Portraits of Motherhood [4]

Motherhood4

A Question From My Daughter

After a day that threatened to break my distress-tolerance scale, I could not refrain from disintegrating in front of my five-year-old daughter. We were sitting in our kitchen and I was looking at her through eyes red and swollen, from crying.

“Mama who is your mommy?” she asked while typing gibberish comprising emoticons, punctuation marks, and jumbled-up letters on my phone. “I want to tell her you are sad.”

I giggled as though she had just pounced on me with one of her random tickles. I was pleased that she was brave enough to ask things I never dared to ask when I was a child.

“Your grandmother . . .  the one we visited recently . . .  where we slept over, is my mother,” I stuttered.

“Oh,” she replied.

I expected more questions but she seemed satisfied with my answer.  I, however, felt discontented. My answer contained only one half of the truth. How could I explain that I have two mothers or that it was possible to have two mothers?

Would she understand if I told her that I had been brought up as my grandmother’s sister’s child because my grandmother’s daughter, my mother, had given birth to me at a young age? And that the woman she called grandmother was really my mother’s maternal aunt?

In 1981, if you were twenty, schooling, and living with your parents or grandparents, as was the case in many black homes in South Africa, you were a child. Children did not raise children. They went to school. How could I tell her the truth—that sometimes mommies gave their babies away through a process called adoption? Would she not think that perhaps I too might give her to another mommy forever?

I decided to keep the answers in my things-to-tell-my-daughter-in-future file. I remembered that I was once a child who needed answers about the people who made up my family.

Unathi Kapa shares her thoughts on identity, culture, belonging, and purpose on unathikay

 

An Extra Mouth to Feed

In the shower, steam shrouds me but does not insulate me. I am thinking about money. I worry about my lack of it.

Once, when I manufactured a few minutes to play with him in the park, he threw the ball to me, an easy pass that I should not have missed.

“Mom you’re not looking!”

He was right, again. I am rarely present; I am in our future worrying.

“I’m sorry. Let’s play again.”

I threw the ball so it spun in an arc that began its descent farther away from where he stood. He was already moving back, calculating the trajectory of the ball. Before delight widened his eyes, weariness had narrowed them. How easily children forgive and forget.

Kalanne said that ever since she got a nanny, she was a better mother. By way of illustration, she said when Sowari spilled his milk, instead of screaming, “What’s wrong with you! Why are you so clumsy?” she now said, “Aw, darling be careful. Don’t worry Tari will clean up.”

I think that if I had money, I would be a better mother. I would not shout as I had done over the loss of his monthly bus pass, berating him with words from a tornado inside me.

I sigh and adjust the shower settings so hot water stings me like needles. When I leave my frugal pleasure-penance behind and open the door, he is there.

Steam rushes to embrace him, but it does not insulate him either.

“Mom, I’m sorry. Don’t send me to my dad. When I grow up I will buy you a car.”

Dangerous thoughts had been circling my mind. How wonderful to be free again. How much easier life without an extra mouth to feed.

I pull him close and wrap him in a fierce hug. My tears mingle with water droplets and disappear into his hair.

If the love of money is the main root of all evil, the lack of it is the secondary root.

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

The Empty Crib

We do not interrupt the drive home from the hospital with small talk. When we pull up in front of our house, the neighbours spring out from theirs. Their merriment uncoils in laughing smiles, waving arms, and dancing legs.

The confusion begins the moment I step out of the car. Their eyes travel from my empty arms to my ‘flat’ stomach and from my flat stomach to my empty arms, until someone blurts, “Where is the baby?”

We had not discussed how we would answer their questions. I go inside, while he stays behind to explain.

Death is a thief. It also stole my sleep. The sedatives they force me to drink, freeze in my digestive tract. I walk from room to room weeping for a daughter I never held. It is a long time before my legs give way and I lie on the carpet in the room with yellow walls and the empty white crib.

In the days following, they tell me I am lucky to be alive. I do not feel lucky; I feel empty. They tell me I am young; I can have other children. But, I wanted this one. Oh God, how I wanted this one.

