I Promise not to Be “Too Exotic”

Years back, I was taken to “Meet the Parents”. As soon as I stepped in through the door, my “would-be mother-in-law commented, “You look too exotic!”

I did not quite understand, if she meant, as a “dancer” or because of the clothes I was wearing. I had my cute knee-high outfit made of Africa print, with a cute matching head wrap [yes, before they were “Etsy”, “Instagram” famous, they were doreen-famous:)]. IMG_1767

I wondered, for a minute, if she had never met an “African”…yes, the continental not Diaspora type. This was the South, in one of those conservative towns, where women had to struggle in the 2000s to join a fight and protest “Men’s Club”.

Then I remembered that I was not the first of his son’s “would-be” that she had met. In any case, her son had spent umpteen years with Africans in Africa. She must have seen one with “exotic clothes or features”, so I thought to myself. Needless to say, the rest is history. I consider that the beginning of the decline of my approval rantings into the clan.

So, when my friend recently said the same thing to me, I wondered, “What is so exotic about me?” She had seen me last week wearing a “whiteman”’s suit, shoes and carrying a white man’s bag. My hair is white, like the wise elders of our society. My smile is mainstream corporate/international business. Which part is “exotic”?

Is it because, I speak English with “an accent”? Americans say, it is British, the Ugandans, British and Scottish say, “It is American”, and the South Africans also say, “It is British.” Or is it because I wear long earrings, some made out of African print?  Is it because i eat, “native food”, as one of my African American relatives told me? Or because, the way I dance reminds, another one of my African American relatives, of Sarafina? [I must confess with shame, I have never [thoroughly] watched the movies; I have caught glimpse of it…but not all of it.

As I go out today, I Promise not to be “Too Exotic”. But if I appear so, please remember that, I am simply Too Exotic; they don’t make many of my type!

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Dear Parents, Your Kids Celebrations Are Not About You…!

