“With a baby on the way…” These words are the opening lines to any discourse for me these days, no matter what is being discussed.
“So Franque, how are you these days?” “With a baby on the way, I have to take things easy…”
“They seem to be working you really hard these days. You are hardly around, and after reading my BBMs you leave them unanswered.” Straight away I reply, “Hmm my sister, with a baby on the way ehn...”
At work, my colleagues try to keep conversations with me professional. Who would blame them? Considering how I go on and on, you would be forgiven for thinking this is the first child in the history of humanity. And to be honest, this is the first child in the history of my humanity.
“… Know that in a little under eight months you will be a daddy.” Those words uttered almost eight months ago, like it or not, have changed my life; altered the course of my life – in a good way. I hope that I have grown in the period since. At least I have learnt to put myself and my wants/needs second, and if that is not maturing I do not know what is.
Over the past few months, I have also had to deal with dewey eyed romantics who feel that the sight of the baby bump will make me realize how incomplete my life was, and rush off to the nearest jewellers’ to purchase a ring and propose, on the one hand; and ‘Holy Ghost’ fanatics who believed it would cause the Spirit of the lord to loosen me from the shackles of my demons so that this will all be a lie of the devil and a testimony unto the glory of God!
True, the first time I actually saw the slight swelling of her stomach, knowing that I am a part of the miracle dwelling therein, it touched me in my really soft place. It reached into the core of my being and caressed a very sensitive something causing a swelling of my heart, and an opening of my eyes. From that point, almost everywhere I went, I saw pregnant women or nursing mothers!
#New Baby Syndrome
The first time I came across this, it was the explanation for some kwashiokor cases in West Africa.
One myth that has endured from the time of Oliver Twist till this day is the notion that if you fed a child meat, you were raising him to become a thief. With meat kept from him, the child had mother’s milk to count on as a source of protein till well past his second birthday. But if he is unfortunate enough to have an active father and a fertile mother, he may have to go on a predominantly carbohydrate diet. The result is often a kwashiotic child.
And people wonder at sibling rivalry!
Well, my neighbour’s son is one child in my compound that is nearest and dearest to me than any other. Abdullah is a soft featured, soft spoken child with a lisp. From his eyes which are hooded by drooping lids you can tell he is wise beyond his three years, but his almost timid mien makes all the girls I know who know him want to mother Abdullah. His good looks do not hurt the eyes either.
He is my personal police, quick to rush to the window each time he hears my door clang open. The door makes quite a racket so there is no escaping the questioning from my young friend. “Where are you going?“ He will ask. “Say, good evening sir,’” that’s from his mother.
“Good evening sthah uncle Frankie, where are you going to?” There was no derailing his line of questioning. “I am going to work.”
“Ok.” He will say this bit like he was considering the answer. “Sthee my Ben 10 watch, and my Ben 10 band..”
“It’s not band, it’s drum.” Again the mother.
“Bubu hi-five.” My bribe to him, and it always worked. He will slap his tiny hand into the mosquito netting, against mine sending dust right into my face. I have never learnt to take my face out of the way for this ritual!
He doesn’t get animated over much, but whenever it was a visit to Uncle Frankie’s place, he always came alive. He loves music and my brother has a guitar, so he usually makes a beeline for my brother’s room. He would carry the much taller guitar, bending over backwards and banging into the door frame as he struggled past it, to the living room where he would lay the guitar flat and proceed to slap discordant sounds out of it. Take the guitar from him and he got bored and restless. “I want to go to my Mommy,“ usually ended such visits.
The only other time I see him animated is when a car is involved. From when he was just shy of two, I would carry him on my lap as I drove into or out of the compound. He learnt to honk the horn, and wrestle the steering, on my laps. Lately he would even stretch his tiny foot towards the pedals. Whenever we went anywhere in the area, I would sit him in front with me. That was until the day he said “I don’ want the stheat belth!” and accompanied the statement with a sulk. Straight away I moved him to the back seat, and strapped him in for good measure! I have sat him there ever since.
On school mornings when I was not working, I was the volunteer driver – his mother stopped the school bus picking him in the mornings because he invariably went to school late, and missed morning assembly. The woman worry o!
He attended a school in the area with another kid from the compound, Ayomide. Between them, the school run was always amusing.
Ayo: Bubu my mommy pack my caprisone in my bag (fact).
Abdul: My mommy packed my caprithone too (a lie), and my biscuit and my sthokolaite (fact).
