Bitter & Sweet

I couldn’t stop them

The tears

They fell

They flowed

They stung as they bathed my soul in bitter and sweet

My broken heart lay at my feet

Still beating

My mind still screaming

The stench of death lifting from my skin like a ghost

Ashes from a thousand trays in my throat

The deepest hollow in my chest

I watched him go like all the rest

Which blackness is this that covers me like a cloak?

Follows me like a thief in the night

Steals my joy before day light

Which curse is this that won’t let go?

Always bringing me back to what I know

Where my spirit sits in a pile of shit

Where heaven meets hell

And becomes just like it

 

IMAGE | www.pinterest.com

Blood, sweat and tears…and blood

There was blood. A lot of it. And the child was crying her head off. I was parking the car when I first heard her screaming. I left the car running and raced up the steps, almost dropping the house keys in my frantic attempts to unlock the door.

In the house, I found the house girl trying unsuccessfully to soothe Adoti. But the girl was inconsolable. Her chest was heaving, sobs catching in her throat. Her face was awash with tears, and her nose covered in mucus.

But what I found most alarming was the blood. It looked like she had split her lip.

I put her head to my chest, trying to calm her down before I figured out exactly which part of her was injured.

“What happened?” I asked the house girl.

“She refused to stay in the playpen. Every time I put her there she cries. So I put her on the chair. She must have been trying to reach your scarf (it was on the armrest) when she fell down,” she said, showing no obvious signs of distress.

Doesn’t she realise this is a crisis, I thought to myself. What kind of woman remains so calm in the face of calamity? Those had better not be the symptoms of latent psychopathy.

“What! You left her on the chair by herself?” I could feel my pressure rising. My vision was beginning to go blurry. The head was beginning to pound. Meanwhile, Adoti continued to wail. It seemed that she had indeed split her lip, but on the inside.

“Mi humwacha hapo kila saa. Hajawai anguka. (I leave her there all the time, and she’s never fallen off) This is the first time she’s falling. I was just here in the kitchen,” she said.

I don’t know which part of that statement was supposed to make me feel better. My mind could not process the information in any understandable sequence. Words failed me completely.

I have gone all out to make it easier for her to co-exist amicably with Adoti. The house is filled with all manner of child-friendly gizmos and appliances to allow her to work with the assurance that the child is safe.

And bandy legs or not, she could always go the old-fashioned route and put Adoti on her back. So why, pray tell, would she leave an 8-month old alone on the couch, when there was every possibility that she would fall off?

I couldn’t find an answer for that, so I let it go.

“Let’s clean this area around her mouth with Dettol,” I said.

By this time, the child had stopped bawling, and was sucking her tongue like her life depended on it. Every so often, she would sniff woefully as if pondering the harsh realities of the world.

I cleaned her up, changed her bloody romper and breastfed for a while. Breast milk is the universal cure in baby land. It heals the body and soothes the mind.

A few minutes later, it was as if nothing happened. If I had come home just half an hour later, I would have been met with joy and laughter, instead of blood and tears – none the wiser.

Because Adoti seemed to have forgiven her nanny for ‘letting her fall’, I really had no choice but to follow suit. Besides, I still could not wrap my head around her offhand demeanour and nonchalant tone. I suppose she was trying not to add fuel to a raging fire.

I do believe however, that my studied silence spoke much louder than words.

Kids will be kids I guess. They will fall and injure themselves from time to time and as a parent, you just have to hold your heart and do what you can to put them back together again. This is the thing about parenthood; you have complete control over your child’s life but at the same time, you have no control at all.

There’s only so much you can do to ensure that your kid is safe. Much as you would love to, you cannot be everywhere all the time, and even if you were, accidents happen.

That’s a scary thing for a first-time Mum to acknowledge. Ah well, at least we’ve had our first fall. My heart nearly failed but I stayed strong. Hopefully, the accidents to come will be easier to handle. Please God, don’t let them be more than Mama can bear.

A baby, a swimmer and a pilot walked into a bar…

Three things: Swimming, aeroplanes and ear infections. They shouldn’t have anything in common. Ah, but they do. If a swimmer, a pilot and a baby walked into a bar, they would have at least one thing to talk about. And that would be how taking a flight and a swim can result in the nastiest of ear infections for persons under the age of one.

