A parent’s nightmare tends to start at the prospect of putting their wide eyed children to bed. They could talk for humanity. Mine are no different. They just don’t want to sleep. Most weekends, I am constantly awoken by my children who particularly enjoy trampolining on my super king-sized bed. I took them once for trampolining, but this did not work out. It wasn’t quite the same thing, there was no excitement, I guess it lacked the censorship that comes with jumping up and down kids are wont to do, reaching for ceilings, treading the forbidden zones, mothers screaming for them to stop, lest their fracture some malleable bone. After a continuous litany of our berating them on finding worthwhile things to fill their idle minds weekend mornings, they found a way to entertain themselves. This weekend, as they had learnt to do of late, I was torn out of slumber by their raucous laughter. I listened for a while hoping that none of the three would cry, and was rewarded accordingly. They were getting on well, but I could not fathom how. Most importantly though, I could not begin to imagine what three children, (the youngest three and the eldest being eight) found to talk about.
With my wife half away at work so early, leaving me to man the fort, I dreaded the prospect of grooming the girls’ hair. They always threw tantrums, the way they know best; cried through the whole experience, really loud; so loud you would rather be in a bombing campaign. So as the day crawled to an unjustified end, and with me promising so much sweeties and goodies, the girls braced themselves for a hair washing exercise with dad. Not a pretty sight! I went through it with the youngest, (let’s call her Third Agenda or TA for short) she somehow managed to remind me to pay up before, during and after the treatment about how she had been dreaming of her sweets to come. I reassured her that I was not one to renege on my promise. She bit her lips through the ordeal and was duly rewarded. But the tables were turned when I had to wash the eldest’s (call her Second Base or SB). Not only did SB no put up a fight or remind me of the promises I had made to make her life sweeter that evening, she actually volunteered to help me wash her hair herself.
Now I come from an average sized African family, modestly placed at somewhere in the middle of fifteen children (same father different mothers, you know the story); so I have learnt to become independent in most of my affairs. Let’s face it; there are only so many people who can take care of number one. Over the years, I have come to watch SB spend a lot of her time combing her dolls’ hairs, painting their faces, dressing them up, the works. Little did I know that this was a sinister anxiety festering in her innocent vulnerable mind.
Children always do say the most outrageous things (most of it true ), so when SB said she was going to marry Prime Case, (the eight year old brother, PC for short) we had all had a good barrel of laughs. PC being of a shy disposition waded off her advances by saying he already had four girlfriends lined up for marriage, and he genuinely did. School run is a constant “Bye” to this girl and “I love you” to the other. They don’t mind, they are too young to understand the implications of their words. Anyway, this week I had to get SB ready for a trip to the salon and while I applied the shampoo to her dusty scalp, she actually volunteered to have a go. Independent minded at such an innocent age, who was I to disagree, so naturally, I obliged. But we all know what shampoo is like; a handful of the infernal cocktail and water companies have enough reason to ban hose pipes for when we need water most. With so many women having such bad hair days and salons opening faster than McDonalds and Starbucks put together it is little wonder we have such water crises. Imagine what it would be like if only half the earth’s surface was covered by the precious liquid!
But back to SB; two buckets later and she was still panting to wash off the suds. By the time I filled up the bucket for the third time she was too frustrated to contain her irritation. Suds in hair, ganging up against her eyes, I had the rare chance of witnessing what I consider to be her first ever bad hair day. She was not crying, but with her lips quivering to hold back the tears, I could tell she was putting up quite a struggle. This wasn’t my own doing. I had not tugged at her thick tangled locks, I had not made her swallow or snort in the water and shampoo solution. It wasn’t because the water was too hot or heavens forbid too cold. This was another matter. I had mixed the water to a nice cosy temperature. Right! So what was it? She was angry with herself because she could not was her own hair. Upon investigation I discovered she was particularly upset because she wouldn’t be able to wash her hair at sixteen, eleven years down the line, and therefore not be able to attract the right sort of man, ultimately culminating in the fact that she may be unable to have children of her own. She was worried that her brother, PC, had refused to marry her and therefore was going to end up an old maid. She had resigned to fate that she would lead a solitary life with no life partner, but at least she wanted to be able, to preen herself so that she would have enough skills to fend for her children.
Even though I was amused by the poor child’s genuine and terrifying concerns, I felt pity for her. I had just been given a rare glimpse into her brainpower. Now I know. It may seem crass that I should be sharing this intimate and private moment, but how many parents out there want to know what is going on in their children’s mind? If there are any, there is only a handful; I don’t have the statistics to prove this but the articles, advice and stories we are washed with is ample proof. If there is any parent out there who does not want to know what their children are afraid of, that that person should question the integrity of his or her relationship with that child.
As most parent genuinely do, I hope that my children out live the fermenting gun and knife culture after making it through the labyrinth of AIDS and all other life threatening social ills. But here SB was, only five years old and absolutely petrified of washing her own hair wrong. I reassured her she still had a good eleven years before sixteen, and besides, she would be doing greater things with her life at that age; like studying to get into a good university or even dating. Her reluctant spirit caved and utter belief filled the void as a smile filled her tearful wet face, happy that there was still hope.
Well, my wife returned from her daily grind and they returned from their visit to the salon. Everything else went incident free. But as I listened to them read me their books for the night I was filled with pride at my short-lived adventure into their fantastic reality. By the time I was walking out of their room, they were at it again. This time I did not tell them to be quiet, I allowed them prattle on about the mundane things we take for granted. I knew that when they felt sleepy enough, they wouldn’t need any sleep prompt.
In 2002, there were over 107 million orphans in the world, most of them living in Asia and the picture of the future is not getting any brighter; there is very little hope for the new orphan of tomorrow. So imagine these great minds of the future, having no one to wash their hair, no one to confide in, no one to trust, no one to reassure them of such great promise ahead. Then as sure as the sun will shine at day break, I was awoken to the chit chatter of my three great triumphs, prattling on in the room next door. They were happy in their loud giggles; the strident laughter was enough evidence that. As I lay in bed, taking in the heat of the rising sun of a bright summer’s day, I wondered what The Quad (TQ being short for the expected foster child to be nicknamed) was thinking about; what worries was on his/her mind, who she/he could confide in, who could be trusted with their most deep concern and fear.
So with the world economy cutting each pocket deeper than previous lifetimes and pushing even more into bankruptcy, tempting us with criminal thoughts we vowed never to stomach; spare a thought for the true victims of what historical errors we as adults are keen to repeat. The victim is always that child who has just lived through a war, a massacre, a cyclone, hurricane, or in some cases, pure hatred and abuse. These are the real reasons children are homeless and orphans. And while I await my fostering application to be put through all the checks, take a moment to see how you can shine in the minds of these little angels. They do not want to talk to a social worker, police office or judge. They want to talk to you.