In the beginning, I held a vigil for her every year, so she would know that even if everyone else forgot, I would not. Then one year I looked at the calendar and realized that while I was driving my son to football practice and watching my daughter pirouette in ballet class, her birthday had passed. I had not known that pain could fade into oblivion.

Now I understand what they told me many years ago: I will go to her, but she will not return to me.

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Can a woman forget her baby?
Can she forget the child who came from her body?
Even if she can forget her children, I cannot forget you.
I drew a picture of you on my hand. You are always before my eyes.
Isaiah 49:15-16

 

 

 

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Did We Do Any Learning? [5]

learning & living

The human story does not always unfold like a mathematical calculation on the principle that two and two make four. Sometimes in life they make five or minus three; and sometimes the blackboard topples down in the middle of the sum and leaves the class in disorder and the pedagogue with a black eye.  
– Winston Churchill –

 

I Tried to be a Writer

2014 is the year I tried to be a writer and most of the things that happened to me—both good and bad—are centred on this.

Failure or rejection can teach lessons that take a lifetime of success to imbibe. When I was younger, my Dad often said, “Iya o je o, o wipe o gbon; tani tisa re?” (You claim to possess wisdom without enrolling in the school of suffering. Who is your teacher?).  I scoffed at the statement’s cynicism, but now I know better.

So, the correct answer to “How are you?” is not “fine”. It is a long rambling confession to the people we love and trust, opening our hearts and hoping they’ll listen, even if they don’t have answers. There is strength in vulnerability and weakness in machismo. I became versed in the manual on being broke and having to depend on people, not only for money, but also for encouragement and advice.

2014 is the year I left safe behind. I look at the wonderful people I met and the little I’ve achieved. It would have been impossible if I had not tried to be a writer.

Ifemmanuel @ IfeOluwa’s Rambles

 

Wandering Purposefully

I have created an oxymoron: to wander purposefully. In many intervals of my life, I have often felt lost and out of place like a chicken in a lion’s pride. This year however, I made a non-committal resolution (not a fan of New Year resolutions), to take charge of my life. I thought changing academic paths would bring me peace, but life is a pot of burnt beans.

Compounding my default setting of feeling lost was the feeling that I was losing myself. I started to experience small bouts of anger and bitterness that seldom translated to fisting the wall of my bathroom and ranting expletives in my thoughts. I did however have some great winning moments this year. In those winning moments, I learnt that many people are wandering too, behind a desk job, a pulpit, a graduation gown, etc, and that it was okay to wander.

For the first time in a while, I feel as though I am on the, or perhaps, a right track. Maybe I am not lost after all; maybe I am just wandering, wandering purposefully. This is what I have learnt this year, that I can wander without losing stride or sight.

Not all those who wander are lost. –  J.R.R Tolkien

Tomi Olugbemi @ I Write to Escape

 

Savouring Memories

If I had to distil my year into one sentence, it would be that seminal Dickens’ opening in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

Of my ups and downs, losing H was the lowest of the lows. Looking back, the surprise was not that it happened but that it happened so fast, once the downturn kicked in and things began to unravel. The one lingering regret from that summer of grief remains the tenseness that characterised the final few months.

Being alike meant we were always a few sharp words away from spontaneous combustion, something we managed to avoid for the greater part. The pressure began to tell when she began to sense that the sand in her hourglass was running out, and fast. We had our biggest flare up in a long time.

We made up eventually, thankfully—that would have been far too great a burden to carry for the rest of my life—but the thought that we could have made more memories to savour, is one I haven’t quite shaken off.

Life’s lessons are neither bleeding obvious nor palatable. All we possess for sure are the moments that we share with our friends and loved ones. The challenge is to enjoy and maximise the moments, not putting off the kind word, the lingering touch, or the act of kindness we know they deserve.

AJ @ A Geek’s Life

 

 

 

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The Last Flight

the last flight

Days after Malaysian flight MH17 exploded in Ukraine, I board a KLM flight at Schiphol. I read during the long meander on the runway and snooze after take-off. I awake to the sound of a flight attendant asking, “What would you like to drink?” My mouth is dry. I spy my options; coffee, tea, or fruit juice, before he turns my way. When he does, his eyes widen, “Ma’am you’re reading that,” he gestures at my book, “here . . .  in this airplane?”

