Monday this week my After 40 baby went to school. It was a big day for my family as Bobo now had uniform and was starting a whole new life outside home. Her world has now expanded to include new locations and many other people (her teachers and schoolmates). She looked cute fully clad in her uniform with her pink and blue flowered school bag strapped proudly on her back. It was loaded with a lunch box and a change of clothes just in case..
Mummy shark dropped her on day one and I dropped her on Tuesday. She was in high spirits waking up earlier than everyone else, gobbling up her breakfast and changing into her school uniform without a fuss. In the car she sat in between her elder brother and sister. As we approached the gate to get out of our court she became pensive, Her big brown eyes trying to look over the dashboard to see if I will stop and let her out at the gate. For the last year or so Bobo has been catching a ride with us up to the gate before she is removed from the car by Aunty Alice kicking and screaming. I think part of the excitement of going to school is that she gets to go past the gate every day.
We are all adjusting to this milestone. Auntie Alice (our nanny) is showing withdrawal signs as she now has no backup vocalist to sing those loud kikuyu gospel songs with. Bobo was her person kabisa in the day. Even Spike our dog gave her that look of why- you- dressed- like- the- others? I’m not sure what Mummy Shark’s feelings were but for me, it was bitter-sweet. Our youngest baby shark is moving on up but I am apprehensive. I’m hoping the world will be kind to her and that she will be able to keep her head above water when the tide rises.
But the other thing that struck me was that this is the beginning of her (and her siblings) leaving home. Nduta, my best man’s wife, put it well when they were here on vacation last month. She feels strongly about kids not going to boarding school. We have these totos for such a short time so why should we make it shorter? I’m sure there are parents who don’t agree with Nduta’s views so we all do what we think is best for our children. To a large extent, I agree with her.
Nduta said that we have our kids for only eighteen summers. This description makes it sound much less than eighteen years. We locals can say we have them for eighteen Christmases. Parenting is a contact sport. You roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty bringing up your kids. Inevitably we end up spending a lot of time with them and that’s a good thing. To kids quality time is quantity time.
Many times I feel like I’m going round in circles as a parent with little progress to show for it. We put our lives on hold and deny ourselves many pleasures and maybe even big opportunities for the sake of those little humans called by our names. It can get overwhelming and frustrating especially when we feel that these kids don’t appreciate the sacrifice we are making for them. My mum calls it paying forward. Instead of telling me “pole baba” when I’m in the queue at Gertrude’s children hospital, she says kazana then consoles the sick child. Our folks all went through what we are going through so we have to stick it through. It feels like another rite of passage.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m maximizing the summers as they pass one by one for each of my Baby Sharks. I’ve done some parenting classes, read a few parenting books and had many chats with other parents ahead of me on this journey. There seems to be no formula that will guarantee my kids will turn out to be the global citizens of impact that I desire. We know of kids from good families that turned out bad and vice versa. The most uncomfortable thing for me is that I have no control of what they will turn out to be or the decisions they will make on their nineteenth summer and beyond.
And that’s where faith comes in. Parents need huge portions of faith if they are to remain engaged and not give up. I’ve often wondered how to increase the chances of successful parenting despite the unknown that lies ahead. Old is gold so I decided to borrow from my folks because in my eyes they have parented well.
The first thing is being kind to myself and knowing that I’m an imperfect parent but trying my best. I make many mistakes but I’m slowly learning to apologize to my kids in the hope that they will learn to accept and deal with their own mistakes. My older daughter tells me that love is a verb. It’s a doing word. So I try to do a lot of stuff with them and get into their business. I want my kids to grow up seeing and knowing that I’m interested in their lives and ideas. It is paramount to me that my children are my buddies. I want my son to confide in me my about chics when he’s older (although he’s already began and it seems abit too early hehe) and my girls to know I have their back no matter what comes their way.
Lastly I pray for them and with them because at the end of it all, ni Mungu tu. We are just caretakers of these little people. They will get out and chart their own path. When all is said and done, being a dad is the greatest privilege I got. May I be the anchor my baby sharks need the same way they have been my anchor in my midlife transition.
Maximize the summers folks. And remember to take holidays while at it.