I exhausted myself trying to tidy the small centre table in the living room. What was frustrating was that I've told Shakir that if he needs something from off the table to take his time and remove it carefully so nothing would fall off. I've often also advised him to carefully pack it back when he's finished with it. It has been weeks that I've been looking at the cluttered heap of books that fall at will and keep threatening punishment. Well, I've often said that threats are useless because they often fall on deaf ears and believe me when I tell you that often times your child can tell when you don't really want to punish them. They will ride on the promise of punishment until the second before your facial expression changes and your voice takes on that certain tone and they just know. Anyway, I was like a mad woman randomly grabbing things and tossing them on the floor so they could go into the garbage and every now and again, I'd yell at Shakir about how cluttered the table was. Meanwhile, there is not a peep from my husband.
It couldn't have been more than a few minutes later when, finished, I joined my husband in the back of the house. Checking to make sure that there is no lingering aggression in me, he slid closer to me with a smile. "I was about to ask you to please take out some food for me, but then I heard you quarrelling so I decided to wait until you were settled," he said, reminding me where the children get ALL of their tricks from. I take absolutely no responsibility in that aspect of their personalities. I will own the mouthiness. That is my own cross to bear.
"Food is an excellent idea, my love," I answer back with a face as serious as a judge. "When you go to take out yours, please be sure take mine out the same time."
"But baby, I'm tired. I had a gruelling drive on the road and in that sun..."
"Did you forget that I was there bearing it with you?" In truth, I only bore a part of it, but that's not important. "And that sun had me about ready to pass out so since you love me and you care about my wellbeing, its only fair that you should be the one to get us both some food." See, what I did there? I tossed the love card in there with a little well placed guilt and folks, let me be the one to break the bad news to you: THAT CRAP ONLY WORKS IN THE MOVIES.
What happened next was that Jaheim appeared trying to defend his father's honour. His brother offered to take the food out for his dad. When Tony politely refused, Shakir's response was a nonchalant shrug and, "you can't really want food then."
"Your mother have you trained!" Tony declared.
My response was a bright smile for my little protégé and a nod of encouragement. "Daddy?" Jaheim asked. "You want tea?"
"No," responded a disgruntled Tony.
"Well, he can get you tea," I advised as I made my way to the kitchen to grab the kettle. On the way, I picked up Jaheim and gave him a small kiss. "Should I take out food for daddy?"
"Ok. Only because you told me to, but I will make your tea first so daddy will have to wait."
"Right. Daddy gotta wait."
A few minutes later, after the water is boiled, I told Jaheim to put away the toys he had scattered across the floor while I mixed his tea. I explained that this had to be done in order for him to relax and drink his tea so off he went diligently putting everything away. When he was almost through, he looked at me and realised I was putting the food for his father into a plate.
"Mummy!" He shouted, his little voice thick with irritation and urgency. "Daddy gotta wait! Daddy gotta wait!"
"Yes baby, I know," I said, and quickly putting the food in the microwave to reheat, I finished the little boy's tea and gave it to him. All the while, poor daddy trying to understand what was really going on.
The water was off so the office was closed by the time I stumbled into the building, drenched in sweat and panting heavily from my morning trek. It didn't make sense going all the way back home when I had to travel back up that side to collect Shakir from school so I figured I'd spend a couple of hours catching up on some work in the silent stillness. It seemed a brilliant idea until the hunger pangs started in my stomach. I made up my mind to leave and spend the day chilling by my mother.
Slowly, excitement built inside me at the prospect of having a day free of the kids, free of work and free of stress, to allow myself a much needed period of relaxation. As you can imagine, what was planned and what actually happened were two totally different things as s often the case. The first problem was that I had got so accustomed to the air-conditioning that I forgot about the beast in the form of the broiling sun that waited outside. My mother's house has no air-conditioning and even with a fan, one often gets the feeling of trying to sit by the fireplace trying to stay warm. Now, I'm not bashing my mom's house. My house is the absolute same thing, I kid you not. You could probably bake a chicken or a turkey on my bed during the day, its so hot. That being said, I cranked the fan up to the highest speed, stripped down to almost nothing and made myself a make-shift bed on the floor. I put the TV on and since I couldn't get the remote to cooperate, I was subjected to the nonsense that was showing on the channel that was on. That's when I realised that my mom's bird was on the floor of her cage, wedge between the water bottle and appeared not to be moving.