“Yes.”

“In this plane?”

“Um . . . yes?”

The Last Flight?”

I cringe, as I comprehend the irony. While he serves me tea without milk, I explain that it is a book about the civil war in Nigeria, which took place a long time ago.

“Would you like a sweet or salty snack?”

“Sweet please.”

He rolls his service cart up the aisle. Three rows up, I overhear him say to his colleague, “Zij leest het boek, The Last Flight, in dit vliegtuig!”

He motions with his chin. I tuck the book in the seat pocket. The chair cannot swallow me although I shrink my shoulders and slide lower in my seat.

Seat belts clack, clack, clack, and feet shuffle as soon as the plane taxies to a stop. At the door, he and the captain greet passengers goodbye. A huge Manfield bag, my laptop, and a suitcase that I struggled to fit in the overhead luggage compartment, I am Nigerian after all, are not agents of my discomfiture. I recite in my mind, how I will tell him that I do not have a death wish, that the book was a coincidence in poor taste, maybe joke about it. My fellow travellers’ impatience is contained by the queue in the narrow aisle. Will they forgive my small talk? Blond hair and blue eyes is already looking past me to the passenger behind. Does what a stranger think of me matter? I test the steps with my six-inch wedge. I wobble and steady myself. No more drama, I pray.

On my return trip, although I have not finished reading, The Last Flight, I read a Neil Gaiman novel. I crane in all directions searching for blond hair and blue eyes, as if his approval is penance that secures my redemption. He is not on this flight. I read Neil Gaiman’s title again, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I notice how a ‘P’ could have changed things and think about how one decision can alter events. Nevertheless, I still hide the book in the seat pocket just in case I am missing another irony.

 

P.s. remembering those who lost someone in a plane crash: Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. – George Eliot –

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

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A Long Way Gone: Introspection and Tears

a long way gone

The photo on the cover—a boy on a dirt trail, hair uncombed, mortar cartridge behind his neck, and a gun with a bayonet hanging from his shoulders drew me to Ishmael Beah’s book. The green flip-flop on his right foot, useless and slanting in the wrong direction, a testament of happier times, sealed my fate. Reading the blurb was a formality as was thumbing Steve Job’s biography, which I had intended to buy in the first place.

I paid for the book and went home.

I read the book through one heart-wrenching weekend, stopping occasionally for the weight of sorrow to lift. It did not.

Beah tells his story, in my view, without an agenda or an axe to grind. It is as though he says, “This is my story. Jump to conclusions if you want. Ask questions if you care.” He narrates about his experience as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, a boy flung into the throes of a war that consumes his family.

His memory is photographic, capturing detail in a way that helps you journey with him. The picture of him wandering in the forest haunts me still.

I walked for two days straight without sleeping. I stopped only at streams to drink water. I felt as if somebody was after me. Often, my shadow would scare me and cause me to run for miles. Everything felt awkwardly brutal. Even the air seemed to want to attack me and break my neck. I knew I was hungry, but I didn’t have the appetite to eat or the strength to find food. I had passed through burnt villages where dead bodies of men, women, and children of all ages were scattered like leaves on the ground after a storm. Their eyes still showed fear, as if death hadn’t freed them from the madness that continued to unfold. I had seen heads cut off by machetes, smashed by cement bricks, and rivers filled with so much blood that the water had ceased flowing. Each time my mind replayed these scenes, I increased my pace. Sometimes I closed my eyes hard to avoid thinking, but the eye of my mind refused to be closed and continued to plague me with images. My body twitched with fear, and I became dizzy. I could see the leaves on the trees swaying, but I couldn’t feel the wind.1

Reading this book almost upended my theology. Why do bad things happen to innocent people? If God is real and good, why doesn’t he stop it? What about ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Bible?

I have not found intellectually satisfying answers. I do not need them to believe, I only need them for debate.

After I closed the book, it took many days for sadness to leave me.

Is war like the Terminator movie? Does the good guy leave the epic fighting scene—usually a dark warehouse with chainsaws, spikes, naked wires, and bottles—limping into the light with the beautiful woman he rescued clinging to his arm, while we cheer and wait for them to kiss?

