The Wordsmythe's Weblog…

…On Words, Love and Life

On Parenting and possible negligence

Parenting is hard at the best of times. Trying to get the balance of raising independent, resourceful and confident yet respectful children is like, my friend, Jọkẹ says, walking a tightrope. We don’t get it right every single time. We make mistakes.

Sometimes those mistakes have no lasting consequences beyond feeling a bit guilty about our wrong judgement call and no one will ever find out about them except we mention it. Other times, our mistakes are grievous and affect our children, and possibly others, adversely.

In this age of phone and watch cameras, some of our mistakes are immortalised in film and replayed over and over again across the world for everyone to see.

That one momentary lapse. That one time we looked away. That one time we got distracted. Perhaps that one time we let our guard down. It is that one moment by which our entire parenting gets judged.

I don’t know much about the mum of the child who accidentally fell/deliberately climbed/speedily crawled (depending on who is telling the story) into the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo a few days ago. I have read one eyewitness’ account of how this mum was frantically looking for her child when she couldn’t find him where he was a few seconds ago while she snapped a photo. This account tells of how this mum nearly passed out when she realised her child was in the enclosure with a 400-pound male silverback gorilla. I don’t know what she looks like, her name or how old she is. I don’t know if she is a good or negligent parent.

I don’t know her but I can only imagine what those ten minutes her child was in with that gorilla must have been like for her. Ten excruciatingly long, drawn out and painful minutes! Six hundred seconds of wondering if this was last she would see her child alive. The self-recrimination, the utter helplessness, the metallic taste of fear, the confusion! I know that long after those ten minutes were over, presently and possibly long after this is a distant memory to the rest of us, she will relive those moments, again and again.I know that the guilt will stay with her for a long time.

All parents make mistakes. Good parents make mistakes. Bad parents are mistakes on legs. Making mistakes goes with the parenting territory. Try as we might to keep them safe, our children get up to mischief. We would probably all hate it if our parenting were defined by our mistakes.

I am deeply saddened that the gorilla was shot. I am also deeply relieved that the child is safe. I feel both emotions alongside each other. They are not mutually exclusive. We can mourn the loss of the creature whilst empathising with a parenting lapse.

 

 

When you can’t find the words

 

“Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it, or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.” Sylvia Plath

Two years ago to the day, the 18th of January 2014, I was driving and singing along to the radio when a phone call came through. It was my younger sister. I pulled over. Through her frantic cries and hysteria I managed to make out the words, “Daddy is dead.” It is a mystery that my heart didn’t come to a complete stop.

“I was standing in our dining-room thinking of nothing in particular, when a cablegram was put into my hand. It said, ‘Susy was peacefully released today.’ It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live.” Mark Twain

In the weeks and months that followed, I realised that I had lost more than my dad. I lost the ability to write. The thoughts were in my head but I couldn’t articulate them in words. In a sense, his death garrotted me yet didn’t kill me outright.

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.” C. S. Lewis

I still struggle to write even now. I am desperately hoping it comes back to me.

“Losing people you love affects you. It is buried inside of you and becomes this big, deep hole of ache. It doesn’t magically go away, even when you stop officially mourning.” Carrie Jones

Whilst I have found it difficult to express how I felt (still feel) in my own words, I found the words of others that do just as good a job.
Hear me through them.

“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world—the company of those who have known suffering.” Helen Keller

“The weird, weird thing about devastating loss is that life actually goes on. When you’re faced with a tragedy, a loss so huge that you have no idea how you can live through it, somehow, the world keeps turning, the seconds keep ticking.” James Patterson

“How do you go on knowing that you will never again—not ever, ever—see the person you have loved? How do you survive a single hour, a single minute, a single second of that knowledge? How do you hold yourself together?” Howard Jacobson

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” Aeschylus

“Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die: It happens again every single morning.”Anna Quindlen

“Sometimes, when one person is absent,
the whole world seems depopulated.” Allphonse de Lamartine

“Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved.” Iris Murdoch

“If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.” Lemony Snicket

“We never truly get over a loss, but we can move forward and evolve from it.” Elizabeth Berrien

Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” Anne Roiphe

“Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing….” Elizabeth Gilbert

“Grief is like a ball of string, you start at one end and wind. Then the ball slips through your fingers and rolls across the floor. Some of your work is undone but not all. You pick it up and start over again, but you never have to begin again at the end of the string. The ball never completely unwinds. You’ve made some progress.” Anonymous

“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.” Arthur Golden

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Anne Lamott

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” Earl Grollman

“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.” Arthur Schopenhauer

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.” Anonymous

 

Inchoate and random, because life sometimes is.

I do my best writing while driving. And no, (wipe that shocked look off your face) I do not actually write while driving. I mean I get my best ideas for writing while driving.

I know people get their ideas at various times and in different places, some commonplace, some random. In the kitchen, in bed, in the throne room, in the great outdoors etc. My friend, Nwuye, told me she gets hers in the shower. I advised her to design and patent an app or device she can write with/on while in the shower. She made all the right noises at the time but as far as I know she has come up with nothing. She is busy trying to evict all the weird and wonderful characters who live rent-free in her head. If you think I exaggerate, read her stories here, here and here. Anyway, I digress.

I find that whenever I am driving, usually alone, the words and pictures come effortlessly and flow seamlessly into beautiful prose. Missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle suddenly fall into place. There’s just something about the collaboration of man and machine that engenders inspiration, that makes me think in alacritous alliteration like, ‘gargantuan gas guzzlers gyrating gratingly along’ or something equally as abecedarian. I don’t know exactly what that something is but it does it for me almost every time.

However, the moment I sit and try to recapture those ideas, I find the words are mostly gone with the wind that blew in my hair while driving. I try to corral them into formation but I see them, in my mind’s eye, floating off in different directions, cackling and mocking as they fizzle into nothingness, elusive as air. And all that’s left is a shadow of a memory of something that was and then wasn’t.

And that’s why some of my best writing never gets written. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

 

*****

 

When I was growing up, I had some aunties. Well, they weren’t all related by blood, however, all adult females were aunties and every adult male, an uncle. It was just the way it was and I never questioned it. Anyway, every time I saw these aunties, they would exclaim how much I’d grown since they’d last seen me. How much taller I’d sprouted. And I would roll my eyes, albeit in my head because actual eye-rolling would have resulted in me having said eyes gouged out by the fair hands of my mother who brooked no disrespect for elders on her watch.

I wondered if they expected me to remain exactly the same as when they’d last seen me irrespective of how much time had lapsed. Why were they so surprised I’d grown? After all, that is what children do, grow. I would stand there beaming coyly as they cooed their disbelief, never voicing my thoughts for fear of defenestration by my mother, while waiting impatiently till I could go off and do something I considered more worthwhile.

Fast forward twenty odd years or so and I have become those aunties. Sometimes, when I see children of friends or relatives, I open my mouth and out spills the aunties. I exclaim at how tall they’ve grown since I last saw them. I regard them in disbelief as I mentally count how old they are in order to reconcile their age with their height. I remind myself how much I disliked being on the receiving end but I’m still unable to stop myself.

Now I’m older and hopefully wiser, I can empathise with those aunties, albeit belatedly. As Oscar Wilde rightly said, youth is wasted on the young.

 

****

He says his sermon won’t take long. But then he quickly reassures us that it won’t be the shortest in the history of the church either. He tells us about the shortest sermon in the history of the church. He is right. It was short. All of fifteen words, nine of which was the same word repeated over and over again. That would have been the perfect day to be at church, I think.

He goes on to introduce his topic. He tells us that if we’ve got it he can stop here now. He asks us if we get it. We respond in the affirmative. He asks us again. This time we raise our voices in agreement and tell him we have. It would appear I am not the only one who would like him to stop now. But he doesn’t stop. He goes on to tell us about it. He reiterates that he will not be long.

PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide, he tells us again and again. His voice dips. I am lulled into thinking, this is it, he’s done. But it soon picks up again and he clicks on another slide. On and on. I lose track of time. But I, who have sat and listened to many sermons, know that this is by no means a short one.

I am listless. I want to be elsewhere though I don’t know where exactly. The last time I was here was a year ago. And it was hard. And sad. But I tell myself that this too shall pass. Like it did the last time. And it does. Eventually.

.

Carry on Camping

Wonderful camp at St John’s School this weekend. Thank you to all who made it happen.

Camping is a true art form, not for the faint of heart nor the infirm in body. Ensuring an enjoyable experience is all down to personal opinion about what exactly is enjoyable.

There’s the deciding what to take along with you and if you’re anything like me that would be everything apart from the bath tub and kitchen sink. This includes taking the available facilities at your camp site into consideration. Will there be power points to pump up air beds or do you go for self-inflating mats instead (bearing in mind that the ‘self’ in ‘self-inflating’ may well be your knackered self) ? Bunsen burners or electric cooker? And so on, and so forth, etcetera, etcetera.

Then there’s the fitting of everything, first into bags, pouches, coolers and all manner of receptacles then into the vehicle that will conduct you to your camping site. You can forget about using your rear view mirrors. The only rear view you will have will be that of sleeping bags.

There’s the choosing the right tent for your needs and taste. They range in cost and size from £10 pop-up, jack-in-the-box types to hundreds of pounds worth of palatial boutique Bedouin marquee complete with deep shag pile Persian rugs, chiffon-draped ceilings and bejewelled belly dancers.

Then there’s the locating the perfect spot for your tent (note: a rocky patch is usually a bad idea and so is underneath a benevolent tree which provides stopovers to hordes of migrating birds. Ever tried washing bird poo off polyester?) And thereafter the putting up of your tent. The latter is single-handedly responsible for many a divorce unless your tent falls into the pop-up category.

By the time the tent is up, you may have long lost the will to live much less clap in time to and sing Kumbaya around the camp fire.

Anyway, if you manage to navigate all the aforementioned, marriage and sanity intact, you are well on your way to a lovely time in the great outdoors.

However, let me just put this out there, camping is a holiday only for those who didn’t attend boarding school in Nigeria.

PS: Ours is the orange and gray tent. And we’re still married. And sane. Well, somewhat.

Camp 2015 (2) Camp 2015 (3) Camp 2015 (4) Camp 2015 Our tent

Navigating relationships

Relationships. I’m thinking of relationships.

Sometimes the way forward is murky and unclear leaving one in a quandary as to what route to take. Other times, it is as clear as day. The writing splashed across the mind’s wall in a large bold font, unambiguous, unequivocal, its message, unmistakable.

When, in a relationship, you find yourself morphing into a person you scarcely recognise, bending over backwards in a manner contortionists the world over would envy, to accommodate and to fit in with the other’s expectations of you, you do not need a seer to tell you that it does not bode well for the future. You would be wise to vote with your feet.

A person who keeps demanding that you change to suit them will never be satisfied. They are selfish, self-centred and narcissistic. They think the world and everyone in it exist for the sole purpose of pleasing them. They have no thought for the well-being of others except it directly affects theirs. Such a person is incapable of appreciating your sacrifices. They believe it is their God-given right that others do for them and never them for others.

It is folly to expect that marriage will be an improvement on the current state of affairs. On the contrary, it will probably be a lot worse. Anything that is so one-sided will eventually topple.

Relationships only work when both parties appreciate that neither is perfect, are willing to compromise and make efforts to accommodate the other. Anything else is simply a disaster waiting to happen.

Natural Hair Anonymous

I read a post on one of the natural hair forums on Facebook yesterday. The lady posted some photos of her hair and claimed she had been natural for 36 months. Turns out she started transitioning in September 2012.