Now, if you're tuning into this blog for the first time, you probably have no clue that I don't like birds, unless they happen to soaring in the distance on TV. I can admire them from on my couch, thank you very much. Anyway, the first thing that comes to mind is that the poor creature fell from her perch and is dead. I immediately started thinking how my mother's going to feel so bad, while simultaneously hoping she doesn't expect my help cleaning it up. I got up from my make-shift bed and peered at the creature, feeling so sorry for it and wondering if maybe there was something I could have done that might have saved it and then I realised that it was staring at me with the same intent scrutiny I was giving it. If I wasn't so squeamish, I would have killed it myself at this point. I all but had the damned bird's eulogy written and the creature wasn't even dead! Later, it occurred to me the poor creature is probably as listless and miserable in this blessed heat as I am and at my mother's suggestion, I turned the fan on her and forgot about her for the rest of the day.
Every super hero needs a sidekick and from almost as soon as Jaheim could speak, I knew he was mine. Don't misunderstand. This has nothing to do with the trouble he might give or his and Shakir's joint conspiracies to rule our little world. Instead, this has to do with when he wakes and decides to be my sweet boy. Last night was a classic example as I had left him, Shakir and Makayla to watch TV as I prepared dinner. I was in the kitchen washing up wares when I heard him scream loudly. I took a deep breath and made up my mind that the best way to handle whatever was going on was to go and take a look. When I got into the room, both Shakir and Makayla began to speak at once. I looked at Jaheim. "Mummy!" He said in a loud, strong voice that brooked no argument. "Shakir and Makayla was fighting!"
"Were they?" I asked.
"Yes!" He said.
I took the next step, which was to separate the two of them and I returned to my tasks, feeling a sense of pride. It was the kind of pride that comes from knowing that you've done something right in this crazy life we live. It was like I came to a kind of understanding in my mind that when this super hero mom retires, I will leave at least one super hero to carry the torch. So naturally, I was nodding and smiling this morning, when after I threatened Shakir with the promise of lashes, my little protégé chimed in. "Hurry and get in that bath, Shakir!" He said, his face stern, mimicking mine, in true sidekick fashion. "Me would cut you bottom. You feel me mekking sport? I is not you mummy!"
I was mid-nod when the last part sank in. What? "So, Jaheim?" I asked, mainly out of curiosity, more so than out of a need for further clarification. "Do I make sport?"
Giving me a bright smile that would likely melt the heart of other more easily manipulated minds, he said, "no, me just making a little joke with Shakir."
"And who is it that does say 'I'm not your mother!'?" I continued to probe.
"Granny!" He spat out as if it was so obvious.
So right there and then, I realised that my little protégé is actually my mother's protégé. SIGH! The trials and tribulations of a working super mom!
We all have that one friend that gives everyone a nickname. You could be sitting in the middle of Chefette stuffing your face with chicken and that friend would choose this particular time to point out someone sitting parallel to you and give them a name like flubber. And although you're trying your best not to choke on the meat that's wedged between your teeth, in an amazingly accurate way, the person actually appears to resemble flubber to you. Its worst when they pick on one of your friends or workmates to give them a nickname. I mean, how are you supposed to carry on a logical conversation without the name spilling from your lips.
I had a friend once that started referring to another of my friends as The Mop. The logic behind this name was that the person's hair fell around their head like a messy mop head and then the person was on the slim side, which didn't help at all. It got so bad that when I wanted to make a reference to my friend, I had to say The Mop or no one knew who I was referring to. I managed to hold it together though and I swear I never called the person anything other than their christened name. I eventually managed to shake the secret nickname for them as well. Now, its just a running joke every now and again.
Speaking of nicknames, have you ever noticed that children are extremely good at giving them to people? When I was just a few years old, I started calling a woman The Tall Red Woman. I don't know why. I supposed she looked tall to me and she was red, but by the time I got into junior school at primary school, I realised she wasn't tall at all. The woman was actually no taller than five feet flat. When Shakir was a little younger, he started calling a man from our district Red Nose. It didn't matter that the man was already nicknamed Fish. Shakir determined that Red Nose was a much better name for him and so that is what he called him. Also at a young age, my sister began calling one of my father's workmates No Teet because his front teeth were missing. In each instance, the person found it amusing and embraced it.
What if society was less sensitive and we gave people the names we felt were better suited to them upon meeting them. Can you think how may people who get called the B-word? Mine would have to be TV character related and today alone, I would have called one person Darth Vader from Star Wars, another one would have been Scrat from Ice Age, then Groot from The Guardians and Sméagol of The Lord of the Rings. But favourite in the batch would have to be the one who was given the name of Two-Face from Batman.