I typically do not write about family affairs. I have a self-censored rule that “I shall NOT wash my family dirty linen in public. Even with all my multiple identities: as a humanist, a Pan African, a Black person, a woman, a cosmopolitan, an internationalist, I still believe in the “private-public dichotomy. Yes, in my world, there is still a “public” and a “private”, and the private should be spared and jealously safe-guarded from public eyes and ears, and scrutiny. The more I have come of age, the more I realize that I do not have to say everything I feel or think. I am grateful that the heart is hidden inside our bodies; nobody can claim to know my feelings. Although, those who seek to find fault, will always claim knowledge of your sentiments, feelings and intentions. Nor, do I need to offer an opinion on everything that I read, observe or hear of. I am grateful that my fingers, mouth and head allow me to excuse myself from uncomfortable situations, until such a time when I am ready to resurface. As my mother always told me, who can claim that you hurt them when you did not say a thing? [Apparently some still take it personal, mommy].
N’way, allow me a minute to break my Code of Silence about “The Private”, and say,
“Dear Parents, your child or your children’s celebrations are not about you. Nor are their intrigues, their excitements, or their dreams. It is their moment. Please do not feel offended if they would like to play with their toys, friends or cousins instead of sitting around chatting with you. If you are on a phone call with them, please do not expect them to maintain a long attention span, unless of course they are talking to you about something that excites them, like their favorite fictional characters. When you give them presents, please let them enjoy the occasion for receiving your gifts: perhaps it is their birthday, they lost a tooth, Easter Bunny visited, it is Halloween or Santa came into town. That is what kids talk about; please allow them to enjoy their childhood. Sometimes they might offend you by saying that they wished for “Pokémon” instead of the “Spiderman” you got them. Please find a constructive way of reminding them the importance of being grateful, and hopefully they will receive what they had wished for next time. Although, as we all know, our children’s interests change as quickly as their attention span. The next time you think of gifting them, or another celebrations comes around, they might wish for snow or white sand from the forest!”
Why I am saying all of this? I presume that if you are a parent, you probably already know all these facts about your children. Though, I have learned that not all absentee parents have these facts at their finger tips. Some want their children’s excitements, beliefs, celebrations and interests to be centered around them. They want their children to follow their own trajectories, as scripted from their childhood, even when they have never spent an equivalent of a month per year, since their children were born! When the kids do not respond per their expectations, the custodial parent is to blame!
Perhaps the same is true that custodial parents also want our children to ‘be like us’. I must say though, I have learned to “let my son be”, allow him to dream as wildly, explore as wide, and seek as far and beyond. I have put on hold my needs and comfort for the sake of my son until that time when he comes of age, or says he does not desire me anymore. I have opened up my son to venture into territories I had abandoned long ago or had excluded from my lifestyle. For instance, I was never a cheese-easter, but I started eating cheese regularly while pregnant with my son, because my OB/GYN said I needed to eat more protein, particular cheese and eggs. I had vowed myself as a cosmo girl, who would never fit or be caught living in suburbia away from the bright city lights, until that all changed in pursuit of “the school district”. I abandoned my geographical place of comfort, in the name of “raising my child around his family”. I have even learned to make, and sometimes taste pancakes, pizza, muffins and donuts, for the sake of my son, although I ensure to make them as healthy as it comes. If you had told me six years ago, that I would be spending my Xmas morning googling, discovering and reading about action figures/fictional characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Ninja Turtles, Pokémon, Spider-Man, …. Thank You Santa! Or that I would be consciously celebrating Christmas, again!
Talking about Christmas, I ceased celebrations when I parted ways with Christianity umpteen years ago. In my entire stay in America, I had never celebrated Halloween until after my child was born, and I partook in Thanksgiving fetes because friends or family invited me to share with their families. Generally, my personal politics and convictions determined my response to many celebrations and traditions, even though I respect the choices of those who follow these traditions. Halloween to me was a “ghostly blood sucking ‘orgy”, which I always skipped because I hate blood and was fear dead people. Thanksgiving robbed Native Americans of their lands and culture by invading colonialists, whom I did not wish to honor. Christmas and Easter were channels of institutionalized control, miseducation and European colonization of the black mind and erosion and denigrating African culture and traditions. I could say the same about Eid, but since I was not born into Islam [like Christianity], I embraced it, whenever it welcomed me to partake, until my recent departure from consciously seeking to enjoy it or any other inklings of organized religion. [Did I say that I was once engaged to be married to a Muslim African man? Uhm! Story for another day!] I believe the stronger basis for our existence is the fact that we are all humans first born onto this planet in human flesh, with one life to live, before we vanish, or perhaps re-incarnate or hang around our loved ones as spirits.
So, I have learned to let my son live his dream. I do not force him to adopt my own beliefs or confine him to my desires. Well, there are a few exceptions; to protect him or encourage him to learn, or teach him to be a strong and respectful man. I often tell my son that it is important to be polite, respectful and appreciative, than to have high academic grades. As a member of society, there are certain requirements I am gonna impose on him, to learn, to live and excel in human society. As a single mother raising a man, when I have never been a man, moreover a young American man, I am gonna go beyond his wishes to ensure that he becomes a man he, myself and well-wishers will be proud of.
I emphasize to him the importance of “Please”, “Sorry” and “Thank You”, drinking water with his meals, at least between meals, eating vegetables and fruits, getting his homework done and doing his weekly chores of cleaning the bathroom sink, toilet and wiping dressing mirror. I offer no apologies for that!
Still, I let my son dream his dreams. To him, Christmas is about “Santa coming down the Chimney to bring presents to kids who behave well.”  Who I am to tell him otherwise? The “Tooth Fairy” rewards kids who lose their teeth, Halloween is a “Trick-Or-Treat” moment for little kids, the only passport to going out very late at night, on Thanksgiving, it is time to eat turkey, even when mom would rather we ate “Tofurky”, and a Birthday is a very special day to eat cake and receive as many presents. It does not matter that I do not celebrate Christmas, which according to me it is a Christian holiday, my son will celebrate it for as long as he wants, and because I have plenty of family who are Christians. The same way I let him celebrate Eid with his muslim paternal family, [I too have muslim family and friends].
I am not gonna bombard him with the religious symbolism of Christianity or Eid; I parted ways and have no interest in exploring that with my son at this age. In fact, I tried to let him share his paternal families Islamic culture, until grandma gave us the ultimatum, “If he cannot attend Sunday School regularly, he should not come at all.” My intention was to give her an opportunity to spend some quality time with her grandson, since she did not see him a lot in his five years, and she does not ask to spend one-on-one time or take him out, until her other grandkids are visiting.
For as long as I am expected to be the sole parent for this child, I will continue allowing him to believe as he imagines, that Santa came down the chimney and dropped off all the presents, including any entrusted with me to ‘secretly’ give to him. I remain protective of my child’s excitements and wildest dreams, from unnecessary scrutiny and criticism, especially coming from anyone who offers no help or support in parenting him. I know and believe it takes a village to raise a child, but let the village not only come in to condemn.
Hopefully, we as parents will learn to support our children’s dreams and fantasies in their imagination, rather than stifling or suffocating them with our mystical convictions derived from religious dogmas that do not unite but divide us as humans. After all, I am learning that most of what my child is fascinated and get hysterical about is from interacting with age mates, exposure through reading, visual and digital images, his classroom teacher interaction, and lastly from myself as a parent [I know some might disagree]. Perhaps our children’s excitements will enable us to look back eighteen or twenty-one years later and say, “Job Well Done!”

