It’s OK to Be Different

So, we are entering a new phase…not entirely new…but in a new context…It is called K-Class….

My son is going to start Kindergarten in America. Recall that he has been away for three-and-a-half years…in Norway, South Africa and Uganda. He started going to school at one-year old. Not by choice, but because mom had to do school, as well. So, he’s always been ahead of his age. But I trust, he has enjoyed and learned a lot from his international exposure, even at such a tender age. He’s well-groomed to blend in EVERYWHERE! He adjusts, just fine! 

Yes! A couple of my friends thought I was an ‘evil’ parent, for putting my son in school so early. But, a single mom gatsa do, what she gatsa do. Ok, maybe I do not fully embrace that label of “single mom”…especially since I have ALWAYS had the support of family and friends. But I have had to do most of this work on my own. In Norway and South Africa, I really did not have the luxury of abundant family, although my friends would chip in, whenever I called on them. In Uganda, I had an entire family and friends. I had the Mungatis, who allowed to pick up my son and also babysit for me on Mondays when I did Hash. My brother and wife did babysit for me too for hash, and then my nephew and nieces and mom and sister. So, I am grateful.

Still, I was the sole biological parent responsible for purchasing breakfast and snack, getting him ready for school in morning, preparing breakfast, picking him up on other days, the whole nine yard. I went to parent-teacher days, class days, sports days, barber shop, and all playdates and kids birthday parties with him. I enjoyed doing it.

ImageThis year, he was gonna be done with pre-primary and going off to Primary One (in Uganda) or Grade One (in America). But because he just turned five years, he is gonna be in K-class in America. And we are moving from Georgia to Pennsylvania. A better school district, if you ask me. and I love being close to the North East. My life rotates around that. Although, I wonder how it’s gonna be out of the city. I am a city girl…

Which brings meback to my topic, “It’s Ok to Be Different”! Daddy is already freaked out about “the being different”. You know, he grew up on soy sausages, and he says he did not have cool clothes like other kids. His mom cut his hair, unlike other kids who went to the barber shop. So, he’s worried about Biko, who has a different accent, different cultural experience coming back to America -where he was born and his country, and obviously with a different mom -“with an accent”. 

So, daddy and I have had a mini-conversation about this. I have also talked to my son about this…especially as it relates to eating. See, I do not like meaty products, wheat, colored juices, unnecessary snacks like Pringles or chips. I have tried to keep my son away from all things junk. Partly for his health -he’s had plenty of constipation growing up and lots of air in this stomach. But also because I do not like junk food. It is unnecessary for kids. And in America where most food is processed, I insist on home-made meals for myself and my son.

I made ALL the baby food when he started eating, fresh from the market – carrots, squash, peas, apple sauce, prunes..I fed him soy milk and NO meat. His first meat experience was in his playgroup class in Oslo, Norway. Sometimes, you cannot win every battle. But I did mention to them that “we stay away from meat, as much as we can.” I let them have it a couple of times, considering that Europe tends to be more careful with the quality of their food than America. So, this is ALL different…and IT IS OK, says mom.

But aren’t we all different? Yes! Mom is from Uganda. She has an accent by American standards. Although some find it “exotic”. “Are you from England?”, they ask. “No! Uganda.” Yet in Uganda, they all think I am VERY AMERICAN! Even the Americans in Uganda think I am “VERY AMERICAN”. I do not disagree though:) 

I am also white haired. I write, dress, talk, do what I like. I do not conform to the “normative”. Yet, I have my place in the world. So rather than drain my son with the worry about, “Oh! you are different and you gatta fit in”, I am just gonna let him realize there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with being different. He just needs to stand tall and do it. Fortunately, he is NOT a snooty boy. He has his head over his shoulders.

Moreover, we get complements for the fact that “he is different”. Whenever we are on the train, he travels real good without throwing tantrums, whining or being a nuisance to our aisle neighbors…and everyone appreciates that. He does not fall into other people’s refrigerators to ask for a snack when we visit friends, he knows that a child needs to get permission from her/his daddy to do anything, and he does not have to eat everything everyone eats. 

So, I want him to appreciate that, we are ALL not the same. Especially since he is growing up in a world with all sorts of people, sorts of cultures and sorts of identities, this is an opportune moment for him to start learning, not to shy away from “Being Different”.

It is NOT easy making “A My Son”

It is increasingly clear to me that, it is not easy to raise “A MY SON”, by which I mean, another kid just like my own. I bet every parents thinks the world of his/her kid. It does not matter if s/he pees on the bed till Junior High, sucks her/his thumb on the wedding day, throws a tantrum every time they are out shopping or in a public space, and is the habitual bully of all other kids. It does not even matter, if they open the fridge at other people’s houses they visit, watch ‘adult’ TV and use curse words. To a parent, s/he still her or his little angel.