I had to get Shakir from school today so I sacrificed my lunch hour so I could leave work at half past three. My mother had to attend a funeral so she was unable to get him for me today. As I approached the school, I saw him running in the opposite direction with another boy and I hoped he wasn't too far out of sight by the time I got there. I need not have worried. The old gentleman, who seems to alternate between caretaker and watchman, spotted me and after showing me Shakir's bags neatly hanging on the fence by the gate, he was gracious enough to call him for me. As always, my heart always leaps by bounds when I see my smiling boy running toward me with a big grin that takes up about half his face. For the split second it lasts, I feel appreciated and loved and blessed all at once. By the time he reached me, his cheerful demeanour had evaporated and had been replaced by a dark scowl. "What's the matter with you?" I ask.
"I wanted granny to come," he said simply.
I didn't say the thing that sprang to mind first, but I have to admit that although I wasn't upset by his response, I wasn't totally thrilled either. I was lucky to get a ride to the top of the hill this evening, so I didn't have to walk up the long road. However, I still had a fairly long walk all the way to the school. The sun felt like it was trying to cook me. My skin literally felt like it was on fire. My feet felt like they wanted to give out, because they usually hurt anyway and the walk was an added strain. Toss in the fact that hadn't eaten anything really nourishing and the first words out of his mouth is he wanted his granny. The least he could have done is given me a hug. People don't tell you this, but sometimes you can think up some awful things to say to your kids, but most times you don't. "She couldn't make it," I said. "She had a funeral, but tomorrow things will be back to normal and she'll come for you."
"How come you were late?"
I wanted to scream, but I remained patient. Another thing they don't tell you is that kids are often ungrateful. And although my son is a blessing to me in several ways, he is no different. But he probably handled it better than I would have at his age. I'm fairly sure there wouldn't have been any running or any grin for my mother in the first place. I would probably have given her some monosyllabic answer and waited for her to explain herself. How dare she be late! In hindsight, my inflated sense of justifiable righteousness, is amusing, but seeing the lesser form of it mirrored in my son was not amusing. "I don't work for myself," I said. "And it didn't make sense to come early and then have to try to get back over the hill in this heat within the hour. You didn't have to stay too late though and now we can go home."
Just the other day, while at the clinic, I mentioned to him that I was bit hungry and he quite matter-of-factly told me to stop complaining. I didn't agree that was what I was doing, but it came to mind this evening when after we got to town, he asked me if we would be getting into another van. I told him we would walk and the complaining began. Truthfully, he was already drenched in perspiration and I wasn't too sure he wouldn't topple over in a high wind, but I made up in my mind not be deterred. Experience has taught me that in spite of exhaustion, he will get a second wind once we step through the house and he'll give me just as much trouble as if he hadn't just worn himself out walking, so trust me when I say I didn't feel sorry for him one bit. A little later, he looked at me with his most miserable face and declared that he was tired of walking and he wished he was already home, but even that didn't move me. I told him he should stop talking so he could conserve energy and also to walk a little faster. I should have told him stop complaining.
It seems that I have been lax the past few weeks. My alter ego, the Amazing Alli has mysteriously not reared her head in a while. During this time, it seems that my boys have taken it upon themselves to hone their skills of destruction and have somehow managed to incorporate miscreant behaviour, including but not limited to manipulation. It is time for me to take a much needed rest while my alter ego takes over. This is just so that order can be restored at last, you understand.
Tonight, I collected the boys from by their grandmother's house and I toyed with the idea of making bakes. Then, I got the brilliant idea to make some cookies instead. I had seen a recipe that could work in the microwave online that I was just dying to try. I put the boys to watch TV, but as can be expected, they kinda hovered around as I mixed up the batter. Feeling pleased with myself, I found a flat cover and laid them out on it and forgetting that the material was not microwavable, I set it in the microwave for seven minutes while I went to watch up the wares. A few minutes later, I smell something burning and when I go to investigate, the kitchen is engulfed in smoke. It took me a few seconds before I realised my error, which is more proof that I'm exhausted. But you know what was amazing? It wasn't until I was in the kitchen trying to deal with it that Shakir appeared to tell me that he could smell smoke. I bit my lip. Hard. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but this is information that I could have used a dew minutes earlier.
So anyway, I'm trying to get the mess cleaned up and in the corner of my eye, I can see two boys playing what appears to be a wrestling game, in the bed. "Settle down!" I yell and they are still for about twenty seconds before they go again. I actually feel like twenty seconds is me giving them more credit than they deserve, but I like to think that I'm at least moderately intimidating so it certainly can't be any less than twenty seconds . Anyway, I didn't storm into the bedroom and yank them up, feet first as much as I would have liked to. There's a skipping rope around here somewhere that could easily have doubled as a lasso tonight. But, as I shuffled around the kitchen on my aching leg, all I kept telling myself was not to lose my cool. So they continue jumping around and I begin to hear them giggling and I warned them that I would get my weapon. Did they listen? Nope. They kept wreaking havoc and laughing like it was the greatest feeling in the world, all the while, the poor bed groaning loudly as the children bounced around.