Before we left for Mombasa, I asked the doctor if I needed to give Adoti anti-malaria medication. Her response was brief: “No. Sleep under nets.”

I went a step further and purchased wholesale amounts of mosquito repellent.

We spent 90-minutes on the plane in total, 45 to go and 45 to come back, but clocked a good number of hours commuting to and from airports and hanging around waiting to board.

Traffic jams in both Nairobi and Mombasa meant that we had to leave for the airport way before departure. I learned the ‘baptism-by-fire’ way that travelling with a young child is no mean feat. Not when you have a baby bag, your own luggage and a fist full of identification documents, boarding passes and the like.

Adoti was in full squirming mode, refusing to sit still for even a moment. She did not appreciate being confined to my lap for hours on end, not when she had just been exposed to a whole new world that needed exploring. I spent a good amount of time holding onto her legs as she tried to scramble away from me belly first.

I saw a few parents who had their own kids under control purse their lips and give the side-eye. I ignored them studiously.

So finally we board heading Coastside, baby, luggage and all. It’s a veritable comedy of errors as I try to push my carry-on bag into the overhead compartment, while balancing Adoti on one hip and her baby bag on the other. Finally, we plonk down into the window seat, knowing full well that we were supposed to be at the aisle. But no one short of Jesus himself would have gotten me to move at that point.

The air hostess came round and gave me an extra seat belt for the child, and I belted us both up and prepared for take-off. I thought she would sleep all the way through but yeah, she did not. One minute she was looking outside the window, the next she was trying to crawl under the chair.

It would have been a different story if she was doing this quietly but she was babbling away happily as if we were the only ones on the plane.

As we took off, every child on the aircraft began to cry, probably because their ears were blocking and they didn’t know how to pop them. I was comforted by the thought that my child wasn’t the only one causing a ruckus.

After an eventful 45 minutes, we landed in Mombasa and Adoti and I both began to sweat profusely. We didn’t stop for the entire trip, which was heaven for our skin but hellish on our general outlook on life. The child was genuinely confused, I would imagine. She was completely out of her comfort zone. But she took it like a champ. Well, for the most part.

On the plus side, because it was cumbersome to prepare her baby meals, she finally had the chance to eat off Mama’s plate. And eat, she did. With gusto.

It was a certainly a weekend of first for the girl. One of the more enjoyable moments when she saw the ocean for the first time. And when she took her first swim in the pool. She was a bit apprehensive at first but after a while she loosened up, even becoming so daring as to put her head in the water.

That was all fun and games until we got back to Nairobi and she developed a fever. She handled the trip back like a pro, as if she was some kind of world traveller, which was great. But after a day or two, I could see that something was not right with Adoti.

I took her to the doctor and explained that we had just come back from the Coast. Tests showed that she did not have malaria – thank God – but what she did have was a severe ear infection. That’s the last thing I expected to hear.

“You flew?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, we did.”

“And you went swimming in a pool?”

“Yep.”

“You seem normally when you fly with a baby, you need to breastfeed them all through so that their ears pop when they block. Also, it’s possible she caught some infection from the water in the pool,” she said.

Well, someone colour me uninformed. Obviously, a doctor should have tagged along with the baby, the pilot and the swimmer. Oh well, you live and you learn.

Call me baby

From newborn, to infant to toddler and back again, it might be time to call baby a name other than that which denotes the current stage of her development.

She was sitting on my lap a few days ago when the children of Lang’ata Road primary school stepped up to the picket line to demonstrate against the grabbing of their playground.

The scenes were distressing. The image of a little girl crying and calling for her mummy is unforgettable. A knot tightened in my stomach when I imagined my own child in that kind of chaos.

But I was so proud of those kids for standing up and being counted! They were more courageous than most of us could ever hope to be. Because they dared to fight for their rights, the lethargic arm of the Government was jolted into action and by Wednesday last week, the relevant authorities were on site, restoring their playground to its former glory.

The activity caused a traffic jam of epic proportions, but even as 30 minutes turned into three hours, we were comforted by the thought that it was all for a good cause.

