Tag Archives: chilhood

Sweeping issues under the carpet

A few days ago I watched my two sisters arguing. My big sister, who’s an aspiring fashion designer, makes clothes for me and my little sister when she’s not too busy with school; currently we’re her muses. We had a cultural event in our church and one of the requirements was to go dressed in some cultural outfit. They only announced it a week to the actual day so we only had a few days to find suitable outfits.

I already knew what I wanted; we bought the fabric and in four days mine was complete. My baby sister however, couldn’t decide what she wanted. It was difficult trying to choose a design that would be ready in only two days. While sampling a few designs, it just so happened that she and my big sister couldn’t agree on one.

That little, seemingly minute conversation spiraled out of control and before long, one was hurt, the other one was furious. I was caught in the middle, trying to help them come to a consensus. By the time we went to bed that night they were not talking to each other.

That argument reminded me of previous fights between mom and dad. That’s how it’s always been between them; going to bed with matters unresolved. When they wake up the next day they try to ‘ignore’ what happened-depending on the magnitude of their fight. The small issues are deftly swept under the carpet. They just go about with their lives like nothing happened, until the same issue springs up later in another argument, seeming much more intense than before.

When we were small, my big siz took on the role of chief mediator. When mom and dad weren’t talking because they just couldn’t see things from the same perspective, she would ask us to jointly intervene. I didn’t have the patience for it but since she had requested, I would agree to it. We would sit both of them down at different times, trying to understand why they had fought.

On most occasions we would talk to dad when he was sober, so it wasn’t that bad; it actually felt like a breakthrough because sometimes he helped us understand why he had lashed out at mom. Apparently he wasn’t always the guilty one.

After getting dad’s side of the story, we would wait for mom to come home from work then we would get her side of it. We would then help them see it from the other’s perspective; when all was said and done, they would be hugging and kissing, happy to be on speaking terms again.

Those days were such happy days for us; it’s every kid’s dream to see their parents happy; we were no exception. That’s how I got to understand that communication is key. People could fight over the most trivial of issues because somehow a point went misunderstood, then got blown out of proportion. In an attempt to reconcile, sometimes we choose to sweep the issues under the carpet, but I realized that is hardly a solution because eventually the same issue will graduate into something dreadful, which could have been avoided in the first place.

communication is key

About our outfits, I had a talk with each one of my sisters separately, and just like we used to do with mom and dad, I helped them understand what the other meant. My big sister tried to make a dress similar to the one our baby siz wanted, but tried to simplify the complicated parts so she could finish making it on time. When Sunday came, we went to church happy in our beautiful custom made outfits.

 

 

Mama used scare tactics!

Last week I asked my mom if she had read any of the posts that I’ve posted on this blog so far; she just smiled apologetically, “I haven’t, but I intend to read each one of them.”

“I don’t know how it happened, but you seem to be the leading lady in most of my stories”, I teased. “So you should read them”.

“Sure I will,” she assured me. I smiled at her. That little talk gave me a lot to think about; how did it happen that I’m always talking about her? Then it hit me; I’m talking about incidents that have happened in my life, and she’s been a major part of my life…she has almost everything to do with the person I am today; she used whatever ways she found suitable to instill good morals in my sisters and I.  We didn’t always find her ways appealing, but we complied and even if though I know we weren’t the best of kids, she reminds us constantly that she’s proud of us.

Basically, most children think their moms are the best; I am no exception. Most of the valuable lessons I’ve learnt in life have either been taught to me by her or by learning from her experiences. Some of the things I remember are a few scary stories she told us: When my sisters and I were young, she told us this story about a guy who had stolen his neighbour’s radio. Before long the guy’s hand, ended up paralyzed, and so did his entire right side. Absent-minded, he would mutter, “I stole a radio”. For a kid with an active imagination, that story freaked me out. screaming child

Again, she told us of a story about a woman, who owned a large maize field. One day the heavens opened, and as the rain hit the ground, it flattened all the maize plants. Later, when the rain had subsided, she went to assess the damages made. “What idiot, did this to my maize field?” she gaped, horrified, as her eyes wandered across the vast field, taking in the depressing sight of her destroyed crops. No sooner had the last word escaped her mouth than a forceful blow landed on her cheek, deforming her face permanently as her jaw dislocated. Like many of the scary stories my mom had told, this one sent the proverbial chill running down my spine.