Now, personally, I know about having fun. On occasion, I decide to take part in my own bit of play and we all have a grand ole time. But, night has fallen and tomorrow is school so when I say its time to settle, it is time to settle down. I don't understand those parents that are content to have the children up playing until they wear themselves out and fall asleep. That nonsense wears me out and I'm sorry, I have work to get to tomorrow. Furthermore, the kids have got to be up by a certain time to get ready to be out of the house by a certain time and when you see morning break, the last thing I want to add to my long list of things to do, is stimulating the child so he can stay awake. That being said, when its time to sleep, go to sleep.
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I'm trying to clean my mess up and I'm thinking how great it is that I didn't use all the batter in that first go, because now I can make the boys a treat. Wait... what? I'm not treating anyone who isn't listening to me. Forget that. I picked up my weapon of mass destruction and I gave it two powerful cracks. Quiet lasted all of five minutes this toss. Seriously, somebody either needs to wake up my alter ego or get that damned kryptonite out of here, because something is not right here.
Over the course of the next few weeks, keep your eye on this space. One sure way to rouse a sleeping alter ego is to write, but the other way is to... draw. I'm going to do both and you guys will be the first to read about it.
It has been a long and tiresome day. Seems that my boys decided I needed a workout and from the moment they rose from their sleep, I had to be talking. Funny enough, today I didn't feel quite like myself and would rather have had a quiet day. Isn't that just the way it always goes? So what do you do when you feel crappy and the kids won't settle down for the whole day? You make bedtime earlier than it usually is. If I could have gotten my boys in bed from six, I'm telling you, it would have happened. For those of you who think its mean, I dare you to take them both on for one whole day.
Well, I put my boys to lay down at half past six and turned on the TV to help them get settled. An hour later, thankfully they were sleeping. It is now time for 'me' time. As a kid did you ever wonder why your parents put you to bed by a certain time while they stayed awake? Trust me, when you get kids you find out. Though most nights I knock out a minute or two after they have gone down, tonight, I actually had the energy to play a few Facebook games and sketch. By morning, I'll have my poker face back on and be ready for whatever they dish out. Right now, I'm just grateful the break that bedtime provides.
When I was a small child, I asked a child in class what she was insinuating. That was enough to warrant me going to the teacher's desk. They told us not to use words we didn't know the meaning of and she thought I didn't know the meaning. When I was able to tell her the meaning in my own words, it was with a look of disgruntled admiration that she allowed me to return to my seat without punishment. My mother was famous for spewing certain big words at will and we learned never to ask what the word meant or we would be told to go and read our dictionary. Needless to say, the dictionary became my friend at an early age and I was armed with numerous words to drop in sentences at will. Still, I preferred to use small words and to simplify sentences where possible. I guess it was the teacher in me and that would certainly explain why for years, I have been told I would do well in the profession.
Anyway, having children teaches you to further simplify things or be prepared to answer a litany of questions. I've learnt that there are some people who can't help themselves. To give a simple explanation, they feel it is necessary to spew the most elaborate words they can think up. I guess the point of it is to send the child to a dictionary or in this day and age, to the internet so they would be forced to do further research. The children met such a person tonight.
It so happened that we found ourselves in the church office and they became fascinated with the photocopier. In true kid-like fashion, they asked the gentleman who was using it how the machine worked. Me, I would have shown them how I lined the paper up on the glass and then shown them which button to push and where the paper came out from. If they had any further questions after that, well, I'd take it from there. But noooo. This gentleman started talking about the machinations and photographic lens and my niece shot me a look. I gave her an imperceptible nod and she took this as a cue to break the question down into simpler terms. "What we mean is how you get it to work," she explained.
The poor gentleman began talking about positioning the paper with precision and some other mess I really didn't hear. All this while, my niece is shooting glances my way as if to ask if this man was really serious with the German he was speaking, while Shakir continued to listen carefully, soaking it all up like a well informed scholar and asking well placed questions that kept the man fumbling to find answers. I finally rescued him, by telling them to just watch and they would soon see how the machine works, but we all know this could have gone on for a really long time.
"Girl, if I was a stop light, I would had to turn red every time I see you..." I was too busy laughing to hear the rest.