No.

I recall a scene from Machine Gun Preacher, where an orphan boy tells his story to Sam Childers, which unlocks my tears afresh.

I remember my parents in my sleep. My father was big like you. They shot him. The rebels told me, “If I do not kill my mother, they would shoot my brother and me.” And so, I killed my mother. If we allow ourselves to be full of hate, then they’ve won. We must not let them take our hearts2.

War leaves casualties as J.P. Clark describes in his poem, The Casualties3 (selected lines below).

The casualties are not only those who are dead;
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are wounded,
Though they await burial by instalment.

The casualties are not only those who started
A fire and now cannot put it out. Thousands
Are burning that had no say in the matter.

The casualties are many, and a good number well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck;
They are the wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drums of the human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know

We fall,
All casualties of the war
Because we cannot hear each other speak,
Because eyes have ceased to see the face from the crowd,
Because whether we know or
Do not know the extent of wrong on all sides
We are characters now other than before
The war began,

I have many questions, fewer answers, but I am at peace in the world as long as I do not let them take my heart.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

1. Ishmael Beah, A Long way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (New York: Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 49.
http://www.alongwaygone.com

2. Machine Gun Preacher Movie.
http://www.machinegunpreacher.org/

3. J.P. Clark, The Casualties, Poems of Black Africa, ed. Soyinka Wole (London: Heinemann/AWS, 1975), 112.

 

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Grief: When Words are not Enough

grief

I am a strong woman and I let my tears fall as often as they like. However, when I pull up in front of his house, I repair my eye make-up and then smile twice to drive sadness away. Tears are not welcome here, I remind myself as I get out of the car.

I let myself in and grief meets me in the hallway. The post lies in a scattered pile on the doormat. Blue envelopes, white envelopes, shiny envelopes, and magazines and periodicals, he does not read. I sort them in three groups: the urgent I place on the console table, the trivial I put in the drawer underneath, where he keeps his car keys, and the rest, the magazines, periodicals, and shiny envelopes, I dump in the dustbin, in the kitchen.

Here, grief is loud coaxing me to chide. I clear dirty plates, a half-empty sardine tin, and stale bread in the semi-darkness.

In the living room, the curtains say no to the sun. The light from ESPN’s classic football on TV illuminates his form. Grief is quiet inviting me to converse. Grief is still but I am not one to fill the silence as if I am a child colouring with impatient hands that cannot stay within the lines. It has been two days since he heard the news.

When pain overwhelmed my reasoning, my sister sat beside me, squeezed my shoulders, and remained quiet. When disappointment visited me on a Monday morning, my cousin sat beside me, a box of tissues separating us. She hunched her shoulders in sync with mine, let me cry, and kept quiet. When I exhaled the last bit of hope in my heart, a friend sat beside me, numb we stared at CNN, and then he kept silent vigil as I channel surfed.

So, I sit on the settee, careful to maintain distance. I sit until my nose attunes to the smell of day-old perspiration and until I can breathe in the stuffy air circulating in the room. Grief is hypnotic calling me to sleep. I sit until I awake. His head lies heavy on my lap. My skirt is damp and the soft sounds are not from the TV. They are from a man beaten by life, his hopes shred by the finality of death.

“My father, my father, oh my father.”

Grief feels like roulette. Sometimes touch is enough. Sometimes presence is enough. I know he knows that if we pull open the curtains, sunlight will burst through and in the night, the moon will give us light. But right now, words are unnecessary. This is the first time I have observed a man cry.

I have only ever seen two men cry. The first time must have lasted less than five minutes. Ten years passed before I saw another man cry. Perhaps it is because this occurrence is rare that each time I glimpsed a man’s vulnerability, I loved him more.

If we show our weakness, we may lose the ground we have secured and the advantages it conferred, but if we don’t show that we are weak sometimes, we may lose much more. We may lose the opportunity for others to love us for our humanity.

I wonder, at what age does a boy “man up” and decide to stop crying?

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: Pixabay

Original image URL: http://pixabay.com/en/candles-tealights-soft-209157/

http://pixabay.com/en/clapping-hands-shadow-poor-light-189171/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.