he crumbled the parts nearest him. At about six, the first children arrived- they were 11 and 12. Dovie had, as to be expected, exhausted himself and was fast asleep. The greatest children’s party ever ended up having six children –with only 2 being under 10.
We did all have a blast though. After the cutting of the cake, it was renamed the first anniversary of grandparenthood jam and became an openly adult party. All pretense of interest in the token six little people was given up. They were left to amuse themselves and the party broke up into generational caucuses; the grandparents out on the lawn, the parents, uncles and aunts in the living room and the token six running around.
Even though I was proven right about the childrenlessness of the party, I am very glad my parents did what they did. It was heartening to see that all these older people would clear their day because of us. Indeed it was a very nice reminder that here, people are members of groups, nobody stands alone or with just their nuclear family. Everyone has a clan of family and near family with whom they belong. I found a warming comfort in the certainty that our joy was theirs too and that they could all be counted upon in our times of trouble to be our net. Of course, that also means all these people will at some point annoy us with unsolicited advice or insist that something we have decided not to do is the only way to ensure a child’s mental health. Still it is very good feeling, a worthwhile trade-off.
To some extent, all the people who came are good for our marriage and the stability of our home. Not because of any grand contribution they will make to it but because they will be concerned and disappointed to see it dissolve. While this is not enough to keep me in an unhappy marriage, it certainly holds sway over my parameters of what is forgivable. I suspect the same is true for Kofi. The concern for the equilibrium and happiness of the children of a union is very Ghanaian and is manifest largely in the social support and subtle pressure young marriages receive. It is a trying thing indeed, the process of convincing all the parties who helped the union to be formalized to aid in its dissolution. One has to be very unhappy or much wronged- which interpretation in these parts often does not include adultery- to get support and help.
Like all Ghanaians, we too are a part of a complex setup defined as family and not determined by blood. The many presents Dovie received and the party that broke up shortly before midnight attest to that. While the visual reminder of said network has neither convinced nor inspired me to resolve to have 1st birthday parties for my second son and any yet unborn children, it has made sharper my understanding of our place in the great circle of things.