Kids are Cultural “Whores”: Wait, can you say the “W” with Kids…?

It is amazing how quickly kids switch cultural identify. Well, if like me, you believe that “language is culture”, that’s what I am talking about. Last summer we returned to the US, after three-and-a-half years globetrotting. We left the US immediately following my child’s first birthday, for a much deserved break and scholarly experience around the world.
About last Fall, I noticed my child’s accent changing, become less  “Ugandan” and more “American”. My friends did not help me feel better; they said it would be gone by December. I felt a ‘teeny weeny sadness’, at the thought that my son would no longer “be a Ugandan” with ‘the brand’ accent gone. Alas! I have not been good at making the accent stay! I did not realize how tough it is to teach a child another language in another country with a predominant language. Especially with my multi-national child: African [by ancestry] and American [by birth and ancestry].
Power to parents who succeed at nurturing multi-lingual/multi-national children. Sadly, not many of us Africans are good at keeping children fluent in our first languages, especially when born or raised abroad, but even when born and resident in our own countries to same nationals or foreigners. We get into the stupid “western culture superiority” complex, and deny our children a chance to become fluent in our Africans languages, arguably because ‘they will not develop’ or ‘compete in the globalized world’. Forgetting that we were born and raised speaking our mother tongue, or of parents who spoke our mother tongue.
Yet, many like me, become surprised that our children are ‘losing our culture’ or are becoming culturally distant and lost! I am always shocked when talking to my child, that recollection of our time spent in Uganda are not forthcoming! At times, he cannot even remember part of my family, the playmates he had, we had bathrooms or a kitchen, or that we ate food similar to what we have here in America. The worst, but without blame, he does not remember that we lived in South Africa (before Uganda) during the last couple of years abroad.
So, I decided to give him a “Lesson about South Africa” while we were at our local library recently. I pulled out a book, “South Africa by Pat Ryan”, which talked about how “Africans lived happily” [of course there is an element of romanticization typical of a western writers about Africa]. Then white folks came to South Africa and began fighting with the blacks, took their land, culminating in a system of “Apartheid”, where whites lived, worked, played segregated from blacks.  Black people became poorer than whites, lived in terrible housing, and could not shop in the same places as whites. I showed him the grass thatched huts where black people lived, and still live in the countryside; he thought they were “Weird”.  [btw, thanks to this young man, my love for the word “weird” no more!]; I showed him clothing of f the black people made with beads, which was strange, as well as the men racing on Ostriches. That made him laugh so hard! Well, at least he laughed; which means he learned something, right?
We discussed the book after reading, and I asked him what he had learned from the book. He told me that “brown” [not “black”] people were poor, while white people were rich. “Why did he swooped “black” with “brown”?” I asked him. He said, “Black is like darkness, when you cannot see properly or like the black shoes. But the people in the book were not black; they were brown.” I asked him, whether he knew of any black people, and he said, “I am black.”[ If you know my son, he is not “black like darkness”.] Surprising to me, since he has thought of himself as white, until our conversation not to long ago, about “black-and-white” in America’s racial conception.
Kids are smart ‘cultural whores’; telling it as it is, using their wit to make sense of nonsensical labels. To him identity is defined by color not the labeled per race. He sees brown, chocolate, and pink, He has protested before when I said his playmate “C”, classmates “M” and “S” are white, because “they do not look as white as paper,” he said. For now, he has accepted that label, since the conversation with mom following a class reading about Martin Luther King Jr.
Anyway, happy to inspire a young generation of thinkers, readers and critics. We hope that the reality of his eyes is followed by the reality of race relations when he comes of age. I hope he does not become a victim of racial profiling and racial injustice blatantly metted out against black folks in America, particularly our young black males. I think I am doing all I can to keep him openminded, culturally international in thoughts, ideas and experiences, and innocent to the brutality of life. Yes, I do agree to myself sometimes that “Ignorance is Bliss”!
Still, as a parent of a young black male growing up in America, particularly suburbia America, I worry very often whether this country will allow him to live and grow up without the preconceived injustices? Will he still be that “cute boy” at 12, 13, 14, free to skate around the neighborhood without anybody calling the police on him? Or would he be a sense of uncomfortable curiosity, that even the neighborhood dogs bark uncontrollable at him, just like they do with me. Would he still comfortably ware his jacket or sweatshirt hood over his head? Or walk in the neighborhood without an encounter from nasty neighbors. I believe this is the beginning of a lifelong education about the American culture, that he so innocently takes on as part of him, but that one day, he will fully recognize that it labels him [in fact labeled him since childhood], as a person to be feared, dreaded and be monitored all the time! Perhaps then, he won’t have as much luxury to ‘whore up’ this American culture, and would have to find another geographical and culture to experience and become a part of….?