But that’s just not my son! You know, I always worried that my son would grow up to be as crazy and nasty as all the kids I watched on “Super Nanny” or in real life with friends, on the subway and other public places. I did not want him to turn into this “typical American kid”, who tends to think they have more rights than the parents, can talk back and hit the parent anytime they want, throw a tantrum because mummy did not buy his favorite toy or did not carry him down the escalator at the mall. I also did not want my son to be “up in the face of all adults” at a gathering. I preferred that my son kept being a child, and hangout with other kids rather than strive to get noticed in public.

Well, I grew up around adults, as the second-last born of my mother. I had older cousins and siblings. I spent my first years as a child with my gran, a no nonsense woman, who inculcated in us the gift of common sense through psychological punishment. She never believed much in hitting a kid, but she believe in returning a punishment similar to the crime committed. When I turned five, I moved back to my family home to start school, and lived with my father who was a ruthless man. He spanked us for anything that did not matter. My mother was not exactly the same with me, except when it was really losing it. For instance, when my younger brother and I agreed to my older teen sister’s seduction, to go watch a local music band playing in our neighborhood. She had lied to my mother that she was taking us to a party at a family friend’s house. Back then, live music performances were mostly reserved for adults. So, when my mom’s friend saw us there, she told my mother, who gave my brother and I a good “teach your boundaries” spanking.

ImageBut I NEVER planned to do the same to my son – spanking. In fact, since before he was born, I invested much in reading, consulting and observing how to raise a decent child. Yes, I had some background from babysitting all my older sibling’s children, but I still needed to learn more. Especially now that my child was gonna be born and would grow up in the American culture. My friend, who I adore had two young boys, then 5 and 3 years old. I don’t know if they were ‘typical little boys’  but hey were just crazy! I had never seen anything like them: climbing every furniture in the living room, repeatedly open and closing the fridge to pick out a snack, arguing with their parents, whining when they do not want to do anything and talking back to their parents and other adults. They called me “mean-teacher”. Three-and-a-half years later, they are still the same or even worse: whining, jumping on furniture, screaming, blackmailing their parents, talking back to adults, eating out anything in your fridge. They continue all the things they did while little, proving “AGE AINT NOTHING BUT A NUMBER!

And then, there is my sister’s kid in Uganda…whom we met when he was a year old. He surely did not know how to talk or his ABC, but he had his adult swag. He knew plenty of slang about town, I guess from growing up around his much older brothers, over 12 years older than him, and constantly watching TV. As my son’s playmate at home, he taught my son a lot of undesirable words and mannerism that I was not very successful shielding him away from it. But at least, my sister who was visiting from England told me that she noticed Biko was different from other kids. He knew that at seven o’clock in the evening, he had to stop playing, pick up a book and get ready to head to bed. He also knew not to hangout with my nephews’ teenage friends, when my little nephew, his play-buddy was busy ‘schmoozing’ with them. That’s my boy!

Now, back in America and babysitting my brother’s two-year old daughter, I also realize that I surely have raised a good child. At one year old, my son could hold his own spoon and feed myself. I have NEVER had to beg or give my son extra aid to eat or sleep. I do not have to bribe him with “do you wanna go chuck cheese” or “do you wanna watch Dora”, like my brother and sister do with my two-year old niece. No! my son has always been ready.  My son does not go to my friend’s homes and asks for food or ransacks their refrigerator to find something to eat. On the contrary, he is strict on what he accepts to eat or drink. At his pre-school in Uganda, his teachers would tell me stories of him turning down offers of chips, colored and sugar juices or wheat products from his classmates. “My mom said, I do not eat junk.” That’s my boy!

The fact that I still do not have to chase him around to eat, he does not go crazy like the 9 and 7 year olds, and was potty-trained by 2 years old, makes me such a proud momma! And I receive plenty of compliments for “his display of high imaginative abilities, creating his own play games and script instead of constantly relying on visual aids like TV and computers”. He is not into “fad collection”, like Barbie, Princess and all things Nickelodeon. Yes! he loves Ben 10, but that’s pretty much it. And Lightning McQueen comes to us like Lion King or Madagascar II, as ‘little kids moments to dare to dream big, to discover the wild and conquer, and to have a giggle and continuous laugh, respectively. For the most part, we focus on Super Why (sadly, we could not get him in time for his 5th -birthday wish), Curious George, Wild Kratts and A Cat in the Hat…but we are open to educative learning.

Oh Yes! his father is shocked too, that my boy can read at age four, when he never knew how to read at that age. said,  WORD! The other day, nine-year old Jay was shocked that Biko can write and do his maths subtraction and addition. For that, I wanna cut him some slack and just let him be, because when I look, he is just a child. But then I worry if then he will be like all the other kids – who throw tantrums when their mummies do not give them computers or laptops or candy, which he does sometimes when I shut off iPad time. So then, I guess, we are gonna keep it the way we want it best – no colored juices, no junk, no TV in mom’s house….we are gonna continue finding and creating learning in other ways.