Now I realise Maths is not my strong suit but even I noticed the numbers didn’t add up. My first thought was to point out that she has actually been natural for just 24 not 36 months and I was going to say as much when I stopped myself. I stopped because I had visions of all the comments that would follow. Comments that would accuse of me of not being supportive of a fellow natural. Of being one of those black women who take delight in putting other black women down. I’ve seen it happen before. Someone posts a photo or says something about their hair, someone else comments and says they don’t like it, then come the abuse and accusations.

It’s as though in becoming natural, one surrenders one’s rights to personal opinion and preferences. Because we wear our hair a certain way, suddenly we must all think and reason alike, have the same world view irrespective of background, upbringing and personal experiences.

This natural hair thing has become just like Alcoholics Anonymous. “Hey, my name is Nkem Ivara and I’ve been natural x years.” Cue applause and back slapping as I collect my coin. Women who have successfully weaned themselves off the life-threatening, disease-causing creamy crack should be applauded. They should have support groups where they can discuss their addiction and life post-addiction.

Women have become so militant about how they wear their hair, it’s almost a burden to have natural or any type of hair at all. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

As the Igbo proverb says, ‘Egbe belu, Ugo belu, nke si ibe ya ebela, nku kwaya.’ Roughly translated, it means, ‘Let the kite perch, let the eagle perch. Whoever says the other should not perch, let his wing break.’ Now this is not me saying anyone’s wing hair should break/fall out but can’t we all just get along? You know, live and let live?

 

Your song

Your song, so haunting

Barefaced emotions it’s flaunting

And though it’s your love I’m wanting

The prospect is too daunting.

 

Your lyrics, they draw me in

Stir up a storm within

Send my heart into a tailspin

Tempt me sore to give in.

 

Your dulcet tones seduce

They call for a truce

Provide the perfect excuse

For my heart to let loose.

 

Your melody tugs at my heartstrings

In that place where heart break stings

From where hope springs

And dreams sprout wings.

 

Now you’ve got me right where you want me

I’m giving in to your desperate plea

Your promises of things that could be

When you and I finally become We.

 

This poem was inspired by Sam Smith’s beautifully haunting song, Latch.

I am tired of this hair, hair, everywhere.

I couldn’t have said it any better. Thanks for taking the words right out of my mouth, Nwuye. Don’t mind if I share.

How to love Igbo things (or what you will).

Maybe I’ve always been a bit blasé about hair because mine grows so easily; I could always switch from natural to permed and back again.  But lately especially, I find myself tiring of the natural versus relaxed hair debate.

I understand all the connotations of having relaxed hair. Believe me, I do. I too have had weave itch, the sort that leaves you slapping your head repeatedly in public, with no thoughts whatsoever as to how mad you look.  No care either. Nothing but the desire to scratch that unreachable, infuriating, itch.  The near soporific effects of scratching it cannot be matched by anything in this world.

I have suffered the sores that come from digging too deeply with a pen or other handy pointy object under dandruff and sweat encrusted wefts. I have had my hair fall out from too much relaxing and traction from braids. It was not…

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It’s been three weeks

It’s been three weeks since I was driving and singing along to the radio when I got the call. Today I’m driving back from the gym. Pharrell William’s ‘Happy’ is playing. It’s a tune I love. My boys love it too. When it comes on at home, we crank up the volume and break out in a happy dance. But I am alone now. I do not have to put up a happy front for the children. I cannot clap along. Because I’m not happy. Yes, I do feel like a room without a roof. But it is raining and I am getting drenched in grief and loss as the rain mingles with my tears. The room is flooding with memories of when he was here. He was just here. I know that happiness is the truth but it is not my truth right now. I want to be happy but I am not. I cannot be. This loss is too huge, too painful to be lifted by the lyrics of an upbeat song.

It’s been three weeks. My older son points out that people are no longer coming to visit. Not like the steady stream we had when we first heard the news. I nod and agree with him. I want to tell him that that’s the way life works. It goes on. I want to say that though people care, life must carry on. That even though this was a monumental shift in our paradigm, it was just a momentary blip in that of our friends, interrupting their lives albeit ever so briefly. I want to tell him that even though they may not be physically present, we are in their thoughts and prayers. But I don’t. It is too much to burden a 7-year old with. My decision proves right when our conversation segues into sharing memories about Granddad. He and his brother talk about how Granddad was so funny, how he laughed and made them laugh. I am sad but I smile. I am glad that in spite of the fact that he is gone, they have happy memories of their grandfather.