Help Your Children Dream

I strongly believe in the power of dreams. They shape lives, build relations, mentor professions, restore hope and courage. They could be the keys to our personal and professional trajectories and success!

Just about every morning, my son wakes up with a dream. Either he is building a machine that will stop snow falling in winter, or he had Ninja powers or he was laughing with his cousins. Lately, he has had plenty of dreams about mommy getting married, to her [ex]boyfriend, who lives in another country. The first time, that dream made him sad and cry, because it meant, “mommy would leave him and go live with her boyfriend”. Since I told him, “I can never leave you, because I live for you, and you and I will go live with my PM when I get married,” he is now happy to dream more about mommy getting married. In fact he wants to dream about mommy getting married, as much as about mommy getting long hair! Never mind that “the dreamed for” does not exactly have marriage in her dreams or foresight. She has another dream, colored “green”. Yes! And it is part of that dream I would like to talk about.

Recently, I was coaching a fifth grader, and we were talking about traveling. I asked if she had been to her father’s country, Nigeria? She said no, and told me that she would never travel to Nigeria because there is Ebola. In fact, her father wanted to go to Nigeria, but she begged him not to go. I asked if she would go to other Africans countries, to which she responded with a vehement “No!” There are many diseases and people are poor! I asked her if my son and I looked poor, or her father. She said, No!

Yeah! That is the story about Africa, as told in America. I told her that Ebola is not everywhere in Nigeria, or every Nigerian would be dead. I told her my son and I took planes to come back to America, and while in “Africa”, we ate food everyday and did not catch or bring back any diseases. Then she told me that she would never got to place on a plane or boat or train. She will only go to places where she can drive or walk. She is not taking a plane, a boat or a train because she is afraid to die. Then I told her that one can die in their sleep or in the house or on the road. She said, “at least she would die peacefully”. I asked her, “how about in a car road accident,?” Well, she did not exactly have a response to that, but still no traveling, not to Africa and not by plane, boat or train. Life jackets do not work, planes fall in big oceans. Excuse after excuse!

I wondered, how a child of an immigrant from Nigeria could be devoid of a dream to travel and see the world? Didn’t “Tiger Mom” tell us that Nigerians are among the “Triple Package” aka  the “eight highly successful cultures”, thanks to their superiority complex! True, Tiger mom (with hubby co-author) mentioned something to do with “insecurities”, but in the sense of feeling inadequate or underaccomplished, instigating the strive to become and accomplish more. Not to shun traveling the world or getting on a plane!

I worried about this American 10-year old fifth grader, not having a dream beyond her fears. I wondered what may have shaped her fears? After all, her mom, many generations American has also traveled the world, including to Africa studying and learning about the world. Why would her daughter not wish to follow her mom’s footsteps, even if it were to board the plane to the world of California that is “without the African diseases”? Where is her curiosity about the world of her father, beyond the images and tale-tales from her news sources? Why can’t she compare herself to her parents who have been around the world?

Very often we are told that in order to be happy, we should not to compare ourselves to others. That is so cliché!  Plenty of my accomplishments are a result of comparing myself to others I have interacted with or got to know about. Watching, reading or learning about their accomplishments gives me the boost to keep going. Stories of folks who dropped out of formal schooling and built empires and lived large. Stories of people struggling worse off than myself, yet still afford a reason to smile, remind me to keep positive. Stories of my grandparents who never went to school but had the dream of educating their children. My paternal grandfather was not very wealthy, and could not afford to educate all his four children. So, him and his three older children agreed to send my father, the last born to school, with the hope that he would look after this family upon competition of his education, and got a good job. My maternal grandfather educated over 15 children while serving the church [unpaid] as a clergy, in pursuit of a dream that his children would never have to lack anything in life. They would afford to buy themselves clothes that he was never able to afford them.