And yet I cannot imagine dropping my child at school and then turning on the lunchtime news to see her surrounded by a riotous crowd, ducking flying canisters and choking on teargas fumes. My heart would quite literally fall to my feet. At the same time, I want to raise a child who can raise her own voice for a worthy cause. But it’s early days yet. We will cross that bridge when we get to it.

In the meantime, I need to give the child a ‘pen’ name. I’m guessing that the sassy, lil’ miss will not take kindly to my revealing her ‘government’ name, especially after my in-depth analyses of her bowel movements.

I remember my first ultra sound. I was so excited to hear her heartbeat. It’s so hard to imagine – even though women give birth every day – that you can actually carry around a living, breathing human being in your tummy. But there it was loud and clear; a very strong, very rapid heartbeat.

It was amazing to me that the wee, little dot-like mass that showed up on the screen was going to grow into an actual baby. I called my sister and told her that I had seen the child and she was a dot.

It wasn’t long before she started calling her ‘The Dot’. But then my nieces and nephew chimed in and it became ‘Adot’. Finally, they all settled on Adoti, given that the she is of a certain cultural persuasion. Her father doesn’t understand any of the thinking behind it, but there you are. I’m sure I’ll be explaining the origin of this nickname to the child herself for years to come.

I can just imagine it: “So the doctor took a picture of me, yah?”

“Yes, he did. And you were just a tiny, tiny, tiny, little dot.”

“I was really small, yah?”

“Yes, you were. So I told Aunty Maggie how small you were, just like a dot. And she said she would call you The Dot.”

“And then what happened Mummy?”

“And then, she changed her mind and started calling you Adot.”

“She started calling me Adot?”

“Yes, she did. But then all your cousins started calling you Adoti. And pretty soon everyone was calling you by that name.”

“Why did they start calling me Adoti?”

“Because they liked the way it sounded. And they were happy that they had the chance to give you a name that no one had thought of. They even made a picture story for you and wrote your name all over it.”

“So when I’m big I will have a picture story to remind me how it was when I was a baby, yah?”

“Yes, sweetpea. When you’re big you’ll be able to see how a small, little dot can become a big girl. All your friends, teachers, cousins, aunts and uncles will be so amazed at how much you’ve grown.”

“Yes! One day I’ll be a big girl, yah?”

“For sure. One day you’ll be a big girl and you will go to school and leave Mummy all by herself in the house. And I will be sad because I won’t be able to talk to you all the time.”

“Don’t worry Mummy. Even when I’m a big and I’ve gone to school, you can still call me baby.”

Eight months and counting!

We’re 8! It’s been eight months since the child was born. How time flies! I’ve been looking at pictures from back when she was a newborn. Such a tiny, little slip of a girl. I look back on that age of innocence with fondness. Those were that days when I would put her down and find her exactly where I had placed her. These days, the correct term for her would be ‘underfoot’.

She’s become even more spirited with age. The little girl knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want, and woe unto you if you deign to impose your own will. Which is crazy. She’s 8 months for heaven sake. I’m eight months to the power of infinity. I should be getting my way. But I don’t. Not often, anyway.

In this battle of wills, baby has the upper hand. See, you have to factor in the cuteness quotient. It’s very hard to say no to a child because they just kill you with sweetness. But you must also consider that she is much more persevering that I will ever be. The kid does not quit. And she’s strong too.

She seems to be slightly ahead of the developmental curve because she was crawling at six months, and ‘toddling’ shortly thereafter. Because she was a) crawling and b) holding onto things and taking baby steps, I assumed that I could start calling her a toddler. But yeah, you know what they say about assumptions and motherhood.

See, to qualify as a toddler she would have to be at least 12 months, or so conventional wisdom dictates.

Her personality would have to be clearly shining through and she would have to be very expressive. Mama would have to be on the receiving end of the most epic theatrical meltdowns, complete with flailing arms, tears and screaming.

Previously, a sweet little angel, she would suddenly become demanding and prone to angry outbursts. On the flip side, she would also be reserved, not mingling well in a crowd and taking time to warm up to new people.

And you know that one sure trick that you would trot out on occassion to get baby to laugh? She would “demand” that you do it over and over again, or else treat you to one of her legendary “theatrical meltdowns”.