It’s been three weeks. I am forgetful and absent-minded, apathetic and lethargic. I forgot to attend my appointment with the dentist. I forgot to take my younger son to the dentist. I forgot to change the calendar page from January to February. It is like I am frozen in time. As if I cannot move beyond those heart-stopping minutes three weeks ago.

It’s been three weeks. And It’s been hard. I have tried to carry on because that’s what he would have wanted. But it’s been hard. Sometimes I am able to function normally because in doing so, I’m almost able to convince myself that it didn’t happen. That the pain I feel in my chest is imaginary. Other times, everything in me bucks at normal because life isn’t normal and I want everything to stop and acknowledge that it isn’t.

It’s been three weeks since I decided to go back home. My other home. The one I grew up in. I think of my trip and I begin to get excited. I look forward to getting together with the whole family. To being in the same room as all my sisters. To the raucous laughter as we regale and remind each other with and of tales of our escapades. To catching up on news of everyone and what they have been up to since we’ve been apart.

But then I remember why I am making the trip. And grief shoos the excitement out of my soul. I am going back home because my daddy died. I am going back home but I won’t be seeing my dad. And that hurts. Badly.

My Daddy was just here

Sometimes, it’s the inane nature of things that foretells what is about to happen. Yet it is the very inanity that lulls us into a false sense of security, the irony of it all hitting us only after the event. Hindsight is indeed 20-20 vision.

Usually, life is a series of mind-numbing activity. Stuff we could do in our sleep. Every now and again something breaks up the routine. Sometimes the break is welcome. Other times, it is an unwanted intruder.

This is one of those times. This break is so incongruous with the routine that precedes it, nothing I have known before quite prepares me. So that when I get that phone call, the one where my younger sister is crying frantically, breathing heavily and calling out my name repeatedly. I know it’s bad. Really, really bad.

I search for the rewind button. I want to live life in reverse. To turn back the clock. Go back to the morning when I wake up and it’s Saturday. A regular Saturday in the Ivara household. Football. Homework. Cleaning. Getting ready to go to my friend’s baby shower. Driving. Singing along to Heart FM.

But no matter how many times I replay it, I always end up at that moment where I get the phone call. The one where my younger sister is crying frantically, breathing heavily and calling out my name repeatedly and I know it’s bad. Really, really bad.

My breath catches. I ask her to repeat what she has just said. I hear her the first time but I convince myself that I could not have heard her right. She says it again. And again. And again.

“Daddy is dead.”

How can he be dead? He was just here. It’s been 10,080 minutes. One week since Daddy was here. In my home. Sitting in what my boys call ‘Granddad’s chair’. Now, she is telling me he is gone. How can that be? I can see him here. Pottering around. Repacking his and mum’s luggage. Drinking Moringa tea at the dining table. Roughhousing with the boys, telling them he was going back to ‘Naija’. Surely this is a joke. But I know it is not. I know the moment I answer the phone and hear my sister crying. I know that life, as I used to know it, is changed forever.

My hands start to shake. My breath comes in short bursts. My lungs are burning from the effort of taking in air. I start to cry. How can this be? It can’t be true.

It’s been three days since I got that phone call. I have repeated that phrase ‘Daddy is dead’ over and over again. I roll the words around in my mouth, whisper them, say them out loud, say them in my head. They still feel mismatched, like they don’t belong together in the same sentence.

It feels like something has been forcefully wrenched out of its place and I have been left with an open, gaping wound. There is this huge lump in my chest. Try as I might, I just cannot shift it. Unshed tears. It is hard to believe there are any left after all the ones I have cried.

I look around the house and think, he was just here. My Daddy was just here…

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