Parenting: Another Chance at Living Selflessly

My Little Ninja

My Little Ninja

Perhaps no other life experience has given me the opportunity to learn to live selflessly like Parenting. And I do not throw around the “P-Word” lightly, for anybody who ‘spews’ their ‘chemicals’ to produce a child. In my book, a parent is one who commits her/his self, actively to raising her/his children – born to them, born for them, adopted or as caretaker. It could be an aunt or uncle, or grandma raising children of their relative, or a stranger adopting a child unknown to them.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that parenting is the only way to live selfless or care for anything other than oneself. I know plenty of non-parents who are intimately engaged, or may I say, engrossed in all sorts of life ventures, as humanitarians, community mobilizers, mentors, fundraiser, trainers, teachers, friends or volunteers. I was one of anyone of those categories before I became a parent, and intimately committed to whatever and whoever I invested my time and energy into. Yet, as I have learned since becoming a parenting, while I could walk away from any of those preoccupation to create a just and friendly world, I do not have the same luxury with parenting. That is, if one is a parent – totally different from being a father or mother.

What prompted me to say all this? A couple of things. But, one most recent as this weekend. I took my son to participate his first ever Tae-Kwon-Do Tournament, Nam’s Veterans Martial Arts Tournament in Stroudsburg, PA. The organizer, his Tae-Kwon-Do teacher, is a Grand Master, international olympic judge, and trainer and National Coach for both Team USA and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. By the way, Master Nam is a great teacher, I hate the thought of moving far away from him!

N’way, the whole experience at the tournament was amazing, so deep and personal. I watched, as parents, including grandparents, uncles and aunts, and siblings, braved the morning downpour to bring their children to competition. Parents preparing their children, investing energies and a whole day to stay with their children and see them through all the competition. There were plenty of joys and celebrations of wins, as well as tears of sorrow for losses and no wins. I cheered on my son, as well as friends, whom we know from our school

Though, one unfamiliar face stuck onto me and hit me deep. A father carrying a bag full of broken boards, and more in his arms, with his two children each carrying two giant trophies [girl- first and second place; and boy – two first place finishes], following him to departure. Daddy had a grin on his face, showing lots of excitement for his children’s achievements.

Nothing beat the feeling I had for my son’s achievements. While he did not win first or second place, he had three third place finishes, fetching him three trophies and three medals. I was a mixed bag of emotions; I cried and celebrated tears of joy and accomplishment. But also a little sad that he did not get first place, even though we had not expected anything more than a “certificate of participation”. I cried because he cried; he does not do losing very easily. I was even more surprised and saddened that another kid, usually not as good as my son is, beat him in “Forms”. How did he take second place from him!

As a parent, I had to hide my tears from his face, instead cheered him on for his achievements. I told him to pose for pictures with his trophies, with a smile. I asked for a picture with him. I reassured him that, the first time around is not always easy. But he should be proud of himself because some kids did not get a medal. I urged him on to try harder next time, grow his strength and scoop the top prize, next time around.

Perhaps we should participate in more tournaments going forward, to get him accustomed to competition and grow a spirit of fighting harder. My commitment to my son’s accomplishment has taught me a lot about myself and family. That my needs can take a back seat, as I nurture this little one, to partake of this world, and lay his footmark on this planet. Since becoming a parent, I have also learned a lot about my mother’s parenting style, and contextually appreciate the decisions she made [consciously or not] as a parent. I also much more appreciate, parents dedicated to raising their children, and providing the best they can afford and know how.

As I have always maintained, everyone is going through their hustle, do not judge! One must not sit on their high horse and judge the decisions of another parent, without stepping in those shoes, including for parents who seemingly or indeed go astray with decisions they make about parenting their children. Parenting is a wonderful thing. For some people, once they take that step to parenting, it is all they live for, and live selflessly for-ever-after!

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

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I Never Signed Up to do “Men’s Work….but…