In Africa where I was born, dreams are what childhood is made of! We are not afraid to dream! As a child, we often heard people dreaming about “going to Makerere”, the main university in the country and epitome as success. It was once the “Harvard of Africa”, so you can understand why many dreams focused and stopped at Makerere. Coming from a family that afford us a livelihood and decent education, not frequent flyer miles, I would say my dreams were not too far from Makerere either. Then as a little girl I went to Nairobi, Kenya with my mom, to shop for my first-born sister who was going off to secondary school. That was a big deal, where rich Ugandans resided, including my uncle and his family. Perhaps that shaped my love for adventure and travel, I cannot say so with certainty.

But I travelled the world, including within my own country. The more people I met and interacted with, the more my dreams widened. I thought of opportunities beyond my background, and seized them at a tender age. Nothing unique to me, but it is the characteristic of the African spirit. Little children dream of an education, they dream of becoming pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers. Yes! Including dreams of meeting the US President and themselves becoming the US Presidents. Yet, we also know of the “American Dream” of getting rich and living large. Or as 50 cents said, “Get Rich or Die Trying”. Plus the Black struggle in America was sustained by the dream of freedom. Slaves, not allowed to exist as humans, to vote or to read and write, often found ways of ‘stealing’ the resources to learn to read and write and one day free themselves. Frederick Douglas, a slave, self-taught himself to read and write and publish, and went on to have a very illustrious and influential career. Political prisoners on Robben Island with Mandela during Apartheid South Africa told stories of ‘stealing’ empty brown cement bags and creating own writing tools that they used to write out their political strategies, which they tossed to each other over the cubicles in which they were detained. They also wrote letters and poems to their families and loved ones outside prisons. They had a dream to stay alive and sane by any means, and achieved it.

So, what stifles little minds like the one I encountered here in America, the land of “Big Dreams”, from dreaming? We as parents have a huge job of helping our children dream. Help our children live their dreams beyond the fears pandered by sources around them. Undo their [un]truths, to avoid them getting suffocated. Let them live a world of adventure, or risks, or searching and imagining. The world were impossible is nothing. Were careers and personal relationships are built on dreams beyond our wildest imagination. After all, dreams can come true. Haven’t they?

In the name of my son: A father

ImageThis is sort of a return to my previous post, “Are we all the marriage type”.

Something hit me for a minute, and made me think of seriously considering finding a “father” for my son. We were at the movie theater today, waiting around for our movie to start when my son asked to play one of the many games in the lobby. You know those games where you insert a token and either drive the plane, race cars, poker, and alike. I realized that I had no clue, and my son would be better off doing these with a man – his father.

Don’t get me wrong, my son has a biological father,  whom he has a relationship with. But when I say, “I need a father for my son”, this is to imply that I need a man who will be there to take on shared parenting with me. I need a man [maybe I should confess now that I think I am heterosexual, and hoping you have a sense of humor), who will love my son and allow himself to take on the responsibility of caring for me together with me. In a way, I think I might just be saying that, I need to get married, right?

Well, my current son-father relationship is not my ideal expectation. Those who know me will tell you that I never thought I would be a parent nor ever put myself in a compromising situation where I would suddenly become a parent. I agreed to be a parent with someone I thought had my best interests at heart. I insisted that I did not want marriage, I have cold feet. But I believed him when he said he wanted me to carry his baby. I know this is hard talk..but so is life!

So, we had the baby out of joyous explosion. But the last five years of his life, I have just about done the parenting on my own, with his father as a guest in his life. While I have spent the last three and a-half years outside the same geographical space with his daddy, I never at any one point denied him the chance to come visit his son. In fact, I kept the lines of communication liberally open. I would pass on my phone number whenever I moved to a new country, and passed on the phone to my son to speak to his father whenever he called. I tend to feel that to him, this child is an “accessory”, to show off to everyone – look at my son. I am his father! Without ever planning to put in full-time.

As someone who has been to hell and back, while a mother of a little one, I know that, “Impossible is Nothing”; “Way gives in to a Will”; and Children for-real bring blessings. I have received many blessings because of my son. And I have sworn that I will ALWAYS act in the “Best interest of my son”. I left a lavish income in Uganda, to bring my son back to America. Uncertain that the job market will absorb me again; leaving a large family safety-net who were co-raising my son with me, the less certainty about life back in America. Except for the stingy politics and mal-administration of the ruling government of Uganda, I had a life! I left everything to bring my son back to his American family and to allow him partake of his American experience.

Yet again, it is a sweet-bitter return, and a strong reminder that, perhaps I should breakdown and finally accept that, YES! I need a man permanently in my life. A man who loves me, as much as I love him. A man to be my partner for life, and to agree to raise my son with me.

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FAMILY STILL DOES MATTER!

Biko and Fam 3

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!