I guess the older I grow, the more I appreciate the value of family….especially the notion of what is often called “extended family”. This does not necessarily have resonance in the African sense, since family is family – When we were in Uganda, my son always referred to his cousin, as “my brother”, which his America father (based in America) bound rather odd. He kept asking me, “Do you have another child?” I would explain, “No, but in my language it makes sense.” Or when my little two-year old niece calls me mummy because my son calls me mummy and I babysit them together. Now, my son’s daddy (again in his America understanding) does not like it when she calls him “daddy”. Never mind that this child knows exactly who her daddy and mummy are! My thinking is, she perhaps thinks, “mummy is my name”..since no one else really calls me by my own name…And I couldn’t care less!
I love the notion of “communitarian family”…something the African tries to lay a claim on…but not entirely true, anymore. I say, most of these labels are transient, and dissolve with changes in time. For instance, many educated Africans across the country are now comfortable with just one or two kids, or none at all. Some are even keen to keep to their “nuclear” family – father, mother and children, often associated with western/European societies. That is enough for their attention; they do not want to be bothered by grandparents, cousins, uncle and aunts.
Yet, no matter how much they slam the door int he faces of their larger family, they can never run away from the fact that FAMILY STILL DOES MATTERS!
I am not simply talking about family by blood, but our babysitters, caretakers, daycares, teachers and friends who raise us and our children, and lend a hand to our upbringing. I have very higher respect for them. For the tolerance of putting up with all our demands, selfishness and needs.
Since coming back to the United States, about a month ago, I have spent most of my time babysitting my son and my niece. Well, I am yet to settle back in and work-out-of home. I still have a couple of assignments left over from my Uganda work, that are keeping me busy. Plus, it is summer holidays and the kids are out of school, so I need to take care of my son. I do not recall the last time I spent so much time with my son in the last three years that I lived in Uganda. Don’t get me wrong, I have literally raised my son. When I got pregnant, I quit my job to focus on being pregnant and enjoying and preparing for my unborn son. I took a trip to Uganda, my country of origin where I spent my first trimester. I returned to the United States, did a one-month work stint, and then settled back into pregnant and waiting.
After I had my son, I stayed at home for the first year. While it was challenging, this is something I ALWAYS wanted – to have the luxury of staying at home and looking after my son for the entire year. So, I had time to fully take care of him: feed him, bathe him, play with him, teach him and build confidence in him, that I will ALWAYS be around. Soon after he turned 1 year, we moved to Oslo, Norway, where I went – for academic work. My son with me, in a new country and new lifestyle. -now a mom on a student stipend in the second most expensive city in the world! But we made it through, and our bonds just kept growing stronger. He cried each time I dropped him off at the daycare….but only for a short while. I was told, he recovered as soon as I existed the daycare. Then we moved to South Africa, when he was 15 months -again, for school.. After overcoming the challenges of finding accommodation acceptable to little kids, we settled in tougher, got our car and made it happen.
In both Norway and South Africa, it was just the two of us but with a wealth of backup and center-front support. The daycare people, the friends and strangers, who helped out whenever I need a hand with my son. I could drop him off at the daycare in the morning and go to class, library and the computer center to focus on school work until the evening when I had to pic him up for school. Sometimes when I wanted to go on a night out (in South Africa) , I could leave him with my friend -whom I met in my first days in South Africa, but was super-good to me!
And then, I returned to Uganda, and there I had my family, my friends and school support. While my son and I were initially hesitant to be raised by “new faces”, we transitioned into acceptance of that. We had such a wonderful time doing this. My family was ALWAYS available to help, day and night. I could go off the entire weekend, to run or work in the villages, knowing very well that I have a cushion of support to rely on. Granted, they did not do things the way I wanted them, but they did support. I could take off Monday night to hash, knowing that my friend, who had a child at the same school as my son, or my brother would help me pick up my son whether I provided transport or not. And would keep him at their home, until I returned to pick him up. Plus, I was assured that from Monday to Friday, he was in the safe, caring, educative and exceptionally experienced hands of his teachers. If I took him to my workplace, I could excuse myself off to the bathroom or go find food, knowing very well that my colleagues will help out. And when I took him to the hash, everyone felt they knew a piece of him and enjoyed him.
All these people re-emphasized the concept of family to me. That it is NOT just your “children and spouse/partner”.. but a wide array of social network that involves mother, father, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, teachers, daycare assistants, transporters, workmates, social groups and admirers. Now that I am a “full-time” babysitter, my appreciation of my family has skyrocketed even more. CHILD MINDING is the MOST difficult job in the world…for you have to take care little minds and souls, keep them entertained…succumb to their manipulations, sometimes…or negotiate through them…to make sure they do not run you over. Put up with ALL their nagging. Forget about Teaching they way you want them to learn, and Teach the way they Learn. Most importantly, you learn to tolerate other kids, beside your own. As someone who boosted about, “knowing it all about kids”, since I grew up baby siting all my elder sister’s kids, I have developed a renewed understand and appreciation of the job of “having one of your own”…which you CAN NEVER quit.
I am grateful for my family! I miss my family in Uganda, I miss ALL my son’s teachers, my son’s babysitters, my son’s friends, and my social networks. Who would even consider sparing a minute, just to put up with my son.
YES! FAMILY STILL DOES MATTER!