Perhaps, those who know me maybe surprised that I am making genderized statements. After all, I am that kind of girl often pigeon-holed as a Feminist. You know, feminism does not come with collar popping praises, similar to capitalism. It is too loaded, too abhorred by plenty, as much as it is celebrated and revered by others. To some, it is the “Coming of Age of a Woman as a [Public] Person”. To others, It is the end of Womanhood, as we love, know and expect of a good and worthy woman. I personally chose to stand aside and let the battles rage on.
I am a very proud woman; it is my third or fourth identity after: 1) Human; 2) Muganda; 2) Black; 4) PanAfrican; oops it is 5) Woman, in order of my identity. No one can ever take away from me the fact that I am born human; the rest I have annexed as I come of age into this world. It is possible that Black comes before Muganda, though my unequivocal allegiance to Ssabasajja Kabaka – King of Buganda supersedes my cling onto blackness. Biko grandpa got this
Then, if my “woman” identity is so far off, why I am making genderized statements that I Never Signed Up to Do Men’s Work..?
As I repeatedly say, to be human is to be contradictory. I hate to be pigeoned-holed into any form of identity, thought process, time period or affiliation. My thought process, my understanding of life, my allegiances, my desires and my commitments are as transient as my geographical belonging.
There was a time I thought it matter greatly that, My Mechanic is a Woman. Not anymore! I want my mechanic to be as knowledgeable, courteous, consistent and cost-effective, as possible. I do not know so much about cars, otherwise I would be fixing them like I do with parenting. Whereas I detest social constructionism, and repudiate structuralism, many a times, I cling on to certain structures with nostalgia.
I reminisce about the days when men and women lived their social lives in their equal right, without necessarily having to compete with each other for recognition. Men enjoyed things men do [hanging out, playing soccer, flexing muscles, and women did the same [chatting, laughing hysterically, and cooking meals], stories I learned through experience, passed on to me as tales from my mother or my social circles, or have read about.
As a woman, my grandmother, who did not go to school, commanded the house to order. My grandmother guaranteed that food was planted and grown on family land by family labor – boys or girls, gardens weeded, four Sonic 13 on all six lanesood harvested and cooked for the family to eat. She ensured that every member of her household actively engaged in household chores, kept them grounded with respectful behavior for elders, adults and the neighborhood, and supportive of one another. She was The Boss Lady in the household, who never shied away from sparing the rod..and… No! She did not climb trees to harvest the mangoes, or ladders to construct the houses and barns and kitchens. She did not fix broken bicycles or pans, or build cars with children. She was a good Muganda woman, with the necessary mechanics for sharpening a blunt knife.
My grandfather took on his role as the overall in-charge of the household, especially the financial provider for the family. He went out to work for financial compensation, paid his monthly tax burden, school tuition for over fifteen children and bought the meat, sugar, bread, whenever he could afford. He also bought the land on which his family house resides to date. Prior to his death, he demarcated a plot of land equally to each of his children regardless of their sex – girls or boys.
I can say the same about my father, who took to [not heart but] muscle being The Head of the Household. While not without his faults and shortcomings, my father ensured that school tuition fees were paid, land purchased to farm family food and build family houses, and builders paid. He bought food home, especially his favorite fish and meat, and clothed the family and toiled himself into retirement.
My mother contributed greatly to holding the family together and supported my father’s financial pursuits. She provided a clean and reliable supply of my father’s wardrobe, wore the pants and dresses whenever my father was away from home or traveled for work, supervised builders on site and ensured abundant supply of water and other building material, planted food, managed the farms and gardens and brought food on the table, contributed to the children’s wardrobe, scholastic needs and upkeep, and run the general household. She was Superwoman!
Then enters moi, who came into feminism embracing its mantra as, The Radical Notion That Women Are People, a bumper sticker on a Senior Female Law Lecturer that I greatly admired as a feminist and scholarly activist. That summed up all my attraction to feminism, as a young girl. I did not want anyone restricting the length of my dress, the style of my hair, the offices I could step into, the words I could public say, the arguments I could engage in, or the causes I chose to defend. I did not want anyone defining my public lifestyle and pursuits. I wanted to climb trees, speak about human rights violations, wear my knee-high dresses or saggy jeans pants, rock dreadlocks, party hard, and drink to this and that, whenever I felt like.
But NO! I did not want to take responsibility for climbing ladders to build or paint my house, fix my bulb, repair my car, wash my car, shove snow from the driveway, build cars, carry loads of household equipment, mow the lawn or pay my bill at a restaurant on a date. That is what men do. Nor did I sign up to be my son’s playmate, especially in ‘boys games”, or build his cars. I love watching and learning vicariously through him, but do not enjoy being the center of making it happen.
Fast forward, and here I am: dressed up as a Ninja, playing flash, sonic, spiderman, supergirl and batgirl. I am the ‘adult partner” to his Cub scout meetings, building cars, building rail tracks at home and anything boys do. I do not mind climbing trees, and chasing him around the yard. Though, I do not want the entire weight fitted onto me. I want him to build cars with boys and with males. Perhaps then, we will have a winning car in the next Pinewood Derby Car Race.Team Biko Sonic 13 at the Pinewood Derby Car Race

Liberalism is just an illusion

I guess all of us communicate to try and get the other part(ies)y see our point of view. To allow others read part of our mind, and understand our viewpoint and outlook on life. We do not necessarily seek to convince or convert the receiver of our communication. Some among us are comfortable just ‘being understood: the way we think, reason, live our lives, learn, or conduct ourselves amidst others. At least I am ok with that! Which explains why I have refused to be pigeonholed.

I once tried out belonging to a group that claims to have free -thought….until I realized that they are a bunch of wannabe liberals, cum atheists, cum scientologists…They try to convince others that, religion, African and traditional] culture is devoid of reasoning but emotive. They conveniently deny  that, like religious or cultural groups  [read traditional or Africa] which they be-mourn, they too subscribe to a dogma….or try to build one. Yet, their allegiance to a western-led cultural, religious, social and political culture is merely another form of revivalism…not necessary free thought. For, they worship “Jean clothes”, as a portray of “freedom to be”. They defend English as the global “language of development”, they reject and westernized science is the only justification to existence or logic. To me, that is another dogma of organized religion NOT liberalism, tolerance or free will. Anybody who seeks to challenge them, is quickly thrown out as illogical, emotive or bigoted….