I want to ask all men seriously, what is it with you and these lines? Is there a book? Do you seriously invest time thinking these up and what exactly is the expected reaction? You should know that my seven year old had better moves at four. I can recall him giving a little half smile and asking grown women for their names. These unsuspecting women would just melt and croon about how cute he is. This routine has gotten him money, food and toys and what more could a four year old want, huh?
Looking back, I've come to realise that my son has always had a way with words. You know that old saying "he could sell ice to an eskimo"? Pretty sure who ever said it first was looking thousands of years into the future and saying it to Shakir. This child of mine looked at me one day and asked me quite seriously when I would be giving up my job. A little thrown by his question, I asked him what he was talking about, only to have him inform me that I needed to find things to sell so that I could make money and give up the job. Recently, I sorted through my clothes to get rid of what could no longer fit. As I placed what still looked nice in a bag to give to the needy, he asked me if I was setting them aside to sell. When I said I wasn't, he got quite upset and told me this was a way I could be making money. I smiled. He has the mind of an entrepreneur. I explained that there are times when you can help someone out instead of just thinking about what you can get for yourself. He understood and as he grows, he will understand more.
Although it can be tiring answering his many questions, I'm so thankful for a child who can express himself clearly.
I've made up in my mind to throw a tantrum. I keep wondering if I lay down on the floor at the supermarket and bawl my eyes out over the high costs we must endure if anyone will come to my rescue. Have you ever been waiting in a ridiculously long line at the bank and then have someone standing a few people behind you in queue collapse? I witnessed this once and it was amazing how quickly tellers moved to give the woman some water, even asking if she wanted a cup of tea. And don't you know, she was placed in a seat and she was served and out of there before I could properly blink my eye. Now, I'm not in any position to say what type of physical condition the woman was in before, during or after, and neither am I making fun of her. It just seems amazing how slowly people seem to move when you are at their mercy as opposed to when the tables are turned. So, I devised a plan to put this thing into action. Today would have been a classic day to try my experiment. I was at my district polyclinic trying to get some free medical attention and I was tempted. The only flaw in my plan was the close proximity to the psychiatric hospital. I'm sure those men in white would have been there before I could finish executing my plan. But seriously though, I got there a few minutes before half past eight this morning and I left there after two this afternoon. I kid you not.
The highlight of my visit was listening to the women talk about their experiences with their kids and shopping for them. I honestly got scared. I need someone to tell me if this is what I have to look forward to in a few years. These women spoke of children telling them they can't be seen in Dallas Discount and SY Adams. One woman told of how she bought her son a blue shirt with a pink rabbit on it and that she found matching blue shoes, but the rabbit was yellow and this was a problem. Another mentioned a child who doesn't like taking lunch to school so she has to give him lunch money - has to. All this while, this super hero mom is listening, mouth open and silently going "what?" My brain found all of this mess hard to compute. Are you trying to tell me that after I work my butt off to instil the concept of individuality and the value of money into my child, that once he goes to secondary school all my teachings will go through the window? And here I was thinking that I was being proactive by having these conversations with my boys all now.
I realise that I come from a different generation and by nature, I'm a pretty contented person. I learned early on that with five children, it would be next to impossible for each of us to have a Nintendo or our own bedroom and being the last of three girls, I expected to get hand-me-downs sometimes. If I'm totally honest, there were times when my sisters had clothes that I kept my eye on and lay in wait until they would be all mine. I remember being teased and my clothes being referred to as "wearalls". But I also remember watching sitcoms where friends wore friends' clothing and I couldn't see how what my sisters and I did was any different. My mother told me the people teasing me were jealous and though that didn't make a lick a sense to me at the time, I leaned on her wisdom and found a way to cope.
I like to think that I'm stronger for the teasing I endured; there are some things that I think are just ignorant. When someone is going to make fun of you because your parents shop in Dallas Discounts, there is something wrong with that person's rationale. You've got parents that are struggling to ensure that you are fed, clothed, sheltered and educated and so much more, where others are not so lucky. What does it matter if you wear a brand name? Parents: teach your children attributes like self worth, value and to have a grateful heart and these will see you through these situations. People tell their children to lead and not follow, but what does that really mean? Even great leaders have to learn to follow sometimes. But if your child learns that his mind, actions and upbringing are what define him, rather than clothing, it will do him a greater service.
So even though I intended throwing a completely different type of tantrum, I'm satisfied.
Allison is mother to two active boys who challenge her on a day to day basis with their escapades. In her other life, Allison juggles a regular day job as a marketing executive in a health food organization. At night, when everyone is asleep, she dreams of being a fulltime writer and super hero.