The child would also become perennially cranky and exhausting, but that kind of “out of control” behavior would apparently be quite normal for a toddler.

Well, so far, this pretty much sums up my sassy, lil’ miss. For someone in such a small package, she sure does pack a hefty punch.

She’s even learning how to shake her head from left to right (signaling a big, fat, ‘No, Mama!), while clamping her mouth shut when she’s had enough to eat, or for some reason, just doesn’t want to.

The child is also a master when it comes to wiggling and squirming her way out of a firm grip so she can get down to the floor and hit the carpet crawling.

The other day she yanked on the landline cord so hard that the telephone came tumbling down, almost hitting her square in the face.

She also seems to understand from my tone of voice when she’s doing something that she shouldn’t be. Just the other day, she made a surreptitious attempt to grab a handful of electric cables, while they were still connected to the socket, thinking in her wee, little baby brain that Mama’s all seeing eyes were not watching. “Baby, stop that!” I said, quite sternly, not thinking for a moment that she would pay me any heed. In fact, I was standing up to go fetch her as the words came out of my mouth.

But to my surprise, she turned around so fast, it must have had her head spinning, and crawled rapidly in the opposite direction. Now if that is not the reaction of a baby who knows she’s been busted, then I don’t know what it is.

As weeks have turned into eight months, the child has certainly done a lot of growing. She’s a miniature human with a mind of her own and a will to match. So, while technically speaking, she is still an infant, as in a young child in the early stages of her development, I am reserving the right to call her a toddler. Not that these tags and labels matter to her in way whatsoever. But hey, it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Attachment parenting

There’s a style of child rearing called attachment parenting (AP).

According to Attachment Parenting International (an organisation with the self-proclaimed mission to nurture children for a compassionate world) AP is “an application of sensitive, responsive parenting…based in the practice of nurturing parenting methods that create strong emotional bonds, also known as secure attachment, between children and their parent(s).”

In practical terms, this means spending as much time with your baby as possible, and responding to their needs in real time.

So basically, carrying them around with you as you go about your business (a principle called ‘babywearing’) and having them sleep with you in the same bed (bed-sharing) or the same room (co-sleeping).

There are several other AP principles but at this stage of our development – baby and I – we’re most concerned with these two.

The child would love it if I carried her around with me all day long. She’s not yet familiar with the concept of keeping her own company. There must be someone in the room with her and if there’s not, they will be ‘wail’ to pay.

Sometimes I put her down and let her ‘cry it out’, but most times I don’t have the heart to hear her bawling.

One woman’s advice was, “Wacha alie, kwani atalia damu. Usipofanya hivyo utamzoesha mkono (let her cry, there is no way she will cry tears of blood, if you don’t do that, she’ll get used to being carried all the time).”

I thought that was bit harsh, and yet there are days when there’s too much going on and I can’t afford to walk, talk and bounce a baby on my hip at the same time. I’ve carried her on my back once or twice, but then someone told me that that was a sure way to give her bandy legs. “Atakuwa kama hao watoto wa rickets (she will look like those children who have rickets),” she said. Oh, the things you hear.

I’m developing my own style of parenting as we go along, which is a hybrid of all the weird and wonderful advice that I receive by the bucket load. It varies according to how tired I am at any given moment in time; baby is more likely to sit it out for a few, if Mama is exhausted.

But despite all my best efforts, we are co-sleepers. I had been given stern instructions to get her into her own bed, and if possible her own room, as soon as possible, otherwise I would never get her out of mine. I managed the first pretty early on, but yeah, I don’t have the heart to hear her bawling and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I put her in her own room.

Anyhow, her cot is right next to my bed. She can see me as she dozes off and again as she wakes up. But just recently, she has begun to understand what it means for another person to be asleep.

Before, when she woke up in the morning (after waking a couple of times at night to feed) she would immediately begin to cry. She would cry until I paid attention. Nowadays, if she’s up and I’m not, she tries to occupy herself until I wake up.

Most times, she just thinks I’m asleep because my body is still and my eyes are closed. So I crack my eyes open just a wee bit and watch her raise herself up by holding on to the side of the cot, sit back down, roll over, turn around, stand back up again, bounce up and down and generally have a good ole time by herself.