I couldn’t help shuddering at the thought of receiving an ‘Almighty’ slap. This story helped me to be optimistic; I didn’t want to harbor negative thoughts about things that were clearly beyond my control. So if I was walking under the blistering sun and I couldn’t take the heat anymore, I would remember to not curse.

Early this year I watched the movie, ‘Ted’, where Ted and John-his thunder buddy-were singing the ‘fuck you thunder’ song… the ‘Almighty’s slap’ instantly popped in my head. I thought the two were well…brave. I imagined them being struck by lightning, or being slapped, like the unfortunate lady. Chilling thought.

When I remember the stories my mom told to keep us in check, I laugh at times; they worked just perfectly… as I think about them now, I don’t find them horrifying as I did back then…

If there’s anything those stories taught us was that picking up money on the streets was wrong; Mama told us a story about a woman; she was walking to work in the morning, when she bumped into some money. She couldn’t resist the urge, so she took it and put it in her leather bag which had some of her personal belonging.

Later that day, while she was in bed at night, she heard something hissing…with her heart pounding, she traced the noise to her bag. Carefully, she walked closer and when she looked inside, there was a huge ‘reptilia’ coiled, where she had placed the money she had collected earlier in the day. Instinctively, she let out a loud scream that woke her husband, who had been deep in slumber.

He rushed to her rescue and luckily he managed to get rid of it, unharmed. As the two lay in bed after the scary ordeal, the woman told her husband how she had picked up money earlier in the day; they couldn’t understand how the snake had ended up in her bag, and she had also realized the money was missing. “That’s why you shouldn’t take money that doesn’t belong to you”, her husband had reproached her.

Needless to say, that horrifying story saw to it that neither of my sisters nor I picked up money lying on the ground, if none of us had dropped it. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but we frequently bumped into money; the thought of finding reptilia slithering or coiled up in our bags squashed any temptations of picking it up.

As years passed, I understood it was wrong to take things that someone else had dropped; things that didn’t belong to us and that little concept applied not only to money, but to everything else. Mama’s scare tactics worked. She knew how to manipulate our way of thinking. I bet in the silent depths of her mind she knew physical punishments weren’t always effective, but a little scary thought would keep a mischievous kid grounded.

Now that we’re all grown, I’m glad my mom nurtured us the best way she knew how, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that the scare tactics only made us prone to fear. They made our minds hyperactive. I understand the concept behind each story, but I want to believe there were better ways of bringing the point across without necessarily freaking us out.

 

FAMILY GET-TOGETHERS…

family get together

A while ago my dad was here, asking if my sisters and I decided to accompany him to his granny’s-my great grams- this coming Sunday. He had been telling us about the trip for the last week… I didn’t even feel an ounce of remorse as I shook my head, “No, we’re not going”. I know he feels bad that we won’t be going, but there are things one can’t feign; affection for instance, especially if one has had to fake it for a long time.

My great grams was endowed with a big family; honestly I don’t even know how many children she has, not out of ignorance, but because generally my extended family happens to be one of those very dysfunctional ones. I think she has eight children, of whom I’ve only met three-my paternal grandma, her sister and their last born, who is so young, I bet he’s my dad’s age, in his early fifties.

Every time I think of my great grams, who I suppose is in her late nineties, I see God’s favour. She has lived to see her great-great grandchildren; the fifth generation. When I was ten she was walking on her own two feet, and loved dancing a lot, but now old age has rendered her blind-partially, and can’t walk on her own without being supported.

She has her own weaknesses; she’s only human, but one thing I admire about her is that she’s a deeply religious woman; she prays a lot.

The blessings rubbed off on her children too. One of her sons, who I’ve never met, but hear people praise so fondly is a retired Catholic Bishop, who now resides in Rome. My paternal grandma has been working as a teacher, and only retired when I was clearing from high school a few years ago and her sister, runs a prestigious hair salon-last I checked- and is married to an ex-politician (only by virtue of him losing his senatorial bid in the previous elections).