I am uncomfortable with any form of communication, especially verbal or literal, that tries to claim sanity over another. That ranks and labels ‘the other’ based on one’s looks, dress, belief, food, sleep pattern, language or geographical location. Which is why I protest at all these “SI Units” for this and that – “political correctness”, liberalism, literacy, poverty or wealth, civilization, knowledge, plenty of those. I hate the “isms” or “ists” especially! I do not want to be anything – No! I do not have to be a feminist to believe that “women are people”. I do not have to be a monarchist to love and defend my Kabaka (King for Baganda in Uganda), I do not have to be a federal statist…to defend “federalism”…nor a culturalist to defend “culture” nor bigoted to defend blackness. Don’t call me a “humanist” because I said, I believe in humanity. I just want the right of everyone to choose their course of life to be respected.

That’s why I take issue with anyone who says to me that exposing parts of the body undermines the glory and pride of a woman. So, you mean women in cultures that do not cover their breasts have no glory and pride? Or little kids who run around naked, or with just a thread (thanks to missionary infiltration in their ecology) have no glory whatsoever? I appreciate the fact that you are a “clothist. But why don’t you respect my right to be a nudist?

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I am not a big fan of clothes!  Any opportunity I get to strip them off, I embrace  heartily!  Sadly, I lost my liberty to nudity once I got birthed into a society that had already run to clothes. But I will exercise it, whenever I have a chance. I am not an exhibitionist, I just love my freedom…especially because it comes with NO intention to hurt anyone.

Which explains why I quit organized religion. I was born into a Protestant or Anglican family. My maternal grandma was a Reverend – Member of the Clergy, so my mother went to church every Sunday, and participated in all church activities whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Matter of fact, she is still active, teaching Sunday School and all sorts of other church activities. And I was once active in church: sang in my teen days, prayed seriously, spoke in tongues and attended night prayer. That was a phase in my life. I did it all. But I also think I took the bible as literal as I read it, and as it was taught to me. I read the NT cover to cover….I practiced all the Bible said I should. I would not lie, not fornicate, not commit adultery, not hate. and not drink. That is the ten commandments. I tithed to, even when I had no income…

Until I came to America. Then I realized that religion can be used to bless those going to war to kill each other. The religious drink, they sell their brand of religion as different from others, same thing that scientologists do. Oh! and the religious commit adultery and fornication. Yes! I was once a victim of the pastor’s sex advances…Shock of my life! Slowly I began to disentangle myself from organized religion, even though I embraced religious communities like the Mennonites, the Mormons and Muslims. Not because they all start with “letter M”,  but they operated as a family, a community, more than a religion. They did not ostracize me, like my experience growing up in religious and Pentecostal Uganda. I could still join them in fellowship, if I wished, or for dinner or for any kind of celebrations.

Then I went to Senegal, and fell in love with the practice of Islam as a culture, not a religion. For those who do not know, Senegal  is one of a handful of African countries…which has never experienced a military coup.  All political regimes have come through the ballot. Senegal’s first president was a catholic elected by 98% (or more) of muslim population, plus, he had a white french wife.  Unthinkable in a country like mine, Uganda…that the christians would elect a more as president OR accept a presidential candidate with, for instance, white British wife! So, I got engaged to a Senegalese because they reminded me of muslim friends, growing up in Uganda, who always invited us to break the fast and share Eid with them. Well, then I got side-tracked and left a really good man…

But another opportunity presented itself with my son’s father’s family. The parents converted to Islam, and I loved their togetherness in prayer and faith. It was very attractive and reassuring. I thought my son would try that out. After all, I decided as an adult to leave religion…even tho’ that memory never leaves me. I left that claim that there is ONLY one path to the after-life through Christianity….but I do not denounce anybody who does. In fact, my best friend (RIP) was a practicing christian…and I always told her that my blessings rubbed off her strong faith…I have plenty of religious connections, many who have blessed me and my son along the way. I do not have a problem with them, as long as they do not bedevil my way of life.

But a little interaction and I am wary, already. The beauty of a woman is in covering herself up…Oh! Halloween is demonic! Yeah! there is a lot to take in. I am fine with my son, just getting the experience of religion as a community. After all, I have been out of religion for ages…and do not get him into church. But when you tell me that celebrating the dead is demonic or that I am not glorified without covers…or that there is only one religion that encompasses all faiths….Or that christ is the only way to eternal life….uhm or science is the only form of logic….uhm! THINGS FALL APART. I guess we’re gonna keep it our way. We do not need much help getting more confused. No matter how “tolerant” you will say you are….You acts and stance against others tells the real story.

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. 

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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