Her vocal repertoire has been expanded to include more sounds, so the track is no longer just, ‘ta ta ta’. There are some ‘ma ma mas’ and ‘da da das’ in there as well. How exciting is that?! I think I just might throw a party on the day she finally calls me Mama. Sigh.

So. I’m usually surveilling her without her knowledge, but as soon as we make eye contact, or I move my head, it’s game over. As soon as she realises that I’m awake, she wants out of the cot and into the real world.

This game of cat and mouse has become our morning ritual. We can go for a good 30 minutes before we hit injury time, and it becomes clear that whether Mama is asleep or not, baby is about to blow the final whistle and call it a new day.

And everyone knows that the referee’s decision is final.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a New Year

Happy New Year!

First of all, I am relieved to report that baby and I are no longer without a nanny. Last week, I realised that it’s not just the child who needs help, so does Mama. Thankfully, our ayah came back exactly when she said she would.

During the Week of my Discontent, I had mentioned to a cousin who lives in the US, how hard it was to cook, clean and be on baby duty 24/7. She was not impressed. “No housi for a week? Brutal,” she jibed.

Ouch. I tried to explain to her how taking care of a baby is like clearing traffic because the President is about to drive by but she was having none of it. “Even the housi couldn’t do it alone,” I said in my defence. To which she replied, “Sawa sawa dear, if you say so.”

Harrumph! How was someone in an industrialised nation accusing me of having ‘first world’ problems? I was affronted. And rightfully so. Granted, caring for a toddler is not like tilling the fields but hey, it’s no stroll down a quiet street either. But I digress.

Baby and I are getting along better than ever. Like many people have said many times, being a Mum is the most important job in the world. No matter how crazy it gets sometimes, it is meaningful work, and that’s the best kind there is.

That’s what I tell myself every time I stop at the supermarket on the way home from work to stock up on baby supplies. I’m at the store so often that the guard and I are on first name basis. She starts waving her electronic baton at me from far. At this point, the body search is just a formality because I practically live there.

I’ve began to see a few parents starting on their back-to-school shopping, looking very stressed and put upon, as if buying stuff for their kids is such a burden. Well, it can be, but it is a burden I bear with pride. And hopefully, a good bit of grace.

Before I had the child, the supermarket was a place I visited maybe once a month. My fridge was a wasteland. Typically, they’d be a bottle of Fanta. Some milk. A mouldy loaf of bread. And maybe a block of cheese.

I had five of everything. Five cups, five glasses, plates, spoons, cereal bowls and so on. I only ever used one of each. I wouldn’t have had a flask if my sister hadn’t insisted that I needed one. Tea was brewed in the cup – hot water, cold milk, tea bag and sugar. It would take me five minutes tops to make a cuppa, butter some bread and eat, drink and be done.

My gas cooker was an accessory. I had it for months before I went anywhere near it, partly because I didn’t have a gas cylinder but mostly because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. While most normal people had shelves heaving with unga, rice, pasta, vegetable oil and things of that nature, mine were bare. As in, not even lined with newspaper. I was the quintessential bachelorette who frequently swung by a fast food outlet on my way home to grab my version of a ‘hot meal’.

But then along came baby and all of a sudden I’m living in a warehouse. I kid you not. My home has been overrun by kiddie paraphernalia and my kitchen is overflowing with all manner of homemaking apparatus. And that fridge that used to be a ghost town? It is very much alive with food that baby is in the process of eating or is going to eat. Mama’s soda, milk, bread and cheese has been replaced with fruits, lean meats and vegetables. My shelves would give Mke Nyumbani a run for her curry powder. I have become an adult. A bona fide grown up. Do you hear that noise? That’s the sound of hell freezing over.

Baby is at the wheel and she’s caused me to do a complete 180. When I think back to who I was and compare it to who I am now, there is no point of convergence. It’s like night and day. Whereas I used to travel light, never accumulating too much stuff on my journey through life, now I am a pack rat. And the most precious of my cargo is the sweet little girl who didn’t just increase my belongings, but my capacity to love as well. It’s going to be a good year.