Ayo: (squealing and giggling) Uncle Frankie, Abdulla say his mommy packed his caprisone. It’s Bobo o, it’s Bobo that he is taking to school (fact). Liar liar!
Abdul: (bobbing his head up an down) Ayomide ith not my friend again (every child’s biggest weapon, friendship). Arafat (Ayo’s younger sister) ith my friend, Efotha ith my friend (and he would list all the kids in the compound in a sing-song).
Ayo: Uncle Frankie
Ayo: Uncle Frankie
Ayo: Abdulla say I am not his friend.
Me: Abdulla did you say that?
Me: Ayomide you see, he does not mean it.
On some days they would get into all kinds of directionless arguments, but most days they just played their version of ‘I spy’. And I was always amazed by how much Abdullah could identify!
There was a day I was driving Abdullah, his Mom and a friend of mine to a birthday party. On the way we passed a bank building, as usual my friend was playing ‘I spy’, he pointed and said matter of factly “Elephant bank.” I almost drove into the car in front of me. I am sure some First Bank employees actually think of their bank as an ‘Elephant’ bank. Further down the road he also pointed out “Sthweet thenthation“, reminding his mom that he wanted some ice-cream.
Abdullah and I are so cool, the threat “You will not go to Uncle Frankie’s place,” was more effective than his mother’s “I will beat you o“.
His father works at the airport and was transferred to a state in the East. During the Christmas holidays last year, Abdullah went to vacation with him. The compound was empty for me without him. I missed my young soldier and that shocked me.
When he returned at the end of January, I learnt he had missed me too. For though I was away at work, he made a beeline for my door banging and calling out my name. His dad had to drag him home with a promise of waking him up no matter when I returned. I learnt he loved okpa and fiofio. Till date he claims the East over his paternal West.
Recently his mom put to bed. All the time she was pregnant, we joked about whose baby would be born first, and she bet me she was going to have a new dress made for my iso omo l’oruko(naming ceremony) – and it was not going to be a maternity gown or boubou.
On the evening she put to bed, she called me, first to gloat that she was getting that dress made and that I would drive her to her tailor’s to have her measurement taken, then to inform me she had another boy. Elated, I rushed home the next morning and when I saw Abdullah he looked so sleep deprived you would be forgiven for thinking he had done the labouring and pushing and birthing.
As I drove him to school that morning, with Ayomide, he was a subdued version of his usually quiet self. Not a word did he say on the drive all the way to school, and when I asked him if he was excited about his new baby, a slight frown passed his face quickly. So quickly that if I had not been looking at him when I asked, I would never had known. Dude was jealous of the excitement his brother generated, and must be anxious about the inevitable shift in attention from him!
Not so I when my younger sister was born. Maybe because I was seven years old when she was born, with my school, friends, and other activities to occupy me; or maybe because I was glad someone had come along that I could boss around. Whatever my reason, I have never known this envy of a sibling – not even when two years later my younger brother was born.
That was me, this is Abdullah.
With the birth of his brother, though it hit me that my own baby was actually closer than I thought.
I have cut my hair in what I like to refer to as my ‘Daddy look’; I have taken the next two weeks off work; I will move house temporarily just to be close by when the contractions start; In short I am very excited as I run down the clock to the arrival of the next generation; the first of my lineage; the attestation of my manhood.
PS: It is true that sometimes in life we are forced into decisions that we should have found for ourselves. Yet I believe, just like Cardinal Newman in the “Amazing Grace“, that grace brought me safely this far and the same grace will guide my steps and lead me on.
PPS: By this time, just a few years ago, I would already have gone on the procession of Palms on Sunday; I would have attended the Washing of the feet/ Last Supper ceremonies and Mass on Thursday; I would have walked the fourteen steps on Good Friday, after going the entire day without protein – Mama won’t let you smell even fish let alone touch meat, and you better not go in search of those pleasures; I most likely would have been rostered to serve at Mass on Saturday – Altar Servers played more prominent roles in the night’s ceremonies and experience was brought to bear; and then I would have been slated to read on Easter Sunday. All in all a very busy week the Holy Week usually was for me.
This year I spent Palm Sunday stuck in Douala, not getting into Lagos before 2am on Monday morning; spent Holy Thursday traipsing all over the country, going from the South-west to the North, then the South-south before ending up in the FCT for the night, too tired to eat. I will spend Good Friday repeating Thursday, but in reverse order.
So this is me wishing you, all of you, a blessed and more spiritually satisfying Easter as we countdown to the rising from the dead of Jesus, Lord and Saviour.