Last week, I played the role of supportive big sister and went to my brother’s secondary school for this end of year show and it was so intriguing to witness exactly how parents behave. Every single school thing I’ve ever attended, I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been the one waiting to be called up with everyone else’s eyes on me.
To sum up what I observed, there’s nothing like a public acknowledgement or lack thereof of the achievements of the fruit of your loins to bring out the absolute worst in you. Body language is the biggest snitch. Sure, some parents will never outwardly express their absolute disappointment in their child during such events but you can sense it. You can feel the subliminal God, did I give birth to this foolish child thoughts just swirling above your head as they sit and watch every other child but their own get an award. I found it so funny as the parents waited with bated breath to hear their child’s name being announced only to exhale with silent bitterness at the child that did win. It was a like a war of worlds between the miniature fist bumps and the heavy but stealth eye rolls of contempt.
Being surrounded by it all got me thinking how Nigerian kids have to deal with all that plus a hell of a lot more by the time they get home. It all starts in the car. Your parents will give you the silent treatment but the second everyone is in the car and seat buckled in and the key is in the ignition, someone will start: “Why can’t you just make me proud? Why can’t you just focus on your work and win an award or did all the other children that win have two heads? No, we cannot go to McDonald’s, there’s rice at home.” If you’re lucky and you go to a fee-paying school, there is no way you won’t hear “after all the school fees I’m paying, simple award you cannot get.”
If you haven’t lived through it, you wouldn’t know. I can’t tell you much it sucks to try and do the best that you can, academically or otherwise, to then have your parents tell you “but why couldn’t you get higher than this?” or “what did everyone else get?” I’m guessing it’s a Nigerian thing. Competition is embedded in our DNA and a lot of parents are of the mind-set that their child must have a title attributed to their name in terms of a profession to be able to say, “yes, my child is not a bastard.” I honestly believe as a Nigerian child, you will hear the words doctor, lawyer and engineer thrown at you at least 700 times before you reach the age of 16. I know they mean well because job security and financial wellbeing are attributed with such jobs but they are not the only jobs in this world, for goodness sake. And how many times have you said “I want to be a singer/writer/artist” to only have those dreams shut down faster than you could even imagine?
I’m actually extremely lucky. My parents have never been soul crushing, dream stomping monsters but they’ve never been the ones to ignite a flame that couldn’t be sustained, you get me? They’ve allowed me to find my own feet and find what suits me as they fully understood that whatever I chose to do was what I would be saddled with for the rest of my life, not theirs. For instance, when I was really young, I was convinced that I was Beyoncé’s protégé. I was destined to be her next in line. I used to watch the Crazy In Love video on repeat, I nailed the walk and the sudden drop to her knees and everything. I could lip-sync like there was no tomorrow, I actually could sing…ish and I had confidence in the bucketloads. One day, I just said “Mummy, I’m going to be a singer when I grow up.” My mum looked at me, utterly bewildered yet astonished, I can never forget how she looked that day, and she said, “Maybe you should have a backup plan, just to be on the safe side.”
When I think about it, I always wonder what my own response would have been if my own child said something like that to me. I want to say I’ll be the best mum ever and say “sure, baby, you can be whatever you want to be” even if my child sounds like a cat being dunked into a bathtub. I mean, I want to be as encouraging as I can possibly be and I want my children to know they can get to the top of any ladder this world offers them to climb. I want my kids to know that they can be whoever they want to be and they’ll know that I will be the one forever in their corner, no matter how epically they fuck up because they will and that’s okay. I want to be that mum who screams her head off with joy even when my child comes last in school races or brings home C minuses on their report card because that’s what every child wants. Everyone needs that little push just to know they’re on the right track. But as always, I worry. I worry I say all this and create this foolproof ideology of how to parent in my head until I am faced with hardcore motherhood to only have my Yoruba genes shroud my sense of open-mindedness and for my inner we-have-rice-at-home mum mode to kick in.
I guess I’ll know when the time gets here and there’s no use fretting over something that hasn’t even happened yet. All I do know is, awards don’t mean anything… most of the time. I mean, look at Kanye West: wasn’t he voted least likely to succeed? In primary school, I didn’t win a single award until I was leaving the damn place. Every year I was boycotted, if that’s even possible, until finally, finally, I won the science cup in year 6 and well, look at me now, bitches. Secondary school? I used to get awards and certificates like they were plates of jollof rice on a Sunday afternoon.
But that’s besides the point. Don’t live by someone else’s idea of you. You are you and as long as you’re being the best you there could ever be, everyone else can nose dive off a very tall building. That is all.
Song of the Week
Remember, my news? Should tell you by next week 🙂