Honestly, when I think of my family in general, I thank God, because we have been blessed abundantly. That however, in my opinion, has made most of them so materialistic. At the risk of being accused of hanging our dirty laundry for all and sundry to see, almost all of my paternal relatives view people in terms of what they have, how much they have… and it is precisely this sensitive issue that has weakened the bond between my nuclear family and them.

Ever since my sisters and I were small, we were exposed to so much ‘hostility’ from the rest of the family, simply because we were not rich enough…

When I tell my dad we won’t be accompanying him, he looks evidently hurt, even though he tries hard to mask it behind a façade of equanimity, and I try to understand him. That’s his family, but they don’t treat us as family. We severed our ties with them because they were treating us like pariahs; they were insufferable. For years, we listened stoically as they defamed us, we watched patiently as they treated us like crap…until we could stand it no more; when my sisters and I were kids, we always wanted to fit in, but as we were growing up, we realized that was not the kind of life we wanted to live; always sucking up to people…pretending we were happy when in real sense we were hurting inside…

Somehow, they forgot we had emotions; they trampled on us ruthlessly, but we couldn’t hate them… hate was too strong a feeling to habour against them, it didn’t feel worth it…so we flipped those switches; we stopped hurting, nothing they did affected us anymore… we became indifferent. We kept our contact with them to a bare minimum.

The last time we accompanied my dad to his gram’s was seven years ago. It was during the Easter holiday. My mom didn’t come along. She only attends extended family functions when it’s really necessary… that was just another of the ‘unimportant’ get-togethers they had decided to host, just to eat roasted meat and beer. They always met up every Easter but never invited us, except for that one time.

My sisters and I were excited; we knew they didn’t love us as much, but we had finally decided to bury that hatchet. We would do our best –on our part-to promote cordial ties between us and the rest of the family (I’ll save the details for another day, but in a nut shell, the chasm runs way back in time, long before I was born… but it has extended to our generation- our cousins and us).

We didn’t want any bad blood between us, so when we left for my great gram’s that chilly morning, we had decided to play nice. When we got there on a warm Saturday afternoon, the compound was packed. Most of the faces were new to me. Her house couldn’t contain all of us, so they had put up a gargantuan tent-in front of her front porch- enough to hold people from four generations.

Even as we walked around the place, inhaling the uncontaminated countryside air, we could feel that aura of unfamiliarity around us; we were like aliens. Our relatives who had never met us regarded us with so much affection, holding us in very high esteem, but as usual our immediate extended family treated us with disdain; doing what they do best to make us feel out of place… by the time the sun started sinking into the horizon, alerting us that it was time to disperse to our respective homes, I was already so bored… I couldn’t wait to go back home.

While preparing to leave, my sisters and I were already sitted in the car, when we heard that all the cousins had been invited for a sleep over at my gram’s-my dad’s aunt-place. We were almost elated, until we learnt that everyone had been invited, except us; the lowly couldn’t mingle with the moneyed. At the time my grandpa was actively into politics. My granma-his wife-was still basking in that glory. As far as she was concerned, we were paupers…we didn’t fit in her social circle…

I was heartbroken; I almost shed tears, but I willed myself to be strong; I wasn’t going to break down for such a petty issue; it wasn’t the first time they were discriminating against us, and it wouldn’t be the last. We had to be strong.

When we got back home, it was close to midnight, but my mom hadn’t gone to bed, she had waited up for us… when she opened the door, I saw her face and all the emotions I had been suppressing throughout the day came flooding back. I clutched my arms tightly around her, almost crying, but I wouldn’t let tears flow on their account. A few unruly tears escaped my moist eyes, and I wiped them furiously with the tips of my fingers; they weren’t worth this pain in my chest.

We sat in the living room, updating my mom on the day’s events. She was hurt, that they dared treat us like we were worth nothing, but she didn’t say much.

“Don’t worry, it’s all in God’s hands”, She smiled comfortingly, her pain palpable. As we went to bed that night, we vowed to never attend any of those get-togethers again. If they were only meant to hurt us, we had no problem steering clear of them…